Seven years ago, Jeff and I pulled into a campground on Independence Pass in late May with our dog, Chloe, a quiver of backcountry skis, ski crampons, skins, and plans to climb and ski some of peaks that tower around Aspen.
He was the experienced ski mountaineer, and I was the much less experienced one, albeit not a complete novice.
We rose before dawn and scratched our way up frozen slopes, the metal crampons attached to the bottom of our skis gnawing their way into the ice. It was during our first climb that my eagerness gave way to fright. The pitch seemed more knife-edge as the sun rose, and I became acutely aware of the lack of trees. I was terrified we were going to fall and slide down the mountain.
Still, I followed, and I’m glad. The descent was worth it once my tears subsided.
We did this for four days in a row. From the summits, which were usually pointed and narrow and slightly terrifying, we waited for the sun to warm the top layer of snow into a creamed corn consistency, and then swoosh down in big S turns.
Still. My apprehension cast a pall on our adventure. Jeff felt bad I wasn’t enjoying it more, so on the night before our last day of skiing he found a classic, less exposed route up a friendly peak with a broad and flat summit.
The mountain was called Independence Peak, and the next morning we rose, climbed, and summited with ease. So much ease that I’d taken off my skis and run around the summit in glee, thrilled at my accomplishment. It wasn’t the peak that stoked my enthusiasm but the fact that climbing it with Jeff and Chloe had been so fun.
Then Jeff asked me to marry him. He’d wrapped his grandmother’s diamond engagement ring in a small box, and packed a tripod and a bottle of champagne in his ski pack.
I said yes, and that descent down Independence Peak remains one of the top skis of my life.
I thought about that adventure this weekend because Jeff and I are in Aspen celebrating our sixth wedding anniversary. For the first time since Silas was born, we left both kids with my mom. We drove over Independence Pass, stopping in “our” campground, and cruising by Independence Peak. As we drove, we marveled at how much we’ve done in what feels like six short years.
We packed in one more big ski adventure to the Italian Alps, we rode our mountain bikes as fast and hard as we could. We had Henry, and then Silas. We bought a new house and sold an old one. We grieved when Jeff’s dad died. We celebrated marriages of our friends, new babies, and family.
Obviously, it wasn’t always easy.
But Friday, as we crested Independence Pass and began the descent to Aspen, we were giddy with love and our life and what the future might hold. It’s probably because we were without the kids, but our electric connection was exactly the same one we shared the day we got engaged.
I started writing this post with the intention of examining the things Jeff and I do that have strengthened our marriage along the way (as well as to offer the full disclosure of the things we could do hella lot better).
I’ve got a lot of ideas about where the strength in our relationship derives from. Much of it is because we decided a long time ago that we were a team. We work hard to eliminate competition between us. He does more laundry than I do. We give as much as we can to the other.
(There’s also the distinct possibility that we haven’t been married long enough for the shit to really hit the fan…so says the cynic in me. Let’s hope that we’re building a strong enough foundation so when that day comes, we’re ready.)
As I type this, I asked Jeff why he thought we were thriving right now, even in the midst of the chaos of having two young kids, demanding jobs, a broken femur (him), and literary aspirations that demand a lot of “Me Time” (me).
He summed it up sweetly.
“I think it works because we were meant to be together,” he said. “And so we are.”
So there you have it. Sometimes it can be simple.