Shannon Asher: In Search of Solitude
Aspen Times Weekly
Nothing is going as planned. The campsites along the river are completely full. A large crescent moon-shaped crack mysteriously surfaces on the windshield. The stakes for the tent and the bug spray have been forgotten. A squealing bottle rocket noise alerts us that a paddleboard seam has burst. It’s almost dusk and our campsite is nowhere to be found. I find myself longing for my bed back in the Aspen bubble that I left not even four hours ago. “But wait. Look up!” It’s as if someone shouted this at me while shaking my shoulders in vigorous attempts to snap me back into reality. I rolled my head back and was finally dropped into the marvelous geological wonderland that is Moab, Utah.
Sparkling dust bunnies filled the sky that was now a deep blue — a canvas for the twinkling stars. A whiff of campfire soot swept into my nostrils and that was the end. I had found it. I had found the peaceful moment I was searching for all winter long. The kind of moment where you feel completely disconnected from the universe and utterly connected all at the same time. Aspen’s glitz and glamour can sometimes take a toll after an ever-so-exciting winter season filled with celebrities and Champagne-spraying parties that often times, a trip to the desert is much needed. Venturing past the roundabout is good for the soul every once in a while, I suppose, and this was my third trip to Aspen’s unofficial offseason getaway destination.
We woke to the sounds of nature rather than the sounds of our digital devices. The sun came sneaking into our tents and, just like that, everyone was gathered around eating breakfast burritos and discussing the day’s adventures. With a White Claw in one hand and sunscreen in the other, I was ready to roll.
Pulling away from our campsite, I wondered why I saw a ghost in the rearview mirror. My boyfriend laughingly smeared his fingers down my face in attempts to blend in the sunscreen. Weather reports that morning declared it was 92 degrees and sunny. Clearly, I was ready. We were headed to town for a cup of coffee and all I could think about was the Food & Wine Classic back in Aspen the following weekend. “Be present,” my boyfriend (who I will call “Christopher”) shouted as he caught me checking my phone for the brief moment we picked up service. Despite my dramatic eye roll at the comment, he was right.
Every turn down the winding ribbon-road highway lay another canyon wall outcropping that was impossible not to stop and gawk at. Then, magically out of nowhere, a gas station and a town hall appeared and there was an actual town in the middle of the dust. Trickling in like families at Walt Disney World, the campers filled the coffee shops and there was an overall buzz around town about the adventures to be had in Moab. ATVs cruised around town while fathers caught their breath from blowing up paddleboards. Rafts were being loaded onto trucks, fishing knots were being tied and an old man loaded his kayak into the river as if it was his daily routine.
I lay flat with my feet squeezing the YETI cooler at the bottom of my board. My hands release and fall off my chest — landing in the brisk cool water of the Colorado River. I hear Christopher paddling toward me in hopes of stealing the bag of Ruffles or a cold beer from the most prized possession sitting at my feet. This was my first SUP adventure of the summer and despite the mention of a seam bursting earlier, it was pretty special. Imagine that hair-raising moment when you first arrive in New York City and look up to see the most incredible skyscrapers, where the tops of the buildings run into the clouds. Laying on the water and looking up to see canyon walls towering over you is a similar sensation.
Our three-hour float down the Colorado was filled with peaceful moments, intimate chats, countless belly laughs and an overall appreciation for the moment we were in while “being present.” These little moments of clarity were enough to have me dreaming of my next desert getaway to Moab.
The real highlight of the trip, however, was the revelation of a secret campsite Aspen locals refer to as “Chief.” Located about 20 miles away from any type of human civilization, this spot was the epitome of a hidden gem. It felt like a best-kept secret that you feel lucky to be in on. The search for solitude was over once I learned that only about a dozen Aspen locals know where the location is. One can only access “Chief” by being led there by someone who has already been. So, I can’t say much other than that it was wildly beautiful with breathtaking views from every angle.
By the time it came for us to venture back to Aspen, no one blinked an eye at the cracked windshield and, as it turns out, we didn’t even need the stakes. The bug spray still would have been nice. But collectively, the moments of frustration in the beginning were nothing compared to the epic unraveling of events that made for a memorable offseason getaway. Now, gotta jet! Off to another Aspen soiree for Champagne and caviar.
This is Shannon Asher’s first column for the Aspen Times Weekly. She’ll be sharing more adventures in this space every other week. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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