It was golden

We never do this.

My wife and I have six kids. I've probably mentioned that before. That fact has kept us close to home as we've navigated school carpools, soccer games, doctor appointments, and everything in between. There's not been much time to do anything else.

Now, it's different.

As our children have grown older, we realize we have the wherewithal to leave the path and do new things. Our 22-year-old middle child is home for the summer and he's a pretty good babysitter. That means he and our 16-year-old daughter can easily manage our 8-year-old and the three dogs while my wife and I take a quick trip out of state.

"I just bought two tickets to Denver. Frontier Airlines had a deal so I just bought them," I told my wife a couple of weeks ago.

"Is that one of those airlines that makes you stand the entire flight like you're on a subway?"

"Funny. The tickets were dirt cheap. We're leaving town. Just you and me. I'm renting a car in Denver and we'll go from there."

She paused. I knew she was weighing the management of kids, cost of the trip, and her desire to see the mountains.

"Sure, I'm in."

"Good, because I was going anyway."

She snorted.

We landed in Denver on a Monday and rented a car for the drive to Boulder, where we'd stay for a couple of days. We strolled Pearl Street. We hiked the Flatirons.

Then we headed to Rocky Mountain National Park, where we planned to spend the majority of our hiking time. Our launch point would be an inexpensive motel in Estes Park with a stunning view of the mountains.

The line to get into the park stretched for half a mile. I had read that post-covid travelers had created a massive logjam of visitors to national parks, and now I was seeing it firsthand.

I had also read there had been a rash of tourists interacting with wildlife inappropriately. Meaning, idiot people are getting too close to wild animals.

On our first day, we watched dumbstruck as a family walked a game trail to get a closer look at a mother moose and her calf.

We drove to the high-elevation areas to have a look at the vistas afforded by the mountains. Each parking lot had cars packed in so tight it was difficult to walk. Folks stood on crests and took photo after photo. I was sure Instagram and Facebook would soon bulge with those images.

We headed below the tree line to begin our hike and again came across long lines and crowded parking lots at each trail head.

"This is going to be awful," I said. "We came here to get away from crowds."

"Just relax," my wife responded. "We're in the Rocky Mountains."

We found a little pullout and edged our rental car between two minivans. After strapping on backpacks and tightening shoelaces, we slowly marched along the dirt path, leaving cars and people behind.

That's when we noticed it.

We noticed that many tourists found interest in the vistas with their easy access. We noticed that many of those parked at the trail heads ventured about 100 yards, then turned back. This was confusing at first. Later, we'd understand.

We had the trails to ourselves.

We hiked 10 miles each day and we didn't see a soul in that seemingly crowded park. Soft meadow soil sloshed under our feet. Elk bugled from ridges. Small streams crossed grass fields with the gentleness of fingers through suede. We talked the entire way--about the kids, mostly, of course. The wind moved through lion-colored grass, and we smelled rain each day.

The entire scene was golden.

That's the word we've always used to describe the aspirations we have for our jobs, our marriage, our family. That's the word we've aspired to bring to our children in terms of how life should be lived.

"Enough" is never a good summative term. Enough is not fulfilling, despite definitions contrary to that. Those golden moments are the ones in which we feel most alive, when we feel most hopeful about the days to come.

If we stopped the journey at the easy access vistas, we wouldn't get it. If we turned around the moment a trail became challenging, we wouldn't get it.

We wouldn't get that the paths beyond have plenty of room.

We know we fall short time and again. But in those moments when the pattern is broken and the trail diverges into the unknown, we can sense the full weight of what it means to experience choices that turn out providential, opportunities that turn out golden.

Steve Straessle is the principal of Little Rock Catholic High School for Boys. You can reach him at sstraessle@lrchs.org. Find him on Twitter @steve_straessle. "The Strenuous Life" appears every other Saturday.

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