I’ll never forget that moment when I was standing at the kitchen sink, in a loveless marriage, with two toddlers and a newborn, thinking: the repetition is going to kill me. I’m not excited when I wake in the morning.
Actually, I’m scared.
I have no idea how to get us excited. Moreover, I feel like we're drowning in the mundane, only relying on platitudes and fractured normalcy.
Then, adversity moved us in the direction we needed.
A divorce pushed pushed the kids and I out and in to the world. This was the primer. The initial catalyst. Finally, our wheels starting turning. Finally. But, then: Covid. It deleted all our favorite museums and zoos and playgrounds. So, instead of staying inside for the winter, I decided we needed to get even more creative about how we spend our days. And this is what really turned our lives around. This is what created our whole new paradigm for living.
After my immersion out of necessity, I have a feel for it. Where I once did feel a fear, I don’t feel entirely lost about what to do or where to go on a daily basis. Even when we don't have a plan or some great adventure. Sometimes, we just get in the car with a vague idea and: go. We have lists. Big trips, small half-day excursions.
And mostly, we just have: Our gear. Our imagination. And: each other.
Plan or not, I usually center most adventures on just packing a good lunch, some fun snacks and just heading toward water in some form: a stream, a river, a waterfall, a lake, a pond - or just, somewhere we've never been.
Most of the time we do have a concrete plan. And a map. And a destination.
My best childhood friend is an avid adventurer, an adroit outdoorsman and a superb, lifelong fly fisherman. He and his brother were nearly, literally, born on Colorado waters.
We were talking one night and he told me about a little spot on Jackson Creek that he thought I could take the kids. He said there was a gorgeous little gorge at one point on the creek on Dakan Mountain.
Dakan is about 30 minutes from our front door.
You drive up it’s NE flank, straight up, hovering over Perry Park, looking east over Dawson’s Butte toward Kansas.
Then it get’s into 4x4 country. ATVs are everywhere. Roads have only room for a single car of passage. Steep drops.
Bulbous, decaying granite is everywhere. Some of the vistas are breathtaking.
So the kids and I went to where Daniel pointed us toward.
We tromped through the creek. Over the granite and into shallow pools filled with trout. Paths winding in and out of buckwheat. We ate lunch on the banks.
But we couldn’t find the gorge.
A mile in and we headed back.
A mile with three toddlers, one of them on my shoulders, can be a lot. Especially when you’re slowly, exquisitely exploring.
So we came back a second time. With my parents, on Father’s Day.
We ate lunch on the banks, slogged around in the creek. Got wet and dirty and left again without locating the gorge – so we could make it back for nap time.
Then, we really mounted up. The girlfriend agreed to go this time as I knew I was going to need much more help if we were going to make this happen.
I was now a bit obsessed. I’d looked at all the maps. Satellite. Google Earth.
I was ready. And what I knew was two things:
We’d have to trek a lot further than we previously had. It was a few miled in to the gorge. And there really wasn’t a trail.
Third Time’s a Charm?
We ate lunch on the banks again.
Then we mounted up. Bear rode on my shoulders.
This time we motored past all the pretty spots we’d previously explored.
Then we got to the unknown part I’d been imagining. The night before I was actually sweaty with fear that it may be too much. I promised myself and my girlfriend that, if got hairy at all, we’d turn back.
When we finally got to where we’d have scramble across the belly of the mountain: it wasn’t as bad as I’d remembered.
We were on skree. It was slippery.
We had to go up, then down. Up, then down.
With Bear on my shoulders, I would push ahead, trying to find the best path for the rest of our expedition to take.
Finally taking a gamble and going all the way back to the creek once the mountain began to incline too much for much more forward progress, and there it was: the gorge.
We had to take a rock slide down and in to it. There were little pools everywhere.
But we couldn’t really navigate it much. It was too much for toddlers. Too much for all of us.
To get back up and out of the gorge, we had to slingshot the kids up to my girlfriend.
It was exhausting.
But what we learned was truly profound:
We learned to trust each other.
We learned how to walk on your heels, sit on your invisible seat and keep your weight in to the mountain.
I learned that my gauge on what is too much, is right where it needs to be.
Three times and the gorge wasn’t what we’d imagined it would be.
Was it worth it?
It’s not always about the end result.
The kids got to see me struggle, be frustrated with not being able to find the gorge, go home empty handed twice and then basically a third time. I got to model for them: how you fail and you how grin through it, enjoy it, find the beautiful moments and at the end of it:
Tell them how proud of them I am.
Tell them how strong they are.
Tell them: See? You got scared and didn’t know how to navigate the skree, but you trusted us and before we were done, on the way back out – you figured it out. See?
It’s worth it if they feel the exhilaration and breathlessness of adventure. A little fear, controlled, and the beauty and sheer peace that comes with accomplishment.
Would I do it again? Oh yeah, just not up Jackson Creek.
Thanks Jackson Creek: you taught us a lot.