Kissing Cairns and Strumming Strings for Strangers

(not the best video, definitely couldn’t hold the camera still for the life of me when I saw the goats…I was tired. My friend, Minnesota, made a good video model though).

When I started my summer adventure I left two of my best friends behind: my dog and my guitar.  On my down time I couldn’t do much but miss them, until last weekend–when I went home and got my guitar (and spooned with my dog).  While I was home I played for my mom and her boyfriend for the first time.  I was a little nervous, but I did it!  And they seemed to like what they heard.  When I left home I figured I would just play my guitar while I was alone and camping, I never thought I would be playing for an audience.  In my daydreams, sure, I play for thousands of people…my adoring fans; but until two days ago I have never had the guts to sing for strangers in reality!

My Minnesota partner in crime and I decided to head toward Vail, after climbing Holy Cross together, where we found a lake nearby with a sandy beach to sprawl out on and recover.  There were lots of people out on the water paddle boarding and plenty more people laying out to tan.  I brought my guitar along and played alone in the shade for a while, then I decided to go play for some people who were enjoying their lunch under a nearby tree.  I was nervous, but I pulled myself together and sang one of my songs.  They didn’t seem revolted or embarrassed for me, they actually seemed to like it!  I played for a few other groups of people that day, a few people pulled out their phones and took videos.  One group requested for me to come over and play for them.  WHAT!?  When did I get so brave?  When did my voice decide to stop quivering with fear?  When did my hands stop shaking with nervousness?  I’ve wanted to be able to do this for so long, but I never thought I would have the guts!  I can’t explain the gratification, the happiness, the elation that playing guitar for people brings to me.

Later that night, Minnesota and I went to a brewery–where we spotted a strapping fellow.  Minnesota said, “go get your guitar!”  I did!  And I played a song out on the patio, when I was finished the strapping fellow looked up and said, “Your voice is really good.”  He eventually sat with us and I played more songs, he recorded a few of them on his phone.  He and Minnesota chatted about various topics and dreams they had, while I continued to pick strings and strum quietly.  By the end of the night I felt like I was walking on a cloud!  I had played for multiple audiences, and though they were just small groups, I felt like another dream had become a reality this summer!  I could’ve cried a river of joyful tears!  Did the Angels that fly over Holy Cross sprinkle fairy dust on my vocal chords?  That must have been it!  To them, I am eternally and inexplicably grateful!  Maybe I’ll write a song for them!

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The next day Minnesota and I climbed Harvard and Columbia together.  It was a long and arduous journey–a true test of our fortitude, but we did it.  We lost our route a few times and every time I saw a cairn I felt like kissing it!  I did kiss one at the end of the day, just so I’d be able to say I did it.  Maybe that isn’t something to brag about though?  By the end of the night…(yes, night!  It took us that long–we did start late though) we were ready to hit they hay!  We both slept in our cars in the parking lot of a Motel 8.

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Somebody fixed the sign…whoever you are…Thanks!

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sign for Harvard’s Trail

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Sign for Columbia’s Trail

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somebody fixed it!

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Minnesota and I made goat calls, but they all ignored us!

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on the way to Columbia after dropping down the gully

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Clouds forming in the distance

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SPARKY! You did it buddy!

What a great week!  What a great summer!  What a great privilege it is to be ALIVE!  I am so lucky.  I feel so happy, for the first time in a long time!  The world used to seem foggy and unwelcoming, now it is sunny and clear!  I can see that there is purpose in everything, that there are no accidents!  I’m not delusional, I know that things aren’t always going to be this good.  But somehow I feel restored–like I have faith in the universe!  I used to wonder why I had such a hard time talking to people, but my inability to speak confidently encouraged me to: play guitar, write songs, and write this blog.  All of those things fill me with cheer!  The source of my weakness, ended up being the source of my strength.  I have made a wonderful new mountain climbing partner in crime: Minnesota, thank you for climbing with me!  I LOVE my family so much, I LOVE my friends so much!  I owe so much to all of you!  Sorry it took me so long to say that word, “LOVE!”  Now it just feels wrong not to say it!

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Angels Flying Over Holy Cross at the Stroke of Noon

“I wish you were down here,

with me,

I wish you were with me.

Oh don’t ask why

pretty things need to fly,

aeroplanes and butterflies,

soft skin for soft sweet lies.

…Goodbye,

I’ll see you in the sky.”

-The Angelcy-

The clock’s face smiled at the stroke of noon when the Angels flew over Holy Cross. Two girls were making their descent down the mountain when they heard a sound that was entirely foreign to them. It was the wind, but it wasn’t any ordinary wind. This wind ripped through sharp rocks and sounded like a one-thousand foot piece of paper was being shredded into a million tiny shards of glowing-rainbow-colored confetti. This extraordinary gust brushed across the girls’ exposed faces like the feathers of a dove. It blew deep into their souls, so profoundly that all things dark and melancholy within them skattered away in a twisting cowardly dirtdevil. The source of this miraculous event was unseen, it didn’t ask for attention, but the two girls felt (with absolute certainty) the presence of something far greater than them. In that moment they were forever changed, transformed by the healing wings of the Angels that fly over Holy Cross.

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My Minnesota Partner in Crime 😉

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Sparky at the summit of Holy Cross

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State-Paid Vacation

“His heart felt like breaking

He’d look right up at the ceiling and

Start again, never breathe a word of his loss

Cause it’s not about winning

It’s the rivers you cross

And the pain that you feel

Could be the fuel that you use

And if you’re in need of direction

Be it the path that you choose

My old man is a legend

He cast a shadow so great

I think of how he is watching

With every move that I make”

Redlight King—Old Man

I stayed up too late last night, after being lured into a few games of pool with the only two guys at the bar.  One of the men had hands that looked like they had been worked to the bone.  They were so gnarled that he could barely even hold a pool stick.  He had bandages on his arm and scratches on his face, he told me that he fell off of his porch when he “was taking a piss.”  He also informed me that he had lived in Leadville his whole life (proudly born and raised), minus a 10 year state-paid vacation…aka prison.  Maybe that’s why his hands were so beat up…from pounding out all those licence plates?  I didn’t ask why he went to prison, I figured that was a road I didn’t want to go down.  He tried to get me to stay and keep shooting pool, but I told him I had to be up very early to hike.  In response, he said, “I’ll wake you up, don’t worry.”  I can be naive sometimes, but I knew what that meant!  After that–and a few too many long handshakes and unwanted hugs, I knew it was time to get out of there.  I always try to be nice and not offend guys like that, but sometimes I think I’m too nice and I put myself in a bad spot.  I honestly don’t know how my smell didn’t offend him or the other older man; it’s been a minute or two since I showered last.  The other man was actually nice, like a grandfather-type.  He wore pointy black cowboy boots, washed out jeans, and a neatly tucked in shirt. He didn’t drink anymore, he quit “decades ago”…now he just liked playing pool.  I played him twice…I beat him twice–and he took it with grace.  When I departed he told me that he was “very glad” to have met me, and if I ever wanted to play pool again that-that was the best place to find him.

I woke up later than I wanted to today, but I was up and hiking by 6am…so not too bad–considering I went to bed at about 2am.  I walked the 4wd road to the trailhead for my route.  Several people passed me in their cars and cut off some mileage from their day.  By the time I got up past treeline I was passing them as they rested.  I made the summit a little bit before 10 am, and the day seemed like it had been way too painless and undemanding.  Massive felt like the climb up Sherman: EASY!  For whatever reason, I had actually been a little nervous about it before I did it.  Maybe it’s just the name: MASSIVE!  Sounds intimidating to me!  It was also my 13th peak of the summer, and sometimes I get superstitious.  However, it was a really nice climb and all the people I came across (along the way and at the summit) were charming and friendly.  Lucky 13!? (21 total).

As I made my descent, I took pictures and videos.  I also listened to music for the first time on a 14er.  It definitely changed the vibe, not for better or for worse necessarily…it was just a different feeling.  I don’t think I’ll do it again.  I like pondering as I hike, I like mentally narrating the journey.  Bringing music on a peak is like bringing your own food into a restaurant.  Yesterday’s writing must have sucked me dry of all flow and rhythm.  This is feeling like a struggle today.  Maybe it’s lack of sleep, or because I just climbed another mountain.  Not my best, but “that’ll do Pig, that’ll do!”

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Forgot to take Sparky’s pic at the summit again…but at least I remembered to get some shots on the descent. Sorry Sparky! Thanks for bringing me luck and keeping me safe! The past two climbs with you have been the best of the summer!

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Came across lots of sweet dogs today, this was one of them

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Mark Twain, God Knows Where

I read, in an old book up at the Goat’s Nest, that it is always a good idea to tell a story about Mark Twain.  How many of the stories I’ve heard about him are true? I don’t know.  How many of his quotes are real? I don’t know.  Fact checking is for people in school or people with a job!  Thank God I am a hobo, a smelly drifter, a passing face!  The mild untruths of tall tales are the seasonings, the marinade, the sauce for the main course.  If the main course is of a high quality to begin with, then satisfaction of epic magnitudes is likely…even with very little fibbing or even none at all.  However, if the meat has started to sour and the bread is dry and dotted with blue-green mold, then a person must apply copious amounts of saucy fabrications to assuage the bitter-boring-potentially-poisonous truth.

I’ve never been a great story teller in person.  A good story teller has a presence even before they speak a word.  They have a confidence about them and a certain swagger.  A raconteur’s mannerisms are aesthetically pleasing and eye-catching.  When they do speak, their voice is usually strong and commanding–or captivating in some manner.  A strange voice always pulls me in: smokey, deep, rough, hoarse, I don’t know…just odd.  Spinning yarns requires animation and entertainment, it takes a real showman.  If a person has these qualities: then they are a loaded gun, they have the best hand in the room, they have the fattest wallet, and most importantly they have the eyes and ears of anyone they desire!

So what about me?  I’m a tortured collector of tales, stuck behind a forgettable face and a weak voice.  My mannerisms project my, ever present, nervous feelings.  My eyes are a melancholy blue, and they always appear worried or stressed…even when I am happy.  I always manage to start talking at the same time as someone else, and I’m always the one that says, “Oh, you go ahead!”  I’m an awkward turtle, a fish without gills, a dog with no bark, a hairless cat!  And it really is a pity because in my mind, I spin the most epic of stories.  Every detail is sharp, every color is saturated to the fullest extent, each sound echoes as if it were bouncing off of the walls of the Grand Canyon.

I’ve been spending a lot of time in bars lately, but not because I have been lured in by the burning kick of hard liquor.  Not because I have decided to drown my sorrows in a bath of British Navy Pusser’s Rum…okay, I’ve never had that I just picked it because the name is inappropriate and I have an immature sense of humor.  Rather, it is because bars are the only places open late at night in small towns.  Shops and cafes seem shut their doors before the sun has even had a chance to brush his teeth or change into his pajamas.  So, I often find myself basking under blinking neon lights of downtown bars.  The best part, or the worst part (I haven’t decided yet) is that bartenders hate me!  First of all, everyone thinks my ID is fake!  Maybe partly because I dress like a 12 year old boy?  (I should probably work on that at some point).  Maybe because my complexion is sprinkled with blemishes?  Maybe because my voice gets high and squeaky when I get nervous?  Bartenders always look at me with the most skeptical of eyes, and to make things worse…I only ever order one drink.  They always have this tone with me, like they have immediately decided I am a complete moron…like I am their annoying little sister that won’t go away.  And after all that, hell if I am going to tip them…so then they reallllllly hate me!

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Leadville, CO

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Leadville, CO

I always try to find a spot at the back of a bar, you know, the place where the dirt is swept at the end of the night.  I do my best to avoid conversations or flirtations with drunk older men, but somehow they always laser in on me and stick to me like glue.  Lord knows, young men are never lured in by my appearance (or lack there of) , it’s always the lonely old men who take a liking to me.  Sometimes it gets a little creepy. However, more often than not, I have found that after we exchange words–they realize that I am not prey.  They then, by default, are no longer predators (or maybe I am just fooling myself).  Despite the awkward thoughts that they may or many not be thinking, old codgers always have the best stories!  And they just give them away, like the words have been stabbing the inside of their mouth and they can’t wait to be rid of them.  Every time I hear a good story, I envision it in the same way that I envision a good story in a book.  I deepen the blues of the mountains the characters have climbed, I lengthen the chin hairs of the ex wives so often referred to as witches, I hear the crunching of the earth beneath military boots,  I inhale the wet-dirt smell of rain,  and if a story is really old–I picture it in black and white or sepia tones.

I love collecting tales: I love hearing them, I love memorizing the faces that tell them, I love how my brain feels like it lights up, I love collecting tales. But I hate it when the inevitable questions about me start flowing!  “What do you do for a living?  What did you go to school for?  What are your plans for the future?  What does your dad think about all this?  Do you have a fella?”  I’d happily attempt to spew a story about a made up thing: a corrupted frog leaping contest perhaps. But a narration of my actual life?  You want me to tell you about me?  That feels far too personal, far too intimate, and requires far too much vulnerability.  Maybe because I’m not liquored up, I’m not ready to give it up.  I also know that boozy graybeard’s aren’t going to remember jack-shit the next day.  So, why would I waste my energy?  For the sake of hearing my own voice?  I’d rather not hear it…and I am sure the bartender would rather not hear it either.  I’ve gotten pretty good at deflecting questions and spinning them back around to these geezers I meet, and they usually end up bumbling around on a bunch of weird tangents.  That pretty much takes care of my problem, and it gives me something to write about.  Ahhhh, something to write about.  Write about.  Write!

I love writing!  In the real world I am no one, but here in the writing world I am ME!  I am the person I envision!  My stories are as vivid as I imagine them to be, my bellowing words echo against the walls of the Grand Canyon, and I have a plethora of embellishing sauces and spices to help improve story flavors when necessary.  I love remembering how things looked, I love describing, and I love the way words wiggle their way into my ear drums.  I am amazed by the way events and memories race to the tips of my fingers or bleed out from my pen to my paper.  Now, I’m not the best writer, some days I don’t feel like I can write at all…but other days–words flow from my brain like a raging river.  My words, as Mark Twain (supposedly) said, “are like water; those of the great geniuses are wine. (Fortunately) everybody drinks water.”  To every: loss, gain, tear, smile, laugh, lie, sound, each unfortunate event, lucky break, each step I’ve taken, every right or wrong turn,  every drunk old codger with a story, to every alcohol induced confession…I am grateful!  For each and everyone of you have given me something to write about.

Writing: dedicated to– adventures, alcohol, mild untruths, wilder truths, and Mark Twain!

Anecdote:

One night a group of Mark Twain’s friends in New York, having recognized the date as that of his birth, decided to send him a suitable greeting. Unfortunately, the globe-trotting traveler was away and no one knew where he might be reached. After some deliberation, a letter was simply sent off with the address: “Mark Twain, God Knows Where.” Several weeks later a letter arrived from Twain: “He did.”

Unchecked Quotes:

I have made a rule never to smoke more than one cigar at a time.

Man – a creature made at the end of the week’s work when God was tired.

My books are like water; those of the great geniuses are wine. (Fortunately) everybody drinks water.

The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.

When angry, count to four; when very angry, swear.

Wrinkles should merely indicate where smiles have been.

Always respect your superiors; if you have any.

Be good and you will be lonesome.

A full belly is little worth where the mind is starved.

There is no sadder thing than a young pessimist‚ except an old optimist.

Travel is fatal to prejudice.

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Mt. Sherman! Sure Man!

(Quick video I threw together on my phone…battling the wind for most of the footage I got…so it isn’t the best…but it’s something. I should also admit that the cairn shot is from mt. massive…shhhhh).

I finally climbed Sherman!  I had a blast!  The hike was unbelievably easy!  The weather was pretty good…minus the wind.  I brought my new pony, Sparky, with me and he didn’t spook at a thing!  I forgot to take his picture at the summit, so I pulled over at the side of the road at the end of the day and snagged a shot of him.

There were quite a few people hiking today, but thankfully I got up at a decent hour and beat the crowds.  The crowds that I didn’t mind were the crowds of pretty-pretty flowers! At the beginning of the climb I ran into two guys carrying skis, I told them they looked like they were embarking on a much more interesting adventure than me.  Not that my hike up wasn’t cool, but their way down looked like it was pretty exciting.  Luckily, I made it back down from the summit in time to watch them ski.  The first guy who came down had a nice run, but I was still walking when he finally went for it.  I scrambled to gear up my phone and held it as still as I could, but I’m not super proud of what I got. The second guy fell and took a bunch of breaks.  I knew I wouldn’t have done any better than him, so I wasn’t judging.

After all the snow shenanigans died down, I made my way back to my car while taking pictures along the way.  I charged my phone for a little bit and then headed up to the abandoned buildings.  I’m not feeling particularly eloquent with my writing today…so I’ll stick to mostly (poorly edited) pictures this time.

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Wind Wind Wind Wind

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lots of snow near the summit

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visibility was hit and miss and the wind made me feel like I was skydiving again 🙂

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looking back, on my way down

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Newspapers inside the larger building

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looking in the larger building

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Waterfall!

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Downtime in late July

Sometimes downtime is the best time. Today was pretty relaxed and stress free. While waiting on the weather to clear: I wrote in my journal, went to the library, got lunch, walked on a neat path through Leadville, and took pictures of flowers. Aside from a harmless encounter with a hobo who barked at dogs and then disappeared into the trees…today was pure bliss!

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Patrick Swayze

“Little hand says it’s time to rock and roll.”

-Point Break-

There I was…somewhere around 18,000 ft in a small airplane, with a man I had just met motioning for me to sit in his lap. What was I doing!?  I wasn’t about to join the mile high club…if that’s what you’re thinking, though my skydiving instructor wasn’t exactly bad looking!  He was the kind of guy that seemed too cool for school. He had a lip ring and wore Aviator sunglasses. His hair was jet black, and he opted to wear jeans and a t-shirt instead of the stereotypical skydiving gear that his peers wore (man capris aka manpris).  Until the final minute before jumping into the open air, I felt unconnected to him and closed off. But eventually the time came for me to be physically connected to him via a harness; it was time for me to sit in his lap and trust him with my life. It was at this time when he transformed into one of the most calming people I’d met. In all honesty, I felt more hesitant to about sitting in his lap than I did about jumping out of a plane…until he talked me through things. He told me, “Even if you do everything wrong, we’ll be ok and I’ll take of you.” Ahhhh, what a wonderful thing to hear!

My sister was in the plane with me. We exchanged a series of happy looks, and as we approached the main event I mouthed to her, “Patrick Swayze!” She and I had watched Point Break together a number of times, and we had both agreed Patrick was the man! Anytime we needed a pick-me-up we told each other to think of Patrick Swayze.

My partner and I walked to the small square opening of the plane, I took a deep breath, and we jumped! We did a series of flips and turns. I saw the earth below me, then the plane above me, then the earth again, then the plane again. As soon as we were in the air I felt tranquil; mesmerized and comforted by the fact that I was falling through the crisp clear sky…and I wasn’t going to die. I soaked in a view of Longs Peak and of the different patches of green land below me. We didn’t fall for long, and soon it was time to open the parachute.

Things immediately slowed down and the powerful wind against my face turned into a gentle breeze. My jumping partner loosened my harness and made sure I was feeling comfortable. We spun through the air several times to navigate toward the designated landing area. The spinning was the roughest part of the experience. Then we approached the ground and skidded to a stop.

My black haired, lip ring wearing, surprisingly calming, skydiving partner unclipped me from his harness and gave me a high five. I went from not clicking with him at the start of the day…to refraining from giving him a giant hug at the end of the day.

I spotted my sister on the ground and walked toward her. We were both slightly dizzy and quiet, still buzzing from our epic experience. We made our way back to the waiting area, where we took off our gear and got our skydiving certificates. Then we loaded into a flatbed trailer with benches and a shade cover. The boy in the truck pulling it carelessly sped over bumps and washboards in the makeshift road.

When the bumpy ride was over, my sister and I got back in her car. We were both thinking, “Now what?” I could tell she was tired and was ready to get home. We stopped for food before getting back on the highway and ending our weekend adventure: a mini road trip, a 14er summit, a visit with grandmother, and a skydive. Not bad!

She took me back to my car in Aurora and I headed out to my next climb. I ended up stopping in Idaho Springs for gas and then scoped out Mt. Evans. I was going to do a little backpacking trip in, but decided to save it for my sister’s birthday. I took in the sunset over a nearby lake and was overwhelmed by a feeling of immense grattitude! How lucky am I!?

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Then I got in my car and stopped to get dinner in Idaho Springs. Most places were closed, so I went to a bar that had little food to offer. I ordered a beer and was quickly approached by two rafting guides, probably in their 40’s. They were both drunk and full of cannabis giggles. I overheard them talking about how edibles were revolutionizing the rafting industry.

I could tell they were pretty harmless and decided to hang out with them while I finished my beer. One of them told me how he ran out of gas near Idaho Springs almost 20 years ago…and he just never left. He was from Tennessee and still had a noticeable little accent. The other man was from California. He told me how he had come out to Idaho Springs on a family vacation as a kid and he kept a picture of the town’s water wheel in his childhood bedroom. He knew he wanted to come back and live there from that time. He had dreadlocks with little silver trinkets in them. He showed me a turtle on one of his locks that was meant to bring rain. I liked his smile and his happy eyes.  I could tell that both men were pretty far down the booze and bud rabbit hole, so I didn’t bother going into much detail when I answered their questions about what I was doing and where I was going.  Sometimes their laughs were sincere and bellowing, other times I could tell that they were putting on a bit of a show.  They joked about tourists getting dumped out of boats, and fretted about the dropping water levels.

Both men invited me to go rafting for free the next day, but I knew I wanted to head over to Mt. Sherman that night. They offered to buy me shots too, but one beer was enough to get me more than buzzed. I’ve never, honestly, been much of a drinker…but in that moment I felt like Mark Twain collecting brilliant stories from drunk river rats. I stored their tales in my mind, said goodbye, and got back on the road. I have found that I am more fond of anecdotes about strangers…when I have kept them as strangers.  Duncan Trussell said, “If you can forgive yourself then you will no longer see the reflection of your own internal judgement in the faces of the people around you.  And if you can do that, then suddenly you’ll be in a whole different universe, because the universe we all exist in is the one where we’re all so terrified of the judgement of our peers.”  I know I haven’t accomplished that yet, and before too long I see too much of myself in others.  When that happens, it’s time to go!

I drove through Leadville and turned down the bumpy path to Mt. Sherman. It was weird being alone again after so much stimulation and I surprised myself in feeling a bit sad. I stopped at my destination and welcomed a drowsy sleepy feeling.  I snoozed my alarm over and over again this morning at the trailhead of my hike. By the time I got up…the weather looked questionable. I decided to explore a lower trail and found a super cool set of buildings and old mines. My phone was dead so pictures will have to wait. When I got back to my car it began to rain. I made the call to go back to Leadville to charge my phone and let my family know my new plan. Hopefully the weather cooperates Wednesday and I can make my ascent of Sherman safely.

Happy thoughts and grattitude for all the people I love! Better writing and more details to come…when I’m not typing all of this on my phone’s tiny keypad.

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