colorado

Be Thankful, 2012: New Friends

I moved to Colorado without knowing anyone, which was romantic, but also stupid. The practical implications of my rugged individualism turned out to be watching old episodes of 90210 while eating Caesar salad alone. Of course I wanted to meet new people, but I didn’t have much experience actively making friends. My friends were people I had met in school or at work, at times when I wasn’t desperate for or even aware of new companionship. Friends were just people who popped into my life and stayed. 

What I learned moving out to Colorado is that making new friends is a numbers game. You have to meet a lot of jerks to find someone who is cool. For instance, out of three alumni meet-ups I’ve been to, I’ve made one friend. Those odds aren’t bad, but at the first two events, I was pretty depressed to be hanging out with people whose life highlight seemed to be getting into a good college. 

But one advantage of needing to make new friends is being aware of the moment when the person stops being a number in your phone becomes real. The other night, a new friend called me to gossip about the previous night’s party. And even though there’s nothing like an old school friend, one who borrows a book from your mom while you’re out of town, there is something nice about being part of a nascent friendship. 

West for the Afternoon

I have a Belgian Aunt-in-Law who lives in L.A. What brought her there was watching an old Hollywood movie on a rainy day in Europe. When a Gene Kelly type reached out his kitchen window and picked an orange off of a tree, she thought, “That is the life for me,” and eventually, she made it her life.  

My Western origin story began in Palm Desert in December, 2008. I was with my then-boyfriend and his friend from L.A., who was driving us to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. Among much clutter, she had The 50 Best L.A. Hikes in her car. I didn’t move for another two and a half years, but living someplace where keeping a hiking book in your car made sense, that was the life for me. 

There’s outdoors to do in New York. I’ve even taken public transportation to go kayaking. But a trip to Mohonk or Breakneck Ridge is the whole day. What I wanted was to do an errand in the morning, not be sure what to do with my afternoon, look over to my passenger seat, see a guide book and go from there. 

Of course I don’t keep Run The Rockies: Classic Trail Runs in Colorado’s Front Range in my car. (I’m way too neurotic about time, wicking gear, and clutter.) But I could, and every time I go trail running as just one part of my day, I feel very happy to live in Colorado. 

Trying: Totally Worth It

My friend Scott’s dad is an oenophile, and sends Scott an assortment of very good wine every month or so. Scott enjoys it, but rarely thinks about which cheese or fruit would go well with whatever has arrived. This father-son wine of the month club has given Scott a taste for good wine, but no knowledge of how to acquire it on his own. He has become, in his words, an ignorant snob.

And so it has been with me and the mountains. I spent many July 4ths at a large estate in the Adirondacks, where my friend’s dad’s encyclopedic knowledge of local hikes made guidebooks unnecessary. It was all so easy: the best hikes were minutes away from their home, and from running, no hike was too hard for me. Afterward, we got onion rings and milkshakes, and back at the house, the view rivaled whatever we had seen on top of the mountain.  

In my first six months in Colorado, I barely left Denver. I looked at the Rockies through my bedroom window.  I found some comfort in their existence, as if this landmass was proof of something bigger, or more personal, than shifting tectonic plates or melting glaciers. But I didn’t know where to start, and I had no one to guide me. Once the snow melted, I began going on disappointing trail runs based on google searches, and continued to know effectively nothing about the geography of Colorado.   

I’ve been luckier with mountain biking. I have a friend who knows the trails, and more importantly, has access to loaner bikes for me. The first time we went, I got a concussion trying to get the bikes out of the car, but I loved the ride. Mountain biking has everything I like about hiking—the lack of cellphone service, the way food tastes on breaks—but is faster. That first ride, we went out long enough for me to think I could have gone longer. The terrain was just the right amount of difficult to hide the fact that I wouldn’t have been able to keep up on the climbs, and the bike I rode took all the shocks on the way down.

Yesterday, we went on a faster, longer course. The casual arrogance I’ve acquired toward the physical turned into some embarrassment as I struggled on the uphill. Where my usual indifference to bodily harm went as we cruised downhill, I don’t know, but I spent most of the last five miles afraid of crashing into a tree. 

My previous understanding of the physicality of biking was always based on the existence of the bike seat, and that at any time, a rider can sit down and cruise. But that’s a trick. Since my body wasn’t being worn down at the same rate as my electrolyte balance, when the crash came, it came as a surprise.  And so I realized with some disappointment how little I knew about mountain biking, and also, that it would take a bit longer than immediately to get any good at it. 

Riding back from the trail  on the fire service road, drinking beers we had hidden in the creek, a herd of deer ran by us. There were mountains in the distance and the sky was blue, and I felt a million miles away from everything except for that moment. It is easy and lucky to be an ignorant snob, but to get to a feeling like that is worth any effort. 

#AuroraShootings

For the first few hours after finding out about the shootings in Aurora, Colorado, any social media about the weather, a good iced coffee or Frank Ocean made me kind of furious. All I wanted to read in 140 character increments was more about the murders. I wanted to know the last tweets of the Channel 7 sports reporter who died, about the tear gas that the audience mistook as another special effect, and about the kinds of costumes people had worn to the screening. As if these facts could give some definition to something so senseless. Of course, they did not make me feel any better than a photo of an iced coffee.

In terms of national tragedies that I’ve been in a 20-mile radius of, this one was different than September 11. On 9/11, all the senseless murder was connected to something larger. That’s not to say an international terrorist plot makes the untimely death of a brother or mom any easier. But for those who were only attached to the tragedy as a witness, there was a narrative that unfolded afterward, and there’s something comforting in a story. 

There has been an effort to blame the senselessness of the Aurora shootings on the NRA’s interpretation of the second amendment. But I don’t think that’s fair. Just as the pro-choice movement isn’t in favor of abortions, the NRA doesn’t like mass murder. (Though to the guy wearing a second amendment t-shirt in Lyons on Saturday: maybe too soon?) James Holmes was going to do something awful no matter how long he had to wait for whatever kind of weapon he was going to buy. There’s nothing tangible to blame this tragedy on. 

I went to bed on Thursday night maybe a little drunk, but safe and cool in my air-conditioned apartment, ready to wake up to a Friday morning and the coming weekend. Instead, I woke up to a panicked email from a friend who knew I would never go to a midnight showing of Batman. I don’t think she thought I was in real danger, but my proximity to the random unfairness of life left her unnerved. 

Last week was not slow in the senseless tragedy genre. In Burgas, Bulgaria, a suicide bomber blew up a bus of Israeli tourists. While I was as unlikely to be on that bus as I was to be at the Batman premier, I have been in Burgas. In fact, last summer, an Israeli real estate investor gave my friend and me a ride along 99, even going so far as to pay a cab driver to lead us to the train station in the city. For those who aren’t up on Bulgarian history, the country takes much pride in being one of the few places that didn’t turn their Jews over during WWII and Israeli tourism is a strong part of their economy. My friend who lives in Sofia said there were more than a few Facebook statuses equating the suicide bomber to September 11. 

It’s easy to go months and even years and pretend. But with the Aurora shootings and the suicide bombing in Burgas, there it is, and in a place I’ve been: life is uncertain and unfair. What’s kept me happy and healthy for the past 29 years has been nothing but luck. And it could go the other way at any moment. 

On Brand

I’ve been a fan of the Christos since Calvin Tompkins 2004 profile of the couple and their efforts to bring the Gates to Central Park. Actually seeing the Gates was one of those experiences where forming a new opinion was impossible. I had been looking forward to the project for a year. I loved it.

So when friends of Over the River emailed (I’m on their email list, of course I’m on their email list) to say that Christo was doing a signing two hours away, I didn’t really have a choice about going, and on Tuesday, I drove down to Cañon City, Colorado, one of the sights for Over the River. 

Minus the traffic getting out of Denver, the drive down reminded me of the Salt Lake City to Price, Utah leg of my cross-country journey. We did that stretch at night, and the road was unlit and winding. It was my turn to drive, and I was nervous the whole time. Still, even before we arrived at our motel, I knew I would make it, and I would look back on my time on US-6 as proof that I could get through things, or at least through long drives at night. 

The drive down to Cañon City wasn’t as hard as the one down to Price, perhaps because I use a car all the time now. The signing wasn’t crowded, but Christo looked halved without Jeanne-Claude by his side and was not as excited as I was for our exchange.

Afterward, we went to Di Rito’s, an Italian restaurant that will probably do quite well during Over the River. Normally, I wouldn’t eat at a restaurant whose name is so reminiscent of  a mass-produced corn chip, but eating there wasn’t entirely ironic. Having a meatball calzone in Cañon City, Colorado made sense in my life, just like visiting the Met to see the exhibit of Christo drawings had made sense in my life in 2004. 

However, when I overheard the owner describing his food as good, but not $75 a plate in New York good, I laughed, mostly because if you’re paying $75 a plate for Italian in New York, you’re getting ripped off. 

On Not Being in New York

So I’m on a farm north of Fort Collins for a few days, in what would be an amazing writer’s cabin except there are a ton of flies and I have to pee outside. 

A lot is going on back in New York. There was the earthquake and the hurricane, and the tenth anniversary of September 11 is coming up. My friend Jordan said there’s an energy in New York right now, a sense that everyone in the whole city is dealing with the same thing.

I can remember that feeling, and I can imagine what my life in New York would be like if I hadn’t moved. I probably would have felt the earthquake from my second floor apartment, while I was writing, or more likely, reading something frivolous online. I would have holed up with some friends in Clinton Hill and watched movies for the Hurricane. On the anniversary of September 11, I would have remembered my awkward and uncertain reaction during my first week of college, when I went to top floor of my dorm and could see smoke from the fallen Twin Towers.  

But as I write this, the farm’s border collie is playing with a dead mouse. With all the thinking that went into leaving New York, I had no idea that on August 31,, I would be watching a dog who just licked my hand lick the inside of a rodent.

So there’s that.  Also, this is true every year.  

Car Crowding

“I don’t know if I want to be good at car camping,” Truman said on our tenth day on the road, and our fifth night in a tent.

And fair enough: car camping is neither luxurious nor outdoorsy. There are conveniences, like access to showers that take quarters and having bear-attracting odors locked safely in the car. But the fact is, you’re sleeping in a tent and cooking food on a glorified bunson burner. On our third night in Yellowstone, Truman said, “We haven’t had vegetables in four days.” We had even gone through the carrots we had brought as emergency roughage.

But after driving more than 4000 miles over three weeks, and camping in Iowa, South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah and now Colorado, we know how to do it. Some tips: you can’t have too many reusable bags and bottles filled with water. Small treats, like chocolate and wine, go a long way. Buy firewood when the opportunity presents itself.

Yesterday was the last night we will spend out of a car. We knew where to stay: we found a site by a small tributary to the Colorado River. We knew how to be friendly: we ran out of fuel for our stove, but asked around and were able to borrow another camper’s spare. And we knew how to cook: we made brown rice with herring and avocado with a side of steamed broccoli.

But the pleasantness of last night was in part because we were in Rifle, CO, a small town 100 miles north of a national park I had never heard of. We’re here because Truman’s grandmother grew up here.

There isn’t much tourist industry in Rifle. The mountains aren’t too tall and the rivers aren’t too wide. But that’s what I like about modest beauty. It’s still beautiful, but there are no crowds.