Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Rocky Mountain High, Colorado

In 1994, my friend Eric had planned to do high-altitude snow hiking and tenting with a group he had recently found.  He asked if when his week of trekking was over, I might join him for some skiing in the town of Telluride, Colorado.  We would stay at a hotel and just enjoy the few days.  I said, "yes."

As the trip arrived, I packed my skis and polls into a black flight bag and left my little Manhattan Beach apartment.  I had a trick at the time for parking at LAX.  I would drive to a neighborhood in El Segundo, park my car, and then take a taxi for five dollars to the airport.  None of the taxi drivers were very crazy about this scheme of mine, especially on the return trip when these drivers had waited quite a long time in the airport taxi pool to find that their customer was going 2.1 miles.  But rest assured, I tipped them all well at the time.

I flew from LAX to Denver, and then took a small prop plane to a local airport outside of Telluride.  I remember stepping out of the plane and into a diorama of snow covered mountains and feeling very cosmopolitan. 

The road to the hotel was not short, but it was enjoyable.  I decompressed from my big-city life during that ride.  As I arrived at the hotel before Eric, I noticed kids on the ice-covered asphalt hanging onto car bumpers as they drove by, allowing them to sneaker-skate down the road.  It was something I hadn’t seen before.  “I’ll be they do this a lot in the Mid-West too,” I said to myself.

I checked into the hotel and was given a key to a room that was on the second floor, and whose corridors were on the outside facing the street.  As I unpacked my bags, Eric arrived looking tired and a bit on edge.  I asked him how his week had gone, and he said that it was very exhausting.  Eric had always had a plan in his mind at that time to become a mountaineer and ice-climber.  So he did a few of these trips where he could feel like he battled the elements.  My idea of a vacation has always involved a hotel in some form.

No sooner did Eric settle in than he started looking truly bad and uncomfortable, and he reported feeling light-headed, and then nauseous.  He became panicked that something was really wrong with him.  I thought he was just overtired.

After a time and his insistence in finding a doctor via the hotel room yellow pages, we walked to the local medical building just three blocks over, where somehow on a Sunday night at 6:30pm, there was a doctor there.  She was just finishing up and was able to take Eric in after a bit of waiting.

Eric had to sit atop a gurney while I sat in a chair.  It was a strange set up.  I recall that he kept making these short, downward sigh type sounds, and I felt for him because he was so anxious.

As it turned out, the doctor deduced that Eric had descended too quickly off of the mountain that afternoon for being somewhat dehydrated throughout his excursion; this group he was with had been ice-camping at some very high altitudes.  But in addition, Eric thought he might have had a reaction to having eaten out of aluminum pots and pans for a week.  I came to the conclusion that it was probably all of these things along my overtired theory, mixed some anxiety he had had about something over the past few days; I never figured out what it was all about. 

The remainder of our trip went well though, I am happy to report.  Eric became more relaxed and regained his normal sporting and humorful demeanor.  Together we skied on some of the most beautiful country I have ever been in.  I recall looking down one slope onto the little town of Telluride below and feeling that I was in any number of storybooks.  It was a very enjoyable few days. 

On the afternoon of our departure, Eric and I went to the airport together, but were on different flights.  Eric was living in San Francisco at the time, and his flight would leave about an hour later than mine.  He planned to do some reading in the tiny airport waiting area.   And so as my plane was ready to board, I shook Eric’s hand goodbye with a bit of melancholy as we did after all of our mini-adventures, and I boarded my aircraft.

As the light propeller plane gained speed, and then altitude, I watched the snow-packed, tree speckled mountains drop away as I sailed into the sapphire blue Colorado sky.