When I was 15 I went to Colorado.
We drove for over two full days in two (or more? my memory is sketchy) 15 passenger vans across the Midwest. It was unbearably hot and sweltering. There were a handful of twenty-something chaperones and a myriad of high-schoolers gunning for the wilderness. It was glorious. Open Road is actually a fictional recount drawn from our insane drive across the United States and the emotions that matched it. In fact, there is more from where that came from. Wink.
It was June, summer. We recouped at base camp before spending three days hiking the Rockies with only what we carried on our packs. We rock propelled off the mountain surface, white water rafted the treacherous rapids, and dealt with the elements for several days. Then we sat at base camp in tepees, rolling our t shirts and shorts in tight compression before setting out into the utter unknown. I remember after miles of hiking my legs were aching, thousands of calories burned, and sitting at the campfire with orange Tanga in our hot mugs, which was just everything. Everything. We thought it was just comfort food, but our guides knew it was sustenance We also ate ration soup.
Our two wilderness guides taught us how to keep warm at night. The trick counters what would think, but you wear just your underwear and then stuff your cocoon sleeping bag with your remaining clothes around you. You don’t wear them, but stuff them to the outer edges of the bag. Somehow they conduct heat. Every morning I would wake with the cocoon bag wrapped around my body, cinched over my face with the frost outside, toasty warm within my triangle tent barrier from the elements on the edge of the Colorado Rockies. One morning there was snow and we woke in amazement that the packing clothes in our bags actually worked! We were warm and it was pleasant in our bags. The mental struggle was to come to the fire in camp set by our two guides. We drank hot Tanga again for breakfast and applied corn adhesive to our ankles before packing camp. I remember one our of our guides’ names was Mara: bitterness.
There was one day that was incredibly damp. I was heavy with moisture in my wool boot socks and thin, cotton shorts as I trudged the muddy, rock-strewn trail. My 80 pound pack dug into my shoulders. I pictured Sylvester Stallone as I set my face to the task, a favorite inspiration for my brother and I.
But despite these internal, mental struggles, the path was breathtaking. When I felt trod down I would tell myself, at fifteen, to look up. To look at each water droplet that slid and sunk from the electric green leaf to the beauteous, grey-brown rocks below. It was like an orchestra, the falling rain to the mountain we ascended. Soul-catching.
I was envisioning Rocky (my favorite movie character) and my boyfriend at the time who told me I could do it, and to persevere. I had been tasked with carrying the stove and propane which made me carry quite a heavy load for a 100 pound girl. I was carrying almost twice my weight up a state park mountain. I put my head down and got to work. This was my playground.
We pitched our tents near a mountain stream, filling our water bottles. We dropped iodine tablets into them. A trip to the bathroom included a shovel and pine cones. I was in the beginning of my month and could leave nothing behind. Our tents were mere tarps over the muddy mountainside, a triangle canvas hovering on a slope. It down poured for over 12 hours. I remember sitting in the tent for hours with Deborah. I had flashcards in my pack, the writer that I am I always had something to write on, even at 15. I wrote down songs that we streamed out, laying on our backs on the hard ground, laughing our way through the evening of damp, wet, cold, mountain tenting.
In the morning we ascended the peak and the wind whipped harder than anything that I have ever felt. It was like life ripping through me. The feeling…it was like I was standing on a photograph: the cuts, rivets, and valleys of the Rocky mountains alive with snow and evergreen, and I was on top of it all. My size 7 booted feet upon the Rockies that Lewis and Clark marked and mapped two hundred years before. My breath was caught within me.
And in the end, we gathered around the broad river, the night fire blazing among us as we gathered. It is in these glorious moments we are pulled back to the glory of the Creator, as well as the searing of souls together. For that, dear Lord, I am thankful. That creation breaches nature and draws in my neighbor. I praise Thee.