Hunting 3.0

Walk with me while I reflect on our third year of hunting the wily elk in a not-quite-stream-of-consciousness style. I’ll use punctuation, but I’ll make no effort to turn this into an essay. If I didn’t use punctuation, I’ll would look like Ill, and I’ll get to that next.

I return from a week in Maine in time for my hunting week and try not to think about how much it’s going to suck going from sea level to Leadville level. And I never-ever get sick, but I picked up a cold from a snotty-coughy-cute kid who sat next to me on the plane. I feel like I’m in a tunnel. But I will hunt the wily elk.

We’re up at 4:30 a.m. and I hate getting out of bed in the morning because it’s dark and cold and I have a cold and I’m in a dark cold tunnel in my head.

I’m less nervous this year, maybe because I already have two unsuccessful hunting seasons under my belt. Or maybe it’s my cold medicine. Mike hesitates, asks if I’m sure I want to go because I’m a snot machine and making noises like a grunting snorting bull elk. Maybe it’ll help.

We go. Our high sky is infinite black behind comets and constellations and a half-moon. The Big Dipper looms on the horizon spilling good luck onto our heads and under all of this majesty, I pee behind a bush. My cheeks are cold. All of them.

We climb. I’m happy not to be in too much pain, and what a difference a year makes after ankle surgery last year, but after a week at sea level, I’m sucking wind up the formidable Weston Pass trail, but once we get to the top, the sweet, cold, piney aroma of the waking earth fills my senses.

Spreadable, not edible.

Spreadable, not edible.

Blackness turns to purple turns to barely blue against a powerful pink before all fades to light, and when I can no longer see the stars, the moon overhead sparkles on the icy grasses we crunch upon. Mike is solely focused on the trail, finding tracks, finding elk poop—some even spreadable—that shows only they were here once but are here no longer. I’m focused on this blog and writing sentences like “Daylight greets us like a fond memory.”

No signs of anything alive but us. As much as I want to hunker down and wait for a herd to pass—because they should be here, they always should be in the perfect places we stealthily approach—it’s too cold for that. My nose runs in the cold and I’m a snot-rocket factory.

#22kill push-ups for 22 October.

#22kill push-ups for 22 October.

We each do our 22 push-ups for veteran suicide awareness (#22kill campaign) and head back to the truck, willing a herd or even just one tasty treat to cross our path. It doesn’t happen. We sigh, heavily.

In the evening we hike around Mt. Zion. “We’ll zig-zag,” Mike says, but I know how Mike zig-zags and how many punctuations of straight ups there’ll be and when we get to the fifth or sixth or seventh straight up and it’s starting to get dark, I pout. I struggle to think of an analogy for what we’re doing because it’ll take my mind off pouting.

Trying to find a wily elk in endless acres of forest and valleys and ridgelines and mountain sides is like trying to find the one sane almond in a nuthouse. It’s nearly impossible and quite possibly futile. Especially since almonds rarely talk.

There.

Acres and acres and acres and acres of nothin' but nuts.

Acres and acres and acres and acres of nothin’ but two nuts.

I want to laugh when Mike’s pack catches on a dead limb and its release results in a cartoonish “BOING” sound. And then we both hear a sound that stops us in our tracks. Suddenly all senses are on fire and I’m barely breathing. Even my snot stops running.

“Move r-e-a-l-l-y slowly now,” Mike whispers, and we head toward the animal sound. Half of me hopes it’s nothing because it would be a bitch to get something big out of these trees at night. The other half wants to get something big out of these trees. We move like molasses in winter toward the patch of trees waiting to hear our prey and there it is again!

Simultaneously, we look up.

No, no elk in the treetops, but the rubbing of one dead tree against another in the blustery breeze makes a sound much like a large, grunting animal.

We end the day—and every day this hunting season—as we begin it, with stars and various moons emerging against darkness, more beautiful than any painting on black velvet.

And “Darkness greets us like a black velvet hug.”

Elkless, but happy to spend time together!

Elkless, but happy to spend time together!

If you like my writing, you might enjoy my books! Check them out here, and thank you!

Summer’s End

We love the trailer
Life, it’s simple if you love
the one you’ve chosen

Chillin at the Gunnison KOA dog run.

Chillin at the Gunnison KOA dog run.

I’ve written it before and I’ll write it again: I love our trailer-trip adventures.

Two nights. Two nights of unplugging from the requirements of home and the barrage of politics and the lull of routine is all we needed this past weekend to return to it all feeling like we’d just spent a week at a resort.

 

Our resort: a KOA in Gunnison with full hook-ups, lots of green grass, clean facilities,

She only loved me for my carrots.

She only loved me for my carrots.

friendly owners, and surprise visitors. Ginny and Herbie must have known Mike and I were ass-kissers, or perhaps they were curious about our handsome dog. Maybe they smelled the bag of carrots I’d just brought out to munch on. In any case, they were both at least 29-years-old, and Ginny was nearly blind.

Ginny and Herbie, the Gunnison KOA's welcome burros.

Ginny and Herbie, the Gunnison KOA’s welcome burros.

Ranger was not inclined to welcome the unleashed beasts as freely as we were, however, and after an initial sniff (with Mike pulling him away from unpredictable rear-ends), decided they were untrustworthy. He remained quietly aloof for the duration of their visit.

Ranger meets Ginny, but decides he'd rather she moved along to other campers.

Ranger meets Ginny, but decides he’d rather she moved along to other campers.

In the evening, we kayaked/paddleboarded on Blue Mesa Reservoir, and I marveled at how different an experience it was from our peaceful paddle at Twin Lakes last week. This reservoir was enormous, and when clouds filled the sky and the wind picked up, the waves were Old Man And The Sea-worthy. I hooked up to Mike’s kayak for the final push to shore after 90 minutes of hard, enjoyable work, and after a few games of Cribbage and a shot of Dewar’s after the sun set, slept like a cat in a hat.

#22kill Day 7 of my 22 push-ups per day to raise awareness of veteran suicides. Hug a veteran today. Let him/her know you care.

#22kill Day 7 of my 22 push-ups per day to raise awareness of veteran suicides. Hug a veteran today. Let him/her know you care.

While Mike rode his bike at Hartman Rocks the next day, I did my trailer push-ups (to spread awareness of the number of veterans who commit suicide each day, the #22kill campaign) and wished I’d thought to do 22 push-ups against the burros during their visit.

We returned home to an extra layer of snow on the mountains and a brilliant sunset, the perfect Leadville summer evening. Soon our lake will freeze, but for now:

Fiery August sky
Turquoise Lake oblivious
Snow on Mount Massive

(thank you, Mary Howard, for reminding me to haiku my visions!)

Sunset over Leadville mountains and Turquoise Lake.

Sunset over Leadville mountains and Turquoise Lake.

Yes, you all know by now that I love haiku. I think my opening haiku for this post is the best I’ve written. See how many ways you can read/interpret it! Haikus Can Amuse! (get your copy today!)

If you like my writing, you might enjoy my books! Check them out here, and thank you!

Hunting in Colorado: Day 3

10/19/15

Once again we chose to ignore my hunting tip #8 and arrived at our pull-off below Weston Pass even earlier than on Day 2. As it was pitch black and I was uncertain of my footing, Mike carried my rifle in his pack for the steepest section of our approach until dawn broke and it was time to chamber a round. He’s the awesomest husband I know.

Dawn breaks over the snow-tipped clearing above tree line on Weston Pass.

Dawn breaks over the snow-tipped clearing above tree line on Weston Pass.

KIND bars have been our snack of choice for a few years now, and although Mike has never been an early morning breakfast eater (I must eat in the morning or I become an ogre), he snarfed a couple down before our ascent. The resultant gastric consequences provided hilarity soon thereafter.

“Did you hear something?” he whispered to me with a big smile halfway up the hill. “It sounded like bugling!”

I rolled my eyes as I did numerous times over the next hour while the nutritious bars wreaked havoc with his digestion. So much bugling. But I don’t blame him for scaring away our potential dinner.

I blamed the monkey crow. I wish I’d thought to tap “record” on my iPhone when we heard him. Snow flurries were soft in the tree line, and because my ankle was feeling pretty good, I decided to stay with Mike as he traversed the higher grounds rather than loll about in the meadow where our elk really should have been.

We know the elk are hiding behind the trees, chuckling at our persistence, sneaking away when I pull out my camera-phone.

We know the elk are hiding behind the trees, chuckling at our persistence, sneaking away when I pull out my camera-phone.

The crow’s laughter was an even closer imitation of monkey chatter than Mike can make, and we stopped to enjoy the merriment for a moment before continuing our stealthy trudge through and over thick and downed pines. Soft little Christmas trees with snow-sprinkled new growth sprouted where the old had fallen long ago, and well into our ascent, Mike stopped for a break. He’s always thinking of me, but I could tell he was also beginning to get discouraged.

Within moments of hitting the trail again, I paused for a familiar routine. I knew he’d spotted a sign. Sure enough, there it was. Fudge-brownie-fresh poop.

Fudge-brownie-fresh elk poop! A sure sign that elk are no longer in the area ;)

Fudge-brownie-fresh elk poop! A sure sign that elk are no longer in the area ;)

We had already traversed too far for my comfort. My ankle was beginning to ache (I’ve been telling myself that hunting is good physical therapy after surgery, but at that point I was questioning myself) and I started praying to Diana, Artemis, Orion, all of the hunting deities, to hide the poopers.

Because “they” listened to me, we hiked and hiked, and hiked and hiked, until we came to another huge clearing far beyond and above the meadow I suddenly wished I had stayed in.

“Look. Classic elk terrain,” Mike whispered. “This is where it says they should be.” We’ve repeated this same message to one another in several locations already. It’s become a joke.

“I know, but elk don’t read,” I whispered back.

“Racist,” he replied. Muffled giggling ensued.

Rambo Mike, in a place where our elk "should have been"!

Rambo Mike, in a place where our elk “should have been”!

We crept around the enormous open space and I realized that not only were there no signs of elk anymore, but my ankle was seriously unhappy. And we were seriously far and high above where we’d parked. And we’d been out for hours and hours and I was ready to become a pescatarian. I like to fish. I like to eat fish. Fishing is easy. I can sit down while I fish. Fishing rods aren’t that heavy. I can drive really close to where I want to fish.

“You stay here and rest. I’m going back into the trees over there and if I don’t see anything, we’ll head back.”

Last smile during elk hunting day 3 before our wicked descent from Weston Pass.

Last smile during elk hunting day 3 before our wicked descent from Weston Pass.

I was all about the heading back, but also truly concerned about the terrain. From where I stood, I couldn’t see over the edge of the field. I had no idea how steep our descent would be. So after having him take the last photo in which I could smile that day, I leaned against a downed tree with my feet uphill and did my best to remain optimistic. And that’s when I had a most unexpected visitor.

An elk? Not a chance. But at the spot where I landed in the acres and acres of terrain we’d covered that day was one little ladybug. For the next half hour as Mike searched for our elusive prey, she and I visited. I marveled at her resolve to stay with me, figuring it was because my body was far warmer than anything in that wind-whipped field. She made me smile, and by the time I had to set her free, I had steeled my mind for the final trudge.

Ladybug ladybug, fly away home . . . and take me with you!

Ladybug ladybug, fly away home . . . and take me with you!

Without going into great detail, suffice it to say that my husband once again was my hero. He took my weapon from me and found a hiking stick to assist with the worst downhill journey of my life so far. I had to do several sections on my butt, so instead of crying (which I almost did several times), I gave thanks for the up-and-downstairs-butt-technique I had mastered in our house while on crutches just weeks before. (see crutches)

Mike found a stick to assist with my mile-long 60ish-degree downward slope back to the 4-Runner.

Mike found a stick to assist with my mile-long 60ish-degree downward slope back to the 4-Runner.

The descent was grueling, but the day was filled with beauty. And I had spent it with my man. We had no elk for all our efforts, but we were still together, still able to smile at the beauty of our surroundings, and still confident that . . . Day 4 would be “the day.”

Hunting in Colorado: Day 2

10/18/15

We heard that Weston Pass was the place to go to find our wily elk for sure. So instead of heeding my tip #8 for Day 1 prep (See tip 8), we drove up to a spot on the road below Weston Pass way before the sun rose.

The hike up to where we knew the elk would be was arduous (for someone like me with a gimpy ankle), but we made good time and got to enjoy the sight of dawn breaking over the cold Rocky Mountains. After a while, we hunkered down in some pine trees. We’d wait a while and watch the herds pass by. We’d have our pick of tasty future meals.

Dawn in the Rocky Mountains, hunting day 2 up Weston Pass.

Dawn in the Rocky Mountains, hunting day 2 up Weston Pass.

After about ½ hour, Mike decided to move farther up the hill. I stayed below. We’d have different vantage points of the same open area through which the elk would meander…at any minute. I drilled myself on the gutless method of removing the tenderloins. Dinner.

Suddenly I saw wild gesticulations from above, and when I followed Mike’s pointed finger, THERE THEY WERE! Although difficult to see from my position, a cow, two calves and a spike were walking through a small clearing between thick pines on the far, far side of the meadow. Mike gestured for me to come up to where he was already in a firing position, but I think we both knew that the tiny window of opportunity and the distance were too challenging to overcome in the split second between seeing them and watching them disappear.

“I should’ve taken the shot,” he said, “but by the time I had the elevation adjusted, it was too late.”

“You did the right thing. You want a clean shot.” I told him what he already knew.

“You stay here. I’m going over to see if I can pick up the trail.”

Meadow grass up Weston Pass, hunting day 2.

Meadow grass up Weston Pass, hunting day 2.

For the next 90 minutes, Mike hiked and I lay prone in the meadow grass by a large, dead tree trunk. Maybe he’d scare them out and I’d get my shot. Instead, I waited and lounged and peered through the grass, remembering my 5th grade teacher at Archie T. Morrison Elementary School in Braintree who had us do something quite similar during our poetry unit, but without rifles. I think she might have been the one who sparked my interest in writing.

Hunting glamour shot. Weston Pass. Waiting and waiting for Mike.

Hunting glamour shot. Weston Pass. Waiting and waiting for Mike.

While Mike hiked, I shot photos, something my friends tell me I should be doing rather than shooting “poor innocent animals.” I took my hunting glamour shot and visited for a while with a nosy lark bunting. I really do like shooting photos, but I’d like to know I could feed myself during the zombie apocalypse too.

By the time Mike returned, he was beat and I was ready to head home.

“There are tons of signs over there. It’s like an elk highway. We’ll come back tomorrow, okay?”

I would have agreed to anything at that point. We were silent as we drove home, tired and hungry, and our reward for our efforts on Day 2 was a glorious rainbow embracing our little Leadville.

Rainbow over Leadville. End of hunting day 2.

Rainbow over Leadville. End of hunting day 2.

Clearly, Day 3 would be “the day.”

Hunting in Colorado: Day 1

Here are some tips on what to do before charging out on Day 1 of your hunting season:

  1. Read last year’s hunting blog and laugh about how inexperienced you were.
  2. Tell yourself, “This will be the year!”
  3. Review videos on the gutless method of harvesting your kill, preferably while you’re eating something. This is my favorite one: Gutless method
  4. Tell yourself, “I can do that in 10 minutes, 15 minutes max.”
  5. Don’t worry about losing sleep the night before Day 1. You won’t have any trouble sleeping after 8 hours of moving, sweating, waiting, and shivering.
  6. Assure your non-hunting friends you do realize you’re stopping a beating heart when you shoot an animal.
  7. Practice whispering with your hunting partner. Start with little messages like, “They’re waiting for us.”
  8. Ask everyone where they bagged their elk. When they tell you, go somewhere else.

Mike and I started our Day 1 hunt before sunrise on Mt. Zion because we heard that’s

Hunting day 1, morning break. Still feeling pumped!

Hunting day 1, morning break. Still feeling pumped!

where our next meal would be hanging out. Despite my initial dread of spending a day beating the brush after re-reading my post from last year’s hunting adventures (Hunting with my Hubby), I geared up and we got to our parking spot before sunrise. Mike knew my mobility was limited since I just ditched the crutches a week ago from ankle surgery six weeks prior and convinced me we’d move at my speed.

It didn’t take long before we found our hunting rhythm, which truly illustrated “a snail’s pace.” Although we saw some signs (signs=poop) of elk having been there, we were not convinced they were still hanging

Pee break. "Stack... arms!" (that's an Army command)

Pee break. “Stack… arms!” (that’s an Army command)

around. I don’t know what it is about constantly scanning the ground and surroundings for signs and movement, and perhaps it’s just our own constant movement at high altitudes, but the need to pee is far more frequent while hunting. I’ve said if before and I’ll say it again: There’s nothing quite like peeing in the wild. Anyway, after many hours and much hiking (and peeing) and discovering beautiful places where they “should have been,” we returned home at midday. We knew when we went back out that evening, we’d find them.

Driving back to a different starting spot on the mountain, still full of adrenaline and eager to fill our tags on Day 1, we discussed what would happen if we came across a “twofer.” Mike has a cow tag and I have a bull tag, same season, so the idea of walking into a pasture and catching a little bull-on-cow action was just too funny not to consider.

"They SHOULD be here!"

“They SHOULD be here!”

Alas, our anticipation adrenaline wore off as the sun set, and we returned home again home again, jiggity-jig, to a dinner of mac&cheese and early to bed. Clearly, Day 2 would be “the day.”

Here’s a link to my hunting epilogue from 2014 and there are several other daily posts before it. Just search “hunting” for more:

2014 hunting epilogue

One potato, two potato, three potato . . .

Great. Now the word “potato” doesn’t look right to me.

About two months ago I discovered three nasty old shriveled up potatoes in a cabinet I rarely open. Despite their condition, however, each had 4” sprouts. Since I had never tried to grow potatoes before, I carried the ugly tubers to my computer and did a little research. Twenty minutes later, they were planted in one of the raised beds Mike built out back several years ago. They were the only things I planted this year.

Growing food can be difficult in a place where the number of warm days is inversely proportional to the ridiculous requirements added to teachers’ plates every year. Still, I’ve tried not to look too closely during walks past yards with haystacks and greenhouses and vines burdened with fruitful bounty lest I become covetous, or worse, insecure. I knew I could have harvested weeks of lettuce, spinach, beans and radishes had I planted seeds earlier in the season. In prior years, I was excited by my success with those plants, and I remember inviting our neighbors’ 3-year-old girl to pull up the first radiantly red radish.

“Lollipop!” She said, and her face lit up.

But since then, I haven’t made time for dirt. Sticking those spuds in Leadville’s still-cold June ground was an act of reconciliation. I’d be able to say I “did a little gardening” this year, though that would be a stretch to the truth. Sure, I did keep the earth mounded around each ridiculous shoot as they showed signs of forcing out buds, and I did stick the hose over the fence to sprinkle moisture on random rainless days. But I can’t really claim I nurtured those three nearly dead potatoes.

Yesterday marked about 10 weeks since I started what was really just an experiment. The plants that had grown vibrantly green despite my neglect were beginning to fade. It was time to see if there were any hidden treasures beneath the surface.

Imagine my surprise when my fingers struck the first cool sphere!2 potato

“Lollipop!” I announced to Mike, who was splitting wood for our soon-to-be-used fireplace. Triumphantly I held up the first perfect new red potato. I didn’t remember the shriveled things I had planted being red, but I suppose they could have been.

With growing excitement, I felt around for more. And when I was done, Mike and I had a good laugh. I sent a photo to our son Jake, who replied with one word: “Sustainability.”

My simple experiment took my brain to strange places and made me realize it was time to reconsider my will, and not the one that gets me through the long, cold months of Leadville’s three winter seasons. I’m actually not sure of the existing wording as it was completed too many years ago, but I know I opted for cremation. And while Mike remains steadfast in his wish that his ashes be scattered atop Mt. Massive (and in my Dad’s words many years ago when we discussed his remains, “but not until I’m dead!”), I’ve always considered myself more of a water person.

I still laugh with my Mom about threatening her with someday bringing her ashes to Leadville. “Don’t you dare!” she said the first time I mentioned it. “I won’t be able to breathe up there!” And then she threatened to haunt me if I did, something I hope she will do anyway, though not too soon.

So I don’t want my ashes tossed over a mountaintop. And although I wouldn’t mind having them sprinkled in a crystal-clear Colorado lake or in the ocean—and any one would do just fine—I’ve found an idea I like best.

Years ago I saw an ad for turning your loved one’s ashes into art. Just mix the ash in clay and create, or have someone create, a sculpture (which, I believe, would then need to be “fired” once more). And I thought that was a great idea until recently, when I looked around my house and realized I had too much “stuff.” Artwork is wonderful, but eventually, someone inherits it or it gets auctioned off or stuck in a closet or . . . who knows where it ends up.

And I know I’m starting to sound really picky right now, but hey, I’m sharing with the world my final will and testament about my cremains, so I think it’s my right to be specific.

I want my ashes to be buried in one of those new biodegradable containers that will produce a tree. “Ashes to trees, dust to the desk top.” I think that’s how it goes. And I want to grow somewhere with a longer growing season than Leadville’s. Maybe I’ll be a maple tree back near my New England hometown. Those fall leaves were always my favorite. Or, I suppose, a Laurel tree, though I hear those may be pickier about where they want to live. In any case, I’d like my cremains buried with—or even scattered around—a pretty new tree.

Phew! I’m really glad that’s settled. I’m looking forward to boiling my handful of potatoes for dinner tonight. And now I should probably investigate what else might lurk in that cabinet I rarely open.

4 potato

13 tiny taters. That is all.

Black Cloud on a Way-Too-Sunny Day

The Leadville Trail 100 (LT100) races fill me with excitement and dread every summer since Mike started competing in them ten years ago. We all have our vice(es), and for Mike, it’s training for and completing ultra-distance races. I’m not sure how many others can claim being a four-time “Leadman” (Google it), but Mike has earned every belt buckle now littering his bureau top.

hug2

The Lead Ass Inn (our home, dubbed by my Dad) has been a gathering spot for countless racers over the eight years we’ve lived here, and both friends and strangers from the US and overseas have slept in our beds and on our floors and have been grateful for the availability of our three bathrooms. When we updated the bathrooms in our 120-year-old Victorian—the first update I insisted upon—I told Mike we’d be purchasing the American Standard Champion4 toilets because they advertised the ability to flush a bucket of golf balls. Although I never tested that claim, I’ve also never needed a plumber or a plunger since the installation, and believe me, racers can stress a system!

Group

After so many years of participating in the 100 mile mountain bike event, we’ve fallen into an exciting(ly stressful) routine which leads up to my favorite time of all—race day morning. We’re up at 04:45 because we know our regulars and some tagalongs will be ready for their pre-race prep at 05:00. We’ve unofficially adopted the First Descents team (http://firstdescents.org/), and one of their key leaders, Brent Goldstein, and their supporters—Gary Morris, Kevin Kane, and celebrity Ryan Sutter (among hordes of others over the years), begin their arduous day in our home. The vibe is always electric.

This year our group was smaller than average, and from the moment we awoke, we knew this year’s race day would be different. Sure, it was chilly before the sun rose, but it was not nearly as cold as it’s been in years past. Mike handed me his jacket as soon as he got settled in his staging corral (and yes, the similarity to sheep being herded was astounding). He didn’t even start the race with arm warmers. This did not bode well for him.

At mile 40 he was looking great and spent little time at our Twin Lakes support crew station. A refill of fluids and a brief comment about the heat and he was off for the climb up Columbine Mine. But by mile 60 on his way back through, I could tell the heat was whipping him. He actually took a seat, something he’s never done, and was in no great rush to get back onto his bike. It was not the Mike who came blazing through six years ago sans bike saddle (which had torn off on a fall coming down Columbine) and who finished the raced in mere minutes over 9 hours still looking strong. Nope. The heat was draining support crew people. It was brutalizing the racers. Mike was not looking good.

I was worried about him (always my greatest stressor), but I knew he’d finish the race. Mike’s training focus since his first hip replacement surgery three days after last year’s 100 mile mountain bike race has been on biking. He was going to earn the coveted BIG belt buckle for a 10th-year 1,000-mile finish, which is not to be confused with the turkey-platter-sized belt buckle he’ll earn when he finishes his 20th race ten years from now. And let’s face it. Who (besides me) wouldn’t want to sport a belt buckle the size of Texas? My one fear is he’ll need his other hip replaced by then just to carry the weight of it.

Anyway, the day grew hotter and I grew more anxious as time passed at the finish line until finally, I heard them slaughter his name. “And from Leadville, let’s hear it for Mike McChhaaargyouway!” Really? Not only has he completed this race 10 times and completed the whole Leadman series four times (and I won’t even talk about how much money these races cost to enter), as the Lake County Emergency Manager, he has also provided trail support for all of the races for years now. I suppose I should be used to people not being able to say our name, but this really irked me.

The time was 10 hours 38 minutes and Mike looked like death—not even warmed over. I Mike finishtried to coax him into the medical tent, but he chose instead to dry heave the whole way home. “Grit, guts and determination.” I knew we would not make it to the VIP party at 6:30 p.m.

He was showered and in bed by the time the other racers made their way back to our house to retrieve their belongings. And this was when the dark cloud passed over. Outside on the sidewalk, two women—a racer and her friend—sat looking morose. I went to offer assistance not knowing what was wrong and found out their friend had died during the race.

Mike and I met Scott Ellis and his wife years ago when they were staying at the B&B two houses down from us, their LT100 routine. This would have been Scott’s 19th LT100 finish. “He was in great shape” and was an avid racer. But his heart gave out about 20 miles from the finish. His wife was not here for this race. He was only 55. Mike’s age.

We attended the awards ceremony early this morning because getting the BIG buckle was a big deal and we wanted to be there to support the other racers. I left the ceremony upset for two reasons. The first reason was petty. Yup, they tortured Mike’s name again (they got “Mike” right) and did not have his buckle ready to take home. It bothered me more than it bothered him, so I really should follow his lead on these things.

But I was truly upset because there was not a single mention of the man who perished in a helicopter after falling at mile 80 on the race. Not a mention. Not a brief moment of silence or acknowledgment of the fact that “Grit, guts and determination” can sometimes be fatal.

And so it is that this year’s LT100 race is over. For Mike, it’s another goal attained before an upcoming week of coordinating support for the US Pro Cycling Challenge coming through Leadville this Wednesday/Thursday and for the LT100 mile running race on Saturday (I’m thankful he’s not competing in that one anymore). For me, it’s a sigh of relief that my friends and husband made it through this race with stories to tell.

I wonder about Scott’s wife. I wonder if she’s feeling angry that her husband died doing something he didn’t have to do, or if she’s feeling some sense of gratitude that he died doing something he had to do. Either way, I want to cry for her.

More on this at: Report of fatality and Another story about Scott

Footnote: On 8/17/15, the Leadville Race Series Facebook page posted a tribute to Scott: LRS Tribute to Scott

Leadville Today posted this tribute on 8/19/15: Tribute to Scott

…and while I may be vilified in the press for being so “demanding,” I maintain my belief that Scott’s accomplishments should have been recognized before any others at the awards ceremony the following day.

Laurel McHargue / Laurel’s email / Leadville Laurel Facebook page / Laurel’s Twitter

 

Crazy Tourist Season

The day after I was auctioned off as one of the “Celebrity Golfers” for the Saint Vincent Hospital Fundraising Tournament, I cheered on my California brother-in-law as he began his first Leadville Trail Marathon. I’ve decided this race marks the official first day of crazy tourist season in our sleepy little town, and I’ve been contemplating lately what it means to live in a tourist destination.

My golfing teammates did not know I’d never swung a club since my last mini-golf date asGolf 1 a teen, but they were willing to believe in me. We and hosts of others were there to support our hospital, and the day made me happy and proud because I realized I now live in a place where people often set aside their own agendas to do something good for others. Some of us were once just tourists to Leadville.

I realized my happiness of late also stems from the fact that I used to grouse about the lack of local cultural events around my new turf, but I can’t do that anymore. Nearly every week we can choose between free author talks, free plays, poetry readings, music jams, art gallery events, Steampunk affairs, movie nights “and MORE!” We have two libraries with two enthusiastic library directors continually on the lookout for engaging, entertaining guests. Our tourists are often unaware of our cultural richness, focusing more on the glorious mountains we’ve come to take for granted as our daily backdrop.

Many of our tourists also arrive with the conviction that Leadville is no different from Mayberry R.F.D. and that since we’re so small, we mustn’t have many laws. We already see them stopping in the middle of the street to take a photo, driving the wrong way down one-way streets and stepping off sidewalks as if cars haven’t yet made it to this elevation. But I’m pretty sure even I did some of those things when I was but a tourist here before making the major move eight years ago.

This makes me highly attuned to the locals (and I’m one now) who are warming up their grumble-seats, ready to launch complaints about having to wait a full minute or more to turn onto Harrison, or having to drive a whole four blocks to get around a closed section of road for an event, or *GASP* having to walk as far to shop in one of our stores. But having lived on the east coast for most of my life, I laugh at the idea that waiting a breath before crossing a road or driving five minutes out of my way is an inconvenience worth mentioning. I suppose everything’s relative.

Yes, I was once one of those crazy tourists the locals complained about. Now I’m Leadville Laurel, local author and occasional (self-proclaimed) celebrity. Does this mean I’m suggesting we want more ex-tourists like me deciding to move here? Call it hubris if you will, but heck yeah, I am. I’m asking you to consider how the next “gaper” you curse at because they’re slowing you down as they gaze at the history and beauty surrounding them—wondering how they might capture even a piece of it before heading back to their traffic jams and heat—might be the next butcher or baker or candlestick-maker who decides to make the leap to Leadville.

I’ve lived here long enough now to know one of the favorite complaints voiced by new and old residents alike, and for whatever reason, I hear it more frequently during tourist seasons. I’d really love to be the one to banish it forever from our small-talk. Barring a truly cataclysmic geological event, Leadville will never become “the next Breckenridge,” so could we please stop beating that mythological horse? We could, however, become a town that supports not only its current population, but a growing one. We could be a town in which every shop is open year-round, a town in which our second-home-owners make their getaways here their first homes.

It’s my belief that we cannot remain a sleepy little town for much longer lest we stagnate or die. So let’s laugh at our tourists rather than curse them. Let’s try a tad more tourist toleration, or at least suppress our sneers. Let’s understand the magic we know they feel while driving or walking around our town, be it the wrong way or in the middle of the street. Let’s attend and support our cultural events and shop locally whenever possible. Let’s encourage and support those who seek to keep Leadville alive. Let’s start seeing our town through the eyes of our tourists again—through awestruck, smiling eyes.

“NEED FOOD”

Good friend died this week
Wonder how long I have left
Every day must count

“NEED FOOD,” read the cardboard sign held by a woman who appeared to be in her 70s. It’s hard to gauge the age of homeless people as most do not age well.

I was returning from a weekend conference in Denver and stopped by our local Safeway for a few things before going home. The petite woman was walking toward the store in the opposite direction of my travel and I had already driven past her.

“Just go home,” said the left hemisphere of my brain.

It was Sunday afternoon, I was tired from the weekend festivities and anxious to reunite with my husband. I drove a little farther before the right hemisphere had its say.

“Go back,” was the command.

Risking a traffic violation, I pulled a U-turn. Something about the woman called me back to her. I drove up slowly with my passenger window down.

“Could I take you to Safeway?” I asked. I’d considered simply handing her one of my bags of food, but thought it might be awkward.

A literal bag lady, she approached the window with hands covered in blue rubber gloves and enclosed in plastic Safeway bags. She smiled a sparse-toothed smile and her weather-creased face lit up.

“Well, I don’t really need food,” she started.

It’s a trap! I thought. Why didn’t you just go home?

“. . . I’m allergic to almost everything. I can’t eat any of their chicken. What I really need is shelter. I’m staying at the Hostel and it’s $25 a night.”

Though I rarely carry cash, I had sold some books at the convention and knew I had at least that much in my wallet. It was certainly easier than taking her on a shopping spree.

I brought $25 from my wallet and she leaned into the window with another plastic bag into which I deposited her fee for another night at my friends’ place, the Leadville Hostel. “Wild Bill” and Cathy have operated the hostel for the past 15 years and it quickly became our home-away-from-home during the four years we lived in Colorado Springs before finally making the leap to Leadville. We visited far more often over those four years than we have in the eight years since we moved just a mile away from them, and whenever we accidentally bump into one another, usually at Safeway, we laugh about it.

“I’ll call Wild Bill and let him know I saw you today,” I told the woman. It came out sounding like I was keeping tabs on her, and I felt a need to explain. “He’s a friend.”

She smiled again and said, “Did you know even mice are smart enough to have a God?”

“Oh?” I waited.

“They call him Cheesus,” she delivered her corny punchline with a truly sweet smile, her gift to me, and walked away.

When I got home I was eager to unpack, but my brain reminded me to call Wild Bill. We hadn’t spoken in months and I figured it was as good a time as any to reconnect. He answered in his Mississippi drawl and we discussed the woman who was allergic to everything. He thanked me for helping out.

“And you know what time it is?” he egged me on with characteristic mischief in his voice.

“Um . . . what time?” I asked, ready for another bad joke.

“It’s time to get together for our annual ‘we-never-see-each-other-anymore’ dinner!”

We both laughed at the recurrent theme and agreed to meet for dinner the following week.

“I’ll call Cathy next week,” I said. “And it’s our turn to cook.”

I could tell he was busy—the Hostel is always in full-bustle with new guests and regulars—and we hung up with a “See you soon!”

*****

Early Monday morning Mike came into the room to wake me, something he rarely does.
“Cathy just called,” he said too quietly, and although I was still in a waking stupor, I knew he was trying to convey serious news. Knowing many Cathys, I was confused. With difficulty, he uttered the words, “Wild Bill’s gone.”

“What? What do you mean?” I asked, fully awake.

He explained how our friend was on his way to Denver Sunday evening and didn’t get far at all before his vehicle went off the road and hit a tree. Stroke, heart attack, whatever happened, he died on the operating table Monday morning, 64-years-young.

*****

“Could I take you back to Buena Vista?” I asked the bag lady at the Hostel, knowing she had recently been there. She needed to leave to make room for family coming from all over to grieve the shocking loss of a man everybody loved.

“No, it’s too hot there now,” she said.

Although she’d been told the reason she needed to move on, I wasn’t sure she grasped it fully. She was squatting on her heals in the living room, her hands bagged and prepped for a day of money-gathering, and she looked adorable.

“I think I’d like to write something about you,” I told her. “What’s your name? Where are you from?”

“Barbara Marzec Rotunda,” she said. “I’m from Niagara Falls.”

“Marzec’s Polish, right?” I asked. “Would you mind if I took a photo of you?” I wanted to capture her just as she was.

“Yes! Polish! And can I make borscht!” she declared, standing and pushing her bangs Barbara2back into her hat. She suddenly became self-conscious.

“Oh, I look horrible,” she said. “But I used to be quite a cutie.”

“You look adorable,” I said, and I think she might have believed it for a moment.

I learned about how she used to travel with rock stars, Stevie Nicks being one, and how the man she married was no good. She unfolded a paper map onto which she sat next to me, allergic to the fabric on the couch, and allowed me to take her photo. Then I delivered her downtown, handed her a $20 and showed her where the Advocate’s Office was.

“That’s what I need,” she said, “an advocate.”

She allowed me to hug her, though I could tell she was considering my potential allergy-inducing attributes.

*****

How do we decide who we’ll help?

Leaving Safeway that evening to bring food to Cathy and gathering friends at the Hostel, I walked past a young man sitting near the door playing a harmonica—not even a little well—with a dog by his side and a hat out for money. It made me angry. I wanted to yell at him, “Get off your ass and look for a job.” He was far too young to be panhandling.

But then I thought of Barbara and how she had gifted me with one last conversation with a friend I’ll never forget. And although I didn’t stop to ask his story or offer money, I didn’t yell at him.

I hope Barbara has found shelter for another night.

I hope Wild Bill is resting peacefully, spinning his stories in a less judgmental world. Wild Bill Clower

Hunting: Day 8 Evening

Running out of ways
To say we’re elkless again
But still having fun

Or are we? Sure we are. And honestly, I can’t believe the weather we’ve had this week. Sadly, it’s weather that doesn’t motivate herds of elk to come out of the mountains for warmth.

Ranger holding on

Ranger did his best to prevent me from leaving this evening, and the text message I received from one of my four sisters—“Why don’t you just drink wine like the rest of us…wtf?”—almost made me reconsider our evening hunt.

 

But I can’t end this week saying, “I’ll bet we would have bagged one if we had gone out that 8th night.” And so off we went to a location near the death-by-hills area. I drove the trusty 4-Runner up inclines I wasn’t sure it could handle, white-knuckled the whole way up.

“If you have a long shot,” Mike whispered to me when we were close to the top of the world, “I’ll bend over and you can brace yourself on my back.”

I swear, the man really must love me.

“Um, yeah, no. Don’t think I’ll be doing that,” I whispered back as gratefully as I could. willowsAlthough we saw many perfect places for elk to hang out at the end of the day, like this swath of willows, we never saw a sign of habitation. Not even by a long shot.

Driving back down at the end of the evening made me realized just how far we had climbed on our previous hunts, and once I could release my death-grip on the steering wheel, I was able to bask in the glory of my physical accomplishments.

And now we’re down to one more day. So tell me, honestly,

Shadow selfie lastdoes this pack make my ass look fat? Oh, and thanks for enduring the endless chronicles of my hunting season.