Crossing Pinto Park Pass
Crossing Pinto Park Pass

He hadn’t felt very strong, ever since lunch. His backpack felt increasingly heavy and the big uphill into Pinto Park was yet to come. He was not a complainer and was intent on not becoming one at this point. He wondered if it maybe had something to do with the water he’d gotten out of the creek during the break before lunch. He realized that he hadn’t even looked at his water in the bottle before drinking it. What if it was full of all kinds of weird stuff, he wondered to himself.

He’d never felt this weak before, except for when he had Strep last year. But there was no sore throat this time, so he knew he probably didn’t have that. No, this was something different.

As he wobbled along, he mostly thought of when the next break would be, although the whole idea that perhaps he’d just somehow become a wuss did enter into his mind off and on. Even though he’d called a lot of people wuss’s in the past, he realized that he didn’t actually know what it meant, but started thinking that maybe now he did, and that he’d become one.

He kept trying to readjust the shoulder straps and hip belt as he moved forward, but that only helped for a few minutes each time. The people in front of him kept getting further and further ahead and he could see that he was blocking the people behind him from staying up with the group. Not wanting to appear tired, he faked a strap issue on his pack and stepped off to the side so that they could walk on past.

At this point, he was now at the back with the guide who was bringing up the rear. It would’ve been embarrassing for him to be in that position, except that he was struggling and working hard just to be able to keep moving at any pace.

And then the words of encouragement started.

“Way to go, you can do it, just keep moving, that’s it”, began coming from the 25 year old leader.

The rear. He’d never been at the back before and things looked different from that perspective. He would’ve done more looking ahead, but it was demoralizing to see the rest of the group getting further and further away as they climbed up the steep open area leading up to Pinto Park Pass. Besides, the sweat was getting out of control and every time he raised his head to look up it went into his eyes and burned.

Then, he needed a quick break and just stopped. He pulled out his bandana and wiped his face dry and then looked up to see the group ahead stopping and setting their packs and selves down and taking some sort of break he imagined. They must be at the high point, he reasoned as he gritted his teeth, put his head back down and began inching his way once again up the trail toward them.

Finally, he got there. As he walked up, he could see smirks saying “wuss” on some faces, looks of silent compassion on others, and a few strange non-descript expressions that he couldn’t quite pinpoint, on the others. All of the good resting spots were taken, so he just got close to the group and let his pack drop almost right in the middle of the trail. He left it right there and walked over to a shady spot under a big pine tree and just sat down. After a couple of minutes, one of the compassionate looking people got up and walked over to his pack, intent on moving it out of the way.

The big burly guy who’s name the wuss didn’t even know grabbed the haul loop that was sewn into the top of the pack and planned to just pick it up and move it off to the side. But, when he did, the thing hardly budged.

“Man, what do you got in here”, he queried to the wuss? “This thing is heavy”.

With that, one of the other group members got up from the rock he was sitting on, walked over and opened up the top flap. The newly anointed wuss backpacker wanted to protest the invasion into his privacy, but was too tired to respond quickly. And then the rocks began to come out.

He was bewildered and confused at first as the guy pulled out rock after rock. Why, how, wait. He had questions. When all was said and done, 8 fist-sized rocks came out of his pack, totaling close to 50 pounds. He’d felt like his pack was heavier each time that he’d pulled it up to put it on, but had figured it was just him getting weaker. And now he knew it was. But, how did the rocks even get there to begin with? Someone had to have done that, but his pack had never been out of his sight. Or had it? And then he remembered when he’d set it by the trail and went to go get water before lunch.

He got up and walked over to his now lighter pack and picked it up. It felt significantly better, now that it was 50 pounds lighter. He looked around at faces, figuring that he would be able to figure out who the culprit was. A few hours before he would’ve been planning his retaliation against someone who may or may not have even been involved in it and just because of the way they looked. But, now he had a different perspective about it and besides, he was just too tired to even think about doing something. His answer could wait. For the first time in his life, he was content to just think it through first and see it from a few different angles and act in good time.

Eventually, the break ended and it was time to get up and get to the campsite. It was all downhill from the Pass and within an hour, they were there and setting up tents. Each tent group cleaned off the loose rocks and pine cones from where they’d be setting up their tent and sleeping. Once that was accomplished, they went ahead and actually put up their tents and organized their sleeping bags and pads inside, so that once supper was finished they’d be ready to go straight to sleep.

The supper of pasta and chicken was filling and once the pots were clean everyone was ready to head off to their tents, crawl into their sleeping bags and stretch out on top of their recently cleaned up sleeping spots, which they quickly began doing. Headlamps were shining everywhere and there was all manner of hustle and bustle as the backpackers got themselves organized for a peaceful night’s rest. They were all tired and getting horizontal felt good. Slowly, the lights went out and it became quiet, until someone from one of the tents yelled “Crap, that hurt.What in the world. I was sure I moved all of the rocks. How did this end up here”?


Author: David Appleton

I was born and raised in Texas and currently live in the Texas Hill Country, spent some 30 years living in the smack dab middle of Colorado, and have spent a lifetime adventuring and leading others on adventures in many parts of the wild world.