Princess: Into the great, wide open

Alison Berkley Margo
Princess’s Palate

“Do not take the top off the Jeep,” I told Ryan. “You’re going to hate it. When it rains, you get totally drenched, and it’s really, really loud with the wind.”

I’d taken the roof off the second I bought the thing, and it sucked. I’d purchased a bikini top that I thought would protect my head from getting wet, but all it did was create this huge puddle that would then dump into the car as soon as I opened or closed the door.

I still remember this trip Dina and I did to Denver with the top off. My psychotic Lab-chow mix, Sebastian, was in the back, and we had to pull over in Vail to like, catch our breath. We were all so windblown that we looked like something that had been put through the spin cycle. Sebastian’s fur was going in every direction, his eyes slightly crossed with little puffy creases underneath them like he had been out all night partying. It was exhausting.

But that was life before Ryan, and this is life with Ryan.

He put up with my protests about the Jeep until about mid-July, and then he played the I’m-the-man-in-this-house card and pulled that roof off with his bare hands, by himself, with no help from anyone else.

It turns out I actually love having the top of the Jeep off, and now I want to drive it everywhere. Without the bikini top to collect rainfall, it’s really no big deal not having the top on. As long as you’re moving, even if it rains, you’re good.

The other thing about life with Ryan is that the Jeep is no longer just a grocery getter or a “look at me; I’m a cute mountain chick” vehicle. It’s a four-wheel-drive that entitles us to drive on backroads.

I know when I wake up in the morning and find Ryan draped over a topo map spread out on the dining-room table that I’m in trouble, that I can kiss having a relaxing day in civilization goodbye. He has that map out because he wants to “go exploring,” an undertaking he takes on with the gusto of a 10-year-old boy who wants to build a tree fort.

He might say something like, “If you seriously suggest we go hike up to Cathedral Lake again, I’m going to (expletive deleted) freak out.”

Ryan is all about exploring the upper Fryingpan, an expansive area of wilderness that goes for miles in every direction. I didn’t really get that at first, sort of like I didn’t get why taking the top off the Jeep is so cool.

I’m someone who likes familiarity. I’m the girl who orders the same thing at the restaurant because I know what I’m getting and I know what I like. It’s not that I’m not adventurous — it’s just that I become attached to things, to people and to places.

Rather than embrace my new locale with the same enthusiasm Ryan has, I tend to crave the old. Driving up to Aspen and doing one of my old, familiar hikes brings me a sense of calm and peace. These mountains aren’t going anywhere, I realize. It’s the one thing that doesn’t change. It’s the one thing I can rely on.

But over the past couple of weeks, I finally let Ryan have his way with me, and not just in the usual sense.

Our first venture was the Thomasville-Eagle road, which does indeed go to Eagle. The road meanders through extensive aspen groves, the kind that make you understand why aspens are some of the largest living organisms on the planet, all interconnected like something you might find on the bottom of the sea, their root systems taking hold of not only the earth but of one another. I sometimes wonder, when their delicate leaves quake in the wind, if they are expressing some kind of emotion. Or maybe I’ve just been spending too much time alone. I should really talk to my shrink about that. Suffice it to say, I do believe that the trees are where the soul of the mountain lies — and I’ll just leave it at that.

Then the road empties out into expansive alpine meadows with unobstructed views of the Sawtooth Range that make it seem like the problems of our modern world, such as pollution and overpopulation and environmental impact, simply don’t exist. When there is nothing but wilderness as far as the eye can see, you think to yourself, for just a moment at least, that there are parts of the world that are still left unscarred.

When the road empties out at Sylvan Lake, a Ruedi-esque recreation site in the Vail Valley and then Eagle, it does give you a different perspective in terms of the “as the crow flies” (or in this case, as the Jeep drives) geography. Like, I now know that from the top of the Pan, Eagle is to the north, Leadville is to the east, Independence Pass is to the south, and there is nothing between.

Last weekend we ventured up Road 505, a right-hand turn where Frying Pan Road ends. We hiked up to Fryingpan Lakes because Ryan felt that as residents of the Fryingpan Valley, it was important that we see the headwaters of the river that runs through our neighborhood and, in many ways, our lives.

We hiked almost nine miles through alpine meadows and a conifer forest where wild mushrooms gave the scene a real “Alice in Wonderland”-like quality, like some wood nymphs or butterfly fairies or gnomes might come wandering up the path any second.

Another thing I learned while exploring my backyard: Don’t eat the red mushrooms with the white dots — that in itself should explain a lot.

The Princess is going to try really hard to think of the new tent Ryan bought as a vacation home. Email your love to