Steamboat Springs Ask anyone in Steamboat why they moved here and almost everyone will say, "The skiing." But talk to them for another 10 minutes and you will find there is more to it. Many people were searching for something. More often they were running for something. They were all headed toward a lifestyle, real or imagined, that is "away" from the rest of the world separated by altitude and mentality.
The new book "When In Doubt Go Higher" is an anthology of articles that appeared in the Mountain Gazette. Like the magazine, it is a perfect Myers-Briggs-type personality test to determine why you moved to a mountain town.
Like the magazine, no one is going to read all the articles. You pick and choose which ones apply to your life. If you moved here for the climbing, you might flip to "Hanging Around," by David Roberts. If you moved above 6,500 feet because you hate the man-made world, the corporate world, the urban world, you will probably turn directly to "Where's Tonto?" an excerpt from the Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey. If you were looking for a catch on every cast, you will probably read "For the Sport of It?" by Gaylord Guenin.
If you have no idea why you moved here, if you are just another of the thousands of lost wanderers who pass through this town searching for themselves on a map, you will read at random hunting and pecking a Mountain Gazette identity.
The first night I picked up "When In Doubt " I was hunting and pecking. I turned first to Edward Abbey's excerpt, mostly for old-times sake.
Stop 2: "Mountain Towns." Mountain dwellers are first and foremost romantics. Ted Kerasote writes about the towns in Colorado that he called home: Leadville, Telluride, Aspen, Boulder. In each town, he searched out one restaurant or bar "that had a touch of romance and made my life special for a while." He wrote of the routines that burn a place in memory and of the cheap apartments with no heat where he would write all day. It made me forget for a moment how hard that bohemian life can be, paying for food from change in the ashtray.
Stop 3: an article called "Alaska: Journey by Land." It was a somewhat na road-trip story that didn't sound that different for the awed, searching for truth in bars and mountains, journal entries that I wrote on the same road in the same Yukon.
That's the thing that makes the Mountain Gazette so popular. It's written by and for lost souls who turn to nature for guidance. The authors are vulnerable and awkward.
Stop 4: "Wild Red Dharma Pickup Truck." Who, in a mountain town, does not understand the fetishized love for an old vehicle that should no longer be on the road? In her article, Lacey Story is pure high altitude new age Kerouac redneck.
"My longest relationships are with pickup trucks," she writes.
Stop 5: Editor M. John Fayhee's introduction is mostly five pages of apologies and I'm-not-worthies to the founders of the Mountain Gazette. He describes the magazine's relaunching as more of a sleeping beast raising its head than a business move.
Fayhee read through 3,300 pages of Gazette articles before choosing the 30 odd articles that made it into the anthology.
The paper runs out of Montezuma, a town of 60 people. The office is one room, in what used to be a coffee shop, with a staff of four full-time employees. Other people work for in exchange for beer, Fayhee said, and one guy in Montana lost a game of poker and agreed to deliver the Gazette for a year. Fayhee receives as many as 400 submissions a month. Eight make it into the magazine and those writers get paid for their stories.
"We don't pay a ton," Fayhee said. "In fact, we pay an unton."
Fayhee admitted not everyone will like every article in the anthology, but everyone will, he hoped, find one article that will ring true with them and stick in their minds long after they set the book aside.
Strangely, the article that touched me most was written by Fayhee himself, called "Crossings." He tells the story of his life lessons by way of describing rivers he has crossed.
The last stop before I put the book down for the night was "Lobster Fishing in America." A sea level story seemed like an odd addition to a mountain anthology, but the spirit plugged in perfectly. I chose the article because, like so many wanderers looking for adventure, I ended up on an island, foghorn distance from the island in Geoffrey Childs' article. Every sentence he wrote, from the description of teen-age drunks speeding through the harbor to the cold shoulder of island natives who have never left and never will, I said to myself, "I could have written this. I was there. This is me."
It's comments like those that make the Mountain Gazette what it is. The magazine supplies Steamboat Springs with as many copies as are sent to Durango, but it's still not enough.