My trip to Colorado starts with an early flight, cutting above the clouds as the sky faded pale, racing the sunrise to Denver.
Well, really, the story starts with me, in the rain, the night before, searching for my sister’s keys in a bush outside her house. She’s already in Colorado, and since my flight leaves the next morning, she’s decided to let me stay at her place before my flight. She has hidden her house keys in an “easy” spot for me to find, and even sent me photos of the location to “help.” Like some kind of garbage thief, I riffle through the ripped grocery bags and decomposing Pringles cans caught in the branches while her neighbors walk past on the wet sidewalk, trying not to make eye contact. The photos, it turns out, were of a different bush entirely.
The first sentence just had a better ring to it, you know? But this was never going to be classy.
I miss my Greyhound to Colorado Springs in Denver, proud home of the world’s most confusing airport, and wander around for a few hours in the city with a suitcase sans phone charger and a dead phone, trying to remember my winding route so I can retrace my steps. The next Greyhound is hours later, but I can get a ride on a “Bustang” midday — a bright purple bus with an orange horse logo painted along the side. I find my way to the bus stop under a parking garage overhang in downtown and lean determinedly against the cinderblock walls, crushing cigarette butts under my boots.
I meet the bus and claim a seat on the right side. “The view from the left side is just Kansas flat,” I’ve been told. “On the right side you get mountains.”
I clutch my dead cell phone to my chest and forget about rental car connections for a minute, because mountains — this is something I’ve missed, something I don’t remember wanting until I’m there.
Mountains are snug and risky at the same time — they shield you, shelter you from the outside, like a bug in a cocoon, but they don’t go to any effort. You could climb them or stick to the ground; the mountains don’t care. You can take a few risks around them, precisely because they don’t care enough to judge you.
When I pictured Colorado, it was always snow and ski lodges — stock-photo Colorado. Here in person, it was on the edge between desert and texture, like snapped peanut brittle, smooth in some places, jutting up sharply in others, unpredictable. Old West country. You could imagine gunslingers here, or ladies in frilled, high-necked gowns; explorers and gangsters made their way here, a city with a Native American history as rich as the towns I come from; streets with gift shops and museums and restaurants and pot dispensaries jumbled into the same clusters; crowds split between people who don’t know how to drive in snow, and people complaining about people who don’t know how to drive in snow. Sometimes it made you feel right at home; sometimes you were uncomfortably aware that you were a tourist. Colorado doesn’t care. You didn’t ask its opinion, and it’s not going to ask for yours.
I could talk a lot about what we did — the places we stayed, the people we met, the train conductor with the terrible puns as we climbed slowly up Pike’s Peak, the mineral springs we sampled, the gorgeous sprawling beauty of the Garden of the Gods, the places we explored, the way it felt to wake up in the morning and see the view just outside your window, yours to take and touch and try to claim.
And I will, some other time, but here I just want to talk about missed buses and forgotten phone chargers and the sweet girl at the rental car station saying she’s so sorry, she just doesn’t know how to ring it up even though I prepaid, about poorly marked roads and hairpin turns and my sister laughing uncontrollably every time I say the word “Bustang.”
This was never going to be classy.
But if I could do it again? I wouldn’t make any changes.