Monday, July 16, 2012

At Altitude

I had many goals for our trip to the Rockies last week. The primary goal was to shake off some of the stress that has recently built to toxic levels in my system. I find it often takes until day three or four of a vacation to mentally let go of all the work crap. Then the trick becomes holding the line as the vacation comes to a close; there's really only a window of two, maybe three, days when I'm switched off.

Once self is taken care of I seek to rediscover the stuff that connects us as a family. Life intrudes aggressively between our relationships and we're so focused on the goal that we often forget about the journey and the moment.

I recently watched a video of Marc's family spending some time dam building* on a small stream. In that video he caught one of those perfect moments. Every thought of the future was tucked safely away and the kids were focused on a simple task and doing it in their own way. After a day of conference calls and urgent issues it was a wonderful peek into a simple time.

In the Rockies we sought these things as a family. Experiencing something new, together, simply.

We lucked out and ran into the Cherry Creek Arts Festival near our hotel in Denver. This allowed us some walk about time though I was still heavily in detox mode and probably wasn't as much fun to be around as I had hoped.

Andy Rogers' Ceramics
My children are now teenagers. As they're closing in on adulthood it's harder than ever to see what kind of people they're becoming. I'm sure my absence for work, both physical and mental, doesn't help but they're also at that age when transparency with one's parent is not desirable. Wandering the festival the shade that separates us parted briefly.

In their response to art perhaps the glass went from deeply tinted to lightly frosted. Fortunately we all shared the same aversion to the creepy pseudo-human sculpture that seemed the rage. Some cool urban photos appealed to the older and the younger seemed interested in the organic sculpture. In their response to art perhaps we got a brief glimpse into what may be going on inside those brains and perhaps of who they're trying to become. Or maybe it was just a nice walk. Regardless, it was balm.

The Rockies are all about altitude. The Mile High City is a stunted stepchild compared to what lies west. Mt. Evans beckoned and seemed a safe way to experience the altitude of the place. At the turn of the last century the City of Denver had been kind enough to create a road to the top of this fourteen thousand foot peak and while I don't climb, I can drive. So up we went.

The lovely and I at the summit of Mt. Evans.You can't hear the wheezing in a photograph.
The weather was close in so we didn't get the expansive views that can be appreciated on clear days. What we did get was oxygen deprivation. Too many cigarettes during a misspent youth, a few too many cigars more recently, but more likely a life spent at sea level left me dizzy at low activity levels at the summit. There's nothing to foil your journey towards lower stress levels and enlightenment than to be reminded of just how flawed you are.

Fine fishing 2,000 feet below Mt. Evans' summit.
Fortunately, I was distracted from my internal mental gymnastics by the journey forward. By the time we got to Estes Park - via Jay's shop in Boulder and Mike Clark's shop in Lyons - I was almost at a point where relaxation seemed possible once again.

Cub Lake
A walk around the base of Long's Peak, another fourteen thousand foot slab of stone, went well on day five. We were winded by not incapacitated; we felt alive, not close to death. By day seven we tackled six miles of trail near the Big Thompson. Close to nine thousand feet of oxygen poor altitude.

The Big T hike didn't kill us though at times it felt it might. Again, the altitude had its way with us making a six mile hike feel like twice that. But mostly the challenge was the same as one finds on any physical endeavor; it's largely a mental game.

Again the spirit of the boys cracked through the hard teenage shell. As the miles piled up on the trail the facade that the older sometimes puts on peeled away to reveal the man that is emerging. Serious at times, light at others, always the elder.

Most surprising was the younger's resilience on the walk. While a complaint occasionally slipped through his lips, the obstinacy of those pre-teen years was disappearing and he soldiered forward, often in the lead, right through to the end.

And Ann and I leaned on each other like we've done for over two decades. The walks through life, whether at sea level or several miles above, are never easy. But one finds that they are easier and more easily accomplished with encouraging words, a helping hand and two strong hearts working extra hard, especially in thin air.

Deep waters of the Big Thompson.

* No streams were harmed in the construction of this temporary structure.


  1. Every time I go out fishing, no matter where it's at, I continue after 55 years to still marvel at Colorado's beauty. Sounds like you had a good time.

    1. Howard, it was a very good time. If I could just figure out a way to retire I'd be all set. Definitely on my short list of places to return to soon.

    2. If you figure out the retirement thing, let me know.

  2. Beautiful pictures, thanks for sharing.

    1. You're welcome. Thx for the stopping by. I should have some more pics up before the end of the week.

  3. Nice piece Steve. Well done, warmly felt.

  4. Nice piece Steve. Well done, warmly felt.

  5. Nice post Steve...I look at my kids, a decade younger and often wonder as appears we have both been blessed with good partners.