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Forged in Ink


The ink movement’s full-fledged boom seemed to happen suddenly. One day the hipsters infiltrated the streets and coffee shops, and all of a sudden everywhere you went in any major city everyone—from philosophy majors to soccer moms to professional athletes—was sporting ink.

The trend is certainly not confined to locales like downtown L.A. or the dives of Brooklyn. Here in Colorado, there is plenty of living artwork walking around Boulder, Denver and even the smaller towns throughout the state. I’ve noticed lately that there is a corollary between outdoorsy folks—whom you often find in Colorado—and ink. That goes a long way to explain why the state has a large proportion of tatted-out gents and ladies. I started to wonder: What’s the connection between mountain men, mountain mamas and body art?

As tattooing has become more accepted as an art form rather than an act of rebellion, it has become more enticing to those who are interested in expressing themselves in unique ways. People who use tattoos as a form of self-expression see decorating their skin as a way to show pride in their bodies—or a specific area of their bodies.

I, for example, love my legs, largely because of what they allow me to accomplish—despite the beatings I’ve put them through. My legs are my life. As a side effect of moving to Colorado, my legs have become quite muscular, and I’ve had to buy quite a few new pairs of pants to accommodate my new skiing, hiking and road-biking gams. At first I was insecure about this, but as I began to think about what it meant, I attained a whole new outlook on body image.

Plus, tattoos go nicely with muscular areas of the body, and who’s more proud of their muscles than people who earn them grinding away in the mountains?

I recently got a huge tattoo on my leg, signifying all the cliched crap I just spewed. I incorporated the Colorado state flower into my ink because I have never been so enthralled with living somewhere. There is a connection between my body and living here.

A lot of the people I spoke to had similar themes (although not similar tattoos): a connection between the mountains and what they do there, a love of a certain outdoor sport and often a connection between whatever body part is inked and the sport they love. I talked to skiers with tattoos of skull and crossbone or mountain ridges sprinkled with spruce trees; climbers with tribal patterns tattooed on their shoulders and backs (and, man alive, does that look amazing when they’re in action); anglers with trouts; and yours truly has a double black diamond with the phrase “vaya con dios” (Spanish for “go with God,” taken from both Point Break and an acclaimed novel by the name of The Crossing) to signify skiing and surrendering oneself to the elements. I’ve also seen a ton of literary and song quotes and more than a few traditional Sailor Jerrys, which I attribute to the aforementioned propensity of extreme sport enthusiasts to use their bodies as their canvases.

Ski bums, climbers, bikers and hikers have forged a deep connection with tattoos, especially in Colorado. This is in part because many people who live here have an affinity for extreme outdoor sports that, dare I say it, rivals the fervor with which many practice religion.

If I had a religion, mountains would be it, and I practice my religion by skiing, hiking and biking. I plan a large part of my life around these things, and the humility I feel in the mountains and for the weather is pretty intense. I often feel at peace and fulfilled when I’m out there. I don’t know what God looks like or if he/she/it exists, but I know when I get out into the mountains, I feel like I’m surrendering myself to a force greater than I am.

If that doesn’t deserve a tribute on my bruised and banged-up body, I don’t know what does.

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