In the world of champagne powder and purple mountain majesty, native Coloradans can be as elusive as fresh corduroy on a snow day. Indeed, a peremptory glance around Outward Bound headquarters here in Golden, Colorado confirms my suspicions: most of my coworkers are transplants. Maine. Georgia. Texas. New York. Minnesota. They come for the outdoor lifestyle. And they stay for good – skis and boards permanently attached to roof racks on their SUV’s, mountain bikes suspended in their already-full garages, and climbing ropes crouched indefinitely in their backseats and cubicles, ready for a moment’s notice post-work climbing excursion.
So I suppose I am a rare breed of sorts. A true Colorado native. A born and raised mountain girl. I grew up five minutes from the Keystone gondola. I missed school on Fridays to race slalom and grand slalom. I spent my adolescent years trail-running in the national forest behind our home.
But despite my “mountain-girl status,” my story, like so many others, begins far from Rocky Mountain soil.
Nearly forty years ago, a 16-year old girl made a journey from New Jersey all the way to Gunnison, Colorado. She boarded a plane for the first time on her own, caught several buses, and ended up in the heart of the Rocky Mountains with seven strangers who would become her family over the course of the next three weeks. That’s right – in June of 1972, my own mother traveled from Ridgewood, New Jersey to Denver, Colorado to attend a Colorado Outward Bound backpacking and mountaineering course. And it changed her life (and mine) forever.
When I ask Jane what about her trip made an impression on her, the answer is clear: the mountains. “Flying into Denver, the mountains were just amazing because I had never seen anything like it before,” Jane exclaims. “I was so excited that I was going to be in them!” And once she was in the mountains with her Outward Bound patrol, that’s when the real adventure began to unfold. “How quickly the weather could change,” Jane remembers, “how different this was – for the first time I got the sense of what it feels like to go up in elevation – for the greenery to disappear. Shale, low clouds. And the thin air. It was harder to breathe.”
But even as a New Jersey city slicker with lowlander lungs, Jane managed to find sturdy footing within her group. “Everybody had different strengths. I always felt good because they gave me the ropes [to carry on my pack] – an extra ten pounds – especially if they got wet. I felt like a mountain goat. I was so glad I could. It gave me a position of respect that I was taking that on myself.” Jane notes that her patrol went through a metamorphosis of sorts – one that transformed eight diverse individuals into a compact node of compassion and support. And Jane was transforming, too. “I was out of my little high school group. I was out of my comfort zone. But just knowing that I had the ability to converse with people I didn’t know gave me more confidence in myself.”
Paging through my mom’s careworn journal, I stumble across gems like this:
“Just to lie there with the wings of nature protecting me. Closing my eyes to listen to the booming thunder echo through the mountains and hear the birds singing in the darkness. I think the pine at the foot of my bed has given me strength. I look at its massiveness and think of the years. I see its knolled limbs and scars on the bark and think of the hard times. It has stood strong where it stands for years. Me, I have been in this spot 24 hours. How can this wood be so strong and me so weak.”
I also find a few mysterious references to a high school crush – last name: Buchanan.
And the end of the story? Well, I think you already know. Jane returned home from her Colorado Outward Bound adventure stronger, more independent, more balanced, and more confident. She shared her unique experiences with her high school boyfriend, Jim Buchanan, who decided to attend college in Colorado the following year.
And Jane followed Jim into that dry, crisp, Colorado air.
And they were married and lived happily ever. At the foot of the mountains. And they spent their time skiing, biking, hiking, and worshiping the mountain sun.
And they put new seeds in the rich Rocky Mountain soil and cultivated a true Colorado native – me.
Today, Jane marvels at the crispness of her Outward Bound memories. “How many things you forget when you’re that age,” she muses. “But Outward Bound. It’s almost crystal clear. The mornings. The water. The fear. There was fear, too. And the time to think about something totally different than you would in a summer in New Jersey.”