A Diamond In The Rough

by Campus Brand Ambassador Elise Moeller

After a quick goodbye to Mom and a swift traverse through TSA, I rushed to gate A22 and eventually found a seat in the waiting area. Feeling cumbersome with my new Osprey backpack that was purchased just 3 days before, I slumped down in an open chair. As I anxiously awaited for my plane to board, I was feeling out of my element. This was my first trip to Colorado, not counting a ski trip when I was younger, and I would be hiking and camping in the Rocky Mountains for the first time. My trepidation regarding my lack of Rocky Mountain experience was heightened when one of the three teenagers sitting across from me motioned to my bag and sarcastically said to his friend, “Joey you should’ve gotten a bag like that, that blue-green is reeeeally your color.” They all laughed mockingly, and initially I couldn’t help but feel self-conscious. However, I smiled to myself, ignored their trivial words and daydreamed about my adventurous week ahead.

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Time passed and I eventually boarded my plane, shoved my backpack into the carry-on overhead and buckled into window seat 20F. Thankfully, I fell asleep within 15 minutes after take off and awoke to the sound of the pilot’s gargled voice over the speaker notifying our descent toward Denver. Once I landed, I squirmed in anticipation as I waited to de-board the plane and to be reunited with my best friend. Our plane eventually entered the open gate and I quickly hurried off toward the terminal. The Denver airport was daunting massive compared to the small and familiar Ohio airport, so initially I was overwhelmed with finding my way. I followed the crowd, hopped on a terminal train and made my way to the arrival guest pick-up area.

As I scanned the crowd, expecting my best friend to be holding an over-the-top ‘welcome’ sign with the intent of embarrassing me, he was nowhere in sight. I eventually found him sharing stories, and granola, with an older gentleman as they sat side-by-side. I barreled toward my friend but pulled back as to not interrupt their conversation too abruptly. Apparently I startled my friend, because he jumped backward in his seat with surprise. Casey popped up and gave me a loving bear hug. We left the airport and drove 45 minutes back to his apartment in the city of Lakewood.

Over the next week of adventures, my favorite was our hike to Diamond Lake near Nederland, CO. On the Friday morning, we embarked on our journey to the Diamond Lake Trailhead with, of course, freshly made coffee in-hand.  The almost two-hour ride seemed like 10 minutes because of our catching-up conversations and joyous jam-out sessions. As we approached closer to the trailhead, it became apparent that the snow would soon hinder Casey’s hand-me-down Volvo and would be unable to conquer the steep mountain road. After cringingly driving through countless potholes and rocks, we eventually decided to pull off on the side of the road, park the Volvo, and walk the rest of the way. Unfortunately, we underestimated the distance from the trailhead, and were trekking up the hill for quite sometime. A few cars passed us, but one eventually stopped. “Are you the ones with the Kentucky plates back down the road?” asked a smiley, outdoorsy man probably in his late 20s with another happy man sitting shotgun. “We’ll give you a ride to the trailhead!” Casey and I were very thankful, however I was confused how we could fit in their jam-packed backseat. The man driving parked the car and opened the bottom section of the trunk for us. “Have a seat here, we’ll go slowly up the road but hold on,” he said joyfully. Casey and I sat on the lip of the trunk and road up the hill. They kindly tried as much as they could to avoid nature’s potholes, but I was still extremely nervous I was going to slide off the back. Casey’s calming voice distracted me from my worry of slipping, and in a blink of an eye we arrived at the lot of the trailhead.

After gracious “thank yous” and small talk, we departed for the trailhead while the men continued to gather their hiking materials. The trail was described as moderate to hard in its online reviews, but I felt confident enough to tackle the trail, especially with Casey by my side. The partially snow covered path of the Diamond Lake Trail was the first snow I had seen of the season, and I was ecstatic to see it in Colorado for the first time. The views were absolutely breathtaking: it was a struggle to watch the path below so I would not trip because I was gawking at the majestic mountains and trying to ingrain their beauty in my memory. As we hiked higher and higher, the altitude started to affect me more and more. Once we were at about 10,000 ft., I started to slow down my pace and felt a little dizzy. I only arrived in Colorado two days prior, so I was not exactly acclimated to the altitude change yet. Casey was very sweet and took breaks when he knew I was feeling tired and needed to catch my breath. I pushed myself to make it all the way up the trail, even though the 4 miles to the lake began to seem like 12. It didn’t help that some shady spots on the trail were icy and difficult to navigate at times. My friend’s motivation and morale-boosting words helped me to find the stamina to make it up to Diamond Lake.

And boy was it worth the struggle. As we peaked over the last stretch of the trail, the sight of the stunning lake came into view. The lake was partially frozen around the edges and was surrounded by extraordinarily towering mountains. It was one of the most satisfying views I had ever seen. With my new Atlas straps and DoubleNest hammock (thanks to the ENO campus brand ambassador program!) Casey and I strolled along the snow-covered lakeside and searched for the perfect pair of trees to hang my hammock. Eventually, we found the perfect spot at the edge of the lake with a remarkable view of the surrounding mountains. We stayed there a while, absorbing the beauty of the natural world and growing our appreciation for Colorado.

We eventually packed up the hammock and started heading toward the trail in order to make it back by sunset. As made our way down, I smiled to myself, proud of my perseverance and my willingness to challenge my abilities. I was glad to share this experience with my best friend.