colorado

The Day We Chose To Be Frozen Rather Than Freeze

 

fullsizerender

Another one bites the dust

We like to ski. Saturdays in January, we head to the slopes. As a rule, we try to be on the road by 6 a.m. Today? Well…today we missed that goal by about 20 minutes, and that 20 minutes left us sitting in traffic for three hours before we even hit the exit for Berthoud Pass, from which point we still faced another 45 minutes on the road before we would arrive at Winter Park. Yikes. Colorado is the second-fastest growing state, and it is obvious every time we get on a highway. There are days when I find myself looking for the ocean because we must be living in LA. It is insane. Everyone wants to live here. And everyone who moves here does so for the mountains. Great for Colorado’s economy, but miserable for those of us who have lived here most our lives and remember the good old days when only a blizzard would find you stuck in your car at a crawl for over two hours before making your ultimate ski destination.

Today we did something unprecedented in our ski history. We reached the turn off for Winter Park, looked at the traffic ahead of us and behind us, and uttered a collective NOPE. We drove up the exit ramp, made a sharp left, and merged back onto the highway headed east. We’d had enough of crawling. We’d been awake four hours and had nothing but lack-of-sleep hangovers to show for it. We didn’t have the energy left to stand in freezing lift lines for the equivalent of six minutes for every one minute we would get to dodge and weave our way down overcrowded slopes. We cut our losses. As we headed east we glanced at the vehicles standing still in three lanes of traffic heading west and knew we’d made the right choice. There will be other ski days. Skiing today would not have been worth any further effort. It took only 45 minutes to get home.

When Steve and I were new-ish parents, we forced situations. We stuck with our plans, even when what we planned no longer made sense. We were going to live our lives and barrel through unabated by trivial things like explosions of infant poop in carseats. And we suffered for our inability to take in the big picture, to default to Plan B, or to skip straight to a plan we hadn’t yet conceptualized. Maybe it’s our 15 years of parenting experience, maybe it’s a greater understanding about what matters when it comes to family time, or maybe we’ve practiced yoga for too long now but, whatever it is, we find ourselves much more flexible when life throws us a curve. I like to think that on days like this one we are modeling for our sons the value in thinking critically as situations evolve and re-evaluating plans for the best outcome. We’re living in the present and acknowledging that we can’t control everything that happens but we can control our actions.

Some days you stay and fight for what you want. You stand in a freezing lift line for the opportunity to schuss your way down a powdery slope. Other days it’s better to be Elsa and Let It Go.

Call Me Stretch

fullsizerender

My tallest self

This year, as part of my never-ending quest to grow, I decided to take a photo a day. The way I have it figured, it should help me accomplish two goals: 1) capture the year in photos and 2) find my photographer’s eye and improve my artistic skills. So today, as I was driving home after depositing my sons at school, I noticed that the morning light was damn near inspirational. God bless Colorado and its bluebird days after storms.

Knowing I had a photo to take and about five loads of laundry at home that would convince me not to venture out again, I stopped at the large park across from our ‘hood and trudged out into the 4-degree temps in my not-quite-pajamas-but-some-people-might-still-think-I-am-wearing-pajamas outfit and my snow boots and my long down coat with my steadfast iPhone. (Did I mention I am taking all 365 photos via iPhone?) While wandering through the park as quickly as my short legs could carry me, I collected myriad photos of evergreen trees tinted white, the crisp and glittering snowy ground, the frozen wire backstop on the baseball field, and a squirrel sporting a frosty beard a la Santa Claus. After I felt satisfied I must have something worth sharing and determined my right hand might be headed towards frostbite, I swung around to head back to the car. Then I saw it. The photo of the day. The sun was behind me, and there in front of me was the tallest me I have ever seen. In real life, I’m a measly 5’4″ tall. I’ve always wished I was taller. Both my sisters are. And I get tired of standing on counters to reach things on the top shelf in the cupboard. So when I saw my lean, lanky, and impossibly tall shadow cast before me, I had to immortalize the moment. I’ve never felt that big. Ever. I’ve never felt anything but small. The image spoke to me.

I spent part of my laundry day thinking about this new year and how I could bounce back after what was perhaps not my greatest year yet in 2016. I thought about where I was coming from and where I might want to point my feet next. I thought about the photo I had taken earlier, and it occurred to me that the photo is the embodiment of what I want for myself in 2017. What I need to do this year is stretch. I need to reach higher. I need to be the bigger person. I need to cast a long shadow. I need to realize that I am not limited by my 5’4″ frame. I need to believe I am larger than life.

I have been meaning to get back to writing over the past year but have been more adept at making excuses than recording thoughts. So I am going to continue to take photos as planned for the next 359 days. Then I am going to post them here with a few words or comments or reflections or lines of utter nonsense just to get myself back into the habit of writing every day, no matter how mundane my daily photos might be, no matter how prosaic my thoughts about them are. It’s about the process and the effort, the journey and not the destination. I have to start sometime. I lose a part of myself when I stop writing, and I miss me, dammit.

I have sold myself short for too long. I printed out this photo and put it on the wall next to my desk. Just like my shadow that photo, I am going to be huuuuuuge this year.

 

Trampolines, Swim Fins, and Half of a Roasted Pig

Hawaii on the brain

Hawaii on the brain

I am jumping on a large trampoline in a spacious, overgrown backyard. There are at least seven of us jumping simultaneously as a breeze rustles the palm fronds overhead. It’s sunny, warm, and peaceful. I am where I belong. A friend suggests we go shoe shopping. “I love shoes,” I think, so I am all over this change in plans. We hop off the trampoline and begin walking down a city street to the store. Along the way I am discussing what I should spend my shoe budget on…casual flip flops or a pair of statement heels. I know I don’t really need shoes because I’m in Hawaii, and barefoot is as good as anything in Hawaii but I am excited to shop just the same. As we walk along, I glance down at my friends’ feet. They are all wearing shoes. I am the only one who is barefoot. Apparently this trip is all about me.

When we get to the store and begin looking around, I can’t find a pair of shoes I like. I’m not entirely sure how it’s possible to be in a shoe store and not have anything pique my interest. Something is distinctly wrong. Finally my eyes land upon a pair of Mary-Jane-style, black Crocs. With considerable chagrin I note that these are the most suitable pair of shoes in the entire store. “I am not buying Crocs,” I think to myself, brows furrowed in frustration. Resignedly I lie down on the floor and fall asleep on my stomach, head on my arms, still without shoes but at least no longer concerned about my shoeless state.

I wake up when I come to the awkward realization that someone is rubbing my back. What the hell? Who is rubbing my back and why? “Personal space, personal space,” my mind screams. I look behind me and see an old friend of mine. I haven’t seen him since college. I’d forgotten he lived in Hawaii. He hasn’t aged.

“Your lower back is really messed up,” he tells me. “See this, here? This is not right,” he says, pointing to a couple of vertebrae that are obviously protruding where they should not be. His concern is palpable. “What have you been doing?” he asks.

“Jumping on a trampoline,” I reply.

“Well, I’ve got to get you to my chiropractor,” he says. “This is serious.”

He shoves an oxygen mask on my face, and as I choke on the unsolicited gas I note that it’s not oxygen because my alert-level changes and I go to some sort of happy place only achievable with something reality-warping like nitrous oxide.

When I come out of my haze, I am walking through a casino with my friend. People all around are gambling. It’s noisy, packed, and chaotic. I feel under dressed. I hear an odd noise I can’t place. Panicked, I check my feet. Gratefully, I am no longer shoeless. Instead, I am wearing a pair of white swim fins and my feet are making a flapping sound as I proceed down the marble walkway in the center of the casino. No one seems to notice my fashion foible, so I press on. My friend points me down a side hallway to a door.

“His office is in there,” he says. “He’ll fix you right up.”

I waddle my way down the hallway, picking up my finned feet as I go. When I get there, there is a kind-faced man who appears to be from India. In heavily accented, proper British English he tells me they have been waiting for me. My eyes adjust to the darkened room before me. It is filled with wooden boards. On each wooden board rests an Indian man, eyes closed. The doctor ushers me to an empty board.

“This spot is for you. Lie on your back. Face the ceiling,” he instructs.

I can’t figure out what is going on, but I don’t see any other option so I comply. The room around me begins to vibrate with the chants of fellow patients. Various meditations fill the room. I remain silent, letting myself be surrounded with the peace and goodwill. I am swallowed by the moment and fade into another mental plane.

After a while, I no longer hear chanting. I hear casual conversation, dishes being clanked together, and the smell of Indian food reminds me I have not eaten in a while. I open my eyes and notice that everyone else is awake. I am the last to join them. I am in the middle of a reception in the doctor’s office. There are trays of Indian curries and naan bread. The men are all eating with their fingers and conversing quietly. The doctor approaches with half of a roasted pig, one that has been twirled on a spit and slow cooked. “It’s a half of a pig,” I remark to myself. It was sawed down the center and is now presented to me as a snack.

“Here,” he says. “Eat something.”

I take the half pig from him. It is still warm and heavy, but not so heavy I can’t hold it without a struggle. I can see hair on its body. Its snout is tanned and rubbery. I stare into the half face of the pig. It stares back at me with one eye. The doctor waits by my side, rocking back and forth, expectantly. As I try to ascertain the best way to partake of this offering, other people begin pulling off bits of pig flesh and eating them. I wonder to myself if they are getting pig hair in their mouths. I look at the pig again. It blinks at me with its one eye. It’s still alive. I am astonished. How is that possible? It seems pretty awkward to take a bite of something that’s halfway watching me. I’m uncomfortable with the idea.

“I’m sorry,” I tell the pig as I grab a loosened part of its tender underbelly and tear it away. It blinks again to let me know it’s all good. He understands. I put the food into my mouth.

The alarm clock goes off.

Now…I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “This gal must live in Denver.” And you’re right. I do live in Denver where pot is now legal and readily available for home consumption and where all kinds of spaced out, random mental experiences are possible. But that’s not what this story is about. This is a story about what happens to me when I have curry for lunch and spicy Italian food for dinner. Although, now that you’ve brought it up, I wonder what my brain might come up with if I relaxed a little and ate an altered brownie? I suppose that’s another blog entirely.

I’m fascinated by what our brains come up with while we’re sleeping, perhaps as they try to work out and file away the everyday occurrences of our conscious lives. I’ve been marveling all day at how my brain reintroduced an old college friend whose last name is Bacon into a dream where I encounter an awkward situation with a cooked pig. Coincidence? I think not.

 

 

A Perfect 97/100

A few weeks ago I watched an internet video made by a young man who spent 10 years traveling around the world on a shoestring budget. In the video, Benny Lewis discusses 10 lessons he’s learned while circumnavigating the globe. While all of the lessons he discussed were relevant to my life, one especially called out to me. In lesson #2, Benny invited me to “be an imperfectionist” because the possibility of failure too often keeps us from trying new things. But, dang it, life is too short to forgo new experiences. The older I get the more I realize how many precious opportunities I’ve squandered by playing it safe and the more I recognize that I’m too old to play it safe any longer.

At 5:55 a.m. Fresh and ready to go

Fresh and ready to go at 6 a.m.

So in keeping Benny’s words in my head this weekend, my hubby and I set out to do something I openly admit I was not entirely sure I could do. Last month I registered us (in a moment of supreme overconfidence) for the COCO Century ride.  (For you non-cyclists, that term implies exactly what it suggests: you complete a 100-mile bicycle ride in one day.) I’d been optimistic originally about our chances to complete this particular ride because it was touted as a “flat” century without the climbs you might expect from a ride in a state with over 50 mountain peaks towering above 14k feet. At least there wouldn’t be any mountain passes on the course. This should be easy peasy. Or at least not brutal, right? After I registered, someone reminded me that no hills means constant pedaling and no opportunities for coasting. Funny how that little detail had slipped my mind.

On the drive down to the hotel we were staying at the night before the ride, hubby and I discussed our lack of preparedness and our intentions for the event. We opened ourselves up to imperfection. We were going to do whatever we could. If we couldn’t finish it, no big deal. At least we would get in a nice ride somewhere new. We were going to embrace the day for whatever it would bring. And we determined to forgive ourselves if we could not complete the full 100 miles. Our best was going to be good enough because our best was all we could offer.

When the starting gun went off at 6, we were off. We were in small-town country filled with friendly, helpful people and a relaxed attitude. We weren’t four miles into the ride before I first suspected we’d missed a sign and made a wrong turn. We were following a few local riders, though, and they seemed to know where they were going so we pedaled on. Sure enough, we eventually crossed paths with the rest of the riders who’d taken the correct route. Oops. We shook it off, fell in line, and joined the herd. Around mile 22, we realized we’d missed the first of eight rest stops with our little detour. At mile 45, we were feeling good and completely skipped the fourth rest stop in favor of keeping up our good pace. Around mile 50, I pointed out to Steve that we hadn’t seen any other riders recently, and at about mile 55 I at last decided to consult the ride map on my iPhone. Lo and behold, we were on the right course. We were, however, going in the wrong direction. We’d missed another turn and where the others had headed east, we’d continued south and consequently missed the fifth rest stop. Oops yet again. We discussed it briefly and decided that backtracking 10 miles was not a reasonable option. We’d just ride the course in reverse. A ride official found us a few minutes later, verified our error, gave us her cell phone number, and supplied us with water for our continued against-the-grain trek.

Our two person century ride

Our two person century ride

We made the best of our two person century ride, cruising another 20 miles through Rocky Ford and Swink before finally landing in La Junta where we decided we would turn around and head down the course the right way back to Ordway with the other riders. At mile 86, though, we noticed we’d missed the final rest stop of the ride. We were 4 for 8 on the sponsor-provided rest stops. Still doggedly determined we stopped at a local farmers market, bought some fresh fruit and some bottled water, and continued on. At about 10 miles before the finish line, we calculated we had 13 miles to go. Oops times three. Our course snafu had wreaked havoc. It was nearing 3 p.m. and the last section of the course was a long and steady, albeit not Colorado difficult, uphill climb. It was about 95 degrees. We’d pedaled for over 7 hours. Although I’d been eating every 10-15 miles, I hadn’t consumed nearly enough calories to cover the 4000-plus calories I had burned, and I was fading fast. At mile 96, I resigned and told Steve I simply could not finish the full 100, as ridiculous as it sounded. I was weak, nauseous, and about to hit full on heat exhaustion. I was disappointed, but I am smart enough to know when to stop pushing myself. And so I rolled across the century finish line with my bike computer at just over 97 miles, 15,840 feet short of the goal.

Rolling in a wee bit short

Rolling in a wee bit short

As a recovering perfectionist, it’s taken me a couple days to process this shortfall. Three miles short is not technically a full century, and there are plenty of people (including an earlier version of myself) who would tell me it doesn’t count. But we did what we set out to do, which was our best. We overcame obstacles and kept on rolling despite setbacks. If we had stayed on course and been able to take advantage of more of the ride-sponsored rest stops for nutrition, we would have completed the last three miles without struggle. It simply did not work out that way. With some time behind me now, I understand that this is exactly the lesson in imperfection that I needed. Do you know how difficult it is to have spent most of your life as a perfectionist and then come within 3% of completion of a goal only to walk away? But I did it and, miraculously, I feel great about my accomplishment. We enjoyed our ride and would do it again, but I don’t even feel the need to repeat it simply to prove I’ve finished. If I do this century again, it will be for fun and not accomplishment. And trust me. That’s progress toward a future filled with more rewarding episodes of imperfection.

I Was So Hungry I Ate My Words

A mile from the top of Vail Pass

Finishing the most difficult part of the climb

Colorado is filled with extreme sports enthusiasts — marathoners, triathletes, cyclocross racers, river kayakers, rock climbers, mogul skiers, and myriad other endorphin junkies. Intrepid Coloradans trek up our 14,000 feet peaks each and every summer weekend because, well, they’re there. And everyday, run-of-the-mill, “normal” people take on day-long rides like the Triple Bypass where they cycle over 3 mountain passes, 120 miles with over 10,000 feet of elevation gain just to say they did it. What’s crazier than that? How about that people choose to do that same ride in reverse the following day to complete the Double Triple Bypass? With these things in mind, please understand that what I am about to relay regarding my adventure yesterday is not extraordinary at all. Oodles of people can tell the same story, so I am not being modest when I say that this is not a big deal at all. Except that it is…to me.

Ten years ago, we were driving back from a trip to Aspen and along the highway heading east over Vail Pass we spied some road cyclists struggling their way up the pass adjacent to the speeding cars on the highway. I remember hauling up the pass in our Jetta and remarking that those riders were insane. There is no way I would ever do that, I told my husband. Then, just five years ago, the darling man bought me a road bike. I went into the bike store dragging my heels because I was certain I was not a cyclist. Still I went along with it because I was 40 and I needed a decent form of exercise, one that hopefully would not tear up my knees or hips like running might. That year when we passed cyclists huffing and puffing their way up and over Vail Pass I said I could never do that. Simply putting in 15-20 miles was difficult enough. I didn’t think I’d survive a trek up a mountain pass. It seemed an insurmountable task. I had no intention of ever being that certifiable about exercise. Period.

Yesterday the unthinkable became reality. With three friends from our MS150 bike team, Steve and I rode from our hotel room in west Vail up to and then over Vail Pass and down into Copper Mountain before turning around and riding back up over the pass and eventually back to our hotel room. It was a 47 mile trek where we climbed over 4,000 feet in elevation in less than 4.5 hours. At times during our ride, the grade of the path hit a wicked 18%. That’s steep enough that even in my easiest bike gear I needed to stand up like a Tour de France racer to power my bike up the hill. I’ve never had to do that before. It was both annoying and awesome. We started our ride at 8,000 feet in elevation and climbed to over 10,600 feet so the air we were sucking was thin too. It was my longest ride of the season so far and the most challenging ride I have ever done.

At the top and geared up for the cold ride down to Copper

At the top and geared up for the cold ride down to Copper Mountain

As we flew down the last big descent of the day and my bike hit 34 miles an hour despite the headwind, I had a cheerful refrain echoing in my head. (It sounded exactly like this.) When we finally returned to our starting point at the Vail Cascade Resort I was Queen of the Freaking World. It is true. I had to chew up and swallow whole those things I’d uttered in the past about would never or could never. And while I normally don’t enjoy eating my words, yesterday I had no problem with it. Maybe it was simply because I was so hungry? I had burned over 2500 calories in 4 hours, right? Truth is, though, I have rarely felt as strong as I did when I clipped out of my pedals at the end of that ride. Not only had I done something I previously believed I physically and mentally could not do but I did it less than a week after turning 45. I never had to get off and walk my bike. The altitude never got to me. I fought the urge to give up when my quadriceps were screaming at me and I stuck it out. I rode my bicycle like a cheap, show pony. And while I may not be better, faster, stronger, or in any way more impressive than any other Coloradan who completes that identical ride, I do not care. I did it. I earned the right to eat my words and I still had enough room left over for a post-ride celebratory dinner at Terra Bistro. Suck it, 45!

The Journey Is The Reward

Grays Peak on the right…a long way off

This morning, my crazy husband and I awoke to our alarm clock at 4:30 a.m. We got dressed (long underwear underneath our clothes), made lattes, woke our sleeping children and dressed them in warm gear, and were on the road at 5:40 to head to the mountains. Our plan: to summit Grays Peak, elevation 14, 270 feet, with our friends. Using a book called Colorado’s Fourteeners as our guide, we decided that our route should be up the eastern slope of Grays. According to the book, this was a shorter climb that was just a bit more difficult than the more heavily traveled climb up Grays’ western slope. With three kids between the ages of 9-11 in tow, we thought the shorter route might be advisable.

At 8 a.m. and only 38 degrees we left our cars and, laden with filled personal hydration packs, we began the trek to the trailhead. The book said the trailhead was .3 miles from the parking lot. It was not. It was over a mile up a 4-wheel drive road before we began seeing markers for the ascent. This was definitely going to put a damper on the “lower mileage” we were hoping for. The kids were slow to get started because of the cold. As the heart-pumping climbing began to warm us, we shed of layers of gloves, knit hats, wind gear, and fleece jackets so we could continue. We reapplied sunscreen and tried to fill up on snacks. We were stopping as much as we were moving, which was not a good sign. Still, we trudged along, taking several false trails before finally deciding on a direction to head.

By the time we had reached 13,251 feet on our climb (we’d started at 11,095 feet), we had been traveling nearly four hours. With all the stopping and starting, we had exhausted most of our water supply. Luke was complaining of a headache (dehydration related, I’m sure), Joe was starting to freak out because there was no clear cut path to the summit, and we weren’t sure what to do. We estimated that it would take us about 2 additional hours to reach the summit because there was no clearly marked trail. We’re smart parents, though, and knowing we were low on water and patience we decided the best course of action would be to pack it in, so we began our descent without ever reaching our intended goal.

My boys with Grays in the background

Three years ago, when he was just 8, Joe climbed his first 14er (there are 53 mountain peaks in Colorado with elevations in excess of 14,000 feet, affectionately called 14ers). Two years ago, when Luke was just 7, we attempted to summit Mt. Sherman, but high winds and children with fear of heights kept us from that goal. We had hoped today would mark Luke’s first ascent over 14,000 feet, but it was not to be. I wanted to be upset because we did not accomplish our goal, but I wasn’t. We’d climbed 2,393 feet (all at high elevation) and walked nearly 7 miles, sometimes on slopes so steep that we were leaning into the hill to climb. The kids scrambled rocks and scree and were sure-footed as little goats. They made me proud.

As we were walking down, I could tell our friend’s daughter was a bit disappointed that she wasn’t going to be able to finish the climb because our boys had wanted to call it quits and we had agreed. Then I heard her repeat something to her dad. He asked her about the priorities for the day.

“Number One: Be Safe. Number Two: Have Fun. Number Three: Reach The Top,” she recited.

That got me to thinking about how often in life we feel that if we don’t reach the goal, the effort was wasted. But, that’s not really the case, is it? Was it a waste of a day because we didn’t summit Grays Peak? I don’t think so. I mean, we were on a mountain with three kids climbing at high altitude for a long distance. None of us got hurt. We all returned to the cars without a scratch. Item Number One: Check. Although the climbing was difficult and we all took turns being slow and stopping, we had fun. We laughed, commented on the gorgeous scenery, and appreciated the Rocky Mountain High views. We had great conversations with people we truly love. Item Number Two: Check. We didn’t reach the top, but that was the last priority.

As close as I got to Grays Peak today

After a long day, we went to Beau Jo’s for some Colorado-style pizza and beers (microbrews for the adults, root beers for the kids) to celebrate. We returned home 12 hours after we’d departed, exhausted and a bit sunburned, but feeling good about our effort. We will make some changes next time we attempt this climb (and we will attempt it again). Still, today really did prove the Chinese proverb, “The journey is the reward.” We may not have reached the goal, but the time we spent with our children and our friends, the beauty of the Colorado back country on a cloudless day with deep blue skies, the joy of seeing mountain goats in the distance walking around on Grays Peak, and the serenity of the nearly vacant east side of that awesome 14,270 foot peak made the journey worthwhile. It really comes down to perspective. You can beat yourself up over not reaching your intended target, or you can stop to enjoy what you discovered along the way. The choice is yours.

I’ll Be Counting Sheep Tonight

“Dear nasty, wretched crow…SHUT UP!”

Thus began my day. Curled up in my sleeping bag, one eye open to the encroaching daylight, I wished for the first time in my life that I was in possession of a loaded pellet gun. I started to wonder what I was thinking when I suggested and arranged this last-minute camping trip.

Despite its unpleasant and abrupt beginning, the rest of the day unfolded into one well worth waking up for. After packing lunch and loading the FJ, we headed out of Marble up Colorado 133 toward Paonia, searching for adventure. We had done a little research and discovered we were just 30 miles from a dirt road that would take us over Kebler Pass and down into Crested Butte. Couldn’t pass it up. And, at the very least, it would get me away from the thieving crow that had robbed me of my peaceful mountain slumber.

We knew from our research that we would get a view of the world’s largest aspen forest. What we didn’t know was that our simple trek to Crested Butte would be delayed by free-range livestock. Our first meeting was with a rancher and his cattle. With the bovines marching down the center of the dirt road in front of our SUV, I could imagine the tourist postcard opportunity: “Colorado Rush Hour.” (Of course, as any Denver resident knows, our rush hours involve a lot fewer cows and a lot more stubborn mules and other assorted asses.)

Once we had safely bypassed the miniature cattle drive, Steve pulled off onto a small shoulder where we decided to picnic before the rain set in. While eating my sandwich I noticed a few sheep nestled into a meadow at the edge of a grove of aspen. I walked closer to investigate. There were easily 60 sheep resting there in among the trees. When they noticed me, they began bleating to one another. From across the road, more sheep called out to the larger flock. We had stopped for lunch unaware that we were in the midst of a sizable herd of free-range sheep. We finished our food, took some photos and video, and started down the other side of Kebler Pass on our way to Crested Butte, all the while rambling on about seeing those dang sheep.

On the way back up the pass heading back toward camp, the mountains offered us a different and even prettier view than before. We marveled at the immensity of the aspen forest which, in the intermittent rain showers, oddly resembled a rain forest. We began to look for the sheep again. Near where we had seen them before we saw a rancher in a bright yellow rain slicker walking with two large, white dogs. Simultaneously, using our vast and largely worthless knowledge of dog breeds, Steve and I both blurted out “Anatolian shepherds!” Anatolian shepherds are Turkish sheep dogs that live out with the flock full-time and serve as protectors. They are known to be incredibly independent and fearless. We used to joke that we needed an Anatolian shepherd to protect our wimpy Labrador retriever.

We drove beyond the dogs and rancher looking for the sheep. That’s when we realized that the large herd we had seen earlier was roughly one-quarter of the size of the entire herd now gathered at the top of the pass. I’ve never seen so many sheep in my life. We might as well have been in New Zealand. We stopped to stare at massive flock because we were suddenly feeling small and outnumbered. Steve grabbed his fancy camera, got out of the car, and headed back up the hill on foot for some sheep photos. Suddenly, his car door reopened and he jumped in.

“There’s an Anatolian shepherd running toward the car,” he huffed once safely inside.

Sure enough. Standing right there next to Steve’s car door was one of the large shepherds we had seen. He eyed Steve cautiously and then walked around to insinuate himself between the car and the sheep. I unrolled my car window to get a photo of him. He looked at me cautiously but without ill intent. He was doing his job, protecting his flock. As the hundreds of sheep moved through the ferns and underbrush beneath the towering aspens bleating calls to each other, I was in awe. It was odd and pastoral and yet perfectly Colorado.

Sometimes, the adventure you set out on is quite different than the one that opens before you. We had planned nothing more than a pleasant afternoon drive to Crested Butte. Instead, we ended up in the middle of one of the coolest things we’d ever seen in the Colorado high country. Colorado is consistently breathtaking, but it’s the unexpected treasures that make living here a privilege.

20120705-204141.jpg