Lum: Expedition to Hotchkiss |

Lum: Expedition to Hotchkiss

Su Lum

Last weekend, my daughters, Skye and Hillery, my friend Hilary and I went on an oxygen-testing adventure to Hotchkiss, where Hillery and her husband, Bruce, are fixing up a fixer-upper house.

Now that I need more oxygen, it has become difficult to travel. The logistics of getting from Aspen to Denver to Seattle to a ferry to the island of Whidbey were so formidable I had to forgo my granddaughter’s wedding last month.

It gets to be a bit of a bore when the only time I go past the roundabout is when driving up to Aspen Valley Hospital to exercise on its anti-gravity treadmill.

Jad, my oxygen delivery man, said he could put a half-size liquid-oxygen tank in Hilary’s car, from which I could fill portable tanks and get out and about without having to drag cumbersome canisters. This opened up awesome possibilities: an overnight in Grand Junk, for instance, or a get-together at Hillery’s work-in-progress in Hotchkiss.

We’ve been mulling this idea for some time, finally coming up with last Friday as the day we all could make it.

For reasons way too complicated to explain, Hilary and I drove to Skye’s place in Carbondale, where Skye and Hilary lugged the weighty oxygen tank out of Hilary’s car into Skye’s, and from there, Skye drove the three of us plus Nicky and Freddie, my dachshund brothers, and Hilary’s dachshund/Chihuahua Huckleberry the further hour and a half to Hotchkiss, where Hillery was waiting.

McClure Pass was as spectacular as it’s going to get this fizzled fall. I used to drive over it frequently, getting Queen Anne cherries in Paonia and visiting a friend in Crawford, but it had been decades. I was sorry to see that the ghost town of Bowie had completely disappeared; it was a coal-company ghost town, and I used to fantasize about moving there with all my friends. I had dibs on the mine manager’s house.

You couldn’t miss Hillery’s house, a screaming-blue, turreted Victorian that has been torn apart and added onto so much it’s hard to find bedrock. We tumbled out of the car with all our stuff, quickly realizing that Hotchkiss was well-named — it was roasting hot.

Hillery had made up an elegant sofa bed in the living room, adding extra padding so it wasn’t at all like the typical back-breaker. I jumped into this snuggle bunny for a lie-down while the ladies hauled in the oxygen tank. I attached my 50-foot length of tubing onto the tank and was free to wander unimpeded.

The upstairs was the best part of the house — also the hottest. The stairs were a bitch, and the dogs, who were insane with joy and panic, kept lumping up them (puff pant at the end for stout Nicky) and having to be carried down.

Windows all around, slanted ceilings (more accurately, ceilings going every which way like an Escher drawing), full bath, just a kitchenette away from qualifying as a rental.

Hilary had her own room downstairs, another room contained a sink but no drain, and the main room used to be kitchen and living room but Hillery and Bruce ripped down the wall between (and all the cabinets) and now the kitchen was just a stove and refrigerator.

We were warned not to step on the bend of a carpet in the bathroom lest we fall through into a very deep hole, and Hilary (keeper of the dogs) was warned about goatsheads in the yard, a particularly nasty spiked burr that desert rats know as m—– f—–s. Several paws were punctured before we left for an excellent early dinner.

I ran out of oxygen in the restaurant despite having just filled my portable tank. At home, I hardly ever think about oxygen but when traveling I have to think about it constantly. Hillery and Skye rushed to the car for an extra canister — a conspicuous, big one in a wheeled cart.

After dinner, we got out the booze and began a game of hearts that lasted until almost midnight. I was so tired I was ready to do a face plant on the table. When the game was over (Hillery won), I dove into bed and slept like the dead.

The next morning, my oxygen tank was half empty, so, after breakfast, we had to scat out of there for the 21/2 hour journey home, jiggity jog.

Su Lum is a longtime local who is very easily entertained. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times. Reach her at


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