For my family, vacations are calm, rejuvenating, and normally marked by sitting in a nice chair by a beach. At family reunions, however, things tend to get more rambunctious. This is especially true with my mother’s side of the family.
My mom’s side of the family is comprised of musicians, dramaturges, entrepreneurs, creative types, and fishermen. Before this trip, I only knew about half of the family because the rest live in Oregon and California. This trip served as a crash-course orientation to the rest of my family.
And I can safely say it was more interesting than sitting in a nice chair by a beach.
We met in Grand Lake, Colorado, population 500. The town looks like Branson, Missouri’s little brother, with novelty gift shops lined by board walkways. The air is thin, and there are dogs everywhere. At an elevation of 8,000+ feet and 60 miles from Estes Park, we are right in the heart of the Rocky Mountains.
As the fourth youngest member of this reunion, there are three major things I will remember: the hiking, the cousins, and the traditions.
Before this trip, you could have described me as a want-to-be hiker. I could count my number of previous hiking experiences on one hand, and all those experiences were in Oklahoma. This trip I received a proper hiking initiation from my west coast family. In three days we hiked more than 20 miles, including a 12.2-mile, six hour hike up to Granite Falls, elevation 9,750 ft. Six hours on the trail may be no Pacific Crest Trail, but it definitely is more than I have experienced.
The Colorado wilderness makes Oklahoma’s rough lands look like a kiddy park. Giant asp trees bent like rubber in the wind. Elk darted across the trails, and the occasional bull moose came a little too close for comfort. Rocky bluffs gave way to bird’s eye views of rivers or valleys far below our feet. I have driven through national parks before, but looking at parks from the comfort of an air-conditioned sedan is far less rewarding than eating a PBJ at the base of mountain waterfall.
My generation of cousins has a nineteen-year range. The youngest is starting his sophomore year at John Brown University. The oldest, at 38, is nearly two decades into his acting career. This is the first time most of us have been together at the same time, ever. Our backgrounds range from music to medicine, from theatre to business; and for some reason, I felt like I had known them for years.
The cousins fit together perfectly; we shared personality quirks, and we had a lot to talk about—after all, none of us had heard each others stories before. We all bonded through hikes, silly board games, and laughing at how ridiculous our parents could be.
My mom’s side of the family has its fair share of traditions, and the traditions by themselves are not so bizarre: simple things like Dirty Santa or road trip scavenger hunts. What amped them up was having all of my mom’s brothers and sisters together. I realized very quickly that when the Robertsons, Carlsons, and Lenks got together, the word “tradition” was swapped with “competition.”
A picture scavenger hunt turned into a competition of edited and labeled music videos. Dirty Santa turned into who can schlep the other side of the family with duds like the “Marty the Moocher” board game or “Butt-Face” soap. At one point, there was even a competition for who had the best “Bathroom Story on the Road” (while Uncle Linn’s was technically not qualified for the category, I think everyone present can agree his story won the night).
My week in Colorado was exactly what I needed to gear up for the second half of summer. The crisp mountain air and arduous hikes prepped my body to get back into running. More importantly, the memories made and quality family time prepped me to come back to Norman and make the most of the time I have left with my friends before China.
Also, did I mention I now have a moose stick?
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