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Traveling Will & Robin

Current travels: Three months in the wilderness of Siberia, Mongolia, and the South Pacific


Aug '10

A Retreat From the World

When people ask me my favorite place in the world — a question I like for its openness to interpretation and its ability to reveal a persons ideals and priorities — I respond that for me the title is shared by the Amalfi Coast of Italy and being at the top of the world in Rocky Mountain National Park with a pack on my back.


I've been coming here since I was 6. Almost there...

From the stone-carved city sign high above the valley bellow, I descended down US-36 into Estes Park. A sleepy but charming 5000 person town during the winter, Estes comes alive in the summer as thousands of tourists clog the businesses and streets of the downtown, buying both caramel corn and hiking supplies as they give right to the town’s moniker as the Gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. I know Estes intimately, at least as well as any other city other than my birthplace, so I bypassed the thoroughfare of Elkhorn Ave and took the back way to Devil’s Gulch Road. Devil’s Gulch rolls lazily across an enormous meadow above the town, surrounded by mountains and lined with increasingly expensive houses, until it suddenly disappears down a steep canyon.

This is my twenty-fifth year coming to this particular patch of Earth, with all its mountains, valleys, and lakes; nearly every summer since I was six years old I was driven along the river-following highways and up the dirt road to my grandparents’ house. This was my destination, and I was anxious to arrive. I’d reached the switchbacks — oh, those switchbacks — that lead away from Estes Park and towards Glen Haven. This was the first time I’d used a bike to descend the astonishing 17% grade towards the north fork of the Big Thompson River, and it was exhilarating. Exceeding the speed limit I soon blew past the Post Office and general store that mark Glen Haven, and followed the river into Roosevelt National Forest.  This was it… each sharp curve a reminder from my childhood that I was getting close. Soon I reached the turn-off to The Retreat, the piece of mountain land and dirt roads that is my home away from home here, and started climbing the steep path that is oh so familiar from countless trips walking down to get the day’s paper.


My Retreat for the week

It had been a hard day’s ride, but I was shocked at the sense of accomplishment I felt pulling into the same driveway I’d pulled into for the last 24 years, after having gotten myself here from my house in San Francisco using only the power of my two legs. After calling out my greetings I was reunited with my grandparents and dads and I settled back into my mountain routines instantly. It’s hard to overstate how much I like visiting this place; it provides a perfect storm of scenery, company, and lifestyle. The days are indistinguishable and are always filled with the same dressings: early mornings, beautiful hikes in the Park; lazy lunches and reading on the couch; crosswords and jigsaw puzzles with the family on the coffee table, then transition from the the beer-and-cheese hour to communal dinner preparations; wonderful food, flowing wine, sparkling and stimulating conversations at the dinner table, then a game or a bit more reading before our solar, all before we wake up to do it all over again.


The Clan Donald, 2010

This year, to my astonishment, I only hiked once; this was the first time I’d ever come to Colorado not explicitly to hike, but I was indolent and happy with my rest. I stayed at the Retreat for a full week, long enough to see almost all my paternal family, and long enough for my muscles to completely forget what brutal action offense I’d initiated against them to make them feel the way they did. My dear and wonderful grandmother pulled some strings to get me in with her cyclist and triathlete massage therapist, who knew exactly how I’d been abusing myself and made it all better for an hour and a half. I, to jump on the family summer bandwagon, started reading Stieg Larsson, and I reveled in having always available (albeit painfully slow, 2001-era) internet.

By my Sunday morning departure I didn’t want to leave, and I only managed to pack my gear and get on my bike by using this summer’s built-up muscle memory. Biking, my body reminded me, is hard. This had been a week of relaxing, of pampering myself; it had been a vacation within my vacation. All holidays must come to an end, though, and eventually I found the fortitude keep moving myself down the road. Soon I was again noticing the unusually far-away trees, and singing to myself, and feeling the strangely wonderful road hypnotism that comes from watching pavement and paint move under you for hours on end. I was back on the road, and I can now already feel myself being driven eastward by the beaconing siren call of my next and final goal: the ocean.

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