“Nothing more detestable does the earth produce than an ungrateful man.”
I sat on my perch reading for at least an hour when Paul reappeared on the path below me. He had a scowl on his face. I wondered if it was due to me not joining him or if he contracted the look of agony during his climb, like all the other exhausted faces I’d seen returning from the mountain top.
“Hey Paul!” I shouted as I stumbled down the slope to join him.
When he spotted me his grimace disappeared. “How’s the book?” He obviously wasn’t too upset.
“It’s great! How was it up there?” I asked as I joined him down below. He nodded, then turned back toward the path and continued on his way. I didn’t question him further deciding his climb had either been so enlightening he couldn’t capture it in words or the upward haul left him drained and unable to express his thoughts.
We began our return trip and soon found ourselves back beneath the arches. I gave the beautiful landscape one last look, soaking the image into my brain for use in the winter when I knew I’d be yearning to be back in the wild. Maneuvering down the rock incline didn’t require nearly as much energy as going up had, but it was still a tedious task constantly searching out a strong foothold.
Halfway down, we stopped to rest for a spell. As we sat in silence a couple younger guys walked up. One of them stumbled toward us, holding his stomach as saliva dripped down his chin. He was hurting. He leaned down toward a rock and began retching. His friend approached us as the gagging continued.
“Hey, do you guys have any water? We ran out and my buddy has been puking blood.”
“Sure,” Paul said handing his bottle. They both thanked him and chugged the remainder of our water supply. “Do you guys need food?” Paul, the Good Samaritan, asked.
“Yeah, if you have any we’d appreciate it,” the more composed friend replied. Paul reached down into his pack and pulled out his only Cliff Bar. “Here,” he said handing over his treasured brownie. I couldn’t believe what I had just witnessed. Instead of handing puke blood boy some jerky or dried fruit, Paul opted for his coveted Cliff Bar.
The puker ripped open the package and began gobbling up the brownie. Paul watched on with a grin on his face, as black crumbs fell from the puker’s mouth. Staring at the crumbs stuck in his chin drool, I contemplated offering up my Cliff Bar. Then I thought to myself, “I think I’m kind of hungry.” So I pulled out a couple cheap brand granola bars and handed them to the castaways and then grabbed my chocolate chip Cliff Bar, which I relished as Paul looked on in hunger.
The four of us sat around for a while, but decided we’d better get going with the sun beginning to make its daily descent. We eventually came upon a stream and refilled our jugs. I was so thirsty at that point I didn’t care if the stream carried the AIDS virus.
I walked ahead of Paul, who had difficulty moving downward with his bum knee. A few hours later it began to get dark, especially when we entered the tree line. For some reason I was no longer tired. I almost felt like skipping through the dark forest like a modern day Little Red Riding Hood.
I passed all the sights from the day before: the waterfalls, benches, and wooden fences. And before I knew it, I emerged from the wild, spotting my Element hiding in the back corner of the now empty parking lot. Once I got to the car, I sat on the hitch waiting for Paul. Eventually he appeared at the forest edge and made his way toward me. When he neared the Element, he walked right passed me and threw his pack into the back seat. “If we leave now we can hit a brewery in Estes Park before they close.”
“I like the way you think,” I said tossing him the keys. We sped down the mountainside and rolled into Estes Park around 8:30. As we drove through the rustic mountain town Paul pointed out places he’d spent his time over the years while attending a wrestling camp in Estes. The Go-Kart park, the places they’d go to eat, and the hotel where “The Shining” was filmed. When I told him I’d never seen “The Shining” he began berating me for not seeing one of his favorite films. The fact that I hadn’t seen it even shocks me. Kubrick’s “Clockwork Orange” and “Dr. Strangelove” are two of my all-time favorites. But then again, “2001: A Space Odyssey” is a bore fest and only the first hour of “Full Metal Jacket” is worth watching.
When we walked through the door of the Estes Park Brewery, we were almost knocked down by a pack of children stampeding down the stairs. Children at a brewery?! We continued walking, and entered the beer tasting room where we were joined by more kids and their parents. We would later discover we visited a brewery/arcade/pizza parlor.
Our thirst for brew over-rode our hatred of toddlers, and we bellied up to the taster bar. We ordered up a shot of each of their beers. Of their seven choices, two were fruit themed (blueberry and raspberry) and the Bavarian’s “hint” of banana flavor was anything but a hint. We forced down the samplers and then let our stomachs lead us to the restaurant upstairs.
Fortunately the menu offered items outside the realm of pizza. I ordered a brat with a pint of blueberry wheat while Paul bought a stout to go along with his homemade beer chilli. My beer tasted good in a Smucker’s kind of way, and the brat hit the spot. While we were eating, Paul called his friend Malcolm who lives in Parker, a suburb southeast of Denver. We still didn’t have a place to stay for the night, and we both needed a good night’s sleep after the past few days of hiking. Malcolm graciously agreed, and we had our lodging for the night set.
As we finished up our beers and meal, Paul warned me about his friend saying, “He’s kind of a weird dude.” They knew each other through wrestling camps and became roommates during Paul’s one year at the University of Wyoming. “He’s allergic to like everything. He can’t eat yeast; he’s never drank a drop of alcohol. And, oh yeah, he farts a lot, probably due to his strange eating habits.” A wrestler who farts a lot? Didn’t sound so strange to me.
Paul took the wheel and began the long drive south. He told me a little more about his friend we’d be staying with who owns his own gym. He uses it to train athletes, focusing on speed and agility. A year before he won some type of world wrestling championship, I believe it was a FILA competition, so he uses that notoriety to help build up his training clientele. Despite Paul’s description of this “weird” guy, I still expected your run of the mill meathead (sue me for being judgmental).
The drive took almost an hour, but we finally found our destination and pulled into his apartment complex. Malcolm stood in the parking lot awaiting us, a monster of a man with his muscles and veins bulging out of his t-shirt. With his gelled up crew cut and stone jaw line, he reminded me of a real life Collossus.
Paul introduced us, and we followed him up to his apartment, a classy little one bedroom filled with wrestling trophies. I plopped down on the futon and made myself at home while the two friends caught up on life. I sat in an exhausted stupor listening to their stories of college, slipping in and out of sleep for the next couple hours. Eventually they called it a night and we finally got the rest we had been yearning for all day.
The next morning I awoke to the smell of eggs – Malcolm was cooking us breakfast burritos and spinach. A strange combination, yes, but Paul did warn me of his diet. In the next few days I’d learn that every meal of Malcolm’s contained a tortilla in one way or another. I think he ate quesadillas four times during our visit.
The burrito/spinach combo tasted great. While Paul and I inhaled our breakfast, Malcolm got ready for his modeling gig that morning. A wrestling organization in Denver asked him to pose for a poster advertising an upcoming wrestling tournament. He went to his TV stand and pulled a handful of medals from a drawer, then threw them in his bag. He asked if we’d like to come watch his photo shoot. I declined, but Paul decided to join him since he rarely gets to see his old friend. Watching a man get photographed just sounded a little too gay for my taste.
I spent the next few hours vegging out watching TV and napping. It was the first time since my trip began that I actually got to sit and be a slob. When they returned Malcolm suggested we go check out a state park nearby. With nothing much else to do, I thought it sounded like a plan and went to brush my teeth and shine my bald head. We packed into his “work” jeep, decked out in advertisements for his gym, then headed south toward the park. We pulled into the entrance and were greeted by a park ranger.
“Five dollars please,” he mumbled. I pulled five bucks from my wallet and handed it to Malcolm who paid the ranger. As we drove on, I couldn’t help but wonder why we were paying money to see nature. Long’s Peak and Sphinx Mountain, two of the most beautiful places in the world, cost nothing other than our will to keep climbing. The last park we paid to enter was Yellowstone, and we later realized it was a disappointing waste of our money.
Once parked, we began hiking down a trail that led to a little cave. Inside, Paul began scaling the walls that stood four feet apart. About halfway up he announced to us that he was going to climb all the way to the crack up above and that we should meet him up top. Malcolm and I left the cave and began to hop up the easier path of boulders. A few minutes later we arrived at the top where Paul sat in his old man shades.
“It’s beautiful up here, isn’t it?” Malcolm asked. And even though I knew it was a gorgeous scene, I felt unimpressed. Sure, the green trees stretched for miles, and the rock formations in the distance were striking, but it didn’t do anything for me. Two weeks earlier I would have been blown away by the view, but no longer. I had been pampered by nature’s splendor for the past week and a half, and in the process, I had become my worst nightmare: a nature snob.