CT: Leadville and The Colorado Trail House
The streets of Leadville were lined with houses painted in pastels of every shade imaginable. They all seemed to be slightly variable versions of the same small A-frame with funky geometric trims bordering the shutters and porches. Walking along the sidewalk, I couldn’t help but smile at the whimsical architecture interspersed with stark industrial touches that recalled the mining industry that led to Leadville’s establishment.
I didn’t have to walk very far to the Colorado Trail House but when I came upon it, I stood stunned on the street. The Trail House was an enormous Victorian the color of lilac blossoms whose edifice was accentuated with dark purple details. The side yard was bursting with yellow and white flowers which sprouted delightfully out of control around a patio area, a fire pit, and a hot tub.
I walked slowly up the front steps and pushed open the heavy French door, then stepped inside an elegant foyer with dark wooden furniture covered in vintage upholstery. Every fixture was so thoughtfully placed. Picturesque and time stamped from another era. I was grateful Matt had taken the initiative to select and secure a place for us to stay. I hadn’t expected the place to have such a dreamy atmosphere. That the fantasies we’d shared while laying in my tent might actually come to fruition.
The door opened behind me and I turned to find Matt stepping over the threshold tentatively, stepping lightly as though he were afraid to touch or break anything. He looked out of place, covered in sweat and dirt, wearing trail runners and athletic clothes. But the sight of him, the fact that we’d made it to this moment, ameliorated whatever uncertainties I had felt earlier. I smiled warmly at him.
“Wow,” I breathed, “This place is unreal.”
He lifted his head, blue eyes tracking slowly over the interior before coming to rest on mine.
“I’m glad you like it. About earlier—I wasn’t trying to ignore you. I just…I like being on my own.”
I nodded. I understood that and I liked that about him. His independence. I liked being on my own too. Valued my autonomy more than almost anything else.
“You’re fine. Let’s find our room.”
We wandered through the living and dining areas, each artfully arranged, and eventually found the caretakers, Jenny and Bruce. They were both funny, animated, and spoke to us as if we were old friends. Uninterested in ceremonials or grandstanding, Jenny and Bruce were entirely unphased by our dirty appearances, even as we seemed dramatically out of place. They directed us to our room on the top floor, conspiratorially sharing that it was their favorite.
Climbing the stairs, pushing open the door, and stepping inside, I immediately understood. The room was a spectrum of lavender, pale pinks, and shocking violets. The walls and the furniture were alight with the afternoon sunlight, casting everything in an ethereal glow. Luxurious textures suffused the space, which provided a surreal sensory experience. Delicate little rosebuds embroidered on a gauzy shower curtain which guarded a purple clawfoot tub. Their threads glinted like little golden winks. Pearlescent white strands, silken and soft like a flapper’s dress, dangled from a lamp shade. At its side, a stack of antique books bound in burgundy, indigo, and evergreen bindings ribbed with gold lettering.
Matt and I stood awestruck for a second before carefully sliding off our packs and sneakers, hesitant to disturb the lovely little space that had been entrusted to us. We turned to face each other, suddenly becoming aware that we were finally in private, with no miles to walk, and sheltered from the elements with every creature comfort within our reach.
Matt stepped toward me and pulled me against him in a gentle embrace, craning his face at just the right angle to intercept a kiss. My ears filled with a blissful unfurling silence, as if the world beyond the lilac walls was falling hush. But then he pulled away.
“I’ll give you some time by yourself. I’m going to make a couple of calls.”
There seemed to be a pattern emerging between the two of us. As though we were performing a dance, oscillating between closeness and aloofness. As one would draw near, the other would impulsively retreat. Invert the roles and repeat the cycle.
Once Matt stepped out, I took a moment to bask in my aloneness. To inhale, exhale, and stand completely still for an instant. Then I shed my clothes and went immediately to the tub, relishing the cool tiles on my barefoot soles as I manipulated the glittering knobs to the perfect water temperature. If my descriptions sound excessive, it’s because the near orgasmic pleasure conjured by the simplest of amenities after days of deprivation is still vividly impressed into my memory. There’s no recounting the ecstatic delight of washing every inch of my body with the utmost care and attention. Removing the brine of adventure in possession of a full appreciation of the miracle of warm water and soap.
Somewhere beyond my view, I heard the door swing open. Seconds later, Matt pulled the shower curtain back just far enough to step into the tub behind me, holding my gaze with a smile in his eyes. I pulled him toward me, into the scorching stream of the shower head, and began to wash his entire body with all the delicacy, adoration, and attentiveness I felt in that moment.
I descended the broad wooden stairs and at the landing, I found a familiar face. Brian’s tall frame which was just a hint leaner than the last time I’d seen him. His red hair was disheveled with sweat and salt. A warm smile spread over his mouth and reached his mischievous blue eyes. I hugged him hard and he told me about hiking both Elbert and Massive in a single whopper of a day. He looked well. Refreshed and alight with the exertion. He too would be staying at the Colorado Trail House and I was happy to see him.
The three of us, Matt, Brian, and I strolled down Leadville’s main artery. We passed by the Melanzama shop, the Silver Llama cafe, and other establishments that seemed to boost Leadville’s rugged reputation as a mining town turned recreation destination. We ordered and ate dinner at a table outside which allowed us to spectate the myriad social dramas unfolding on the street as we sipped on margaritas.
The public display of pedestrians was such a severe contrast from the privacy of the forest where onlooking strangers and even digital audiences were absent. I enjoyed the sensation of watching mundane little interactions take place among my party and others’ parties to which I had no relation. I also like being seen. Feeling as though I were an integral part of the vivid scene that constituted the street in that moment.
By the time our waitress cleared away the last of our plates, I was completely and boisterously drunk. The dusky purple twilight had given way to an expansive blackness, broken only by the twinkling streetlights, storefronts, and stars overhead. Matt and I said goodbye to Brian so we could meander home along a long, circuitous route. With my arm entwined with his, we wove past multicolored A-frames emitting soft yellow light from within. The phenomenon gave the appearance of glowing gingerbread houses with their frosted windows and candy paint cornices.
Giddy and intoxicated, we found ourselves standing before the Happy Hippy Tie Dye House. The structure itself was an elaborate explosion of teals, reds, and yellows with vibrantly dyed sheets hanging in every window like artful, inviting ghosts. In alignment with the playful atmosphere, a hammock had been placed on the street in front of the house. I crawled instinctively into its outstretched arms and laughed as my inebriated vision swam and swayed with the hammock’s gentle rocking. Matt settled in beside me and I curled into his side, balling his shirt into my clenched fist and finding a familiar hollow to fit my face in the crook of his neck.
“Would you want to live in Leadville?” I inquired.
Thru-hiking is a wondrous way to see great swathes of undeveloped land. To see protected forests, fragile alpine zones, empty countrysides, rugged mountains, and incalculable other natural landscapes. But trails, especially long trails, are oftentimes connected with small, rural communities. Thru-hikers heavily rely upon these towns and their services, making unlikely destinations for a bizarre crowd of wanderers, miners, and endurance athletes.
Whenever I visit such places, I like to imagine what it would be like to live there. To grow up there or to relocate as an adult and begin another life. Places that are slight in stature with wonderfully outsized personalities and distinctive local identities. Places like Stehekin, WA, or Idyllwild, CA, or Patagonia, AZ. In that moment, aglow with an alcoholic flush and unbridled optimism about my uncertain future, I imagined myself living there in Leadville.
“I could live in Leadville,” Matt’s reply returned my attention to his presence.
“And what would you do?”
He smirked, and though I couldn’t see it, I could feel it in the movement of his neck, his chin and jaw.
“Well, I’d run. Paint my house purple. Probably snowboard when the weather allows and read when it doesn’t. Do what I’d do anywhere—live.”
The stars glinted like tiny breaking waves on the liquid surface of the night sky. My vision swam and I drew deep, steadying breaths of the cool evening air. It sounded so simple. Idyllic. Possible.
“Come on,” Matt said with his lips pressed into my hair, “Let’s go home.”
“Okay, but you’re gonna have to navigate. How far is it? You think you could carry me?”
The featured photo titled “Victorian Houses, Leadville, Colorado” was taken by StevenM_61.
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I like your writing, and story telling, the way it happened! I am interested in Leadville, myself, and your story has tweaked my interest even more.What I liked was a fresh prospective on the way things were injoyed as it happened.I could tell you were having a good time, all the time, while being in Leadville! Thanks for the insight!