Greener pastures

“Oh, I used to live in Colorado,” the chubby dude said over the din of the wedding reception. “I spent a couple seasons in Steamboat,” he added before slurping on a bright green boat drink, complete with a tiny pink umbrella.

The words rolled over my tired ears like the rustle of aspen leaves. I’d been trapped in the suburban wilderness of the East Coast all week, had 16 more hours until the return home and that pasty wedding guest was the closest thing to Colorado I’d seen since touching down. I ordered up a King o’ Beers and settled in for a welcome conversation.

Like many new Coloradans, Cliff had tossed his diploma, borrowed his mom’s Tercel and headed West in search of knee-deep adventure. After a brief introduction to the concrete expanse of the Front Range, he pointed it for the hills and bumbled into Steamboat Springs. A glimpse of downtown was all it took – he knew he’d found home. Cliff snatched a tattered “Roommate Wanted” note off a bulletin board, scored a job tending bar three nights a week, put a ski pass on the plastic and started dreaming of thick sheets of powder.

Over the next couple years, he gave up snowboarding for telemarking, bucked the ski town odds and actually scored a girlfriend and was spending three to four days a week getting lost in the mountains. One spring, he bought a buddy’s old kayak, started running the Yampa and even made it through the Gates of Lodore. A few months later, he went from bartender to bar manager.

The story sounded like a great case of Colorado come true to my seasoned ears (I even briefly turned Jagermeister green with envy at mention of the bar manager job). But Cliff had other ideas. In spite of the high-altitude lovin’ and high backcountry adventure, his eyes had started wandering. Somewhere far off, the almighty dollar was calling.

In the end, his hefty rent bill mixed with the fabled $100 bag of groceries sent him scrambling. Homes were too expensive, the tip jar too empty, and the blue sky was no longer rich enough.

“It was time to grow up and leave dreamland,” he told me as he took another swallow of electric green cocktail. “You can only hide from the real world for so long.”

Like so many failed ski bums before him, Cliff cut his losses and went back to the city and a “real” job. He loaded up the Tercel, watched his girlfriend (now in sole custody of their husky Marley) move into a buddy’s sleeping bag and relocated to the Great Lakes State.

“I’ve got a tech job now,” Cliff boasted as he popped his teeny umbrella open and closed. “I’m the IT manager for all of the Olive Garden restaurants in central Michigan.”

Cliff’s also chipping away at a 30-year loan, has a new girlfriend (Marie, the manager of the O. Garden in Saginaw) and thinks he might even make it up to Mt. Holly and ride Michigan’s lone high-speed detachable quad this winter. Plus, he got a gym membership for his birthday and may try out the climbing wall one of these days.

“Colorado was great, but you can’t eat scenery,” he concluded. Cliff then showed me the limits of what can be eaten and popped a boneless chicken wing smothered in ranch dressing into his mouth. He also took the final sip of the deep green for good measure.

On those sour notes, I bid my new friend and his little umbrella farewell. I’m sorry Cliff, but I’m pretty sure our relationship isn’t going to make it. You see, I do feed on scenery, and I’ll take buff singletrack, fields of columbine and backcountry turns over a 401K any day.

I’ve never been a six-figure kind of guy. I prefer passing treeline and having two trailheads minutes from my front door to three-car garages and backyard water features. Give me the rugged San Juans in my back yard over plush Kentucky bluegrass in the front yard. You can also hold the eight lanes of traffic, cul-de-sac communities and destination malls. And call me crazy, but I like the fact that the nearest Olive Garden is across state lines in New Mexico. Plus, after casually admiring Cliff’s bulbous front side, I’ve decided the $100 bag of groceries might not be such a bad thing.

And exactly 15 hours and 12 minutes after our goodbye, I boarded my jet liner, lifted off from the East Coast and pointed it for higher ground. Cliff can have the real world. I’m sticking with dreamland.

– Will Sands



In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows