Traditionally, Thanksgiving begins with cooking. Justin has purchased a 14-pound bird that requires stuffing, seasoning, and baking. Freya and I are sleeping on the living room/kitchen floor—they have a small apartment—so that when Justin rises at 8am and starts banging dishes around, we are forced to rise too. After making a Toad in the Hole for Justin, Freya and myself, I begin chopping onions, celery and garlic for the stuffing. Martina provides additional nourishment in the form of delicious rum balls, which she concocted last night. She has a whole mixing bowl full of the sweet and chocolaty delights and they will prove invaluable throughout the day for their uncanny ability to simultaneously sate hunger and cause slight inebriation. Indeed, after letting them melt in my mouth, I feel considerably happier than might be expected at this hour in the morning.
Andrew and Teresa, friends of Justin and Martina who arrived on our coattails last night, rise from the floor of the bedroom and immediately join the festivities. Teresa, dark-haired and energetic, seems content to wipe sleep from her eyes with a rum ball, a cup of tea, a fried egg with salsa. Andrew, who has a broad chest and calm eyes, makes wry comments while sipping and munching. The couple lives in Telluride, where they recently started a business as instructors of Crossfit, a training program that combines Olympic weightlifting, gymnastics and running. I can tell I’m going to like them both and once the shyness of becoming acquainted wears off, we all relax into a natural dynamic.
Justin shoves butter and herbs under the turkey’s skin. I sauté vegetables, mix them with bread cubes and broth. Everyone eats more rum balls. With the help of other nerds like myself, I discover a website that streams live NFL games. Andrew appreciates this discovery although no one else does. I appreciate his appreciation. The Broncos game isn’t on until tonight, but the Packers are dismantling the Lions. Everything is as it should be. The oven is pre-heated; the turkey is stuffed; the rum balls are already half gone. It must be about time to go climbing.
Leaving the full-of-bird oven at what we think is a safe temperature, the six of us pile into the Forerunner and drive to the nearest boulder field. For Freya and I, this is our fifth straight day of climbing, but we are still as eager as ever to figure out Justin’s local problems. Overhanging sandstone is polished and chalked and most of the moves are powerful. Like usual, Justin monkeys his way to the top of each boulder and then observes our not-quite-as-graceful climbing while he sips a pale ale. But everyone really does climb stupendously, especially considering the number of rum balls we have collectively consumed. Martina, Teresa and Freya are almost the exact same height and since they are used to climbing with much taller men, I think they enjoy climbing together very much. For my part, I somehow pull my comparatively gargantuan body up the problems, and feel satisfied when I occasionally reach the top. It doesn’t seem like long before hours have passed and we’re worrying about the turkey. Since Justin has been drinking more than climbing, I drive us back to the apartment.
The turkey is making steady progress, although the drippings are nearly overflowing from the roasting pan and threaten to start a fire when Justin accidentally spills some on the bottom of the oven. Tragedy is avoided however, and the drippings are reserved for gravy and the oven temperature is raised in order to brown the succulent skin. Other cooking responsibilities are doled out like orders from a drill sergeant. Since she is a professional trainer, Teresa takes care of this part. My responsibilities are gravy and kale, which I feel like I can handle. Freya is the pie queen. Andrew does cranberry sauce, to which his adds pomegranate, a nice touch. Teresa does Brussels sprouts with parsnips. Martina makes yams and mashed potatoes. Justin aids in everything and we all help each other out. One tiny kitchen with one tiny four-burner stove becomes one giant science lab. Knives and peelers and cutting boards and spices and oils and vegetables and roots and arms and legs fly everywhere. In the midst of it all there are drinks being made—tequila shots, sweet Brazilian wine, whiskey, beer—and drank. There are rum balls being eaten. There are football games being watched. There is slack lining in the grove beside the river. There is Frisbee throwing in the parking lot. There is juggling in the living room and I almost drop a juggling ball into Freya’s blackberry and apple pie.
By this time, we are all very hungry. Justin and Martina’s little kitchen table gradually becomes heaped with beautiful and fragrant food. When we finally sit down it is dark outside and our glasses are full and we begin piling food onto our plates. Everyone is so hungry that we barely have enough patience to say grace. I cordially thank Justin and Martina for hosting Thanksgiving. It has been a true pleasure to reconnect with them over this past week. I feel like I have got to know them much better, Martina in particular, and I would be short changing the whole experience if I said anything except that I have fallen completely in love with them. I also thank our new friends, Andrew and Teresa, because in less than 24-hours I’m already amazed by the strength of their friendship, not to mention the strength of their cores and limbs.
With that, consumption begins, and it does not stop until we are all so stuffed that we cannot move. Everything tastes amazing. Justin dips dark meat directly into the gravy and stuffs it into his mouth. I follow suit. Everything is so rich and flavorful that I cannot stop myself from eating more and more. Even when my stomach feels like it’s going to pop, I take one more bite of mashed potatoes.
Slowly, deliberately, people sprawl out on couches and on the floor, searching for any position that will reduce pressure on their intestines. The Broncos are on one computer, which Andrew and I watch, while the other computer displays “White Men Can’t Jump,” not exactly a Thanksgiving classic but entertaining nonetheless. About the time that Woody Harrelson fails to dunk the basketball, Andrew and I notice that everyone else is asleep. A food-induced coma has struck. There is no better way to end a perfect Thanksgiving than to curl up and succumb.
Perhaps in an attempt to burn off some of the calories they consumed last night, Andrew and Teresa visit the local Crossfit gym the next morning. While they are doing pull-ups, swinging kettle bells and sprinting past Denny’s, and while Martina is working, Justin, Freya and I go climbing. This is now our sixth straight day and the fatigue is beginning to show. The first few problems are a good warm up. Then Justin leads us to a sloping arête. All the calories I consumed last night are barely enough to get me to the top. I use up all the gravy, all the turkey, all the potatoes trying to ascend. Perhaps it is that last bit of pie that finally helps me complete the problem. Having finished their workout, Teresa and Andrew arrive, and then Teresa promptly ascends the sloping arête on her very first try. We are all impressed. We are also rather weak in comparison. The next few boulders result in pathetic performances. I think it’s time for a beer.
After last night’s feast, my stomach and palate are still weary of overdoing it, so I order an amber ale from the local brewery that we visit. The beer is a tonic; it has an unexpected effect on my body. I feel rejuvenated. It seems to have the same effect on everyone else. We return to Justin and Martina’s apartment as the flawless sky welcomes dusk. After a short while, someone suggests we do a group workout. There is much talking and deliberation before anything happens, but it is soon determined that we will split into teams of three and race to the completion of 100 pull-ups, 100 push-ups, 100 sit-ups and 100 squats. This is a variation of a Crossfit routine and it sounds a bit too intense for the evening after Thanksgiving. Some of us are skeptical at first, but, thanks to the beer, the motivators convince the critics to get off the couch and join in.
Teresa, Freya and I are one team; Justin, Martina and Andrew are the other. The session begins with pull-ups and Teresa is clearly our star player—she rocks and rises like a gymnast on uneven bars. Since Justin doesn’t own a traditional pull-up bar, the competition is held on his hang-board, a self-contained pattern of plastic climbing holds that is screwed to the wall above the bedroom door. Although the hang-board makes pull-ups more difficult, the team and race mentality of the whole endeavor makes each person strive to do as many repetitions as they can in the shortest time possible. When your teammates are cheering you along, it seems a lot easier to do more repetitions at a faster rate. An intense energy flows around the room; everyone is focused and determined to do the exercises correctly and quickly. Those who are weaker on the hang board make up for it with sit-ups and squats. Those who are strong with push-ups find squats more difficult. Either way, everyone puts complete effort into each and every exercise. The result, for all of us—except maybe Andrew and Teresa, who are used to this sort of thing—is the best 12 or 13-minute full-body workout I have ever felt. It doesn’t matter which team wins because all of us are breathing hard. Justin even feels nauseous. He holds his stomach, goes outside for fresh air, returns and doesn’t feel any better. It takes a while before his stomach calms down. He explains it was the squats that really got him.
In the end, we are all very happy to have participated; we are also very tired. Like last night, it is time for a movie. Also like last night, halfway through the film, most of us are asleep.
The final day of our road trip is a day of farewells. We say farewell to Justin and Martina, promise that we will rendezvous in Indian Creek at least once a year, that we will see them again sometime soon. We say farewell to Andrew and Teresa, promise that we will come visit them in Telluride, that we will do a workout in their gym. Then, after a two-day hiatus, we are in the car again.
Winding up and down the San Juan Mountains, we travel north towards Grand Junction. It feels odd not to climb. It seems like a shame not to make it a week straight, but when we stop in Ouray to inspect the rock, we discover ice covering everything. The frozen waterfalls are a precursor. I know we have been lucky to do this much rock climbing in late November. I contemplate the past six days while eating Cheetos and speeding along at 75mph. What an adventure it has been. Indeed, what an adventure this entire month has been. Like the kitchen on Thanksgiving afternoon, it has been cluttered with experiments. Like the kitchen/living room yesterday evening, it has been cluttered with warm friends and focused energy. There are only a few things that I might have expected to do, but which I have not yet done: skiing and ice climbing. And as we cross the high passes and drop into the deep canyons, there are snow clouds on the horizon. Now, I think, I am ready for winter to come.