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blog: A Saturday in Vail

Namutebi Gizu
Vail CO, Colorado

Saturday morning started as though any other for me with the usual sluggishness and distaste for waking. Pulling on layer after layer of clothing to combat the frigid Colorado temperatures I descended the stairs unhappily like a bear aroused early from its blissful hibernation and began foraging for breakfast.

Normally, I find scrambled eggs repugnant but this particular morning for some odd reason I had a hankering for them as if my body foresaw the coming challenges of the day. I actually ate them with zeal as I pondered what I would do the coming hours; I really did not have a good grasp of the layout of my new town and needed to set up a bank account.

Perhaps I would catch a ride on the bus and casually peruse my surroundings. Technically, it was my day off and I didn’t need to watch my little Medved and Myska but I lingered on with the family curious to see how they would spend their Saturday. I was soon to find out that never was a saying as true as, “Curiosity killed the cat.” Novakova and Petr asked if I would like to accompany all of them on a “Bob-sledding” outing.

The first thing that popped into my head was a movie I had seen called, “Cool Runnings” where four Jamaicans decide to take up the sport and find out they basically will be trying to guide a metal casket down a tubular, ice course at speeds over 70 mph and try to end the race without killing themselves. I grimaced in remembrance and despite every fiber of my being arguing that it seemed suicidal I consented to go and went looking for my snow pants.

Honestly, I couldn’t believe they had their own bobsled and never heard of people practicing the sport outside of the Olympics. When no one was looking I sheepishly popped my head into the garage and tried to see where the large metal sled might be. I didn’t find it because regular Joe’s don’t use the big metal bobsleds they told me but Swiss bobsleds. Swiss bobsleds basically are these plastic squares with handles. I looked upon them with horror realizing my tookus would be sailing down a mountain on something no larger than a dinner plate!

Caution and reason having already been thrown to the wind I watched the passing scenery out of the beat-up Ford windows and tried not to dwell on my upcoming funeral.

We arrived at the bottom of some foothills that looked very much like every other mountain range in the area, strapped our sledding dinner plates to our backs with bunji cords, and began our ascent. Within 15 minutes the trail became steep and wearisome and the once bone chilling ten degree atmosphere was forgotten in our lovely, sweat-drenching, uphill climb.

My gloves came off, followed by two of my five layers as my body adjusted to the terrain. Medved and I led the pack; far ahead of Myska and her parents we traversed through the forests of tall, red-coated Pine and Aspen. The Aspen were a thing of beauty often leaving no space for one to even hike through.

They rose from the white blanketed earth in utter silence, their branches forming at times an entwined lattice work framing the wisps of Cirrus clouds scattered across the blue palette of sky.

There was no wind, no sound apart from the constant “clomping” of our boots in the snow courted by our escaping frozen breath. Now and then some bird would dart past only to disappear in the maze of black-spotted branches. We rubbed the trunks of the Aspen coating our hands in a light whitish/yellow dust, a natural sun block, which we generously applied to our faces. Despite being so enclosed by the trees one felt this sense of absolute freedom being in the outdoors.

One really gets to appreciate and see the splendor of God’s creation as well as knowing that you can keep walking, one foot in front of another for hours, days, weeks and the likely-hood of running into another person is slim to none. It was just so refreshing.

Half-way up we spotted three male Elk on the adjoining slope, all arrayed with impressive, full, antler racks. They just stood there in all their stately glory surveying the valley below. Medved pushed on with me close at his heels; my breath coming labored at times as I tried to keep up with his “Energizer Bunny” energy so that I would not lose him. We hiked for two more hours; it was hard to tell as time seemed to stand still in these mountains. I sat down on a hardened snow bank to wait for the rest of the family to catch up with us. It wasn’t long till they marched up the trail and Petr decided we had all gone far enough.

Unfastening the bunji cords we tied them around our waists, zipped up any pockets or openings in our wardrobe, and donned our headgear and glasses. Stupidly, I inquired why we needed eyewear and with a chuckle was told without them I wouldn’t be able to see a thing in the upcoming flurry.

Our mobile dinner plates were set down on the trail to my dismay. I was thinking that perhaps there would be some sort of smooth slope or something we would reach to coast down but we were tragically to go back the way we had come. It hadn’t donned on me as I trekked but the trail had been rather odd with these dips, turns, and almost everywhere one or both sides of the trail were towering curved walls of ice. I realized now that someone had hand-carved those walls and this was indeed going to be our bobsled course!

We all planted our bums on our plates; Petr, me, followed by Norakova, Medved, and Myska. Our legs locked under the armpits of the person in front of us, our hands gripped the handles of our little sleds, and we all laid back flat, parallel with the wet cold ground.

Already my fingers were numb and we hadn’t even begun.

Petr, our captain began pumping us forward with his legs explaining to me quickly to lean with my body to the right and left as they did and to lay as flat as I could while we coasted.

Within in seconds our collected weight gathered momentum, gravity set in with a vengeance, and my chariot of terror took off with speed beyond my wildest dreams of greased lightning! They were screaming in delight and excitement, I was just screaming.

We barreled down the course, snow pelting and branches slapping our wind battered faces, we shooted down the sides of the ice walls lifting off from the ground we had previously so slowly tread. Being perfectly truthful I was petrified at first but then I couldn’t help myself and the flood of excitement washed over me as well and I started “Whooping” down the mountain.

Working well as a team, our joined bodies swayed back and forth to navigate us down the trail that had now become this exhilarating tube of ice. Every now and then we would see a lone hiker lumbering up and we all started screaming, “Out of the way!” – “Coming Down!”

They would jump to the side, their jaws dropped in agog bewilderment. I took it that this wasn’t very common even for the slopes of Colorado.

For the first time in my life I knew what it meant to embody speed; I felt totally alive and prayed we would all stay that way as we skidded down. The kids began to scream…. “THE BIG CAHOUNA, The Big Cahouna!” I had no idea what was about to happen but we cleared a hill and as we tipped down fear shot through me again as the hardest part of the climb was in full view. The trail wound up in a curved “L” shape with a sheer cliff on one side. This was definitely the climax of my bobsledding experience.

Petr shouted above our din of shrieks, “Lean right or ….!” I thought perhaps he said we might die! Our bodies snapped to and we totally went airborne before streaking down the side of the ice wall in the valley below us. We sped out and down the gradually ending trail; soon meandering to a stop all of us alive and breathless. I gasped for air and began laughing noting humorously that my only reaction was that I wanted to do it again!

What took us all that time to go up must have taken 10 or 15 minutes to come down! I was officially addicted and the numero uno fan of bobsledding. We walked back to our vehicle through the rolling snow fields, red as posies and with a natural high.

Our day was not over then but continued to be a pleasant surprise as the hours wore on. We traversed the back roads through the picture perfect, period piece town of Minturn with its historic clap-board buildings and quaint antique stores lining the river. Our wheels turned in constant motion and I was bewitched with the views that met my eyes.

We past the captivating old ghost town of “Gilman,” perched on the side of “Battle Mountain.” The town apparently was founded in 1886 although having been around for longer under previous names. It really took on life though at that time becoming a booming mining town and shipping out ore in value of 12 million dollars.

Not more than 400 people lived there and they did have a small clinic at one time and a store. 1985 found the town down and out as the mine had to close because ore shipped by train out of Gilman was more trouble than getting less expensive ore from emerging China and Japan.

Then the Gilman’s water supply became inadequate and the residents were forced to leave for good. The lead levels are so high there that it’s dangerous to sneak onto the site but I had one acquaintance that did so at his own determent and perused through the old wooden frame homes. He said the people left as though death were at their heals or perhaps nothing mattered to them anymore leaving behind the clinic floors covered in scattered X-rays, dishes still sitting out on tables, and old automobiles still in their rightful places.

Leaving behind the forlorn, orphan homes we drove further up into the heart of the mountains. A large bridge arose in sight over the “Eagle River” that wound and turned some 1,200 feet below us; it’s azure blue waters a sparkling ribbon in an ocean of white.

I eagerly hoped we would cross it just to see what was on the other side, what was over the next pass. Unfortunately, I learned that that whole area of mountain range was going to be turned into a ski resort. With technology as it is these days a developer has found a way to reduce the lead levels and bring the earth back to a healthy state but with that may come an end to the silence in a way and we may lose more untouched open area.

People will come to the deserted pass; they will leave their mark just as they did before and who can say that it will be for the better. The pine clad hills absent from development will in a few years possibly sprout ski-lifts, lavish hotels, and people commuting to and fro where there was once deer and elk trails.

My mind drifted from thoughts of urbanization to lighter matters as we continued on. We didn’t cross the attractive old highway bridge but made a sharp turn to the left down what appeared to be a dilapidated one-way road with a sheer cliff on the right. An on-coming car nearly caused us to tip over into a foreboding snow-bank as we let them pass. At a snail’s pace our Ford crept along on the tiny, winding, icy road. Little cabins and salt box homes rose on outcroppings of rock next to the river nestled snuggly in the shadow of the mountain.

One abode particularly caught my fancy and I wished I could one day live in such a sweet cabin. It stood at the very edge of the waters on a foundation of what looked to be hand-laid boulders and rocks a good 3-4 feet off the ground. Its smooth wood sided didn’t boast chinked logs or siding but perhaps were pine boards or some such configuration.

Little and big windows graced its frame each had a wood flower box trailing ivy and frosted in snow. A rock chimney made it look quite smart and homey and it really was pleasant on the eyes. But then almost all of the dwellings of the minuscule village of “Red Cliff” were appealing.

Arriving in Red Cliff we ambled over to the only place in town where you can get a decent meal after parking our car amid a host of snow mobiles and old trucks that looked like they were on their last leg. Well, actually the only place in town to get a meal, period.

“Mango’s Restaurant” was an admirable place rising 4 stories of solid brick having to be rebuilt some years back due to a fire. The town only having a population of 289 people there is basically only a liquor store, a small house dubbed the Post Office, and Mango’s.

Being the only watering hole in the area it has gathered quite a rapport with the locals as well as with people from all over the state for its famous fish tacos and unbeatable friendly atmosphere. Snow-pants, snowboards, and skis lined the walls as though wall-paper inside.

They lived up to their reputation and we scarffed down our tacos with relish and enjoyed our beer and sodas. It was a great place for everyone to come and get in out of the cold, talk, play pool, and watch some sports.

Unlike most bar/restaurants Mango’s is the only source of news, food, and community for the town so people of all ages mingle from tikes to old-timers. With our throats warmed, our bellies full, and having entertained good company we piled back into our Ford and started back the way we came. Medved stuffed with hamburger fell asleep in my lap and Myska happily hummed her way home.

I look forward to my next Saturday morning in Vail and what Colorado might hold over that bridge.


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