“I was halfway across America, at the dividing line between the
East of my youth and the West of my future.”
–Jack Kerouac, On the Road
What are we if not but a conduit from one experience to the next? And I don’t mean some sort of stationary channel. No, instead one that is freely moving like a sprinkler, one that changes in every moment between which the experience enters and exits, yet is caught eternally in this cyclical space where the ever-growing past shapes this boundless future. With a life that never ends in experience, never refuses to characterize you as those experiences infinitely and ultimately become part of you, is it then possible then to really know yourself?
I had a conversation about a year ago on a first date with someone I met online. With the combination of a few drinks and my ubiquitous nerves, I thought it was a good idea to start talking philosophy and the meaning of life and whatnot, as you do on a date with a stranger. I forget the context but I know at one point I arrogantly proclaimed to be confident in knowing who I am, what I’m looking for in life. “Well then, who are you?” he asked. And it caught me off guard. Between frantically searching for answers and repeating a cycle of “oh fuck oh fuck…” in my head I eventually, blushing and sputtering, came up with some bullshit response. “Oh, you know, it’s more of a feeling. One that can’t be summarized into words.” Uhhhh, riiiight, I think that’s the point where my “definitely crazy” checkbox was ticked for sure. But I never forgot that moment. When faced with answering what should be the easiest question there is, on the subject matter I thought I knew best, I was dumbfounded.
“Who am I? Where am I going? What do I want?” says the me now, one year later. Reality check: the me then had no clue. The me then could not have even imagined the ways I’d be stretched and pulled and squashed back together over the course of 365 days. Yes, my essential foundations are the same of course, my morals and beliefs relatively unchanged, but I’ve still not remained who I thought I was then, who I thought I’d still be now. “Who am I? Where am I going? What do I want?” says the me now, one year later.
This is a thought that went through my head a lot ever since, much more than it really ever used to and especially in the 6 days I very recently spent in Colorado with my three best friends. And I know how that seems, how that elicits a “Damn Katie, how much weed did you smoke in Denver?" sort of conclusion but it’s not like that. Well, not entirely at least. Besides being a celebration of 10 years of our friendship together, this trip from the start was decidedly a “soul search” of sorts. Being in our mid 20s, we’re all at a bit of a crossroads in life, or see that coming shortly. All of us needed that time to go off to the middle of nowhere, with the people who we trust best and start to figure this changing little life out. So that’s what we did. We laughed, we danced, we sang, we hiked, we relaxed, and we ate…a lot.
The trip began as all trips do, by accidentally loading all of our belongings into the wrong rental car and locking the keys inside before even leaving the parking lot. Oh wait, that’s not how they usually start? Well, that’s embarrassing. Anywayyyy… The trip began as all trips do, with lunch. We picked a spot at random, close to where we were planning to get snacks and supplies, and swag near our Denver AirBnB, and Uber Sausage turned out to be a great place to start our several day eating and drinking spree. I went with their Colorado Buffalo sausage, a spicy buffalo bratwurst with berry chipotle sauce, cabbage and queso fresco on a baguette and we all had a round of Upslope beers and tots (their dipping sauces were the bomb!) for the table.
Later that night after seeing a Chainsmokers concert at Red Rocks and burning off mass amounts of energy dancing to 6 straight hours of electronic music we went to VoodooDoughnuts for a 2:00am “snack”. And I mean snack in that way because these doughnuts are enormous and extravagant. Imagine a voodoo doll shaped and decorated doughnut longer than your hand, filled with raspberry jelly, topped with chocolate frosting and completed with a pretzel stick needle through the heart. Yep, it’s a thing. So is it a coincidence that this is what we were eating when we started watching the 5th season of Great British Bake-Off (which we continued to watch and finished throughout the duration of the trip)? I think not.
We started the next day with brunch at Snooze, a restaurant that does breakfast and does it well and knows that every brunch is better when tequila cocktails are involved. From what everyone else at the table was saying, don’t skip the Bella Bella Benny or the Breakfast Pot Pie, and whatever you do, make sure you get an order of the sweet potato pancakes to split with the table. Our server brought us one of these giant pancakes on the house and we were all amazed by it.
The rest of the day, we meandered around the city, stepping into whichever brewery or bar looked best. First Draft Taproom was a cool spot with a wall of pour-your-own beers on tap using a fancy card reading system that lets you try as much or as little as you like and tallies up your total for when you’re ready too settle up at the end. We made our way over to Our Mutual Friends Brewery afterwards, a quirky little place with some awesome brews, especially their raspberry sour beer. And across the street we stopped at Finn’s Manor for cocktails in their great outdoor seating area.
We ended the night with a fantastic dinner at Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox, a former brothel turned restaurant with so many innovative dishes and cocktails and pictures of boobs on their walls. We started with the fried cheese curds and cream cheese stuffed shishito peppers. For my main I got their special that night, a roasted half chicken topped with paper-thin fried lemon slices alongside braised red cabbage, salt roasted potatoes and a foursome of pickles and relishes. An ensemble of a bit of sweet from the chicken, sour pickles, salty vegetables, and bitter lemon, this was undoubtedly a winner of a dish.
Our last meal in the city was at the appropriately named Four Friends Kitchen for another fantastic brunch. While all of their dishes were great, be certain you get the house made potato chips with pimiento cheese dip to start. They may make you a little more full than you should be before a main dish but it’s worth it. Still hungry? Well, Ice Cream Riot has you covered, that is if ridiculous ice creams flavored like favorite childhood cereals, candies, and snacks between two pop-tarts sounds good to you.
We spent the rest of the trip staying in my cousin’s cabin out near Buena Vista, about 2.5 hours southwest of the city, with the obvious choices of frozen pizzas, mini-bagels, and granola bars to get us through. We may have eaten all of the cheez-its and chips the first night, thereby demolishing 2/3 of our snack supply…whoops! Our days were refreshingly free of too many plans though. While we did splurge on a day at Mt. Princeton Hot Spring Resort, the rest of the time we went on walks and hikes, chilled at a local brewery, sat on the back porch of the deck taking it all in. And by the end it was hard to say whether it was the city part or the mountain part we liked best. The thriving food and beer haven or the brilliance of those views and their majestic vastness. The city, like the past, so diverse and bustling, sometimes gritty and sometimes beautiful. The mountains like the future, upward-facing, the end unknown. They were so drastically different, two ends of the spectrum, but it felt like both were essential to making such a perfectly balanced vacation. Both had their place and we caught that sweet spot in between.
“Who am I? Where am I going? What do I want?” said the me now, one year later. As I continued asking myself this during our time in Colorado, I hit a moment of revelation. Maybe I don’t need to find an answer to this. Maybe it’s less about defining my bundle of experiences that slip through me from future to past into thought or words or trying to force an idea of what my life should be like and more about reacting to experience in the ways that feel right and taking it day by day, minute by minute, and just simply living. Yes, we spent a lot of time talking about our hopes and dreams and ideals and identities, and that's completely ok. We can’t eliminate thought of the future. But, trying to figure out my meaning and purpose did not matter when standing in awe before a glistening lake and the mountains looming ahead of me. It didn't matter when I was in the company of my best friends, together on the couch watching the finale if the Great British Bake-Off. I was surrounding myself with those that don't worry about who I am, with experiences that made me happy, excellent food, gorgeous scenery, moving music. And I figured as long as I'm doing that I'll be ok, I'll be me, and the world will present itself to me as it may.
This realization hit me hardest in a moment during the trip at the Chainsmokers concert. I clearly recall feeling my body as if it was nothing and everything, being aware of the millions of particles that make it up but as though they were all weightless and free-floating and the breeze that washed over me was actually moving through me and I was as happy and as carefree as I think I possibly could be. And then their song "Closer" came on and the lights blindingly danced across my eyes so I closed them and sang along, "We ain't ever getting older, we ain't ever getting older, we ain't ever getting older..." and I was at peace.