My 5Point Journey, Part 3: Writing the Future from Mountainous Nothings


by Sara Aranda

[If you haven’t, read Part 1 and Part 2]


9:00 a.m. I wake up before Sonya, eat granola, snap peas, and sweet tomatoes with the back of the Jeep as my awning. Chug water. Look at the other water jug I peed into last night—there was a moment where I realized my ass was almost butted against the rear window, having peeped itself between the curtains. I laughed out loud then, wondering if anyone could see me struggling to pee into a god-damned gallon jug with the tiniest opening. I should look into buying one of those handy funnels for women…

Sonya rises and heads to the Rec. Center to shower. I walk two blocks to the 4th Street Plaza and snag a spot on a hay bale. Jeremy Joyce, Anya Miller, Ben Anderson, Travis Rummel, and Brendan Leonard sit on stage, donning blankets and puffies. The stage is comically locked into an eternal shade, while the audience sits in tank tops and sweaty pants.

Think of the audience first, every creative project needs strategy and foundation. Follow through with your ideas, collaborate. Translate business goals into creative projects. Even look outside the industry for inspiration. Do you actually care? You’re only as good as your next project, so be true to yourself. Self-permission, grit. Know what you’re good at and keep things manageable. Good people. Well-rounded. Distill your ideas. Trust has emotional and creative wealth. Sometimes, don’t even give yourself a Plan B, so fucking commit. Own you and what you stand for.

My notepad is filling up.

These are the notes I write down while listening to the live panel. I look them over briefly as I throw things into my bag, whisper to Sonya that I have to go volunteer. The rectangular hay bales are almost neon in the sunlight as I leave.


11:30 a.m. My gig today is scooping ice-cream for kids. As the Youth Adventure Film Program plays inside, I help two ladies from Whole Foods set up tables, scoopers, bowls, toppings, cones, gloves, spoons—the majority of products compostable. We each receive three flavors to scoop: chocolate, vanilla, cookies & cream. Anxiety starts fluttering my belly as I watch children and their parents crowd the entrance. I imagine the frothing of tiny voices. Children screaming for ice cream, and their parents turning into contortionists in order to give them it.

I once worked at a summer camp and a daycare center—I’ve had my fill of children, to be honest. I like to think that I came away knowing how to assert direction and discipline while maintaining approachability. But there’s also the flashbacks to my years in customer service, when I worked as a cashier, or for bike rentals, or as a hostess, or a ski fitter for Yosemite National Park.

I hesitate with long lines and crowds now. I think I may have PTSD from wild and rabid vacationers. The ladies announce we are ready and a rush of children smash themselves against the plastic tables. There are five of us scooping and thus there should be five lines. It’s a mob and I’m not having it. I immediately order the jumble in front of me to form a line. I take and fulfill their ice cream requests one at a time. Some kids list their desired toppings and flavors faster than I can pay attention to, or the adults start ordering as well, for themselves and all of their other eight children.

There was one little boy who kept talking and I shushed him, to my surprise. It just came out. This is why I don’t do customer service anymore.

Taken from the 5Point Film Festival Pamphlet 2017.

6:30 p.m. I ended up volunteering all day for the sake of getting into the evening film program for free; it’s completely sold out. Sonya even landed a volunteer tag; she is helping put wristbands on people. Krystle Wright and Ben Page come through and I don their wrists with royal entrance, ask Ben how he’s feeling after last night. I don’t think Krystle remembers me, but I smile anyway.

The line to go inside reaches Main Street. Filtering in, I find myself near the exit for the restrooms, in front of the trash bins in the back; standing room only for us volunteers this time. We all crowd in, apologetically bumping arms and butts.

People with flow have a lot of contrasts in their lives. The more you push risk/the edge, the more room in your comfort zone, I scribble in the dark, something I’ve become quite good at. In the film “Flow,” downhill cyclist Harald Philipp delves into his philosophy regarding just that. Flow is “that special state of being where everything’s just right, when confidence overrides fear and the bike and rider are one.”


10:00 p.m. My eyes are heavy with sleep. I feel old when it comes to bedtime, and last night was certainly the latest I’ve been up in a while.

Tracy asks if I’m going to the After Party, where dancing and mild-debauchery will surely happen. There’s no magic necessarily telling me to go, so I tell her I’ll likely just go to sleep.

If you change your mind, let me know, I’ll get you a ticket,” she says.

I settle into my Jeep and my phone lights up. It’s Sonya: Are you going to this after party? 201 main st. I faintly hear her walk to her car and open a door. No, I’m pooped, I write, imagining her ready to party with people she has likely come across. I’m not quite sure why I’m not feeling up for it, but for a brief second, I feel myself changing my mind for the sake of hanging out with Sonya. But then I don’t. I slide deeper into my sleeping bag and let too much time pass.


9:00 a.m. I’ve been sitting with the back of the Jeep open again, occasionally peering into Sonya’s car. She’s nestled into a bright, yellow sleeping bag. I wonder if I’ll regret not going to the party when I hear about it.

I have to show up where all the live panels have been happening to volunteer soon. She-Explores, a female adventure podcast, is hosting a discussion at 10:00 A.M. there, so I also hope that Sonya wakes up in time to introduce me to Gale Straub, the founder.

9:30 a.m. I’m standing in line at Town, that café next door to the 4th Street Plaza, waiting for a Dirty Chai to-go. I’m going to be late, but I stand patiently, hoping Erik Wardell or Tracy aren’t wondering where I am. Finally, I grab the cup and toss myself out the door, walk-jog in a half squat so as to not to spill dirty goodness. My brown Teva boots clunk heavily against the sidewalk until I reach the grass and hay bales. It’s quiet. At least I perfected the squatting speed-walk.

I help Erik move some tables and place blankets over the bales, but he surprisingly doesn’t have much else for me to do.

The Confluence set-up for the live Enormocast Podcast, 4/21.

Sonya arrives and we claim camp chairs with our backs to the sun.

“Oh yeah! Gale is here,” Sonya pipes up and we walk over. I’m introduced and find myself feeling awkward and wordless, but I attempt to chime into the conversation over experiencing 5Point for the first time. At this point, I honestly feel like a naïve cliché.

Brendan Leonard and Hilary Oliver show up. Hilary makes her way into our circle of chatting ladies, so I introduce myself and we shake hands; she smiles warmly.

“You’re a writer? What’s your last name?” she asks me after the usual small-talk.
“Aranda,” I reply, knowing that it will only draw a proper blank behind those brown eyes. She’s taller than I imagined her being, and her vibe is incredibly friendly. In all honesty, I’m not particularly fond of much of her writing. But I’m a fan nonetheless. I understand she’s an important and revered figure; too, she’s often showcasing and collaborating with other women artists, something that is hugely lacking in the outdoor industry. If anything, she solidifies in me that drive, that if she can be a successful writer, so can I.


10:00 a.m. Emotional risk and vulnerability, the discussion starts. Anson Fogel, Hilary Oliver, Meredith Meeks, and Brendan Leonard are led into conversation by Gale. How does sponsorship play a role in message? Cathartic (I like that word). Sentimentality is unearned emotion, attributed to Ridley Scott, but I think it’s James Joyce? Show don’t tell—duh. Keep it simple, stupid. Offer a variety of things to “take away.” Look at me vs. look at what I’m thinking-Brendan. Originality, not cyclical inspiration. There are two types of films: Reduction—documentary; fulfillment—narrative/fiction. I’m running out of space in my notebook.

“There’s only so many times you can get hit by the stoke stick,” Brendan states at some point. At first, I wasn’t sure if I liked him. I enjoy his writing and the online diagrams he’s famous for, but he’s so sarcastic that, if you’re not ready, he comes off as an elitist ass.

“Ninety-nine percent of the people that show up to my book signings tell me that they want to write a book someday,” he had said yesterday, “and I tell them that they’re fools.”

I remember thinking, I’m glad I’ve never been to one of his book signings; this is probably something I would have said to him, and, knowing my sensitivity, I probably would have interpreted it as an insult. An insult based on my own self-truth.

Artwork by Sarah Uhl in the 5Point Film Festival Pamphlet 2017

11:45 a.m. I watch Sonya speak to Fitz Cahall. He nods and says things I can’t hear to her as he leaves. I feel like a creep for a second. The only thing I’m missing are bushes to hide behind. Sonya prances over to me and starts jumping up and down, waving her arms, smiling like a birthday balloon about to fly away. Her enthusiasm is undeniable and I wish I was more outward like that.

Gale and Sonya start planning a podcast recording session, as Gale is interested to hear what Sonya has to say about 5Point. I feel a wash of jealousy, but the circumstances of everything that has happened thus far prevents it from steeping itself aggressively. I let it dampen me, but also let it go, to follow the path of least resistance into the ether.

Sonya leaves, Gale leaves, and I suddenly find myself standing near Sarah Uhl, a renowned illustrator in the industry, who also worked for 5Point for many years.

“What do you do, Sara?” she asks me.
“I’m a writer,” I say confidently now. She nods and stares into me, smiling, her eyes tracing my face and neck in seemingly random circles.
“What do you think of 5Point?” she asks.
“It’s amazing. Though, I’m often intimidated—”

“Oh, don’t be intimidated. Think of us as family,” she states, opening her arms and widening her torso like a kite. Of course she’s right. Despite initial anxieties, everyone has proven to be so supportive and inviting. I describe to her the transformation I’ve gone through, the transfiguration of self-ownership, of self-branding and the commitment to who I am and want to be: a writer.

“What’s interesting is that I’ve met so many people here, but I wonder if I’ll even be remembered,” I express candidly.

“You know what, I’ve been thinking about that, too, lately. And I think that what is truly remembered is if there is that human connection, and an experience that surrounds it. Like you and me, here. I’m going to remember you for your transformation story, and this moment of sharing it.” She smiles and I find myself staring into her in reciprocation. I hope she’s right.

Taken from the 5Point Film Festival Pamphlet 2017.

3:00 p.m. Surrender to the notion of belonging. What does disturbed consciousness mean to me? I write. Suddenly I’m contemplating the question of art-making and selfishness. What we create doesn’t necessarily come from a selfish place, does it? I honestly believe it comes from a human place, and it is human to share.

I had watched the final film program, entitled Changemakers, featuring films about people making a difference. Yet, what does that really mean? Many of the films were visually stunning, painfully beautiful, called for action, were a reminder that humanness is expansive, and possibility is often self-determined. “Big Air Max” was a particularly gripping film on Max Grange, a paraplegic who yields an incredible stoke for skiing.

But how will all of these films truly create change beyond the audience watching, I wonder.

I find Sonya in the back of the room and don’t even question how she got in. She has managed to attend every film program this week for free. Oh yeah, how was the party? I begin to imagine loud music and dancing bodies bouncing and popping skyward: boots and pants and boots and pants and…

“It was really fun!” she says, “I’ve been needing an excuse to dance.” We exit the Rec Center and the regret arrives. Damnit. I should have gone for the sake of story. Or dancing. Hunter S. Thompson would have not only gone, but would have been the life of the party. Why I think of him? He’s bold, daring, insane. There’s no time for rest, I imagine him saying, there are boots and pants to investigate.

Sonya and a new friend dance outside in front of a live band. I watch her swing him around.

It’s the end. I have to start driving the four and a half hours back to the Front Range, to a pine-laden slope in the Rocky Mountains. I run into Tracy and she hugs me goodbye.

“I hope you had a great time,” she says.
“Yes. And I’m going to write about it all,” I excitedly announce while trying not to sound crazy.

Then I hug Sonya goodbye, ensure to her that we will be meeting up again soon. She wisps off into the crowd with her smile and green eyes. Always onwards.


3:30 p.m. I stop at a gas station in Glenwood Springs before hopping onto I-70 East. I watch an SUV pull up to a pump; a woman opens the passenger door, dumps out the remnants to her supersized soda. The sound of ice smacking the concrete echoes; the reality of how small 5Point is, its impact, its community, sets in hard.

Last night I had briefly volunteered to clean up after the film program. There was glaring proof that the lessons we claim to hold so dear don’t even spread through the very audience watching, participating. Trash lined the seats, from popcorn to paper, wrappers, empty beer cans, plastic bottles—I was amazed, ashamed. People couldn’t even make it to the trash bins lining the walls. They didn’t care to pick up after themselves, and that’s the very attitude that will destroy all the wild places shown in all these films, all the spaces that create and are havens for more than us mainstream “outdoorists,” such as Indigenous peoples, or even the flora and fauna. How can we be proud? How can we claim to be stewards for the outdoors when we can’t even keep a multi-purpose room clean?

I drive home with a tight grip on the wheel, saddened. But the fire is there. I am newly changed, and I owe it to all the people I met, to 5Point. I recall Friday night and the tequila, how after five sips I became Ms. Give-No-Fuckery.

I hold an image of deer at dawn as I trace curves through the mountains. The mule deer in Yosemite, how they walk unapologetically across meadow and road, high heeled and graceful, so sure—absolutely so. To always walk with intention. To own existence. There’s something alluring about deer in a meadow, eating, too. Maybe because they are at peace. They are calm. They are silent. They are present and in their own purpose, which does not have to be meditated upon. They are unknowingly transient, yet remembered.

And like the edge of a page with the light of the room behind it, a band of sunset is etched beneath the overcast gloom. Through the mountains there are silhouettes of wind in the trees, old mines, homes—abandoned or not, that sunset page never quite lines up with the horizon the farther East I go. Such a non-perfectionist evening. Purple haze. Vast expanses of mountainous nothings and hidden radio towers. I flick on the dial and tune in to static and garbled words. Begin to decompress. Internalize. Rewire. Manifest. Remember the moments I said yes to, and imagine the yeses to come.

Home at last, near Loveland, CO

Related: Dear Outdoor Media by Sonya Pevzner, a critique of 5Point and No Man’s Land Film Festivals for inclusion/exclusion of diverse voices and how we can address diversity in the future films.


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