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Mountains! You Call These Mountains? It was summer and there was nothing more I wanted to do than move to Colorado. I had just graduated from high school and poured through 200 letters and brochures from college recruiters. But, my mind was on Colorado and mountains. I didn’t want to go to college at all. Dad and I talked it over, and he made an acceptable offer. “Go to college for one year, then you’ll at least know what it’s like. If you still want Colorado, you can go with my blessings.” Except for disagreeing with me on the war and the length of my hair, Dad was a pretty cool guy. I finally applied to three schools. Harvard was the long shot, and I applied to State because my older sister went there. To be perfectly honest, I should mention that they had the best football team in the land—season tickets were available to students. Most State football fans might ponder my choice of Blue Rock College, but they had invited me into their Honors College. I was flattered enough by their offer to apply, but never seriously considered moving across country. Harvard never wrote back. Season tickets won out. I enrolled at State and made it through fall quarter, or football season as they call it around heres. I hated dorm life. It didn’t help that my good friend James and I had two nerdy roommates. Or that our dorm suite had a pair of bunk beds and closets crammed in one tiny room with four small desks for studying a second small room. We all shared a small bathroom with a sink and toilet. There was a communal shower that the rest of Drucker Tower’s second floor shared down the hall. After a miserable academic quarter at State, I said goodbye to the distractions of the Uptown bars and dorm life. I transferred to the local commuter college and lived with my parents. Once my freshman year was complete, and my deal with Dad was fulfilled, I planned to move to Denver with James, his older brother Buck, and Buck’s friend Matt in the fall. James and I spent the rest of the summer working at Landmark Seed Corn in nearby West Charleston. At the end edro

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of the summer I’d managed to save $275 for the move to the Colorado mountains. Looking back at the times, music heavily influenced my mountain lust. Members of dozens of famous rock bands lived in the mountains above Boulder. Tulagi’s Bar was legendary for hosting national acts like The Eaglesand The Flying Burrito Brothers early in their careers—and they had Boulder connections. I’d often heard a beautiful song about where I wanted to be: Hey Colorado It was not so long ago I left your mountains to try life on the road But I’m tired of that race It was much too fast a pace And I think I’ve found my place Colorado, I want to come home All the cool people were moving to the Colorado mountains. I had played guitar in bands since I was thirteen. I wanted to be like them and live in the mountains, too. After seed corn season was over James, Buck, Matt, and I met at the brother’s house in Walled Lake, Michigan to prepare for the drive to Colorado. We stayed a week before piling into Buck’s yellow Dodge Charger and Matt’s Plymouth Fury one morning and headed towards Colorado. Buck and Matt led the way in the Fury, while James and I followed in the Charger. We had walkie-talkies to communicate and from time to time we’d signal the other car to turn them on to decide where to stop to eat or get gas. Directions weren’t a problem; I-70 stretched straight across Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas and onto Colorado. Kansas stretched on forever. I made up my first (and last) joke ever during the monotonous Kansas segment of the trek and told it to James. “What do cows do for excitement in Kansas?” “I don’t know,” James replied. “They turn from east to west.” You really had to be there to get it. Nothing varied on the Kansas

All the cool people were moving to the Colorado mountains.

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prairie except for where the sun was in its path across the sky. We both thought it was funny in our Kansas-induced delirium. To be fair to Kansas, the skies at night were like nothing we saw back home. There were tens of thousands more stars that were bright and clear. James would excitedly point out shooting stars as they streamed across the horizon above the dull brown prairie hidden in darkness. Detroit to Denver was a 24-hour marathon. Kansas finally did end. We celebrated when we saw the welcome sign at the Kansas-Colorado border. Nothing changed. Same prairie. Same endless nothingness. Buck had scouted Colorado out for us a few months before. “Get Buck on the walkie-talkie,” James commanded. I obliged, equally concerned about the situation “Hey, Buck. We’ve got a problem. No mountains. Are we lost?” “Trust me guys. It gets better. You’ll see them in a little while.” We did trust Buck. Besides, he and Matt owned both the cars. But so far Colorado sucked. Buck was right; by the time we reached Limon we saw tiny gray bumps on the horizon. Not really what we expected, but nonetheless evidence that the mountains really did exist. “I could have stayed home and put a Coors poster on my wall if this is as good as it gets,” I told James. As we got closer to Denver, we saw patches of green mixed in the gray mountains. The Rocky Mountains got better, and taller, as we approached. But, when we pulled into James and Buck’s uncle’s house in suburban Denver, we still weren’t sure it was worth the trip. Dick and Florence Achey were good hosts and had agreed to let us stay for a couple of weeks while we hunted for jobs and an apartment. That first night we were too tired to drive the twenty miles to Boulder and get a closer look at the Rockies. When I went to bed that night, my anticipation was greater than any Christmas Eve. In the morning we would see real mountains. The giant gray slabs known as the Flatirons tower a thousand feet above Boulder creating a dramatic backdrop to the hip home of the University of Colorado. These were mountains! My senses overloaded as they tried to process the magnitude of the Rocky Mountains’ Front Range.

“Hey, Buck. We’ve got a problem. No mountains.”

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We stopped just briefly so James could buy a Colorado Buffaloes T-shirt and headed up Boulder Canyon on Highway 119 into the mountains. Boulder Canyon followed a winding, rushing creek; the steep gray rock walls were lined with the brilliant yellows and golds of fall aspens. The Rockies take on a new form when you enter them, twisting masses of gray rock that change shape at each new turn. The blue sky was framed high above by the tops of the canyon’s walls. We had all traveled with our parents as children. Buck and Jim had visited the Alps when their Dad was stationed in Germany as an Air Force pilot. When I was eight, Dad had taken the family on a grand Western vacation through Utah, Arizona, and California before turning back east to visit Yellowstone and the Dakota Black Hills. This was different. We were free to roam wherever we pleased. There was no itinerary beyond finding jobs and an apartment. We weren’t children anymore. It was if a switch was turned on somewhere inside our heads the moment we started up the Boulder Canyon road. This was the American West, the frontier. The yellow Charger was our flagship, the Santa Maria landing Columbus on the untamed shore. We were entering the wilderness where bears and mountain lions didn’t just exist on the living room TV screen. The closest parallel that comes to mind is when Dorothy, in the Wizard of Oz, lands in the Munchkin Land and her world turns from black and white to color. The world outside the Charger was more than some magical apparition. We knew we had to touch and feel the massive stone ground that lifted above us. Fortunately Buck found a small gravel pull-off about seven miles up the canyon and guided the Charger to a halt. A steep thin path snaked up into the sky not far from the road. We scrambled out of the car and rushed up the path. When I say path, this wasn’t some nearly level walking trail found in a mid-western state park. This was a steep climb where you had to grab onto the rocks above you and pull yourself up. We were spread out about ten feet apart with Buck and James in the lead, followed by me and then Matt. Five minutes into the climb James inadvertently kicked a heavy rock bigger than my head and it plummeted

This was the American West, the frontier. The yellow Charger was our flagship, the Santa Maria landing Columbus on the untamed shore.

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two feet over me. By the time it reached Matt it sailed within inches of his ear. “Goddammit, James! Watch what you’re doing. You almost killed me!” Matt was pissed and screaming, and so was I. That rock could have sent either of us a hundred feet down the steep mountain side. “I’m sorry,” James stuttered. “I’ve never climbed mountains before. I didn’t know what I was doing.” Matt was still mad and yelled at James a few more times. None of us knew what we were doing. None of us had climbed a mountain before. We climbed more carefully as we clawed our way up, eventually reaching the top of the canyon. There was a level clearing at the top. And we weren’t the first explorers up the steep trail. As a matter of fact, there was a picnic table and barbeque pit in the clearing. It didn’t matter. From where we stood we could see forever. Looking down we saw Denver and the plains stretching endlessly to the east. This was the land that drove Ansel Adams to take photographs. Below us was the America Lewis and Clark charted. It was beautiful, monumental. This was beyond rock ‘n roll. “Edro,” James whispered. “Yeah.” “You know that line, ‘purple mountains’ majesty, above the fruited plains?’” “Uh-huh.” “It’s real. It still exists. It’s no hoax.” We knew right then there were questions to be answered. Had traveling a thousand miles from our childhood homes been worth it? Would our hopes and dreams be fulfilled? There was a difference between where we stood and the flatlands far below. As we watched the rush-hour smog slowly drift away from Denver and over the plains, I knew one thing for certain. I wanted to be a mountain man. .

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Mountains! You Call These Mountains?