June, 2009: This was my first big solo traveling adventure. In advance I book a round trip flight with a car rental. The plan: to drive into Rocky Mountain National Park, hike the mountains and take loads of beautiful mountain pictures. Now 2009 was a colder year than usual they say. When I arrived just outside the park in June, there was plenty of snow to be seen everywhere. I remember this being the first time I’ve seen wild Elk. These weren’t like the deer back home in Wisconsin. These were deer on steroids with giant antlers! I look to the horizon and I just see an endless view of mountains. I arrived late so I would get some rest and hit up the trails the next morning. But before I get rest I’d walk outside the campground to get a view of a herd of mule deer hundreds of feet away. As I watched and waited, they would come closer & closer until I had to move because I was in their path. I had never seen so many deer in my life all at once before.
This was fantastic. They made the coolest noise as they’d talk to each other too. Because it was so cold I decided before I left that I’d just sleep inside of the car and put a blanket over me. These nights would soon become some of the coldest of my life. I can’t tell you how many nights I’ve slept inside of a car because ever since this trip I’ve done it so many times. There are times I will turn the car on in the middle of the night with the heat blasting just to feel warm again. Once or twice I’ve set off the alarm doing so because some cars don’t like to be started up while the doors are locked. It’s embarrassing to be THAT GUY at 3:30 in the morning. In any case, I wake up before the sun and decide to venture out to my first hiking spot. I’ll see lake Mills and get a great picture out of that. I still remember to this day how beautiful every step seemed along that first big hike. There were mountains, vast views, rapids and beauty everywhere. I felt like I was in the biggest playground for adults. I could go anywhere in this place and see something beautiful.
Over the course of this trip I’d hike around 15 miles a day. My legs never felt that tired because how excited I was to take each next step. Each day when I hiked I would carry a backpack with a few bottles of water, a can of ravioli and some extra layers if the weather turned. Good thing I did too. Some days I would start a hike at the base of a trail and the weather would be in the 60’s with a partly cloudy sky. By the time I would get near the max height of some trails the weather would be in the 30’s with snow falling down. My girlfriend at the time, Genna, and her family had gotten me a nice pair of gloves and hat the Christmas before and I was putting these to some crucial use. There were two scary moments that come to mind as I hiked around the park. The first is when I tried getting to Sky Pond.
There was snow pretty much covering the whole trail from the beginning. As I was going to make my final climb to the pond just above me a section of snow caved in that was my path and there was nothing but rushing water underneath it. Had I been there 10 minutes earlier I would have been climbing that exact part and who knows what could have happened. The other scary moment is when I tried running across a 30 foot bit of snow that avalanched over the trail probably that morning. This snow was about on a 45 degree angle in front of me and as I ran, my feet started to slip. I had to lay into the side of the mountain like a squirrel and scurry my way into a tree divot. My heart was beating through my chest. I nearly slipped another few hundred feet down the side of a mountain top. To no ones surprise I seem to get myself in similar situations almost every other time I travel. I’m one for adventure and this is just part of what to expect. There will be moments where you have to take risks and sometimes they don’t always pan out, just like anything in life. What matters is that you’re brave enough to take that risk and own your loses when it doesn’t work out. It will all make you stronger and smarter in the end anyways.
Throughout the rest of my hikes I would come across more waterfalls, Emerald Lake, The Loch, and many other experiences. What I remember most about this trip is simply beath taking mountain views everywhere. Right before the end as I drove to the highest part of the park I would see creatures such as Marmots & Pika for the first time in my life. I’d also see real tundra, which being from Wisconsin, home of the Packers & the ‘Frozen Tundra’ is a pretty cool thing to finally see in person. One of the coolest and strangest things I came across was a brass circle on top of a rock that had the names and mile markers for all the mountain peaks around me. It showed that I could view into other states around me hundreds of miles away. Also, I’ll never forget when I drove to a portion of the continental divide that had a spot to pull off on the side of the road, and there was a hippie father with his kids playing the ukulele talking about feeling the energy of the earth. Little strange moments like this are sometimes what makes a trip more memorable.
Rocky Mountain National Parks lives up to its name and I will never forget the excitement & energy I had to hop around such a beautiful place. Though I was gone, the experience felt as if I returned home. It was here that solidified that I was meant to travel. And for some time, travel I would.
Whatever happens in life, no matter how difficult it gets, traveling to and hiking a mountain range can help you find some sense of peace within. Only now I recall meeting a hiker who had just said his wife had just left him and here he was. My Sensei would always say that peace starts from within and extends from there. I believe there is no better place to start that process than a place like this. Finding a place of seclusion can help you live in the moment and let go of the worries & concerns that weigh you down. Once you find the strength within you’ll handle the challenges in life the way you were meant to & not the way others want you to.