Category Archives: Colorado

Life Changes, and New Experiences

The last few months have been a time of introspection for me.  My days have changed so drastically and I am still trying to figure out what, exactly, I should be doing with my life.   J and I are spending much more time in our two favorite places (Colorado and North Carolina), now that H has graduated and flown the nest.  J works wherever we are, so we have a freedom that years ago, we only dreamed about.  Here in Colorado, I try to go to the gym as little as possible, getting my exercise in the great outdoors.  Snow skiing, snowshoeing, uphill hiking, running with ice cleats…it’s so exhilarating that the benefits go far beyond the physical.  It also gives me lots of time to think.

Spending time in Colorado is like a dream.  But it also removes me from the day to day activities that I always have in Nashville.  And now that H is not home, I also don’t have the school volunteer responsibilities that occupied my time for the last 13 years.  But starting all over in a new community, and one that has a large percentage of part-time residents, has a lot of challenges.  We’re meeting people…mostly people who work in the art galleries, restaurants, and other businesses that we frequent.  But to them, since we’re not full-time residents, it’s hard to make lasting connections.  I miss meeting other parents of kids H’s age…something that is more difficult than ever.

Being an empty-nester is definitely a paradigm shift for me.  If I am completely honest, I have good days and bad days.  I have shifted from full-time mom to part-time mom.  On one hand, J and I have the freedom to live our lives in a way we had only dreamed about for the last 19 1/2 years.  Going from micromanaging someone else’s life to watching from afar is kind of like a breath of fresh air.  Some days I can go all day without wondering if she has done her homework, gotten enough sleep, brushed her teeth, or made it home before 2 a.m.  Some days.  Other days, I see parents with their little ones on the mountain, or in a restaurant, or at church, and I ache inside for those days.  Those days when she couldn’t go to sleep without “cuddling” with me, when she wanted to ski with us, or when we sat at the dinner table and shared our “highs” and “lows” of the day.  Last night I watched “Les Miserables” and all I could think (as I cried my way through the entire thing) was how Cosette changed Jean ValJean’s life.  His quote “To love another person is to see the face of God” resonated throughout my body. 

SO…all that is to say that I have been thinking about this blog, and what it really is, now that my job description has changed.  Even though I’m not doing Mommy things full-time, I will always be her mom.  I will always worry about her, pray for her, think about her, try to guide her in little ways, and most of all, be here for her.  But in order not to wallow in the wistful, lonely moments that can creep up on me, I have to STAY BUSY.  I thank God every day for the life I am able to live.  J and I are closer than we’ve ever been.  To be married to my best friend, and share most of our hobbies, is amazing.  I don’t want to look back in four years and think I wasted an opportunity to grow, make new connections, and give back to my community.

So that’s my focus, in life and in my blog.  I haven’t written in awhile because I wasn’t sure exactly what to write, or if my life without H at home was worth writing about.  I started this as a journal of things I was going through as a parent.  That won’t change.  The things I do might, though.  Instead of living my life around H and her schedule, I have the freedom to do new things.  So I will write about them and share with you my journey as an empty nester, and hopefully you’ll stick with me.  Feel free to comment with your own experiences, questions,  worries, or success stories about kids who’ve flown the nest.

Today I signed up for a photography class at Colorado Mountain college.  J and I signed up for a locals ski clinic on Saturday.  And yesterday I took my stairmaster workout outside!  It’s been so very cold here…about 5 days of negative double digit temperatures, and no sun.  It’s hard to explain just how cold -22 degrees is.  But yesterday, the highs reached almost 20 degrees on the mountain, and the sun was shining.  So I grabbed my Icetrekkers, a traction cleat that straps onto my hiking boots and hiking poles, and headed out to the mountain.  From our back door we can hop onto a groomed ski run and go multiple different directions.  I like to have a destination, (like LUNCH!) in mind, so I headed towards the Lower Alpine lift where I could take Coffee Pot up to Gwen’s High Alpine restaurant.

I turned around on my way up and this is what I saw!

Going down…this photo doesn’t do it justice.  I wanted to sing!

View from 11,775 feet!

It was amazing!  Sunny, not very crowded (thanks, January!), and STEEP!  I just put my head down and imagined I was on the stair machine.  I have to say, those hours I spent in Nashville, mindlessly climbing to nowhere must have helped me in some way, because before I knew it I was at the top of the lift!  It took me a little over an hour to go 2 1/2 miles, but the views every time I turned around were so mind boggling, that I didn’t want to stop.  I wasn’t hungry yet, because I didn’t know how long it would take me to get there, so I didn’t feel like eating lunch.  I started down Turkey Trot, a meandering blue/green trail that leads to the Elk Camp Restaurant on my way home.  But I looked up to the right at the High Alpine lift, and wondered how far up I could make it.  I didn’t want to go up Reidar, under the lift, so I headed to Cookies, a very steep groomed trail and started going up.  I gave myself a 15 minute goal.  It was so steep at times my cleats weren’t helping much and I was sliding halfway down for every step I took.  I leaned forward, and felt like I was going horizontal.  People looked at me like I was crazy.  After 15 minutes I tried for another 15.  By then I was within sight of the top so I couldn’t turn around.  I reached the top, took a few snapshots, ate a bite of my energy bar, and headed back down.

BAM!  When I turned around to go down, the views were almost heart stopping!  I had this unbelievable feeling of euphoria…The cool, crisp, clear sunny day, surrounded by wide open views of snow covered mountains, my health, my family, a great workout…I almost couldn’t contain myself.  Some places were so steep that I had to just let go, put my arms out, and run down the hill.  Needless to say, I had the best lunch of my life at Elk Camp that day.  Everything just seemed…great.

Views from Upper Alpine

I had tried not to text H all day…(I’m still working on giving her space), but before I went to bed I asked her how her day went.  Her reply to me, “Doing phenomenal!” was the icing on the cake.  I went to bed with a smile on my face.

Staying busy when the nest is empty!

Have you seen the Toyota Venga commercials?  The ones where the parents are out living an active life while their grown children are worrying about them as they age?  This one is my favorite…

Ever since we dropped H off in California for college,  I get the sympathetic head tilt, “So, how are you?” about once a day.  And you know what?  I really am doing OK.  Surprisingly, even to me.   I expected this was going to be much more difficult than it is proving to be.  Not that I don’t get sad.  I do have those moments…moments of missing her as a little girl, when she adored us, and never wanted to leave us, not even to go to sleep at night.  I also have lots of moments when we’re experiencing something that I think she would enjoy, and wish she were here with us.

But we raised her to be independent, and to go after her dreams. The fact that she is at a college she adores, taking classes that inspire and motivate her, meeting people she enjoys, and becoming the person we always knew she could be, is everything I could ask for.  Sure, I would like to be a fly on the wall and observe her every moment, but since I can’t, J and I are staying busy.  I discovered that when we’re doing new things, or experiencing things outside our comfort zone, I don’t think about her every minute.

Spending extended time in Colorado and North Carolina is something Jeff and I have dreamed about for many years.  It wasn’t until our nest emptied out that we were able to do it.   Well, that and the internet, fax machines, email, etc.  We started this summer trying to do all new hikes that we hadn’t done before.  As we became more acclimated to the altitude they became longer and more strenuous.  Last month I bought a book on 14ers around the same time my friends from Nashville did Mt. Elbert while here for a short visit.  I mentioned it to J, and he said, “Are you crazy??”  Every time we did another long hike, I’d mention it again.  J’s responses started becoming less negative.  Finally, when we finally made it to Buckskin pass (after two failed attempts), he checked the weather report and decided that if we were going to do it it would have to be Saturday.  We made a trip to Ute Mountaineer in Aspen to pick up the supplies we didn’t have (tarp in case of rain, water purification tablets, weatherproof matches), and Saturday morning we were up before dawn to make the hour and a half drive to Leadville.

The drive over Independence Pass was magnificent, and our jeep was able to make it to the farthest point at the trail head so that we only had 8 1/2 miles to hike, instead of 12 1/2.  J was battling some lower back pain (we worked at a Habitat house the day before and he was doing a lot of bending over, sawing cement board), Rosie had been limping early in the week, but both of them were pumped up with anti-inflammatory and had rested the day before so we were all ready to go.  After about 1/2 mile of meandering through the trees, the incline started.  We were at about 10,300 feet at that point, and had 4100 feet to go over a period of 4 miles.  It didn’t seem like it would be that difficult, but I was wrong.  From the very beginning, I sounded like a freight train, sucking in air to get enough oxygen to take another step.  But I looked down and took small, slow steps behind J.  As the trees got thinner, the trail seemed to get steeper.  When we exited the trees, the mountain loomed ahead.  I must admit, it didn’t look that steep, or far, but each step we took the summit seemed to look farther away.  Little did I know, that when we reached that false summit, another one arose in the distance.

First False Summit 13,800 feet

We paused as we reached the first summit to put on more clothing.  The temperature drop was pretty severe and the wind started kicking in.  So we kept going…tiny steps forward and up.  When we reached the SECOND false summit, we still had another 100 yards of elevation to go, but it didn’t take that long.  Suddenly we were there…along with a pretty big crowd of people!  There were a couple of areas where there were rocks stacked up to create a really nice wind screen, but they were already taken, so J and I found a rock to sit on.  I pulled out my windbreaker because it was really cold!  J shared his trail mix with the puppies, who still seemed to have lots of energy left!

I looked around, and even though the haze in the valley from the Idaho fires kept the view a little less crisp, I was overcome with awe.  From the highest point in the Rockies, you can look down on Leadville to the Northeast, the Twin Lakes (which look like triplet lakes to me) to the East, 14,336 foot La Plata to the South East, and 14,421 foot Mt. Massive to the North.  It was spectacular!  With all the crowds I had no problem finding someone to take some pics of both J and I.

In front of Mt. Massive-14,421 feet

Twin Lakes

In front of La Plata -14,336 feet

We hung out for awhile, chatted with a few people, and decided to get started on the walk down. The doggies had fun playing in a little patch of snow as we started the descent.   I (wrongly) thought it was going to be a piece of cake, but descending 4100 feet over 4.25 miles was BRUTAL!  We were very glad when we finally reached the car.  When I pulled my phone out in the car there was a text from H, congratulating us!  I had sent her a text from the top.  I have to admit, I did think about her a few times on the walk up…mainly wishing she was with us.  I know she would have loved it, and since she had summitted Mt. Shasta a couple of years ago (but started at a much lower altitude so it was a much tougher climb), she would appreciate it. But…I wasn’t sitting at home, staring at Facebook, wishing she would post pictures, or call us, or skype.  We were out, living life, and hopefully, that’s exactly what she’s doing as well. 

The view on the way down!

Third Time’s the Charm!

Two days ago J and I went to the movies.  I bought the tickets while J paid the check at the restaurant down the street.  I told the young man behind the counter that I wanted two tickets, and he told me it was bargain Tuesday, and it was only $12.00.   Nice surprise, until the guy in line for popcorn leaned over to ask the guy why he paid $16, and I only paid $12.  The boy looked at me, shrugged his shoulders, and said “Seniors?”  Wait, what???  I was crushed.  I thought maybe at this theatre the “senior” discount came at age 50, which would be fine, since I’m 51.  But I looked it up. It’s 62.  I was really bummed.  I thought perhaps he was just trying to be nice and giving me a discount.  But probably, he thinks all people over 50 look the same.  Or maybe it was just a bad, bad skin day for me.  What does he know, he was 12.  (But the fact that I called him a “young man” above kind of makes me sound like I’m 62.

So, yesterday, J and I set out on our third attempt to make it to Buckskin Pass.  However old I look, I wanted to prove that I could do this hike!  We’ve done a lot of beautiful, not so easy hikes, like Lost Man Loop (13,000 feet, 9 miles total), Government Trail from Snowmass to Aspen (11 miles), both American Lake and Cathedral Lake (both only 6 miles total, but lots of elevation), etc.  But this hike has been our nemesis this year!  The first time we tried was our first day in Colorado, and we made it more than halfway.  We were with our friends, and it was their first day, too, and we were all sucking wind pretty bad.  This is a beautiful hike, only 4.8 miles each way, but an elevation gain of almost 3,000 feet.  So we made it about 3 1/2 miles, to a beautiful overlook, took photos, and came home.

Last week we tried again, with another couple who were here visiting us.  They weren’t acclimated yet, so even though they are both strong and fit, we didn’t make it.  So, I was determined to see the pass.  Starting at gorgeous Maroon Lake, overlooking the majestic Maroon Bells, with the golden aspen trees looking like they were lit from within, we easily hiked up to Crater Lake, the 2 mile mark.  Crater Lake is almost not a lake right now…the drought has really caused it to dry up.  Very sad.

Maroon Lake…still has water!

We stopped for water and started the steep climb past Crater lake.  Every now and then we’d come to a clearing and marvel at the view (and catch our breath!).  Coming from the East, I am used to the multicolors of the fall foilage, but here, the trees turn mostly yellow.  I wasn’t expecting to be so blown away.  When the sun hits the golden aspen leaves, twirling in the wind, they look like sparkling jewels!  The patchwork of yellow and green of the brush on the sides of the mountains is beautiful as well.  We are so lucky to be able to enjoy such a show now, in September, and then go back home to see the October foilage in Tennessee and North Carolina.

Starting the climb

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The climb went well, as we plugged along, taking small steps to conserve energy for the climb.  When we got to mile 4, there was a sign directing us to the Pass, and looking up we could see our goal, as well as the STEEP switchbacks we still had to travel.  But we saw a couple of people ahead of us on the trail, so our competitiveness kicked in, and we made it to the top.

I have been so amazed by the wildlife we have seen here.  H says we’re “obsessed” with it…but seeing huge Mule Deer walk through our backyard on a daily basis, a little orphaned cub eating grass outside my window, a porcupine, plump little fox (unlike the skinny ones we see in Nashville), Elk on our way to dinner, a mama Bear and her three cubs in a tree outside our restaurant at dinner…it has truly been amazing.  But I didn’t expect to see three snow white Mountain Goats up on the pass!  It was a mama and two babies, and they were absolutely stunning.  We sat on a rock at the top, looking at the Bells on one side, and Snowmass Mountain and Lake on the other side, watching the goats get closer and closer to us!  They weren’t brave enough to come grab our lunch, like the goat in the cell phone commercial, but close enough to get a couple of photos.

All in all, it was a great day.  And it was a warm up for another big hike on Saturday.  I’m not going to say what it is, because I don’t want to jinx it…but I’ll keep you posted!

We made it!
The view on the way down of Maroon Lake

P.S.  STAYED TUNED…My life has changed, with H leaving for college, so my blog will be changing in the very near future!