Alison Berkley: The Princess’s Palate
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
It turns out it’s easier to walk to Crested Butte than to drive.
Going into it, I didn’t believe that. I was totally freaking out about the idea of walking from here to there, about our group’s decision to go the long way instead of the short way.
“Nine miles is way more within my limits,” I said. “Why would we want to add on another five miles when we don’t have to? It seems like a lot.”
I wasn’t hearing the explanation that East Maroon is much easier, prettier, and less crowded. I didn’t care that West Maroon is steeper, more exposed, and prettiest during wildflower season, which has been over for a couple of weeks now. The fact that I’d hiked Ajax and done like 50 yoga classes and worked out at the gym over the past few weeks didn’t give me any confidence, either.
It was this idea of being between here and there, of crossing a line where you have to keep going to get to the other side. It’s kind of like the athletic version of being commitment-phobic, or something like that. Keep in mind that my leg length is about the same as my waist size so I am not exactly what you would call the fastest hiker in the world. In fact, I am to some, unbearably slow.
When I was 20 I went on one of those 30-day wilderness courses with National Outdoor Leadership School, which is basically rehab for parents who are in denial about what misfits their kids really are. So rather than throwing them into some kind of in-patient detox center, they send them into the mountains instead.
NOLS’ whole spiel is leaving no trace in the wilderness, which is kind of strange considering there were 18 students and three teachers in our group. One of the instructors, Jason, was a rookie on his first trip and the other two, John and Debbie, were married and had never taught a course together before. Two words: bad idea.
They also weren’t very nice. One night when we were setting up camp, I accidentally swallowed a bunch of bug spray when I didn’t realize the nozzle was facing the wrong way. Don’t ask me why my mouth was open! So there I am like ten days deep into the backcountry reading the label with the skull and crossbones warning thing that says, “If you ingest this, you’re screwed.”
So I go running to John to tell him I might die any second and he’s like, “Oh well, there’s nothing we can do about it now.” And that was it. Of course I was fine! That is so not the point.
Then another time we were hiking and I smelled this weird onion smell and when I asked what it was he told me it was a very unusual plant that grows in the area. And I believed him, at least until the next time he let out a more audible fart and couldn’t control his laughter. So see, the joke was always on me.
Turns out no one in my group was that nice. They all hated me because I was the slowest one. Let’s just say it’s hard to be at a leadership school when you’re always the last one to make it to camp. The only thing I got out of the whole experience was learning how to make pasta with peanut butter sauce and realizing I liked things like beds and plumbing and being able to take my time without worrying about getting struck by lightening or caught in the dark.
I don’t know if that explains my aversion to walking long distances with a group or not, but I figure that might’ve come into play with my hesitation on this on-foot journey to CB.
As soon as we hit the trail at 7:30 my worries vanished in the bath of morning light along with the shadows. Soon any concept of time disappeared too. It was hard to believe eight hours passed between our departure and our arrival in Gothic with nothing but a stadium of towering peaks, alpine lakes, open meadows, lush forests and bubbling streams in between. It didn’t matter that the girl wearing Fendi sunglasses who announced, “I don’t do much in the way of exercise” got there before me or that Ryan blew off all his friends to hang back. All cliches aside, it truly was about the journey.
When we arrived in Gothic there was a shuttle van waiting for us with a cooler of cold beers that took us down the steep, dusty dirt road into town. We stayed in a nice, clean house with fresh sheets and hot showers and full sized kitchen where we ate and drank non-stop from the time of our arrival. After a solid night’s sleep we did the Crested Butte thing, admiring all the vintage cruiser bikes that are strewn around town unlocked like some kind of two-wheel landfill. We drank pints of beer and ate pizza with onion rings on top and walked around the sleepy farmer’s market where there was a banjo player and a guy on harmonica, a long way from Aspen in some ways.
Rather than hike back, we rented decked-out SUVs and drove home, making the most of it with a party on wheels complete with beers, whiskey, and a movie on the DVD player. It was a beautiful drive and so we pulled over a few times, once to take photos of the double rainbow over Irwin Pass and again when all of us nearly got car sick on account of trying to watch a movie driving down a bumpy windy dirt road at dusk. Apparently kids are immune to that kind of thing.
There I was in that plush ride thinking, given a choice, I might have preferred to walk.
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