Paula moved to the Denver area with her family roughly two and a half months ago from Florida. She has decided to pick me up at 7 in the morning in order to take me hiking in her favorite Denver place. She arrives just a bit late, which is just fine with me, as it gives me more time to collect myself after a long night of writing. She pulls up and I hop into her car. She immediately starts to tell me about how much she loves Colorado and how happy she is to be here.
"My favorite place to be is outdoors, definitely. My husband Rich and I both love the outdoors.We both love biking and hiking and we will probably do some snow shoeing this winter. Brainerd Lake, where we are going today, is a place that my brother-in-law took us. It's outside of Boulder. It is just gorgeous."
As we drive out of Denver and head toward Boulder, Paula tells me the story of how she and her family came to live in the Denver area.
"We moved out to Colorado from Florida to be able to enjoy the outdoors. We could have waited until we retired, but we thought that if we waited that long, who knows what would happen? We wanted to do it where it would be less disruptive to the kids, so that meant before high school and before middle school. Our window was shrinking because of the real estate market. We decided to just take a chance and do it. Sometimes you just have to take a risk when it is important."
As we drive up into the hills, the skyline of once far away mountains starts to take on detail and vivid color. It is a beautiful day, though a bit chilly. The wind is blowing through the trees and the clouds in the sky are few and far between. We drive in to park the car and start walking in on the trail. We are quiet for the most part, except for my intermittent gasps at the incredible views of the lakes, mountains and streams we are passing. We decide to sit down about an hour in to our hike and have a snack and talk about our shared love of hiking. It started for Paula when she was quite young.
"I have always loved hiking. The first time I remember going on a hike was with my sister, Donna, and her first husband, Jim, in Nebraska. We went to some bluffs. I just fell in love with it. I must have been in middle school. I have been hiking and camping ever since."
Since Paula and her family have arrived in Denver, they have been taking full advantage of the outdoors. While she has only been in Denver about a month and a half longer than me, it is clear she and her family have not wasted any time enjoying all of the outdoor opportunities living in Colorado offers.
"I have been here for two and a half months, and we go hiking or biking every weekend. We have been to Rocksborough Park, which is closer to where we live, and it's really nice because there are all these open areas in Colorado that they have preserved which have lots of trails, bike paths and running paths, so you feel like you could go anywhere and do just about anything outdoors."
As we hike up, we keep an eye on the sky, which is clouding over, and we both notice the air getting chilly. We decide to turn around and go back as it is getting to be mid-afternoon and the sky looks like it could do anything. As we reach a bend in the trail, two girls who had passed us earlier catch up to us and ask us how we liked Blue Lake and tell us how incredible it was. So, though we had already come down, we hike back up again. We are feeling like we have to see Blue Lake, now that it seems to be the centerpiece of this already amazingly beautiful hike.
After a bit, we decide to walk back down the trail to the car. My legs are sore and I am tired and moving slowly. Paula is slipping a bit here and there on the loose rocks on the trail. At this point, the sky is grey and it is getting quite cold. As we climb down over some large flat rocks to get to the lower lakes, it starts to snow a bit. It feels like magic falling on our heads, and though we are beat, the snow revives us.
As we drive back, I am finding it hard to believe that it is my last week in Denver. This hike has been such an incredible experience, and meeting Paula has been such a rare gift, that I am feeling almost like I don't want to leave. It is hard to imagine that I was not planning on coming here, that I would have missed all of this if I had gone to Phoenix instead.
This meeting is a bit different than many of my others, as Paula is to be distant family soon. I am happy to know that she will be someone I can keep in touch with and maybe even hike with for the rest of my life. I have been so happy to meet so many great people in Denver, but while there is excitement and challenge in the meetings, there is also sadness in the farewells. I know that this is nothing close to the pain that Paula must feel as she watches her son grow into a man, but I think that in some way it must be related.
Our connections to each other and our desire for connections played out in thousands of different ways over the course of our lives tell a story we might not be aware of. Now that I am coming and going on a monthly basis, the character of my arrivals and my departures is starting to take shape in my mind, and I can't help but wonder if I will always be the one awkwardly patting the person feeling the pain, or if I will be the one feeling it.