My life changed forever in 1973 when my family was watching an air show in Cleveland, Ohio and a car flew off the highway killing my grandfather, father, and little brother. I learned such a valuable lesson right then…you don’t get that much time here on earth…so what do you want to do with it?
During that same time, I had just watched the movie Jeremiah Johnson. As a 13-year-old boy that was now on my own, I was so moved by the film that I decided I was going to experience the Rockies and the real West. What this meant to me was to survive and thrive in rugged, unforgiving, raw nature.
Determined to get a college education, I chose to study forestry believing this could be a way of making a living while being in the back country. Thanks to beer and ping-pong, college was a lot of fun, but the forestry plan did not work out. I left the University of New Hampshire at the age of 19. My best childhood friend was studying forestry at Colorado State University and I had many high school friends also in Boulder, Colorado. Seeing the Rockies for the first time, I was in awe and decided to stay. At 21 years old, I landed a job at Celestial Seasonings, which at the time was a fledgling tea company that gave us summers off with pay. I spent those summers riding horses with friends in Roosevelt National Forest. Little did I know, I was learning the terrain that I now live and work in, and have been for the past 34 years. During one of those rides, deep in the forest, I came upon a cabin being built. I remember feeling surprised and frankly, angry, seeing a cabin in what I thought was pristine National Forest… 20 years later I would own that cabin.
In 1982, continuing on my Jeremiah Johnson dream quest, I was invited on my first big game hunt. While experiencing the most incredible backcountry of the Snowmass Wilderness area, I pondered, “How can I hang out back here and make a living?” Again, I could feel how incredibly important this was to my soul. Somehow I was going to figure out a way to make a living working in the saddle in the rugged Colorado Rockies. Early in 1988, I left Celestial Seasonings and decided to go to outfitter school in Montana. After graduating with honors, I started my first outfitting business, Silverado Outfitters, in the San Juan Mountains of South Western Colorado. Our summer horse operation was based in Silverton, CO. I was fascinated with the thought that only 60 years earlier Wyatt Earp had been in this area …the here and now I was in, was only 60 years away from “the old West.” I was so impressed with how young the West still was. You could still almost live the life the original pioneers experienced, as it wasn’t that long ago in the grand scheme of things. As we said in Silverado Outfitters, “Ride with us in the San Juan’s and be your own Grandpa!”
Nature and the West, tests my strength, abilities and feeds my soul. She reassures me of what I’m made of and how strong I can be. At the age of 13, things became very clear to me; “the most valuable thing on this earth to spend is TIME.” I’ve chased my dream West, now I ask you – what are you doing with your time?
I look forward to continuing my story with you in Part 2 of “The Makings of a Mountain Man,” Stay tuned!