Hike to the Sky (Pond)

There were supposed to be six of us. We planned to meet at 3AM and hike to the summit of Estes Cone. Honestly, it’s not a top destination in the Rocky Mountain National Park — a little steep and scrubby for my taste — but it’s what fit the group’s constraints. And I wanted to hike with the group.

When the appointed time came, however, it appeared that there were only two of us who were prepared to hike. We would later learn that one friend decided to bow out the night before and communicated that decision to the person who was the de facto organizer. The de facto organizer accidentally set her alarm to 3PM instead of 3AM. And another friend who was hoping to join us accidentally fell asleep in a lounge area, where he didn’t have an alarm next to his bed. So it was just Marcel and me at 3AM. We decided to wait for a little bit to see what might happen with our other friends. And fortunately, around 3:20 AM, our friend Saul arrived — with his apologies for slightly oversleeping — and finally, at 3:30 AM, we decided that it was just going to be the three of us.

One of the upshots of hiking with half the original group was that we had half of the original constraints. And since we were already up very early, before the 5AM onset of the timed ticketed entry system to the Rocky Mountain National Park’s picturesque (but popular) Bear Lake corridor, we decided to pick one of those trails instead of Estes Cone. Ultimately, we decided to do a hike that included Bear Lake, Lake Haiyaha, the Loch, and Sky Pond. We pulled into the Bear Lake parking area when it was almost empty. And it was still very dark and cold when we set out… until the sun started to rise.

We caught glimpses of the sky starting to brighten when we were about halfway to Lake Haiyaha (see the photos above). And we made it to Lake Haiyaha itself right around the time that the sun was rising. We saw orange and yellow off to the East. And a pink glow settled about the mountains off to the West.

We ate some snacks. We talked about our lives (hiking conversations can be some of the best and deepest conversations of all). And then we decided to press on towards the other lakes, higher up into the mountains.

Bear Lake and Sky Pond have developed a reputation for being overcrowded. They are some of the most popular destinations in the Rocky Mountain National Park. And rightfully so, honestly. They’re pretty spectacular examples of the Rocky Mountains. But sometimes, the trails around Bear Lake and Sky Pond can be so busy that they feel more like walking through a Farmer’s Market than an undertaking an adventure into the wilderness.

Still, they’re enjoyable under the right circumstances. Especially Sky Pond. It’s got a great name (who doesn’t want to hike to the Sky?!?). It includes some rock-climbing through a waterfall to a series of beautiful alpine lakes. It’s an amazing hike! If it’s not too busy, if the circumstances are right. And fortunately, the circumstances for this morning turned out to be the perfect circumstances for enjoying Sky Pond. We definitely weren’t alone on the trails. But we were able to keep moving at our preferred pace.

We made good time until we got to the last 300 feet before the waterfall. There’s a narrow path along the steep side of the mountain, and it was completely covered with snow and ice. In the shadows and overnight chill, the snow was tightly packed and encrusted with ice, so it didn’t allow for easy footholds. We didn’t have micro-spikes or trekking poles to help grip the trail. So, we ended up making very slow, deliberate progress using hands and feet. And fortunately, we made it to the waterfall.

RMNP Bear Lake, Lake Haiyaha, the Loch, the Lake of Glass, and Sky Pond with Marcel and Saul

After we made it that far, the rest was easy. When we made it to Sky Pond, there were two other hikers — who were actually kind of helpful in helping to take some group pictures for us. But when they left, we had Sky Pond to ourselves for the next thirty minutes! It seems impossible, with such an iconic destination. But the early hour and the tricky snow and ice on the last approach gave us an amazing experience at the end of our Hike to the Sky (Pond). We rested on rocks and ate our lunch. We skipped stones across the surface of the water. And we even listened to some music together (I’ve recently been hooked on Joji’s ”Glimpse of Us” — and I think Saul is now hooked on it, too!). It was… celestial.

RMNP Bear Lake, Lake Haiyaha, the Loch, the Lake of Glass, and Sky Pond with Marcel and Saul

It was a long, hard hike back down. (It always is, as the miles add up). But the tricky snow and ice just below the waterfall were more easily navigated once the sun softened things up. We continued our conversation, as we hiked. Finally, we made it back to Bear Lake in one piece, never likely to forget our Hike to the Sky (Pond).

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Lonesome Dove

I recently finished reading Larry McMurtry’s Western, Lonesome Dove. And believe it or not: I’d never actually read a Western before! Furthermore, I’m a slow enough reader that I generally shy away from books that are around a thousand pages, like this one. But the book was recommended to me back in January by my friend Josiah (a lifelong Texan). And when I came down with COVID this week, it created the perfect opportunity to burrow into a big book with a big story. And honestly, Lonesome Dove might end up being one of my favorite books of the decade!

Lonesome Dove

It has all the classic Western elements: Cowboys and Indians… Saloons and Gunfighting… Rattlesnakes and Horse-Thieves… But somehow, it doesn’t feel like a trope or a cliché! The characters have depth and complexity: serious flaws, but also endearing qualities. The descriptions of the setting are grand and glorious, but also multilayered: full of beauty and danger. The plot is powerful and compelling. So, it makes sense to me that the book won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1986. It’s got chops. It’s a good book.

The story starts in a small town called Lonesome Dove, Texas, just north of the Rio Grande. Two old Texas Rangers, Augustus (“Gus”) McRae and Woodrow F. Call are basically retired from their paramilitary careers securing the southern border. Their Hat Creek Cattle Company and Livery Emporium is enough to occupy them plus a couple of trusted ranch hands… but barely. Through a series of events, they decide to rustle up a herd of 2,600 cattle and drive them north to Montana, just as it’s opening up for settlement.

It’s an epic adventure through an epic landscape. But the part of the story that was the most moving and compelling for me was the relationship between Call and McRae.

The old Texas Rangers are heroic in many of the classic Western ways. They can tame the toughest stallions. They can outfight the toughest enemies in the toughest circumstances. And they have a strong sense of justice that seems to be desperately needed in the “Wild, Wild West.” At the same time, they also carry intense shame and regret. They annoy each other. They are deeply flawed in unique ways. Yet, they still find a way forward.

I don’t know how to sum up a thousand pages in a short book review, here, without spoiling any of the story. I just feel an intense sense of accomplishment and gratitude at the conclusion of my reading of Lonesome Dove. It seems to be one of those stories that echoes strongly in our culture, without even realizing that it’s the original “shout” at the head of the “canyon.” I’d highly recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a good summer read. Or a read of any sort.

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Odd Adventures in Colorado

Nokomis Cabin

It’s been another week of odd adventures in Colorado. Since Marci and I both tested positive for COVID at the beginning of the week, we’ve been more or less holed up in Nokomis Cabin, drawing down our food supplies, read lots, watching Netflix, and just waiting for our immune systems to overtake this pesky virus. Fortunately, the sickness has been very mild. Mostly just a mild sore throat and swollen lymph nodes for me. The first 24 hours also had a vague feverish fog about them (though it never registered on the thermometer). My overall health has drifted between 85% and 95%.

So, today I decided to keep my weekly extended time with God by hiking / climbing up Lightning Peak and Thunder Peak, just south of the YMCA of the Rockies. And they ended up being the perfect choice for such circumstances; I didn’t see another soul out in the wilderness.

RMNP Lightning Peak and Thunder Peak

I’m still not sure what to make of the ministry dynamics at the Estes Park Leadership Training program this summer. I just can’t seem to get into a rhythm. One week and then back to Ohio for Olivia’s graduation… Another week and then some unidentified illness (worse than COVID!)… One week and then a mild case of COVID… I don’t think I’m being derelict in my duties. But I can’t exactly say that it’s been an ”All-Star Campaign” either. Fortunately, I still feel well-connected to God. I mostly just feel like I’m keeping watch, waiting for something significant to happen.

Maybe something significant will happen, and I’ll be standing by for God to use me. Or maybe nothing big (or even medium-sized) will happen, and I’ll have just held my post without incident.

I happened to accidentally text my friend Chad from the top of Lightning Peak, and then we fell into checking in with each other. At one point, Chad texted, ”Trying to get in a rhythm, but that seems to be escaping us. Lots of good PTO and family time, though.” And that prompted me to respond, ”Yeah, that’s honestly not a horrible outcome for a summer, is it?” The more I reflected on this statement, the more I wondered if it might be a part of what God is trying to show me this summer.

My pace through the first half of 2022 has been unsustainable. So maybe I needed these interruptions to make me slow down. To restock my heart and soul and imagination — so I can be more ”on” and ”engaged” when I get back to regular life in Kent. I don’t have to be lazy with my Leadership Training responsibilities. Still, I think it’s acceptable to not worry so much about hitting aces and down-the-line winners — opting instead to play the part of a pusher again for this summer. I want to keep thinking about this and praying about this, but I’m genuinely curious to see if God might be telling me to take my foot off the accelerator and intentionally coast for awhile.

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COVID in Colorado

I woke up this morning with a mild sore throat. Which I dismissed as allergies. I decided to go for a run up Bible Point, and when I got to the top I had a weird coughing fit. Which I dismissed as leftover crud from an unidentified virus I caught last week. When I got back from my run, I felt more tired than usual. Which I dismissed as a combination of altitude and recovery from last week’s virus. But as I sat to do some computer work, I noticed that my lymph nodes felt swollen — while the fatigue and sore throat also just hung around… So I decided to take a COVID test. And the result was hard to dismiss: I had a clear positive test for COVID-19. COVID in Colorado.

It’s been such a weird realization to know that this infamous Coronavirus has finally caught up with me. I’ve had so many close calls over the last two and a half years. Some of my kids have been infected two or three times (while living in the same house with me)! I got the vaccine. And the booster. But somehow, it finally chased me down. So now, according to CDC guidelines, I’m out of circulation until at least this weekend. Marci tested positive today, too — and Cor’s the one in our family who’s had COVID the most (two or three times already, depending on how we count the sickness he experienced in April of 2020 when home testing was not readily available). So even while we continue to monitor him for symptoms, we’re hopeful that he might be immune to the strain we’re currently experiencing.

I feel comforted to know that our experience with COVID will likely be mild. We’re grateful for friends who are willing to help in any ways we might need help. We feel privileged to isolate ourselves in a cabin, with lots of fresh air and beautiful mountain views around us. And I even see reason for gratitude in the fact that neither Elliot nor Olivia are living with us this summer (even though that’s been a point of struggle at other times, recently). And similarly, I’m glad to know that I can’t possibly infect my parents (which has been one of my greatest fears since the start of the pandemic). COVID in Colorado has its upsides.

Still, I’m eager for the day when we’re done with COVID. For our family in this week, of course — but for the rest of the world, too. We’ve carried an uncomfortable burden for several years now. And whenever this stupid virus invades our lives, I’m reminded of those who’ve had (and who have) it far worse than us. I’m trusting God. But it’s hard.

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The Wonder

I recently finished reading Emma Donoghue’s novel, The Wonder. It’s a work of historical fiction, set in 19th Century Ireland. The author says the book was ”inspired by almost fifty cases of so-called Fasting Girls — hailed for surviving without food for long periods — in the British Isles, Western Europe, and North America between the sixteenth and twentieth centuries.” And in the case of this story, the reader follows the point of view of an English nurse who is called to Ireland to independently verify the fact that a ten-year-old girl has been surviving without food for four months and counting. I had very little in the way of expectations when I checked it out from the library. Its biggest appeals were that it was available and that it was written by Emma Donoghue (I enjoyed her book Room).

Unfortunately, The Wonder was not anywhere near the level of Room. There were some similar attempts at suspense. And both books have a motherly relationship at the center of the action. However, I found these elements of The Wonder to be nowhere near as compelling or believable.

The supposedly-miraculous girl, Anna, was likable enough. But the nurse, Lib, was downright unlikable for most (if not all) of the book. She was overly suspicious and judgmental of every other character in the book. And while this may have been useful in a literary sense, allowing her to function sort of like the detective in a mystery novel, it was not helpful in having me buy into her perspective. Her late-breaking, tepid redemptive arc, her internal transformation, towards the end of the book was uninspiring. So, even the happiest ending for her was “Meh” for me.

Nevertheless, I don’t feel like the book was a complete waste of time. It held my interest. And I appreciate the way that it alerted me to the historical phenomenon of Fasting Girls. I definitely can’t write off Emma Donoghue as a writer. Still, I might be slow to pick up another book from her unless I get recommendations from others.

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Summer Job

Elliot in 2016

I’ve been on ministry assignment for the Estes Park Leadership Training program four times in the last six years. And three out of those four summers have coincided with one of our kids being 14 years of age. Amazingly, 14 years of age also happens to be the age at which people can be legally employed at the YMCA of the Rockies. So all three kids have ended up having the same summer job as a first job.

Olivia in 2019

It’s worked out quite well for our family. The kids can provide their own transportation to work (walking). They get scheduled for a two and a half days (20 hours) per week, which is perfect for a first job. And because of Colorado’s minimum wage laws, they get paid quite generously for their labor ($12.56 per hour).

Cor's First Day of Work at the YMCA of the Rockies
Cor in 2022

All three kids have chosen to work in the YMCA of the Rockies’ Housekeeping Department. In this job, they swap out the linens in guest rooms and make the beds. They vacuum the carpets, scrub the toilets, and so on. They’re given real responsibility, but also support — working with a crew of other housekeepers. I love the way that this position teaches them valuable life skills. Cleaning, of course, but also in communicating and working hard.

I’m so glad things have worked out this way. It wasn’t intentional. Still, it’s been a strategic step in my kids growing up. I’m thankful for how this summer job has worked out for all three kids over the years.

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Steep Mountain

My heart craved some extended time with God this morning. The last few weeks have been fun and full of adventure… But they have not allowed for my regular spiritual discipline of Friday morning walks with God. Until today.

So, when I had finished eating breakfast and packing my bag, I decided to target an unfamiliar geological feature of the Rocky Mountain National Park: labeled on my map as Steep Mountain. I’ve never really heard of others attempting this hike. Still, I thought it might be fun to try it. Mostly because it’s there: within striking distance of our home base at the YMCA of the Rockies.

South Lateral Moraine to Steep Mountain

Furthermore, it didn’t seem like it should be that difficult of a hike. I figured I should be able to follow the ridge of the South Lateral Moraine, from East to West, for about three miles. This would allow me to gradually gain elevation until the South Lateral Moraine butted up against Steep Mountain, maybe half-way up the total rise of the mountain, and then I could pick my path to the summit from there.

Moraine Park and the Mummy Range

And indeed, the walk along that low ridge was lovely. It was lightly forested, allowing for a mix of sun and shade. And the wider openings in the forest provided abundant views of Moraine Park and the Mummy Range off to the right and views of Long’s Peak and the Continental Divide off to the left.

Long’s Peak and the Continental Divide

As I walked this section of the hike, my heart welled up with praise. I felt thankful to God for His Creation… His Provision… His Salvation… and His nearness. Even though it had been a few weeks since our last full Friday morning together, it felt like we hadn’t missed a step. I thought of the phrase, “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.”

As I got closer to Steep Mountain, though, I noticed some blackened trees, toppled along the top of the ridge. I had to zig-zag around them to keep making progress. Even so, I kept hiking, getting closer to Steep Mountain. And the more I hiked, the more blackened trees I discovered. These trees were the scars of a forest fire that came through this area in 2020. It was sobering to see the damage, and my prayers shifted through this section of the hike. My mind was brought to people I’ve known and loved who have died. Or who are dying. Or who have walked away from the Christian faith over the years. My heart felt heavy. Still, I continued to pray and sensed God’s nearness in this, too.

When I reached the end of the South Lateral Moraine and started up Steep Mountain, I realized just how much Steep Mountain lived up to its name. It was hands-and-feet clamoring and climbing. Nothing too dangerous or too exposed. But it just sucked the breath from my lungs. And during this stretch of intense incline, there was very little to look at. No grand mountain vistas; just endless boulders and scrubby vegetation (minimally affected by the forest fire) at a steep, steep angle. I didn’t think of it until after the fact, but this scramble up the side of Steep Mountain was kind of like a metaphor for this last semester of ministry with H2O Church at Kent State University. A lot of work. An unsustainable level of effort. Exhaustion. And very little time or space for reflection or prayer. The last 500 feet of elevation gain were particularly difficult.

Finally, though, things leveled off and opened up again towards the summit. And as my breathing started to return to normal, I resumed my time of prayer and communion with God. From the top of Steep Mountain, to the East I could see all of the South Lateral Moraine and my route of ascent. Further to the West, I could see the wide swath of destruction that had been caused by the forest fire (which also extended to a few areas to the East of Steep Mountain). But it was all so beautiful. Even the scars on the landscape.

On top of Steep Mountain, I felt God beckoning me to trust Him. To remain in Him. To look for spaces in which I can rest in Him, even when the mountain gets steep. My view on the way to and from the top of Steep Mountain reminded me that there will be losses and death. But there will also be renewal and rebirth. And as long as I stay focused on walking with my Creator, I will be in the right place.

South Lateral Moraine to Steep Mountain
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June-uary

RMNP Fern Lake with Clay, Maddy, Annie, and Marcel

We woke up to a fresh layer of snow covering the ground. Today. On June 1st!

In Ohio, we think of June as solidly summer. The school’s Summer Break starts at the beginning of the month… We go on summer vacations and play summer sports… We wear summer clothes and eat summer foods. Even though we know that astronomically, the summer solstice doesn’t occur until the third week of the month, we just know that it feels like summer in Ohio when June comes around.

But Colorado is different. Especially here in the vicinity of the Rocky Mountain National Park, it’s almost always a good bit cooler than conditions in Kent (or even Denver, for that matter). Usually, I’d describe this difference as ”refreshing.” But this year — with extra cold and extra snow extra-late in the season — I’m more inclined to label it as ”challenging.” Mostly because it’s just been a challenge to stay warm since coming out here for our church network’s Leadership Training program.

RMNP Fern Lake with Clay, Maddy, Annie, and Marcel

Waking up to that fresh layer of snowfall this morning, however, I decided to embrace the wintry conditions. I joined a group headed to hike up to Fern Lake. Where the snow was even deeper and the air was even colder.

As we set out from the trailhead, just a little before 5:00 AM, the skies were still dark and heavy with mist. It was cold, but we stayed warm by gaining elevation (one of the surest ways I know to warm up!). And as the skies brightened with the rising of the sun, we just had to stop and take in the views. Even if it made us colder.

RMNP Fern Lake with Clay, Maddy, Annie, and Marcel

It actually ended up being a really special hike because of the wintry conditions. I’ve seen mountaintop snow in the Rockies before, but I haven’t seen as much valley snow. It was beautiful. And the snow made it especially interesting to see a part of the park that got burned in the East Troublesome Fire from back in 2020.

RMNP Fern Lake with Clay, Maddy, Annie, and Marcel

We made it to Fern Lake without incident. And then, to top it all off, we saw two moose on the way back down to the trailhead! Moose are typically rare on the East side of the Rocky Mountain National Park (fewer of them, plus more humans making noise and disturbing their rest)… But maybe they’re not so rare when conditions are more wintry? I’m no moose expert, but it was just cool to see these massive creatures lying in the melting snow.

RMNP Fern Lake with Clay, Maddy, Annie, and Marcel

I’m very grateful for the experiences that I’ve been able to have out here in Colorado, even when it’s been uncomfortably cold. I’m still hoping that this June-uary will give way to June one of these days.

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Olivia’s Graduation Weekend

Olivia's Graduation from Kent Theodore Roosevelt High School

My flight landed around 9:00 PM on Thursday night. It was raining in Cleveland, and the rain only intensified as I drove southeast towards Kent. Still, I managed to pull into our driveway just a little bit after 10:00 PM and let myself into a quiet house. Olivia was the only other person still awake, and she was in an existential mood. A young woman’s Graduation Eve is like that. There are elements of celebration, of course, but also unmistakable elements of unsettling. Olivia was feeling unsettled about her summer, her future, her place in this world. So it felt like a special fatherly privilege to sit with her, listen to her, and hold her as she cried.

She’s as ready for the future as any of us. I told her as much, as we talked in her bedroom late on Thursday night. Still, the formality of our rites of passage can feel funny. Almost fake. All any of us can really do is forge ahead as best as we can.

Friday morning was running errands and sweeping off the deck and vacuuming the house. Olivia went to her graduation rehearsal. And when she came back, it was time to go and get Elliot from the airport. Olivia decided to join me at the last minute, so we could get some time together. And those next two hours were some of the best: driving, sharing music and stories, hugging on the curb outside of baggage claim, choosing a place to stop for some lunch.

Jim's Open Kitchen Too

The picture from the diner turned out blurry. But then again, so did the weekend. Not so dissimilar from the past decade, honestly. I’m not mad about that, though. The experience was sweet and quick and fuzzy. But there was love. And food. And togetherness.

The afternoon involved more bustling to prepare our house for a party the next day: mowing the lawn and preparing food and getting cleaned up for the evening commencement ceremonies. We got to look at some pictures and hear some stories from Elliot’s adventures in Israel. He even brought along some sweets from the Holy Land to accompany his pictures and stories. More love. And food. And togetherness. But before long, we had to eat a quick dinner and hustle off towards graduation.

Olivia's Graduation from Kent Theodore Roosevelt High School

The ceremony was fine. Some speeches, some pomp and circumstance. Olivia got her diploma and moved her tassel from the one side to the other side at the appointed moment. The graduating seniors all hit their marks, and we all watched proudly. Ironically, Olivia’s 2022 gymnasium graduation felt more surreal than Elliot’s 2020 drive-in movie theater graduation because it was more standard. I guess when everything was surreal, back in the spring of 2020, I just didn’t notice the plain old passage of time. But this time it was more obvious. All of the sudden, two-thirds of my children are finished with high school.

Olivia's Graduation from Kent Theodore Roosevelt High School

Olivia is amazing. I have no doubt about her readiness for the next phase of life. She’s going to study Visual Communication Design at Kent State University, and this feels exactly right. Still, it’s sobering to feel like the passage of time is picking up with each successive year of life. It won’t be long before she’s falling in love and raising a family and we’re celebrating the graduation of her children.

Still. Even when things feel like a whirlwind, I’m glad to be caught up in it.

Olivia's Graduation from Kent Theodore Roosevelt High School

After we got back home from commencement ceremonies, Olivia, Cor, and I decided to drive to Handel’s for some ice cream. It just felt like it would be fun to stand in line, there on the corner of Graham and Fishcreek, Olivia’s gown billowing in the breeze. On the way there, we played Elton John’s “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” and we sang our hearts out. It felt so cathartic.

Olivia's Graduation from Kent Theodore Roosevelt High School

The ice cream was delicious, too. Once again, the experience was sweet and quick and fuzzy. But there was love. And food. And togetherness. I expect that the trip to Handel’s will be the enduring memory of Olivia’s graduation weekend in my memory. It makes me smile to even think about it and write about it now.

Olivia's Graduation Party

Saturday morning was all about decorating and food preparation. We hung Olivia’s backpack from the front porch (an homage to the way that we observed Dutch families celebrating graduations, back during our time in Amsterdam). We used every table and chair in the house to create seating areas for guests. And then we waited for the guests to arrive.

Olivia's Graduation Party

Honestly, the graduation party was more fun than I expected. It felt like a true celebration. Our friends and family came with love. And we had a bunch of good food. And there was a profound sense of togetherness. I saw the occasion for what it is: a demonstration of support and interconnectedness. Olivia doesn’t just have to pull herself up by her own bootstraps. She’s got others standing by to help. And that’s really something beautiful to see and feel.

Olivia's Graduation Party

Around five o’clock in the afternoon, things started to thin out. Still, we didn’t end at the appointed hour, and that felt like a success. So much love. So much food. And so much togetherness.

Olivia's Graduation Party

When the last guest finally departed, we worked to clean up the house as efficiently as possible. As soon as the last of graduation was swept up, we had to get out our suitcases and start packing up for Marci’s, Elliot’s, Cor’s, and my road-trip to Colorado. Olivia will mostly be staying in northeast Ohio this summer. And as surreal as that feels, I know that she’s more than ready for the experience of independence and adulthood. It’s all been one big whirlwind: this weekend, this phase of parenthood, this life. But I’m glad to have been caught up in it.

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Lone Cowboy

Moraine Park

I love the Western United States. It really does feel like the “Wild West” — even though it’s far more populated than it used to be. The mountains… the plains… the Cowboys-and-Indians culture… it’s hard to explain. But unless you’re stuck in a traffic jam in Denver, things ”out west” just feel so open and free. It reminds me of my early childhood, playing on the prairies near my grandparents’ house and going on camping trips to the North Dakota Badlands. These landscapes of the Wild West are deeply embedded in my soul. Just driving through the area in a rented Nissan Versa is enough to make me feel like a lone cowboy riding the range.

Serendipitous Sunday Worship in the Bear Lake Area

So, it felt like a special treat to fly out to Colorado a week before my family, to help get this summer’s Leadership Training program off the ground. An unseasonably late snow storm shifted things around a little bit. But we were still able to get everything started! And when I wasn’t working, I had time to hike every day, and eat at interesting restaurants (often western-themed, in some way), and just generally soak up the Wild West scene.

Serendipitous Sunday Worship in the Bear Lake Area

On my last day in Colorado, before a brief Graduation Vacation back in Ohio, I decided to undertake some extra adventures. My friend Chad was also out west for the first week of the Leadership Training program. So he agreed to be the “Tonto” to my “Lone Ranger” (for at least part of these adventures). So we started by driving the Peak-to-Peak Highway from Estes Park to Idaho Springs, with almost two hours of spectacular mountain views. We got to Idaho Springs just in time for lunch at the original Beau Jo’s Pizza. And their ”mountain pie” was every bit as good as I remembered it.

Beau Jo's Pizza in Idaho Springs

Then, after lunch, we went to an old resort, originally established in the 19th Century, called Indian Hot Springs. I booked a room at the resort (for less than the cost of a room at the nearest Hampton Inn), which was strategic because of its proximity to Beau Jo’s and the famous Red Rocks amphitheater (more on that in a moment). But it also entitled me to two days of access to their natural hot springs.

Indian Hot Springs

The natural hot springs could be accessed through Geothermal Caves, a Mineral Water Swimming Pool, Outdoor Jacuzzis, and Indoor Private Baths. So Chad and I had a tough choice to make. We ultimately decided we’d try the Geothermal Caves. But the woman at the resort’s front desk warned us that we would need to drink lots of water because the Geothermal Caves were like a jacuzzi and a sauna all in one. And she said that if we felt like we wouldn’t be able to handle the heat, we could come back to the front desk and swap out our cave passes for something else. That got us wondering and worrying. But it still seemed so unique that we needed to try anyway.

As soon as we walked into the cave area, we felt the temperature creep up. We were buffeted by billows of warm, moist air, even in the locker room area. There we also encountered two completely-naked men lying spread-eagled on wooden drying racks. << Gulp. >> Even so, we weren’t prepared when we finally stripped down to our swimsuits and entered the caves. The air was so warm and moist that my lungs spasmed. The water was even warmer! And things just kept feeling weirder and weirder. The lighting was dim. Signs discouraged talking or making noise of any sort. The nudity was more overwhelming than I expected. So, after maybe ten minutes, Chad and I nodded and whispered to each other. We couldn’t take the heat. We were ready to trade in our cave passes.

Indian Hot Springs

We chose to switch to the Mineral Water Swimming Pool. And even though there’s a little bit of shame that this cowboy wasn’t tough enough for the Geothermal Caves, I must say that the Mineral Water Swimming Pool was lovely. Tropical plants bloomed under a greenhouse dome, fed by the warm, moist air. The water temperature was maybe 100° Fahrenheit. I swear that free-floating in the water felt like being back in the womb. It was amazing. Maybe not quite the ”Lone Cowboy” thing to do. But still. It was a ”Wild West” adventure.

Rex Orange County at Red Rocks

After our time at Indian Hot Springs, Chad and I parted ways. He had further responsibilities with the Leadership Training program back in Estes Park, whereas I was about to head back east for my daughter’s high school graduation. First, though, I had one more Wild West adventure: a concert at Red Rocks amphitheater.

Rex Orange County at Red Rocks

A couple of months back, I had figured out that one of my favorite contemporary artists, Rex Orange County, was going to be playing at Red Rocks. And even though the schedule wouldn’t allow me to attend with any of my kids (which would have been the dream scenario), there was just enough alignment of circumstances that I could attend the concert on my own. So, I did.

Rex Orange County at Red Rocks

It was an amazing show. And an amazing venue. I’ve watched enough Instagram stories from friends at concerts to know that the experience doesn’t translate well through another person’s smartphone. So, you’ll just have to take my word for it. All 10,000 seats in the amphitheater were sold out. And we had a lovely night together.

Indian Hot Springs

I went back to the Indian Hot Springs resort after the concert. And I had a decent (but not amazing) night of sleep in my room (which probably had not been renovated since the 1920s). In the morning, I got up, had another soak in the Mineral Water Swimming Pool, and then started out for the airport.

It was a fun week out in the Wild West. But it also felt surreal. Especially being disconnected from the rest of my family. I spent a lot of time thinking about my wife and my kids and my parents, wondering what they were doing while I was ”riding the range.” It was lonelier than I expected it would be. Surprisingly-long conversations with strangers don’t mean the same as ongoing day-to-day dialogue with loved ones. So, I was glad when it was time to ”hang up my spurs” and rejoin civilization back east.

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