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North

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015

If you know my sister Becca, you know she’s all about dogs. She always has been; her first word was “woof-woof.” In addition to running a dog rescue (whence came Foxy!), she has three dogs of her own – and they’re like her kids. So when she and my brother-in-law decided to go to Seattle, they called in only the best.

Annie the Dog Nanny.

Foxy and I moved into Becca and Michael’s house on Saturday night, and it’s been the Wild West ever since. I’m playing defense against a collective 200 pounds of canine. Things I will need to replace before they get home: Bulleit and a lot of chocolate chips.

In the midst of it all, I am wrapping up my job, selling my house, and looking for a new place to live – because I forgot to tell you:

I’m moving to Minnesota.

Two weeks ago, I gave my notice at work. I am leaving what has been a gift of a job for what is sure to be a challenging, soulful adventure of a next chapter: I’m moving to Minneapolis to work for my favorite public radio show, On Being with Krista Tippett.

For over eight years, this has been a blog mostly about my feelings – so don’t think I’m going to stop now.

What can I say about my 5 ½ years in Denver? They have been the toughest years of my life, minus 6th grade when all of the girls turned mean. Cancer brought me here, divorce made me stay. I watched my family disintegrate, and a few relationships of my own. I’ve said such horrible things to God, it’s a wonder he still loves me. I’ve lost hope, battled depression, and numbed the pain with all sorts of soul novocain.

Denver made me write this song. (And as always, forgive the guitar.)

[UPDATE: Song has been taken down. Maybe you’ll hear it again someday.]

But it’s not lost on me that the hardest years were spent in the most beautiful place. It’s like someone knew I would need the beauty.

I’ve walked thousands and thousands of miles. I’ve climbed mountains – I’m up to 35 14ers, with 19 to go. I spent 11 days on a solo backpacking trip, digging deeper than I knew I could dig. I’ve learned to own my finances, my career, a dog, and a house. If Seattle is where I became Annie and Nashville is where I became a woman (gross, sorry for saying that), Denver is where I became an adult – a reluctant transition, but true nonetheless. I’ve made a handful of incredible girlfriends, the kind that make it hard to leave. I’ve been to counseling – gracious, have I been to counseling. I’ve stopped blaming my parents for everything that’s wrong in my life.

As it turns out, I am sad to leave Denver – but not as excited as I am for a new adventure.

I will miss my perfect tiny house and my friends and the weather and the mountains. But I know that there’s something for me in Minnesota – lakes and forests and people and meaningful work. And mosquitos. And snow. But I’m choosing to believe that richness awaits. I can’t wait to tell you about it. I can’t wait to learn it for myself. I might even start going to church again.

Until then, I am frantically wrapping up my time with LÄRABAR/General Mills. Yesterday I wrote a “manual” for how to do my job. So far it’s 17 pages long. I’m getting my ducks in a row to sell my house, and looking for another in Minneapolis (tell me, is 40% of my income too much to spend on a mortgage?).

And I’m dog-sitting for my sister. Maybe these dogs will come visit me in Minnesota.

My roots are up, and I’m headed north. There is so much to be nervous about, and so much to be grateful for. Thanks for sticking with me, no matter the gap between posts, no matter the city in which I live.

See you soon, Minneapolis!

Minneapolis

Mountain Law

Friday, August 1st, 2014

This morning, I set out to try to climb Humboldt Peak, the mountain that thwarted me last September. I’ll just go ahead and tell you that I didn’t make it to the top – because this is actually a story about something different.

In the trail description, the guidebooks said that a high-clearance, 4WD vehicle is necessary to get to the trailhead, and that if you’re not in the appropriate car, just park at the bottom of the road and hike up. Now, my Subaru Forester is far from being high-clearance, but I figured that it was worth a shot – because who wants to spend a bunch of time walking multiple miles up a rocky road?

Dumb idea. I made it about half a mile before the road got too rough for Subaruthless – and if I didn’t want to high-center my car on a boulder, I knew that I couldn’t go any further. Despite all of the signs along the road that said “PRIVATE PROPERTY” “NO TRESPASSING” and “NO PARKING,” I pulled over.

“Does anyone really enforce those signs?” I thought. “Doubtful.”

I threw on my emergency brake, placed some big rocks behind each tire to keep the car from rolling down the mountain, and Foxy and I took off for the summit.

Fast-forward a few hours. We were 5 miles in and just crossing tree line when the dark clouds got the best of my nerve, and I decided to turn around – because I have a strict No Death by Lightning policy.

Humboldt

As we headed down the trail, I started to think, “I hope my car is okay…” but was distracted by Foxy leaping into the air and catching a QUAIL in mid-flight.

“Foxy!” I yelled. “Foxy, no!”

And then before my very eyes, my sweet pooch shook a wild bird to death.

“Foxy,” I said, now serious. “Drop it.”

She opened her jaws and the lifeless fowl dropped to the ground.

I can’t decide which I’m more shocked about: that I witnessed my dearest companion’s first blood, or that she obeyed “drop it” on first command.

By now, the rain was starting to come down in sheets. I pulled on my Patagonia jacket and we high-tailed it for the car –

The car!

In all of the excitement over witnessing an actual murder, I had forgotten that my car was parked illegally on the side of a mountain road. “Surely they wouldn’t tow it…” I thought. “But there might be a ticket?”

You can imagine my relief when my Subaru came into view – and without a backwoods rancher with a shotgun alongside waiting to greet me. The rain was pouring, Foxy was a mudball, and I knew that before anything else I would need to get the towel out of the back to dry her off. I reached for the handle to the back door, put my fingers underneath the latch to pull up, and…

What is this.

I pulled my hand back toward my face and smelled my fingers.

It was feces. Of the equine variety.

I walked around to the driver’s side door to open that instead, and found the same.

Someone had packed horse poop under every door handle on my car, and smeared it on the windows for good measure.

I recoiled in horror – and then, surprise of all surprises, I giggled. Before I knew it, I was laughing hysterically in the middle of a rainstorm on the side of Humboldt Peak, drenched and muddy with a handful of horse shit. I knew that I had no right to be angry – the signs had made the rules crystal clear, and I had broken them. And the thought of a crotchety old mountain person securing their perimeter each day by applying the dung of their livestock to any offender’s vehicle… well. It was spectacular, really.

Because when it comes to Mountain Law, all’s fair in love and manure.

The time I walked to Twin Lakes Village – and then got in a car and drove home

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

On Monday night I rolled my ankle, and that was that. Yesterday morning, I limped 11 miles out to Twin Lakes Village where Kristen and Lacey were waiting to resupply me, and after a few hours in Leadville in which I wrestled it over, I asked them to take me home.

Of course, the decision wasn’t that easy – and even the day after, my emotions are still as raw as my heels.

First, let’s back up. Since we last spoke, I’d been hauling ass across the state of Colorado. In the 4 days since Breckenridge, I hiked 73 miles; by the time I reached Twin Lakes Village, my grand total was 177.2. And despite dumping more than 8 lbs of my original weight, my pack was still hefty, and it was taking a toll on my shoulders, neck, and feet. I kept waiting for the moment when everything would click and I would start feeling good – but it just wasn’t happening.

In fact, my body seemed to revolt against me more and more.

While the original blisters started to heal up, new ones began to form. My shoulder sores grew more deeply bruised. My hands started to crack open – deep wounds that were more like cuts than cracks. I developed a wicked heat rash on my face and ears. My back started to feel strangely reminiscent of the days before I threw it out last year. I couldn’t sleep. And when my appetite all but disappeared, I knew that things were serious – because since when has Annie Parsons skipped a meal, especially after hiking 20 miles in a day?

So when my ankle rolled, I decided to call it – not quits, but good. I called it good. 11 days on the Colorado Trail had been good enough.

I could have slowed down. I could have taken a rest day in Leadville and hoped for my ankle to heal up. I could have dug deep and rallied and soldiered on a day or two later – but you know what? I didn’t want to. I’d had 11 days of adventure that had stretched me and challenged me and given me the confidence to call myself a Tough Ass Bitch. And now I wanted to go home.

It’s a humbling thing to realize that your dream wasn’t what you thought it would be. I had put so much into this experience – time and money and effort and planning – and my family had bent over backwards to help accommodate my plans. So many friends were invested in this trip. And if anything was going to get me back out on that trail, it was the knowledge that the people who love me were rooting for me, cheering me on, and pulling for me to reach Durango; honestly, it brings tears to my eyes to think about how supported I’ve felt through this whole thing.

But it’s especially humbling to realize that I wanted the end result – to say that I had hiked the Colorado Trail – more than I wanted to actually DO it.

I’m just sitting here staring at those words, and wondering when the last time was that I was able to be so honest. Like I said – humbling.

Somewhere deep inside, I think I believed that doing something like hiking the Colorado Trail would make me strong. It would justify me as a badass, and confirm me as a force to be reckoned with.

But here’s the truth about what 11 days solo in the backcountry did to me: it stripped me small. I woke up each morning alone in a tent, no shower, no real conveniences of any kind, and then strapped on a burdensome pack and walked for the next 11 hours. I applied bug spray like perfume, and SPF 100 like my life depended on it (which it kind of did). When I would walk around a tree to drop trou (because the world is now my bathroom), I would bring DEET to immediately spray on my haunches to avoid being eaten alive in the nether regions.

(The mosquitos were truly insulting. I was Thomas J. – they were the bees.)

But here’s the amazing thing: when you’re stripped of all comforts, all eyes, all mirrors, all bravado… you still exist. You still are, regardless of what you have or don’t have or can do or can’t do. I might have been waking up in a tent alone and uncomfortable and grosser than I’d ever been before – but I was still Annie, by nature of nothing except God having spoken me into being and continuing to hold me together.

:::::

“All great spirituality teaches about letting go of what you don’t need and who you are not. Then, when you can get little enough and naked enough and poor enough, you’ll find that the little place where you really are is ironically more than enough and is all that you need. At that place, you will have nothing to prove to anybody and nothing to protect.” –Richard Rohr

:::::

It didn’t matter if I got up and hiked or stayed right there in my sleeping bag. It didn’t matter if I had a house in Denver or a job at a big company or was in a relationship or not in a relationship or was good at things or not good at things – I am just Annie, small and simple as I might be. How freeing – because when you no longer have to live up to the person you hope you might be, you get to be the person that you are.

And the person that I am is now off the trail, a size smaller, reunited with my bestie, and grateful to have 3 ½ weeks of unexpected vacation ahead of me. Thank you so much for your amazing encouragement and enthusiasm for this adventure – the stories I lived will forever be a part of who I am.

BFF

Why I’m doing what I’m doing

Monday, June 16th, 2014

Are you stressed? Aggravated? Fed up? Worn out?

Call Annie Parsons – the Bullshit Exterminator.

This is what one of my beloved co-workers called me today – a moniker I proudly accept.

Listen, life is too much these days. I’m inordinately stressed at work. I’m in the midst of an insurance battle over my roof. I cannot for the life of me get a single lawn service company to call me back. Foxy came back from our weekend backpacking trip with a “small wound” that had to be treated at the vet. Projects just keep not getting finished. My inbox is overflowing, my patience is dwindling, and today, I couldn’t take it anymore.

Shaky rage-voice was used. Emails went flying. I put my foot down. I took action. In essence, I exterminated the bullshit.

I am *thisclose* to teetering off the edge – so it’s a good thing that I leave on the Colorado Trail in just 12 days. I am so ready – so so so so ready – to close my computer.

Am I ready to be alone in the mountains for over 4 weeks? Who knows. But it’s happening – and it’s happening soon.

To be clear, my lack of emotional bandwidth is not solely about my job. For most of us, work is stressful – I’m not unique in this regard. It’s about so much more than work.

The further I grow into being a so-called grown-up, the more I feel myself bucking against the absolute nonsense that “adulthood” tends to bring with it. Some days I feel that I’m losing the person that I once was, the person that I want to believe that I still am, the one with dreams and passions and gumption and guts. I love Annie the Risk Taker. What happened to her? She’s been bound and gagged by what others have told her is “reality”: worst case scenarios and doomsday forecasts and fiscal cliffs and snowballs of disppointment and never, ever getting your hopes up.

But I know better than that.

It’s time to steal my life back. It’s time to remember all of the things that used to make me come alive, that used to make my heart skip a beat.

Who knows if walking alone into the mountains is the way to do it? But it seems worth a shot.

mountain

Intuition

Monday, September 16th, 2013

Three months ago, Colorado was in the midst of out-of-control wildfires. Everything was brittle and dead, and when the summer storms started, the lightning-induced fires were hard to contain.

And because this state is completely bi-polar, today is a very different story.

Unless you’ve been living under a (dry, well-insulated) rock, I’m sure you’ve heard that Colorado has been experiencing major flooding in the last week. The worst of it has been north of Denver in the Boulder/Longmont/Fort Collins area, and the images are heartbreaking. Some people have lost everything. Some have died. Hundreds are unaccounted for, and they expect the death toll to rise.

Still, I thought I’d wander alone into the wilderness on Saturday. DON’T WORRY – I headed south, away from the floods.

:::::

“Have you ever been turned back by weather?” he asked.

I thought about it. There was that one time where we arrived at the trailhead and it was already snowing, so we knew we were doomed from the start – but aside from that, never. Each and every one of the 35 14ers I had attempted, I summited that same day.

“When it happens – and it will happen – it will be good for you,” he said. “It will make you a better climber.”

:::::

On Saturday morning, I headed up Humboldt Peak with the hopes of it being my 36th 14er – but 4 miles in, I had to turn around at tree line. The top of the mountain was encased in a thick cloud, and even if I didn’t sense electricity above, I knew that if I lost the trail, I’d be done for.

I was disappointed. I had wanted to check another mountain off my list. But I listened to my gut, just like I did on the road to the trailhead when I came to a spot that I just didn’t think the Subaru could clear, and thus abandoned ship (have you ever reversed down a 4WD road? Lord, have mercy). And when you listen to your gut, when you act on conviction even when it goes against what you want – it builds confidence.

My friend was right: being turned back by weather was good for me. It confirmed that intuition is trustworthy – that instinct should be honored. I can only imagine the times in the future when this lesson is going to come in handy.

On the way back to Denver, I stopped in Westcliffe where I ordered coffee from a completely no-nonsense lady. Then I took a different route home from the road I’d driven to get there, soaking in the beauty of the state and feeling a million miles away from the flooding.

Despite the fact that I wanted to climb 7 14ers this summer and only got 4 (the last one being two months ago, for shame), I recognize that living life continually at full throttle sometimes just makes you want to throttle yourself. Maybe it’s better to enjoy the moment; after all, fires and floods remind us that nothing is guaranteed. And in the meantime, perhaps learning to trust your gut is as big an achievement as reaching your intended destination.

Re-entry

Monday, July 8th, 2013

Today I re-enter real life after a 9-day vacation – and oh, the pain.

I mean that figuratively, of course – but also literally. My body hurts. I climbed three 14ers last week, and I’m all scabs and bruises today. On a steep slope a week ago Sunday, a rock the size of a bowling ball dislodged above me and somehow rolled into my left knee, leaving only a small bloody mark but a deep bruise. Today, I’m left with a dilemma: I need to stretch my quad, but to do so would require bending my knee, which tears the scab.

We all face choices.

Anyway, this past Saturday I climbed Mt. Columbia. And it’s a good thing this 14er was my 34th and not my 1st – because had it been my 1st, I would never have climbed a mountain again. It was that horrible.

The top 2,000 feet is nothing but scree, a mixture of countless small loose rocks and slippery dirt that has only one goal: move down the mountain. To step is to dislodge it, leaving a climber feel like she’s in Indiana Jones, or a video game, or at least an episode of “Wipeout” – no matter what, you have to keep your feet moving. To stop is to slide. So I spent hours – HOURS – plodding straight up the mountain, and when the earth would start to give way beneath my feet, I’d run (fine, awkwardly scamper) to not be taken down with it.

The descent was even worse, so I decided to try to just ride the landslides down like I was skiing: SCREEING, I thought, proud of myself for being so clever.

Come to find out, the Internet already coined the term. The Internet always wins.

I have never cussed so much in my life – all the worst words, the ones that would convince you to never let me hold your babies again. I’d slide a bit, first cautiously, then out of control, causing one landslide after another, making me thankful that no one was below me. When I’d finally grind to a stop, pebbles in my boots and body shaking, I’d feel like screaming. I mean SCREEMING.

Thankfully, Mt. Columbia is over. Not so thankfully, vacation is too.

Keep your chin up out there today, people. Mondays can’t last forever, and neither can scabs. Words to live by.

Self-arresting

Monday, July 1st, 2013

Yesterday, in the process of climbing Wilson Peak, I slipped on a steep snowfield and had to self-arrest. Now before you go thinking that I’m a badass who almost died, I should say that while I could have slid a good deal further than I did, even if I had hit the rocks below, I would have been okay; it wasn’t a lethal slope. But whatever the case, it’s shocking when the ground crumbles from beneath your feet and you suddenly find yourself in a free fall.

When I slipped, I immediately rolled onto my stomach and dug my fingers and toes into the snow. I had just about stopped myself when out of the corner of my eye, I saw Dan Clader flying through the air to tackle me (if you know Dan Clader, I’m sure you can picture this). To help stop my descent, he wound up straddling and half-sitting on me, which was one of the more horrifying/hilarious moments of my life – and while my first reaction was pissy annoyance that I had slipped at all, I wound up laughing hysterically, belly to the snow, with bloody knees and frozen fingers and no power to do much about it.

We eventually got off of the slope and finished the climb; I’ve now summited 32 of the 54 14ers, and am going for my 33rd tomorrow.

But today has been a rest day, and I’ve spent it in my hometown of Montrose, Colorado. I haven’t lived here in 13 years, my parents haven’t in 10, and I haven’t even visited for 2.5. While some things remain the same (this is the only place I’ve ever been where rather than digging out the old tree stump, people hire a chainsaw artist to carve it into a vicious, soaring eagle or three bear cubs in a totem pole: instant lawn art), so much of the town has changed. It sprawls out in every direction for miles further than I remember the boundaries to be. I know basically no one. Our old house has been painted so drastically differently, I barely recognize it. There are new businesses and new restaurants, while the storefronts for some shops I remember sit vacant.

And when I think about the life I used to have, the life my family used to have, all of a sudden I find myself in a free fall.

It’s so different. Everything is so different than it used to be, relationships and location and home. The familiar parts of this town are a palpable reminder of what my family has lost. The future looks nothing like what I envisioned as a child growing up in Montrose, and on my worst days (the past few days being some of the very worst), I feel like our inevitable fate is to tumble down the slippery slope and crash against the boulders of Rock Bottom.

We tend to think of “hope” as a positive feeling, one of potential and possibility and the anticipation that tomorrow will be better than today. But I’m realizing that hope is actually a painful emotion – because by its very definition, the thing we are longing for is not.

If it was, there would be no need for hope at all.

Hope is hard work. It’s an acknowledgement that things are not the way we wish they were – and yet, that it might not always feel this way. It’s a willingness to carry the uncomfortable weight of imperfection. It’s anticipation with no guarantee.

Maybe more than anything, it’s simply a decision against resignation.

So I dig in my fingers, dig in my toes, and self-arrest before hitting the bottom. There is so much more ahead, and I want to know what it is – because what if it’s worth seeing?

Longs Peak

Monday, September 10th, 2012

On Saturday, I climbed my 31st 14er, and my toughest one to date, Longs Peak.

Believe me when I tell you that two days later, my entire body hurts.  Not just my quads, y’all – my entire body.  I’m talking about the fronts of my ankles, and the tops of my shoulders, and that fat little hand muscle below the thumb – the one that I imagine would taste like a buffalo wing.  (Consider yourself warned: if we ever find ourselves together in a life or death situation a la “Alive,” I’m going for the buffalo wing.)

The day started just two hours after I went to sleep.  My alarm went off at 12:30am, and I drove to meet the band of strangers that would be my companions for the day.  The only girl in the bunch, I introduced myself, ate a Pop-Tart, and at 2:30am, we were off.

The first 4 hours were in the dark, our path illuminated only by our headlamps and a half moon.  At one point, we turned off our lights to look at the stars – and I can’t remember when I’ve seen stars that bright.  Despite my lack of sleep, I was energetic, and kept up with the men just fine.

As the sky began to grow light, the mountain started to reveal itself.

Longs Peak looming large

And I turned just in time to see the sun come up.

Sunrise

Six miles in, we approached the Keyhole, a huge rock formation that serves as the gateway to the last mile and a half to the summit, and the game changer in terms of terrain.  Up until the Keyhole, it’s just a long hike – but everything from the Keyhole on is a tricky and challenging climb, with an abundance of narrow ledges, loose rock, and near vertical ascensions.  My dad’s advice to me the day before was to “manage my emotions”; he knows me all too well.

The Keyhole - Longs Peak

The Keyhole – Longs Peak

First came the Ledges, a series of vary narrow ridges along a cliff edge.  Hearing that I’ve historically harbored a fear of exposure, our fearless leader Mark gave me the advice to always keep a hand on the rock wall and to never look down.  Now usually, when presented with the command of “don’t look down,” I almost always look down; ever pragmatic, I want to know the grave reality of my circumstances.  But this time, I took Mark’s advice – and I made it across the Ledges with no moments of panic.

Next was the Trough, a 600 vertical foot couloir (a word that my fellow climber Jim taught me – one that makes me feel très French).  The gully is filled with loose rock, which made the wisdom of our climbing helmets all the more obvious.  At the top of the Trough, I was tired – but we weren’t to the summit yet.

Photo by Dan Biro – and that’s my booty

Then came the Narrows, a constricted ledge that took us across another vertical rock face.  Whoever named it “the Narrows” was not messing around; nothing forces you into the present moment like the potential of falling to your death.  I found this video that gives a brief glimpse of the path – and it’s even more dizzying than YouTube makes it look.

Finally, we came to the Homestretch, a polished granite slab at a nearly 90 degree angle.  Hand over foot, it took about 15 minutes to climb 300 feet – and by 9am, we were at the summit.

Homestretch

Photo via iorg.com

We had gorgeous weather, and stayed on the summit for a full hour – longer than I’ve ever hung out on top of a mountain.  I had a brief moment of cell service, and posted this picture for the world to see – bright eyed and proud to have conquered Longs Peak.

(And for those who are keeping score, yes, I realize that this is the exact same picture as the one I took on the summit of Mt. Elbert last summer.  Apparently it’s my signature mountain look.)

Believe it or not, the descent was tougher than the ascent, since we were basically forced to crab walk for a mile and a half back to the Keyhole.  Try climbing off the top of a mountain down steep, sheer rock faces – it’s not for sissies.  Many accidents occur on the way down from a summit, since it’s easy to think that “the hard part is over” when, all the while, your body is that much more tired.

When we made it through the Keyhole and back to the trail, I was exhausted.  It was hard to lift my feet, and my legs felt wobbly.  The miles stretched on and on.  With every twist in the trail, I hoped to see the end – only to be met with more of the same.  It felt like it would last forever.

But 6 hours from the summit, after talking about everything from snowshoeing to dating to “Brian’s Song” (note: if you want to see grown men get emotional, just mention “Brian’s Song”), we emerged from the trees.  We were finished, back at the cars, pulling off boots and peeling off socks.  No matter what you go through, I can tell you this: nothing compares to putting on sandals after a 15-mile excursion.

I was so fortunate to climb with a great group of men through the Colorado Mountain Club – seasoned mountaineers who were encouraging, experienced, and pleasant company – and I am more than proud to check Longs Peak off my list.  It’s a mountain that had given me stress dreams for weeks, as I read first-hand accounts of the challenges (and occasional deaths) along the trail.

But I was encouraged to find that my last few years of mountain climbing have strengthened my courage and confidence; as with so many things in life, experience builds backbone.  I didn’t have any moments of panic, never hyperventilated (something that has happened to me on mountains before), and hand over hand, step by step, focused on one move at a time. This climb forced me to live only in the present moment – which is the only place that life happens, anyway.

Chalk it up to another real life lesson learned in the mountains.

Shavano & Tabeguache

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

As some of you may know, I’ve spent the past few summers climbing as many 14ers (mountains over 14,000’ high) as I can.  There are 54 in Colorado, and while I’m not sure that I have a goal of climbing every single one of them, I love the challenge and adventure that each one brings.

As of Friday night, I had climbed 26 14ers – just one away from having bagged half of the total 54.  I really wanted to make it past the halfway point, so I planned to climb two mountains on Saturday, Shavano and Tabeguache.  These mountains are just outside of Salida, which is a good distance from Denver, so I was driving by 4:30am in order to hit the trailhead by 7:30 or so – which already felt like a late start, but the best that I could do.

The 3-hour drive was uneventful, and I psyched myself up for a long day of hiking.  But when I finally pulled up at the trailhead, I was met with a gigantic sign: “NO TRESPASSING. VIOLATORS WILL BE PROSECUTED.”

I was crushed.  Ever a rule-follower, I didn’t dare take that trail – because it would be just my luck to be met by a man with a shotgun, or worse, a man with a banjo.

Defeated, I thought, “I should just drive back to Denver.”

But then I thought of how much money I had spent on gas, and how I’d eaten a gigantic piece of banana bread and needed to burn it off, and how much I wanted to check another mountain off of my list – and I decided not to give up just yet.  I pulled out my 14ers book and searched for another path up the peaks, and when I found one that looked promising, I drove 30 minutes around the mountain to a different trailhead.

By this time, it was after 8am, and the sun was high and bright.  As one with a healthy fear of afternoon storms above tree-line, I had some reservations about starting so late.  “What if I get struck by lightning?” I thought.  “Who would take care of Toad?  Who would water my basil?  I should just go home.”

But again, that slice of banana bread taunted me.  As is the case with so many of my decisions, if nothing else, I needed to burn some calories.  So I decided to start hiking and just see how far I could go before it got too late in the day.  Maybe I would make it to the top of the first peak – maybe – but I tossed aside any illusions of being able to climb both.

I wound up making great time (fine: I tore up the trail, passing every grown man in my path, and felt a little bit smug about it), and was at the top of Shavano in less than 3 hours.  That alone felt like a victory – I had climbed my 27th 14er, and was halfway to 54.  I could go back to the car and feel decent about my efforts.  I texted my dad and told him that I was at the top of Shavano, and was done for the day.  I strapped on my pack, and turned back the way that I came.

But then I looked over at Tabeguache.

It was so close – only a mile away – and yet so, so far.  To reach the summit, I would have to climb all the way down Shavano, and then all the way up Tabeguache – and then I would have to turn around and re-climb Shavano in order to get back to the car.  That would make for three summits in a day.  I didn’t know if I had it in me, but…

“I could do it,” I thought.  “I could do it.”

And you know what?  I did it.  Before I could talk myself out of it, I booked it off of Shavano, scrambling over boulders and scampering down the trail like a – I was going to say a “mountain goat,” but probably a more accurate description would be a “really gigantic, loping mountain troll” – only to reach the base of Tabeguache and have to go straight back up, only to reach the top of Tabeguache and go straight back down, only to reach the base of Shavano and go straight back up, only to reach the top of Shavano and go straight back down.  The thunder and lightning started as soon as I reached tree-line, and it poured for the last hour of my hike.  By the time I arrived back at my Subaru, I was sopping wet and shivering – but so happy.  I was happy to be finished and happy to be alive and happy to have climbed 27 AND 28 – meaning that I’m over halfway to 54.

Even when you’re positive you know how something is going to turn out, maybe you should try it anyway.  Maybe instead of turning around, you should keep going.  Maybe you should risk a little rain just to see how far you can make it, just to see if you can outrun the lightning, just to see what it feels like to surprise yourself.

Sundance

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

After six days at Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, I’m back to normal life on Hooker Street in Denver – where the upstairs neighbors are loud, cars get stolen from right in front of the house, and Greebs got sprayed by a skunk on Monday.

In some ways, I would very much like to go back to the glamorous.

But in more ways, I am so happy to be home.

Having never experienced such a saturation of famous people all in one place, I have to say that it was bizarre. For all its intrigue, celebrity culture is… unnatural. And from what I observed, often it’s not the celebrity who is strange (in fact, most of them struck me as lovely and normal people), but their handlers; the entourage and staff can make things awkward for everyone else. There’s a lot of “protection” of the “talent” that goes on – and yes, I’m sure it’s for good reason, but when you’re a very average girl from Colorado who drives a Subaru worth less than the painting on the wall and are dutifully abiding by the strict order not to freak out, is it really necessary for someone’s publicist to treat you like trash?

That said, I had such a blast. It was a very cool opportunity – something I would never have otherwise had access to, as it was heavy on the wrist bands and badges and credentials. My team was offering our product as part of a gifting suite (you know, where the already-privileged get more stuff for free), and it was a treat to see so many faces that I recognized from television, movies, and music.

And on that note, here are my Thoughts and Opinions on People I Don’t Know At All.

Helen Hunt is stunning. I’ve always thought of her as “average-to-pretty,” but in real life, she is positively luminescent.

I hope to age like Blythe Danner more than I hope to age like Neil Young.

Kirsten Dunst is cute, but not as cute as Greta.

William H. Macy is a 60-year old hipster – and he somehow makes it look cool.

Emily Blunt has flawless (no, really – flawless) skin.

Michael Cera has a mustache. Oh dear. Even without a mustache, I kind of can’t do the Michael Cera thing.

I thought that Lake Bell was Amanda Peet. Good thing I didn’t say that out loud. She was very sweet, and generous with her smile.

The All State guy is a presence. I mean, we’re talking about President David Palmer, people. I wanted him to record my voicemail message, but couldn’t get up the guts to ask him.

The most beautiful person I saw all weekend was Melanie Lynskey. Yes, the friend from “Coyote Ugly.” Yes, the friend from “Sweet Home Alabama.” Yes, the eternal friend-in-the-background who I wish all the spotlight she could ever want. Given her company at Sundance, she might seem a strange pick for “most beautiful person,” but I stand by it. She was absolutely lovely, in a very accessible way.

The nicest person I talked to all weekend was Kevin Sorbo. You know him as Hercules. I know him as tall and strapping and – by comparison to everyone else around – supremely normal.

Elijah Wood is as Frodo-ish as you would expect Frodo to be.

Kate Bosworth is sharp around the edges – all knees and elbows and shoulder bones. I hope she eats a hamburger soon.

The two people that I really, really wanted to lay eyes on but never did were Liv Tyler and John Krasinski. Actually, I DID see Liv Tyler – but it was only from behind, and the only thing I thought was, “She has skinny calves.” So.

I came home with some awesome free swag of my own, a love for Park City, and solidified friendships with my co-workers. All in all, I say SUCCESS.

And now, back to real life: emails, working out, and eating things other than “blackberry braised venison” and “lime-butter scallops” and “lamb three ways.” So – that’s a bummer.