Getting in Touch with My Inner Katniss

CSU Pingree Park1

I held the bow in my left hand, pulled the arrow back – the first arrow of my entire life – and shot it into the grassy ground below the target.

Ugh. So disappointing.

I ignored the excited chatter of kids who were shooting at targets shaped like a wild turkey, a bear, and a mountain goat, and actually hitting them.

Archery targets

Everything felt awkward. Then I realized I was holding the bow incorrectly. After the teacher cheerfully set me right, I shot a third and final arrow into the big yellow bulls-eye. A few people cheered.


Archery lesson

It didn’t matter that at a real archery range, we would stand much farther away from the targets. They wanted the little kids to experience a sense of accomplishment.

This was my big chance to follow in the footsteps of teenaged hunter Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games, my favorite Young Adult novel, and I had almost blown it.

Even if I hadn’t nailed that last shot, it still would have been a great day. Any day in nature is great, and this was a spectacularly sunny, birds-tweeting-hummingbirds-buzzing kind of afternoon.

The archery lesson was part of the fun included in my day pass to the 100th anniversary celebration of Colorado State University’s Pingree Park Campus in Cache La Poudre Canyon on Aug. 9.

I’ve hiked and snow-shoed to nearby Stormy Peaks a few times over the years, and have always been curious about the university’s satellite campus, which sits at 9,000 feet and famously boasts a ropes course that various school, nonprofits, and businesses use for team-building exercises.

Nestled in a valley with panoramic views of nearby mountains, the 1,200-acre campus is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places of higher learning in the U.S. Students study Natural Resources here during the warm months.


The festival began at 11 a.m., and I arrived in time for a barbecue enjoyed al fresco to the tunes of local band The 14ers, named after the 54 mountains in Colorado that are at least 14,000 feet high. As I walked to picnic tables outside the dining hall, I bumped into mountaineer Jim Davidson and his wife, Gloria. He and co-author Kevin Vaughan wrote national bestseller The Ledge: An Inspirational Story of Friendship and Survival on Mount Rainier.

Jim remembered joining the fittest people on campus years ago for Pat Rastall’s “Pingree Five,” hiking up and down the five peaks you can see from campus: Signal Mountain, Stormy Peaks, Hagues Peak (the highest point in Larmer County at 13,560 feet), Fall Mountain, and Comanche Peak. The trip took him 17 hours one year to hike the 27 miles, from 2 a.m. to 7 p.m. Rastall, the campus director, continues to lead this endurance test every summer.

I chose a more modest route that day, hiking up a narrow, steep trail through the forest to The Madonna, a 1970s-era portrait of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus that Joyce Koenig painted on a boulder overlooking the valley. I thought of my mom (a devout Catholic) and our vacation to Rome last year, and snapped a couple of photos for her.

The Madonna

The hike back down to campus ended at the booth of Horse & Dragon Brewing Company. They were sold out. The smiling sales rep scribbled a coupon for a free pint on the back of a logo sticker. “We should have brought twice as much beer,” she said with a laugh.

I smiled, thanked her, and put the sticker in my backpack. Then I headed to the archery lesson. During the second set of arrows, I hit two bulls-eyes out of three.

It was a great day.

Katherine Valdez is an award-winning writer who blogs at by typing your email address in the Follow box. About two posts per month.


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