Steve’s parents moved down to Colorado a few years ago. It takes about seven minutes to drive from their house to the entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park, and that’s where we headed the day after Thanksgiving with a borrowed backpack and some hiking poles. Neither of us had wanted to lug snowshoes or heavy hiking boots on the plane so we set out for Bear Lake, which isn’t at too high an altitude (relatively speaking. It is Colorado). We had, somewhat oddly given Steve’s penchant for route planning, no agenda other than to get on a trail. The idea was to start at Bear Lake and then stitch together a series of trails depending on how we felt, how the weather cooperated, and how quickly we lost the sun.
We love our National Parks, and we happily shelled out the money to update our expired annual pass. But we’re used to hiking in Utah, in some really remote country, so we were not prepared for the sheer number of people on the trails, especially right around the lake. It was packed (relatively speaking. It is Colorado). Normally Steve and I don’t love hiking around lots of people. We head out into the wild specifically so that we don’t see anyone. We’re well used to each other’s rhythms by now and we have a small number of friends whose skills and sense of adventure blend well with our own, but otherwise – forget it. The last thing I want on a trail is a bunch of people.
On that day, though, it didn’t bother me one bit. In fact, I reveled in it. Every person out on that trail was a person not in a shopping mall, stuffing himself numb with a culture that tells us that the best way to spend our time is to spend our money. Families were together, outside, braving the cold and the slicked, packed down snow, enjoying one of the most beautiful spots in the Rockies. I passed a man encouraging his young son – maybe four years old – to keep up the good work, reminding him that only a few weeks ago he’d hiked five whole miles in one day. I passed day-trippers in sneakers and jeans, likely on a trail for the first time ever. I passed elderly men and women whose fitness I marveled at. Every single person was doing something far more important – far more American – than shopping for products that only temporarily blunt that vague sense that we’re missing out on the next best thing.
We climbed away from the crowds and made our winding way to Sky Pond. Despite earlier promises (made with fingers crossed, I have to admit) that we’d be back in town for the evening holiday parade, and despite the fact that the sun fully slipped behind the mountains at 2pm, we kept going. We had no reason to stop. Even as the snow got deeper and the day got darker and I grumbled at myself for the rookie mistake of wearing cotton, we were elated.
On a switchback close to a wildly windswept lake called, simply, The Loch, we ran into a couple taking advantage of the last patch of sun to eat their lunch and struck up a conversation that went something like this:
Us: Hey. How’s it going?
Them: Hey. Good, you?
Us: Great! Where are you from?
Them: Texas. We moved up here for this. You?
Us: Montana. It’s pretty amazing up here, huh?
Them: Yup – this is our new tradition, hiking in the park after Thanksgiving. We call it “White Friday.”
How’s that for perfect?