As I prepare to depart this town once again, I think back on all the memories. This place lured me in, welcomed me, and became my home. I left and returned, more than once. It called me back. And so, as I get ready to leave this place again, I think back on how surreal this timescape has been. I look forward to the unknown and unforetold days ahead, wondering whether or not they are foretold after all.
I WAS PUT THERE
What led me to Carbondale is somewhat of a mystery - a combination of universal forces coupled with serendipitous timing. To understand what led me to Carbondale, you must first understand what led me away from Atlanta – a breakup, a roadtrip, and a complete surrender into the ways of the Road.
I woke up on March 16, 2015 to a raging windstorm whipping at my tent. I was camped solo atop a 7,000’ mountain pass in Capitol Reef National Park and was on my 18th day of a roadtrip I originally intended to only last a couple weeks. I was now fully in tune with the roadtrip lifestyle, and was allowing it to lead me wherever it deemed fit. I quickly realized that plan-making was futile and in order to truly heal, I had to let go of control. By giving myself up to the Road, I allowed it to transport me wherever I was called, and in doing so, I transformed infinitely.
I spent the majority of the evening hunkered down in my tent, praying that a rogue gust wouldn’t parachute my tent up and over the cliff I was camped on - a spot recommended the day prior by a ranger named Jesse. By 9 a.m. I was down from the ridgeline and loading up my car, completely unsure of where to go next, planning on possibly checking out some sections of Canyonlands National Park. I was studying my map, waiting for some sort of sign, when I saw a green Ranger’s truck pull into the parking lot, driven by Jesse, the same ranger from the day before.
We spoke for a minute and I told her about my lack of plans and she immediately provided some advice. “I actually used to be a ranger in Canyonlands for years… let’s see, there’s a few different spots you could check out. You may like… Hmm… Oh! I know! You would LOVE the Great Gallery. There’s a sweet little hike down into a secluded canyon, with an amazing rock art payoff at the end!” She went on and on, marveling about the place, committing me, before adding that I’d have to drive 30 miles down a dirt road to one of the more isolated parts of Utah – right around where Aaron Ralston had to chop his own arm off. “Oh good, so you’re sending a solo guy with no means of communication out into a secluded canyon where Aaron Ralston nearly died? Right on.” We said goodbye again, and I was off, led again by the universal forces, not sure exactly where they were leading me, fully unaware that it would somehow be Carbondale.
Jesse was certainly correct in her assumptions and I absolutely loved the solitude of the canyon hike and the insane perspective I gained from the rock art. I ended up hiking about ten miles, making it back to my car as the sun began to set. I shot the sunset and cooked powdered potatoes as I pondered over the map, wearily seeking some sort of direction as the roadtrip began to wind down.
Around 9, breaking the silence, a group of three or four twenty-somethings came marching up the hill, notably exhausted, meandering over to the car next to mine. They had been canyoneering all day and had split up with part of their group, which was now missing in the canyon without a map. As dusk settled in, they began to worry about their companions and contemplated a search mission back into the canyon. They started to draft up a plan when subdued voices accompanied some lightly-bouncing headlamps down the trail. Their friends had arrived to much relief of the entire party.
We shared beers in the parking lot as they recounted their days. They told me all about their canyoneering adventures, and I told them all about the adventures of life on the Road. Their presence was a welcome respite from the silence of the day, especially since they were all so similar to me - young and outdoorsy, living and going to college in Colorado. They invited me to join them in their campsite a few miles down the road, but I decided to go ahead and call it a night. After finishing the beers, they said goodbye with hugs all around, and told me that if I was ever coming through Glenwood Springs to hit them up. I had no idea where that was, but I figured it was definitely nice to have another place to potentially stop.
The next day, my friend Achilles passed away. I didn’t find out until the following day when my phone unexpectedly turned on atop a mountain. I tried to hike the sorrow away, to really no avail. I spent that evening in a hotel in Moab, taking my first shower in 8 days, and getting roaringly drunk as I talked on the phone with friends and tried to make sense of the whole thing. I was exhausted, sad, and ready to be home. At the very least, I wanted to be back around familiar faces.
I woke up the following morning, watched sunrise at Delicate Arch, then drove onwards. I was headed east to Denver to see my friends RJ and Dani, and I was ready to be back in the presence of people I knew and loved. I looked at the route toward Denver, noticing that Glenwood Springs was along the way.
“Hm, maybe I could stop in and grab lunch with the folks I met a couple days ago? I mean, it would be nice to see familiar faces, even if they are just new friends. They might live in a cool spot, may be worth checking out?” I surmised, texting one of the guys in the group, receiving a response inviting me for lunch.
I arrived in Glenwood around 1, and met up with three of the dudes from the original group - Alex, Frank, and Ryan. It was great to be with people again, and I explained the tough events since seeing them just a few days before. The reprieve from the road was relieving, and we talked adventures and music over food and beers. After lunch, they had to get back to class, but we drove down to a town south of them called Carbondale to grab a juice before they caught the bus. We said our goodbyes as they pointed me up “the quintessential Carbondale hike – Red Hill to Mushroom Rock”.
The hike was steep but well worth it for the dazzling views at the top, and I think I immediately fell in love with the place – despite Carbondale’s small-town simplicity, a vibrant energy flowed through it; smiling families clad in Patagonia walked the streets which were lined with juiceries, yoga studios, restaurants, and bars which all seemed to draw me in; the place was beaming with magnetizing mountainous splendor.
That being said, I had to move on, and I drove to Denver, marveling at the beauty of Colorado, continuing to fall in love as I drove through Glenwood Canyon for the first time, then over the goldenlit mountain passes, ears popping with the alpenglow light. I didn’t know when I would be back to the area, but I felt strangely like I was already being beckoned. Everything felt right for the first time in days.
A NEW HOME
After arriving home from the roadtrip, I spent a few months working multiple odd jobs in Atlanta, trying to save up for what would be next in life. I planned on moving away from Georgia, likely to a destination I visited on my roadtrip – Austin? Denver? LA? I began searching for jobs across the US that seemed enticing – jobs in National Parks, a position with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, a couple positions in Hawaii, a few construction-related roles, some photography jobs, and various other eclectic positions. Honestly, I didn’t really care where I went, but I knew I needed a change.
The first thing that bit was an offer to work for Sharpshooter, a mountain photography company that provides services at ski areas across the US. The manager and I instantly got along, and he offered me positions at two top-tier locales – either Mammoth Lakes out in California, or Snowmass near Aspen. I didn’t really know either area at all, though I had been to Mammoth the year prior and thought it would be a pretty neat place to live for a winter - plus it offered employee housing, a huge perk compared to the inflated Aspen housing options. However, after doing a little more research and reading that the employee housing was rather puritanical, I began to reconsider Snowmass, finding that there were some nearby towns with more-affordable living options. One of those nearby towns: Carbondale.
The decision was made final when the Sharpshooter manager gave this description: “Mammoth is all techno and EDM and clubs; Colorado is beers, bluegrass, and banjos.” The decision was pretty simple at that point. A few days later, I was moving to Colorado.
The ensuing five months were transformative and spectacular. I made friends that I’ll keep for the rest of my days. I made memories that will last forever (and some that didn’t even survive the night). I learned to ski and I learned about the ski bum lifestyle. I powered through long work days and exalted on my powder-fueled off days. I became best friends with a guy from Vermont named Nick, noting in my journal on our first day of work that “we’ll be bros”. I proceeded to sleep on his green leather sofa for the majority of my nights there. I spent my first Thanksgiving and Christmas away from my family, but with a new family in Colorado, who invited me in with open arms.
I experienced the sensory bliss and childlike exhilaration of a “powder day” and quickly learned what it meant to “double eject”. I worked hard and got a promotion and still suffered from condescending questions of “why did you drop out” from Snowmass guests when I told them that I went to Georgia Tech. I experienced an unexpected death of a co-worker (and another just months later). I learned how to drive in the snow without snow tires and only managed to run my car off the road once. I endured my first major injury – a torn AC joint in my shoulder - and had to suffer through not skiing while everyone else got to play.
I went back to Moab and washed my memories clean with the stark desert nothingness - going back time and again for solitude and peace. I probably ate a thousand happy hour wings at Zane’s and watched a million episodes of The Office at Nick’s. I got used to the idea of never locking doors (I didn’t even get a key when I moved into my new place; Nick leaves his keys in his unlocked car). I suffered some light frost nip from standing in the snow, a feeling (or numbness, I guess) that lasted until the summer. I spent evenings lounging in a hot tub or natural hot spring, trying to thaw out my frosty toes.
There were First Fridays (the one night a month where everyone in Carbondale goes out) and First Saturdays (the most unfathomably hungover days at work). And those wild and crazy closing parties. There were early mornings and late nights and some that blurred into one another. And those stars, God damn those stars!
Alas, the snow was thawing and my first season in Colorado was coming to a close. I didn’t have any serious job prospects in the area after the winter, and a friend had landed me a videography gig in Southern California, so I decided to move onwards. A summer at the beach was in store for me.
MOUNTAINS V. BEACH
After leaving Colorado, I drove out to Georgia to see some friends and family, and then on to Chicago for my sister’s graduation, then up through Wisconsin and Minnesota, on through the Dakotas and Nebraska and briefly Wyoming, then back to the state which kept calling me back, where I stopped in to say hello to Nick and company, and then moved onwards down to LA, arriving the same day that I got an email stating that the videography gig had fallen through. Alas, I was already in LA, so I spent the summer working on the website and book, enjoying living with Dave and Chucky, though honestly missing Colorado every day.
Midway through the summer, RJ was hosting a rafting trip in Colorado to celebrate his birthday, so I decided to up and roadtrip out there, taking a break in C’dale after 15 hours in the car, entering Nick’s place through the always-unlocked slider at 2 a.m., crashing on the green leather couch for just an hour or two before popping up and driving out to Fort Collins for the weekend. I didn’t even see Nick.
The weekend was perfect and I truly yearned for a summer in Colorado and the perfect weather and endless adventure involved. I got to see Nick on the way back out to California, and I spent a few days in Carbondale, hiking Sopris, watching GOT, and processing photos. I missed the place and honestly wanted to come back. I had solved the question of whether I was a mountains or beach person. I wanted to be back in the mountains.
Well, the summer came to a close in LA, and I still had no idea what I was going to do in the fall – or even where I may live. David kept trying to keep me in California, and Nick was scheming on ways to get me back to Colorado. I roadtripped back to Atlanta for a wedding, planning on returning to California a few weeks later; the funny thing about my plans these days is that they're always pretty fluid.
Whilst back in Atlanta, Nick called me, informing me of an open position in his company – Big Stone Publishing, the company that publishes Rock & Ice and Trail Runner magazines. I honestly didn’t even know if I wanted the position, but the call of Colorado was enough to pique my interest, and after several rounds of interviews and contemplation, I was terrifically excited at the prospect. When offered the position, it was an immediate yes, and suddenly my compass was routed west again. A few days later, the Corolla was loaded up and back en route to the place which kept calling me back: Carbondale.
WELCOME HOME, AGAIN.
Carbondale re-welcomed me in the most apt of ways, and coming back truly felt like coming home. I had several really great friends here in the valley, and those friendships have only continued to develop into people I now refer to as family. I had a couple rough days on the road, really questioning my decision – missing my mom and my dog and my Atlanta family - but as soon as I arrived back in Carbondale, arriving on a First Friday, I immediately felt at peace again - back in the valley that beckoned.
I’ve now lived in Carbondale for nearly a year – the longest I’ve lived anywhere in… shit, lets see, pre-Carbondale…
Road – 1 month, LA – 3 months, Road – 2 months, Carbondale – 5 months, Cumming – 1 month, Road – 1 month, Cumming – 4 months, Atlanta – 1 month, Road – 1 month...so I guess this is the longest I’ve lived anywhere in a few years.
The past year has been nothing short of amazing. Working for Big Stone has been quite an interesting glimpse into the world of publishing and the outdoor industry (plus the pro-deals have certainly been nice). I’ve had some absolutely amazing co-workers who I hope to remain friends with for the rest of my life. But it has really been the time outside of work that has been the most meaningful.
The powder days. The spikeball afternoons. The Game of Thrones nights. The First Fridays. Watching The Office a thousand times as we pass out on our old green leather sofa. The hungover brunches at the Smithy and the dinners at the Goat. The margarita-filled happy hours feat. the world’s best nachos at Mi Casita. The always variable, though endlessly-delicious burritos at Señor Taco.
Another phenomenal skiing season - this one injury-free (for me at least). Another trip to the Snowmass clinic when my sister tore her ACL on her first day skiing. More wings and more beer from Zane’s.
The thawing of winter. The budding of spring in the mountains. The opening of trails and passes. The time spent out on solitary paths just miles from my home, boasting views better than any you could get within hundreds of miles in Georgia. The endless places to explore.
The nights in Moab or Clohesy Lake or Radium Hot Springs or Grand Mesa or Twin Lakes or the Flat Tops or so on and so on. The rafting trips and backpacking trips and car camping trips. Mountain Fair weekend and turning our place into a trash house. Ragnar. The first hellacious bout with altitude sickness (yeah, apparently that’s a real thing). The visits from friends – their vacations where I proudly spend all my time.
Befriending Chou, the Chinese delivery guy, and all the weird and wild nights that ensued – Chou coming over with a bottle of scotch and a guitar on a Thursday night and serenading us with Chinese love songs; Chou pounding on the bathroom door [Nick puking inside] and screaming "KNOCK KNOCK KNOCKIN' ON HEAVENS DOOOOOR"; Chou walking into our house and, upon seeing me doing yoga on the floor, saying "AH! I thought you make handjob on floor!"; Chou buying us Coronas at the bar until we literally had to start giving them away to strangers; Chou walking into our house with pants covered in piss, proceeding to pass out onto our tile floor; Chou drinking RJ into the ground (pictured, left).
The cooling of summer and the yellowing of the quaking Aspen leaves. The porch couch - dammit I will miss that porch couch and those nights we spent upon it. The conversations – boxed-wine-fueled, sometimes deep and sometimes shallow and sometimes both all at once, as we got to know our companions and ourselves.
It was my first true home away from Georgia. It was my first time moving somewhere and knowing no one upon arrival. It was my first holiday season away from my family. It was where I started fresh. It was where new friends became family. It was where I relearned who I was and how to be myself.
Alas, I move on yet again. Nick and I are leaving our positions at Big Stone to move to the big city. I don’t know what awaits me in Denver – no clue of what job may come next, nor where I may live, nor where I want this next step to take me; but I know that change is good, and Denver has a world of opportunities.
As I drove through Glenwood Canyon en route to Denver for a weekend recently, I still felt that utter exuberance that I felt on that first roadtrip. My eyes darted from the road to the sheer canyon walls and the crystal blue river running through, and the rocks and trees vibrantly glowing. I remember how connected I first felt - how real the entire moment was, how everything finally felt right again.
We’ve already moved out of our old apartment with the green leather sofa and our sun-bleached porch couch, and we’ve spent our final month splitting time between a nearby campsite and crashing in the guest room of our friends, Ben, Christie, and Kelly. Our time in Carbondale is wrapping up and next week we’ll be moving on. I don’t know what is in store (a trend that seems to happen every September), but I feel strangely at peace leaving this place. Not because I’m happy to say goodbye, but because I feel that, just as this town drew me in, it also has led me onwards. I don’t know what’s next. But I’m sure its been foretold, one way or another.