Today’s ride to church comes to us from Paula, our favorite Ride to Church veteran.
I have one last Ride to Church, a ride to The Rocky Mountain Retreat, a yearly ritual for me. Eighteen years ago, a group of my friends and I started an annual retreat for Mormon women, at Snow Mountain Ranch, near Granby Colorado. In those dark pre-internet days, it was easy to feel that Colorado was out of the Mormon loop—we’d hear about exciting people or research or books, but the people involved never came near Colorado. So we started the retreat partly as a way to invite over interesting people, and partly for time to talk and relax unencumbered by family and work. Eighteen years later, the retreat’s evolved a bit, but remains essentially the same. We eat good food, sing great songs, sleep a little bit, and talk a lot. For me it’s come to feel like a part of the liturgical calendar; well, it would if Mormons had a liturgical calendar. Today’s ride is not to a physical church, but to a place and group that have been a great part of my spiritual life.
The journey there, as well as the place itself, are an important part of the retreat. Snow Mountain Ranch, a part of the YMCA of the Rockies, has 5000 acres of forest, with hiking or cross country ski trails, horses and bikes for rent, a swimming pool and climbing wall—all with a spectacular view of the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area. I fly in on Friday morning most years, and drive from Denver International Airport, so today’s trip takes about 2.5 hours and covers 110 miles. We’ll drive up I-70 into the front range of the Rockies, and then turn off onto US-40, over Berthoud Pass, the highest pass in the US that’s maintained year round, and then through the towns of Winter Park, Fraser and Tabernash. We’ll also climb in elevation to a destination at about 8700 feet above sea level. Since I start my day in California at about 100 feet above sea level, I’m usually feeling a bit woozy when I get there. In the past six years, we’ve watched the sad decline of the forests in the area, due to a pine bark beetle infestation. Because the winters are becoming warmer rapidly, many more beetles survive the winter now, and you’ll see in the photos that in some places about 90% of the trees are dead. Snow Mountain Ranch has been hit hard, but it’s still beautiful.
We stay in one or two large cabins from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning. There’s always at least one speaker, along with panel discussions, or, very infrequently, crafts, like tampon angels, or classic Relief Society grapes. We somehow manage to form strong friendships that last for years even though we see each other rarely. And, the singing! Somehow we’ve unintentionally gotten a group of talented women who love to sing.
This year’s speakers were Valerie Hudson and Virginia Hinckley Pearce. We heard about the effects of China’s one child policy on gender ratios in China from Valerie in one session, and a discussion of Eve and Adam in another session. Virginia spoke about some of the ideas in her recent book, and also did a question and answer session about anything we wanted to ask. Side conversations overheard included polygamy, work issues, children, husbands, parents, sisters, travel and charity work in other countries, along with a lot of catching up on everyone’s lives in the past year.
I left, as always, with a renewed sense of how good people can be, new perspectives on my religion, and a yearning for the chocolate bars that Mimi made late Friday night.