Being a rock climber, mountaineer and skier, I am oddly biased against Colorado. It is a result of my contradictory nature. For years I have heard how wonderful Colorado is, how the snow is petal-soft, how the rock is sticky, how the sun always shines even in the heart of winter, and how the mountains are beyond comparison. It makes me sick!
I am loyal to Washington, an outdoor mecca in its own right, so when I hear such perfect praises I feel overwhelmingly skeptical. Admittedly, this skepticism is fueled by jealousy—jealousy over the fact that all the glossies with an outdoor focus are published in Colorado; jealousy because many of the best clothing and gear companies are headquartered in Colorado; jealousy for the elitist bourgeoisie that believe, that actually know, they are living at the center of the outdoor world. Since I am not a member of this selective club, I resent it, but for some unimaginable reason, I am also intrigued by it. After so many years of bitter antipathy, I finally had to see what all the fuss was about.
Brown upon darker brown grasslands scrolled beneath the plane window. Where are the mountains? I thought, my preconceptions still powerfully at hand. Denver looked filthy; the airport stank of ointment and cologne. All of my assumptions were true. This place was really just a cancerous mole on the hairy back of society. There were no mountains. There were no rivers. A sign reading “Tornado Shelter” was stuck on the door of the men’s bathroom. The urinals had little purple spirals printed on them. I hoped beyond hope that some massive twister didn’t strike the building while I was urinating next to cowboys and phony outdoorsmen. I’d rather take my chances with the glass dome that provided views of the bleak countryside for tired travelers like myself.
I was feeling especially resentful towards the entire state when—walking out of the “secure area”—I spotted Freya, grinning ecstatically. Obscenely long blonde hair, sparkling pupils, and her effervescent excitement reminded me immediately that Colorado was not all bad.
Prairie dogs lived abundantly along the highway. They set back on their haunches and stared into space as we drove past at 65mph. I thought the roadkill must be terrible. Freya thought it was sad that the creatures had been subjugated in such a way, that a metropolis had invaded their underground homes. We zoomed by, just a streak of reflected sunlight passing through a crisp and cloudless western afternoon.
The Rockies appeared ahead. There was no missing them now. They looked so dense, so tightly woven, so impregnable. Mt. Rainier juts from the Seattle skyline like a wedding cake on an empty table. By contrast, the Rockies were a line of can-can dancers, a mob of protesters, a phalanx of hoplites with their shields locked together. We were driving directly into the formation with such velocity that it was, for a moment, alarming. Our great speed made everything blur and the sunset became a fire behind the torn-paper peaks and our car passed through time in an instant.
The next thing I knew, Freya and I were bouldering on warm red stone. The calming verse of the Colorado River was audible in the distance. With each careful movement my preconceptions fell away. I realized that first impressions were mostly a look in the mirror. My second and third and fourth impressions were less biased and I was stunned by the vivacity of this place. My senses were stimulated by: stratified red canyon walls, chalk residue, crisp autumn scents—like cinnamon, distant highway rush indiscernible from nearby river flow, sunshine, cold toes, shutter clicks, kisses. I think I could get used to this.