This and the one below it may be my favorite photos of my wife. The first is near a lake up in the Collegiate Peaks near Buena Vista, Colorado. The second is at a little Italian bistro in downtown Denver. Of course, there a few other favorites I’ve taken, but I’ll keep those to myself.
I think it’s near impossible to take a bad photo of her. Then again she says she looks terrible in every picture, and as usual I shake my head and tell her to just accept the compliment. It’s a regular feud.
But it’s not how she looks in these photos that draws me in.
It’s where she is.
Not on the map. Geography is just a small part of it. I’m talking about her mental state. In fourteen years these photos are the first I can remember taking of her where she is clearly and completely relaxed. How can I be so sure? Because this was the first extended trip we took alone in fourteen years.
In these photos she is a refined version of the careless girl I married. The one that would tell me on Thursday afternoon that she wanted to go away for the weekend. The one I regularly dated. The sassy girl with a great sense of humor that I woke up with late on Saturday morning. We watched movies without ever having to “run it back, I didn’t hear it over the screaming/crying kid” or “pause it, he’s got a crappy diaper” or “I can’t hear it, they’re fighting again!” The woman I knew before she became a freakin’ superhero ass-kickin’ mom.
That calm, though. That peace. It’s written all over her face. And both times I saw it I snatched up my phone to capture it.
In these photos no one is asking her to make them a drink or a sandwich or to wipe their butt. No one is texting her to please bring their forgotten band instrument to the school. No one is needing a diaper change. There are no teens or tweens throwing a temper tantrum telling her that she’s mean or that she’s a horrible mother. There is no two-year-old running naked from her and hiding under the table when she’s already running late.
In these photos, she doesn’t have to be at different schools at 2:45, then at 4:10, and then again at 6:00 p.m., to pick up kids. She’s not cleaning the kitchen or picking up toys or taking out the dog or unclogging a toilet or making lunches or yelling up the stairs for the over-sleepers to get out of bed. She’s not making dinner. There are no sharp little nails digging into her leg or arm to the relentless cries of “mommy”.
She is at peace. Let me tell you how she got there. Because I’ll bet that your wife or husband (or partner or domestic goddess) could use it, too. So while I’m talking about my wife, you feel free to insert whatever pronoun works for your situation.
Help Her Take the Leap
We left for Buena Vista, Colorado early on a Wednesday. The first leg was our 6:05 a.m. departure to Denver. It was the first flight (and long trip) we had taken together in the past fourteen years of raising children. Between devoted grandparents, awesome neighbors, and a slew of activities, I knew the kids would be well cared for and busy. But I also knew that Mama would be worried. We were off to backpack and fly fish and detox from the plugged-in world surrounding us. Into the San Isabel Forest and wilderness we would trek.
My usual buddies were unavailable for this particular early fall trip, so I had decided to go alone. Faith had hinted around about coming with me, but I didn’t expect that to ever become a reality. I indulged her anyway and invited her to come. To my surprise, about a week later she walked up to me and showed me her phone. Her flight to Denver was booked. She looked at me waiting for my reaction. It was divided. I was immediately excited that my wife would finally be doing something that I enjoyed with me (backpacking was “my thing” until this trip). I was excited that I would be in the wilderness with a beautiful woman rather than another smelly guy. Even more, I was excited that on those cold alpine nights I would be in warm tent with said beautiful woman. Score.
Yet I was immediately concerned about her desire to rough it for a few days without cell service, a real bed, real food, a bathroom, and with the dangers of the weather, the mountains, and the wildlife lurking all around her. Her physical ability didn’t concern me. She’s athletic and a regular Crossfitter. She can probably deadlift and squat more than the average dude. She’s delivered 5 kids naturally. She endured the trials and troubles of starting a family in the midst of being broke from my time in law school. She can thrift shop all damn day. All told, she’s a pretty tough chick. Don’t mess with her family or her kids. She will choke you out.
But I knew those concerns were my problems, not hers. So I put on my best smile and praised her for taking the leap, for doing something she had never done. Almost without a single hesitation.
Provide the Tools
In the weeks leading up to the trip, we purchased her gear and outfitted her for the mountains. Any good man will tell you that he always enjoys seeing his wife and children smile when they are protected, happy, content, fed. But seeing her light up when she got her first backpack, her first trekking poles, her first Marmot bag – that made me crazy happy for her.
She trained harder, did more cardio, tried to prepare herself for the climbs with 35 pounds on her back at elevations of 11,000 feet or more. She spent hours making sure she had all her necessities packed. Her curiosity about how we would get water or how we would eat or how we would be protected from “the bears” was not only cute, it was fun. Because she was finally doing something for herself. Something that gave her a new excitement, a new lease on her life.
I had been paying attention to her. She was about to turn 40. She had our fifth baby at at 37. It was a tough recovery. But she did it. And in the last several months as she approached 40, she began talking about moving to the “next phase”. The baby would be going to Mother’s Day Out. The older kids would be getting rides with other people, spending the night more often with friends. She wouldn’t be at their schools so much. She would be working in the office with me. Back to regularly getting her hair and nails done. Working out, getting fit, getting herself back.
This trip was the precipice she had to cross to make the independence real. To show herself she was ready to go 48 hours in the wilderness without knowing if all of her babies were safe and sound and without Facebook or wine. It was a huge step for her.
Take the First Steps
We arrived in Buena Vista early Wednesday afternoon. We grabbed some last minute supplies, drank the last decent cup of coffee we’d have for a while, and a split a panini sandwich. We made a stop at Ark Anglers Fly Shop (www.arkanglers.com) where I also bought my first fly rod/reel, some flies, the Curtis Creek Manifesto fly fishing primer (it’s a fly fishing manual in a comic book format by Sheridan Anderson) and some basic fly-fishing tools. When we finally made it to the trailhead she was rushing me to get started. Although apprehension over not being able to check on the kids lurked beneath her smile, her excitement over stepping out in the wilderness for an overnight trip was contagious. We made our last minute preparations and checks, locked the car, cinched up our packs, and started up the trail.
A very nice clerk at REI in San Antonio had told me that Buena Vista was the doorstep to the playground of the Rockies. He wasn’t kidding. And the guys at Arkanglers were very informative about the Denny Creek Trail. They weren’t kidding, either. This is God’s Country. Moving through a mountain forest moves you in a way you can only understand once you’ve done it. No matter what you have going on back home, the sweet smell of the forest and the brisk mountain air cleanse it all away. It was mid-September so the aspens were changing colors throughout the mountains in varying shades of yellow, orange and red.
The first mile was pleasant. Photos and smiles, deep breaths of fresh air, laughter. We were each taken by Denny Creek’s beauty as the cold, clear snow melt roared down from the Collegiate Peaks. The afternoon sun filtered warm sunlight on our faces through the pines and aspens. A handful of stream crossings on shaky logs tested her nerves. The first of many inclines stole our wind, our breathing becoming uneven and haggard.
And then, after the first mile of a rapid 800 feet climb, Faith started to feel the strain. Out of nowhere she was crashing alarmingly fast and had to stop every 50 yards or so. I watched her close. I kept trying to motivate her, encouraging her, telling her she could do this, that it would get easier. But after a little over 2 miles of solid climbing it was cold and getting late. We had lost cell service on the drive up to the trailhead from Buena Vista so she was already feeling isolated, while at the same time getting her butt kicked. You realize how big and lonely the world can be when you are miles from help, electricity, a phone. Especially when the sun starts going down. It’s true darkness. Strange sounds. Cold. I love it. She quickly told me that she hated it.
I encouraged her and said that my very first backpack had started similarly. It’s hard to carry all that weight the first time at a high altitude. I had attempted to prepare her for the reality that the rewards of backpacking are only realized through hard work. Everything from making miles to cooking food to drinking water to sleeping is much harder than at home. But the peace and solitude and connection with nature are worth every bit of it.
“Let’s get to the lake, it’s only another mile-and-a-half. You may be miserable right now, but next week when we’re back in the grind you’ll wish you were here.”
“I wish I knew my babies were okay. I don’t feel right. I can’t breathe. I didn’t expect it to be so hard.” Truth be told, I didn’t expect her to have such a hard time, either. But there was a good reason.
Later we would discover she had experienced altitude sickness. It made that first day miserable for her. On it went for a few more hours. Finally at about 6 p.m., the big Collegiates to the west started to blot out the sun. Shadows were getting long and colder and she said she couldn’t go anymore. I repeated that we should really try to get to the lake if we can, but she said she was done. Realizing we had a flat spot on high ground near a stream, I told her we had to camp close to where we stood. We found the last bit of sunlight we could and set up camp.
From What Does She Need to be Rescued?
In my marriage, my wife needed to be rescued from a life of domestic oppression. She chose long ago to be a stay-at-home-mom and she has loved every bit of it. But we both sensed in the last year it was time to start moving on from that. You can look at it generally or abstractly. But it’s not until you take one thing that she is forced to deal with day in, day out, that you can really see how hard she is working. Because you realize that the “one thing” upon which you are focusing is only one of MANY things a mom has to do.
For this post I’ll focus on laundry.
At some point during our marriage, Laundry forced a coup. The rebellion battled down the stairs, invaded the bathrooms, fought up from under furniture. It eventually infiltrated three separate bins in the laundry room, each piled at least three feet high. It occupied four other baskets that moved positions about the house weekly. Once I was a devoted soldier in the war against Laundry. But my “commanding officer” told me I was causing more harm than good and I was unceremoniously demoted.
As a result Faith often stands at the washer, sorting colors, sorting garments that can be heat dried, those that must be hung up to dry, those that must be washed by hand, those that must be washed alone, and those mysterious garments that I’m starting to believe aren’t allowed to be washed or dried at all (I believe these items simply come into the laundry room and hang out a bit; it’s intriguing).
I always offer to help. I really do.
If you touch any of the clothes once they’ve entered the washroom, Faith will appear. She will stare into you with her blazing, giant blue orbs. She will slowly hold up the garment and ask: “Did you wash this?”
You better answer “no.” Even if you did it. Just. Say. No.
And if you commit the unforgivable sin of drying something that must be hang dried, move on son. You are beyond redemption. Go and live the remainder of your pitiful days in shame.
Of course she can’t get it all done alone. I try to help by at least washing my sweaty workout clothes and my jeans and t-shirts, etc. You know, the stuff she doesn’t care about? I try to help her with sweeping and mopping and dishes and kids. Running a law practice steals most of my time so when I’m home I want to pour into my kids. And my dog. And working out. And hunting. And fly-fishing. And playing bass. And writing. And podcasting. And…sorry, I digress. But I honestly try to help and to enlist the children.
So at the end of the day there’s always a mountain of laundry to be done. Maybe it’s all out of the washing machine and dryer, but it’ll be pouring out of baskets in the living room, on the kitchen table, or on the bedroom floor. Five kids. Two parents. Laundry is an intimidating foe.
Like so many other moms, Laundry is not her only enemy. She fights multiple battles in multiple wars against multiple enemies. Driving. Cleaning. Cooking. Working out. Keeping everyone dressed. Makeup, beds, dishes, floors, decorations, parties, birthdays, and on and on. But Laundry is the one she vocalizes the most because it takes up space. If it’s not done it can choke a large family household.
But you’d never know from the photos at the top of this post that the war against Laundry was still raging, would you? In both of the photos, nothing, not even Laundry, is pulling from her, tearing her down, causing her to doubt herself as a wife. As a mother. As a human. She is completely content.
Sitting by that lake, relaxing in front of that bistro, she is enough.
And when I look at those photos, I wonder: “How on earth do I replicate this state for her back in the real world? Is it even possible?”
On that first night on the mountain she was cold. She was hungry. She missed the children. She felt like crap. At that point she wanted OFF the mountain.
After we set up the tent, I boiled water, watched the light fade, felt the mid-September Rocky Mountain chill setting in. She came and sat next to me on a log some previous campers had laid next to a rock fire ring. Through tears she forced tired, pained words.
“What if we wake up tomorrow, hike to the lake, you can fish for a while, and then we go back down to the car? We can spend an extra night in Golden or somewhere. Can we do that?” I took a moment to consider my response. She didn’t know what I knew because she had never done this before.
Use Life Experiences to Focus on Wisdom and Patience in Your Marriage
My job as a family law attorney is stressful. Managing brokenness makes up the bulk of what I do. Broken homes, broken children, broken hearts, broken dreams. And when you run your own business, save for your own retirement, pay your own taxes, and provide for 6 other people, finances are tough nuts to crack each and every day. Add in the stress of the brokenness and turning 40…you get the point. For a while I freaked out a bit, but I managed to stay on the north side of providence. While our marriage took a hit, we made it. And I learned what NOT to do as a result: Ignore myself, or worse, ignore my marriage or my wife’s needs.
And I knew that for me to be healthy and be any kind of a man for her and our kids, I needed this time. I know that I need it every 4-6 months. On this trip we would be without kids for four days. And for two of those days we would be completely cut off from society. Have you ever done that? Really? No help without walking rough terrain for a minimum of a day or two back to civilization? It’s incredibly empowering.
I knew she needed to learn how it felt.
That there would be no rescue without getting help on foot because there’s no cell service. It makes you more careful about what you’re doing and more appreciative of life in general. When you know a sprained ankle would mean agony for miles you watch your step closer. You make sure you filter or boil the water you’re drinking so you don’t get giardiasis or some other illness, because puking and crapping all over yourself is bad enough when you have access to a bathroom, much less when you’re in the middle of nowhere.
I thrive here. I love this solitude and risk. It feeds my soul. Recharges me. I wanted to see if it would also recharge her. Recharge our marriage. We would be alone and counting completely on each other. I showed her how to use our tools: the mini-stove, setting up the tent; filtering water; cooking the freeze-dried food; putting anything with a scent on it in the bear vaults; placing the bear vaults a long way off from the tent; eating far away from the tent; not sleeping in clothes you ate in, etc. I wanted to show her she could do this.
No one would be interrupting our conversations. We would have lots of down-time. Once the sun goes down behind the mountains, it’s not safe to move around in the dark. So we would have hours with nothing to do in the tent except talk, sleep and, well, maybe talk some more. We needed this time. I could not let it end like this.
Loving Her When She’s Down Does Not Always Mean Giving In
She sat on the log watching me prepare dinner, waiting for my answer. I paused my work and looked at her.
“I’m not going down this mountain tomorrow, Faith. I didn’t fly 900 miles and drive another three hours to stay out here one night. My original plan was to stay out here three nights. When you decided to come, I knocked that back to two nights because this was your first backpack. We’re hiking to that lake tomorrow, we’re setting up camp, fishing, hanging out, whatever. And then we’re staying the night. We’ll go down the mountain Friday. I know you can do this. And I know when we’re done you’ll be forever grateful that you did it.”
That made her lose it for a bit. I was clearly coming across obtuse, which made me feel terrible. It was the last thing I wanted. This was supposed to help her, not upset her! But I knew she had so much more left in the tank. She had been pregnant and given birth five times. She had lost close family members. She had run a half-marathon 5 months after having a baby. Floodwaters had forced her to leave a home. She had lived life with very little money. She had spent multiple nights in the NICU with two of our babies. She could do this. She just needed out of her head.
I knew she’d break down a barrier if she stuck this out. If she spent that other night on the mountain she would come down on Friday a different woman. We argued over it longer. I dug my heels in deep. We made eye contact and I held a firm gaze, made it clear that we would not be getting off the trail until Friday morning. I knew she was only looking at the “right now”.
I had been there before and I had made some pretty major decisions out of fear. Out of a belief that my “right now” would be my forever. Refusing to let that horse throw her, I encouraged her to eat. She took one bite of her lasagna from a bag and grimaced. And cried some more. I offered to trade my food for hers. She tried mine and spit it out. Said she wasn’t hungry anyway.
We had to wash everything up and store the bear vaults away from camp. While she was getting the sleeping mats and bags ready in the tent, I walked over to the creek to wash dishes. She didn’t like me being out of her sight and began calling for me. I then truly realized just how shook up she was. She felt scared and inadequate in these big mountains and it was getting dark. I softened up, hugged her tight, and we got into the tent and bedded down for the night.
Help Her Find the Diamonds in the Rough Sky
Sleeping in a bag designed for cold weather is very different from how you normally sleep. Marmot bags are designed to zip all the way up over your head. Then you tighten the draw string and voila! Your breath creates a heater and the bag fills with 98.6 degrees. That night the outdoor temp got below freezing (there was ice on the bear vaults when I retrieved them the next morning). Faith has a bit of claustrophobia and refused to sleep with her head inside the bag. So while I was warm, she was freezing. I popped out of my bag and snuggled up next to her with my arms around her.
Even though you have a ground mat under your sleeping bag (you unfold it and blow it up the old fashioned way), it’s definitely not the comfie mattress in your bedroom. You toss and turn. If you sleep on your side, your shoulder starts to hurt. So you flip to your back. Your pillow is small (it has to fit in your pack). Once it’s blown up, it’s not very big. So when you sleep on your back, your neck starts to hurt. When that pain wakes you, you either flip to the other side or your stomach. And you repeat the whole process all through the night. The ground mats are made from a blend of plastic, rubber and vinyl, so they make a lot of noise when you toss and turn. You wake each other up almost every hour. Backpacking: Don’t count on a lot of sleep until the second or third night when you’re REALLY tired and nothing bothers you any more.
At midnight she had to pee.
No one is ever excited to get out into the freezing scary dark wilderness to pee. But she finally got up. I switched on a headlamp for her and helped her unzip the door. She went out and was afraid to go far from the tent. Once her business was done she started coming back and suddenly paused, gasping.
“What?” I was startled. Animal? I wondered.
“The stars, Bobby. You have to see this. Oh my God.”
I fumbled in the netting for my glasses. We were blessed with a fingernail moon that night. When I looked up my breath left me. It had been almost a full year since I had seen the stars under a high altitude sky.
All of them. That’s what it seems like.
It’s like you can see all of the stars in the big-ass universe and they are right there. We marveled at the sight. She whispered a soft awe-tinged wow. For the first time in several hours I heard a smile in her voice. We stared for a few minutes and then bedded back down, seeking warmth from each other.
That was the first piece of the puzzle. A reward. She had seen her first dark night stars out in the wilderness at elevation, camped next to a snow-melt mountain stream. And it had taken her breath away. A little bit of that hard-shell coating of fear flaked off.
Show Her Each New Day Can be a New Adventure
When the sun rose Thursday it took some time for us to benefit from its warmth. We were camped on the west side of a peak. It makes for sun in the evening but cold shade in the morning. But once we started moving around and struck camp, enjoying a hot breakfast over weak instant coffee, spirits rose. We would be at the lake within an hour and there we would make camp for 24 hours. I again was reminded of the pleasures of a beautiful woman in camp; she laughed as she changed clothes in a see through tent. I enjoyed the view.
We filtered water from the churning cold stream and refilled our bottles and hydration systems. The positive turn in her attitude, especially when the sun finally touched our faces, lifted my spirits further. Onward we trekked.
There was another physically demanding climb of several hundred feet. The air was colder but the sunshine made it bearable. Golden and red quaking aspens, clear views of Mount Yale and Mount Harvard, and the welcome roar of the creek barreling through the canyon below us to our left created a hiker’s paradise. I didn’t fail to notice that unlike the climb the day before, Faith was smiling as she regulated her breathing. We met a day hiker on his way down. As we stepped aside to let him pass, we made some quick conversation.
“Did you come up this morning?” I asked.
“Yes. Beautiful day.”
“I guess we were sound asleep when you passed us.”
At high altitude talk is expensive. Down he went and up we rose. I waived off her concerns about some clouds building up to the southwest. Inside I was concerned, too, but there was no way I was going to let dark weather cloud her new day. And the trail from the top of the pass down to the lake was just as magnificent. We walked through a pine forest abundant with elk sign and snowmelt that sprang up, babbling across the trail.
At the point when the creek and the trail began to run parallel, the stream slowed and widened. Soon beaver dams entered our view, and then there was the lake. From the crook of two peaks it beckoned amidst the pines. We breathed in our first mountain lake experience together. A year earlier I had seen Truchas Lake high up in the Pecos Wilderness in New Mexico. I remembered wishing Faith could have been there to see it with me. Different lake, but an old wish granted.
Try to Keep The Fire Burning But Don’t Lose Sight of Why
She was still cold. After some exploring we chose a campsite and I decided to build a fire. The night before I had destroyed our only lighter trying to light wet tinder. It was matches next. They were all wet. I kept looking.
It was at this point I took the first photo of her sitting by the log. In my hunt for dry tinder I saw her and took the shot. I had to capture it. Not only for myself, but because I wanted to be able to show her what she looked like with no worries, no schedule, no cries, nothing. Just time. Precious time. Then I moved away and let her have it for as long as she wanted, thinking to myself “How do we repeat this at home?”
A group of 50-60s aged day-hikers making a quick stop at the lake loaned us some “strike anywhere” matches. Apparently “anywhere” is no where to be found in the San Isabel National Forest. Nothing would light. After an hour-and-a-half of using my knife and a striker, the fireworks show of sparks and burning coals would only catch our cotton and then burn out. We both searched high and low for dry tinder, we used an old towel when the cotton ran out, and I attempted to use as much Old Man’s Beard as I could find.
I am tenacious. When I decide I’m going to do something, I don’t quit until it’s done or I have utterly failed. Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” speech is hanging on the wall in my law office. And when it comes to taking care of my woman, for the last 23 years I have burned the midnight oil studying for law school exams, worked multiple jobs, taken care of babies so she could sleep, and multiple other things to make her happy, to provide for her, to keep her safe and warm and fed and cherished.
This fire was no different. She was cold and damnit, I was going to warm her up. My hands and face were black with soot from the striker and my back hurt from leaning over the embers trying to make anything burn. Like so many other times in our relationship, I became angry and agitated that I could not do this for her. In my mind I believed that if I didn’t get this fire started, she would stay cold and then she would not have the courage to face another cold night in the Rockies.
I wanted to stay and fly fish, sit by a fire with her and talk, just be with her. To me this fire was the ticket to crossing her over the brink of fear of the cold night. And I couldn’t make it happen. Like all those cold nights in our first little house where we had to choose between a gallon of milk or a gallon of gas, three babies in three different size diapers sleeping in their rooms. We had no money because law school only drains your finances and jobs are hard to keep when you’re devoting 60-70 hours a week to studying, writing/editing for the Law Journal, and clerking. Failing to start a conflagration had consumed me.
She intentionally engaged with me at hour three.
“Bobby, I want you to do what you came up here to do. We don’t need a fire. I want you to fish and enjoy yourself. You’ve tried enough. Let it go.”
So I did. I pulled out my fly rod and reel and the Curtis Creek Manifesto I bought in Buena Vista and began learning how to fly fish. And Faith was right there with me. She helped me string up the rod once I had it pieced together. Knot tying is a big part of fly fishing. The diagrams were a bit confusing, so together we figured it out. Within an hour I was fishing. Or something very, very remotely similar to it. I kept breaking the tippet until there was none left on my set up. I was losing flies. Then I started breaking the leader. But I was fly fishing for the first time in my life on a mountain lake in the Rocky Mountains miles from any type of civilization.
And my best friend, my partner, my love, my wife, was with me.
Weather the Storm With Her
An hour later ugly black clouds and ominous thunder rumbled over the mountains to the south. The wind picked up. If you’ve been in the Rockies for any period of time, you know that every afternoon you will most likely get rain. She asked if she should go set up the tent. I offered to go do it.
“No, you fish. I’ll do it. I want to do it.”
Thirty minutes later…”I don’t know what I’m doing!” came down the hill into my ears. The rain started to fall and then lightening cracked. That’s when I got worried. You don’t mess with lightening up in the mountains. People die every year from lightening strikes on the faces or peaks of mountains. Our tent was at 11,600 feet or so, and the peak was only about another 500 feet up above us. Lightening was a terrific and real threat.
I grabbed my fishing gear and hauled it up the trail to the camp. Despite her proclamation that she was clueless about how to do it, the tent was set up. Another victory for her! In a frenzy we took everything that needed to stay dry and then jumped into the tent. And then the downpour hit. The rain quickly turned into sleet. Lightening continued to strike in the area and the cracks were worrisome. We had checked our campsite to ensure we weren’t camped under any dead or rotting trees, but I knew that a badly-placed lightening bolt could send several thousand pounds of hard pine onto our tent. I prayed for safety and I know she was doing the same.
The lightening passed but the rain and sleet did not. It was about 4:30 p.m. There we were, snug and dry in a tent together, all alone, with nothing to do. Then the realization set in… We were alone out in the wilderness in the middle of a heavy storm. We had no kids to monitor/watch/feed/care for. No one around to hear anything.
We could do whatever the hell we wanted. And we did.
We wound up having the best afternoon we’ve had in a long, long time right there on the side of that mountain. We loved in every sense of the word, talked until there was nothing left to talk about, and slept a little.
The storm moved on and the sun came back out. We decided to go out, make dinner and then I would fish some more while she relaxed. It was a nice time. When the sun was lost behind the peak, back to the tent we went. It’s too dangerous to be out in the dark in a strange land where ankle sprains and broken limbs occur in the broad daylight. And there we were again, hours alone together in a warm, dry tent with the cold all around us.
We laughed and joked and reminisced. With no cell service, the only outside entertainment we could get was watching videos of our children. We watched every video we had on my phone. A mix of humor and bittersweet memories burned our noses and brimmed out of our eyes. Then the rain started again and did not stop for over three hours.
It was a hard, pelting rain. The concern that we would be drenched entered my mind. But to our delight, we stayed completely dry. (REI Half Dome tent with the rain fly is worth every penny – this is a personal testimony that you WILL stay dry in this tent during a torrential downpour if you are camped on high ground www.rei.com).
On and on it rained through the night. We eventually fell asleep.
I awoke hours later to a roar. Wind. High strong winds were sweeping down the mountains above us from the north, roaring through the pines. In April my brother and I had camped on the Northwest Rim in Big Bend National Park on an overnight backpack. Strong high winds forced us to cut a night off our trip – the wind was so strong and it was so cold that we simply could not stay out there. I was familiar with the sound. I listened to it for a while before I drifted back off to sleep. We were safe from it behind the pines that protected us on the south side of the mountain. I noticed it was getting colder so I cinched up my bag and self-heated with my breath. Ms. Claustrophobic refused to do that so she was cold another night while I was warm. She woke me up later with certain fear in her voice. She was crying.
“Bobby, do you hear that? It’s the creek! It’s high water! We aren’t going to be able to get down tomorrow! The creek crosses the trail and it’s sounds like it’s so high! I just want to be able to make sure our babies are okay.” I have to admit that it sounded like roaring water. But I already knew it was the wind from my previous experience.
“It’s not water, Sweetheart. It’s wind.”
“No it’s not! It’s water! Wind doesn’t sound like that”
“It’s the wind, Babe. Trust me.”
“I think it’s water. We’re not going to be able to get down.”
“We will be okay. Go back to sleep.” Eventually the exhaustion took us both back to sleep.
The next morning we awoke to high winds and snow dusting the Collegiates. Yes, it was cold. But the smile on her face when she saw the sun coming over the peaks to the east and seeing the lake and stream at normal levels warmed us both.
We struck camp in a big hurry and started back down the mountain, skipping breakfast. We only had to stop once halfway down for some water and a little food. A little over an hour of warm sunshine and beautiful forest later we were at the car. On the way down we passed an elderly man on his way up. He was headed to climb Mount Yale. Mount Yale was 3,000 feet at its peak above where we camped. Faith was so impressed that this man was heading up there. I think that was the icing on the cake for her. She had done it.
In two days of backpacking she had overcome years of self-doubt and fear. I was immensely proud. But more importantly, so was she.
Show Her that the Adventure Can Continue Every Day
Which leads me to the second photo of the first two photos above.
After getting off the mountain, we took an amazing drive to Breckenridge. We were flying by the seat of our pants. We had no idea if we were staying there for the night or just hanging for the day. After passing through town we wholeheartedly agreed we would be staying the night, closing the law practice, flying the kids up, and never, ever going anywhere else.
Breckenridge is an amazing ski town, but if you haven’t seen it in summer/fall glory, you haven’t seen it. It’s breathtaking. And the time Faith and I spent there was pretty breathtaking, too. I can’t remember the last time we had that much fun and laughed and loved so many times.
But all good things must come to an end. The next morning we drove back to Denver for a few last sights before we turned in the rental and boarded our plane. We walked from the REI flagship store (it’s in an old railroad building, totally amazing) to downtown Denver. We couldn’t believe how beautiful the river was running through town. Pedestrians and cyclists and skateboarders and runners were everywhere.
We found an open market and Faith bought some high mountain honey. We perused different things in the market before deciding to walk towards a food district. It was there we found the little bistro. And it is there I took the second photo. I couldn’t believe I got two in one trip.
But I did.
Find YOUR Wife/Husband/Partner’s Wilderness and Bring it Home
Hours later on the plane we sat in a new world. After 23 years of being together, 17 years of marriage and 5 kids, we had just done something for the very first time. We had learned to depend on each other in a new way. And Faith, for the first time in fourteen years, experienced complete and utter relaxation and peace.
In the wilderness. Peace may exist anywhere. It’s up to you to help your significant other find it and nurture it so that it doesn’t fade. Faith and I learned that this is not only possible, it’s beautiful. And messy. And worth it.
And just as I helped her through her first true wilderness experience, I know there will be a day coming soon where I will need her to help me negotiate the perils of being Husband-Dad-Lawyer-Businessman. I help her. She helps me. That’s how this whole marriage thing works. It was our fresh start. And I keep telling myself to go back and look at these photos.
To remember that peace and calm isn’t a place. It’s a state of mind. And just like it’s my responsibility to uphold my end of the marriage and my commitments to her, it’s my responsibility to do whatever I can within my power to help her find the peace and calm in her daily life.
I’m trying. To do more. To be more. And to help her kick ass.
Thanks for stopping in.
Read more of Bobby’s blog at www.mycauseofaction.com or listen to Bobby’s podcast (released weekly on Thursdays) on iTunes or on this blog at the bottom of the Cause of Action Podcast. Also, follow Bobby on Twitter @bobbyfalkenberg or Facebook.