I fell in love with Colorado long before I'd ever seen her.
Years ago, in high school, my pal Josh and I were ate up with downhill skiing... we worked out paper routes, saving what we made, the only goal being "have enough money for new skis and a season pass to Timber Ridge in Michigan." Whatever was left went to issues of "Skiing", where we'd salivate over pictures of someone in one of the back bowls of Vail, or plowing through the powder at Aspen, or jamming the moguls in Winter Park/Mary Jane. We dreamed of days in the hills, the air so crisp and clean it burned your lungs, the sky so bright and blue you would swear you were looking over heaven.
I left Atlanta in 2003, knowing there had to be more to the world than the Indiana and Georgia that I'd experienced so far. I'd talked my way into a job in Denver, so I loaded up the uHaul, hitched it to my Jeep Wrangler, filled the thermos with coffee, and pointed my way west.
The hills... they take your breath away. Rising sharply from the high plains, there's a sense of generally flat, boring, non-descript terrain that seems for all the world to have decided it was time for a growth spurt. The peaks reached beyond the clouds, and you sensed that if you managed to get to the top you could, in the words of John Magee, reach out your hand, "and touch the face of God."
I made those mountains my second home. Yes, my mailing address was in Denver, which is relatively flat, but my heart and soul lived in those hills. I walked the walk of the just and the peaceful, I measured my days in vertical feet, I thought nothing wrong with the idea of carrying my skis and pack up a hill on an August day with nothing more than a faint hope that there might be snow. I scaled cliffs, I ate breakfast above 14,000 feet more than once, I woke up earlier for climbing than I did work, and I turned away from a peak because of storm clouds more often than I made it to the summit.
I found my inner peace up there. There wasn't a soul around, save me and my dog and the stray Mountain Sheep. And, for the first time in a life, I found happiness.
To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden where doing nothing was not boring - it was peace. -- Milan Kundera
I left, once, because a man does what a man must do to pay the bills, and I cried the whole time. This was my home. This was where I belonged. This is where I felt like a complete man.
It took some time, but I managed to find my way back here after several years in the desert. I packed what I had, pointed the car north, and once again felt the peace and serenity and wholeness that can only come with thin air and snow capped peaks.
It's been a wonderful run, too. New friends have been made, old friends have been reaffirmed, other old friends have drifted their own way, and through it all, the mountains stood watch, silent witness to the growth of a man. They were my mistress, my lover, my abuser, my constant companion. There were times when they would kick my ass, times when they'd let me think I'd kicked theirs, and times when we just sorta agreed to tolerate each other. "I won't hurt you if you don't hurt me... at least for today. Deal?"
Now I leave them again. My new love beckons come hither, come to Indiana and make a family. I love my wife more than anything, even more than my mountains, and I can't bear life without her. The courts won't let her move here without giving up custody of her daughters, and that will not do. I can't make a marriage work from 1100 miles away. So I leave Colorado, headed to Indiana, because a man must do what a man must do. I'll be pointed east for the next couple days, starting a new chapter in my life.
And the mountains? They've waited for me for going on 55 million years or so. I reckon they'll wait a few years more. Because they know I'll be back... I can't not come back.
Adios, Colorado. It's been a hoot.