Holbrook: Am I a strong mountain woman yet? (column)

Christina Holbrook
Lark Ascending

“Good for you ur a strong Mountain Woman now!” my boyfriend texts me after I report that, unlike the last time I had my blood drawn for a physical, I did not get light-headed and begin to lose consciousness. Which, a year ago, was explained by the fact that I had recently moved to Breckenridge from Florida and was still adapting to the high altitude, effects of dehydration and was possibly just a wimp.

Two other recent milestones: Last week, I skied out onto the top of Intuition, an easier black at the top of Peak 6. I was rigid, scared but determined. Halfway down, I stopped, challenging myself to pause and look around me. And for the first time since I moved to Summit a year-and-a-half ago, I could scan that awesome view without vertigo without fearing that if I fell I would somehow be launched into the stratosphere and disappear into space.

And third: I now know how to pronounce “Ullr.” As in “Ullr Festival.”

Two years ago, I was living in West Palm Beach, Florida with my large Labrador retriever, Luke. I had a ski trip planned to visit my aunt who lives in Vail. Or at least that was my cover. The other reason I was considering leaving balmy South Florida in January for the snowy, intimidating peaks of Colorado was to see an old high school friend, now living in Summit County. We’d been swapping Facebook messages, cautiously getting to know each other again. “When are you coming to Colorado?” he had finally asked.

As it turned out, very little of that ski trip was spent with my aunt in Vail; most of it was spent on the slopes in Breckenridge, Keystone, A-Basin with my high school friend Alan. After that trip, we began dating long-distance, and, nine months later, we concluded that I should move to Breckenridge. The decision was not without nervousness on both sides and some last-minute anxious interchanges:

Alan: A friend of mine asked me if I was concerned at all that you’d been divorced three times.

Me, huffy: Well a friend of mine asked me if I was concerned at all that you’d never been married. And — I’ve only been divorced TWO times.

After a short, tense, silence Alan smiles and takes my hand: I guess we could just say that you’ve just been an over-achiever in love, and I’ve been an under-achiever.

So in September of 2014, I packed up a rental car with a couple suitcases, some household items and a very excited Luke. We began the journey West.

There was plenty of time to think about things during that long drive. I was leaving a wonderful group of friends in South Florida. But certainly, I’d be able to make new friends in Colorado, I reasoned. I’d miss my family, all of whom now lived in Florida, but we’d visit, of course we would, and often. For work, I had been teaching yoga and writing, though my main source of income was through a start-up venture in Palm Beach. Before leaving Florida, I had convinced my partner (or so I thought) that we could absolutely continue to work together remotely. Easy. And Plan B: If for some reason things didn’t work out, how hard could it be to find a job in Summit County?

In St. Louis, the Gateway to the West, Alan was waiting for us; we’d planned to drive the second half of the journey together. By now, my thoughts had taken a darker turn. What if I couldn’t make friends? What if work fell apart? I was missing my family already!

I could envision myself sitting alone with Luke in Alan’s house, with no friends, no work, nothing to do, freaking out. There I would be, in my out-of-place Florida wardrobe — my sweatshirt with the lace trim, the long pink fringed scarf, my Dolce Gabbana jeans with the faux patches, my gold metallic pointy flats — peering out the back window at big, ominous Peak One bearing down on me cold and disapproving. As we drove through the endless cornfields of Kansas, far from palm trees, bougainvillea and gentle tropical breezes, I erupted with anxiety: “I can’t help thinking of all of the pioneers who decided to ‘Go West!’, to leave everything behind! They didn’t know WHAT would happen to them! They didn’t know if they would DIE!”

Silence while Alan, driving, considered what this could possibly mean. Then he turned to me, very kindly: “Is that what you think is going to happen to you?”

We both burst out laughing, with me partly in tears.

Luke slept through most of the journey. When we pulled off of I-70 at the Frisco exit, however, he jumped up, whining and wiggling and jamming his nose out the open crack in the window. I thumped his big furry back, feeling excited and hopeful now, “Here we are!” We turned up Gold Hill. Arriving at the house, at the very top of the hill, we looked out over Lake Dillon. A rainbow had appeared. No kidding.

“Welcome home,” Alan said and hugged me.

The regal Ten Mile Range rises up behind the house, and out in front is a sweeping view of the lake. As I paused for a moment to take it all in, a piece of music came to mind, one that I have always loved: “Lark Ascending” by the early 20th century British composer Ralph Vaughn Williams. It is, perhaps, a little overly dramatic. As I sometimes am. But it is also sweeping and beautiful like this mountain place and soaring. I took a deep breath: Yes, I am ready to begin a new life. And I want to soar.

Christina Holbrook lives in Breckenridge. One day, she hopes to be a “local.”

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