by Grant Holden | @gholdenitdown
St. Patty’s Day was over, and an Irish Whisky induced cloud welcomed my first waking moments. I rolled out of bed, and walked into the kitchen where Emma was already executing her morning ritual like clockwork. The coffee was aromatic, and after a few sips from the piping mug along with a few chugs of water, any continuing effects from the previous day’s festivities subsided.
Today was the day around which we had calculated our trip. The time spent in Denver was a blast, but we were ready to get out of our comfort zones and head Southwest through Monarch Pass to cap the trip off in Crested Butte. After that we planned to push even further in the Gunnison National Forest, to the small ghost town of Gothic.
We spent two days on Mt. Crested Butte, snowboarding all sorts of terrain that was within and above our skill level. The snow gods blessed us with a healthy dumping of fresh snow the night before we arrived, which was welcomed with yearnful arms after a less than stellar snow accumulation for the month of February. Emma packed peanut butter and bread sandwiches so we could save the $12 per slice of pizza on the mountain. More importantly, we could eat on the lift and have more time to ride.
We found ourselves riding on the mountain during St. Patty’s Day, a chance where light buffoonery and athletic sports mingle quite readily. Riding with local friends, Stephanie & Andrew allowed us to find the most ideal runs on the resort with the least amount of human tracks. At one point Andrew took me up the lonely “T Bar” lift. After dismounting he guided me to hike a few hundred yards into my first taste of backcountry riding of a Narnia-esque terrain of glittering snow and Aspen trees. His turns were tight and calculated through the trees, like watching a seamstress thread in and out of fabric.
Emma and I had our kicks within the generous boundaries of the Crested Butte Ski Resort, but by the morning after St. Patty’s Day, the boss level of adventures for our trip had arrived. On the agenda for the rest of our trip, thanks to the astute planning by Andrew, was a 3.5 mile Nordic-Ski trip to the once bustling silver-mining town known as Gothic, Colorado.
Since CO Highway 165 closes for the better part of the Winter, we made sure to pack all of the necessities: food, games, wine, sleeping bag, etc., before we drove as far as we could past Mt. Crested Butte. There the road dead ended at a tall snowdrift, and we had to Nordic ski ourselves plus belongings 3.5 miles to Gothic. My prior skiing experience close to zero, the nordic ski section turned out to be a far greater challenge than I had anticipated. Andrew said it was called "nor-dorking,” and I certainly lived up to the sport’s moniker.
Nordic Skiing looks easy enough from afar but once you strap in your equipment, you notice how unsure your weight alignment is real quick. Coupled with the box of wine, Settlers of Catan, and 50 pounds more worth of food, drink, and fun in my backpack, I had a rough time from the beginning. Emma had smooth movement with her skis. With her long legs, she had a few spills but found her rhythm way quicker than I.
The first five times I fell I was in good spirits, but after we stopped about three-fourths of the way to Gothic for a wine break, I was mumbling to myself about wine breaks and why everyone is in such a damn happy mood. I also had borderline crymouth. Crymouth is that involuntary curling of the sides of your mouth when your spirit is shaken but you’re around a lot of people so you want to keep it cool and not let anyone know that you’re upset on the inside.
I finally stopped feeling sorry for myself and stopped criticizing myself for wearing denim jeans, which were by now soaked with melted snow, and came around. This was an adventure! One minute, we were trudging foot by foot on these long, thin skis uphill, and the next moment, all six of us are flying down a steep slope uncontrollably, with the grace of an offensive lineman who picks up and runs in a fumble for a touchdown. We cheers-ed each other with our handy travel wine containers and finally after 3 hours of ambivalence, locked our eyes on Gothic.
As mentioned, Gothic, at its peak in the late 1800s, was a silver mine that about 1,000 people called home. After it was deserted in 1914, the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory purchased it and it is now home to a total of three humans during the Winter months. We Nordic skied through the town's only street, and found our hut for the night, a cozy cabin that would comfortably sleep all eight of us that had made trip. The term, “hut,” was used liberally as the spacious cabin was nicer than any of us anticipated. Each couple gets their own room? Score. Hike in the snow to the outhouse? I’ve seen worse.
The last few hours of daylight were spent stretching and relaxing in the den, scratching the surface of the bags of chips and hummus that we brought, and putting a large dent into the box of wine. The main rule of cross country hiking is: only hike in what you can eat and drink. The more we ate, the less weight to carry on the way back. We spent the evening listening to good music and laughing with friends. Once Emma and I threw on our matching red long-john underwear, it was on.
Andrew brought the pizza dough and each person brought different toppings. We made 4 different pizzas, and even went top-chef style with the homemade stuffed crust. We played trivia games, laughed, and had not a care for the world outside the calming surroundings of Gothic. We went outside and spotted a chute of snow barreling down a rock cliff that continued for hours. The town itself is surrounded by mountains on three sides, which made for beautiful sunset and sunrise photos. Good friends, food, and laughter is a purifying trio for even the most solemn lulls in life. Emma and I woke up at sunrise, made breakfast, bid our adieus, and began the 3.5 mile trip back to my car and subsequent 14 hour drive back to Arkansas. Somehow both ways seemed to be mostly uphill...
Thinking back on our 8-day road trip through Colorado, there were so many great memories of our time spent there. Between uniting with Emma’s old college friends, hiking at Red Rocks, Leafs by Snoop, hanging out with the old Fayettechill accountant Greg, riding fresh powder for two days in CB, and having a pirate party at the ice bar, my most prized memory is the nordic skiing and hut destination at Gothic, Colorado. Being present for the experience is a mindframe that is admittedly becoming less frequent for me as I grow up. Sometimes when a friend wants to open up to me and talk, I catch myself after the conversation ends wondering if I remembered to turn off the lights at my house. Being truly present and in the moment is something I am working on within myself. I will improve as I learn to be less busy for the sake of being busy. Experiences like the day trip we shared to Gothic, Colorado, remind me that my goal of being present isn’t too far out of sight.