When my sister and I were kids, we’d start complaining on Friday nights about going skiing. We’d complain about getting up early and about being stuffed into snowsuits and having to wear googles and that our boots hurt and that we had to walk what felt like a million miles across Copper’s main village to get to the lifts.
As soon as we hit the slopes, we’d have a blast, but once it was time to call it a day, we’d be back to complaining. My dad would gather his skis, my skis, my sisters skis and my mom’s skis, my mom would take everyone’s poles and I would ensure my little sister didn’t eat it in the icy parking lot.
For years, my dad drove both ways in i70 traffic (although it was nothing back then), patiently followed us down green groomers and listened to our complaining on both ends.
I was obsessed with rocks as a six-year-old. My dream was to go to Colorado School of Mines and study rocks because a) rocks were super cool and b) the school had my initial on a mountain behind it: “Mikaela Mountain”. We’d go hiking and I’d start picking up rocks immediately. Despite assuring me the same rocks would be there on our way down, my dad would end up filling the day-pack with interesting shaped or colored rocks just steps into our hike. I’d tire quickly and my mom would bribe me with singular gummy snacks. “Just make it to that next tree” and I’d be rewarded with one Gusher. When she’d start to tire, dad would promise us “it’s just around the next bend” or, “just another quarter of a mile”, even when we had several miles to go to reach our final destination.
We went to Hawaii the first time when I was eight and my sister was four. Mom couldn’t snorkel with contacts, so dad swam the two of us out into the ocean to see sea turtles. Our masks half full of water, half-drowned, we were crying and not excited about sticking our faces in the water, but even as the waves bobbed over our little heads, he patiently insisted we look down and experience the world under the surface.
At fifteen, he drove us to Utah to float part of the Green River with friends. We were a pre-teen and teen then and insisted on playing Ke$ha most of the way there. The mosquitoes were so thick you couldn’t get anywhere close to the riverbank without being eaten alive. The younger kids whined the whole trip and anytime I was handed an oar I’d promptly get us stuck on some sort of island or embankment. Yet the whole time, my dad kept us positive and upbeat and laughing.
When I was sixteen, my parents got divorced. My dad had been spending three weeks out of four traveling for work and I’d been spending as much time as possible avoiding my fighting parents. When he moved out, I was desperate for a way to connect with him. I felt like I barely knew him. I told him I wanted to start climbing with him and, even though he could barely afford rent on his apartment, he went out and bought me a harness and shoes that weekend. He took me to the gym a few times and then briefly taught me how to lead belay before disappearing over a large rock on a lonely spire in the middle of Utah. I’d get on the rock and freeze at the most inopportune times. I’d scream and cry and beg to come down and time and time again he’d leave gear on the wall and we’d abandon a climb. To anyone else, it would have seemed obvious that I hated climbing, but I wanted to keep trying and he kept letting me. My dad is not a patient man in any other scenario (ask him how many speeding tickets he has), but bringing my sister and I outside, his patience was always somehow endless.
I watched him climb mountains my entire life. He climbed Colorado’s 14ers and Mt. Rainier. He climbed Aconcagua in Argentina and attempted Denali in Alaska and Fuji in Japan. One time, when he chose to climb a 14er on a Sunday, I remember my mom nagging him about missing church and his response being that he didn’t believe in a God that would want him inside in a sanctuary on a Sunday morning over being out and worshiping in His creation.
It wasn’t until I had moved out on my own that I really realized how much I loved the outdoors. Nineteen years of complaining, of cajoling, of dragging our whining little bodies around the mountains and oceans and rivers and deserts, he patiently showed us the places he so loved. He taught me to love wild places. To love standing on a summit, or flying down a slope or hanging off a rock wall. To love the smell of the sun on pine needles and the sound of a creek babbling and the sight of a moose in a far off stand of willows. To love driving to the seeming ends of the Earth to seek adventure. That waking up early is always worth it. That the road less traveled is the road to take, even if it means taking your skis off and down climbing a cliff in ski boots.
My purpose in life is to inspire others to get out and experience life while protecting the wild places I love to play in…and I owe it all to my dad.
Thanks dad, for teaching us, being patient with us and instilling your love of the wild world in us.