The flight from Auckland to LA was perhaps the bumpiest I've ever experienced. There were no hot drinks served for the duration, but they did get the meals to us on time. I had a good seat - right at the back of the plane where the fuselage narrows there are 2 seats instead of 3 in the side bays and I got one of them, on the aisle with a wide space beside me and extra legroom in front. I managed some sleep.
Then it was LAX, with the terminal looking all modern and clean and neat, and a large staff of uniformed people keeping the swarms of us moving through their system. It was surprisingly and pleasantly efficient, quick and friendly. Then I had about 20 minutes of walking from terminal 4 to terminal 7, a couple of hours in a lounge and a couple more in a Canadair regional jet.
We flew over that vast swathe of California and Nevada that seems devoid of trees and full of canyons. I saw Las Vegas below me, then the dusty grey brown landscape became speckled with snow as it rose higher. We circled and dodged through the rockies for a bit: higher than the Southern Alps but older, and therefore rounder. We flew past the forested slopes and into Aspen, a smallish airport whose tarmac was lined with dozens and dozens of personal jets.
A young guy from my hotel picked my up in a big Chevrolet SUV and I was in my small, comfortable, homely room about two hours by my watch after I left Dunedin.
This is a beautiful town. Simply beautiful. If it reminds me of anywhere it might be Queenstown, but it is gentler, more civilised. The buildings are no more than 3 stories high, and are mostly made of the same red brick and the architectural style is a restrained modernism. The roads are wide so the town feels airy and spacious. It sits at an elevation of about 7500 feet and the surrounding mountains go as high as 12,000 so the difference is not as marked as in Queenstown and the scenery here not quite so grand and steep. The shopping area is filled with art galleries, classy fashion houses, and restaurants: over 100 of them for a town of about 6,000. There is some serious money here. The houses are large and look well built, sitting in their snowy, tree lined streets. In a souvenir shop I could have bought a small fossil dinosaur skeleton for $32,500 or, for an undisclosed sum, a genuine and pretty much intact Tyrannosaurus Rex skull.
I went to bed at 8, slept fitfully in an overheated room, and woke in time for the 8 am mass at Christ Episcopal Church. Unfortunately I hadn't got my watch adjustment quite right, so had to come back for the 10 am instead. I twice walked the 2 km return journey through the snowy streets. The days here are sunny right now and the nights bitterly cold, so the snow on the footpaths has thawed and refrozen a few times and in places there is 2 or 3 inches of clear hard ice underfoot. I'm glad I brought my big hiking boots with their grippy soles. The service was calm, understated, well done. A woman with a clear mezzo voice led the hymns, someone played the pipe organ very well indeed, there was a thoughtful sermon. I have spent the rest of the day ambling slowly round this lovely place. I've brought camera number two with me but haven't used it much.
There is always a lead in time in a serious retreat - a couple of days when you have to leave the world behind and get ready to face yourself and face God. This is a time to sleep, and get used to being apart. I'm glad that the necessities of flight timetabling have given me a bonus of two days here, before I go to St. Benedict's, to get used to the time difference and leave behind the unnaturalness of sitting in a vast aluminium tube as it hurtles through the stratosphere high above the Pacific Ocean.
The Aspen Mountain ski area begins right on the edge of town. In fact a gondola up to the slopes begins right in the shopping centre. I looked at the skiers gliding over the slopes above me and I was pretty tempted. But, although I can rent skis here I can't rent clothing. I'd have to buy pants and goggles, and what with lift tickets, ski and boot hire I'd be looking at at least $350 for a day. I thought about how I might explain that particular item on the Visa statement to someone who has her heart set on a new kitchen. I remembered how long it has been since I last skied and my physiological changes since then and calculated the pretty good odds of knee and/or achilles damage. So, very very reluctantly indeed, I decided to be sensible.