Gus is now 1,612 days old and recently he had his first plane trip. It was spring vacation for his pre-school and we have been wanting to visit friends in Boulder for a while, so off we went.
We had been planning the trip for about four months, and as we got closer to the date, our trepidation grew as we wondered how Gus would behave on the airplane and how he would react to slipping "the surly bonds of earth." We need not have worried. He loved taxiing down the runway and he loved it as the front of the jet lifted off the ground, followed by the rear section hopping into the air. He even enjoyed that slightly disconcerting feeling of the weight of the world crushing down as we rocketed into the air.
Of course, he insisted on sitting in a window seat, which Becky and I gladly obliged. We really got a thrill at the look of childish wonder on his face as he gaped out the window, remarking on how small everything was. By the time we got up to cruising altitude, we were too removed from the surface of the Earth for him to be astounded anymore. Have you tried explaining to a 4-year-old that we are now six miles in the air?
Prior to the flight I had downloaded a number of movie options to the tablet, so while he grooved on "The Lorax" and "Paw Patrol," I was able to finally watch (two years after release) Tom Cruise in "Edge of Tomorrow." I had packed "gift snack packages" for the plane ride to give to folks in our nearby proximity in case Gus acted up, but I ended up carrying them both on and off the airplane. The snack packages contained fig newtons, peanut butter crackers, chewing gum, Hershey kisses and animal crackers. When we go to Lodi and CJ's house in Boulder, I forgot they were in my backpack and Albert, their Australian shepherd, discovered them while we were out of the house. He ate everything except for the gum, which he gnawed on ... and I mean everything, including the wrappers! I was worried, because dogs aren't supposed to eat chocolate, but Lodi and CJ said he was fine and still chasing a laser pointer around the house (his main form of recreation).
We spent a day in Boulder before hitting the road over Berthoud Pass at more than 10,000 feet, switchback after switchback, past Winter Park and on to Snow Mountain Ranch, the YMCA of the Rockies. Lodi's grandparents had donated to the Y many years ago and had a cabin built in their honor. We stayed at Hawkeye Cabin (her family is from Iowa) for four days with Lodi and CJ and their 3-year-old boy, Jackson, who Gus got along famously with, especially experimenting with their water volcano (a pitcher filled with hand towels that they filled with cups of water to overflowing).
We really didn't do a whole heck of a lot while at the cabin. I thought the altitude was affecting me and had a mild case of discomfort. Only when we got home did I realize that Gus and I were actually coming down with the flu. I had to take the next week off from work, Gus and I in bed, taking medicine and watching videos.
The highlight of our trip might have been a short excursion to Hot Sulphur Springs, where we relaxed in the stinky waters under a bright Colorado sun. Gus loved it and dashed back and forth between the pools, while Becky and I took turns soaking in the 104-degree pool, which was off limits to children. I could only soak for about four minutes in that pool before I felt like a boiled potato.
The temperature during our visit approached 60 in Boulder and the 50s in the mountains, and there hasn't been that much snow there this year, so it wasn't what you might expect. Though we did get to do some sledding and snow-shoeing, there was no snow below 8,000 feet. I even skipped strapping on some boards to my feet, avoiding the exertion at altitude (and the $140 lift ticket!).
I had been wanting to travel to Colorado, to see some friends who now live there and because when I first left home in 1979 I hitch hiked to Aspen, where I lived for two years before joining the service. Those were some crazy times for me and let's just say joining the Air Force might have saved my life. After serving three years in Germany, I was stationed at Lowry Air Force Base (which no longer exists) in Denver. Those were good and bad times — OK, mostly bad, but a discharge and a divorce were the first steps to recovery. Nonetheless, I had burnished my memories of Colorado to the point that they glowed and I always had in the back of my mind I would like to move back there. After the Air Force I returned to college and upon graduation followed some college friends to Salt Lake City, where I lived for 10 years, skiing the Wasatch, exploring the canyons and hiking in the desert. But though I was a veritable stone's throw from Colorado, I never made it back that way.
This trip with Becky and Gus was my opportunity to revisit my old stomping grounds and hopefully recreate the good times of so many years ago. Not even close. The alpine forests had been decimated by a pine beetle, the snow was barely up to my hip, and every town we traveled through looked as if it was founded there because that's where the horse died. Yes, the Rocky Mountains are quite majestic, and we had some glorious sunrises and sunsets, but overall, memory was much more satisfactory than reality.
Fortunately, Gus and Becky had a good time, and Lodi and CJ were wonderful hosts; it was great to see them and meet their little boy.
About a week after we got back, Gus and I were running errands and as we got closer to town, I heard him sighing in the back seat.
"What's going on Gus?" I asked.
"Oh, um ... I don't know how to put it into words."
"Well, try ... it's OK."
"Um, um ... I just don't feel like I belong here any more."
"Well, where do you belong?"
Between the joy of listening to him articulate this deep feeling and the heartbreak of hearing how much he wished he was somewhere else, was an inkling of a thought in my head, that in a few more years, when he's older and more capable of carrying his own weight, we will return to the Rocky Mountains. We will climb on board a mountain bike or throw on a backpack and head out into the wilderness, exploring, making a camp fire and eating meals out of a tin cup. But no expectations this time. I have to give thanks to this recent trip to Colorado for shattering the illusions that had built up over the years and I look forward to starting anew, with my little boy, creating new memories that can truly shine forever.
Bob Audette is the day editor of the Reformer. He can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 160.