I have been lucky enough to stumble upon some old photographs from the years I lived in Colorado. While they aren’t exactly an art form, they have my memories etched deep within them and force strong waves of nostalgia upon me. Not bad considering most were taken on a disposable analogue camera!
In the early 2000’s I spent several years living and working on the edge of the Colorado back-country. My job description varied depending on what needed to be done, but ranged from general labourer, to ranch hand, to guide. It was an honest, if hard, way of life but it was adventure. No two days were the same, a constant stream of people would pass through, and my porch looked out across the Mummy Range and Long’s peak trail head was a short drive away. Living in this environment, however, was not sustainable. I lived hand to mouth, couldn’t save for my future, had very little job security; and I miss it more than I ever imagined I could.
Life was good back then. The scenery appeared to have been painted with big mountains and bigger skies. The young, carefree, beautiful people I worked with were inspiring. The campfires and the nights we spent laughing and loving under the stars were unforgettable. Every moment allowed me to dream, to wonder, to live in the moment and appreciate both the beauty in the landscape around me, and the beauty in the people with whom I shared it.
Despite my photographs bringing me teary-eyed nostalgia, they also remind me of just how lucky I was to have such unfettered access to the backcountry. Whether I was guiding a group or simply enjoying my days off, it was in Colorado where my love of the mountain regions was solidified.
Looking back at my time in the Rockies I find that happiness is drawn from the composite of experiences. While my memory fades, and the sights and smells become more distant, they still all feel special, they all contributed to shaping my character. Standing at the desolate Chasm Lake on a cold, wet and windy morning will certainly create a lasting impression. Equally, the out-of-breath elation gained from summiting a large mountain (that had just, painfully, taught you, step-by-step, quite how big 4,000m (14,000 ft) is) was a new, exciting and addictive feeling. Every moment seemed special and the memory of every moment grows more special with each passing day.
At this point, it would be great if I reeled off a list of “to-do’s” for North Colorado, but honestly, it would be difficult to lay my emotions out in such a binary format. Aside from grabbing a Cinnamon Roll from the small store in Glen Haven (if it even still exists), or having dinner at Nepal’s restaurant in Estes Park (ditto), the only advice is to get out there, get on the trail, and soak up one of the most satisfying outdoor cultures you can find. Meet new people, make new friends, relish your youth, or if older, re-live it, and if the mountains happen to inspire you, bottle that feeling and never forget it. If you can spend more than a vacation there, I highly recommend it.
These experiences are a life time ago for me, sadly, and a lot has changed since those romantic, care free, days. I now have a “real” job and a pension plan. Physically I feel in good shape, but my bones groan and ache in the cold, my hair is slightly greyer and my face bears the ravages of time. However, since leaving this outdoor lifestyle behind me and having entered the corporate world, I still look back at those “wherever the wind blows” times wistfully. There is innocence and honesty in living in the moment and while I have security in many aspects of my life, when I’m faced with high debt repayments, private healthcare or simply the frantic pace of city life I always wonder: Do I really live my life correctly?