My final hours in Kansas were good ones. I stopped in the last town this
side of the line, Coolidge, and dozed beside a grain elevator for a while.
A truck driver pulled over to ask if I wanted a ride and I said my usual
"thanks but I'm walking to San Francisco." Then another trucker
pulled over just a mile before the state line to say that he’d heard
about me in church this morning; he’d brought me a Mountain Dew.
The best goodbye came just a few feet from the state line. I heard a strange
chirruping coming from the bare prairie just across the road. I looked
over, expecting an unusual bird, but instead I saw a frantically active
prairie dog town!
The little dust-colored animals all popped their heads out of their holes
before scampering madly to a nearby hole. A few of them stood boldly at
the top of their house-mounds, sniffing the air and looking in my direction.
When I got to thinking about it, I wondered why I'd hadn't seen more prairie
dogs; this is the prairie after all.
I felt good as I approached the signs proclaiming, “Colorado. Mountains
& More!" I might not have been so enthusiastic if I’d known
that “More” in this case meant mosquitoes.
Just across the Colorado line I was greeted by a swarm of mosquitoes.
SLAP! Three steps. Slap!slap!slap! I'd look down and see four or five
of the little vampires clustered on my knee. After several minutes of
constant assault, I threw my pack off, tore open my first aid kit, and
grabbed the OFF! for the first time on this trip.
By the time I'd walked the remaining three miles to Holly, Colorado, the
back of my legs was a tapestry of marks. I found the home of the Christian
Church pastor who was expecting me and collapsed on the front steps to
await the family's arrival.
Mike Lewis greeted me with smiles and a glass of juice and introduced
me to his family. Aubry and Alyssa, 11 and 4, were shy at first but quickly
warmed to me. By the time we walked the two houses over to grandma's for
dinner, they'd each claimed a hand to pull. Alyssa gave me a very thorough
tour of the house, yard, and church. Aubry snuggled up against me after
dinner. That's the wonderful thing about children and animals -- unbridled
The only drawback to the evening was that I didn't get to talk to Mike
as much as I would have liked. He's journeyed all over the world with
the church and we compared experiences. He told me about being in post-cold
war Russia and how the people there are desperate for religion after so
many years of Atheistic Communism.
I asked the stock Question on Religion that I've had since I was a kid:
If God made the world, who made God?
Instead of answering, Mike gave me another good question for my arsenal:
If God is who he says he is, can he make a rock too heavy for him to lift?
No answers, just more questions. Religion is like that I guess.
Twenty-eight miles today. I stopped to rest earlier than usual to keep
my stamina up -- eleven miles down the road in Granada. I sat in the lawn
chairs in front of the Granada grocery store, took my shoes off, and stretched,
Sim Hall, a feisty old man who works at the produce warehouse across the
street, stopped to ask where I was headed and why. When I told him, he
pointed down the street to the historical marker for the town and strongly
suggested that I read it. I did. It chronicled the town's days as a Santa
Fe stop and the 40,000 cowboys (including Calamity Jane, who lived here
for two years) who passed through in that time.
Later I wished I'd stayed to read that sign a couple more times. Although
there is one more town between Granada and Lamar on the map, it is actually,
as is so often the case out here, just a grain elevator. Every time I
found a shady spot on a dirt road or by the side of the road, ants or
mosquitoes or flies would soon find me and chase me away.
At 4:30, three miles from Lamar, I ran out of water.
Enter Sim Hall again, yelling "Hey, Washington, you sure you don't
want a ride?"
I smiled and asked if he had anything to drink in that truck of his.
"Just vinegar," he said and produced a near-empty bottle of
the stuff. "I drink it all the time."
When I grimaced, he asked what kind of pop I drink and went and got me
two cans of 7Up. I gulped them down gratefully. He toasted me and swigged
the last swig of his apple cider vinegar.
With the sodas in me I was able to make it to the next town. I called
the Eatons at the grocery store pay phone. Bernice from Lakin gave me
the Eaton’s phone number, and I got through to them, but apparently
she hadn’t. The doctor (he's a veterinarian) and Mrs. Eaton had
received two calls from the local paper that day looking to get an interview
with me. They'd told the reporters that no, there was no cross-country
walker staying there. They hadn’t heard that I would be.
Just the same, when I arrived they took me in, fed me a big farm dinner,
and put me to bed in their daughter's old room. I was somewhat glad to
avoid the interview, exhausted as I was.
Kansas is suing Colorado for water. According to Kansas, Colorado is stealing
its water by damming up the rivers that run through to Kansas. Colorado
claims that it has to dam up the streams to protect itself during the
drought. Considering what I’ve seen so far, I’d have to agree
with Kansas. I’ve walked across more streams in the past three days
than I saw in three weeks in Kansas.
A short day today -- sixteen miles to Hasty. I haven't had a break in
a week and don't anticipate one soon.
On the way out of town, I stopped at the Tourism Center and KOA Campground
to get a map of Colorado. I've been three days in this state without one.
I arrived at the Hasty Friends Church just in time for Vacation Bible
School. Pastor Bob Branson told me to take a load off in one of the pews
and began class with pledge of allegiance to the flag, God, and the bible.
I went out into the yard where the kids were playing and wrote in my journal.
The hired man, Bill, gave me a Powerade and made small talk. He asked
if I'd join him for a steak dinner, said he didn't often get company.
I sure wasn't going to pass up a steak!
Bob came out to say that his wife Marion had fixed me dinner just as Bill
finished grilling our dinner. It was an awkward moment. Then Bob invited
both Bill and me inside so that we could all eat together.
I grabbed the canned veggies and plates and headed indoors while Bill
finished piling the meat on a plate. While we waited for Bill, Bob talked
about how poor the man is and how shy. He said that the trailer home the
church bought for Bill was his first home ever. Bill was a Vietnam veteran;
he has no teeth, and so couldn't eat the corn on the cob that Marian had
Bill had said that he didn't eat corn because it isn't as good for you
as the other vegetables. I hadn't noticed his lack of teeth, and I didn’t
like disrobing Bill's weaknesses. I ate both Bill's huge steak and Marian's
fried chicken and balanced my compliments as best I could. Bill ate quickly
I met more people than usual en route to Las Animas today. I stopped at
Yang's Gifts to rest at the picnic tables outside and ended up talking
to the proprietor, Shao Chin, on one of his apparently frequent smoke
breaks. He spent an hour prognosticating on how famous I'm going to be.
He insisted that I come in to take a look at his shop.
As I left, I overheard a conversation between Shao and his partner, Charleen
Yany. Charleen had assured me that Shao does all the real work. Then I
heard her say, "Now help me with these pictures. I don't know where
they go and they've been out here forever."
He said, "Okay."
She said, "Don't just say ‘okay,’ HELP ME!"
The other person I met on the road today was Rodney Cote from Vancouver,
Canada. He blew a tire on the trailer he was using to haul a tractor up
from Texas. I asked if I could help and hung around to chat when he offered
me a snack of a box of raisins and a Powerade, my second in two days --
yum! He is my first "international" postcard.
At the library, I had to pay a dollar for fifteen minutes on the internet,
but the librarian made it worthwhile when she called a family in the next
town to put me up tomorrow.
Then a reporter from the local paper happened by. Brenda Bronson, a woman
I met back at Bob’s Bible School, came to pick me up just after
I finished the interview. I spent another evening trying to catch up on
Tomorrow is Buck Bronson's sixth birthday. His dad bought him a six-speed
bike. We had pizza for dinner and then watched Buck try to mount the thing
without leaping onto it like a cowboy. We all winced for his family jewels.
Twenty miles of dirt road down today -- just dust, cacti, yucca plants,
free-roaming cattle, a beer can every mile or so, and me. I was never
entirely out of civilization's sight – there were ranches every
mile or so. Still, I felt alone and very free in my solitude as I sat
on the hill overlooking La Junta.
I'm staying with Jan and Garry Schachterle and their five adopted children
-- a lesson in chaos organization if ever there was one. The wipe board
in the kitchen is the command center -- it has a floor plan of the house
with each kid's assigned cleaning area, a weekly dinner schedule that
assigns each kid one meal a week to plan and prepare. There is also a
"Days Grounded" scorecard -- no one's gotten in trouble lately
-- and a Christmas list. Jan runs two day care centers; there's a lot
I could learn from her.
On a clear day, you can see North La Veda, the Sante Cristos, and Pike's
Peak from the Schachterle's back porch. It's too hazy this evening.
Check this: The highest mountain I've gone over so far on this walk was
the one at the Virginia/West Virginia border, 3,998 ft. Lamar's elevation
is 3,901 and it's not even a mountain!
After much consideration, I’ve decided that my straight line to
San Francisco by way of Route 50 isn’t as good an idea as it first
seemed. It’s illegal to walk on the interstate, and 50 turns into
I-70 in Utah. National Geographic dubbed Highway 50 “The Loneliest
Road in America” -- It’s got distances of 111, 96, and 93
miles between towns.
Of course, no route across the desert is going to be easy, but Arizona’s
highways are slightly more populated. This means I’ll get to see
the Grand Canyon, and maybe Vegas.
I wanted to take a day off with the Schachterle's, but I just couldn't
bring myself to ask because they took me in on such short notice already.
I didn't want to impose more on them even though they are the ideal people
for last minute imposition and I’m almost sure they would have been
fine with it. Also, they set me up with hosts for the next several nights
and I'd have to call and move them all back a day. Okay, so I whimped
I worked something out, though. Garry told me that my next stop in Rocky
Ford was only eleven miles away, so I got to sleep in and spend a little
more time talking to Jan.
I set off down Highway 10 around 9:30.
Highway 10: "A road so barren even jackrabbits pack a lunch."
Garry made a good point when we were talking to him about all the great
people I've met. He said, "People out here come from a time when
you had to depend on your neighbors."
I got to Grace and Albert Muth's early. Grace’s daughter Donna came
out to meet me and show me into the house, then ran back to the office
before the Mexican hired man had to answer too may phone calls.
I had the house to myself for two hours. The first thing I did was turn
on the radio -- oh, sweet music that’s not strictly from my head!
I’ve had the Muppet’s “Moving Right Along” in
there for too long.
For dinner we had T-bone steaks and Rocky Ford peaches, with ice-cream
for dessert. In the after dinner conversation, Albert told me how he once
used WD-40 for a sore spot on his ankle. An employee suggested it one
time when he was desperate and it worked like magic. Tip o’ the
day: Use WD-40 on stiff joints, human joints.
I feel as though I'm being visited by the seven plagues. First mosquitoes,
then flies, then gnats, now little fruit bees – they attacked me
all day long whenever I tried to take a break. It's enough to make you
want to scream, "ENOUGH!"
Dinner with Cletus and Nadine Martin was the least conversation-filled
meal I've had so far. Nadine laughed pleasantly at everything. With the
quiet, though, the strange noise that seemed to be coming from a clock
on their dining room was even more engrossing.
I thought at first that it was the wind -- it was blowing like crazy outside
-- but the noise was more regular than that. First came a wheeze, and
then a rattle.
Finally, Cletus grumbled, "I hate that noise, stupid wiring."
"Wiring?" I said. "It's the clock, isn't it?"
Slowly, Cletus got up and walked over and unplugged the clock ... silence.
He let out a sigh -- a been-holding-it-for-years kind of sigh.
"Thank-you," he said.
Apparently, they'd been living with that noise for over two years. They
thought it was a weathervane on the roof, but when they had the roof replaced
they got rid of the weathervane and the noise stayed. Since then, they'd
considered the sound a haunting of sorts.
Two years they lived like that. After we unplugged the clock, the rest
of the evening was filled with all our laughter.
Today I saw the Rockies for the first time. As I came over a hill, I thought
at first I was seeing a shadow of the clouds. Then, BOOM -- Oh my gosh,
those are MOUNTAINS!
It was 118 degrees at the Busch Ranch when I read their outdoor thermometer
The Busch's live on Rattlesnake Butte. Fortunately, I saw no critters
to justify the name. Ron told me a story about how his father “used
to go out with two, three hundred bullets and kill two, three hundred
snakes. They used to roll down the cliffs in tumbleweed-sized masses in
We climbed to the top of a butte in Ron's beat-up four wheel drive truck.
It felt like a 90 degree climb -- I clutched at the seat the whole way.
At the top of the butte, we could see for at least 100 miles in every
direction. Also, seashells -- there were sea shell fossils at the top
of the butte.
A couple of years ago a man came to put a radio tower on the Busch’s
butte. He blew up a part of the butte to make a road and exposed a whole
slew of geodes. Workers carted away most of the rocks to sell, but we
managed to find a couple of leftovers. Seashells on a mountaintop -- one
of the great wonders of this weird world of ours.
There were oceans here once! I’ve tried to imagine what it must
have been like for the pioneers who crossed the prairie and never knew
what was ahead. Seeing the Rockies in the distance after so much flatness
must have been even more awe-inspiring to them than to me. Oceans covered
this land way before the pioneers, though – way before man ever
walked here at all. Wrapping my brain around that thought takes quite
a stretch. Talk about your historical markers.
I talked to Dad and Janet tonight. Janet asked what I plan to do for a
job after my walk. Fortunately, I'd been thinking about that today. I
decided that my biggest asset is my ability to get along with just about
Janet said, "That tells me you want to be liked."
I should have said, “What’s wrong with that? Doesn’t
Instead, I murmured an agreement and listened to her suggestion that I
market myself more so that if I decide to turn this journal into a book,
it’ll sell better. I didn’t say it at the time, but her remark
hurt me deeply. I sure as heck didn’t go on this walk to be liked,
but I couldn’t have done it if I weren’t flexible. True, I’ve
had to repress a bit of my energy while staying with so many elderly Christians,
but I’ve cultivated parts of myself that were equally valuable --
mainly, patience and understanding.
Kathy said that they’ve hosted some Mormon girls here who were on
their missions. The girls were all told by their director that one of
the things they should come away with is the ability to adapt without
complaint to the meal menus, work load, weather, etc.
I’d like to think that I’m more self-confidence than those
searching for a God that calls them “the chosen,” but I have
learned to adapt, and I am good at it. Twenty miles down today.
Ninety-nine percent of the cars I’ve seen on Highway10 are RV's
or are pulling campers or trailers. I haven’t see one speed trap.
When I got to Walsenburg I headed first to the library, which is closed
on Mondays. As I sat down to take my boots off for a rest, a police cruiser
pulled a van over across the street. When the cop finished giving his
ticket, I asked him for directions to the station -- Officer Lonnie Buck
is my contact here.
Lonnie is a Very Married Man. From the moment I met him, he raved about
his wife. He told me the story of how they met: After several years of
speed-dating, a friend of Lonnie's told him he was looking too hard for
love. They got into a fight about it. Two days later, Lonnie reconsidered
and decided that his friend was right -- he would stop looking so hard
(and die celibate, if necessary).
Lonnie took his friend over to lunch at Pizza Hut to apologize. That was
Laura's first day waiting tables there. It took him four months to ask
here out and a year after that they married. They've been married five
Lonnie cannot stop talking about his "better half" -- she just
returned to school to be a cardiologist. Debbie, the secretary Lonnie
set me up with, and I cracked jokes about him being a kept man, but Lonnie
insists he'll retire his wife first.
Debbie and Bruce Newman and their son, Neal, live on a hill above town.
They've got a gorgeous view of the Spanish Peaks. Best of all, though,
their neighbors have a hot tub. I stuck my feet up against the jets and
blissed out for a while until our take-out Mexican arrived. 21 miles today.
I decided to break the hike from Walsenburg to North La Veta Pass, my
first mountain pass, into two short days since I’m not sure how
strenuous that pass will be. I walked eleven miles to La Veta today, and
tomorrow I'll walk eleven or so more to the bottom of the pass.
It was a short day. I arrived at noon and Michelle Brenneman came to pick
me up with her two young daughters – Ashley, 5, and Lacey, 2. I
spent the day entertaining Ashley and being entertained by Lacey, who
looks exactly like the Gerber baby, while Michelle made choke cherry jelly
and canned peaches feverishly. Toward evening, she drove me up the mountain
to Cuchara Pass, beautiful with its aspen, but crawling with tourists.
The drive mostly made me glad that I'm walking.
Plans change, as always. Today I was supposed to walk just to the bottom
of the pass, but ended up over it due to a bit of miscommunication between
Opal Morgan and myself.
“There are four mailboxes, it's easy to spot ...”
I never saw four mailboxes. Several miscommunications later, I'd climbed
up and over the pass. Fortunately, the "summit" wasn’t
that intimidating. Sure, it's 9,413 feet up, but the slope was so gradual
that I kept thinking I was still on the approach.
Opal eventually figured out I'd missed her and showed up in her white
Bronco to rescue me. She took me home and fed me beans and weanies on
homemade bread and homemade strawberry-raspberry-rhubarb jam. I had a
nap, then her son John and his wife Loretta showed up with baskets full
of green beans, squash, zucchini, and beets. I spent the rest of the day
snapping beans and watching them can everything in sight.
Around 5 o'clock, I missed my watch when it didn't remind me to turn on
my cell phone. John and Loretta drove me out to find it. Loretta spotted
it at the first place we looked -- the first place I’d stopped.
On the way back to the house we took the old pass, which goes deeper into
the mountain, to search for one of their cows who is expected to calf
any second now. We couldn't find Stripe anywhere, but the view made me
wish I'd taken that route. It was a typical, perfect day in the mountains.
I hiked twenty-three miles down into the San Colin Valley to Blanco today.
People told me that the valley was desert, but it seemed very green for
a desert -- lots of scrub brush and even some red and yellow and purple
flowers. I walked past Forbes Park and the Forbes-Trinchera Ranch, owned
by the well-known billionaire. There wasn't much to see but a dirt road
leading up into the hills.
I stopped for lunch, the first I've had in a long while that wasn't interrupted
repeatedly by insects. A couple from Iowa pulled over to ask if I was
okay and took my picture when I told them who I am. They’d picked
up a few large rocks for a rock garden they're starting in which they
want to have rocks from all 50 states. They gave me their address so I
could write them.
I got to Blanca at 4:30 and tried to call the number of the contact Cletus
Martin gave me -- no answer. I called Cletus's daughter-in-law, Geena,
for help and she got right on it. She found me a family that she used
to clean for, the Wiescamps. The Wiescamps were not as agreeable as Geena;
they had me waiting at the convenience store for two hours while they
prayed about whether or not to trust me. Renee explained that her parents
are in town from the Big City of Amarillo, Texas and are hyper-weary of
The rest of the evening went smoothly and pleasantly. Renee worked hard
to make sure that I felt at ease. I took a bath and wore one of her T-shirts
and shorts so that she could wash all my cloths. We played dominos and
ate chocolate cake soaked in milk. I don't know if the grandparents ever
felt totally comfortable but I sure did.
Once they got me they didn't want to let me go. I said I wanted to be
out by seven but Renee took until 8:30 this morning writing out a detailed
map of Alamosa for me and putting together fruit smoothies for breakfast.
Her daughter Morgan filled in the time gaps by chatting excitedly every
chance she got and four year-old Christian threw a fit. He wouldn't come
out of the bathroom because he wanted his hair straight.
“He wants to look like you,” said Morgan. I laughed and explained
that when I'm not putting it up all day, my hair is exceedingly curly.
I left with a bag lunch -- chicken sandwich, candy bar, and lollipop.
I watched a downpour pass South to North in the road before me this afternoon.
I missed it by about 15 minutes. On the way into Alamosa I walked over
the Rio Grande, the same river that divides Mexico from the U.S. Up here
it's just a bog.
I am staying at Adams State College in Alamosa. It is freshman orientation
weekend. I can't begin to explain how surreal and disturbing it was to
walk through the dorm halls full of students hauling my pack, past the
name-tags on the doors and the box-toting parents.
Dorm smell is universal. I stopped by the registration table and grabbed
one of the “For Her” boxes full of corporate samples. It solved
my shower needs – I shaved my legs for the first time in over a
I was unlucky at the post office. The package I asked Dad to send with
my sleeping bag in it had not arrived. This means that I have no bedding
for my dorm bed. Worse, I'm heading into the mountains soon and I don't
have a place to stay yet; a tent and sleeping pad will not be enough in
those temperatures. I will take tomorrow off and hope it arrives. 21 miles.
Still no package. I spent much of today worrying about this. I went to
the post office twice and called Dad when it still wasn't there. Dad called
back tonight to say he'd sent it overnight insured on Wednesday. Neither
of us are happy, but at least we've done our best. Tomorrow is Sunday
so I'll have to wait two days to call the postal service and get to the
bottom of this.
On the up side, I got to sleep in this morning. I got up at eight, putzed
around a bit, and ambled over to the Campus Cafe for breakfast at nine.
The Cafe is one of the many landmarks on Renee's map. She and Morgan mentioned
that they have an excellent breakfast there, so I figured I'd splurge:
Blueberry pancakes, hash browns, and a large OJ. I sat in a little pink
booth, glad for the familiar diner atmosphere, especially since campus
is so alienating.
I spent most of my day in the library, wasting time in the magazine section
because they wouldn't let me use the computers. Even patrons can't use
the terminals for e-mail. Tyrants.
Back at the college, Tammy, my computer science angel, just happened to
be in the lab. Yesterday when my search for a lab had failed miserably
I passed her in a hallway and asked for help. She explained that even
if I had found a computer, I couldn't have used it because they're all
password protected. Then she took me back to her apartment in the married
housing section where she lives with her husband and two adorably spritely
kids. The little girl ran straight to me, wrapped her arms around me,
and asked my name.
Tammy’s husband is a computer science major. Predictably, the computer
room was covered in Magic the Gathering paraphernalia. I sat in an old
brown recliner and checked e-mail on a very new computer. He and I cracked
jokes about Microsoft's unspoken monopoly.
Today Tammy came through again by logging me into the school's system.
As usual, I spent three hours typing and still didn't get to everyone
I needed. I ate my dinner of bagels, bananas and yogurt in my room, then
I called Mom and Dad. It was a lot like my usual first week back to school.
It was seventeen miles to Monte Vista. Bonnie set me up with the United
Methodist pastor there.
I didn't get much sleep last night on the bare dorm mattress -- I never
did get up the guts to ask someone for sheets. I'll have no problems falling
asleep tonight, though -- the post office found my package.
Today on my way to Del Norte I walked past San Francisco Creek. What a
cruel, cruel misnomer.
It rained, but I didn't have to use the new rain pants I bought at Walmart
in Alamosa. I was sitting warm and happy in the public library reading
Vonnegut. I stopped at a camping supply store in search of something other
than trail mix to eat for the three days that I'll be on Wolf Creek Pass.
I chatted with the owner about desert hiking for quite a while, but he
didn't carry any self-heating meals. How I wish I'd gotten Sara to send
her Army rations!
I am now headed out of the San Luis Valley up into the mountains for 80
miles before I head down into New Mexico. Right now I regret not being
able to spend more time in the Rockies. I may not feel the same once I've
gone over Wolf Creek.
Tonight I am with Jim and Carol Wiseman. Their front gate is festooned
with sweet peas so fragrant that it took me a good ten minutes to make
it to the door for all the stopping and smelling I did. 15 miles today.
Today I set off for the wilderness. Well, the edge of the wilderness anyway.
I’m at the Moon Valley RV Park at the bottom of Wolf Creek Pass.
I am using my tent and sleeping bag, for the first time since Missouri.
I almost roughed it. There’s no hot water and therefore no public
shower, but then I met the Joneses from Texas. I soon had not only a shower,
but a huge dinner of left-over pasta with sun-dried tomato sauce, sweet
corn on the cob, oatmeal bread, fresh sliced tomatoes, and cantaloupe.
It sure beats the heck out of trail mix!
I stopped at a rest area today and met the curator there. In his early
30’s, the smiling, chatty man told me how he and his wife moved
here from Dallas after the restaurant business gave him a heart attack
at age twenty-five.
He’d tried to tough it out after the attack, but when he began feeling
sick again he knew it was leave or die. One day he came home and told
his wife that they were moving to Colorado. Within a month they had sold
the house, bought one halfway up a mountain he pointed out to me, and
got a job working six months of the year as this particular rest area’s
After asking me to sign his register, he gave me a columbine from the
bed he was tending. He folded up a bunch of seeds for me in a discarded
In South Fork, the last town for 42 miles before Pagosa Springs, I went
to the grocery store. I ate what I thought would be my last real meal
before trail mix territory: Yogurt for calcium with some of the granola
Nicole sent me for carbohydrates, two bananas for potassium, and juice
for Vitamin C. That's my usual grocery store meal. It rained for the last
three miles from town to camp and construction crews had torn up the road
so all was mud. I used my rain pants for the first time. 19 miles
Today my lungs were filled with the smell of spruce as I climbed over
the Great Divide.
The climb was not easy. I stalled at breakfast with the Joneses (granola
with fresh peaches and hot chocolate) and got going at 8:45 instead of
my usual 7 AM. It was thirteen miles to the summit, which took four and
half hours. I was unhappy with the way the road kept going down instead
of up, so that when it eventually did slope up it was steeper than before.
The Christmas tree smell and the view of the river calmed me.
10,850 ft. is a looong way. Being a sea level dweller, I had to take several
breaks. Toward the top, I felt as though I were walking through a sea
The Divide is called that because all the rivers on the Western side of
the Divide flow West, and all the ones on the East flow East. The summit
is cold -- that was my foremost impression. There is an information board
and a big bronze strip representing the Divide.
I asked a lady walking her dog nearby to take my picture straddling the
line. She recognized me from CBS and gave me juice and milk. Her cocker
spaniel refused to do his business. I suggested that maybe he was unsure
which way to let the flow go.
The view of the valley and surrounding hills on the way down made me sorely
regret that I hadn’t bought another disposable camera. I’ve
only taken twenty-two pictures this entire trip, but I would have taken
at least two here.
The smooth green hills, shimmering streams, and mossy green valleys were
idyllically pastoral. In fact, it was almost too perfect. It looked manicured
to near-perfection, like a theme park. I couldn’t get the fact it
was all natural through my head.
I walked past the coolest rock wall ever. From a distance, it didn’t
look like much, but I suddenly saw tiny bits of multi-colored stones and
when I refocused, I saw large green, blue, and red stones embedded in
the wall. I was transfixed for the next quarter of a mile. When I looked
up, the sun was barely above the horizon. I hurried down past Treasure
Falls, which I could see in the distance, to Wolf Creek Campground.
Except for the first day, which will probably rank first until the last
day, this has been the best day of my trip -- exhilarating, challenging,
and quite a milestone. How unfortunate, then, that there’s no one
here to share it. The campground is empty except for me. Oh well, it gives
me time to contemplate my achievement.
Speak and it shall be given. The ranger just came around in his truck
to collect the $8 fee.
“Don’t put any food in that tent,” he said.
“Of course not,” I said. “I know better than that!”
This is not-doubt-about-it bear country. I asked casually if there has
been much of a bear problem.
“Not for the last four or five days,” he replied. “We
got the dogs and ran ‘em out last week. For God’s sake, though,
DON’T put any food in your tent! Between you and the bear, THE BEAR
I am now slightly terrified -- kind of like slightly pregnant, only hopefully
not terminal. I’ve decided to use the denial approach this time.
My pack is outside, covered with my poncho -- the usual precaution. I
put one ear to the roll of cloths that is my pillow, pulled the sleeping
bag over the other, and told myself “There are no bears, there are
no bears here, no, there are no bears.”
What I wouldn’t give for a dog or a radio right now. Oh well, tomorrow
is another day. I am switching the flashlight resolutely 'off.' 22 miles
It's a beautiful morning and was a bearless night -- thank goodness! Also,
no rain in the night, which is a real treat in the mountains. My morning
walk was marred slightly by the six deer carcasses I came across, all
in various stages of decomposition. I walked quickly, knowing I was only
13 miles from the edge of Pagaso Springs. I yearn for the company of others
no matter how liberating my lone experiences in nature are.
The first representative of civilization that I encountered was Pastor
Ken Carlson. He hopped out of his white sedan wearing a straw hat and
pale pink suit jacket. He first established the fact that I am without
sponsors -- Bonnie is helping me of her own accord, and not as a representative
of Landmark Papers. Then he begins this spiel: “I’m a private
man, I like my privacy. When I go to visit my daughter I stay in a hotel
That’s the way like it. My wife stays at my daughter’s place;
she doesn’t mind. But I tend to think that if you stay with people
you have to make accommodations [breath] Now, I can get you a room at
the San Juan Motel if you like. Money is no object. The newspaper editor
here has offered you a place at his home but he, unfortunately, lives
about four miles north of town. My wife and I live right in town, and
you can certainly stay with us, but I figured you might want your own
space. How are you for money; for food? Strapped? Well, money is no object.
I’ll set you up at the motel and get you a pass to the pool. I’ll
talk to my buddy, Ernie at Amore’s, (He’s a little alternative,
make that a LOT alternative, and some people won’t go there because
of that, but he invites me over to watch the Broncos and I go) for lunch
and dinner and we’ll figure something out for breakfast. Money is
no object now. [breath] Does that sound okay?”
The second I nodded my head, Pastor Ken sketched out a map of the town
and drove away. I felt a bit befuddled but certain that things had been
arranged rightly. I picked up my pace.
Dave Williams, editor of the Pagoso Springs News, walked out to meet me
two miles from town. After taking the pictures he needed, he invited me
to lunch at his favorite Italian restaurant just outside town. He said
that his wife is Italian, so he’s well educated in good Italian
restaurant recognition. I dumped my pack at the motel and off we went.
Bob Dylan is not your typical Italian cafe music, but the bootleg version
that I believe was our head-waiter’s choice made me very happy.
I ate a huge salad platter, eggplant parmesan sub, and tirimusu. I wondered
how I’d ever eat dinner.
I went back to the office with Dave to check my e-mail. Then there was
a bit of confusion. Dave had told me that the Springs are open 24 hours,
but when I went over, I mistook the gift shop for the entrance building
-- the gift shop was closed.
For some reason, this made me very upset. Suddenly, I felt frustrated
with how fast everything was going. I was going to miss a neat opportunity
because I spend less than 24 hours everywhere I go.
“No,” I thought, “I’ll just go tomorrow after
breakfast. Getting a late start once in a while won’t kill me.”
I made my way to Amore’s to eat my worries away. What better food
to drown my worries in than Fettuccine Alfredo? Ernie buzzed around, cracking
jokes and asking the usual questions. He made up this crazy care package
of a jar of red sauce, a hunk of mozzarella, crackers, cookies, three
bottles of juice, and a roll of toilet paper. Like any good Italian, he
continued piling on the nourishment until I cried, “ENOUGH!”
I had cappuccino for dessert. I told Ernie my warm-spring woes, and he
told me the location of the real entrance, so I headed back there.
The Springs I went to are the nicest in town -- eleven little outdoor
pools ranging from 98 degrees (the Crick Tub) to 114 degrees (the Lobster
Pot). I borrowed an exceedingly unattractive neon polka-dotted bathing
suit from the hotel and vowed to sample all eleven baths. That goal was
much less daunting than walking back to the hotel afterwards in a steam-induced
stupor. If only all my undertakings were so strenuous....
Living in Southside Chicago last summer, I used to wake up to the sound
of cockroaches scurrying around my room. One time I came across a roach
so large that I was sure by the sound it was a mouse. It tipped over the
paper grocery bag I was using as a trash can while climbing out of it.
This morning, a similar rustling in the wastebasket in my hotel room greeted
me as I awoke. I lay in bed frowning for ten minutes before finally turning
on the light to investigate. The overhead fan, not a roach, was the rustler.
What a bad way to start the day. I dressed slowly in my three-day’s
grimy cloths and flipped channels on the TV for a while. On the way out,
I opened the Bible to a random page hoping for some sort of some encouragement
-- First page of Job, great. I went to the Rolling Pin Cafe and comforted
myself with a plate of blueberry pancakes with sausage and some hot chocolate
Food coma! The seventeen mile walk was incredibly tiring. I stopped at
a Rotary Club picnic area for a nap and growled at the prospect of any
uphill climbs. I’m ashamed to say that I started to feel sorry for
I made it to the Ute campground at 6:30. The hosts, Johnnnie and Meralea,
came down to greet me and collect their $8 fee. I am the first camper
they’ve had in over a week. They hurried to assure that I was comfortable.
They even brought me firewood, newspaper, and matches so that I could
have a campfire. When I admitted that I didn’t have anything to
cook over a fire, Johnnie offered to drive me back into town. I suggested
that the three of us eat dinner together. Johnnie loved the idea.
On our trip to the grocery store, I heard the saga of how Johnnie and
Meralea are in pretty dire financial straits right now. Johnnie got in
a car accident several years ago and can’t do any manual labor.
He took this job supervising the campground for eighty cents per occupant
because the only job he could find. Meralea is a housekeeper at the motel
up the street. They are trying to save up for a house, but a couple of
weeks ago they were robbed. Two guys came in and stole everything from
the only campers there at the time -- two girls from New York.
The robbers were pulling down the tent when Johnnie got back, they smiled
and waved to him as they drove away. By the time he realized what had
happened it was too late. He spent most of their savings to buy the girls
new sleeping bags, but by the time he’d returned from Walmart it
was past midnight and the girls had gone to a motel.
Johnnie then told me about his car accident, the constant pain he’s
in, and how thinking about naked women is the only thing that makes the
pain go away.
“Of course I wouldn’t ask you to get naked or anything. It
just works for me and so I figure, why stop?”
I nodded understandingly and realized that I was dealing with a jerk.
Well, he’s not the first -- You just have to treat them like the
emotionally handicapped people they are.
I insisted on buying all the dinner fixings: Stir-fry chicken, coffee,
kiwi-strawberry drink, peanut butter cookies, and cinnamon rolls for breakfast.
I didn’t mind splurging.
Johnnie, like a true child, wanted everything he saw. I ignored some of
the requests, picking the things he mentioned that Meralea likes and that
suited my fancy. On the way back, Johnnie stopped at a convenience store
to buy his contribution to the meal -- ice-cream, Meralea’s favorite.
The evening went smoothly as long as I ignored the fact that Johnnie never
called me by my name, though I say it several times -- “babe,”
“sweet thing,” “honey,” etc. I wondered how Meralea
was handling it but she seemed oblivious.
We played dominos until 10:30. Johnnie suggested several times that I
join them in their comfy and cozy tent instead of sleeping in my little
one. I politely declined, several times. Hopefully, the beauty of this
spectacular night sky will leave only pleasant thoughts in my head as
I drifted off to sleep.
Twenty-three miles to Bayfield today, seven of which were uphill (darn
Dave Williams greeted me at the mountaintop with Gatorade, a banana, and
a chocolate Powerbar. He said he was on his way back from Bayfield and
figured that even if he didn’t see me he could use the stuff himself
on a bike ride. We spent a few minutes discussing the lay of the land
-- downhill from here on -- and I thanked him for the snack.
Holly and Traci Chapin, Reverend Chapin’s daughters, were on their
way to the grocery store when I arrived. They hadn’t heard I was
coming but I explained and they immediately invited me to join them.
We had an evening of mild debauchery: Nachos with meat and cheese and
Ben & Jerry’s ice cream (my suggestion) for dessert. We watched
“Billy Madison,” an Adam Sandler movie I once refuse to watch
on the grounds that it seemed too mindless. Hey, I can’t expand
my horizons all the time.
I made it to Durango today, my last stop in Colorado. I will take a day
Pastor Rick Calhoun picked me up at the top of Farmington Hill, just south
of town. I went to dinner at a great Italian restaurant with two couples
and a visiting pastor from Romania named Wally. Rick recently introduced
Wally to action movies and bluegrass music. Wally’s newest American
phrases are “slap you like a rented mule” or “like a
red headed stepchild” from the Steven Seagal movie they just saw.
Pastor Rick and his wife, and the youth pastor and his wife, were in kid-withdrawal
the whole dinner. I wondered if they were aware of the way they kept slipping
into baby talk and eyeing the crayons. It was precious, really.
When we returned and they'd paid the baby sitter, Rick called Kit and
John Kaufman. I am staying at their house because there’s no room
at the Chapin home with Wally visiting.
Kit walked over to get me and she and John fixed me up with milk and homemade
apple pie for desert. Kit called me “dear” and “sweetie,”
but also “Niki,” and I smiled at what a difference there is
in her pet names and Johnnie’s. She gave lots of hugs and tucked
me in with a teddy bear. I miss Mom.
It occurred to me recently that I’m going to miss autumn, my favorite
season, by going south into the desert. I love the smell of the first
smoke from chimneys, the crisp feel of the air, and the change from linen
to corduroy. I hope my first trip to the desert can make up for it.
Both Kit and John play golf in the morning, so Rick took me to the post
office to pick up my latest care package. Kit was busy with her Monday
afternoon bridge club, so I asked John if he would take me on a tour of
Durango, the first time I’ve ever asked for a tour.
John had trouble communicating because of a mini-stroke he had a while
back so chit-chat was out -- his brain and mouth don’t communicate
as fast as they once did. He showed me the golf course, Fort Lewis, the
college, and the firehouse where his son works. We visited the depot;
the town’s main tourist attraction is the narrow gauge railroad
to Silverton. Main Street has all the tourist shops.
The best thing about Durango in my opinion is how non-car-centered it
is. There are bike paths everywhere, crosswalks with signs warning that
pedestrians always have the right of way, and a trolley.
I needed some odds and ends (toothbrush, AA batteries, new journal) so
we went to the new Walmart Supercenter. It soon became clear, however,
that the place is just too super for odds and ends shopping. I felt bad
making John trail after me in the huge labyrinth of merchandise.
Next to the fire department is a store called Backcountry Experience where
we stopped to ask about a problem I’ve been having with my pack;
it feels too short in the torso.
I thought I needed a new shoulder harness. The one I got with my original
pack is a small, but Dick Singer took one look at it and said that the
guy who sold me my pack didn’t know what he was doing. He readjusted
the harness, schooled me in the art of strap-tightening, and sent me on
my way a much happier hiker. Then I found a new pair of Vasque hiking
boots downtown -- my second pair this trip. The first pair wore down to
the inner sole three days ago.
It was a very productive day.