Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Road Trip Retrospective

Well, I'm back home again after finishing off an exceptionally fine trip out west. Here is how the latter portion of my little vacation transpired.

After taking the day off after hiking Mt. Antero, I made an early start and hiked up Mt. Sherman. It was a much tamer hike, in terms of length and elevation gain, but was a whole lot of fun. From near Fairplay, CO, I had to drive about 12 miles in on a rock road that got pretty rough in the last stretch. My little car did just fine, but I had to go pretty slow at times to avoid high centering. I hiked up in the dark, all by myself, and had a great time spinning stories in my head to go with all the shadowy old mining buildings that lay alongside the trail. The stories were along the lines of Tolkien's descriptions of Mordor and goblins' mountain strongholds, imagery from Stephen King's "The Dark Tower" series of books, and a good dose of prose of the ilk of Robert E. Howard. I had the top to myself for sunrise, and didn't meet any other hikers until most of the way back to my car. Hiking down in the light was interesting, because now I could see all those vaguely foreboding shadows uncloaked in the light of day.

After finishing the hike, I drove the rough road back out and headed up to the Guanella Pass. I camped about 4 miles from the summit, and made an early start on Friday to summit both Mt. Bierstadt and Mt. Evans in the same day. Near the final pitch to the summit of Bierstadt, I encountered the first of a good number of mountain goats.

From the top of Bierstadt, I could not only see the summit of Evans, but also the entire length of the connecting ridge that I would have to traverse to get there. The ridge is named the Sawtooth, which is a very apropos appellation, given its jagged profile from the east or west.

I had the hike totally to myself all the way up to the top of Bierstadt, across the Sawtooth, and almost all the way to the sanitized final trail up Mt. Evans. There were lots of people on top of Mt. Evans, but that is because the highest paved road in the U.S. carries folks to within 100 vertical feet of the summit in their automotive wombs.

To get back to my car, I had to reverse course all the way back across the western ridge of Mt. Evans and then down a very steep gully that penetrated the band of cliffs just to the north of the Sawtooth. That bit of trail really got my dogs to barking, but the rest of the trail was quite level, though a bit swampy and overgrown with thickets of willows. Nearly every boulder or set of rocks in this area had a marmot sitting up top, surveying his neighborhood and neighbors.

From Guanella Pass, I drove down to Denver and watched a nearly continuous stream of traffic headed the other direction for the holiday weekend. I had a really nice visit with some much beloved family members in the Denver area, and was probably so well fed that I regained whatever weight I might have lost in the previous week’s exertions. After leaving there, I stopped and had a nice, though brief, visit with a long-time friend from college days in Hays, America. If I were less self-secure, I’d probably have walked away from that visit with a serious case of TV envy… Anyhow, the next morning I had to depart, and made a stop at the Cozy Inn in Salina, and got a dozen little burgers for a late breakfast and lunch. Instead of taking the usual route home on the same interstate and highways, I cut cross-country on smaller roads, and went past the town house and farm where my grandparents lived and worked. It had been some time since I’d been up there, and it was interesting driving those familiar roads on which I commuted and ran grain trucks for a number of summers in high school and college. Everything seemed really wet, and I was intermittently rained on most of the way home from Hays. The really lovely, and much needed, road trip came full-circle as I pulled back in our lane road and unloaded my venerable steed, which finally hit 70k miles in Castle Rock, CO after over 15 years of faithful service.

So, now I am changing gears and getting on with the preparation for the next big journey. I definitely feel recharged and invigorated after getting out and seeing a nice swath of the world, a world that will look, feel, smell, and sound demonstrably different from the environs I’ll inhabit for the coming 13 months. What will be next after another year at Pole? I have no idea. I have no idea, and I’m fine with that.

“All major changes are like death…you can’t see to the other side until you are there.”
~Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park

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