Illustration by KEVIN HOWDESHELL / THEBRAVEUNION.COM

A spooky-season story about when the locals go loco.

Chad thought the guy was driving too fast. That half the time, he was probably turning around to talk and point his finger, and didn’t even have his hands on the wheel. Chad thought maybe he should’ve waited for another ride. But it was too late now.

“You don’t even know what you don’t know,” was the first thing the guy said when Chad was in the car. “You Kurt Russell-wannabes, coming out here from California and thinking that just because you put on a cowboy hat and take a picture you’re all of a sudden some kind of Wyatt Earp.”

The driver said, “I bet you never even rode a horse before.”

Chad was from Connecticut, not California, just to be clear. And he wasn’t so sure about wanting to be Kurt Russell. Maybe more like Robert Redford, or Val Kilmer. Chad also knew who John Wayne was, which he thought was pretty old school.

He had watched Wayne’s Western Classic, True Grit, on his i-Pad, and knew that the movie was filmed here in Colorado. But that stuff about having never ridden a horse before: absolutely true.

“I bet you tell all your friends back in Los Angeles or San Fran-freaking-Cisco, that you’re ‘living the dream,’” the driver said sarcastically. “Well dream on, dude, cause you don’t even own a car.”

Everyone brings their dreams to the mountains. About the legends they might become, and who the world will think they were. Chad imagined he would be a famous writer, penning his own indelible observations about life in the Rockies with such cold-eyed clarity it would be like no one had ever written the West before.

It was as if the driver had read Chad’s mind when he suddenly demanded, “You think you’re freakin’ John Fayhee?” from the front of the car.

And suddenly he was driving faster. Swerving a little. Chad wished he could look out the window to see where they were.

“Do you think you’re the second coming of ‘sweet drug-eyed Jesus’ Hunter S. Thompson? Or Ed Abbey? Or goddamned Cam Burns?”

Except for Hunter S. Thompson, Chad didn’t know who any of those guys were. And as for being a ‘Gonzo Journalist,’ like Thompson, it wasn’t a phrase that exactly rolled off his tongue. He hardly smoked weed. And the only thing he ever protested in his whole life was when the campus gym started closing the racquetball courts an hour early back at school.

“I knew you were a Chad when I saw you,” the driver laughed. Which was true. He was laughing that same laugh when he saw Chad’s thumb pointing towards Lionshead, and stopped the car. “Come on in, Chad,” he had said, pushing open the passenger door.

Chad thought he had seen the guy before, a perpetually raccoon-tanned ski bum with red, white and blue sunglasses and a long, wild gray beard, as well as the sagging black Cutlass with a ‘Colorado Native’ sticker.

He thought he should tell the driver how much he wanted to be out of the car. Or about how once, in what was starting to seem a very long time ago, Chad thought he might be the Rocky Mountain version of Henry David Thoreau. Like all East Coast guys do. Right before they apply to business school.

They think they can live on words and water, and paint pink and purple sunsets that last forever in deathless prose. Then they worry that they won’t ever make any money, and they get scared.

It’s the same with living in the mountains. After two or three years of busing tables and browning bagels, most transplants think they’ve put in enough time to know just how sick a skier or badass a mountain biker they might be—and move back home.

Sometimes they still ride on the weekends. And complain about the traffic. And for the next 30 years they tell the same “mountain town”’ stories while they’re sitting at the bar. But they also all change each mountain place while they live there. All of us do.

Which may have been why the driver started getting angry about all the “true” local places in Vail that Chad had never-ever heard of—like Donovan’s Copper Bar, the old Peeper’s Palace volunteer ski lodge off the Minturn Exit, the original downtown Vail Gondola and The Swiss Hot Dog Company—listing more than a dozen faded ventures with rising urgency until he was straight up yelling, “But that’s all freakin’ gone now!”

Chad wanted to tell the driver he was sorry about those places. And about anything else he thought he might need to be sorry for.

He wanted to ask the driver if he knew anything about the body of the young waiter from Georgia that had recently been found on the road to Ski Cooper outside of Leadville or the liftie they found with her hands tied behind her back in a snowbank in Montezuma.

But the car was slowing down now. Chad could hear gravel grinding underneath the wheels. And the only thing he really knew for sure—and wondered, more than anything in the world—was how he had been hog-tied and duct-taped, unable to say a single word, quivering in the trunk of the car.

Elevation Outdoors editor-at-large Peter Kray is the author of The God of Skiing. The book has been called “The greatest ski novel of all time.” Don’t believe the hype? buy it here and read it now: HERE