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.


  1. It sounds like you have found much happiness in Telluride! What a beautiful thing it is to realize that you are already exactly where you want to be.

  2. It really is a magical location. I can walk to alpine scenes, like the picture above, and see Shakespeare in the park in the same day.

  3. Eric - I have to smile. It is so fun to watch you discover who you are and what you really want out of your life. The rest of the world and the business world in particular certainly tries to define that for all of us and tries to cram those ideas down our throats. But the absolute best way to live is to do what you are doing--find out who you are, figure out what makes you happy, and spend the rest of your life living by that inner compass. There is no greater contentment. Kimberly Mathie

  4. Eric...Bravo. Great fun to read this. Jim Marvin

  5. So, I'm reading a thoroughly pessimistic book about the "culture of narcissism" and its dim view of our attempts to find ourselves, question our choices, grow as individuals, and develop a stronger personal center from which to experience life around us. Lasch, the author, just piles one negative interpretation on another, and I was finding myself bogged down. Thanks to an FB break and remembering that I wanted to read this, I was able to experience the pleasant reminder that such efforts at self-development as you describe and as I have come to practice in my own life do not isolate us and make us stingy, angry, competitive people. They in fact encourage a stronger sense of intimacy and connection with those around us, a desire to be present in our lives in ways that defy Lasch's psychoanalytic myopia. Thanks for the moment of inspiration, big brother.

  6. What a beautiful story! Just because we set out to do something doesn't mean we need to fulfill the original vision, and ego shouldn't force us to do it. It's better to be happy -- in Telluride with your girl -- than it is to be proud!