I started telling stories at the age of seven. I shared a room with my older brother, and come bedtime, I spun tales about a family of bears. Although they were too poor to afford a motorized car or bathroom plumbing, they always seemed to laugh. And so did my sibling.
Sometimes the bear-kids poked fun behind their father’s back for looking identical to Fozzie. Other times, they embarked on thick-haired adventures looking for their blue dog named Horn.
My fiction and I grew older, and when the time came that adults asked what-and-where questions about college, I told them my plans of telling stories about play for pay. “Sports journalism at UT Austin,” I broadcasted.
Sports journalism at UT Austin, or anywhere in Texas for that matter, bears an obese focus on football. I flea-flickered my way into the chair of a live, weekly football roundtable for the campus TV station. After fumbling a few pro-pigskin names while my co-host showboated his ability to rattle off stats about the 1981 playoff game between the Cowboys and the Falcons, I fell off the sports roster and turned toward more serious beats.
Broadcast journalism had me cutting my long hair into a bob and buying collared shirts the color of Easter eggs. The heavier news weighed on me, and I cried through interviews of terminally doomed children and adults whose siblings got hammered, literally, to death.
While wrapping up my days as a Longhorn, I landed a job with a new-in-town, 24-hour news station. My first day I suited up in soft periwinkle and waterproof Maybelline and sat around another, much larger roundtable to discuss the week’s events. That Tuesday, two young men had etched their names permanently on the blackboard of a Colorado high school named Columbine.
My new coworkers praised the frontline reporters who fired off interviews with kids telling their parents that they were alive. The day-long discussion seemed callous. I left feeling blistered and no longer skippy about telling stories for a salary.
Not long after I left my position, and Austin, I pulled a moving truck full of bobbling box towers and dog hair into Boulder—a town only 35 miles from Columbine High School. I knew no one, and so began scarfing down miles with my Aussie-lab running partner on Colorado’s mountain trails. Running over rocks and roots moved me. The trails were honest, and sometimes brutally so.
Somewhat-in-town jaunts with Lola turned into through-the-night solo runs—some climbing as high as 13,000 feet. On one particular lunar-lit night, I ran into a grove of Aspen trees, their trunks a moon-colored glow. I clicked off my then-useless headlamp, and wild-footed my way on a mooncut mountain trail. Then, wits fully eclipsed, I Jeeped the two-hour drive home, forgetting my plan to camp that night.
From there, I sobered to the idea of running with other two-leggers. I mingled with Boulder’s running community—a mix of top-shelf, rugged to the core runners. Some were recovering from alcohol-abuse, others from alleged other abuses by a Boulder-based cult that ran ultramarathons on little more than innate, human-brewed spirit (but that’s a story for another day). Most, however, were soul-feeding on nature, community, and the simple joy of running.
A coworker deeply rooted in the scene invited me to help crew her buddy at the Leadville Trail 100—a 100-mile mountain trail race that kicked off in the highest incorporated U.S. city at 10,152 feet. Somewhere between a mining ghost town and a shoe change, I realized just how disembodied from logic these runners seemed. One runner detailed how to pass medical checkpoints requiring a weigh-in by sneaking rocks in her pockets to get away with losing too many pounds between aide stations. Another shared his T-shirt idea: I lost 10 pounds in 24 hours. Ask me how.
The families, friends, and pooches of the running elite fueled the race participants every 10 or so miles. At one aide station, I recognized the dog-owning woman of a bear-haired husky named Tonto, who also joined us at the pre-race meeting for humans the evening prior. Feeling fuzzily connected, I “Go Scott”ed her then-husband when he came blaring through the aide station. I later learned of his last name and fame as one of ultrarunning’s best when I crewed my same runner at the Western States 100. I also later learned that while Scott Jurek was blowing the Western States record for male consecutive wins clear out of Death Valley, their sweet Tonto was ending his run here on Earth.
I had to tell the story—from the rocks-in-pockets tale to the finish-line feats sure to run anyone’s mascara. When I returned to Colorado, I drafted my encounter with these super-humans of a third kind. The magazine Rocky Mountain Sports picked up my article, and then many more as I came full-moon-circle to storytelling. I met another of RMS’s regular columnists. A wind-wrinkled outdoors writer and standup jokeboy named Jeff Wozer.
Jeff and I would work together for another 15 years, sled-pulling one another along from writing gig to writing gig—from my days managing the editorial department at a nationally published, Denver-based magazine to that time I moved to San Diego to help a web publisher’s team of five build a site that today sees more than 85 millions eye-pairs per year.
We often kept up on assignments and life via video chats, Jeff still writing from his Colorado cabin while I scribbled between face-slapping surf sessions in Southern California. Now and then he’d point his computer camera outside so I could catch a cyber-whiff of mountain air or see the black bear who often suplexed Jeff’s hummingbird feeder to the ground.
Colorado’s call trilled so loudly, I headed back to the Rockies for good. Being in the same state allowed Jeff and I to more seriously collaborate. We had often talked about starting our own boutique content company, but it wasn’t until I returned to Denver that we brought our pie-in-the-sky ideas down to earth. Within months, our plans gained traction and Mooncut Mountain Creative emerged.
I also returned to the trails. One morning, as I ran upward toward the mounting sun, I heard a rustle that rendered me still as the pines. A mother bear and her two cubs. As they climbed out of the valley, the mother patiently waited for her little ones to roll, paw, and sniff out their own stories. I first feared for my faculties, then imagined, perhaps, they were looking for Horn.