Carnes: Another hole in Happy Valley’s heart
Date: June 1987.
Location: Deluge Lake (accessed from far East Vail)
Purpose: Making the life-changing decision to become self-employed or stay in mid-management behind the front desk of a hotel.
I had made the trek alone, but was joined by my trusty husky, Chico, and each challenging step to the lake was a mental burden as 26-year-old me fretted over the choice of risk versus security.
Our first-born was just 6 weeks old, and an opportunity to buy the video store in West Vail had presented itself, my mind weighing the pros and cons of what at the time was the most monumental decision of my young life.
Almost four hours I trudged, the last hour post holing through knee-high snow, each step taking longer than a dozen on normal trails. Not another soul had I seen the entire day, just a boy and his dog (OK, a naïve 20-something barely three years in Happy Valley), wrestling with becoming a real adult, with a real wife and child to boot.
My plan was to pitch the tent, make a fire, share a package of hot dogs with Chico, and contemplate life while enjoying the solitude of a still partially frozen and beautiful alpine lake.
Should I take the entrepreneurial plunge or strive to climb the Westin corporate ladder?
And then I began hearing voices.
Not the kind in your head, with a pretend angel on one side and pretend devil on the other telling you what to do or not to do, but real ones, vocalized by real people.
There were three of them, appeared to be a father and two sons (if my visual stereotypes were correct), and were hiking much faster than I had been the previous hour or so.
This was because they were not attempting to follow the spotty snow-covered trail of my journey, but were on higher ground, trekking along the protruding rocks bereft of snow and mud.
Damn, why didn’t I see that?
“Hello!” shouted the father upon seeing me, and they came down from the rocks to join my little protruding section of flat grass, the only spot I could find to pitch a tent.
“I’m Dave,” he said while reaching for a handshake, “and these are two of my boys (I can’t remember which two). You up here by yourself?”
I recognized the face, and of course knew the store, but had never met the man, and immediately felt like an idiot for being up there all alone, providing fodder as yet another neophyte camper (from Texas no less) pretending to be Jeremiah Johnson with a package of Oscar Meyer wieners.
Feeling as if my own father had suddenly showed up out of nowhere, I provided a brief recap of my personal situation, and was rewarded with advice that helped forge my life for at least the next decade.
“Do it,” he said, without knowing any more details than what I had supplied. “You’re about the same age when Renie and I took the plunge and moved to Vail to open a ski shop. If you don’t do it, you’ll always wonder what would have happened if you did.”
And that was about it. They were hiking back down as opposed to spending the night, as they were much more experienced about June nights at 12,000 feet than this rookie.
Three decades later, at a Vail Mountain School event, I had the pleasure of telling him the story, and Dave Gorsuch was gracious enough to at least act as if he remembered the moment.
I know I’ll never forget it.
Although our universe keeps expanding, sadly, the Vail Valley gets just a little bit smaller with each passing of the old guard.
Richard Carnes, of Avon, writes weekly. He can be reached at email@example.com.