I didn’t expect to fall in love while in Vail, Colorado but I did.
My dead mother sent me to Vail and while I now have a very slight inkling as to her reasons, there were many times in the past month I walked frustrated into the woods and shouted ‘why?’ to the sky in the hope all would be revealed. I am still hoping.
It all started with Xavier Rudd and a registration plate, COL 70V which anyone who has been to the USA knows is Colorado, i70 highway to Vail. I will reveal more in the book I am here in Colorado writing but let’s just say I chose to ignore my mother’s advice, in death as in life, and worked hard to get to the box canyon town of Telluride for August instead.
A thousand blocks stood in my way but I fought hard to blast through them with no success. Meanwhile invitations from locals in Vail came flooding in, including accommodation, promises of camping, hikes, concerts and more. Eventually I woke up, did what my mother said, gave in to the flow and dedicated August to the i70 to Vail.
Let’s just say I never saw myself as a ‘Vail’ person. The resort is purpose built to look like a luxury European resort, only it’s not a European resort, it’s an American resort more like Disneyland than Switzerland – complete with outdoor ice rinks in winter, open air concerts in summer and the pre requisite Peter Pan ski bums who come to Vail to never die.
It is also built on the side of a motorway which is a plus because it is easy to get to and from Denver, a mere 1 hour 40 minutes down the road and a minus because depending on where you are staying (i.e. the cheap seats) you can hear the highway traffic all night long.
I have always leaned towards mountain towns with heritage and character, places that used to be silver mining towns or bordellos or home to gun toting cowboys back in the day. Vail was founded in 1962 and while there’s certainly history in the hills there isn’t in the village though there is down the valley in Minturn, a cute gentrified hippy town ten minutes from the resort. But without a car it’s hard to get around ‘the valley’ as it’s called, the area dedicated to West Vail, Eagle Vail, Minturn, Avon and Edwards, satellite communities where the locals retire to after dark.
But I digress. I was falling in love.
It didn’t happen immediately. In fact it was difficult at first. The flowers helped, great bunches of purple, pink, yellow and white blooms that lined the summer morning cobbled streets that helped ease the painful time zone adjustment and the sleep deprivation that accompanied it. It is hard to feel despair when nature’s artwork stares you in the face.
The ever present Gore Creek helped seal the deal with sun rays breaking through fur trees to dance on water skimming over rocks from east to west and down into the valley, providing daily soul respite on the water banks for quiet life meditation a trillion miles away from the i70.
Vail Mountain thrusts skyward from the village base and protects a back bowl of mountain peak after peak that disappears into the horizon. To get there you can take the gondola, or you can hike. I chose the latter, a trail called Berry Picker, 5kms with 1000metres of vertical rise hiked three times a week.
I never thought I would find solace in the land locked woods. Growing up on the East Coast of Australia water was never far away, from Sydney Harbour to the sandy beaches. Beachside Avalon was a two year treat for me after years of harbour side living and I relished the sound of the waves, the whales and the dolphins and the first rays of sunlight on the ocean each morning.
There is a spot on Berry Picker trail up Vail mountain where I went to see my mother. In the week she died she told me while lying on her hospital bed to look for her on the wind after she’s gone from this earth.
The first time I hiked the trail my lungs burned trying to get oxygen at altitude. I stumbled upon an opening amongst the woodlands straight out of an Enid Blyton novel and a tree stump on which I could rest. It was still, very still and overcome with physical exertion and jet lag’s beloved sleep deprivation my body began to tremble and tears welled in my eyes.
It was then the Aspen Groves started to shake and brush their leaves against each other in a woodland percussion driven by the wind. Nature’s lullaby. I continued to stop at this clearing every time I hiked from the village to the peak.
But it’s not all about Vail Mountain, I hiked the nearby Booth Falls trail amongst purple fireweed wildflowers and so many shades of green there isn’t a word for them all. I even hiked with llamas behind Beaver Creek and with a guide to Missouri Lake high above Minturn in a rain shower that lasted all day.
I did some of these with an old friend, others with a new, but mostly I hiked alone getting out of my head and into my body and back to my heart, the ideal remedy for anxiety of any kind as I tried to ground my wobbly feet one day at a first month time.
Like all good love affairs there were tears. Mainly to do with expectations, hope, trust and control while I struggled with creating a new zipcode in my heart. Gut instinct went out the window as I wrestled with living an authentic life at the same time that the ‘please like me gene’ was in full bloom but really the two cannot exist together.
If you spend your life pleasing only others to get them to like you then you lose your own truth. Besides, my word for the month was supposed to be ‘fun’ and lots of it and laughter has always fuelled my being.
My month in Vail has been nothing like I expected. I arrived with new clothes bought especially for the outdoors, fresh cut and coloured hair, waxed legs and other parts, preened and pruned and plucked ready for an adventure of the heart. There were times I wanted to run back to the airport and wondered what the hell I had done uprooting my life so far from the salt air. But really what I wanted to do was bring my amazing support network of friends here into my new time zone.
So I stopped, inhaled, spent time by my freshwater Gore Creek, wrote a lot and tried to find and speak my truth in the words I wrote to myself, to others in my personal life and then words I wrote for my blog readers. Vail was solid and patient, unlike myself, it remained steadfast. Berry Picker was always there, the streams of water were always there and I came to realise what I knew all along, in the weeks leading up to my arrival, that my decision to experience a writing sabbatical in Colorado was 100% right.
It’s not the same as home, a home I cannot imagine now returning to. Honestly I simply couldn’t return to my former life, not the way it was, as good as it was, for it is simply the past and I’m now on the forward flow.
To be honest I didn’t expect to fall in love with Vail’s summer beauty. I imagined a month of fun titillating adventure, tete a tete, loud laughter, more loud laughter and some side liaisons to Denver with love coming down the track. But I didn’t know that Gore Creek and the summer mountains would pull at my heart in such a way I now find it hard to leave despite planning many an exit in my head within the first few weeks.
Side trips helped as absence often does make the heart remember what it had. I ventured to the Continental Divide for midnight meteor shower picnics, to Denver for baseball and brunches and to Denver again for American Football. Each time I returned with laughter in my heart and when I turned the key in the lock to my apartment in Vail I exhaled a little more as I began to relax and trust in my environment and the people in my new life.
I am crap at goodbyes, always have been but with every goodbye there comes a hello. I don’t know what my next stop in Colorado, Aspen, will bring but I know the adjustment period will be easier because physically I am in a better place – fitter, healthier, adjusted to the time zone and I am listening to my gut instinct and have regained my voice.
There was a time in the very early days I feared I would leave with a closed or screaming heart but instead I leave with lots of gratitude for every person that encouraged me to come to Vail, and every person here that I have connected with for every moment of this month for each has taught me something, even if I am yet to know.
I also know that this is far from a goodbye. There’s yellow autumn leaves and then snow around the corner and I will be back to sit by my beloved Gore Creek, moulded by more adventures with tales of other loves to tell to the one that started it all.
But the mountains and waters of Colorado are all connected so really I’m just in love with the whole.