Sunday: Twenty minutes into the ride I realize that my face hurts—it’s wrenched somewhere between a death-mask and a grin. Sabrina is not someone I (or you, most likely) could ever hang with; up here she is quickly reduced to a blue blur in the aspens and then a speck on the horizon where the Forest Service washboard meets the sky. Regardless, I am having an excellent time. There are flowers I don’t know and the world is bright and balmy.
Later, in town, I lie on the grass drinking a milkshake while watching people run the Ironman. Heh.
Monday: Among my more drastic and less frequently used tactics for subduing fear is to attempt something scarier than my actual goal in order to make it feel easy by comparison. I decide to apply this method to my mortal terror of outdoor leads by attempting an easy free-solo of the second Flatiron. Sure, right?
To be clear, this is kid stuff (literally—note all the photos of happy toddlers). But I’m quickly off-route, and the easy bail option is not easy enough: in sight of the top, I yield to my commitment issues and downclimb—all the more absurd because doing so is almost certainly more dangerous than finishing. Alas, there are known knowns, and I will always prefer them when 500 feet off the ground.
Tuesday: By contrast, my relationship with the sport of mountain biking has matured—which is to say that I no longer feel any obligation to try. This is especially true at resorts. Gone is the lift-pass guilt, the pangs of impostor syndrome that accompanied a big-bike rental, and the self-consciousness of plastering myself in armor just to ride my brakes down green runs. I know what I can shred and what will shred me and these days I’m pretty much fine with leaving those categories as they are. I paid my money and I’m here to have fun. And I do, bro, I do.
Thursday: On the bus I meet an Australian who relocated to Boulder to join a startup. They’re developing some sort of kitchen appliance for growing fish. (“It’s very modular,” he explains. “Like, you have the option to add a tomato vine.”) In retrospect, this is the first indication that I may not have actually left San Francisco.
Friday: Lisette and I became friends at a collegiate mountain bike race in which I tried to sit on her wheel and she tried to push me off a cliff. These days she attends parasitology conferences, most recently in New Orleans, where she received a flask engraved with the image of a hookworm wearing Mardi Gras beads. This to me is very glamorous.
She escorts me to the forest (ROOSEVELT National Forest!) for my first-ever view of the Continental Divide. The sight of the white-gold glow behind the rim of a still snowy cirque has me in big-dork tears that I attribute equally to oxygen deprivation, rapture, and dismay at the realization that it’s physically impossible for me to ever reach such heights without months of expensive acclimatization in a mountain town.
But I have to admit I would not chose Boulder proper. It’s one thing that the air is thin, another that it lacks atmosphere.
Saturday: Eric is living the dream so hard I’m initially concerned it may be difficult not to hate him for it. But Boulder has made him a generous rope-gun: he runs me up an El Dorado Canyon arrete that combines slackjaw exposure with reassuring rock in a way I didn’t think was possible. It’s a glimmer of hope that my consistently miserable attempts to convert this activity into Type I fun might not be totally futile. Dare to dream?
We go back into town to eat nachos and wait out the heat, then start the first Flatiron at dusk. That ending a day like this is feasible—the casual undertaking of six pitches?—blows my little flatlander mind, as does the view from the rappel: summit silhouettes and a big moon, distant Denver rising from the wide, dim plains like Oz.