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Struggling for higher ground

Open SpaceDerek FranzGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

As a borderline insomniac, it was perfect irony that I would be roused from slumber by rude pounding on my door early Monday morning.The last time this happened it was the fire department, so I quickly threw on a robe and answered the door. The cold a.m. assaulted me with snowflakes blowing into my entryway and down my pajamas. A pretty, young woman in an orange vest and hard hat stood in the frosty mist, smiling and asking me to move my car. Now.Moving a car is not always so easy. One stupid decision I made at 4 a.m. on my 23rd birthday reminds me of the fact.The goal was to climb Mount Sopris by myself in winter. I started my Honda Accord in the dark, predawn hours of Wednesday, Dec. 22. Having been born in the blizzard of ’82 and brought home from the hospital on cross-country skis, I was stoked that a fresh dump covered the Roaring Fork Valley for my special day.I cranked some Pink Floyd as I made my way down the empty wetness on Highway 82 towards Carbondale. I was pretty sure where I was going, but not certain. The last and only time I had been up the mountain was when I was about 14. That was the other part of the challenge I liked – I had little knowledge of my intended route, including directions to the trailhead.Prince Creek Road – found it without a hitch! I’m normally terrible with finding obscure turnoffs, and this boosted me with confidence. Today would be great. “Shine on you crazy diamond,” indeed. I could feel the song in the chilly mountain air outside the window, like it was falling from the starry soup surrounding the black profile of my mountain. My hands gripped the wheel, I pushed on the gas. Everything boiled down to a single focus that tingled in my fingertips: Here I come.I sensed how far I was from the trailhead but the plowed road ended in a cul-de-sac. A set of tire tracks continued, however. Somebody else made it, so could I … I floored the gas and charged ahead.Oops! I regretted my choice instantly, but it was far too late. My low-riding, front-wheel-drive car fishtailed as I struggled to keep it afloat on deep powder, hoping to find some way to turn around. To the left … to the right … and into the bank.And just like that, my aspirations that lingered so high above me in the great sky, began dissipating like a fading cloud.I slammed my hands against the steering wheel until they hurt. I yelled at myself. Stupid! Idiot! Boy!Then I stepped out into the fluffy, terrible white blanket I had buried myself in. I exhaled into the stillness and studied the stars a moment longer, putting off my misery. I was scared.All alone at 4 a.m. on a weekday, there was nothing else to do but start excavating a car out of bottomless snow with an ice ax.An hour later the tires had spun their way down to the gravel, but the car hadn’t moved. All I needed was a friend to give a little push – a friend that didn’t exist. Despair for what I didn’t have gripped my heart. I wanted to cry. I wanted to give up. There was no real choice but to keep digging, however.I began slithering under the car, poking at the packed drift with my ax, shoveling little bits out at a time. By now I was wet and frozen from head to toe, but I began to see the solution.By 6 a.m. I’d managed to get through 100 yards of physical and emotional suffering. Trusty “Spiff” was now free and back on the plowed road, and in better shape than I was.Tired, nauseated, frozen and dehydrated, I slipped on my snowshoes and started up the peak.The sunrise put new life into my blood, like finding a warm, yellow beam after being lost in a black cave. But hours later I would once again find myself lost, wallowing in huge drifts near treeline with a fever coming on. Getting back to the car was as miserable as anything else that day.When I got home I slept until dinner. My dad called to say happy birthday, and my mom ate leftovers with me at her house, but otherwise no one was around. No one cared. I phoned one of my best friends, hoping he would meet me for a beer, but he declined. He had a wife and kid to keep him home. And I was still alone, stuck in a wish for all I didn’t have.I went back to my dark, drafty apartment and cried myself to sleep.Today, when that woman knocked on my door, I feel like I finally woke up from that night, two years later. There’s a lot I don’t have and never will, but one thing I do have is a fresh, new day. So, as I wipe crust from my eyes and fire up my all-wheel-drive Subaru Forester, I think that maybe I needed someone to pound on my door, get me moving toward a better place. Derek Franz is a copy editor for the Post Independent. He has been too intimidated to start this monthly column for a long time, and figures today is better than tomorrow. He can be reached at dfranz@postindependent.com or 384-9113.


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