By the time I arrived in Creede, Colorado in July of 2019, I’d already driven more than 10k miles on my nomadic journey. Finally, I was at a fork in the road—no, seriously. A literal fork.
Okay, it wasn’t actually stuck in the road but it was right next to it. In fact, it’s the largest fork in the country, weighing in at a hefty 600 pounds. It’s 40 feet long, made of aluminum, and can be found next to the parking lot of the Cascada Bar & Grill, which happens to serve up some pretty good Mexican food.
That’s where I met a stranger by the name of Rick. Meeting him at all was like one of those mysterious and synchronistic moments which leave you scratching your head and going, hmmmmm. 🤔
You see, I was with three other people whom I had been staying with in a mountain cabin outside of town. We had made the drive into Creede for the specific purpose of eating at that restaurant. On the way there, we made an unplanned stop at a roadside vendor and purchased some cherries, peaches, and raw honey. The fact that we happened to arrive at the restaurant at exactly the same time as Rick was—serendipitous at the very least.
We walked in and took our places in front of the empty hostess station. We were unsure if we were supposed to seat ourselves or wait to be seated, and joked a little with the man standing next to us. He told us his name was Rick.
Rick stood about five foot three, was probably in his late fifties, and was clad in gray cargo pants and a yellow North Face jacket. After a few minutes, a hostess arrived and informed us a booth for four had just opened up. Assuming we were all together, she asked if we wanted the booth and offered a chair so we could all fit at the same table. Before Rick could object, we offered for him to join us. He smiled, and graciously accepted.
Rick was a talker, and as we waited for our food to arrive, he regaled us with many stories of his adventures over the past few years. He told us he’d been diagnosed with bone marrow cancer and hadn’t been given long to live. However, he went on to tell us that he had received that diagnosis ten years earlier. Through a long series of events, he had become involved in a clinical trial that had apparently extended his life far beyond what the doctors had originally estimated.
Rick had not wasted those years. His list of adventures included multiple road trips, mountain climbing, camping, skiing, and more. He said he seemed to feel better in higher altitudes so he spent a lot of time in the mountains. He was also an accomplished photographer. By the time we had finished eating, Rick was just getting warmed up. He seemed to have an endless supply of stories from his exciting exploits. Clearly, he was enjoying our company. Listening to him talk of his experiences really spoke to my soul. I had already transformed my life and was living my own adventures, but hearing his joy and enthusiasm made me want to take everything up a notch. It also cemented in my heart the desire to never go back to the same kind of work/grind life I’d lived for so many years.
We had finished eating probably 25 minutes before, Rick had captured our full attention, and we decided we should probably go. I’m sure the server was happy to finally have one of his tables available again (we tipped BIG) and made our way to the door. Outside, we asked Rick if had had done much exploring around Creede. He hadn’t, so one of my companions suggested that he check out Bachelor’s Loop, a seventeen mile trek through the historic mining district in the mountains above Creede. The only catch was that the road was unpaved, treacherous in a few spots, and a 4×4 vehicle was a necessity. Rick was not the least bit deterred by the possibility of danger, and since he’d been staring death in the face for a decade, why would he be? He asked where it could be found, and we decided we’d just show him and make the trip too.
We climbed into our big 4×4 SUV, and Rick into is Toyota Rav4. I hadn’t been around Bachelor’s Loop either and was excited about the adventure. We drove the short distance through town to where the pavement ended and the rocky road began. It was pretty smooth going for maybe the first mile or so, but then the road began to get dicey.
As is the case most anywhere in the Rocky Mountains, the scenery was simply amazing. No matter which direction you looked, beautiful landscapes awaited your eyes. We stopped at a few places, including an old mine, and Rick kept his camera busy. I even spotted an old log cabin up on the side of a mountain. It wasn’t easy to get to, but my curiosity got the best of me and I had to check it out. I climbed and crawled my way up the steep embankment, all the while praying to anyone listening that I wouldn’t run into a brown bear or big cat.
I couldn’t help but be amazed with Rick’s demeanor. He was happy, upbeat, and committed to his photography. If he hadn’t told us about his dealing with cancer, I’d have never guessed. He was full of life, appreciating every wild flower, outcropping of rock, old building, and cold mountain stream. We journeyed on that way for a couple of hours. Each time we stopped, Rick would disembark his Rav4 with camera in hand and his photographer’s eye scanning for the next shot.
We had other things we needed to get to, so we made one final stop with Rick, took a few pictures, and said our goodbyes. As we drove away, Rick still outside his SUV taking photos, I wondered if he’d always been that enraptured by life, of if he had experienced a shift in awareness after receiving his grim diagnosis. Whatever the case may be, he was certainly living fully every moment of his life now. I was overcome with gratitude that just a year before the day I met Rick, I’d experienced my own shift in awareness, fortunately without the specter of a life-threatening disease. I’m glad I listened, and wondered how many opportunities I’d had in previous years to change my view of life, but had not done so. I’m happy it didn’t take being faced with my own death to wake me up.
I haven’t had any contact with Rick since the day we were up on that mountain in 2019, and in my memories he’s still up there savoring and capturing every wondrous view. I’m hoping that wherever he may be today, that he’s still living every minute to the max, and I bet he’s doing just that.