I apologize for missing the weekly musing and Pickaxe Podcast last week, but I took some much needed R&R. One of the things I find is absolutely necessary in my life is to get away from everything. This blogging thing means keeping, and growing, social media accounts, my regular day to day job means pursuing contracts that often times are in the seven figures. Between the passion of sports fans on twitter and the hunger of corporations to get the latest, greatest (and expensive) idea of theirs built two times faster than it should take, day to day life takes it’s toll on me mentally (as it does for us all). For me, the best way to find respite is by getting away, getting into the mountains where there’s no twitter notifications, no emails, just me and nature.
That was the particular case this past weekend. Well, me, nature and my two daughters. As I walk through the plan I’ve been curating for my life, one thing I quickly figured out is the lavish vacations and big trips just aren’t in it right now. Yet, time away is still important. So last year, instead of spending the money on planes and hotels, we spent it on a tent that could comfortably fit a family of four, and we are making it a point to get out every summer at least a couple of times. We’re blessed to have the wonderful Colorado wilderness in our backyard and as the first generation in my family to be born here, I learned from my dad pretty quickly how to maximize the gifts Colorado gives us. Last weekend was a chance to get in one last trip before school starts again. This time the wife wanted to stay home and get some peace and quiet herself so it was just me and my daughters.
We went to a dispersed camping area outside of Red Feather Lakes. Brief aside, take it from someone who’s been camping in this state for over a quarter century, dispersed camping is the way to go. It’s the perfect balance between being able to get away from everyone and not having to see other people from your campsite, as well as still providing the convenience of being able to pull up to site with a vehicle. Yes, you’re going to have to do your business in the woods as there is no established restroom facilities, but that’s really the only drawback in my eyes and it’s a minor one. The particular spot we found was near Lost Lake, off the main access road and down a side trail that wasn’t too tough for my little Jeep Patriot but just tough enough to “scare away the Subaru crowd” as my friend put it when we were scouting the area last month. There was a nice rock formation next to the site, good for running around and exploring and if you’re a little skilled in the art of bouldering, the top can be summited allowing for a great view of the surrounding mountain sides. The further you wander from camp the higher to rock formations get, the more spectacular the views.
I am so proud of the way my girls handled themselves throughout the trip. I took them on the longest hike they had ever been on. My seven year old demanded to lead the way, my four year old was close in tow behind her. I never carried them (save a few spots where the four year old had a difficult time getting over some larger rocks) and by the end of the camping trip it was them trying to get dad’s tired legs on one more hike, not the other way around. This year has been the first time I’ve been able to really start exploring with the both of them using their own two legs and this trip brought back so many memories of running around in the mountains with my dad. So many camping trips just setting up our site, picking a spot that looked cool in the distance and seeing if we could get to the top of it.
When our trip was done we headed back down towards highway 285, winding through the foothills on dirt roads while passing gorgeous farms nestled into a picturesque countryside. For me, it was a weekend that represents the ultimate Colorado life. Spending your down time in nature, being out in the mountains living the simplest of lives. The only thing that could have made it a perfect reality was if instead of passing by those farms to get back into town we would just pull into the farm or ranch that we called our own. As we drove through I couldn’t help but think that maybe all of that was the end game for me. Living that simple life in the foothills, getting away from all the social media nonsense where people treat sports like politics or religion, something on which they know their opinions to be facts and venomously defend to anyone, whether or not that person actually sought their opinion. Live a life where the major purchase orders are how much hay is needed to keep the small fold of cattle fed, rather than what type of distribution equipment is needed to keep that intensive care unit in hospital powered. In one of my earlier musings I talked about finding a goal and how hollow pursuing money for money alone can be, it’s the simple things in life that bring me true fulfillment.
The simple things, and furthering the family’s legacy. I’ve been very fortunate to be the product of a long line of hardworking families. My family name in America, so unique that if you ever meet another with the same one it’s a sure sign that there is a blood relation somewhere, carries a history of progression that brought me to where I am today. My great grandfather immigrated from Croatia in the early 1900s with nothing more than his wife and the clothes on their back. He would eventually make it to Chicago as so many Balkans do and spent the remainder his life as a laborer in America. It wasn’t much, but it was more than his father had. His son, my grandfather, would stay in Chicago the entirety of his life. Grandpa didn’t become a rich man, he never got that house with the picket fence, but he became a small business owner with his own barbershop where he and my dad lived in the back. It wasn’t much, but it was more than his father had. My dad escaped that little barbershop in Chicago, determined to not raise his kids in what wasn’t the greatest part of town. He joined the Air Force, did his service to his country and used the proceeds to move to Colorado and start a family. He built a house on an acre in the woods in Black Forest. It was in fact quite a bit, and far more than his father had. Now it’s my turn.
There is no greater stress in my life today than the weight I put on myself to further the Mikash name. While the day to day work stress can sometimes feel the most prevalent in the moment, it is the ultimate accomplishment of continuing our legacy that serves as a constant reminder and motivator for meeting those daily stresses. Because that’s the thing about life and legacy. All the houses, the cars, even the wonderful memories from those vacations and camping trips. We don’t get to take any of that with us when we go. For some money is the legacy they leave, and it is naive to think that anyone will be able to build something worthwhile without the necessary funds, but I learned it can be fickle and to think it alone is a legacy worth leaving is folly.
My grandfather on my mother’s side was a successful man. He was an electrician, like me, who worked his way to the higher levels of management on some of the biggest projects in his region, like me. He was savvy with his money, invested it well and had quite the nest egg built. Sadly, he died in his 50s in a car accident. His wife, my grandmother, lived to 90. By the time the retirement homes and hospice care got their share, grandpa James’ nest egg amounted to about a $4 inheritance for my mom and my aunt. That wasn’t his legacy though. He put my mom through graduate school and my dad through undergrad. He helped pay for six grandchildren’s college education with that nest egg. A family that had no college graduates before him now boasts eight, many of which with graduate degrees. Now it’s my turn.
I thought about legacy this whole past weekend. It’s not just about how we further the family in terms of success, and success isn’t just defined by money. I thought about how my great grandfather wanted that American dream and how I sit here today with two kids, two dogs and that picket fence. I thought about how my other grandfather built his nest egg as an electrician, how my father became one when he had to make a career change in the middle of his life. I thought about how the combination of the education I was able to receive because of that nest egg and the skills I can market because my father was the first one to teach me the trade made that picket fence possible. I thought about my girls running around in the forests of Colorado, impressing their dad by climbing up on boulders I wasn’t sure they were brave enough to climb. I thought about how important it is to teach them lessons like be prepared, take only memories, leave only footprints and why it is so important to heed fire bans in the Colorado wilderness. All of it, legacy passed down through generations. Now it’s my turn.
As we drove back that weekend it started to hit me. That simple life, raising a fold of cattle and homesteading as much as possible in the foothills, that’s a legacy. That’s my legacy. Sadly that acre in Black Forest my dad worked so hard to get is gone. When the kids were all grown up with kids of their own more than an hour away, and after a few rounds of development and the Parade of Homes sweeping through had turned what once was a 200 acre forest in the middle of the neighborhood into as many houses as they could cram in there, my parents sold our family home and moved to Wheat Ridge to be closer to their grand kids. I don’t blame them for it, it makes perfect sense in fact, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel sadness because that house had been part of the progression of our family legacy.
That’s what I think I’m supposed to do next: truly establish a self sufficient foothold for this family. A place with trees to run around in and enough space so no corporate builder looking to make a fast buck can come in and change the landscape so much that the legacy we build is forever altered. A place where we raise animals ethically and harmoniously as part of a self sufficient way of life. A place to breathe. That’s something I can leave to my family. Whether my kids choose to keep it or liquidate it to further their vision of the family legacy is irrelevant. What I truly will leave to them is the lessons of living in harmony with the world around you will always be better than the rat race of trying to get ahead and that nature is something we respect and cherish. I’ll leave them with the legacy that the simple things in life are what matters, not the money it takes to get there and there is nothing more peaceful and fulfilling than being able to stand on your own in this world. Now it’s my turn.