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Getting Away

My great-grandma Keller wrote a column once titled “Getting Away” where she detailed a getaway to the Ozarks where she spent a few days fishing, one of her favorite pastimes. Reading it reminded me of the times I have “gotten away” I suppose you could say. You see, grandma Keller passed away when I was three, so I hadn’t done much traveling then. If only I could share these stories with her today, I’m sure she would get a kick out of them.

For the spring break during my sophomore year of college, I decided to go to Colorado with or without anyone else. I was determined to spend a few days out west hiking, exploring and taking lots of photos. After extending an offer to come with me to several of my friends, who all ended up deciding to go somewhere else for the break, I decided the best hiking partner is my camera and my journal and off I went.

The long trek across the Kansan Plain was broken up by only windmills and a towering Cathedral that caught my attention while in need of gas. I was expecting to cross the Kansas-Colorado line and be met by mountains breaking up the horizon, but I guess no one ever told me eastern Colorado looks just like western Kansas. But once I got closer to Denver, there is a part of the highway where you crest over a hill and the Rocky Mountains are in full display in all their towering glory, breaking up the horizon with peaks and valleys. For someone who had never really seen mountains, it was absolutely breathtaking and nearly brought a tear to my eye.

I remember calling my mom at a gas station before heading into Denver to find some food and stretch my legs a bit. My check-in at where I was staying wasn’t for several hours so I looked at the map and decided where the first place to explore would be.

Red Rocks, named for the maroon, burnt orange and tan rock formations that jut straight out of the ground and toward the sky was the perfect place to stop off first. I saw a sign near some brush detailing the dangers of rattlesnakes on trails along with other critters and for half a second wondered if a solo-hiking trip was the best idea. I had just turned 20 a few days prior and naturally shrugged it off and went on my way. Soon enough the trail had looped around back to the main road, the most dangerous critter I encountered was a bunny, so I considered it a good day and headed to where I was staying.

I got a room at an Air BnB outside of Castle Rock, staying in the home of a British woman and her two giant dogs. I may have left out the part that I was staying in someone’s house with them actually there to my mom until a few days in, for the sake of her not worrying about me. This British woman was a gem; full of stories and adventure, her house adorned with art of all kinds because she was an art collector and seller.

Highlights of the trip included an art gallery that was curated to contain only art that was created in Colorado prisons, the most amazing meal at a local tavern in Castle Rock, traversing through Garden of the Gods and standing in an icy stream from snow runoff on the side of a mountain road with camera in hand. The most memorable part of the trip was the hike I took through Rocky Mountain National Park.

I woke up one morning and decided it was the day. Rocky Mountain National Park was the destination locked in my GPS. Armed with some trail mix, a jug of water and some old hiking shoes, I set off. It was several hours from Castle Rock to the actual national park, but the adrenaline of excitement made it seem like it took minutes to get there. Cutting through Denver, across some farmland and through some little mountain towns.

There’s no service in the mountains, but an adventure like that doesn’t require an itinerary from a travel website, adventure was at every twist and turn in the road. The air was getting thinner and colder, the road was getting steeper and more winding but the distance to go on the GPS was getting shorter and shorter.

The most welcome sight to a traveler’s eyes in this day and age is one word that flashes on the screen: arrived.

I was there. I was at the foot of a mountain. I didn’t drive from the flat farmlands of Kansas and Missouri to just gawk at the sight. I tied my shoes extra tight, threw on my backpack and headed up the trail. Several miles to a natural mountain lake one of the signs read. I was up for that challenge.

Taking several breaks to chug some water, eat an apple, take photos or soak in the world around me to avoid altitude sickness was well worth it. As I climbed in elevation up the trail, I could see for miles and miles through holes in the foliage, seeing where the mountains ran out and the plains began again. One of the images I created that I am still very proud of today drew inspiration from the famous photographer, Anselm Adams.

It is something being young and adventurous. The picnic I had while dangling my feet off of a cliff is something that I will never forget. Only briefly did the thought of “this could go bad really fast” cross my mind. But I’m here writing this column today so it must have all worked out, right.

After my picnic on the cliffside, I kept on with my ascent up the side of the mountain. I realized at this point a few hours in that I hadn’t seen any other hikers. I liked that. It really felt like it was just me and the Coloradan flora and fauna. Soon the path turned from rocky and dusty, to snowy and soggy. Soon it was all snow. I realized that the path was packed snow and I was curious how deep this snow that was still left from the winter was. I took a few steps off the path and suddenly I found myself waist deep in icy snow. I would normally say take the path less taken, but in this case, that proved to not be wise advice.

After I brushed of the snow and got back on the path, it was only a few minutes before I made it to the peak. The wind was howling, it felt strong enough that it could blow me over if I wasn’t careful. I soaked in the view and wind for a moment before climbing over some rocks. I guess that’s as far as the previous hikers had been, for there was no more packed snow trail to follow. I decided it would be wiser to soak in everything the mountain peak had to offer instead of tramping through three or more-foot snow.

The wind was what I can describe as the closest thing to flying. I put my backpack on the ground, climbed up on a rock, closed my eyes and felt the mountain breeze wash over me. When I opened my eyes, that’s when I saw the snowstorm rolling in. Dark clouds started moving over the mountain peak across the valley, dumping beautiful, pearly white fresh powder. I stayed as long as I felt would be wise, as I still had to travel back down the mountain and drive my car out of the mountains. The magnificence, danger and allure that comes along with a mountain storm like that was breathtaking, and not just because I was feeling the effects of the thin area.

The trip came crashing down, waking up on the last day to news of state of emergencies for Denver and the state of Colorado due to the infancy of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. I decided to cut my trip a day short, get out of dodge and quarantine with a friend back in my college town before returning home just in case.

This is just a small part of my trip out west. It may have been similar to the Bennett Spring countryside that grandma Keller wrote about. She mentioned a storm in her column, writing “Since I enjoy watching a storm, I had a good opportunity as we sat there waiting the storm out.”

Since I can’t share travel and storm stories with grandma Keller, a column as a nod to the adventurous woman she was will have to suffice.

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