Ms. Adventure

I am sitting in the bar sipping a mojito whilst writing. Okay I actually despise when people start out their stories with either what people are wearing, eating or drinking. I mean, really who cares—unless you’re Ernest Hemingway—what does your drink have to do with the price of rice in China? But because it is summer, because I have my bathing suit on underneath my clothes in prep for an impending swimming session and because I am atop a mountain I felt like it could be said. Also it most certainly feels very Hemingway-esque, as I have never written in a bar before. Much less while drinking. So salud Hemingway. This one’s for you.

This is all to say that mountain life suits me. I don’t know that it could suit me forever, as I miss great big bodies of water, but maybe I will find myself someplace where the mountains meet the sea and then I will marry the sea and the mountains can be my mistress.

I went on this hike yesterday with this fella I enjoy, let’s call him Francis, or France for short-ish. Francis has become my new hiking counterpart. Nearly every day after work we go find some undiscovered part of the mountain to traverse and explore. Yesterday’s hike was Black Mountain Lookout. Perched atop mounds of rock 9,500 feet in the air stood an old fire tower lookout. That was our destination. There is a forest road that goes up most of the mountain and then you take a trail the last mile upwards. Unfortunately, or fortunately for my cellulite, the forest road was washed out by a river and so we had to park the car at the base of the mountain. Well. We were already atop a mountain, so not the literal base as that would be a hike for a much fitter gal. But anyhow, we were heading higher into the mountains.

When Kirst and I first accepted this job we were told it was atop a mountain, but maybe we didn’t really believe it as we were slightly dumbfounded when we drove up the side of a mountain to get to our new lodgings. But when we saw how far the mountain stretched, peaks this way and that, it seemed the mountaintop was never-ending. I told Kirst how the mountains seemed to go on and on, even when on top. She confessed that she too was perplexed by this and when she considered living on a mountaintop she thought it would be more like living at the top of a jagged point. I asked her if she meant like where the Grinch lived—in a cave on a high, high snow-capped peak—and she said, “yes, just like that. I thought where we lived would be just like the Grinch.”

Where we live is nothing like where the Grinch lives. Though there is a Grinchy-Grinch on our mountain, but I won’t mention names, she just likes to scowl a whole bunch and snap orders at people. But that’s the only similarity.

I digress of course.

So our hike. We parked at the base and got out in order to scale the flowing rapids that took out the entire road—okay I kid, they weren’t rapids and the whole road wasn’t taken out, it was more a babbling brook that ever so inconveniently crossed the road because it could. And Mother Nature does what she wants anyway, so we were happy enough to oblige her.

The forest road up didn’t feel too taxing though naturally the moment I started exerting myself I was perspiring. We came upon the trailhead feeling good. Feeling strong and capable. Maybe even a little cocky. Then we went further into the forest and up. And up. And up. And where was this fire tower? Wasn’t a mile supposed to be easy? Not a mile straight up a mountain apparently. Okay to be fair we weren’t going straight up. We were on switchbacks, but it didn’t feel much better. I felt hot liquid pooling down my face and instead of making the natural and logical conclusion that I was sweating profusely—my usual M.O.—I panicked and thought I was bleeding from the skull. I touched the liquid and inspected my fingers. Nope, not blood, definitely just copious amounts of sweat.

We went left and went right. Climbed higher and then a little higher still. We made the assumption we were close. But with every turn, we only saw more forest and more rocks. Then through a break in the trees we saw the tower. You would think the heavens parted and I burst into euphoric bouts of symphony but when I saw how high up the tower still seemed to be the only word that came to mind was, “fuck!”

I turned to France who looked startled and I apologized for my profanity. And we trudged on. Switchback after switchback. He asked me if I needed a break as I huffed and puffed. I felt I could use a break to keel over on a rock lounge, but feeling a little pissed and determined, I declined the offer of rest and insisted we keep on keeping on until the top.

Soon we were near the summit and it required a little rock climbing. Or to be fair to rock climbers everywhere, rock finagling. But when we came around the last of several bends, all we saw was an outhouse—well and stunning 360 degree views of pine laden mountaintops in every direction—but the fire tower seemed to be out of reach, perched atop a pile of jagged grey rocks. Now, if it weren’t for the jaw-dropping views in every direction I would’ve let out a stream of F-bombs for my frustration at all that and still not being able to set foot on the fire tower.

We climbed some rocks and I sat attempting to enjoy the view, but itching to get to the fire tower. Francis surmised that maybe this was as far as we could get. I fumed. Not so. I would sooner break my neck rock climbing to the tower than admitting defeat after all that. So as he began to work his way back down the rocks I lingered and inched toward the towering rocks to my left. He caught me and issued warnings about how if I broke my leg he’d have to give me a piggy back ride all the way back down the mountain. I don’t think he was as worried about carrying my heft down an entire mountain of switchbacks as much as his worry about me breaking my neck instead of a leg and then having a corpse on his hands.

I had a hard time heeding his warnings though and told him I needed to suss out the situation and see if I could indeed climb the rocks. I climbed a few and then looked at the straight wall of imposing rock looming large and daunting in front of me. I wanted to do it. I wanted to get to the fire tower. And most times in my life I was willing to risk life and limb for adventure but I glanced sideways at my fall if I lost my footing—which would be precarious at best—and it would definitely result in my being maimed or worse. I lingered a beat longer while I could feel my pal’s tension behind me. And then I turned around and said, “fine. I won’t risk breaking my neck. But we are getting to that fire tower.”

He agreed and then moments later he discovered a rock path right up and around the seemingly impossible rock faces. And just like that we were up and on our way to the tower. And in a few breaths we were there. I could not rightly fathom that people actually lived up here in order to keep watch for forest fires. Now this was the exact top of the mountain. The tip-top. The pinnacle. Where the Grinch would probably reside because no one would want to make that trek to bother him. I was speechless. Or maybe I was breathless. Who could even tell?

And then I needed to lie down. Not exactly from sheer exhaustion, but perhaps because I had convinced myself there would be a hammock at the top, and I was dismayed to find there was not. After a spell of enjoying the mountain vistas on the deck of the fire tower, we made the trek down. Maybe it was the exertion. Or maybe it’s the fact that I always want to blaze new paths, but I kept finding myself off trail. Suddenly I was in the midst of a gorge of rocks looking about for a safe way down and I glanced behind me and Francis smiled and asked where I was going.

“Is this not the trail?” I asked.

“No.”

Oh. How weird.

I accidentally went off-trail three more times while Francis patiently waited for me to re-route myself.

“Where are you goin, Ms. Adventure?” he would ask. I chuckled and then turned myself around. I did not know where I was going; it just seemed right. Hmmm. Isn’t that a grand metaphor for life though? I mostly don’t know where I am going, but it seems right. And somehow despite rocky terrain and many, many missteps, I always make it back down the mountain safely.

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Consider Me Wooed

Okay so the great thing about Wyoming is she is so unbelievable that I find myself in a constant state of awe and wonder. I am perpetually wooed by the state of grandeur, old world charm and epic mountaintops. Furthermore I feel so present in every moment of my existence that I find myself enamored just to be. As someone who has always struggled to stay present in a singular moment, but instead, worries and ruminates over the future, or obsesses over the past, it has been downright shocking how perfectly present I have felt in all of my moments here in the West.

I am present when waitressing and meeting new people and hearing their stories. I am present when off gallivanting in the mountains. I am present when beneath the star speckled night sky in front of a crackling fire, surrounded by towering pines. I am present when sticking my toes in every stream, flowing river or body of water I can locate.

I feel hyper-aware that I am alive. I almost tingle with it. And as someone who is prone to anxiousness, when I am doing something mundane like running an errand, or grocery shopping, I find myself getting anxious to get back up the mountain and continue my tree-hugging, free spirited, high on mountains existence.

But… there’s always a but. I feel somewhat guilty and childish about it all. I know I wax a lot about how I am getting older and how I suppose that means things like I ought to lock down a mortgage or a man. But instead I am flitting about the country. Playing in the hills with a country boy who happens to constantly pick me wildflowers and helps push me up hills when they are too steep and I am out of breath, or brings me a shot of tequila when I have a bad day and joke that I need a shot of tequila to deal with my frazzled nerves.

But I in no way want to lock anything down and that makes me feel like a somewhat useless adult. I want a home sure. I ache when I watch HGTV. But then I love my propensity to roam. And right now my roaming led me to a mountaintop in which my sis and I have been gifted with a beautiful 1950’s style trailer surrounded by hordes of pencil sharp pines, and complete with turquoise appliances and a fire pit . And yes I want babies. But then today in the coffee shop where I am writing, someone came in with a newborn who, while quite cute, kept screaming and I overheard the mother say she hadn’t gotten sleep in 34 hours. I nearly choked on my coffee. Thirty-four hours?! I freak out if I get less than six hours and pretty much go on a war rampage for coffee and then insist on a nap. Actually my new life of high mountain adventure and long work days waitressing has led me to take daily naps again. How could I nap or flit off to Jackson Hole and the Tetons with cute boys and a car full of pb&j’s, wild game jerky and blankets if I had crying newborns?

Okay, realistically of course I will do anything to have my own crying newborns and fixer-upper worthy of HGTV renos one day, but in the meantime, the bonfires, sticky s’mores, spontaneous road trips through jagged peaks and winding rivers, horseback rides, hand-holding with a bearded outdoorsman, and hail-soaked hikes to places called Garden of the Gods seem otherworldly in their present perfection.

And maybe that’s the point of all this anyway. If living on a mountaintop has taught me to be fully alive in the moments of wildflowers and adventure as much as the moments of hail and tequila necessity then I reckon I am exactly where I ought to be.

If This is 29…

My twenty-ninth year has arrived. And in style I might add. Admittedly I was getting a wee bit skittish about inching ever closer to the nervy thirty, simply because I am so goal-oriented and feel that I am not quite where I ought to be for thirty-ish. Sure 401K’s and babies seem appropriate but I am not giving much thought to either of those at the moment, even if I should. No. My only thoughts seem to center around my writing career taking off and well, adventure.

This is only natural as adventure has been my long time beau and damn if he isn’t good to me. Celebrating a birthday as a new transplant to the West was as enchanting as one might expect with all these mountains and old fashioned gents about. A girl could get downright spoiled if she weren’t careful. In fact that was most definitely the theme of my birthday. Spoiled, spoiled rotten. Just how I like it.

But before you get the wrong impression in thinking I’m a birthday brat, although I am a little bit of a birthday brat, understand that my favorite part of my birthday isn’t about being spoiled with presents. It’s the fact that I get spoiled with love and affection from all my favorite people across the globe. And if that isn’t about as humbling and awe-inspiring as standing before a mountain top, then I don’t know what is.

Then my main man, God went and did one better and spoiled me with Mother Earth. I already adore my birthday so I was off to a swell start with my waffle heaped with strawberries and whipped cream and piping hot cup of Joe in my cowboy mug. I was so full of pep and pizzazz that a coworker of mine asked me in all seriousness if I was on drugs. I resisted replying that I was high on life—I am corny but not that corny—but did indeed explain that, no I did not need drugs to feel this good and why would I ever need drugs in a world where birthdays and mountains coexist?

I proceeded to take myself on a date down the mountain. I stopped in town at the old Mercantile and visited a little with the old men lounging there. Then I wove my way into a canyon with raging rapids flowing past me on my left and jutting red rock faces sprouting up in front of me on all surrounding sides. I gasped in delight and felt an abundance of gratitude to share my birthday with the canyon and endearing locals.

A couple hours later I drove back up the mountain to pick up my sister so that we could then drive right back down the other side of the mountain into wild horse territory. I had spoken with one of my best friends on the phone and told him if I did indeed spot wild horses on my birthday then I really was the most spoiled birthday girl this side of the Missip.

When Kirst and I made our way down into the bright and blazing sunshine of the valley, Kirst couldn’t contain her excitement over the landscape in front of us. She kept squealing that she needed to marry the land, and run through the vast fields before us, and kiss the ground and gather good Native American spirits. I pulled over so she could do three out of the four. I really would marry Wyoming too, but who would perform the ceremony?

Kirst true to form bounded out of the car and ran straight for the nearest field where she wove this way and that. She laid down and jumped up, kissed the ground and pointed to cactus as this side of the mountain was dry, hot and barren, while the other side I had just been on was lush with green and misty with low hanging clouds. When I caught up to her she was lying on her poncho staring at the sky.

I felt giddy with her enthusiasm for the striking nature before us in every direction. The mountains stretched as far as the eye could see and boasted every possible color. Deep blue in some areas, red and speckled, green and rolling, grey and jagged, white capped with snow or shadowed from the clouds above.

I knelt down to kiss the earth too. It seemed only right. I wanted to honor Her. And maybe Kirst was right. Maybe Native American spirits or Mother Earth or some force much bigger than us would take note of our love and shine favorably upon us.

We made our way back to the car to head into the wild horse range. There we crossed over into Montana. We stopped at Devil’s Canyon, a canyon so deep, my mind couldn’t fathom that there are canyons larger, like the Grand Canyon. Again I was humbled deep into my core for my existence and my part in the universe, however small it may be. And standing next to that gorge of rock, I felt very small indeed. In that beautiful way of feeling small, like maybe sometimes that is exactly the size you ought to be.

We moved on and yes, we did spot two wild horses. While my romantic, fanciful brain expected them to be running or kicking up their legs in obvious wild abandon, the two black beauties we came upon were casually munching on some grass oblivious to me and Kirst’s ogling.

After staring for a spell, we wound our way to the bottom of the canyon where the river spliced through rock. We turned around to head back up and passed a herd of horses being led around the winding road by cowboys. But wait… wait. Upon exiting the wild horse range I spotted a massive rainbow taking hold of the sky to my left while Kirst dozed in the passenger seat. At this point, the sight might’ve been overkill, with the canyons and wild horses and cowboys, but it was simply an affirmation that the West had won me over, fully and implicitly.

Being that both Kirst and I are somewhat poor planners, nothing was open for dinner in the small town at the base of the mountain, as it was Memorial Day. We feasted on gas station hot dogs and Coca-Cola’s in a Veterans Memorial Park. We beamed at each other because it felt fitting and perfect. Like the rest of the day. Like the West. It fits and it’s perfect.

If this is twenty-nine, saddling up to my thirties with mountain ranges and desert flowers and earth kisses, then yes please. I will take more of this. Who needs a 401K anyway?