Reunion Highs

The Zuiker Family Reunion 2024 is just done and I’m back home in Chapel Hill (elevation: 500 ft above sea level) yet still soaring from the week we spent with my extended family in Breckenridge, Colorado.

While most big families gather for an afternoon picnic, my father and seven of his eight siblings, 15 of my cousins with their spouses/partners and children, my brother Nick and Carolyn and their sons, Erin and our children, and a few other long-time family friends—70 of us in total—committed to a full week in the mountains.

We do these reunions, sometimes called jamborees, every seven to ten years. This is a family that loves to be together, have fun together, sing together, hike together, play together. Our most recent reunion in 2017 in Tennessee, as I reported in this post, included “sing-a-longs and game nights, tubing down the Pigeon River, hiking on the Appalachian Trail in the Great Smoky Mountain’s National Park, a cousin’s wedding, alpine slides, a primer on solar eclipses, my dad’s (labor-intensive) meatball dinner, lots of photos and conversation.”

My cousins Jenny, John, and Justin all live and work in Denver. They took the initiative to plan this year’s reunion and when they selected nearby Breckenridge, the family was all in. We arrived from Colorado, Wyoming, Oregon, California, Arizona, Illinois, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Rhode Island, Texas, and Tokyo. (One cousin called in from Guam, where she is on deployment with the U.S. Navy, and Aunt Judy joined by Zoom a few times.)

Like our previous weeks in Tennessee and West Virginia and Indiana and Wisconsin, this week was packed with activities: an opening-day picnic at Carter Park’s pavilion, a few hikes and a couple of long bike rides, multiple pool parties, another meatball dinner prepared by my father while the rest of us were kayaking on Dillon Reservoir, a family photo—Malia designed a t-shirt with a phrase my Aunt Sue provided: “Life’s climb is better with family at your side”—walking into town to eat or shop, and late-night discussions or game nights.

But there are three highlights for me: the gala dinner and family trivia contest (with a slide show and singing and dancing), the family marching together in the Breckenridge July Fourth Parade (clad in our reunion T-shirts and beaming smiles and handing out candy), and the epic trek that eight of us did up to the top of Quandary Peak.

Quandary Peak is a 14er — the summit is 14,265 feet above sea level. Erin and Oliver and I were part of the group that started out early on a sunny, cloudless day for the long hike to the top. This was our final full day in Colorado, which gave us time to acclimate; still, Erin was feeling the effects of the altitude so she listened to her body and stopped at 13,000 feet. True to her nature, she sat on the mountainside for an hour and reveled in the silence and solitude.

Meanwhile, the rest of us kept going. By the time I reached the top, Oliver had already been up there for 20 minutes with my cousin. I joined them, snapped a bunch of photos, and marveled at the panorama of snow-topped mountains all around. I felt great. I felt awed. I felt strong and satisfied and humbled. When the rest of our group arrived, we took another family photo. (Zach surprised us with the Zuiker Family Reunion sign from our gala dinner!) Back in Breckenridge the next morning, I bought “I climbed Quandary Peak” T-shirts for everyone.

Quandary Peak, Colorado, July 5, 2024

At every family reunion that I can remember, going back to the Zuiker Jamboree at Ravens Roost in 1984, we have sung along with John Denver’s Rocky Mountain High. In Breckenridge one day, three teenage siblings were singing that song on the main street while a block away another singer was doing his version on a restaurant balcony. After our gala dinner, Uncle John on a rented guitar led us in a singalong, another moment to add to an overflowing album of family memories.



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