The “Double Dose of Fayhee” tour stop in Telluride will include readings from his two most recent works, The Colorado Mountain Companion: A Potpourri of Useful Miscellany from the Highest Parts of the Highest State (WestWinds Press) and Smoke Signals: Wayward Journeys Through the Old Heart of the New West (Raven’s Eye Press).
Fayhee says he never intended for both books to be published at the same time, but with the unveiling of Smoke Signals planned for the 40th anniversary of The Mountain Gazette, and a delayed publishing of The Colorado Mountain Companion, the 27-stop tour through the region has turned out to be a double whammy.
“These two books literally came out within 24-hours of each other,” Fayhee said in an interview on Tuesday. “I had just gotten Smoke Signals in the mail while having a beer at a bar and a couple of guys asked me what it was. I said, ‘It’s my new book.’ They congratulated me and offered to buy me a beer.
“Twenty-four hours later I’m in the same bar with Colorado Mountain Companion and I tell them that this is my new book. They became suspicious. I really thought about going in a third day carrying in some other new book to see if they would buy me another beer,” he said, laughing.
It’s in his many barroom conversations around Colorado and New Mexico that Fayhee finds his subjects. The genesis of The Colorado Mountain Companion came from a barroom argument about 10 years ago regarding which is the highest town in Colorado, leading him to realize how little some residents knew about the state they live in.
“Stuff,” Fayhee said, “like what’s the highest paved road and what’s the coldest town. That argument got me thinking. How many times have I had that conversation about what is the highest road, the coolest town and deepest lake?”
With questions like that and a newly found familiarity with original encyclopedias – the ones that first appeared in England in the early 1700s – he embarked on a unique research project.
“At that time, encyclopedias were not the systematized, alphabetized volumes we now recognize,” he said. “They were, rather, thematic compilations of whatever subjects were of interest to the writer. That’s what The Colorado Mountain Companion is – a compilation of the things that interest me personally about the High Country.”
The research that culminated in The Colorado Mountain Companion came to include chapters including the movies that have been filmed in the Colorado mountains, mountain-based songs, climatic and altitude-based data, Olympic athletes who hale from the High Country, Native American history, natural science, ski history, and more.
“What was most fun about this project is when I’d start of researching something and then I’d find myself like 12 different notches away from that and I would forget what I was initially researching,” Fayhee said. “In one instance I started out researching weird Colorado festivals and ended up having chapters on tick fever and critical infrastructure. I am so proud of that aspect of this research project. It covers a whole lot of stuff.”
While it would be tempting to classify the book as yet another book of trivia, Fayhee said nothing could be further from the truth.
“A book of trivia would not contain a chapter about how Colorado’s state quarter came into being,” Fayhee said. “Nor would it include a comprehensive chapter on how Colorado’s geographic features came to be named. A book of trivia would not examine the differences between gorges and canyons or whether Colorado experiences true monsoon weather patterns.”
Fayhee has worked as a newspaper reporter and editor for 15 years, and was a longtime contributing editor at Backpacker magazine. In 2000, along with two partners, he helped re-launch The Mountain Gazette, which publishes his monthly column, “Smoke Signals,” from which Smoke Signals: Wayward Journeys Through the Old Heart of the New West is comprised.
From illegally entering a closed area in rural China with a pack full of pot to paddling across a crocodile-infested lake in a leaky Zodiac in the Dominican Republic to crash-landing a hot-air balloon in the most-redneck part of Appalachia, Fayhee said Smoke Signals juxtaposes highly improbable misadventures with tender tales about losing a beloved dog, about the scars that define people in the High Country and about the friendships forged in the most remote parts of the American West.
“I decided when I began writing my ‘Smoke Signals’ column to use it primarily as a venue for bringing stories long told in the oral tradition to the written page,” Fayhee said. “I first wrote these stories in their fulsome entirety, and, most often, that made them literally five times longer than could reasonably fit into the Gazette. Smoke Signals, the book, consists of 22 painstaking reconciliations between the original, long-winded versions of the stories and the versions that appeared in print in the Mountain Gazette.”
And Fayhee has plenty of stories to tell. His travels have taken him to 46 states and five continents. He earned his Tae Kwon Do black belt in 1995. He’s also hiked the Appalachian, Colorado and Arizona trails, as well as the Colorado section of the Continental Divide Trail. He has stood atop the summits of 27 of Colorado’s Fourteeners, but has since repented and promises to stand atop no more.
After 24 years living in the Colorado high country, Fayhee moved back to his old stomping grounds in southwest New Mexico, where he lives in warmth and sunshine with his wife, Gay Gangel-Fayhee.
Between the Covers is located at 224 W. Colorado Ave. in Telluride. The rest of Fayhee’s “Double Dose” book-signing tour can be found at mjohnfayhee.com.