Revisiting Home

Joe Grant writes about the psychological parallels between experiencing the familiar and the unknown.

By on January 26, 2016 | 1 comment

A few years back, a couple of friends from college came to visit me in Gold Hill from France. I remember driving up from Boulder, watching their reactions with amusement as the road turned from asphalt to dirt halfway up Sunshine Canyon.

We wound our way up the hill into town, the late 1800s architecture further distancing them from their Parisian lifestyle. The contrast of worlds was dramatic and they had a hard time wrapping their heads around the idea of living in such a seemingly remote place.

My first time in Gold Hill had a similar feel. Deanne and I had just moved back to Colorado from a year in Victoria, British Columbia and we were having trouble finding a place to rent.

As a last resort, we were looking at some cookie cutter, suburban condos east of Boulder. I got distracted looking at craigslist as the woman from the rental agency was going over the gym amenities. I came across an ad for a small cabin in Gold Hill, a place I had never heard of before. I called the landlord to set up a meeting to view the property. She couldn’t stay on the phone for long as she was out tending to her sheep.

After a circuitous drive up Fourmile Canyon, we couldn’t find the cabin in the tiny town. Thankfully, Hugh, from the general store, pointed us in the right direction. The owner of the cabin showed up on a dirt bike. He forgot to bring the keys, so he broke in the back window to give us a tour.

First impressions are important. We liked the quirk and were lured in by the rustic aesthetics of the place. Over time, the initial sense of awe lessens, gradually replaced by familiarity. Wonderment remains, yet takes on a different quality, moving from a fascination of the unknown to a deeper appreciation of the many subtleties of the ordinary.

Last month, I had the opportunity to visit Chile to run the Vulcano Ultra Trail 100k. It was my first time in South America and my main point of contact was a runner from the U.K. who was living in Chile, Matt Maynard. On the overnight flight from Dallas, Texas to Santiago, I linked up with my friend Nico Barraza who was also running the race.

The plan was to meet Matt at his home on the outskirts of Santiago and get a few hours of rest before catching an overnight bus down south to Puerto Varas.

Matt was bike touring in the country about five years ago and decided to move there after meeting a Chilean woman.

I had his address, accompanied by a lengthy description of how to find his home, which involved a right turn at a plaza by an orange supermarket and a couple-kilometer walk from there.

Nico and I both agreed to split a cab, instead of taking a complicated succession of buses to reach the destination.

Chileans speak fast, using many unique words that aren’t familiar to even fluent Spanish speakers from other areas, but Nico managed to convey the general direction of where we were headed to the cab driver.

After over an hour stuck in heavy traffic, we found the orange supermarket, took another few detours, and eventually reached Matt’s home–a quaint abode nestled in the foothills of Cerro Provincia. His house felt far out, much like Gold Hill to first-time visitors, but the quiet, soothing atmosphere brought us instant relief from a long day of travel.

We decided to go for a short run to stretch the legs before the evening bus ride. Matt lead us via a network of small social trails to various points of interest around his home, giving us a detailed commentary of what we were seeing. A mundane, daily run for Matt took on a much different character for us as we discovered new sights, smells, flora, and fauna. We passed an old Pinochet hideout, peculiar, old cars, and hopped fences to connect other trails and drainages, surrounded by stunning peaks and vistas. Without us realizing, our short run quickly turned into a two-hour outing.

To me the refinement of the familiar closely parallels the discovery of the unknown. As certain aspects, such as our spacial awareness, become more fine tuned over time, nuances in our perception of what is commonplace suggest that perpetual changes are ever occurring if we care to look. Seeing a new place through someone else’s eyes encourages me to revisit my home with renewed zeal and a desire to examine my surroundings in more depth.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • When traveling, are you occasionally struck by feelings of familiarity? Can you describe when, where, and how this has that happened?
  • When you travel, how often do you find yourself comparing far-off circumstances to those of your own home, people, and life?
  • And does far-off travel ever reinvigorate your perspective of your home?
Revisiting Home 1

Photo: Matt Maynard

Revisiting Home 2

Photo: Joe Grant

Revisiting Home 3

Photo: Joe Grant

Revisiting Home 4

Photo: Matt Maynard

Joe Grant
frequently adventures in wild places, both close to home (a frequently changing location) and very far afield. He inspires others by sharing his words and images that beautifully capture the intersection of the wilds, movement, and the individual at Alpine Works.