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Home sweet home

En route to CB. Gotta love that Colorado sky!

En route to CB. Gotta love that Colorado sky!

“Not all who wander are lost.” J.R.R Tolkien

A couple weekends ago I drove over Kebler Pass to Crested Butte, CO, my home for the winter. My elbow rested on the open window frame as decaying oak leaves and wet aspen bark smells breezed in to the car. I bumped along on the dirt road in silence (I haven’t had a radio or CD player for years). Blue sky infinity above; swirling, rustling gold leaves all around.

I thought of the last time I was here: March on skis (Kebler is unmaintained in the winter). On that trip I toured 20 miles west, spent the night with a friend in the tiny agricultural town of Paonia, and then toured back home over the pass the next day. The country was as white then as it was colorful this fall.

Soon after that ski tour I moved out of Crested Butte (CB as the tres cool call it) to teach for Outward Bound for the summer and go adventuring, so I had missed the transitions from March to September. I started to think of all the other homes I’d had in the meantime: my parents’ house in Glenwood Springs, CO; my friend’s Outback on a 2-month climbing trip; a rental trailer in downtown Crested Butte, CO; a vacation condo in Mount CB; my Nissan Pathfinder; the Outward Bound bunkhouse in Leadville, CO; the Outward Bound bunkhouse in Redmond, OR; my Black Diamond Mega-Light; my Pathfinder again; the Outward Bound bunkhouse in Seward, AK; a North Face VE-25 4-season tent, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, AK; Pathfinder; parents’ house, and now back to Crested Butte (nothing like a good circle!).

For two years now I’ve lived in this place I call the midcountry. It’s a slippery, nomadic space where living out of an 80-liter backpack for weeks mixes with bunking up in a full-on, pay-the-rent, turn-up-the-heat, throw-a-party, fix-the-door-knob, mow-the-lawn, shovel-the-walk edifice – kind of like the lifestyle equivalent to brackish water. I move seasonally, at the very least (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter), but often times I’m in a constant state of wandering, chasing adventure education work and outdoor recreation. I go where I can rustle up good weather, a paycheck now and then, and a climbing partner or two.
The midcountry is neither as well known nor as romantic as its sister, the backcountry. Nor is it as comfortable and stable as its brother, the front country. The midcountry is somewhere in between, and despite all it lacks, let me tell you, the views and the freedom are breathtaking.


Early that October evening I rolled off the Red Lady Mountain and down into Crested Butte. I had no job. I had no place to stay. But I had the back seats down, and a down sleeping bag spread across my extra-wide crash pad. Hell, I even had a pillow and a toothbrush and a bag of clothes. So, feeling sure that my evening’s lodging (i.e. parking spot) would manifest eventually, I headed out to meet a friend for a burrito at Teocalli Temale and a beer at the Talk of the Town.

Early October is the height of fall mud season, so locals filled the bar: ski tech guy, same-bus-route-as-me-last-season girl, the Spanish teacher and the P.E. teacher I had substitute taught for last year. With midcountry living, community is a vague notion. I felt half local, half tourist. Except for my burrito and beer buddy, the faces were familiar, but in a dream-state déjà vu kind of way. The community I do have is out there, in the midcountry, roaming around wherever free camping and surfable couches abound.

I left the bar, said goodnight to my amiga, and checked my messages: My friend Dan had returned my call, and yes, it was cool if I parked in his driveway; yes, it’d be cool to grab breakie in the morning. I drove to Dan’s place, hung the keys on the steering wheel in case I needed a quick getaway (from town bears or town drunks or, you know, whatever), and snuggled in for the night. Home sweet home.

Light on the butte, Crested Butte, CO

Home is a slippery subject in the midcountry. Just try asking any dirtbag next time you’re at Indian Creek or Joshua Tree, “Where are you from?” Ten bucks says they stumble: “Well, uh, originally….and then…and now…” Or maybe you’re a card-carrying resident here, and you stumble yourself. In some ways, we are homeless. In many other ways, we are homefull. In the midcountry, just like on a backpack trip, home is where the heart is. Literally. It’s wherever you, your cardio blood pumper, and everything it attaches to happen to settle for a moment.

I’ve recently returned from a 33-day trekking and rafting expedition in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, which followed a long season of backcountry teaching with Outward Bound, so the prospect of a house-home sounds mighty fine right now. Nonetheless, my adventurous spirit always hesitates when it’s time for the front country portion of midcountry life. But, as I drove through central Colorado’s Elk Mountains, I looked at Red Lady Bowl, the northwest chutes of the Anthracites, Gothic Mountain’s steep south facing Spoon, and the other lines filling in with snow. I remembered the endless adventure and exploration that awaits: Scarp Ridge (the traverse that scared me off last year); Conundrum Hot Springs (a backcountry paradise about 20 miles of scary avalanche terrain from town); Town-to-town tours to Marble, Aspen or Paonia. The list goes on forever.

My intent with this blog is to share some of those adventures that I find in my backyard as well as the midcountry culture that emerges along the way. See you next week.

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