Adventures in Aspen


Foggy head. It’s either my allergies, lack of sleep, too many hours in a car or the stress of knowing it’s time to get my butt in gear and get active outdoors. I usually use something like Outside in Aspen- a festival filled with clinics to introduce people to the outdoors- to jumpstart my summer. But as I watched the grey-tinged water pool at my feet this morning in my shower back home, I realized I was going about this all wrong. Aspen, Colorado, is place of intense mountain beauty that should be indulged, not sniffed at. Plus, you should plan a week not two days when the weather is this grand. Oh, and get two hotel rooms. But we were here for an event and sometimes you just don’t have the luxury of time.

I hadn’t showered or shaved in three days. At home, as I finally washed out the weekend in solitude, I felt weightless.

The whine of little children and a puppy cramped up in a Subaru for seven hours, a truckload of toys and clothes covering the floor of our room at the Molly Gibson Lodge so that it was impossible to find anything in a hurry, and the mad dash to meet our clinic leaders left no room for recovery.

The first night, we arrived at 8 p.m. in time to rush to the Welcome Reception, kids in tow. The tasty morsels of beef sliders, chicken satay, mac and cheese and veggie springrolls made up dinner. We crawled back to the hotel by 11 p.m.; exhausted from our roadtrip, the wine and the day.

Saturday morning, it was up at 7 a.m. to meet the sitter and get situated. She got the kids, we got to have to fun. We walked the six blocks to Basecamp at the Aspen gondola to sign our waivers and pick up sack lunches from the registration table. I was already drooling over the huge sandwiches from The Big Wrap because I had rushed through breakfast.

I said good bye to Liz and trotted Moki over to Glory Hole park for five hours of mostly dog demonstrations by trainer Mike Stewart from Wildrose Kennels. Three of the five dogs were his; they were invited to this Adventure Dog Clinic to show us what trained dogs are supposed to do.

I was jealous of Liz. She took the whitewater rafting workshop on the Arkansas River off Independence Pass and said the only break from serious rapids was at the take-out. While she was hanging on for dear life and I was sitting quietly and listening. Mike is a good ol’ boy from Mississippi who travels the world training hunting dogs, diabetic detection dogs and adventure dogs. He says the idea actually came to him while he was sitting at a patio restaurant in Aspen. With all of these dogs in town, why not create a program for them? He went over an outline of adventure dog etiquette and we briefly (ie. tried one time) some of the things on his list. Luckily, I took a ton of notes and can practice at home but I sure wish I could have really worked with Moki to get some of the techniques down. Of course, at 7 weeks, he may be too young to do what Mike’s dogs were doing but even the older pup that was there sat around. The owner asked questions and would have to work with his dog on his own back home. Don’t get me wrong. It was all valuable information but my ass got awfully tired.

I got back to the hotel in time to change for dinner. I was meeting some fellow writers at Ellina for drinks and Above The Salt for dinner. I’m going to blame my buzz on the sun and the altitude because I was one happy camper after the first (and only) lemon basil martini. Liz was hanging with the kids poolside at the Sky Lodge; holding my raffle ticket just in case they called my name. We rendezvoused on the promenade after dinner and slowly escorted the weary kids back to the Molly.

The next clinic day- whitewater kayaking for beginners/intermediates- was all beginners. Again, not exactly what I needed to rev my spirits. The calm, rippling water lulled me to sleep rather than stirred my adrenaline. Apparently, no one had signed up for the expert class (about now I was thinking that I should have) and only one person besides myself had ever been in a whitewater boat. Piglet from Aspen Kayak and SUP was a ball of spunk and smiles and her partner in crime –Willie “River” Kern- coached our group of six through the equipment, the paddle strokes and lingo associated with the sport. As we practiced going in and out of eddies (the stagnant corners of water on the sides of rivers), I couldn’t help but look longingly over at the standup paddlers passing us. At least they were moving. Both SUP clinics were full and booked out way in advance, attesting to its rise in popularity.

Everyone in our kayak group was having a blast with the basics but I have to admit that I was now a bit overqualified for the beginners. After my two weeks kayaking in Montana with First Descents the past two summers I was ready for something more challenging. Sigh. The most excitement came at the take out when I attempted to roll – on purpose of course. I didn’t really do it (I used my paddle on the bottom of the river to push me back up) but the try made my heart skip a beat. Jeff, a newbie to the sport, hung back in the water with me and I coached him through his bow rescue. With that huge grin, I’m pretty sure he’ll be boating in the future.

We packed up and headed back to town. I had just enough time to find the rest of my gang before the Adventure Athlete Symposium started. More on that in another blog! This was the weekend finale and it made sense to have this panel of pros talking about giving back. We just had two days of play in the outdoors and how often do you think that the landscape might not look like this when our kids are grown?

Aspen was glorious. The weather perfect (aside from the Cottonwood cottonballs floating through the air 24/7) and the clinics extremely well-organized. I just chose wrong. Sometimes life happens that way and, like a river, we have to go with the flow. The kids adored playing in Colorado, the pup couldn’t get enough attention walking from A to B and Liz not only survived a roaring ride but learned a thing or two about outdoor camera work in the adventure photography class.

It may have been chaotic for me, but Outside in Aspen did what I wanted it to do. Tomorrow, I will take my dog to the park here in Park City and start my own training program. Then I’ll mountain bike in the evening and paddle around the local reservoir. We often forget that you don’t need to leave home to find adventure.


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