The year was 1998 – just a year after my dad died and something unexpected happened. My first-ever Rocky Mountain adventure. Looking back, I’m not sure how I navigated the high hurdles with my mixed-up mom so that I could go. Selective amnesia can be a good thing…some memories belong at the curb, not in the heart. When the opportunity came to escape…just a little…for a work trip to Denver, I was ecstatic and so were my conference-presenting partners. On a whim, we’d written a proposal to present at a research-oriented annual convening and truth-be-told, no one was more surprised than moi when we received our acceptance notification. Okay, then…off to Denver we went!
When you’re a mom of a toddler and you’ve got extraneous, dangling family duties of other sorts (crazy mother, disabled sister, and a plate too full of professional aspirations) the notion of flying the coop into a four-day adult experience is both thrilling and fearsome. Added into the milieu was the timing…flying to Denver in November, in a year when Mother Nature chose to bring substantial snow – early snow — to the Rockies. Dare devils, we were. Dare devils…of the fluff ball variety. Not a single one amongst us was any sort of risk-taker.
But we went and it was fun, fun, fun. So much fun that we decided a little escapism was in order. Only one in our crew had ever been to Estes Park and the allure of the Stanley Hotel was powerful. Honestly, the appeal of visiting the venue associated with “The Shining” gave us shivers, just thinking about. Unrelated to the weather.
The prospect of daring to ditch the conference (only after we’d presented, of course) made us giddy like a bunch of teenagers. We rented a car and made a road trip of it and silly me…I was more excited about stepping foot in The Stanley than the beautiful drive from Denver and the picturesque qualities of Estes Park itself. You see…that year, I was a mountain novice. Other than a trip once or twice to the Smokey Mountains…driving thru to get elsewhere, mountain magic eluded me.
Spoiler about “The Stanley”. Ho hum, ho hum. Smaller than expected and no weird willy moments. Nada. Except for the stellar group pic from the front porch (snipped in above), visiting the supposed inspiration for Stephen King’s super spooktacular “The Shining” was boring. So, we decided to split up, do some exploring elsewhere in Estes Park. Trinket stores and fudge shops were everywhere and the opportunity for do-it-yourselfer walking tours sounded great. Fresh air…and time for a few of us to reboot our introverted souls with a bit of solitude.
Me? I ambled down some side streets and realized one was a dead end…delivering pedestrians to a park and a hiking gateway. I’m no hiker, and as you can see from the pic, my version of ‘adventure wear’ was an Icelandic-looking reindeer sweater. A favorite from Eddie Bauer that I wore to shreds…so comfy…but still, not hiking gear.
I had time before the meet-up with my friends, so I followed the path, and without another soul in sight, I happened upon a hollowed-out tree, turned into a bench and a resting spot. The weather up until then had been overcast, but stunning glimpses of the elevations around Estes Park were slightly visible but obscured by clouds. As I sat on the bench, I enjoyed the solitude and unexpectedly, the clouds shifted, providing me with a stunning peek of a peak.
I’d forgotten about the high altitude in Estes Park, given the cloud cover, and after my short baby-hike, I unknowingly ventured higher than I imagined. (Thank goodness for gradual grades on a path, right? So gradual I didn’t know I was ascending.) As I sat and took in the view, my breath escaped from my body – one big outflow in a way that I cannot describe. Not just a ‘take your breath away’ moment but a full body shiver and shake. Like I was in the presence of something…requiring my full attention. The something? That blessed peak in front of me.
I didn’t know how far away I was from it, in reality, but to my eye, if I extended my arms, my fingertips would’ve touched the snow cap. So close. When the sun added a glimmer, enough to make me squint, I realized I was crying. My dad’s nickname was “Sonny” because his mother always referred to him as her ‘little sunshine’ and in that moment, my papa who’d passed – about 18 months before – was right there with me. I felt overwhelmed and the only thought in my head was “mountain magic” and then his voice saying, “Remember there’s magic in the mountains”.
I’m still not sure what to make of that experience but it’s a keeper. When I rejoined my friends my bestie Linda could tell I was ‘off’. She and our other pals stocked up on treats for the ride back to Denver – tons of fudge and some mixed nuts – and as we walked back to the car she just asked, “Are you okay?” and then “Where’d you go?” My answer was pretty cloaked because I wasn’t sure what to say. What I recall thinking…but I don’t know if it came out of my mouth…was this: “I think I found magic in the mountains.”
Thanks so much for reading. It’s Thanksgiving today in the U.S. and this memory…of my moment in the mountains…was the first thing I thought of when I woke up this morning. I figured it was my dad’s way of saying hello. So, from him…and from me…sending hugs and reminders to look for magic…it might be right in front of you.