After a much-needed week in Breckenridge, Colorado, I am finally back at home in Pennsylvania. Let me tell you, it’s strange coming back home after a week in the mountains--the almost-tropical humidity here on the east coast, the bustle of the city, and back into the swing of things at the office. But I’m coming back refreshed, positive. It’s a whole other thing to spend a week in the mountains, and I’m especially lucky to have spent that week with my fourteen-year-old son. Any mom of teenage boys knows how hard it can be to wrangle them onto excursions, so I was especially happy when my son wanted to come along with me!
The air in Colorado is so much more different than it is in Pennsylvania--maybe me, as an outsider, might not be accustomed to the crisp air, or the vast sights of mountains, and the partial change that altitude might have on you. I was hearing a lot about altitude sickness, and how to avoid it, especially when up in the huge mountains. But, I’m pleasantly surprised that neither my son or I has once felt sick. We ate healthy, drank lots of water, and limited our caffeine intake--these seem to be the general guidelines to becoming accustomed to the mountains and the high altitude. But I was happy that I could spend my energy on the hikes, adventures, and new sights and surroundings without feeling sick once.
We flew out together on a Saturday, arrived at the Denver Airport, and then took off to the town of Breckenridge. Out of all the towns or vacation spots and resorts in Colorado, Breckenridge was once known as “Colorado’s Kingdom”. There’s more history there than almost any other spot in Colorado. I was gaping the entire drive over--the vast white mountains, the almost-endless plains and huge sky--that my son yelped at me for nearly driving off the road. You don’t get this kind of vastness on the east coast! While my hikes to Valley Forge, PA are beautiful, the mountains here are breathtaking. Up in the mountains, with the silent, crisp air and gentle sounds of the forest, I slept like a baby.
We would get up early to check out the hikes--usually the mornings are clear, but sometime in the afternoon (around 2 or 3:30 or so), rain will come falling over the mountains. This varies from a light drizzle to a torrential downpour, so the local advice is to be off the mountain by 2 PM. We slipped on our hiking boots and raincoats to set out on the trails.
Many people like to go out with an agenda--to spot all of the best trails, planning out routes, creating an itinerary for the day. While I logged some of the spots I wanted to check out, I planned to be a little more adventurous, spur-of-the-moment. At one point, I came to a huge fork in the road--unsure of which direction to go.
I’ve done this hike before, and in the past, have always taken the direction upward--this obviously makes sense, since the intention is to go up the mountain. But I found myself stuck, uncertain at this route, wondering whether I wanted to go up or down.
Many other hikers I would see on the trails might not admit they’re lost, or unsure. But a woman approached me, and asked me if I knew where I was going. Wanting to be honest, I told her, with a grin, “I think so.”
She smiled. “I’ve made that mistake before, thinking you’re supposed to go up to get to the top. But See that pathway, that goes down? You’ll have to go down to move up to the very top.”
Most of the time, we’ll run into people, have an exchange with them, and never see them again. I called this woman ‘My Beautiful Stranger’. She did not have to stop and help me, but felt compelled to do so--before I set out, I had made my intention clear--that I would see beautiful things, and meet beautiful people. And naturally, she approached me.
You might think you’ll go into the woods to get away from many people, but actually, it’s the polar opposite. You’ll see and meet so many people hiking on the mountains--all carrying a similar itch or adventuresome spirit, all wanting to set out and see something beautiful. Sometimes I’ll give these people a smile, a nod, but occasionally we’ll strike into conversation. I met a twentysomething on crutches scaling up dangerous treks, as well as seventy-year-olds and dads with year-old babies strapped onto their backs. There’s something immediately bonding about running into a stranger on the trail--somehow, their paths have aligned directly with yours.
So I took her advice--I took the trail down to go up. What an appropriate metaphor for life, and what amazing sights I ended up seeing! Going up might have seen like the obvious choice, but in choosing to go down, I opened up to a whole new realm of possibilities and sights I would have otherwise never seen.
Another quick story, also having to do with life. I had mapped out a spot called Lake Mohawk, one of the top ten to-see places by Breckenridge. I was getting pretty close there, but the vast dirt road I went along didn’t seem to be going anywhere. I rolled down my window and asked another stranger for advice, and she immediately assured me to continue down this path. “It’s not Lake Mohawk, but you’ll like it, trust me,” she had said, and then later on, continuing the drive, I saw a slew of cars parked and knew I was somewhere special.
Lo and behold, I found myself in one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. Gorgeous waterfalls, huge boulders, and more lovely people to meet on the trails. Lake Mohawk might have been beautiful as well, but I learned that you might surprise yourself by taking the less travelled route. It might not ‘look’ glamorous on the outside, or be marked off on “Best-to-Visit” sites in pamphlets, but I was happily surprised all the same.
While I don’t get away on vacation often, I learned that it’s good to step away, reflect, and to explore outside of yourself and your familiar surroundings. My son also had fun and enjoyed himself, and more than anything, I was just happy to get out and spend some time with him. The pictures almost don’t do it justice.
You don’t have to fly across the country to get away, to explore, or to be outside of yourself, but do yourself a favor: Go climb a mountain. Take the less-travelled path. And never be afraid to reach out to a beautiful stranger on the way. You’ll never know what you’ll learn.
PS: A shout-out to my friend JT and his family for welcoming us into their home, and for our lovely lunch in Boulder!