It was a Fall Sunday during what should’ve been the slow part of the year. My Colorado lodge in the Tarryall Mountains had burned to the ground, and I was there dealing with it. I was sharing an old log cabin, which had not burned, with an 18-year-old intern—so, I was not alone. On the day in question, I was piddling around doing various things that needed to happen while rebuilding. That afternoon, Lee (the intern) had some leisure time and came up to the building site to let me know that he wanted to go on a simple and physically easy hike. He was going to head up the Ute Creek Trail toward Bison Peak and would plan to be back to the cabin before dark. Since he’d been on several backcountry trips with us in the past and I wouldn’t need his help with the work that I had planned for the afternoon, it sounded reasonable to me. And so, I gave him my blessing.
Ryan had never bonked before, at least in the metabolic shock overexertion sense of the word. When he started to bumble around and kept losing more and more of his edge, I knew that something was up and figured that’s what had happened. Not really realizing what was going on, he kept on trying to mountain bike further up the Colorado Trail, although with diminishing returns. The big patches of snow that still littered the trail, even though it was June, were probably a good thing since they ultimately turned us all around. His disrupted mental and physical state likely made the retreat more palatable to the 13-year-old, since he wasn’t one to be prone to turn around before his goal was reached, regardless of whatever difficulty he faced.
“You’re not lost if you don’t care where you are,” or something to that effect is a famous quote. I repeated it several times to myself as we kept walking into the thick fog, headed toward the summit of Chiefs Head, in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park. I was bringing up the rear of a group of ten, mostly teenage backpackers. Usually, I was confident in where Mike was leading us, except that in this instance one of his Colorado Mountain School guides, Dennis, was at the back of the line with me and kept muttering about how we were going up the wrong mountain.
The names of places……
The various names that are attached to places are intriguing. Some that are acquired are obvious, since they either reflect some sort of location characteristic or simply commemorate an individual who was important to the place. But, others not quite so. Regardless of how or why, the names all tell a story in a few short words—some less straight-forward than others, but each worthy of knowing. Here’s a few such stories that I’ve heard. Listen, and maybe you will, too………………..
Two trails, seven years later…
Old trails never die, they just get harder to see.
Their names did, and still do, an excellent job of describing them in a few short words- The Puke Loop and The Meatgrinder. While their heydays of being a few open and pleasantly flowing pieces of path connecting extended sections of tight turns, horrendously steep climbs, and complicated descents have long passed, the poorly angled roots, cactus, unfortunately placed rocks and riding/hiking/trail running memories remain. More than just a few body scars remain on people to help tell something about what the two were like back in the day and undoubtedly there are those that still think of mountain biking the Puke Loop whenever they find themselves hugging a commode.
A tree catches fire in the Colorado backcountry at a particularly inopportune time.
Lightning streaked across the sky and was followed instantly by an explosion of thunder, telling me that the thunderstorm was somewhere right above us. It was unsettling, but there wasn’t time to worry about it. I didn’t see any sort of flash hit the ground but had to wonder if there was one up there, wherever it was that lightning came from, that had one of our names written on it. The wind kept blowing relentlessly and the constant gusting made the whole situation seem all the more chaotic. But, where’s the rain, I thought? The Tarryall Mountains needed it. A real downpour might put an end to the monstrous Hayman Fire as well as whatever the smaller thing was that was visibly burning above us on the mountainside.