Growing up, I never considered myself an “outdoors-y” person. I am from Colorado, the best state for outdoors-y activities, yet I never participated in them. I never went rock-climbing at the Flatirons. I never went sledding at the rolling sand dunes. And no, I never went skiing or snowboarding on the iconic Rocky Mountains. (I know, take my Colorado ID away now.) As a child of immigrants who moved to Colorado because of job opportunities, not because of the outdoors like a decent portion of the Colorado population, I was never introduced to these activities through family weekend trips. Instead, my family weekend trips included eating free samples for lunch at Costco and smacking watermelons at H-Mart to know if they’re high quality or not (an essay for another day). I never thought much about this contrast in experience. Colorado was just a place where I lived, and that was it — until COVID happened.
When I saw the dreaded email from Daddy Duke last semester that announced the suspension of in-person classes, I was heartbroken. As a freshman, I had just begun getting comfortable at Duke. I had found a stable group of friends that I was happy with. I was getting into my groove with my coursework. I had even just gone through the iconic tenting experience and seen Duke absolutely trash UNC in basketball. Having to spend the rest of the semester, and most likely the entire summer back home felt like regressing. Worse still, with quarantine in full effect, any chance of eating out at restaurants, going to events, playing basketball at the rec center or even hanging out at a friend’s house was gone. Like many, I was faced with the daunting task of figuring out what the hell I was going to do with my time.
After playing and watching more than my fair share of Animal Crossing, attempting and failing to learn a new skill and binge-watching “Community” (a fantastic show, by the way), the thought of going out and exploring the beautiful state I live in slowly started to creep into my head. Not only was exploring nature one of the few activities approved of in my state during quarantine, it also seemed like a great reprieve from the insane amount of time I had spent cooped up in my house. So, I rounded up my nature-loving friends and headed down to Monument to hike the mountains in Pikes National Forest.
All throughout the Monument trip, I felt at peace. There was something about being in nature that deeply satisfied me. Maybe it was the opportunity to get away from the hustle and bustle of civilization — to be removed from the pressures of my summer internship and awkward Zoom meetings. Maybe it was the breathtaking views of the Rocky Mountains scraping the sky to the west, the rolling foothills that stretched beyond the horizon from the north to the south and the fading city skyline to the east. Or maybe it was the cheerful chirping of birds that flew overhead, the shocking silence of nature and the sweet smell of pinewood. Regardless, that day I felt alive like I had never really felt before. I felt grounded in the present — not stressed about the past or worried about the future. I was just there enjoying life with some great people. After that day, I made it a point to continue exploring the beautiful state and the outdoors that I had brushed aside as a kid: I was going to make up for lost time.
And boy, did I make up for lost time. By the end of the summer, I had amassed an extensive outing list. I had hiked three 14,000 ft. mountains (known locally as fourteeners), hiked a 12,000 ft. mountain, scaled a mountainside with a rope, vacationed in a 19th century log cabin, went four-wheeling through forests, hiked a waterfall trail and more. Every single time I ventured into the mountains or the forest or the cabin, I felt that same zen feeling.
Now that I’m back at Duke and bogged down with coursework and countless Zoom meetings, I look back on this past summer in appreciation for Colorado. While North Carolina is a fantastic state in its own right, it doesn’t have the same stunning mountains, plateaus and hiking spots that Colorado does — in fact, few states in the nation do. I can’t help but fantasize about hiking the Rocky Mountains, immersed in the serene sounds of nature, good friends and the weightless feeling of simply existing. Keep waiting for me, Colorado. I’ll be back soon.