“As we reached a sea as smooth as glass…I saw that it was necessary for someone to bend the oars. I placed mine in the oarlocks…”
--Margaret Brown, reporting to the Newport Herald
in May of 1912, a month after the Titanic
I visited the Molly Brown House after work one day last week. The historical Denver house-turned-museum on Pennsylvania Street, which the Browns bought in 1894 when it was six years old, was on my way home. I had a couple of motivations for stopping by.
One was research. I’d already been to the house once, a year and a half ago with my kids when I didn’t know I’d be performing in the Broadway – and phony – version of Margaret’s life. Nowadays, three nights a week I play a French prince smitten by Molly. I chase her, woo her, and get her to say she’ll marry me. And each time she ditches me in the penultimate scene. I stand there singing and crying in a blue spotlight while SHE gets on the Titanic and goes back to Colorado to live happily ever after with her husband. Which isn’t what happened. Well, she did get on the Titanic, and by most accounts she lived happily, but not ever after, and definitely not with husband. All this I knew. But still I wanted to spend some more time in the house and presence of Maggie (she never went by the name “Molly”).
I was also looking for inspiration. I’m now in week eight or so of working on a book about 101 hikes along Colorado's Front Range. I’ve written almost twenty, and with each one I get slightly less of a feeling of “what have I gotten myself into?” But only slightly. And as I walk and walk (and walk), I’m getting pickier. My hike reject rate keeps going up. It’s approaching 30%. Part of this is because I don’t read anyone else’s info. I go into each hike ‘cold’ and I collect my own data and impressions.
On the day of the Molly Brown House, I was on my way home from a reject: Waterton Canyon. Why a reject? I’ll save that for my sequel: “50 ˝ Hikes Not to Bother Doing Along Colorado's Front Range.” Suffice to say it finally got good at mile 7. At mile 8 it got great
, and I had to tear myself away. I wanted to keep going! But this is a book about day hikes. People don’t want to walk twenty frigging miles in one day.
I was tired and feeling kind of defeated by the time I called in on 134 Pennsylvania Street for the tour. It was hard for me to see walking all day to throw a hike in the trash as progress. Like rowing to stand still and not get sucked into the vortex of the Titanic
. “Energize me, Maggie!” I said as I came through the door. And she did, with that bit about dipping your oars in the water and keeping going. In the real life of Margaret Brown, that moment added energy and a platform to her many passions, which she continued to pursue with verve.
Passions are good. I like passions. “Only touch the things that turn you on,” says my friend Jane Siberry. “Let whatever makes you dark and dull and drained be gone. Even if people criticize and say you’re wrong.”
So yeah, I am rowing away at this book thing. Whenever I find myself looking too far ahead, I tell myself to cut it out. To go one week at a time, one hike at a time, one article at a time, one step, one pen-stroke at a time. And kicking a hike off the list is progress. It’s 101 hikes, not 202!
Who am I to groan? Most of the time my problem is that I walk too much amazing stuff and build up an onerous backlog. I got to watch it. I’m already doing three hikes in one day sometimes, and daylight is getting longer. “You are not allowed to hike again until you get caught up on writing,” I tell myself.
And I am meeting great people as I walk, many posthumously. A couple Thursdays ago I was on Mount Galbraith, just outside of Golden. I came out of a gulch and headed up a grassy hillside, and the behemoth Coors Brewery came into view. That sucker is gigantic. And I finally wondered, “Who was the dude who started that
A pretty incredible dude, to tell you the truth. Adolph Kuhrs was orphaned at age 15 while working as apprentice at a brewery in Germany. A few years later, in 1868, he stowed away on a ship to the USA as an undocumented immigrant. He moved to Denver, worked as a gardener, saved his pennies, and got control of a bottling business. With passion for brewing re-invigorated, he and a partner converted a tannery in Golden City to a brewery. Damn was that tannery beer good! And when prohibition hit in 1916, and lasted 17 years, did Kuhrs quit? No way. Using his customary ingenuity and adaptability, Adolph diversified into industry-leading malted milk, near-beer, chemicals, and other products including porcelain. The porcelain business survives to this day. In fact, Coors quarried clay for its porcelain on 75 of the acres of the Mount Galbraith Park I was walking on.
Mount Galbraith is a great hike! It’s going to be in the book.