Not Goodbye, but See Ya Later!
On the heels of my decision to leave Lake City, it seems appropriate to reflect on my introduction to it…which was pretty magical. I met a lot of great people there, listened to good music, went on fun adventures, and made splendid memories that I’ll get to keep forever. The truth is, however, that I’ve never been good at staying in any one place for very long. I had hoped to break my habit and settle down in Lake City for the winter and spring, save money, and then go on another epic summer adventure consisting of endless hiking and climbing and exploring. But my itchy feet and my restless legs weren’t having it, so I left yesterday. I didn’t get to say a proper goodbye to the two people who impacted me most while I was there, but I hope that when I do return to LC that they’ll be there and they’ll let me weasel my way into another epic adventure with them.
This video and piece of writing are from my summer climb of Kit Carson and Challenger. Commencing flashback in 3…2…1…
Return to Lake City
To her, it was a heavy place. Heavy for its memories, its memories of her father that she never experienced, the memories she only heard about, the memories that she had to imagine and play out behind her eyes while they were orated or written to her. Her father lived there before she was born, before the family was complete, before the new beginnings, before the difficult endings. Lake City was heavy from her expectations. It was heavy with curiosity. It was heavy with a certain amount of joy and heavy with a certain amount of pain. She went there to climb the town’s surrounding fourteeners, she went there with a kind friend, but returned alone. It was a place she had to go to alone. It was a place she needed to experience and face, one on one. She needed to hear its songs, to meet its people, to smell its air, to feel its wind, to learn its story…in solitude.
She had lost her confidence long ago. She was no longer that brave-rambunctious-sparks in her eyes girl. In fact, her eyes were more of a melancholy blue and her eyebrows were often bunched up and pensive. She no longer lived up to the nickname her father gave her, “Mad Dr. X.” He gave that name to her for her mischievous reputation as a child. It wasn’t who she was anymore, yet, she had the name tattooed on the inside of her left forearm. She got the tattoo in an attempt to force herself to be a rascal again, fearless and full of fire. But it didn’t work. In some ways, yes, she was brave: she hiked up mountains alone and she also climbed mountains with random strangers, she slept anywhere her car or feet took her, she hitched rides, she backhanded a bear, she traveled, she tried new jobs, she rode wild horses. She was rarely afraid of the adventures that presented themselves to her, she was rarely afraid of the strangers she met, she was rarely afraid to go for broke…but she was always afraid of herself and afraid to show too much of who she was in front of the minds and eyes of others. Unaccompanied on a basketball court she could sink five three-pointers in a row, dibble between her legs and behind her back without bobbling once…but if a single pair of eyes saw her, she lost her magic. She could think the deepest thoughts and understand the universe with crystal clarity, but if someone asked her a question about her beliefs, she would choke and stutter and talk in pitch of voice that commanded no attention. She got talked over at every social gathering, rarely did she feel heard, and seldom could she speak with conviction. She hoped that this journey to Lake City would help destroy the weak parts of herself and resurrect the strong parts.
When she returned to Lake City, she stayed in a hostel that was run by a kind man named Lucky that she knew little about. She heard tidbits about him from locals: he was a good carpenter, a good guy, a hard worker. At his hostel she met people who were like her: on a journey, with a future full of mystery and unanswerable questions. She met a young woman from Portland with wild hair and a strong voice. She exchanged words with the woman, only briefly, but she felt an instant kinship and connection. They had a love of cars and horses in common. Another woman at the hostel, who surpassed the girl in age by a few decades, told her of a battle she had with Lime’s Disease. She was educated and had a full-bodied vocabulary, but there were still things she didn’t know or understand. She was a good talker, she made the girl feel at ease because moments of awkward silence were rare, the woman was good at filling up those gaps. There was a thin, light-haired, bearded man who was at the hostel as well. He was sweet and strong in his own way, but the girl knew he lacked confidence. He got talked over often and was slightly aloof, but clearly wanted to connect with people…with someone, but that someone wasn’t going to be her. Three construction workers came to the hostel and listened to the girl play guitar. One of the men loved to strum his fingers across six strings; he loved the way his fingers danced from fret to fret. But his love was stolen from him when his left arm was crushed in an accident at work. He laid the girl’s guitar down and tap-slap-pinged the strings in a style that was truly his own, it was a beautiful and resilient act. All three of the construction workers had strange but intriguing voices that pulled the girl into listening to even the silliest and most meaningless discussions. The girl went to a fly shop in town that her mother had told her about. She didn’t know the people who owned it, but her mother did and her father did. She cracked open the front door and was greeted by a kind older man. She told him the names of her parents and he immediately knew who she was talking about. The man took the girl to the back office of the shop to meet his wife, who gave the girl a genuinely sweet-loving hug and asked her about her family and how they were doing.
The girl was happy she went back to Lake City, she was happy to have met all the people she did. But she felt overwhelmed and overstimulated. She was ready to run, she didn’t honestly know where she was headed…just somewhere else. She rushed around and gathered her things from the hostel with a sense of urgency and panic. She went to thank Lucky, the owner of the place, and say good bye. But she somehow invited herself on his climbing trip that he was going on that evening with one of his friends. She re-packed her bags in preparation for the excursion to Kit Carson and hoped she wasn’t going to be a nuisance.
Lucky’s friend pulled up in a little white car and cleaned it out with the help of his longtime girlfriend. They were both lean and strong, they were tanned from the sun, they looked like they knew how to live. His name was Mad Dog, and his girlfriend was staying behind, but he told her he wished she would come with…he told her how much he loved her, and then they said goodbye to each other with a palpable longing. They were sweet together.
The girl loaded her things in the back of the small white car and headed off with the two men. She had no real idea what she was doing or what route she would take. She figured if worst came to worst…it would at least be an adventure. After a few hours of driving and listening to her new friends exchange stories, she arrived at the Spanish Creek Trailhead. She weeded out the things from her pack that she didn’t need, and in the dark she took off…and headed toward Kit Carson Peak, where the men were going to climbthe Prow. The trail was strong in some places and faint in others, but the bright moon helped guide the way. Every now and then they would all get off the trail, but always found it again, until the final stretch of the night hike when it disappeared altogether. They found a shrine at one point that sparkled and twinkled and glowed in the light of headlamps and stars above that peaked out from behind scattered blue-white clouds. They had to pass through a place of religious retreat, an Ashram, to get to where they needed to go. The girl knew this place at this time was sacred, there was no denial. Mysticism shot up and exploded in her mind like colorful Fourth of July fireworks.
Sometime after midnight the men and the girl stopped to sleep at the base of the Prow. Mad Dog had a brief discussion with himself out loud, “Is that the Prow?” “Oh yeah, that’s the Prow!” “Is that the Prow?” “I don’t think that’s it.” “Is it?” “That’s definitely it little buddy!” Mad Dog was one of those guys that made people feel like they were his lifelong friends…even if he had just met them. He called Lucky “little buddy” and he called the girl “little sis.” He joked and laughed and seemed comfortable with who he was at all times. The girl wondered if he had always been that way, or if he learned to be that way. He had a clear growling hunger for life and clear opinions for how life should be lived. He was exciting but also made the girl a little nervous, she felt out of her league and very uncool by comparison. Lucky was quiet and calm, he had happy eyes and an honest smile. He was humble and acted unassuming, but the girl saw past his cloak, she saw that he was an impactful person with a wild life-story that she would probably never hear. But that didn’t matter; because she was there in that moment…she was a part of the adventure!
The three adventurers bedded down for the night. The girl was cold, nervous, but elated. She woke up to a shy sun that slowly peaked over the blue-tinted mountains that surrounded her. She gathered her things and split ways with Mad Dog and Lucky. She decided to hike up a couloir that was a short distance from the Prow. She made good time, and quickly found herself at Kit Carson Avenue. The men were still climbing, so she decided to scramble up Challenger while she waited for them. When she was done, they were still climbing…so she decided to hike up Kit Carson. She didn’t stay at the summit for long, just long enough to take a few pictures and catch her breath. Then she headed back down, nervous she’d miss Lucky and Mad Dog. When she returned to Kit Carson Avenue, the men still hadn’t finished their climb. She decided to hang out at the top of the Prow; she set down her big puffy jacket, put her sunglasses on, and took a little nap. Before she could truly fall asleep, she heard Mad Dog talking about a feather he found, then he popped over the top of the Prow and greeted the girl. Not long after, Lucky came into sight. The two men collected their gear, changed shoes, and decided to see what the top of Challenger was all about. The girl wasn’t about to stay behind, so she followed along and visited the summit once more. From Challenger, Lucky and Mad Dog contemplated an easy climbing route up the final piece of Kit Carson. They asked the girl if she wanted to climb it with them, and she told them she would do it…as long as they felt alright about it, as long as she wasn’t going to be a nuisance. They kindly insisted that she tag along with them, and so she did.
It had been a long time since she had done any kind of climbing; it was another one of those things she had given up on. But that day, it came back into her life and she greeted it like an old friend: awkwardly at first, but then comfortably as time passed. In no time, the climb was over and all three of the adventurers were at the summit of Kit Carson. They were ready to make their descent after a few moments of appreciating the views. They made it back to their campsite after some downhill scrambling and sliding, where they met a man who was lost. They helped him find his way to the Spanish Creek Trailhead and Mad Dog gave him a ride back to his car. Later, the three adventurers and the lost man stopped at a bar and ordered a few beers and shot the breeze for a while. Then it was time to head back to Lake City.
It was late when the girl found herself back at the hostel. She debated whether or not to stay there, she felt like she needed to disappear before the magic was ruined. She thought about pulling off an Irish Goodbye, but her eyes were burning and drooping…she needed to sleep, so she stayed.
The next day she played basketball at Lake City’s outdoor basketball court for a few hours, she wrote, she edited photos and video, she said very little to anyone. Then she went to the Packer Saloon where there was live music in the evening. It was there that she ran into Lucky again, who invited her to sit at his table. His three children quietly meandered around the outdoor patio, they had messy hair and tired eyes. The girl could tell they had been playing freely and happily before she encountered them that night. She was pleased to see such cheery children spending time with their dad. They clearly loved him dearly and he was equally infatuated with them. She felt a lump in her throat, she thought about when she was little, about the times she sat on her dad’s lap and tried to grab the curling smoke from his cigarettes…how it always disappeared and puffed out between her fingers. She thought about how she always had to remind him to wear his seatbelt. She thought about the night she was snuggled in bed with him and neither of them could sleep. She remembered making Frog’s Eye Salad with him at midnight, she recalled the way the foam from his toothpaste spilled out of his mouth and made a white Trident mustache. She remembered trying to copy him by brushing her lips. She remembered how he laughed at her. She thought about the wrinkles between his eyebrows. She recalled their not so secret handshake. Anytime she saw a dad and his kids she felt this urge to say something, to say “don’t take it for granted, don’t miss a thing, love your children, and know how much they love you, know that they want to be with you, they want to be like you!” But she never did say it, she always held it in like a secret.
Later that night, after the musical performer was finished with his set, she played a few songs for people she had never met before. She was more nervous than usual, her voice wasn’t strong in any way, but she tried. She felt a little embarrassed, but she knew that she couldn’t always count on herself to sing and play boldly. The people she played for invited her to come hang out with them at their friend’s house. Normally, she would’ve passed…but that night she took them up on their offer. She tried to play and sing with them a little bit, but they were much better than she was. She listened to their conversations about where life was taking them and what made them happy and what made them sad. When it was time to leave, she felt strange and felt a heaviness leaning on her mind again. All of the people she had met in Lake City were so kind and talented. They all embraced adventure and craved a certain knowledge about existence that most people seemed to sluff off. They were an elusive breed, they were a rare find, an endangered species, and who was she to be so lucky to see them in their natural habitat?
The girl sat at a coffee shop the next day, after sleeping in her car, and tried to recall the recent series of events. She wondered where she would go and what she would do next?
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Lake City, Colorado?!?!?! We went there every summer when I was a kid. After My daughter was born, my mom wondered if Vicker’s was still in business. When we found it was, we started going back. Did lots of day hikes around there. One summer I hiked from there to Wolf Creek Pass following the Continental Divide trail. Beautiful country!
Yep! Beautiful- magical Lake City, CO! Sounds like your time spent there has been precious! It’s not a place you just go to once. I know I’ll end up back there for some reason or another…I hope you get many more memories there too!