Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Durango to Kansas City (Sunday August 1 - Wednesday August 3)


Sunday morning was awesome.  The ride out of the woods and my ordeal with the Park Ranger complete, I was glad to have a cigarette and looked very forward to hosing myself down.  Calixte and Benjamin are fantastic people and very generous hosts.  When I emerged from the shower I was accosted by the smell of Calixte making all of us pancakes, bacon, and scrambled eggs.  It was simply delicious!  It was so hard to eat slowly and talk.  My body was, to me at least, notably thinner than when I’d left Salida about 2 weeks ago.  The last 200 miles of the trail had been particularly punishing.  Calixte was on schedule to run out the front door at around 10 o’clock.  She was headed for a farm in Santa Fe.  New Mexico was, for her, the Promised Land.  
I’d first met Calixte in Brooklyn, New York not long after I’d got back from a few months of writing and foolishness in New Mexico myself.  She’d mentioned to me that she was wanting to get to New Mexico for some kind of hippie experience out in the desert, and I, of course, am all for it.  I bought her a copy of Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, something I’ve made a habit of doing for any friend who cares about the desert and our Wildernesses.  Next thing I knew, she was off and she never came back.  The next time I saw her was at a mutual friend’s wedding in Texas just a few months ago in May.  Conversation got us around to her living in Durango, me saying that I’d be in Colorado, her saying that she and Benjamin were hoping to move to Santa Fe in September, and, to get to the end of this, that I’d have to try to stay with them when I passed through.  Benjamin had just had his first officially published piece in High Country News, and that, to me, makes him a celebrity.
The bed of Calixte’s pickup was loaded up.  We managed to tie it all down so that nothing would fly out, and we put a tarp over the whole thing so that if it did rain on her way down yonder nothing would get too wet.  It was a gorgeous morning, sunny and breezey and warm.  Clouds were sitting on the mountain tops like heaps of gray frosting, and I was glad to not be up there anymore.  Around 10 o’clock or so she sped off, leaving me and Benjamin to our own devices.
I had my little map of Durango that told me where the laundries were, where the P.O. was, and all that sort of thing.  I found where the cheapest laundromat was and went to the grocery store to get a pint of ice cream to eat while my few clothes spun around in the front-loader.  I ate my ice cream and read The American some more.  If I have one thing to achieve in Durango, it’s to get out of it by spending as little money as possible.  I bought enough groceries to get me through the next few days, mostly bagels, eggs, bacon, pasta and chicken.  I also got some big bandaids to cover up my ankles.  There were missing a layer or two of skin from yesterday’s 30+ mile hike and I just wanted to cover them up.  I was walking around town in my camp sandals now, really happy to not be wearting those shoes which were in a notably different condition than they were a few weeks ago.  I went back to the house and all along the route I could not find my tobacco.  I knew it had to be here because Benjamin had had some.  Good man, smoking man’s cigarettes.  I called up Benjamin to ask him where on Earth I could find some of this premium stuff, and he gave me some tips.  It is amazing how much walking around an addict will do to find a fix.  But I finally found it.  
I got back to the house and Benjamin was busy typing away on his word processor.  It’s a priviledge to know someone who’d rather do something than talk about doing something.    He was working on a new story and I wanted to get out of his hair, so I went out on the town.  
So here I was in Durango.  I had my way out of town planned for Wednesday afternoon, and had to figure out how to get to the airport.  There’s no bus service or shuttle of any kind, and a taxi would cost about $30.  Let’s just say that this would have been a sizable percentage of my holdings, rendering it a non-option.  I figure I could walk there with not much of a problem.  I decided I had to sell off what was left of much of my hiking gear.  Some of this was for the cash-factor, but some of it was compounded by other sensibilities.  I really couldn’t afford to check any luggage if I didn’t need to do so, and most of what I’d be checking would have been nearly junked anyway.  I made some flyers with everything priced to move.  My sleeping bag was disgusting and would have best been incinerated, but it ended up in someone’s trash barrel in an alley somewhere.
I wondered down main street that afternoon as it sprinkled off and on.  I went into bookstores, coffee shops, all my usual haunts.  I also found a guitar store that sold some very expensive guitars.  I may be a broke-ass, but I know quality.  I sat and played guitar for a good hour or so, trying to help in the selling of this fine hand-buillt instrument made in Colorado, USA.  No takers today, so I’ll be back again tomorrow to bug them.  They don’t mind.  I’m not playing Bob Dylan or Annie DiFranco songs or anything.  The day was winding down so I went back to the house, stopping to get a beer at the gas station on the way.  Me and Benjamin sat around and watched a couple hours worth of Star Trek (The Next Generation, for those who care).  I’d never really seen any of it before as sci-fi is not my thing, but I did enjoy it.  
Benjamin had to get up in the morning to go to work.  He works as a carpenter’s assistant making furniture and has to be there early.  I can sleep through anything and assured him to not tiptoe around me in the morning as I was so grateful to be on a couch anyway.  I slept a nice and dreamless night.  My theory is that if I go to bed having fully exausted my imagination that day and have not let anything nag at my nerves or subconscious I don’t remember my dreams.  Is this true?  I don’t know, but I rarely do remember them.
The next morning I hit the library, trying to get my stuff on Craigslist in addition to the fliers that had been posted.  I was also in a pickle trying to figure out how to get to the airport.  It was about twelve miles away from central Durango and, as my flight was in late afternoon, figured I could walk it if I had to.  
It is very difficult to go from living and experiencing the woods and deserts on a day to day basis for a good length of time to then be thrust into living amongst the buildings, pavements, and electrical wires of town and all the people who are there as well.  It is tough to find a place in a town like Durango (not too big, not too small) where a guy like me can sit and read a book and not pay too much money for a coffee or beer.  Tourism is the lifeblood of Colorado’s economy, and that affects the lives of the people who live there, too.  I know that they all have to go somewhere, and I am good at finding these places.  They are the places that look uninviting, dirty, or violent.  Typically, they are not.  I was finally lucky enough to have found one of these places.
I walked into the bar around 5 in the afternoon, hoping to hit a happy hour, quench my thirst, water my spirits, and pass some time before going back to the house to make dinner.  I sit at the bar, order whatever the cheapest beer is really feel at home.  This is one of the last bars in America you can smoke in (give us our Freedom!) because they raised a fuss when the ordinance was initially passed to abolish the practice.  They don’t take credit cards yet, but will begin doing so later in the year.  I myself like to run a cash operation.  
I’m still sort of a mess, visually speaking.  I’ve only got my hiker clothes on, what’s left of them.  I’m glad to have a second shirt without holes in it.  My shorts have a rip in them from when that tree attacked me.  I’m wearing my sandals around town to give my wounded ankles some breathing room.  I’ve got a bag of food to contibute to tonight’s dinner and a book to read and what’s left of my journal, the liberated pages of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
I sit at the bar, minding my own business, and a woman sits down next to me who acts like she’s been there all afternoon.  Very quickly I learn a lot about her.  She’s in her 50s, but the magic of the Bottle has her feeling 30 or so.  She wants to dance and I decline this invitation.  Even if I liked to dance, the ring on that finger tells me not to.  She just wants to have fun, I understand, so I’m not mean to her or anything though I am cautious.  Whenever I’m in a town where I don’t live I behave as though I were a guest.  Interact with the locals, sure, but don’t get too involved and never take sides on anything.  We do talk for a good while, she being fascinated that I just walked to Durango from Denver.  She goes to do some dancing or play some video poker or something, and the whole bar shuts down as a couple of guys in BMW hats come in the door.  Guys with perfect teeth and brand new hiking boots and really clean clothes.  The atmosphere shifted completely.  There’s just something about guys like this, older guys with lots of money and expensive motorcycles who talk too loud who walk into a bar like this.  No one else is happy anymore, people start to leave, and I leave as well.  I am hungry.
I make dinner that night, talk with Benjamin, find out how Calixte’s doing down in Santa Fe, eat a bunch, watch some more Star Trek, and so on and so forth.  The next day or two is spent in prep to leave, meaning going to the P.O. to mail a box back to Missouri, planning how to get to the airport (I’ll get to that in a second), and trying to not be too down about leaving this Big Backyard for Texas.  I do manage to find $20 lying around in the grocery store, get a new notebook for 33 cents, and end up with nothing to take on the plane but my daypack full of whatever would fit into it, most importantly my journal, camera and books detailing this whole trip.  Everything else either got shipped or left behind.
The day of departure comes and I get up early to see Benjamin off and thank him immensely for everything.  I eat what’s left of my food and go down to the bus station to wait for the bus that won’t get me to the airport but will get me close.  I might have to walk 6 miles, but as long as the rain holds out it won’t be too bad.  I’ve got my trail shoes on again, but the first thing I’m doing at the airport is pitching them in the trash.  The bus drops me off and I find the road that leads to the airport and start walking.  I stick my thumb out whenever a car does pass, which is sort of rare.  Eventually a guy picks me up and I retell the gist of the trip and he loves hearing about it.  Another nice guy indeed, and he gives me a couple of yogurts and an an orange out his cooler and shoves $20 bucks into my fist to help me get something to eat at the airport if I want to.  My protests as to this extent of his generosity went unheard by him.
I waited for the plane in this tiny two-terminal airport with everyone else wanting to get to Denver.  The lady I’m sitting next to reeks of whorish perfume and is from Dallas.  She’s talking to a rich fella about her rich husband and how hard it is to be rich in Dallas.  I really don’t want to be around people like this.  I actually don’t like people like this.  The plane itself is delayed by lightning in Denver but eventually we take off.  We get into Denver at the same time my flight to Kansas City is supposed to depart, but due to lightning all over the Denver region every flight is delayed at a minimum.  I rush to the gate only to find out that it’s been cancelled.  I go up to the smoking lounge for some respite before heading to wherever it is you go in situations like this to sort yourself out.  As it was, the line to the help-desk that services the entire airport is hundreds of heads deep and full of indignants who want to get everything for free due to this outrage from the weather.  Something about me enjoys this weather even though I find the human method of dealing with it incredibly annoying.  Every flight out of Denver at this point is cancelled and I finally get booked for a flight the next morning at 7 AM.  I go up to the airport bar for one last cigarette, and reduce myself to some McDonald’s, the only thing that’s open.  It’s about 2 in the morning now.  
I go to my terminal, find some newspapers, and lay down with my bag of clothes for a pillow and the sports section draped over me for some sheets.  My alarm goes off at 6 in the morning, I go have a cigarette and some coffee up in the bar and get on my plane for Kansas City.  It lands just fine and without any incident.  The folks pick me up and just like that I’m back in Kansas City and headed, somehow, to Texas.  Part of me feels like I’d made a mistake, leaving Colorado.  But I’ve got a plan to get back and plenty of work left to do, mostly scribing the trip out for myself, my few friends, and anyone else who would care to read about it.
It was an amazing trip, and now it’s over.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Silverton to Durango (Tuesday July 27 - Sunday August 1)

I woke up the next morning and pack by daypack for a hitch into town.  I’d finished my book and needed at least one new one, and my journal was about full, to boot.  I left my tent and pack behind in my reasonably well-hidden campsite off the beaten path and got to the highway.  It’s about 4 miles into Silverton, if I recall correctly, and I didn’t want to walk the whole way on this little highway if I could avoid it, so I started thumbing.  There wasn’t much traffic, but I eventually got a ride with a fella from Durango who dropped me off at the main intersection in town.  Fortunately, again, Silverton is tiny and quite manageable.  
I spent a day in Silverton, looking for new books, the post office and a buffet.  I think I forgot to  mention at some point in this jumble of sillyness that, in addition to all of the other ridiculous stunts I managed to pull on this trip, I left my cell-phone charger in Salida.  While I was in Creede I’d manage to get ahold of John at the hostel who offered to mail it to me at the P.O. in Silverton.  The post office didn’t open until a little bit later, and some asking around helped me find a breakfast buffet being run out of a hotel on the main drag.  I went to the hotel and asked how long the buffet was open, and decided to go back to the post office so I could at least, hopefully, charge my phone while I ate.  I got all my stuff from the P.O. and went back to the hotel to eat until I burst.  I never did manage to burst, but I got my money’s worth.  I charged  my phone, made some phone calls and then found the local library to do some internetting.  They had a shelf of books for sale in the little lobby (this is a tiny library, like most of the ones is town of this size, but their value is huge.  Not just to me, but to the townspeople as well, obviously.) and I found a couple of books that looked good and paid the .25 cents for each one at the counter.  Henry James’ The American and some Faulkner short stories.  I left the library and went through town and got some postcards and I traipsed along and found a little cafe to have some coffee while I did some writing.  
I went to the outfitter to snoop around and found another book on a rack of used paperbacks (this time for the outrageous price of .50 cents a pop) and decided to go ahead and hedge my bets and get one more.  This one being, humorously, Ken Kesey’s  One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  I did a little more ambling about town that afternoon, finding the Silverton Brewery and enjoying one of the best IPAs I’ve ever had.  I talked with a guy there about the region, about the stupidity of the train (he lives there and can’t afford the $75 per person to let his kids ever get to ride it.  That’s pretty pathetic of whoever’s in charge of that racket), and the awesomeness of the Silverton Brewery.
On my way out of town it starts to rain and I head to the grocery store to stock up for the rest of the hike and to get something to eat for dinner.  Pitifully, this store is just another racket where everything in it is vastly overpriced and seems to be run by some kind of cult.  I go to the gas station for groceries and tobacco and ask the guy where people who live in town get their food, and he says they have to go all the way to Durango as it’s more cost effective to drive the multi-mile round trip than to go to the so-called grocery store in Silverton.  Thank you, Mennonite grocers (or whatever your weird cult is), for ruining the quality of life for the locals.
There is no rolling tobacco anywhere in Silverton.  I’m going to be forced to smoke ladies’ cigarettes, the filtered kind that suck all the vitamins out of the tobacco.  Silverton is not working out for me in many ways.  In the end I get some burritos to cook over a fire at the gas station and some fig newtons and anything else I can think of to pack out.  
I walk out of the gas station as it continues to sprinkle and stick a thumb out to get back up along the highway to my campsite.  Gloriously, the first car picks me up and takes me up to the turn off nearest to my campsite.  I get back to my camp in a hurry to try to beat the rain so I can get a fire going to cook my burritos.  I throw some stick in a round of rocks and get one going quick enough to get it started and grab  my aluminum fry pan and  olive oil and get ‘em going.  Dinner is a bag of Fritos and burritos.  Not my idea of a good meal, but at this point it’s all about the calories.  The rain picks up as I’m finishing dinner and I get my dishes cleaned up as the fire sizzles out from the rain.
I’m in  my tent, eating what’s left of the Fritos and begin reading One Flew Over…  It’s an easy read and I’m flying through it, following quite easy the insane logic of a man who’s willfully in a mental institution.  At this point, it’s not such a hard thing to relate to.  An assessment of my own state is thus:  I am tired, hungy, and ready to get to Durango.  This has easily been the best hiking trip I’ve ever done, but it’s taken its toll and I’m looking forward to the end of it.  Not in a bad way, but finances are on my mind as is my health.  I still feel good, as my health goes, but I know that sooner than later I’ll be underweight.  There’s  still some fantastic area to go through and I do look forward to it.
I wake up the next morning and shove off, going through Molas Pass and beyond Molas Lake.  I go along several miles and start ascending up beyond treeline again as clouds form yet again.  It has rained a lot on me, and it’s been very tough.  That’s also why for this last segment there’s just not many photos it rained all the blasted time.  As I get up nearer to my first pass of the day I take a break on a rock and notice a man off a little ways up on the hillside with a bucket collecting rocks.  I figure it’s some guy looking for gold or silver or some kind of odd thing, and as I get closer I ask him what he’s up to.  “Oh, just doing some trail maintenance.  I’m not some nut or anything.” We both laugh and I tell him you just never know around here to which he readily agrees.  I thank him for his work and move on up the pass and go by more trail workers who are all busy at it.  This is something that I’d really like to do some day.
I make my way around the hills and finally get to a great campsite underneath some trees with a ready-made firepit along the gurgling Cascade Creek.  I take the opportunity to make the most of the break in the weather and take some pictures of flowers, and take many of them.  Good thing, too, as this would really be my last opportunity, weather-wise to do so.  This area is beautiful with many many different flowers and a waterfall, the water itself clear enough and far enough away from any horses to where I feel I can drink it straight without treating it.  I get my fire going and have my dinner as it starts to rain some more.  I hunker down to read and write.  At this point I’m out of journal space and am tearing pages out of Kesey’s efforts to turn them into an effort of my own.  I finish the book before finally calling it a day.
I get up the next morning and go around the bend and pass by a guy sitting on a rock completely exhausted.  Sometimes you  see people doing the oddest things, made even stranger by their location in the world.  It starts to rain early again today, and this whole area feels completely wild, like I could be an explorer in uncharted lands or something.  It’s a very tough region to get to, and it’s not hard at all to imagine people who’ve been here for thousands of years exploring the area.  
The rain keeps on steady as I’m coming up a hill to another pass.  I see a guy sitting hunched over himself underneath a tree and I ask him if he’s okay.  He’s not okay, actually, but he does not complain about his condition.  He keeps throwing up and can’t keep any food or water down, but he’s not sure why.  He’s been out here many times, and his theory is that he got up to altitude too quickly, even though he does live in Colorado already, albeit along the Front Range which is considerably lower in altitude than where we were.  I get over the pass and to my next campsite, marveling the entire time at the whole thing.  The San Juans are just huge, so huge that there’s some debate over if it’s not actually more than one range of mountains.  Regardless, it’s massive, and it feels massive to boot.  I make my camp in a grove of trees, tired of being wet.  I search all around for firewood and finally get enough to make it worthwhile.  The sick fella finally shows up, and we talk about cows, horses, people, Montezuma, Aztecs and how his car is parked not too far away and that he feels like he’s really got to get there even if he just sleeps in his car.  I feel like he’s making a good decision, as difficult as it is for him to keep going.  
He leaves and I start my campfire, looking forward to another night alone in the woods, this one among my last for the journey.  I’m having my dinner and reading a book (I’ve now onto The American) when I’m startled by someone walking up the trail towards my camp.  It’s a dude named Wyatt, and he offers me a can of beer that he no longer wants to carry, a beer which I gladly accept.  We talk for a little bit and he decides to push on a little further.  I’m in my tent reading a little later on when I’m once again startled by a passer-by.  This one is Mark, and he offers me another beer, of which I again gladly accept.  He asks if he can camp nearby, and I’m glad to have him as company.  He’s a good guy, and we get the fire going again and sit around and talk for a good while, about what lays ahead for me and what he’s got coming up.  He’s done this trail before in both directions and absolutely loves it.  He’s completely hooked.  I understand.
I get up the next morning, and Mark is already up and about and takes off before I do.  It’s wet and raining everywhere.  My goal for the day is Taylor Lake.  I’m hoping to get into Durango on Saturday afternoon as my friend Calixte is leaving for Santa Fe on Sunday morning, and it’d be a shame to not see her after all this.  The hike, though drizzly, is still a wondrous thing.  It is very easy to imagine the Indians developing these trails, much easier than anywhere I’ve been before.  I can’t overstate the awe and splendor of it all.  I know that up ahead there’s an exposed ridge walk I have to get over before I can get over the final high point of the trail and then finally descend into Taylor Lake.  I’m walking along at a very high altitude as it drizzles.  There’s no water along this section, a thing I was aware of, but had heard about a cache of water left by a kind-hearted soul in Durango familiar with the potential struggles inherent in this section.  I hear a knock of thunder in the distance, quite sure that it’s straight where I’m headed.  I sit on a log in a small grove of trees, hoping that it’ll pass.  It’s only ten in the morning, and it’s an easily doable distance to the lake, but not in this weather.  The rain never stops, but I still have to keep moving.  I continue on as it rains, the trail turning into a river as rainwater runs through it, seemingly in both directions.  My feet are wet and I’m hungry.  The temperature is cold, and with no sun to keep me warm, moving along is really the only option I have.  I know the final ridge I have to walk is very exposed and above treeline, but I’m  not sure exactly where the trees run out and I don’t want to get stuck camping out exposed again, not when I’m this close to Durango.  I keep moving on, my shoes squishing like a sponge as each step forces water out of each one and lets it all back in as my stride shift from foot to foot.  Around 2.30 in the afternoon I call it a day.  There’s no way I’m going to get over the ridge today in this weather, and what I could really use now is some food and rest.
I pitch my tent and crawl in.  I get warm and doze off.  I wake up later, around five o’clock, and it’s still raining.  I start eating anything that doesn’t need to be cooked, not caring anymore if I’ll even have any food left for the last day of my hike.  At some point the rain abates enough for me to open up my tent and cook just outside of it.  One thing constantly on my mind is bears, as this is certainly bear county.  You can tell by the scat left along the trail.  I’m still smart enough to not leave food in my tent and, even in the rain, make sure I hang my food a good distance from me. 
I read a lot more of The American and sleep sleep sleep.  
I wake up the next morning very early, around 5.30 or so.  At this point I don’t take for granted that it’s probably going to start raining at 10 in the morning and the only thing keeping me from getting over that final ridge is my own dilly dallying.  I pack up quickly, put my soaked shoes and socks back on and hoof it.  I go higher and higher over the hills.  I have 3 ridges to get over before Turquoise Lake, and I don’t really know how many miles it actually is before I get there.  
I go and go, higher and higher and am eventually out of tree line and coming up to the first saddle.  The willow bushes are thick and there’s bear scat everywhere, and I know that willows are favored places for bears to hang out.  I make all the racket that I can as I get near them and as I go through them.  The trail is right along the edge of the cliffs and it’s an amazing sight down the sides of these ridges as I go along.  I’m coming up to the next ridge and am gaining the second saddle.  As I keep moving, I see water vapor rising up along the cliffs and forming little clusters of clouds beneath me.  I do anything but slow down now.  It could turn on me at any minute, and as I go the fog rises quick like smoke, curling around itself as it licks the tops of the mountains before continuing on into the sky.
I am now on what I think is the third and final ridge, the one that will get me over and down off of this plateau and down near lake.  Over in the distance I see another ridge, and I begin to think I’ve lost count and that I have to go all the way over there and ascend even higher than I am now.  It is now cloudy over head, and the plumes of vapor are thicker on my left now.  I stop for a second and turn around to know what going on behind me, and not even a hundred yards back the entire area is covered in a dense fog/cloud system.  I fear that any second now it’ll gain on me and I’ll be up here on this ridge in the heart of a cranky thunderstorm.  I’m all but running now, trying to escape this.  I get over the ridge and start going down the saddle a bit fully expecting to go over that next ridge way over there when I get to a trail junction.  To my left through a break in the clouds I can see Turquoise Lake, and I’m stunned and infinitely relieved that I made it.
I start going down the side along the trail and take some time to say hello to a family out for  a little weekend trip.  I keep going, past the lake and get to the trailhead here.  Suddenly, the clouds have vaporized and it’s nice and sunny.  My shoes are still wet from not being able to fully dry out so I sit on a pole near a little parking lot to eat something (anything!  What on earth do I even have left?) and see a guy in full camo carrying some kind of massive instrument over his shoulders.  I ask him what it is and he tells me how he’s a hunter and he’s scouting for elk before hunting season starts.  He tells me that he saw me going over the ridge just ahead of all the clouds and  that he’d never seen anyone move so quick.  We have a good laugh about it all and I get going.  Something inside of me tells me that I have to get all the way to Durango by nightfall.  It’s all downhill from here.
I’m very very tired at this point.  That last part was a doozy.  I start the massive descent.  The first part is brutal and it’s a lot of broken shale along the side of a steep ridge.  I just keep moving on.  I pass a majestic waterfall and eventually get to the river that runs through and down into Durango.  I have a lunch spot determined where I plan to eat my last batch of potatoes, and I finally get there.  I sit down and get everything unpacked, have a smoke and get ready to make my lunch when all of a sudden the weather turns and it starts raining again.  I skip lunch, having no real option, and just start moving.  It’s really raining now, and there’s thunder and lightning and I’m just glad to be unexposed.  Of course, lightning can still get you, most notably by hitting a tree near you or something along those lines.  
I slog on through all of the weather and at one point as I’m rounding a corner I get a big whiff of pine, and as I make the turn I see a tree, shattered not long before by lightning and laying over the trail.  Timing is everything.  I go on, passing Gudi’s Rest, and by now it’s dusk and I only have few miles to go before finally getting to the end of the trail.  I take a moment to call my friends in Duragno, hoping that they I can see them in the morning before Calixte take off for New Mexico.  We make arrangements for Benjamin to pick me up in the parking lot at the trailhead at 7 in the morning.  I want to camp as close as possible so as to not be late for the rendezvous.  By now I’m tattered.  My clothing is in shreds.  My shirt is full of holes and my pant torn from a very aggressive stick jutting out of a tree.  I’m brown, from both the sun and the dirt, and my ankles are chafed to a horrible extent from being forced to hike so aggressively downhill in wet shoes, the dust from the trail making a kind of cement around them.  But I feel good.  I feel great!
By now it’s dark enough to be hiking with a headlamp, and I eventually make it to the end, and come to a parking lot.  I inspect the area to make sure that there’s no other parking lots where Benjamin might expect to meet me.  I hike back up trail a good ways and find a decent campsite.
The next morning I get up at six o’clock and take my sweet time breaking camp.  Around 6.30 a park ranger comes by as I’m stowing gear and asks me how I slept.  I tell him I slept fine, and tell him about how I just finished the trail.  He keeps asking me odd questions, this little do-gooder, and because I have to go soon to meet Benjamin, I ask him flat out if I’d done something wrong.  He tells me that you’re not supposed to camp within 8 miles of the trailhead and that there was a sign back at Gudi’s Rest that says this.  I tell him that I saw no such sign at that Gudi’s is only about four miles back anyway.  He goes on to say that there’s a hundred dollar fine for violating this rule and that there’s a zero-tolerance policy on it.  In short, all of the yuppies in Durango want this part of the trail to themselves and don’t want homeless people or anyone else bothering their gas-chugging SUVs with their Thule or Yakima things on top of them.  I tell him this doesn’t matter much to me because this is National Forest, not Durango Forest and I don’t really care if the rich folks hate the non-rich enough to pass an unconstitutional ordinance or not.  This is for everyone, regardless of any so-called laws passed.  I give him my ID and tell him he can give me a ticket if he wants but that I’m not going to pay it.  I’m pretty mad at this point and am seething to have come so far to end up in this situation a few hundred yards from the very end.  Ultimately he relents and tells me he’s just going to let me off with a warning (a warning!  Ha!  Not only is the USFS, but this is not a zero-tolerance policy at all.  This selfish policy is clearly designed to further marginalize people, as far as I’m concerned) and so I finish packing up get to the road to wait for Benjamin.  At the road I see a sign that says there’s a campsite a mile up.  I yell over to the ranger asking if I could’ve “legally” camped there last night and he says “oh yeah, you could’ve camped there just fine.”  A waste of tax dollars if there ever was one.  
At seven o’clock Benjamin shows up and we go back to their house for pancakes.  In the car I see some rolling tobacco.  It’s nice to have a non-ladies cigarette and I can feel my blood fully absorbing all of the delicious vitamins.  The hike is over, but the trip ain’t done.


Out through Molas Pass


Subalpine Larkspur


?


Don't know exactly, but I'm guessing it's another Aster.




Dusky Beardtongue


Yampa


Caraway?  I think?


My favorites, some kind of aster.  They always look like this.  They're not dying, they just don't care.


Near Cataract Creek


Cataract Creek



Me smoking a Lady's Cigarette and looking fine



Waterfall


Exploded Tree

Creede to Silverton (Thursday July 22 - Monday July 26)

I took my time in Creede.  I lived at my little campsite up on a hill outside of town and kept trying to put more weight on.  I ate like a horse every night and I ate good food with huge portions.  I enjoyed Creede, but wasn’t too sad to leave it behind.  I spent a good bit of effort trying to plan my escape route without paying for a shuttle back up the way I came.  I did not want to walk up a blasted road, a long road at that, to get back up to the point I’d descended in first place.  The weather in Creede was quite rainy and even unpredictable.  The way it usually works is that it rains in the afternoon if it rains at all.  This is due to water vapor rising up in the morning from the valleys and lowlands as the earth warms up and then cooling as it hits the cooler mountain air and then it rains.  Thunderstorms are not unusual, and this seems to be caused by the mountains themselves causing a collision of cooler air on one side and warmer on the other.  Again, I could be wrong about this but it seemed to be that this was the way it was working.  However, it had become erratic; raining in the morning, raining at night, intermittent sun… It wasn’t making much sense.  Monsoon season was not technically upon us (this has to do with moisture coming in from out of the Pacific regions and colliding with the air from the desert to the south and plains from the east, all of this in the mountains) but, again, this usually happens in the afternoons.  Much of the rest of my trip, it turned out, was going to be rather wet.
Anyway, I’d finally come by an alternate route called Miner’s Creek Trail to get myself up to the CT.  The area just after San Juan Mountain and it’s assosciated valleys is Snow Mesa, one of the largest mesas in all of Colorado (the largest?  I don’t recall) and it is very high up there and about 4 miles long with nowhere to hide should a storm come through.  Needless to say, I wanted to do this part earlier in the day and hopefully avoid any inclement weather.
I set off from my campsite early in the morning  and washed my feet off with a bandana and some dew that had collected on my rainfly overnight.  I hadn’t showered in a while now, one not being available in Creede for me to use.  I waited for my rainfly to dry in the morning sun, packed everything up, and then walked a along some old roads that went further into a valley a little further along the one I’d come down into Creede.  I get to the trail and start moving along.  A strange part of the world, this one.  There’s the occasional semi-permanent home off in the woods, a broken-down ranch with a couple of horses, things like that.  I continue on up into the hills along a road that’s bound to become more trail like.  I pass an old abandoned mine with its yawning mouth and metal fence of broken braces with its constant exhalation of air that must have been no warmer than sixty degrees in temperature.  I walked up to it, out of curiosity, and can swear I heard noises coming from its guts like you’d expect out of a horror movie.  I freak out at these things (I have good fun with it, though) and as such got a little spooked and ceased my inspection.  I don’t know if the chill I got was from the air or my imagination.
I kept going further and further along and it got dense really quick.  After a little bit more I realized I’d already taken another wrong turn and headed back, a little irritated with myself to have wasted so much time.  I backtracked a bit (much easier going back than going forward in this case!) and got back on trail.  I know this is the right way because the huge sign that said “Miner’s Creek Trail” with an arrow pointing in the direction I had not gone was right there for the whole world to see.  Oh well.  I passed a slew of fools in RVs, mostly from Texas, who were parked off the road, sitting in their air-conditioned mobile homes watching TV and enjoying nature.
I finally managed to get to the end of the road where there was a small creek and the actual trail started.  I got some water, fought off the mosquitoes and was happy to finally be back into the woods.
Not many people use this trail.  It was a lot of fun, though, winding about up and over hills, crossing back over the stream, where fascinating white cliffs jut out of the sides of the mountains as I gain in altitude.  Most of the stream crossings were bridge-less and so fording them was mandatory, but the day was sunny enough to where I dried out in good time.  The further along I got, the larger the boulders sitting in the middle of the valley floor became as the mountains, in due time, fall down around themselves.  I finally got to a good campsite location and determined that I was about 4 miles from the way I’d eventually ascend back up to the ridge and run into the CT and get up to Snow Mesa.  
There was something about this area that felt truly remote.  The trail wasn’t beaten in like most trails are, just enough to let you know that you’re not lost yet.  Being so close to the stream that was running through the valley I was curious to know if I’d see any bears or other things going down for a drink as dusk came around, but I didn’t this time.  While pumping water, the handle from the pump broke, rendering it useless.  I was glad I’d got the iodine tabs now, but cursed that I’d have to carry this broken thing all the way to Silverton.
I wake up the next morning a little bit anxious.  I had to get myself up to the ridge still, and then across Snow Mesa in one shot.  I got further and further along the trail as it became more and more difficult to see where I was supposed to be going as the trail eventually petered out.  Basically, I was at the end of the line.  To the left of me was a wall of rocks and straight ahead was a mountain.  I examined my map again and cut across to the right, thinking I’d hit a trail of some kind that would lead me around this impossible route and up along a path that must have surely been along the face of that huge hill.  Fortunately, I was right, and I soon found myself in the last grove of trees I’d see for miles.  I had my lunch to get the energy stored up and set off.  I still couldn’t see a trail, but I knew where I was going.  I headed cross-country and into the pass that finally led to Snow Mesa.  I could see a trail off in the distance, marked by poles and featuring CT blazes, and so I set off on a trajectory past a small lake and then ran into the official trail and began my trek across the expanse.
This landscape was magnificent, and no pictures could capture its scale.  I felt like I was in some chapter of Blood Meridian, if it had been set in Colorado.  Straight ahead there was nothing but a rolling flatness.  To my left the whole thing just fell off like you’d found the end of the Earth.  To the right, mountain crests not much higher than Snow Mesa itself, but high enough to make you wonder what was going on on the other side, weather-wise.  I kept a close eye on these things all day, watching wisps of clouds form over these peaks and hoping that they didn’t decide to join forces and begin a lightning show.  Occasionally, a sprinkle would drop onto me and get me to moving quicker.  The clouds formed slowly over me, but at a very high altitude, and it was eventually, after moving very quickly now, that I descended out of the mesa and into a crevasse and finally back below tree line.  I took a little break, snapped some pictures of stuff and headed toward Spring Creek Pass.
I ran into some fellas who were just getting back from a journey and they gave me a bunch of free granola bars and one of those Mountain House dinners.  I ate all of the granola bars at a picnic table and tried to determine how far I wanted to get before camping that night.  I got going and eventually came across a very small creek coming down out of a little grove on the hillside.  I hauled my stuff up near the grove and pitched my tent far enough away from it so that if lightning did hit one of them and it fell over it wouldn’t land on me.  I went back up into the grove and found a great little place to build a campfire, cook my dinner, get warm, and do some reading.  I’m still on Tom Jones, but I’m rapidly nearing the end.  Good old Tom and Sophia!  What will become of them?  How will it all turn out?
I got up early that morning, ate my breakfast and was off by 7.45.  Today is another incredible part of the trail, with the majority of it being way above treeline, the trail itself ascending to over 13,000 feet without even going over a mountain, just going around them.  There were three different saddles to get to before it was all over.  You go flat out for a long distance, ascend up and over a ridge to get into another saddle, go flat for another few miles, and then do it again.  All day long the weather is threatening to annihilate me, but holds off and holds off.  I lose track of how many saddles I’ve hit, but it doesn’t even matter now.  The clouds are clearly setting up for a show and I’m heading closer and closer to the front of the stage.  
I get over the last saddle (Carson Saddle) and finally start the descent.  I could not have been more relieved.  It’s starting to hail and beat into me as I go down.  I get to a point where I think I have time to stop and put on my rain gear.  Hands freezing from the wet and the wind, I put on my gloves and rain gear and just keep moving.  All I know right now is that then only place I know of where I can camp is a ways off.  I keep going down and the trail cuts back across this wonderful valley.  Yes, it’s beautiful even as I’m out there in the rain with all my junk on my back.  I finally get a break in the rain and sit down on a rock.  I haven’t slipped and fell this entire trip, but I nearly did  just a minute ago.  Honestly, I got distracted by all the Columbines which seem to really enjoy watching me go by, wandering what the rush is.  I suppose they’re right and have a smoke on a boulder and take a breather when I hear some racket down in the willow bushes.  At this point I’m thinking it’s a bear and just sort of wait to figure out if it is or if it isn’t.  Turns out it’s some people.  Ha!  Anyway, they set off and I give them a ten minute lead to avoid passing them immediately.  This part of the trail runs along the mountain and it’s pretty steep down the side.  With all the rocks being wet it gets pretty slippery, too.  It starts to rain and hail some more and I get up to move along.  
The hail is really coming down now, and I can see up ahead that there’s another bit of elevation gain and some pretty hefty exposure.  There’s no lightning, at least not yet.  I pass the couple who’d set off earlier, and they’re hunkered down off the trail with a poncho covering the both of them.  I suppose it worked for them, but it’s not really much of a shelter.  Besides, it could rain all night.
I make it to the pass and get over it and back down the other side with no incidents.  The trail winds around going back in the “forward progress” direction and I know I’m close.  From up above I can see a little lake, and I know I’m almost homefree.  I don’t like the idea of having to set up my tent in the rain, but it is early yet and I figure I’ll dry out overnight.  I get to the lake and as luck would have it it actually stops raining for ten minutes as I get my whole camp set up and throw myself into it.  Immediately it starts raining again.  And it rains a while longer, and then  it all turns into hail.  And it hails off and on all night long.  I make it futher into the saga of Tom and Sophia with their societally discouraged love, but due to the weather don’t get to have dinner tonight.  I snack on things that don’t need cooking, but a  hot meal of any kind at all wouldn’ve been great.  As it was, I was camped out at 12,600 feet and was happy that it was only freezing rain and hail, not thunder and lightning.
The next morning it’s sunny and I can feel some heat beating down through the tent.  Not much, but enough to undampen the spirits and give me some hope that I won’t have to trudge throuh the rain all day long.  I emerge and see that there’s still pellets of hail all over the ground and plenty of ice on my tent.  I can’t pack it up right away, but I do tear it all down and hang it over a willow bush to hopefully dry a little faster from the radiating sun.  I do manage to have a hot breakfast in the cold, but I’m used to all the cold by now.
Today was nice.  Enough clouds to block a lot of the sun and keep me from feeling like I was being microwaved.  I pass through Cuba Gulch and into Minnie Gulch.  It’s a blast walking through this part of the world in this fashion.  As I get near the last pass I take another break.  At this point in the hike I can’t eat enough food to get satisfied, and yesterday’s little adventure didn’t help matters out.  I am hopeful to get out of all this above-tree-line business and get to somewhere a little less threatening to sleep.  Finally, I get to Stony Pass.  There’s a cabin known as Miner’s Cabin quite a few miles ahead where the trail descends back into a valley along  Elk Creek Trail.  
I pass through a huge flock of sheep (mutton) and proceed along this massive area.  I meet an older guy who’s out studying wildflowers.  He seems to have misplaced his trekking pole somewhere, unfortuanately, but the two of us manage to find it in a place where he had, he correctly surmised, gotten down on the ground to get a closer look.  At this altitude all of the flowers are alpine and teeny.
Being pretty dang tired at this point, I have lost my ability to accurately assess how far I’ve gone due to not being able to feel how fast I’m moving.  I pass a couple of lakes, but not the ones I’m looking for, and keep pressing on.  It’s late afternoon  now and I’m eager to get to where I’m going.  Over to the right, massive mountains are emerging into view.  Mts. Arrow and Vestal.  Over them is a massive storm system full of lightning and, presumably, thunder.  This is still a long way off, and even though lightning can really travel I’m confident I’m a long way away from it.  I keep going, pass by another couple of lakes and finally get my bearings.  I’m about 4 miles from the end of all the exposure and Miner’s Cabin, but it makes zero sense to head straight into that storm system.  Foolhardy, even.
I’m hungry enough to call it quits.  I pitch my tent several hundred yard from the lakes and between a couple of massive rocks in hopes that if there is any lightning it’ll hit the water or the rocks, but not me.  I go to the lake to fill up my Nalgene, and it is all so completely shallow that it’s difficult to fill it close to full without disturbing the bottom and getting too much sediment in there, too.  Not to mention, there was strange life swimming around in there.  Very tiny little things.  This is exactly what the iodine is supposed to kill.
I have as much food as I can consume and am happy to be in safe spot.  No rain or anything at all, and no signs of it, either.    It’s chilly as dusk descends and I am anxious to get back to Tom and Sophia and all the rest.  I figure I’ll be finished with the book tomorrow night!
I hole up in my tent as dusk begins to slide in, enjoying my book.  All of a sudden rain begins to patter down on my tent.  I sit up just a little, hoping, hoping that it’s not going to become what I think it’s going to become.  But it does.  Moments later a shock of thunder booms out overhead and the wind picks up, the rain falling faster and turning to hail.  In no time at all the area is dark as night, hail beating furiously on my little 2 ½ pound tent, the wind coming from all sides from under the tent fly, lighting striking all over the place, and I can see it all through the gaps in my tent where I have the rainfly gapped out from the netting to create an air flow.
I have not yet found  a way to really describe this experience.  It is a very strange thing to be laying there on your back, seeing bolts of lightning bright enough to flash through your tent overhead as it shatters the darkness.  The ensuing clap of thunder is instantaneous.  The initial boom is followed by a roll which seems to start out high in the sky, pummeling and shredding the air as it makes its way down to the earth, it’s pitch descending into depths which are inaudible and only able to be felt as the earth rumbles through your back as you lay there completely helpless.  This happens endlessly, and before one shock is over another one or two have already begun, the wind screaming like a banshee, the hail drumming in the darkness, and the lightning absolutely everywhere, the earth drawing out the energy from the ions in the sky.  I knew where I was and had no delusions about it.  I understood that it was possible I could die up here, and my most sincere hope was that if I did get hit by lightning that I would not survive it.  I thought of my tent with its single metal pole acting as a support right over my head and running the length of my body.  My pack was covered up about 40 feet away, and I was simply hoping that the lightning would either hit the lakes several hundred yards away, or if it hit me that it would pulverize me into dust.  I’ve had a few experiences in my life that have had me on the brink of death, and a calm comes over you and you just relax.  For myself, I’ve been fortunate and stubborn enough to have lived a great life in my 36 years, and if this was it, then so be it.  I laid back, frighteningly calm and also horribly anxious, and enjoyed this spectacular display, and can really only ultimately describe it as being the greatest rock and roll show on earth.  I started writing in my journal, thinking this would distract me up to the point of impact.  I haven’t had the guts to reread it yet, but I do remember the gist.  For whatever reason, I want to share it with you, so here it is, exactly as I wrote it:
I’ll get to the day in a minute.  Right now it’s 7 o’clock and I’m in my ten and there’s a huge thunderstorm.  It’s terrifying.  The noise is incredible and I expect the hail to break through my tent.  There’s lightning everywhere, thunderclaps the size of the hands of God Himself, and more wind than I think a tent of any kind could endure.  There’s nothing I can do but wait it out, but it does seem to be getting stronger and stronger.  At least the distance between lightning and thunder is a few seconds, but that’s not much solace.  I don’t know what to do but smile like a fiend and distract myself with this writing about it.
The ground  outside is turning from green to white as hail continues to cover up all of everything.  I’d pray about it, but even if there is a God up there this is what he wants anyway, so let’s get it over-with.  I’m not going to beg.
I can only hope that it’ll end soon.
It seemed to come from out of nowhere.  I ate dinner and sure it was cloudy, but I did not see it coming.  I’m not too close to the ponds and tried to get as low as possible, but what can you do?  This is hiking along the Divide.  I hope it does hit that lake and kills whatever those weird creature are living in it that I’m now drinking, albeit they are hopefully dead from the iodine.
The worst of it seems to be over though it’s still raining.  I see the occasional flash of lightning, and can still hear the thunder - the pitch starting out high and then, after holding the note for what seems like forever, glissandos down to a thundering rumble of notes so low it is nothing more than a barrage of percussion, like an orchestra consisting only of drums that are inaudible but produce only quaking.  Sort of like a lot of my favorite music.  A huge thump and rumble with splashes of melody.  A very beautiful and terrifying experience.  I can feel the earth shake under my back as I lie here motionless, trying  not to be noticed by the musicians.  I am left in a  state of calm yet nervous relief as the show comes to a close and, like all of my favorite shows, I hope for no encore, just to be left with myself to let the electric feeling subside.  Damn.  Best concert ever.  More wattage and drums were used in the 10 minutes I just experienced than anything I’ve ever been able to experience.  It’s off to the left now, moving along with its performance, using the entire range of mountains as a stage.  What’s left of the hail is doing a little tap dancing on my tent to its own peculiar rhythm.
After it was all over I did my journalling, did some more reading, and eventually went to sleep.  Perhaps  it does sound pitiful or hyperbolic, but it was simple insanity with no rhyme or reason to any of it. The past several days it has been difficult to stay “smart” and dodge the lightning, but you got to get lucky in this life, too.  What an amazing world we live in.
I woke up the next morning to the sun shining.  It was very cold and I could see my breath fogging as I recalled the entire previous night.  I thought a little bit about what the day had in store, and was certainly pretty excited to get back underneath some trees.  I should be able to camp just outside of Silverton today and there are rumors of an RV camp where I can get a shower.  I haven’t had one since Salida, and that was about 12 days ago.
I headed further along the Divide, and eventually came to where the CT and CDT split from each other, the CT heading running along Elk Creek Trail toward Silverton.  I was happy and relieved to be going down into the valley, its stream rolling through the rocks.  I could see Miner’s Cabin and was relieved to realize that I had  not come this far last night as there was not only no roof over the thing but nowhere to camp anyway.  The ravine/gorge/whatever it’s called was pretty narrow and there was no place to really camp anywhere along the trail for a good many miles.  I see a small group coming up the trail, a family it seems, and I sit down on a rock to give them the right of way.
The first to arrive at my perch was a father and son, and we chatted for just a little bit about hiking and all that sort of thing.  It was turning into a warm and sunny day, and for my part I was still pretty high from knowing I hadn’t been roasted alive the night before.  A few minutes later the mom and daughter showed up to join the rest of the fam.  I did my best to look the father in the eye when I was talking to him, but I hadn’t seen a girl in a very long time, and I felt stupid to know that my eyes kept going back to Pretty Young Thing.  It didn’t help that she decided to strip down into her shorts and tank top right in front of me in a display of youthful elasticity.  It was agonizing, and I know she knew it.  Absolutely brutal.  I left them and continued further, my mind thinking of the shower that awaited.  I passed a lake where there was an excellent view of Mt. Vestal and Mt. Arrow, the peaks that just the day before were being pummeled by the weather.
There’s a train that runs from Durango to Silverton, an old narrow-guage train that is suitable not for travel but for tourists.  It is very expensive and used to be owned by the municipality or something like that, but is now privately owned and completely useless for legitimate travel.  Tourists get off at the stop at Elk Creek Trail and go hiking and camping.  I’m moving pretty fast now, able to smell the shower just a few miles off.  I still have to do a major elevation gain to get out of this valley and back up to where Silverton and the RV park is.  There’s a lake there where, if I’m lucky, I’ll be able to go fishing later on.  I sit down on a rock just before my last climb and have my lunch.  Provisions are getting low again but I have enough to left to have a decent meal tonight and get to my drop box tomorrow.  I’m hoping to find another book or two as well, since I am going to be finished the the saga of Tom Jones tonight.
It’s cloudy again as I get to the RV park, and let me tell you, this was an interesting experience.  I took off  my pack and sat down at a picnic table outside of the office for a minute before knocking on the door to find no one around.  I waited for a bit and eventually a fella showed up and started loading stuff from the garage into his pickup.  Coolers, tools, odds and ends.  He’s a tall, thin man with a weather-beaten face and his hair pulled back, his prison tattoos bleeding out over his arms as the sun has melted them into blurriness over the years.  
There was a woman who was asking the guy in charge about staying at the park for a night, and he told her “it’s fine by me.  I’ve had it with this place.  I’ve been running it for five years and as of today I’ve had my last gun pulled on me.  Hell, I’d have probably been shot myself if I hadn’t made it known that I had my gun on me as well.  So, sure, go ahead and stay here.”  
“But we made reservations online,”  she said, seemingly oblivious to everything he’d just told her as he continued to pack his truck.
“Yeah, that’s the only way you can stay here anymore.  You can’t even drive up and pay to stay here.  Got to do it all on the internet.  There’s lot of problems with drugs coming up from New Mexico into Silverton and as we’re right off the highway these people drive by, see a business just off the highway and see it as an easy mark.  I’ve been robbed enough and have had guns pulled on me too often.  Today, they got pissed that we’d run out of ice and drew out on me.  I’m not going to get shot over ice.”
She seemed incredulous and I just sat there, wondering if my chance at getting a shower was over.
Eventually she went away and me and the guy got to talking a bit.  I don’t know if anyone else has this happen to them, but it has happened often to me where people, complete strangers, will just start telling me how they feel in an uncensored way not suitable for television.  We got to taking for a bit, and he filled me in on the details.  He used to live in New Mexico a while back and did some time in prison for his efforts with motorcycle gangs and cooking drugs and so forth.  He’s left it all behind him, but he’s perplexed about all of it.  He espoused his ideas about the Reservations, the Wets, and how it’s all such a disastrous situation as the sovereignty of the Nations pretty much makes it impossible to stop the flow of meth into the entire region and it’s just ruining lives.  The RV park has turned into a refuge for animals (the human variety) and thieves (also humans) and how the entire area has turned into a shit hole since he first came out here many years ago.  For his part, he acknowledges his own errors and has been playing it straight for a long while.  He talked about the government and the ruination of everything.  For my part, it’s hard to not agree with him on the majority of his points, choice of descriptive terminology notwithstanding.  Anyway, I got nothing against this guy at all.  I tell him I was hoping to get a shower, and he gave me the tokens to do so without charging me a cent.
I showered, using my bandanas as wash-rags and towels.  I felt 100% better and, sadly, a lot lighter.  I was really burning up my reserves, physically.  I thanked the guy and went back a ways to where I knew there was a decent place to camp and then be close enough to the road to, hopefully, get an easy hitch into Silverton the next morning.  I didn’t want to be too close to the RV park and any troubles that might emanate from it.
It started to sprinkle a bit later that evening, and I was happy enough to be clean and get a fire going well enough to cook my dinner.  I finished Tom Jones, a wonderfully told tale, and rested up.  I wanted to get into Silverton early, get my business done and be back in good enough time to take a “zero” before setting off the next day.  This had been a very wild ride.



A spooky  mine shaft


Rosy Paintbrush (remember?  There's several different kinds of these, and not all of them are red or pink)



It's blurry, but I do find it a fun picture to look at.


Little Red Elephant


Rock outcroppings along Miner's Creek Trail



At the "End of the Line"... Snow Mesa is over that cliff somewhere.


I finally get through the pass to Snow Mesa.


to the left of Snow Mesa (the end of the world...)


Forward along the mesa


To the right along the Snow Mesa.


The next day along the last saddle as the storm prepares for my arrival


The next day, a gorgeous walk through all of these various passes and valleys.








In the dead center of this photo, you can see Mt. Vestal to the left of Mt. Arrow.  Not long after this, storms clearly formed over these peaks.


The day after being left to live a little while longer and finally entering Elk Creek Trail.


Miner's cabin, up on the hillside to the right of the trail.


Mts. Vestal and Arrow from a lake along Elk Creek Trail.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Salida to Creede (Wednesday July 14th - Monday July 19th)

For whatever reason, it felt like a long way up this time.  I like to think it was due to the sheer weight of what I was carrying, but I know enough to admit that it was because I’d stayed out until two in the morning and got up at six.  That’ll do it every time.  I had to make it over the Continental Divide again, and my destination was one of the few water resources that seemed to be available.
This particular camp site was just off the main trail several hundred yards, but water wasn’t available for another few hundred yards downhill.  It was a beautiful stream, and this area is very remote.  The further south and west I get the more wild it becomes (stays?) and the fewer people I ran into, not that I’d been running into a lot in the first place anyway.  It was pretty chilly and the wind was high.  I found a small grove of trees to camp under and applied my bug spray to ease the misery of all the mosquitoes.  I’m glad I finally found a spray that seems to repel them rather than attract.  I walked down to the stream through little groups of shooting star flowers and bones to get my water.  I’m really tired, so the slog back up is pretty hard.  I build my campfire and use an old rusting sheet of steel (don’t know where this stuff comes from, but every now and then there’s just stuff out there decomposing, slowly, over the course of time) to help block the wind.  A couple of deer graze over in the open field not far from where I was, and it’s tough to explain, but I am somehow aware that from here on out the trail is going to be fun and difficult and this is just what I was wanting to get myself into.  
I thought I might run into Flax Seed, but he seems to have moved further on.  It’s fine by me as after spending so much time in town I really welcome some quality alone time.
There is a sense of isolation, though not of loneliness.  One thing I’ve come to understand is that just knowing a little tiny bit about what you’re walking through makes you understand some very important things.  For one thing, we’re not visitors out here in the woods and we are as much a part of this planet as the rocks, flowers, and critters.  To know the animals, flowers, and rocks is to know your neighbors and your neighborhood.  We can try to remove ourselves from all of this, but I have come to feel that many of our psychological problems and angst have been caused by our removing ourselves from our true home.  To go out into the wilderness and into anything natural (as we define it) is to actually go home, and not so much to get out of the house.  Out here it is a self-cleaning machine.  In our cities and towns, this is just not so.  I wish I knew more about botany and geology and all the rest.  The more I know about these things, the more I am able to interact with them and the more I understand, in a very real sense, that I am not a foreigner here but a part of it.
I get up the next morning and head off.  I’m trying to get to Baldy Lakes.  Even though I hadn’t been out of Salida for too long, the heat from the day and all the dust had made me pretty dirty, and I was looking forward to a nice dip in the lake.  For me it was hot hard work.  The lake I was trying to get to was down a side trail and it looked like it was going to be about a quarter mile down and according to the topo it was going to be steep.  I really cannot underscore how amazing this part of the hike was becoming.  Yes, the trails are there, as they have been even before the Europeans arrived, but there was not much else to indicate human endeavor.  I don’t recall much by way of trail blazes or even signs of camp fires.  Not a lot of people come out here, at least it looked that way, which makes it an ideal hiking experience.  
I finally came across the side trail down to Baldy Lakes and got going.  I was hungry and every time I’d stop to rest or do anything at all the mosquitoes would find me and start to chow.  I got down to the bottom of the trail near the lakes, sat down, and sprayed myself with my bug spray and did a little roaming to find that perfect site to pitch my tent.  I did my chores and sat down on a rock, getting ready to find some firewood for my camp fire.  In the silence I heard a peculiar buzzing sound.  I thought maybe my camera was going haywire or something.  It sounded like I was under a power transformer but that was not the case at all.  I was down in a mountain valley surrounded by mountains.  I looked up to see if it was a giant bug hovering, but what it was was the most dense cloud of mosquitoes I’d ever seen in my life, all hovering about 15-20 feet above the ground.  Wow.
I wandered around a little bit, finally looking for firewood.  It was not yet dusk so I had some time.  Baldy Lakes is gorgeous and I recommend you go some time.  I’m not sure of the geology, but it looks like the lakes could be what was left of a glacier, or it could even be just melted snow pack (which is certainly was at this point, I’m referring more to the formation of the area).  Out on the lakes I saw no signs of fish, which was sort of a drag, but as for signs of other animals there were plenty.  There were bones everywhere and I felt like I was in a graveyard.  Big bones, like deer and elk, were abundant.  Entire spinal columns with rib bones the size of broadswords.  There is no way out but up, the perfect place to wait for dinner to come by if you’re a bear or mountain lion.  The rocks were black as coal and they were big as well, possibly basalt.  The water looked like oil as it was so clear that the color of the lake floor was shining through.  It all just glistened.  
My exploring showed that someone had been there and had built a shelter out of fallen pine trees and branches.  Spooky?  Absolutely.
I had my dinner and went down to the lake to refill my water bag for the next morning and to perhaps wash myself off a bit.  The mosquitoes were calling it a day as the sun was going down and it was starting to cool off.  Dusk comes early in the valleys, and it was pretty much dark but there was a little sliver of moon to help out.  I turned on my headlamp at the lake and saw something in the water move.  A fish! But it wasn’t a fish at all, it turned out.  What was happening was that the light from my headlamp was irritating all of the leeches that lived in the lake.  And there were many.  Such strange creatures, these little gray blobs of intestines and teeth.  I’m really glad I didn’t go swimming.
The next morning I climbed back up to the trail.  It was an odd day as it wasn’t really very far in terms of miles covered, but it did do a good bit of up and down.  And it was getting really hot and water was pretty scarce.  I’m still not sure what the mosquitoes were doing everywhere.  I got to a plateau called Sargeant’s Mesa.  This is a beautiful scene.  It’s tough to explain what it’s like as photos can’t capture so many elements of Experience.  The whole area looked like it could have been back in Missouri as it was essentially a huge prairie with forest around the edges.  But the altitude is what makes being there so much more impressive than a photograph.  It feels completely different.  It feels remote.  I’m not sure what it was that made me enjoy it so much, but I didn’t even take one picture of it, understanding that there was no way to capture it, at least not with my photographic abilities.
Water was becoming increasingly scarce, but not to dire, merely spaced out a lot.  I just had to carry more than I really wanted.  I like to drink a lot of water.  I was headed to a creek that seemed to run consistently and was coming off of the Mesa when I ran into an old friend.
His name is Apple, and most anyone who’s done the Appalachian Trail in March has met him.  He sets up a big tent (here it was not his big tent, just a simple tarp) and provides food and drinks for hikers as they pass through.  He’s what’s called a Trail Angel and they are always a surprise and always appreciated.  He fed me lots of hot dogs and beer and we talked about the AT, the CT, and the Colorado Divide Trail.  Apparently, it was a rough season for many on the CDT as I’d heard stories of water shortages in New Mexico.  Apple told me a story about a Frenchman hiking along the CDT in N.M. who had to be put in the hospital because he went for about two days without water and nearly died of dehydration.  
I made my way to the road crossing and was planning on camping on the other side.  I was excited for tomorrow as I’d be entering Cochetopa Pass and be along a creek after I made it through.  It’s a huge day and you really need to go about 20 miles over a very exposed and arid part of the world to get there.  Also, I’d be entering the San Juans, a mountain range steeped in mystery and splendor.  It’s a massive region.
I woke up the next morning and got hoofing.  I must say that after I made it I felt that I’d earned it.  I woke up before 6 in the morning to shove off.  It was very hot and dusty and it hadn’t rained in many days now, and the trail at this point was mostly country roads.  There were dust devils taunting me along the way and I missed a turn through a cow field but managed to figure it out pretty quick and flipped back around.  After 10.30 in the morning, the whole earth was boiling.  I kept a close eye on my water and even though I was tempted to try a few shortcuts, non of them went by water anyway so I just played it safe.  Every now and then you’d pass some water but it was usually full of cows standing in their own piss and, yeah, I used a water filter, but I needed a new cartridge for it anyway and knew that this would kill it.  It was a vast expanse, and I had to push for miles under the sun just to get to a tree to sit under for a few minutes.  My water was low so I just pressed on.  Every now and then a cursed RV would pass by leaving a long wake of dust behind it and I pulled a bandana over my face to avoid breathing in all of that dirt.  Eventually, and after much effort, I hit Cochetopa Creek, and it was beautiful.  I set my tent up immediately after drinking all the water I could guzzle from this creek.  There were a few guys fishing further down the creek, and I was glad to have gotten here at a decent hour.
Cochetopa is interesting and beautiful, but it did make me rethink an aspect of my life where I had clearly not been aware of all facts.  I’d read about it and seen it before, but not like this.  You see, there were cow patties everywhere.  This means that there were cattle feeding in this beautiful area, and systematically ruining it.  That evening I went fishing in this beautiful valley and caught a couple trout and even saw a beaver.  I was hoping to see other animals as they came down from the mountains to drink from the water, but I didn’t notice any.  It was a wondrous night with moon waxing at half and dead center in the valley’s rift.  It’s also worth noting that deer flies are now in abundance, but they do go away after dark.  They’re mean little things and they bite chunks of skin out of me.  The bug spray I have seems to have no effect.
I woke up the next morning to the stupid sounds of cattle blaring.  It was early.  I packed up and moved on.  This whole cow thing is annoying and just stupid.  If this is what it is to have cheap free-range beef then I want nothing more to do with it.  Keep them in close confines in filthy buildings for all I care.  This is something I certainly cannot directly support even though all of us subsidize the cattle industry whether we want to or not.  It’s a shame what has become of these animals, or if they can even be called animals anymore.  They have had all animal instinct bred out of them.  They have no resemblance at this point to anything that could have ever been a wild animal, and this is what seems to happen to things that we domesticate; animals, plants, and people alike.  The animals, like our dogs, horses, and cattle have no sense of self-preseveration left in them.  Wild horses are a much different animal than the inbred things we use to run races or pull plows.  They require constant care from us humans and get sick easily and consume more resources than they can give back.  Dogs, well that’s obvious.  Compare a house dog to a wolf, coyote, or fox.  Look a wild canine in the eye and it’s simple to see the difference.  Dogs don’t even have their pack mentality left to them.  They are loyal, but not to each other.
Cows are not smart and anyone who says differently is also not smart.  You could walk right up to one and brain it if you wanted to, and I, like others before me, am in favor of an unending Open Hunting Season on these animals grazing on public lands with no bag limit.  It’s not the poor beasts’ fault, it’s the people, but it’s really too late for that.  We are as silly as the Hindus, the way we regard them.
Anyway, stop eating free-range beef.
I was about to set off when John showed up on his motorcycle.  I’d met him the day before and he’s a good guy.  Just out and about in the hills for a few weeks to do some fishing and stuff.  We talked about things both dear to us, such as good writers and all things outdoors.  I took off, dodging the numerous cattle and making my way into Gunnison.  The cliffs of the mountain were white and topped with  these little hills that I imagined to be the seeds of mountains, but I understand that this is all that time and weather has left of them.
I made it to Eddiesville Trailhead and was tired and thirsty and worn out.  Another very hot day, and the flies were eating me alive.  My haste in the morning forced me to skip breakfast, and that was certainly a factor in how I felt.  I got to the Stewart River where I tanked up and took a rest near a decent campsite where I thought I might have lunch.  At this point, my water pump is really struggling and it looks like going into Creede is not such a bad idea.  Take a breather and get a new filter for the thing.  Back in Salida, I’d heard only good things about Creede, and the idea was pressed upon me that I should go there since I’d actually be pretty close.  
I sat down at the river (this one’s pretty small, to give you an accurate picture, more like a stream) and soaked my feet, beat off the flies, and washed my shirt and socks out.  I put my shirt and socks on a rock to dry in the sun and put my tent up under a tree to take a nap away from all the flies.  It’s sheer agony.  
I get up a little bit later and build my fire for dinner and to hopefully keep some bugs at bay.  I get a lot of good rest this day and look forward to tomorrow.  I’ll be going deeper into the mountains and will have an opportunity to climb up San Juan Mountain.  I’ll be with a few hundred yards of it.  I’m not sure if I’ll be going into Creede the next day or waiting until the day after.  We’ll just have to see.
I got up in the morning and got moving toward San Juan Mountain and Creede.  I don’t know what happened, but my primary hiking shirt is riddled with holes.  I ponder over this oddity to this very day.  I can’t figure out what happened.  It was fire, and I don’t think it was insects.  I’ll never know, I guess.  This hike is awesome, and it’s so fun to hike up and over the passes and get to look along the valleys.  As I got closer to the mountain, the weather was not bad at all, but it was also sort of weird.  I got a little closer and it started getting cloudier and cloudier.  I stopped and looked at it and considered it but decided to pass.  I know I’ll be back and that this hill isn’t going anywhere for a long time.  As I go down the other side it starts to rain and the wind picks up.  I put on my rain gear and move along a little faster, wanting to get off the exposed side of things and back near tree line.  Eventually I get to a trail intersection, and to the left is Creede.  It’s not too late in the day, and so I decide to start walking the many miles down and into Creede.  Maybe I’ll get a ride from someone.
Creede is an old mining town, along the lines of Deadwood.  It still sort of feels like that.  It’s small.  There are remnants of mines everywhere, and ruins of past mining operations and formerly permanent camps.  I got a ride into town with a nice family from Texas and they dropped me off on the main drag where they were going to have some ice cream.  I found the liquor store as a beer sounded nice and I was in dire need of some cigarettes.
The guy at the Busy Beaver (aka, the liquor store) didn’t sell smokes, so I went across the street to get some.  I went back to the guy at the liquor store and asked if it was okay for me to drink a beer outside on the picnic table, and he said “Well, it might not be actually okay in the legal sense, but I have no problem with it.  I do it all the time.”  This is my kind of guy.  I sit outside and have a beer and make some phone calls and smoke.  I’m feeling good.  
I go to the outfitter to look into the water filter and they don’t have one but should be getting one in a few days.  Creed seems alright to me, so I decide to camp out on the other side of town and do some exploring and rest up.  I feel like I’ve burned a tremendous amount of calories since I left Salida.  I bum around town a bit, go to the grocery store to get some food for the evening.  I sort of do this for the next several days, camping on the other side of town.  In the mornings I go wash off in the bathroom at the park in the middle of town and get breakfast, go to the library in the high school to do some internet and so forth.  I’m not sure how on earth to get back to KC after my hike, or where I’m even going to live after this trip is done.  Money is certainly getting tight.  I manage to find a cheap ticket from Durango to KC, and get the goahead to head down to Texas in the fall.  I run into Flax Seed as he’s getting out of Creede, and I play guitar in Courtney’s shop in the afternoons for the next couple days, pass on the water filter and opt for some simple iodine tablets (money was a factor here) and after some consideration of route and looking forward to heading further into the San Juans, I get it all sorted out.  

***Another note about photos, particularly as it pertain to flowers.  I do understand the invaluable use of Latin for botanical names as it provide an umbrella language by which we can talk about a particular plant and overcome the inevitable ambiguities of using their colloquial identification when talking about the same thing.  But I love the different names for the same plant that various cultures and regions have used, and I have most frequently chosen for myself the name which I find to be the most humorous or imaginative, if given an option.  I call them what I call them (I'm not inventing my own names), but I do also attempt to fairly note a more common name if I've become fond of an odd one.  I have chosen to forsake noting the Latin name, for the time being, not because I fond it obtuse, but rather because I feel like I would be projecting and understanding which, at this point, I don't really have.  I hope this sits well with you.



Rosy Paintbrush (there's several different "paintbrushes", this one being my favorite)


Languid Ladies (aka Tall Chiming Bells)






I couldn't figure these ones out


Baldy Lake (one of a couple)


Either a Blueleaf Cinquefoil or a Redstem Cinquefoil.  One thing I've learned is it that it's not the flowers that make the plant, it's the plant that makes the flowers, and as such you must have all of the plant to identify it.  I'm leaning toward Blueleaf, but I'd need to be able to clearly see the leaves and structure to be sure.  


Bistort, or Snakeweed.  I have chosen to not call them Giant Q-tips.


Heart-Leaved Arnica


Not quite to Sergeant's Mesa


Common Aster


Another Cinquefoil


Another Arnica


White Geranium




Mariposa Lily


Camped out alongside Cochetopa Creek.  Note the moon way up there.  It was pretty grand.


This is the actual price of supplying free-range beef to wealthy city people.








That's San Juan Peak.  It looks lame, but you have to realize I'm actually reallly close to it already.  I still didn't go.  Those clouds on the left could've done anything, and it started to rain moments later anyway.


Walking away from San Juan Mountain.


These rock formations are in the pic just above, if you couldn't see them.


Across the valley.  San Juan Mountain is further to the right, just out of frame.




Creede's Main Drag.


The picnic table of leisure.