Former locals reunite with town
The proud parents of Jerome, like the hotel, and Aspen Nikita, as in our fair city, are revisiting their former stomping grounds with old friends this week, after moving back “Down Under” about 15 years ago.
Native New Zealanders Dave Metcalf and Stephanie Brooks met in Aspen in the early 1980s and married a few years later. Since then, the couple has embarked on countless adventures here and abroad – many involving Aspen or Aspenites somehow.
Dave first came to Aspen as a tourist in 1979. He and a traveling buddy stayed for less than a week, but Dave saw enough to return. So in the winter of 1980, he came back, this time to live. Stephanie moved to town with a friend in May 1981.
“About a month later, on May the twenty-second , I was involved in a plane crash,” Dave recalled. “I was flying from Aspen to Denver with a young guy who I played rugby with, to a ten-a-side rugby tournament in Denver.
“We ended up going up the wrong valley and got into unstable air or something in this Cessna 172 – a four-seater. We ended going up the valley toward the Eisenhower Tunnel and the plane didn’t have the performance to get above the mountains, so we crashed right by the highway, three miles down from the tunnel.
“We hit the embankment down off the highway. The plane flipped and I dove out before the door got ripped off. I wasn’t too bad actually injury-wise, I injured my back – sprained it. The pilot had a few cuts all over, but he was OK,” Dave said.
In fact, the pilot, 21-year-old Steve Hersh, played in the rugby game just two days after the wreck.
“I’ll never forget lying in the ambulance on the way down the mountain, the guy in the ambulance said, ‘Plenty of planes go down around here but seldom have any survivors.'”
“It was funny because [Dave and I] were both working at the Fasching Haus at the time,” Stephanie said, “and I heard on the radio that these two men from the Aspen Gentleman crashed in a plane, and I was thinking, ‘I wonder if that was that nice guy I met a couple weeks ago? I quite liked him.'”
Soon afterward, on June 10, 1981, Dave and Stephanie began dating, and together they stayed in Aspen for three more years. Typically, they’d work here summers and winters and go traveling during the off-season.
“On two or three occasions, we planned to leave town, but we just kept coming back, we loved it so much,” Stephanie said.
“And this visit is more than just that, it’s a reunion as well,” Dave said. “There are a lot of friends that we had made here who have come back this week. That’s one of the great things about living in Aspen – we made so many great friends – 17, 18 years later we’re still great mates.”
“I suppose the thing that always draws us back to Aspen, and always will, is that it’s such a charming town,” Stephanie said.
Besides restaurants changing names, and downvalley growth, Dave said he hasn’t noticed a big difference in the place he called home years ago.
It’s safe to say that Dave and Stephanie quenched their wanderlust during their time in Aspen. The couple logged about 35,000 miles touring all around North America by car, and some 25,000 miles on various bike trips.
Pedal power took them to Los Angeles from Aspen, and then onto Alaska once. In 1989, while Dave and Stephanie were living in Sun Valley, Idaho, they set out on another bike voyage, this time to benefit environmental causes.
They pedaled from Seattle through Washington, into British Columbia and then onto Alberta, and Montana, and Idaho and then back to Aspen.
“We were supporting a bill in Congress called the Global Warming Prevention Act, so we’d travel on our bikes through all these mountain towns and collect signatures supporting the bill,” Dave recalled. All told, they collected more than 10,000 signatures.
“When we came to Aspen, we were invited to the Windstar Symposium because we had done this bike trip and the congresswoman sponsoring the bill was there, so we presented her with the signatures we’d gathered,” he explained.
“The catalyst for all this came from [Windstar Foundation co-founder] John Denver,” Dave said, “and his music and his beliefs that you should do whatever you can to change things – do your part. He inspired us to do what we could.
“Going right back to when I first came to Aspen,” Dave continued, “the reason I came or even knew about Aspen was from John Denver songs. I used to listen to his music and go, ‘Shoot, that Aspen sounds like a good place to be,’ so that’s why I came here in the first place, and why we met.”
At the Windstar Symposium, Dave and Stephanie met up with longtime Aspenite Janet Coestir, and an idea for a Russian bicycle adventure was born. After some leg work, some help from Coestir, and a bit of luck, the couple secured visas to travel to Russia.
“We biked through France, Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland and to the Russian border,” Dave said. “Along the way we promoted environmental issues and people’s diplomacy between the East and West. You can imagine what these Eastern European countries thought of us – it was like we had come from another planet.
“I think the most incredible experience we ever had on all our trips was in Russia, it was just amazing,” Dave said.
After six weeks in Russia, the couple returned to Australia. Nine months later, in December 1991, the travelers had their first child, a boy they named Jerome, after the Hotel Jerome, Stephanie explained.
“The fact that he’s named after pub, one day when he realizes that, he might not be too happy,” Dave joked.
“In July of 1995 we had our second child, a girl named Aspen Nikita, after Aspen. I think she’s the only Aspen in Australia,” Stephanie said.
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I try to remember to give thanks every day I spend outside, whether it be floating the Colorado or Roaring Fork, fishing an epic dry fly hatch on the Fryingpan, or teasing up tiny brook trout on a remote lake or stream. We’re spoiled rotten here, so it’s easy to be thankful.