One way that I approached my move to Panama to make it less scary was to tell myself that I could keep a lot of things about my life in Denver the same. I could keep in touch with friends, see people when I come to town – I’d have a new life in Panama but make the effort to keep one foot in Denver. I thought I was doing a pretty good job of it. Of course, it takes two people to keep a relationship so the friendships that have survived are with the people who will make the effort with me.
I flew to Denver a week before Christmas and planned to go up to Breckenridge to meet my family to ski for a week. I am a good skier. When I lived in Denver I always had a season pass. I would count my days on the mountain and vertical feet skied. I wasn’t on the leaderboard but it was something I did anyway. I love the feeling of flying down the mountain and weaving in and out of other skiers.
I had a rude awakening coming back this time around. For the first time in two years of coming back from Panama to visit I could feel the altitude affecting me. I was breathing heavily walking through the Denver airport. Huh. That’s unusual. I woke up the next day with a headache. A headache that persisted for the rest of the week I was there.
Denver’s altitude is 5,280 ft above sea level and Breckenridge is 9,600’ at the base of the ski resort. I went to an IV bar (can’t believe this is a thing) before heading up to the mountains. I felt great the first night in Breck but the next morning I woke up in a world of hurt. Altitude sickness feels like the worst hangover you’ve ever had but it doesn’t get gradually better over the course of the day as a hangover would. You know that the best thing you can do is drink water, but you’re so nauseous that you can’t eat or drink anything. I laid on the couch willing myself to at least go to the oxygen bar (yep) that Google said was 450’ away from my location.
I went to Breck several days earlier than my family in hopes of working on my book proposal and getting in some solo ski time. Instead, I wallowed in misery trying to hydrate and acclimate to the altitude. I was gradually getting better but once we started skiing I could feel the effects again. Not to mention that over the last two years my body has adjusted to the damp, hot climate of a Caribbean island so the dry cold on the mountain went right through me. I did less vertical feet in all thee days combined that I would normally do in one day when I lived here.
What I realized through this physical hardship was that there are so many intangible things that I was sure would remain the same for me to come back to that haven’t. When I moved away people continued on with their lives. I never have enough time to see everyone when I visit so I have to prioritize the ones who keep in touch with me regularly. When we get together we tell each other the big moments of our lives but it’s often the smaller moments that keep friendships close.
I was recently introduced to a concept/community created by Naomi Hattaway that is summed up as: you are one shape inside of your passport country (square) and then as you live around the world you begin to take on pieces of other cultures and belief systems (circles) which form you into a new shape (triangle). When you try to repatriate you no longer fit into your original shape. This concept/community is called I am a Triangle.
Sure, if I moved back to Colorado my body would adjust over time and be able to handle the climate and elevation in Colorado again, and so would my relationships to some extent. However, being a triangle means that I’ll likely never fully fit back into my original culture again. I made a choice that led me to this place and I realized that I no longer have one foot in Colorado. That’s okay, though. I still have a handful of friends whom I reunite with and it’s as if no time has passed. I’m so grateful for that, it keeps me tethered to Denver.