Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Telluride Effect

Out on a walk from my house.
"Figuring out who you are is the whole point of the human experience." 
- Anna Quindlen

About a month ago I packed into the northern terminus of the Colorado Trail (CT) in Denver with the intent of backpacking the 485 miles to Durango over the ensuing four weeks. It was the culmination of months of dreaming, planning, gear testing and conditioning.

Up until a year earlier I hadn't been backpacking since the Boy Scouts, 20 years ago. Then I met a girl (isn't that always the way it happens) who enjoys camping and inspired a rekindling of my love for the outdoors.  Over the July 4th weekend last year, while hiking near Kenosha Pass we met a guy who was thru-hiking the CT. He joined us at our campsite for dinnertime. We shared a grape soda with him and he shared his experience and intention with us. 

I was fascinated. Though I'd lived in Denver for ten years, I don't think I was even aware of the CT at that point. I'm sure I'd heard of the Appalachian Trail and people spending months of their lives thru-hiking it, but I was totally unaware of this gem in my own back yard.

Upon returning to Denver after that trip, I started exploring backpacking on short one- and two-night trips. This reawakened a desire I had in my late teens. Back then I'd met a guy at a chamber music camp, a cellist, who was a true adventurer. He regaled us with stories of packing into the wilderness, a la John Muir. I wanted to do that. I wanted to live like the kid in My Side of the Mountain, a favorite book from childhood. But alas I never did... 

I grew to my enjoy solo walks in the backcountry, a perfect escape from my urbanite existence. I told myself, "Someday I will thru-hike the Colorado Trail."

Someday came in the form of a decision to resign from my career in financial services and move to Telluride with that girl; to trade the white bread Denver existence for lifestyle prosperity that can only be found in Telluride. With no immediate job prospects in Telluride and a little bit of savings scratched together from selling my new car and buying an old Jeep Cherokee, an extended sabbatical was in order. It was the perfect opportunity to take four weeks and walk the CT.

We moved to Telluride in late May and I was immediately swept up in the friends, adventures and culture that abound. In the first week, I knew more of my neighbors than I ever knew in Denver. I went on my first river trip - four days on the Green River in Utah. There was Mountainfilm. There was Bluegrass. There was Musicfest. There was Wine Festival… There were free and amazing happenings virtually every day that filled me with delight. I started playing my violin again. It was virtually nirvana.

Then, in early July, I mailed off food to my resupply stops, packed my bag and started walking from Denver to Durango. The first day was exciting just being out on the trail with all those miles ahead of me. On the second day I had an epiphany. Now I know that 36 hours is pretty quick to be experiencing poignant insights. But, by that time I'd been on sabbatical for a couple of months at that time and I'm sure it'd been brewing since arriving in Telluride.

The final seed was planted the night before packing in while half-watching TV in a motel room. In a piece about endurance athletes tied to the Tour de France the interviewee commented about super endurance athletes like Tour riders that they were "all running from something."

Well, the rain and sunshine of those first two days on the trail were perfect to cultivate the blossoming of that seed and I ultimately wondered to myself "Why am I walking this trail?"  When originally conceived, while I was a working stiff traveling two weeks a month and trying to run up the down escalator of life, walking by myself in the backcountry was cathartic and a four week solo trip seemed an impractical fantasy. But after six weeks living in paradise and two days on the trail I realized, "I am not running from anything anymore." 

My driving force on the trail became a desire to get back home as soon as possible; where I could experience all the trail had to offer and more with my girl and her dog. Ego was present though, so I kept walking. Everyone I knew was aware of my hike. What would they think? Would I be labeled a quitter? Would I lose the little credibility I had with my new friends? 

I walked to Frisco, a walking meditation on ego, ultimately realizing it was a vestige of my old life and not a concern now. I wasn't bailing because I couldn't do it. I was course correcting my life. So, five days and 100 miles into the trail, I turned a corner and returned to my new home - Telluride.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Super Sabbatical

So, I quit my job and moved to Telluride. I am taking a sabbatical from the "real world" for a deliberately indefinite time period. To fund this adventure I sold the A4, which was paid for, and bought an old Jeep Cherokee with the intention of living on the difference until the money runs our.

This is an exciting time for me, with a bit of "holy shit I just walked away from a huge paycheck and I don't know what I'll do to replace it in the future."

My last day of work was April 1, no fooling. Since then, I've sold a lot of my stuff including my beloved Audi. I have traded money and stuff for:
   1. Experiences
   2. Culture
   3. Friends

Definite short-term plans:
   1. Re-establish a yoga practice (in the process)
   2. Move to Telluride - done (mostly... still a few boxes to unpack)
   3. Enjoy the Telluride Bluegrass Festival (coming soon)
   4. Hike the Colorado Trail (launching in July)
   5. Run my first 1/2 marathon (the Goldenleaf from Snowmass to Aspen on Sept 24th)

We'll see what happens then...