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BRECKENRIDGE, Colorado — I used to dream of living in the mountains. I grew up in a flat suburb, where the biggest elevation was a hill by an apartment building. It took 20 seconds to climb, and three seconds to sled down. So it wasn’t what you’d call “majestic.”
Over the years, I’ve had glimpses of real mountains. I’ve seen Mount Rainier in Washington and Mount Denali in Alaska. I’ve viewed the Austrian Central Alps and the French Alps (thank you, Winter Olympics). I’ve even seen the Matterhorn, twice, in Switzerland and in Disneyland. (The Swiss one was free, but Disneyland was faster.)
Last week, on a vacation, I came out here, to the Colorado Rockies, and got a chance to spend some time simulating what it would actually be like to realize my dream, to live in the mountains, with jagged ranges and snow-capped peaks outside every window.
“Let’s go for a hike,” I said upon arrival.
“Great idea,” I was told. “Bring bear spray.”
“Right, yeah … um, what’s that now?”
More than just a hit TV show
It turns out bears are all over these mountains. And they’re not shy. Spend a few days asking around, and you’ll hear tales of hikers confronting bears on paths, during a picnic, or even on the streets.
“Make sure you close the garage door,” I was told.
“Why? Is a bear going to steal my car?”
“No. The trash. They can smell it from a mile away. they’ll break in and eat everything.”
It’s true. In fact, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife office actually has a whole list of what you should do to “bear-proof” your home. It includes purchasing special trash cans and containers, keeping your windows and doors locked, picking fruit off your trees before it ripens, and being responsible about your “bird feeders.”
Also, if you see a bear near your home, you should “yell, blow a whistle, clap your hands and make other loud noises.”
They did not mention driving to the nearest airport. But it crossed my mind.
“What if I just take a walk through the streets instead?”
“Great, have fun,” they said. “Watch out for moose.”
Move over, Bullwinkle
Yes. It turns out moose are a real problem. Just ask Boris and Natasha. (Sorry. Couldn’t help it.)
Apparently, about 45 years ago, Colorado began introducing moose into the state. Now, what used to be an occasional sighting has turned into at least 2,000 moose roaming the mountains, and, on occasion, chasing skiers, charging hikers, and making a real moose of things. (Sorry again.)
But fear not. The parks and wildlife office has advice on how to deal with moose, too. Stay at least 50 feet away. Never get between a mother moose and a baby moose. And never throw anything at a moose “including snowballs.”
Apparently, getting clonked in the antlers can really tick a moose off.
Also, they advise, if a moose charges you “get behind a tree … you can run around a tree better than it can.” And, unlike with bears, you should run away from moose, preferably “with your hands over your head” which can make the moose think “you are another animal bigger than he us.”
I don’t know. The screaming and whimpering might give me away.
“You know what,” I said, “maybe I’ll just skip the hiking and the walking. It’s the Fourth of July. Let’s just watch the fireworks.”
“No fireworks,” I was told.
Yep. Apparently, parts of the mountains are so dry, a stray burst from a firework might land in the woods, and things could get very fiery very fast.
“Well, I could just look at the pretty trees near the house,” I said.
“Those trees have to come down,” I was told.
So, let’s see. Bears. Moose. A landscape ready to combust at any moment. Who knew the Rockies were so dangerous? It’s like an episode of “Mission Impossible,” only everybody is wearing Patagonia.
Did I mention the headaches and nausea you get when you’re at nearly 10,000 feet? Or that your toothpaste may explode? Or that your skin dries out so fast, after three days, you look like the portrait of Dorian Gray?
Also, walking up a flight of stairs leaves you gasping for breath.
But it sure is beautiful. Life in the mountains. My childhood dream. So despite all this, I recommend you try it.
Just find yourself a big window by a really comfortable chair.
And don’t move.