“In a westerly direction this car is my train, I’m driving and I’m wondering what it is I’m running from again.”
That is a quote by a wonderful singer and songwriter named Martin Sexton. I remember listening to this song almost 20 years ago as I was driving West to first move to Telluride. It was then that I thought I would spend one winter skiing before heading off and “getting a real job” just out of college. As I’m still her 20 years later, I realize, as the quote goes, it wasn’t what I was running from but what I was running towards.
The choice to move out West brings forth freedom, exploration and adventure for many of us. For many, it is during the summers that we rush out to grab that quick fix of the reasons why we are here. For some it’s rafting the raging rivers, for others it’s climbing rugged rock or knocking off another 14er from the list. As the summer draws to an end and the busy festival season comes to a close, I finally find myself with three days to scoot out of town and, boy, am I ready. On the adventure list, is to head up to a Red Rocks concert by way of Buena Vista for some music, hiking, camping and hot springs. It is in this little trip that I discovered other souls out on the same mission. A solo trip is not unheard of out West. Sometimes in solidarity we find the most calm. And during parts of this trip that was just what I was searching for. But also what I found was that in connecting to nature and the beauty that surrounds, we also connect with others, quite accidentally, in fact.
My first stop was to the hot springs to set up camp and get some much-needed soaking. While snuggled in my tent that night with the guidebook of the various 14ers surrounding me, I didn’t feel confident that I was ready to hike that long by myself. Instead, I figured I would take the day as it came, maybe with a stroll around the area instead.
The next morning, while making coffee in the communal kitchen, I met a kind middle-aged man name Michael, who was flipping through his guidebook ready to face his adventure for the day. Michael spends his off time as a trial lawyer walking segments of the Colorado Trail. He explained he would walk nine miles along segment 13 that day, and asked if I was interested in joining. Also joining was another fellow camper named John, a retired teacher who is recently widowed. And so, in allowing the day to take shape naturally, I was off on a lovely hike with two new friends along the Colorado Trail.
The beauty that unfolded needs no description. As many of you know, there is nothing like the Colorado backcountry. Wildflowers colored our path, mountain peaks stood grandiose in the distance, and the well-maintained trail winds guided us through thick ponderosa pines and tall aspen groves. Much of our conversation circled around our individual lives, our families, our jobs and our past adventures.
There we were, three lone strangers — John a triathlete from Oregon with many years of travel, Michael a trial lawyer from Denver with many miles of backpacking under his belt, and myself an avid sailor living in Colorado trying to chase both the water and the mountains at a moment’s notice — joined together in serendipity to walk and talk and share for a moment the glorious beauty of the West.
Once the 10-mile trip, filled with sunshine, and ending with a typical afternoon downpour, was completed, I raced directly back to the wondrous water of the natural hot springs. Here I was able to reflect on and enjoy the time spent meeting new friends and sharing stories of love and loss, family and friends, jobs and escapes.
What is it about the outdoors that strips us all of our armor and makes it so easy to open up? Is it the fresh air? The altitude? The open space? There is something that is released and shared in the beauty of these mountains. I could tell that what we were holding inside of us was let go for even just a little while during the hike. Starting out, all three of us planned to travel alone. We each were escaping something; Michael, the stress of his job; John, the recent loss of his wife; and myself, the business of summer in town. We all have a story, something deep within us that keeps us guarded and removed, but all that can be forgotten as you step into the trees or in the rivers or the on the rock. All that stress, that pain, the past, is gone, for just a moment, and it sure feels good. So as the summer comes to a close and the fall begins to paint a pretty picture, remember the reasons you live here. Celebrate it, alone or with total strangers, because it is in this westerly direction that we call home that makes us who we are — and what a wonderful place to be.