I had just spent the week living out of an Airbnb off the Metro line for Denver Startup Week. My actual home is an hour away, high in the Rocky Mountains west of Boulder, but I didn’t want to commute in everyday for the early breakfast sessions and evening cocktail hours and was looking forward to the change of pace ‘City Living’ brings. I really enjoyed and appreciated the opportunity to commute by rail, walk the city, ride the elevators, meet some ‘movers’ and some ‘shakers’ and just get into the urban grit. 

Three days later I find myself at Wolf Creek Pass, standing on top of the Continental Divide at 10,857′ in a remote part of south-western Colorado. I’ve just hitched a ride from where I parked six miles below and hoisted my 45 pound pack to head into the unbelievable Weminuche Wilderness. Launching into a 4-day, 40-mile solo backpacking trip along the spine of the Divide feels especially surreal in the moment because, unbeknownst to me, I haven’t really left the city… 

I’m no more than a quarter mile in when I catch the horrible scent of fresh feces and think out loud, “Who in the Hell dropped-trou in the middle of the trail?” What it took me a few too many seconds to realize was that my reaction was based on the City Living mindset that I hadn’t shaken. I was still mentally on the train rolling through Denver where the smell of human feces wasn’t all that unusual… 

In that instant I realized it wasn’t human feces I was smelling but a bear! That flipped the switch immediately from ‘City Jeff’ to ‘Mountain Jeff’ and all my senses became hyper-aware as I felt more homo sapiens sapiensthen I had in months. Now I could feel the wind circling around me, disguising the source and direction of the scent. I saw that the narrow 12″ trail I was walking was loose from recently melted snow and fell off dramatically to my left. I wound through a burned forest where every tree held widow-maker branches creaking in the wind. My head, now on an orbital swivel, helps me to clearly make out two sets of bear tracks – a mother and her cub – coming toward me, thank God (this means they’re most likely behind me). I take a breath now that I don’t necessarily need to worry about meeting them around the next bend… I can hear, smell, see and even ‘taste’ and ‘feel’ things I hadn’t noticed as I become deeply attuned to the incredible natural environment I’m now enmeshed in. 

One of the highlights of my route was a spot described in the guide book as “completely taking your breath away” by giving the “sensation of being led on some rickety old platform right into the void.” I couldn’t wait to be THERE. As I was moving along the Divide the following day, a sheer cliff came into view with a snow-filled trail zig-zagging its way down from the saddle, perilously close to the far edge at one particular turn toward the top. I exclaimed out loud, “That must be the spot!” It was still close to 10 miles away so I had the ‘pleasure’ of watching it come closer, loom larger, and definitively become ‘the spot’ for the next 4 hours… 

Finally arriving at the base of the cliff, I could see that the trail was fairly clear until about half-way, where it became completely snow filled. When I got to that point, I found that the balance was, indeed, impassable and decided to leave the trail and climb directly upward, connecting the few barren spots and rock outcroppings to create a relatively snow-free path to the top. What I didn’t expect was that the barren spots were moist from the recent melt and that the entire cliff-face was unstable. This realization came as I attempted to use hiking poles as climbing axes and still found myself slowly sliding downward. I looked down between my legs and saw the 1,000′ drop to a rock garden at the face’s bottom. 

I was immediately overcome with panic. My mind raced with thoughts of death and all my external senses ceased. I felt trapped within myself, hanging on the side of a cliff, paralyzed with fear. I have had enough experience exploring ‘mindfulness’ to recognize the danger of this thought process and told myself, “Self, if you don’t get over your fear, you’re going to die falling off this mountain.” This realization flipped the switch again, snapping me out of City Jeff’s fear and bringing Mountain Jeff present into a place of clarity. My heart stopped racing, the tension in my head relaxed, my whole body cooled and I could feel things again. I felt normal, I just happened to be hanging from a cliff. But I wasn’t going to follow the fear. Now I could see a path of rocks and earth and vegetation above leading me out, as long as I kept moving upward. So I did. I never made it to the spot fantasized in the guide book but was just fine with that. My breath had been sufficiently taken away… 

The next day I found myself soaking alone in the Rainbow Hot Spring on the bank of the San Juan River, tired and sore but quietly ecstatic. I had once again been connected with my real ‘human’, feeling what it’s like to move like an animal through wilderness on the same wave length as the flora and fauna, resonating again with the Earth. It is from this place that we are able to see our thoughts for what they are and engage with them as WE wish. It is in this place that we find clear thinking and inspiration. I was thrilled to know this perspective is just one thought away and that I have the ability to move from thought to consciousness and back, whatever the circumstances, whether it’s to save my own life or just to relish in the full-body beauty of a natural hot spring. We all have this ability, we just don’t necessarily know it … yet.

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