Princess: If you see a fork in the road, take it
“Is that your Audi?” the guy in the wide-brim cowboy hat asked Ryan in the parking lot at Animas Forks, a historical site above Silverton that is accessed by Jeep roads.
“Yes, sir,” he said in his typical good-natured, overtly friendly way.
“You four-wheel in that thing?” the man asked, somewhat incredulous.
Ryan explained how the vehicle does have an air-shock system and the car can be raised for maximum clearance.
“I reckon those air shocks are damned expensive,” the guy replied, shaking his head before spitting his chew into the dirt.
That’s exactly what I was thinking as Ryan and I started to make our way past the gritty little town of Silverton, tucked so deep into the San Juans that it reminded me of Alaska. Everything looks a little rundown, a little neglected or maybe just exposed. Even in the beautiful light of fall, when the yellow leaves glow in the soft-angled light of the morning sun, the sky an electric shade of denim blue, the peaks perfectly snow capped as if an artist went in with a brush and just touched them up just so, there is still an element of roughed-up. You know this perfect fall day is an anomaly, that more often than not the weather is so rough that it takes its toll on the paint, rusts out the cars and blows dust around so everything is always a bit dirty.
I had that nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach as we left the pavement behind and began our journey toward Handie’s Peak, a four-wheel-drive road that would take us up over Cinnamon Pass to the American Basin Trailhead. We were told it would take about an hour and that the road was “not that bad.”
Yes, taking the Jeep would have been the likely choice, but for some reason we decided to hop in the Audi at the last minute. It might have had something to do with the riddle of packing a 100-pound German shepherd, a pug and all of our crap into the Jeep for a four-hour drive. Either way, I regretted that decision as we ambled up the dirt road that was getting steeper and rockier by the minute in a car that I still owed the bank for.
I know I’ve only been married for two years, but one of the things I’ve learned is you want to make concessions for the other person whenever possible, especially when something makes them happy. It’s kind of the opposite of choosing your battles. It’s like choosing your graces.
I don’t love it when Ryan goes hunting every October and comes home with stories about how he stuffed a dead elk into the back of my Jeep. I don’t love it when the Jeep reeks of cigarettes, blood and dirty sweaty man smell. But I just nod and smile and go, “OK, honey,” because I know that’s what makes him happy. It is the one benefit of being raised as a spoiled brat. Being spoiled is all I know so it is kind of easy for me to spoil someone else.
Another thing Ryan loves is to go “exploring.” Exploring typically means driving down a dirt road in the middle of nowhere that we’ve never been down before without really knowing where it leads. I have learned that the best way to go along with this whole “adventure” thing without having a nervous breakdown is to drink beer.
Seeing as though it was a little early for happy hour, I’d just have to suck it up. Ryan and I had decided that we’d climb a fourteener every year on our anniversary and this, being year two, would officially make it a tradition. So I bit my lip, and fanned my now sweaty pits and hoped for the best.
“It won’t be that bad,” Ryan kept saying.
Just then, a Jeep with like 50-foot tall wheels and one of those snorkel things approached. The truck was soaked and caked in mud. We rolled down our window as they made the pass.
“You go four-wheeling in that thing?” the guy asked with same Southern twang all Jeeper dudes seem to have.
After having that conversation again, Ryan asked about the conditions, which is when we learned that Cinnamon Pass was closed — impassable due to snowdrifts. Our Handie’s bid was over before it even started.
I crossed my chest like a good Catholic girl would and thanked the God who I never believed in.
On our way down back to town, Ryan pulled over. “Let’s go for a walk, just get the dogs out. We can walk up this dirt road,” he said.
I sighed, feeling more disappointed than relieved, like we might have wasted this perfect fall day, like I wished I’d had a Plan B. I reluctantly followed Ryan up the steep, unrelenting road that, while affording us epic views of downtown Silverton and the surrounding peaks, seemed to mock me with it’s climb to nowhere. What idiots we’d been, trying to drive our Audi into the San Juan backcountry.
“If I could make this road narrower for you so it felt more like a trail, I would,” Ryan said, detecting my mood.
Around the next bend, a trailhead seemed to materialize out of nowhere, as if God, or Ryan himself, had put it there. A smile spread across my face. This trail lead us through a fragrant conifer forests, across a waterfall and onto an overlook that provided a magical view of exactly where we were in that moment, this beautiful place spinning around us. It seemed to symbolize everything my marriage has been so far: You might not know where you’re going, but that’s exactly what makes it so special when you get there.
The Princess is poaching a wireless network outside some office building so she can file her column on time. Send your love to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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