It would become the story we told all summer: Philippa emerged from the Rocky Mountain National Park bathroom, rounding a corner, and shouting across a parking lot to me.
"Ariel! Have you seen my phone?"
"Uh," she had given it to me a few times to carry during our short hike through the woods. If I did have it, it would be inside my backpack. A' jumble with water bottles, trail mix, hardboiled eggs, and spiced pepitas.
"I hope it wasn't in my pocket and fell in the toilet," she said.
Suni walked back to the stream where we stopped, maybe it was over there when we were chatting with the other hiker. Philippa went back to the bathroom to check and later, as I was still digging through dirty socks and boarding passes, Philippa screamed.
"Ariel! Come here!" This time with more sadness in her voice. I walked to the bathroom. She was standing outside, pouting. I expected that it was indeed in the toilet. I rolled up a sleeve of my Obama sweatshirt, totally prepared to pull it out. I'm hardly a germaphobe when there was soap around.
I opened the door to the bathroom and looked down the toilet. It wasn't a toilet, it was a latrine! The phone was about 10 feet down, sinking in human waste.
"It's gone!" I heard Philippa saying through the door. I left the bathroom and stood with she and Suni and tried to think of a plan.
"I can call someone," Suni said. "Maybe a park ranger?" An Italian tourist walked up and put her hand on the bathroom knob.
"Don't go to that one," Philippa said. "something is wrong with it."
"Yeah," Suni and I chimed in. "Yeah, go to the other one..."
The woman nodded and went to the bathroom next door. We stood there a bit, and suddenly Philippa said that we should consider the phone gone. Even if a ranger could get it out, would she want it? Defeated, we walked through the dusty parking lot back to Suni's champagne Subaru.
"What if I want to take pictures?" Philippa said sullenly as the car climbed up the side of the mountain and towards the tundra covered in snow.
"Take a picture with your heart," Suni said. Philippa was aghast.
"You can't take a picture with your heart!"
Colorado, in short, is mountain peaks, valleys, wide lakes with deep blue water, and curling roads. Moose, elk, bears, mountain lions. Beautiful vista after beautiful vista. Suni took us up the roads she knew so well: the drive from Denver to Steamboat Springs, a small valley town in northern Colorado. Population 10,000. It was known for being a big ski destination, so it had the sheen that I always imagined Aspen had (clean streets, newish store facades and a main street). When Suni lived in New York she spoke a lot about Steamboat's Fourth of July celebration. Everyone went to a parade, ate free hot dogs, drank root beer floats and danced at block party. Then in the afternoons, they went tubing on the river. That made my barbecue and homemade-ice cream Fourth of July celebrations look like child's play.
At some point, before Suni moved from New York to a monastery, we discussed the idea of visit each others hometowns. Philippa's in Sri Lanka, Suni's in Colorado and mine, in Mobile, Alabama. Suni's was first.
If I had the gall to outline the trip in detail, it'd be another 7-post wonder like that of my Las Vegas series. We piled so many good things in our five days -- like the day we spent in the hot spring, our toes settling in the rocky bottom of the pool. There was the day we did a hungover hike through windy ridge. We had to sit on a rock to rest, and a group of elderly people marched past us. "Don't give up," they said smugly, "you're almost there." A mud pit ate Philippa's shoe. The Yampa river, which were warned was wild and raging, also got the best of us. Suni and I thought we'd just float down the river together on a tube, and as soon as she hit the current she was carried out yards from me. I paddled frantically towards her and a stranger rescued me by grabbing my tube and pushing me into the current. When I looked down, the struggle was so great, half of my chest was exposed and I didn't even know it.
Between activities, we enjoyed the Colorado quiet. Suni's parents built a fire for us during dinners outside and we sat around eating s'mores. We listened to her parents tell us camp fire stories: the time her father stuck his head down a bear hole to meet a sleeping bear, how her mother and father met (it's the best meet-cute in history). One night Suni called all her friends over for tacos. Everyone was so delightfully western, one of the girls even lived in a Tiny House.
"Guess how I lost my phone?" Philippa asked the friends. One of them smiled.
"Hm, did put it in your pocket and forget and then when you went to the bathroom it fell in?" she said.
"How did you know!?" Philippa and I asked.
"You look like the type of person who would do that," she laughed.
Though brush fires cancelled Fourth of July fireworks, we still had a very full holiday. We went to the parade and watched the townspeople represent their various clubs and businesses with floats. That evening, after another outdoor dinner, the neighbors started lighting fireworks. Big, majestic displays started popping all over the town under the hill where we stood. Suni's parents went to the basement and pulled out their supply of roman candles and sparklers and big things that shot up in the air, and on the street we lit a few of our own.
"But, Smokey the Bear says--" I started to stammer nervously.
"You really listen to him?" laughed Philippa.
On our last day in Colorado, we got breakfast and coffee to go, and Suni drove us up to one of the town's waterfalls. It was so early in the morning that we had it all to ourselves. Then we hit the road, going north into Laramie, Wyoming, to check another state off our list, then back down to Ft. Collins for lunch and finally a bus back to Denver and then a plane to New York.
I've learned that sometimes traveling is like wearing a costume: you do the things, you wear the clothes, you eat the foods. You become something else. (I think that's part of the fun of going to Vegas, the costume is forced absurdity and if you ride with it, you're guaranteed absurdity.) In Colorado we rode in the Subaru, ate elk and lived in hiking boots. Philippa even went to F.M. Light, the household name cowboy store, and left with a pair of boots and a cowboy hat. When we arrived that afternoon to the Denver Airport, we queued under glass ceilings and waited by metal pillars and metal walls. I remember thinking, "no this is too soon" to give up the trees and soft green grass. My bear anxiety replaced with that of currency, timing.