On the road, in CO (or summer travels: Part Eight)

What follows is a lightly edited and mostly stream-of-consciousness travel log of my journey from Florida to California and back again.

20160612 – Sunday

We woke up around 9a, making some jasmine tea in Ian’s quonset with his electric kettle to avoid the big morning rush of bodies to the COBS common kitchen. We talked and planned our day, as I’d be leaving the following morning since he had to leave for an overnight photography assignment around 8a.

I knew I wanted to show him my weirdness with the slacklines, all strung together in mid-air like a web and spontaneous high ropes course, especially since he’d only played with singular, solitary lines. He suggested Turquoise Lake, about twenty minutes from Outward Bound. Around 10a, we made our way to the kitchen and made some bagel sandwiches filled with all the love and fillings for the communal lunch, then headed out.

The drive to turquoise lake led us to a small valley with a fairly impressive blue body of water in the center. Ian had never been here before, so couldn’t offer many suggestions or possible locations for the lines.

We put on our day packs and set off on the trails, with an eye for adventure. I quickly found that my pack, filled to the brim with lines, ratchets, and other goodies, sucked the thin air right out of my lungs. Ian, on the other hand, had been up in Leadville for about a month and acclimatized well: he seemed like a tall dirty-blonde goat ranging through the trails and bounding off on his outrageously long legs into the woods to scout possible play areas.

Eventually, we found a small clearing next to a stream, which feeds the lake a hundred yards or so away. We cleared off dead branches from the pines using my ax and I was struck by how therapeutic it was to clear off a tall tree— almost like giving a close shave. The space felt more open and inviting once we moved all the brush to a pile, and then began building our slackline mid-air nest.

Ian invited a friend of his, Mike, who lives in the area. He texted what madness we had planned and our location. When Mike arrived, he brought his own line and in total we had five lines to romp around and transition between one space to another. Going off appearances, he looked to me like the kind of fellow that graduated high school and labored with his body, aging a bit faster and developing that blue-collar ‘adult’ air quickly. After chatting with him for a bit, he surprised me with his wit, his breadth of knowledge, and his zombie-team-usefulness: he could talk as easily about geological forces that formed the Leadville area as he could tell you the nuances of coin collections while telling you best ways to stock a wilderness first aid kit with the ‘good stuff’.

We spent the greater part of the day talking near and playing on the lines. Rain sprinkled down and then turned into a bit of shower, when I realized I hadn’t actually brought rain gear on the road trip, though the clouds cleared eventually, as they always do. The day wrapped up, the cool set in, we boiled some stream water for hot tea, packed up the nest, and headed into town for a warm dinner.

In Leadville, we ate quickly as the sun began to set behind the high mountains, as we wanted to see the final bits of daylight on a lookout Mike knew well. Racing shadows to the eastern side of Leadville, we drove up a dirt path in his rugged white truck and we saw the highest mountains in the United States turn amber, then blood red, then a cool blue. The wind was powerful and the air felt even thinner without the warmth of the sun.

When Ian and I made it back to his quonset, we fell quickly into a deep slumber, the day had been long and fun.

20160613 – Monday

Ian left first, around 8a, moving as quietly as possible in the relatively close quarters. An hour or so later, I woke slowly and gradually, brewed the morning coffee, packed up my belongings from his quonset, left a tapestry hanging to spruce the place up, and hit the road around noon.

The night before, I had completed an airbnb sweep of the area, looking for any cool places to spend an evening. I settled on this one property, Whispering Horse Sanctuary, cared for by Wendy, a sturdy woman in her mid-fifties and a law enforcement officer for her small town. Her two story home rests on ten acres of rolling foothills covered in tall and wiggly pine.

I arrived around 5p, grabbing some dinner and to-go fried rice from Asian Fusion, a nearby restaurant in Fairplay, CO. Driving up a dirt road and over some hills, I found the house and the land a few hours before sunset. After parking and getting acquainted with the outdoors here— a mile lower than Leadville, but still a mile above sea level— an orange tabby cat sauntered over and began rubbing itself on my sweatpants in long looping circles around my legs. I gave them a friendly scratch behind the ears, as a storm behind me rolled down the rockies toward the flatter eastern side of Colorado. A bolt of lightning thundered across the landscape before I rang the doorbell, noticing that the four or five dogs in the house didn’t react at all to the thunder, but lost their collective doggy minds at the bell.

Wendy greeted me kindly at the door, before bringing me upstairs to meet the pups, in all their rambunctious glory. On the property, I think there were five dogs, four cats, two horses, and one donkey. The horses rumble around on the majority of the property, fenced off old-growth forest, serving as therapy steeds when they aren’t bothering newcomers to play with them.

I said my hellos and quickly unloaded the Toyota before grabbing a walking stick and setting off on the ten acres. Wendy had told me about a labyrinth she created on a flatter portion of the land, and I was excited to see it— she threw some photos up on airbnb, but they only piqued my curiosity rather than sated it entirely.

The pictures don’t capture the essence of the place, the softer things that don’t show up in pixels. The land is obviously cared for— there are paths through the old growth, with evenly-cut branches and logs serving as the left and right boundaries. I wandered for about half an hour, taking my time and enjoying the fact that the wind can’t quite reach this side of the saddle; it’s oddly quiet at ground level, but I can hear the gentle roar of the wind hundreds of feet above as it tumbles down from the rockies. The trees are mostly pine, tall and skinny, which sway and scratch their neighbors when the breeze reaches them.

The labyrinth takes up a circle about 100′ in diameter, countless logs lining the paths that wind you into and out of the fenced off area (Wendy tells me it’s so the horses don’t go around and tromp on the markers). The old growth trees have thinned out, a large stump of one sits in the center of the circular maze. The arrangement of trees make it an exceptional area for slacklines and hammocks.

This is the first place on my solo eastbound journey that I dearly wished my partner could enjoy and play with me. The sun began to dip behind the mountain range to our west, so I decided today was simply an exploration day, and resolved to stay another night on this tiny bit of Colorado land so I could spend all of tomorrow in this labyrinth.

20160614 – Tuesday

I woke up around 10a and set about making the morning coffee. Making my way upstairs to the well-furnished kitchen, I realized that everyone else had already gotten up and left for the day, leaving me alone with a bunch of pups and cats. After many hugs, pets, barks, and rolls, I finished my coffee and prepared a daypack for the labyrinth consisting of my hammock, reading material, my trusty 1″ slackline, and some food.

I set up shop off-of-center in the labyrinth— didn’t feel quite right to put myself in the middle. I picked two tall pine trees that would set me east-west, providing good shade for most of the day: the air a bit gusty, but the sun shone quite strongly. I spent the day staring off into the sky, listening to audiobooks, reading, and overall lounging like a boss.

Idle time, spent with no particular task or end state in mind, has been a practice in mindfulness. Enjoying time spent simply thinking, allowing the random thoughts to wander into and eventually out of my mind, without allowing them to prompt me into action and not controlling the flow, just observation and quiet note-taking. What thoughts tend to drift in? Which ones cause anxiety within me? Having weak cell service helps greatly, because that darned mobile device can serve as the greatest productivity tool and can also distract me from my necessary efforts and works.

So, I spent most of the day in idleness, enjoying the breezes that rolled through from the rockies and watched the sun makes its careful way to those mountains in the west. I packed up my day camp around 6, to get ready for some dinner in the small nearby town of Fairplay for follow-up Asian Fusion.

When I arrived back to the house, I noticed some water collected on the tile floor, seeming to originate from the bathroom. After dropping off my pack, I rumbled upstairs and mentioned the errant liquid to some of the other guests and long-term tenants in the house, who had returned after their days out and about. Eventually, it was determined that this was “shit water” and came out from the toilet, possibly caused by some septic tank issues. One of the tenants called Wendy, and she sped back home.

A few minutes later, she arrived (“it’s a pretty small town”) and surveyed the scene. Not good. She went back upstairs to confer with the others, while I unpacked and repacked my things in my downstairs room, a few yards from the ominous waters. A sound, coming from the floor above, switched and the rush of moving water flowed from above to the bathroom nearby and the brackish waters increased and spread. I hollered to Wendy, and she rushed to see what was going on— it seems that a washing machine was running, had drained, and exacerbated the plumbing problems.

Wendy ran back upstairs to stop the additional problems while I handled a thready mop to at least prevent any further spread of the waters. While I burned some incense and played some relaxing oldies in the background off my portable speaker, Wendy came back downstairs and vented her day to me.

She had just come from a call as a law enforcement officer for her town. A seven year old boy had committed suicide by hanging, after his mother had grounded him and sent him to his room. While at the grisly and heartbreaking scene, she had received the call of an emergency at home.

When I had hollered up to Wendy over the washing machine water, she came down the stairs and stood in overwhelmed shock. I imagine on any other day, the strong woman in front of me would’ve been able to calmly assess the surging poop water and start mopping, but this was an already long day for her. You can only deal with so much turbulence in a day before the tank is full, even if you are a tough cop. So, when I saw that look on her face, I asked her if she had a mop so I could help— this seemed to kick her back into gear and got her wheels spinning again.

After about half an hour, she came back down with a plan and a noticeably more relaxed demeanor. Wendy had called a plumber friend and things were settled down. I handed her the mop, joking that I had definitely earned my dinner now! With that, I left the lovely property on a hill, drove a few miles south and downhill for dinner, as the sun made its way to the horizon.

I came back after sunset and some noodles, the plumber packing up his truck as I parked my Toyota. “All taken care of, just cleaning up now,” he said when I asked about the ‘situation’. Turns out the problem lied in a blocked septic main line, which he resolved neatly. When I entered, Wendy was mopping the tile floor to a shimmering glean, the whole mess already behind us.

She thanked me again, which I accepted graciously before heading to bed.

Long Form Sundays

On Death Podcast

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