In just one week we’re due to catch a train in Denver that will take us to our one-time home of Chicago to reconnect with family and friends. But, Rett recently learned that her BFF Josh is leaving the Chicago area after a decade-long stint, for a return to Arizona. We had seen him during our stay last December, but certainly had been hoping to see him again during this visit (especially because who knows when we’ll make it to Arizona?) And now we’d be missing him by just a week…argh!
But, isn’t Colorado sort of between Chicago and Arizona? And wait, Josh has an uncle in Colorado that he was thinking of staying with on the drive through. Where in Colorado? Frisco? Oh, you mean one of the two other towns surrounding the Dillon Reservoir? Right where we’re already staying for a few nights?! WTF?!
The coincidence that brought us to Dillon is a bit smaller. We met Suzie and Dave when we kayaked together around Espiritu Santo Island in Mexico two Aprils ago. They were a key part of our group that ended up tightly bonded there, and when we all split up they said “if you’re ever in Colorado…”, and turns out it wasn’t just an obligatory platitude. They repeated the invite recently, and we were now heading through Colorado, at it turns out, and the TransAmerica cycling route we’re currently following passes within a mile of their house, and within a block of the coffee shop they own!
Last night, they took us to see their shop (Abbey’s Coffee) after taking us out to an an excellent (and for them, long-awaited) Thai restaurant nearby for dinner. Our lady Fate apparently decided these worlds were not yet sufficiently small, so she helped Rett learn that Josh was out to dinner with his uncle’s family at a bar just a block away! So while Suzie and Dave were finishing up some work at the shop, we walked over and surprised Josh, which was fun for him and us. That was still not enough to satisfy Fate and the unbelievable connections we make, however: it turns out Suzie and Dave know Josh’s uncle and family quite well as customers at their shop; they credited Steve and Linda and their kids for helping keep the business alive during the early days of COVID, reliably turning up to the makeshift order-window in a money-where-their-mouth-is show of community-support! Oh, and just for one last link, Josh’s aunt teaches at the elementary school directly across the street from Suzie and Dave’s house!
In other words, before we even met in Mexico, it turns out we were only three degrees of separation from Suzie and Dave! In a slightly-different sequence of events, they could have mentioned their customers Steve and Linda while we were kayaking together (who knows, maybe they did!) and if Rett would have had any way of knowing, she could have said “oh, you mean my best friend’s uncle and aunt?”
Today while Suzie and Dave were busy at the coffee shop, we had a chance to hang out properly with Josh. And how nice to suddenly have someone with a car in town to drive us around! We headed for a hike up to Lilypad Lake, with the last half mile to the trailhead giving Josh his first Western exposure to driving on a rough gravel road in his low-slung Mustang. The Dillon Reservoir is completely surrounded by mountains, so we got a bit of a laugh when learning that the views from the trailhead parking lot (or driving just about any of the roads through town) were better than the views from the trail itself, kind of the opposite of what we’re used to with mountain hikes! But it was a still a nice and surprisingly-challenging uphill hike (that unacclimated flatlander Josh did just fine on), with the stands of giant aspens being the novel component that we couldn’t get over (unfortunately they were still in their all-green state).
Coming back down the mountain we found a very Colorado place for beers, lunch, and good lucks. Even as constantly on-the-move nomads, inertia still pulls hard on us when we attempt to move on to the next place (and I think it gets tougher to break those bonds of inertia as we get older), so I’m really impressed with Josh’s move to life in a different place.
Today Suzie and Dave were celebrating their anniversary with a traditional trip out to Vail. They invited us along, and at first we felt a little awkward to be nosing ourselves into their time together, but they insisted, and, in the highest form of their generosity, ended up being quite convincing that they were genuinely glad to have us with them.
We were certainly genuinely glad to tag along, since Vail is a place that we would have never thought to visit on our own in a million years. I’m certainly familiar with it by name, just as I am with the other Colorado ski resorts (Apsen, Breckenridge, Telluride are other big names I recognize from TV/movies), but I had literally no knowledge of where/what it is beyond that.
It turns out Vail is about a 35-minute drive west (though surely more in ski season when I-70 clogs up), and it’s a purpose-made destination created out of whole cloth where essentially nothing existed before 1962. Upon exiting the parking garage, we were brought into a bewildering world, surrounded by Alps-style ornamentation on the buildings lining the pedestrianized streets. Was this a unitary theme park, like Disney World? An actual town of independent property owners who simply all adopted a theme (like Solvang, CA or Leavenworth, WA)? An open-air shopping mall? Or some combination of all three? Our hosts led us on an exploration of much of the town (park?), and it was intriguing and entertaining, playing right into our love of themed environments (e.g., Renaissance Faires, the aforementioned towns, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter). It also had a Patagonia store and a North Face store, and then less than a mile away, a second Patagonia store and a second North Face store! Later research showed that, yes, you can purchase your own property in this “town”, for an average asking price of about $12M, going up to $30M.
Completing our loop brought us to Pepi’s, one of the original Vail establishments from the 60s, founded by an Austrian ski racer. Perhaps as proof of that vintage (if the Wall of Fame from 60s-era celebrities and politicians wasn’t enough), two of the entrees still on their relatively-small menu are Hungarian Goulash and Beef Stroganoff, which stood out to me since they’re two of the weeknight staples my mom has had in her dinner rotation for at least the 46 years of my life, and likely longer (in fact when my parents met us with their camper in Washington a few months ago, they had brought frozen servings of both of those dishes to share!) Unable to decide between the two, I went with Dave’s recommendation of the Jäger Schnitzel, which was a satisfying choice too.
The dinner was excellent in ways far beyond the food. Here we were at this Austrian restaurant in this Colorado town sharing a special evening with friends we made in Mexico. Not only were we converging geographies, their anniversary had brought us there to mark, no, to celebrate the passage of time. Which led me to reflect on the passage of time in our lives: when I thought about how we met Suzie and Dave while kayaking, I vaguely assumed that must have been some trip we did before we set off on our bikes, only to quickly correct myself with realization that, no, we had already been nomads for some seven months when we did that kayaking trip. When analyzing the reason for my confusion, I determined that my subconscious had decided any friends inviting us to stay with them must have come from a relationship forged when our lives were fixed in place. But no! This was a reconnection of a relationship seeded and grown fully within the bounds of our nomadacy! Incredibly, it’s not the first one, but this visit drove home even further how long we’ve been peregrinating, and more importantly, revealed that we don’t need to rely solely on connections from our pre-nomad days to mitigate our isolation; it’s a bit like flying to Mars and learning that we can grown our own food there – our stay is no longer limited by the food we brought with us on the lander!