Archive for October 22nd, 2009

Today is my 45th birthday.  I am in Boulder, Colorado, staying with an old/new friend, “Daniel,” someone I knew from childhood and reconnected with early this year via Facebook.  Daniel was an old friend’s annoying little brother back in the 70s, but over the past year has become an empathetic fellow traveler in life, with whom I’ve shared many conversations ranging from the serious to the absurd.

When he saw me post something on Facebook about going on Walkabout, he phoned and asked “So what’s this trip you’re taking?”  I tried to explain as simply as possible, trusting that he’d get it.  I told him I felt that the walls were closing in, that I needed wide open spaces where I could see and breathe for miles; that I needed to get away, go see prairies, mountaintops, something.  Daniel said, “Well if you want to see a mountaintop, come here, I’ll take you to a mountaintop.”  To which I responded, a little surprised, “Is that an invitation?”  After a moment’s hesitation, he replied in the affirmative.  I gave him several outs, but he stuck by his offer, and in the end, I arranged to spend my Walkabout Birthday in Colorado, allowing him to take me to an actual mountaintop.

And so, this morning, we went. I wasn’t really sure what I’d signed up for; Daniel had packed a variety of “gear” and had helped me figure out my layers of clothing.  But I didn’t fully get that we would actually be hiking.  Yet in the spirit of exploration that has characterized this journey, I didn’t ask much in the way of questions.  Geared up, off we drove through the canyon created by Boulder Creek, higher up into the mountains, until the paved road ended and a dirt (and seemingly mostly rock) road began.  We drove on this (to me) questionable road quite a ways, finally arriving at a parking area, where there were actual signs for trails and camping.  (An aside here:  may I just say how delicious it felt to be a passenger after all these days of driving?!)  Car parked, we headed for the beginning of the trail.  The weather had been dreary for the previous two days, but today the sun was coming out and the mercury rising.  The few days’ cold and sleeting weather in Boulder had left a powdered-sugar coating across all the mountaintops in the area, rendering every view exceptional on this clarion day.

We ascended steadily on the mountain trail, often treading through an inch or so of snow, and crossing many a small, partially-frozen mountain stream.  From the start, the views were glorious.  Having barely exercised since July, and unaccustomed to the elevation, the going was a real challenge for me.  With Daniel ahead of me, every so often I had to stop and catch my breath.  Each time, my friend waited wordlessly.  But each stop was also an opportunity to look up at the surrounding wonder, as the trail required full attention to every footfall.  There were moments when I wasn’t sure I could make the rest of the ascent.  Daniel’s GPS said we were around 10,300 feet at the beginning of the hike.  We were heading for the place just above the treeline, where the view would be the most expansive.  I was getting headachey, and occasionally felt a little like the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz – swaying in all directions despite my feet staying in place.  But I didn’t say anything, determined to make this ascent, even if it came down to stopping every five minutes.

After about an hour’s hike, we reached a point where the trees were thinning out, and the largely open slope below us revealed a stupendous view of the surrounding peaks.  Daniel told me we could go higher, but it would be extremely windy, and the view unlikely to improve.  We were at 10,700 feet.  I agreed we had hiked far enough.  Nearby was a large rock shaped almost perfectly like a chair.  I went and sat down in it, trying to take in the majesty of all that I saw, as my pounding heart moderated and my breathing gradually slowed.

I sat on that rock and tried not to think too much.  I reminded myself that although on this day I turn 45, if I choose to, I can do things like this whenever I want for the next 45 years.  I tried to allow the stories of regret over how I could have spent the last 20 years blow through me with the mountain winds, and reminded myself that they were just stories.  I was here now, had just done something (for me) extraordinary, and the place, moment, and experience were to be noticed, felt, and reveled in.

Rocky Mountain Birthday High

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