“Most of us are on a journey. We’re looking for something, though we’re not always sure what that is. The way is foggy much of the time. I suggest you slow down and follow some of the side roads that appear suddenly in the mist.” –RealLivePreacher.com weblog, February 13, 2003
A gondola ride allows Telluride to work its magic more quickly. On a beautiful, clear summer morning it offers a birds-eye view of the town nestled in its box canyon, surrounded by mountains on three sides. The gondola whisks you up from town, over snow-less ski runs through tall pines towards the station on the ridge that separates the town of Telluride from the town of Mountain Village. On the Mountain Village side, a gorgeous panorama opens as one sees the western slope of the Rocky Mountains start to descend towards the canyons and deserts of the west.
When I’d suggested taking the gondola up and over to the Mountain Village side to Sara and Emily, I hadn’t really considered this aspect. It was a practical suggestion to save a few miles and about a thousand feet of elevation gain. Sara and Emily and their bicycles were bound for the arduous climb up and over Lizard Head Pass that rewards cyclists with amazing views and then a gentle grade downhill towards Dolores, Colorado.
It was the morning of Saturday, June 14th, 2008. Sara and Emily were packing up and heading out as we were packing in and setting up our camp in the “primitive area” section of Telluride’s Town Park. The 35th annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival would officially start the following Thursday, but this was the morning that the town turns over the campground to the festival. They had made it in the evening before and awoke to the influx of early arriving “festivarians” eager to set up camps for the next nine nights of partying, pickin’, fun and festivaaaaal that includes the four days of non-stop music at the adjacent festival grounds. They had no idea that over the course of the next few days, their quiet overnight campground would have a tent or shelter of some sort planted on any and every spot of ground that could hold one.
Sara and Emily appeared to be in their early to mid-twenties. They had quit their jobs in Chicago and were headed cross-country on their bikes toward Sacramento or the bay area in California. They were about half way through their journey, having left the plains far behind and were on the verge of conquering one of the major obstacles on their route, the Rockies. So while we set-up our monstrous tents and they tore down their small ultra-light, we described what we knew of the festival.
It was our first Telluride Bluegrass Festival, but being an engineer by training and the planner of our group, I had done a ton of advance preparation. I had researched it, planned for it, and obsessed about it. I had constructed a small trailer from a kit to haul our camping supplies in its honor. I had driven my wife to aggravation with endless details that ranged from the plan for finding just the right spot to set up camp to all the types and layers of clothing necessary to survive the San Juan Mountains and a festival in summer. I knew how many quarters were necessary for five minutes of hot water at the showers. I knew the festival line-up forwards and backwards. I knew, sort of, what a tarp run was. I knew that, among many veterans of the festival, there’s a strong code against buying or selling festival tickets above cost. By that Saturday in June of 2008, I had yet to set foot on the actual grounds of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, but I was already hooked.
We didn’t know anything about Sara and Emily’s situation or their schedule, so I tried to temper my enthusiasm and not push too hard while relating some of the finer points that had brought us here. I was also mindful that getting Town Park camping/festival tickets is not a simple thing and could take a few days, with no guarantee of success at all. They are highly prized and very much in demand. But we did offer to help them try to find tickets if they had the time and money, and we let them know they were certainly welcome to use our camp kitchen if they wanted to stick around, even for just a couple of days. They said it was tempting, but they were looking to move on down the road, so they finished packing up their panniers. We let them know about the gondola, wished them well and said our good-byes.
We continued to set up our camp, strung up a couple of hammocks, got a canopy set up to cover what would be the camp kitchen and worked to get that pieced together. I was focused on some task or other when Emily suddenly appeared again about an hour or so after we thought she and Sara had left. “Betcha thought you’d never see me again, huh?” she said. They wanted to stay and try for tickets. I was glad to see them back, but wasn’t totally surprised. They chose a spot near our camp and threw down a tarp for their tent.
Emily and I headed over to some of the long-established camps to tell her and Sara’s cross-country biking story and to let folks know that they were looking for tickets. Because I knew of some of the festivarians there from the online community, introductions were easy and I had a pretty good idea of some folks that could likely help them. A few stops and several introductions later, the word was out. I figured two twenty-something females with a good background story stood a pretty good chance of scoring some tickets, but I figured it might take some time.
Well, it did: all of about an hour and a half. Festivarians are an amazing group of people. Emily told me that they had a deal to purchase two tickets from someone that was due to arrive in a couple of days by shortly after noon on Saturday, face value of course. In the long and storied history of the festival, I’m sure someone has gotten tickets quicker. I’m not so sure that anyone’s ever gone from knowing nothing about the festival, to knowing they want tickets, to knowing they’ve got tickets this quickly.
So they put their trip on hold for over a week, but in exchange they met tons of new people, hit some of the parties and jams in Town Park, hung out in the tarp line overnight, saw four days of great music and experienced the magic of Telluride. Oh, and they were great neighbors too. Perhaps most important, after coming upon an amazing situation by chance, they had the good sense not to ride away from it.
Later in the week, Sara (I think it was Sara) told me that ever since they started out on their cross-country trek, every morning they would see people heading off to work while they were setting out on another leg of their adventure. She told me how lucky they’d felt each morning, and that she and Emily would often exchange knowing smiles on such occasions. But the morning they tried leaving Telluride for the first time, passing all the happy folks headed in for the festival, they felt like they were the ones driving to work, so they turned around.
The gondola ride back into town is nice too.
from left to right- a neighbor whose name I can't recall, Sara and my oldest daughter, Natalie at breakfast