Our last hike with Lisa and Hans called for yet another run up the coiled snake-of-a-road, Million Dollar Highway....a mere notch, blasted from colorful solid rock. It weaves like a drunken sailor, corkscrewing it's way south to Silverton. Guardrails? Nope, not enough room. The edge of the pavement might as well be the edge of the earth, it separates Life from Death. It's an interesting route, 550 south, till winter sets in. Russian Roulette, anyone?
|Looking into the "Needles" from our Bullion King Basin hike|
Hans pooh poohed the naysayers and towed his 35 foot two-slide Montana Fiver up and over Molas, Coalbank, and Red Mountain passes without so much as a white knuckle. Lisa distracted herself from the "gorge-ous" drop-offs with documentarian duties, she being the "Official RV Adventure Photographer." With Montana unhitched and backed into the Four J RV Park—to the point of overhanging the river that runs through it—Hans felt more and more at home with each successive trip up Million Dollar Highway. By our last outing, he was traversing it like some ten lane San Diego turnpike...loose as a goose behind the wheel of his behemoth one-ton, wide body, extended cab, long-bed, big-as-a-snowplow Chevy Duramax Diesel. It makes Toyota Tundra look like a Tonka Toy. Hans straightens the road like a local now, carrying more speed in and out of serious 180 to 360 degree turns, passing timid wet-drawer flat-landers with bug-eyes as big as silver dollars. He'll be long gone before winter's Black Ice sets in; that's when you kinda miss guardrails the most.
The first road after Red Mountain Pass is Black Bear; Don't turn there, it's the back way to Telluride and not a smart option for anything bigger than a Jeep. I directed Hans to hang a right on the next four by four road, mentioning in the same breath that he might want to put The Beast in four wheel drive. The road to Bullion King is a narrow, rocky, hairpin; most of the Explorer's and Subarus get parked near the bottom. Hans has to make as many as three pivots to negotiate its tight turns.
Midway we meet a group of gals and dogs huffing and puffing their way up on foot and paw, in a spot so narrow the group is forced scramble up a hillside to let us pass. Bobbie and I are use to taking little Sue Bee up this road. It's much tighter in Hans' truck...kinda like those skinny jeans you can only get into after a bad two week stomach flu.
Everybody has had enough about a half mile short of timberline and our normal parking spot. There's a sign that more or less says, "if you are stupid enough to drive beyond this point, you need to have your ass kicked!" Well, we are here to hike, after all.
Aw, what clear views. A "Beautiful Day." Thin air, scrubbed clean and cooled to a crisp, and not a cloud in sight. Vision is razor sharp at altitude, absent from all particulates that tend to settle on windless days. A few early bird wildflowers adorn our rocky, off camber road...Perry Primrose, lavender Paintbrush, and blue Columbines, to name a few.
|I told you it was narrow...|
Around a bend we spy Bullion King, its vibrant vomit spilling from goldmine mouths. The vomit is a fusion of radioactive colors, as if creamed corn, red beets and vanilla ice cream were had for dinner. Water falls a hundred feet beyond a collapsed mine building, driven to the ground by the weight of a hundred winters. In Suburbia there are ordinances against such offensive "trash." Up here it's beautiful...history. Lisa poses, framed by a down but not out doorway.
|Lisa surveys mine vomit|
|Bobbie and Hans|
Past the mine we shortcut up through a secret garden, a naturally landscaped notch of wildflowers that never disappoints. A playful brook tries to wet our feet; we frolic, crisscrossing its icy water in a game of adult hopscotch. Smiles and laughter comes easy.
There's nothing up here that can't be conquered with two good legs and a soaring spirit, nothing to obstruct hundred mile views or "happiness," which, according to Joseph Krutch, is an expression of "gratitude." Imagine such a place.
We catch Bobbie standing at lake-water's edge. It's a gem set in stone...a broad, symmetrical basin that looks to be the result of a massive explosion eons ago. It's a serene surround ringed by thirteen thousand foot peaks and brimstone ridge lines, with a backdrop of cobalt sky so intense it will forever hold the color "blue" to a higher standard.
Bobbie motions for us to come, mouthing, "big trout." Sure enough, six or eight large native Cutthroat meander at our feet just below the water's surface. Hans spots more trout a few yards distant. I wrestle with my caveman instinct to "fish," trying to enjoy wild things in their natural environment...without having to set a hook or fire a shot. What a good choice for a last hike.
|Native Cutthroat Trout|
A lone trail cuts diagonally through a scree of steep talus, leading to the summit of vertiginous bluffs directly above the lake. We ascend single file, panting for oxygen. I wonder what became of the gals and dogs. The entire ring of fire basin, with its potholed lakes and patchwork snow, belongs to us and us alone. A few minutes and we are inching our way to bluff's edge for a sheer and somewhat airy view of the lake, cast between boot tips. From this distance Hans spots more Cutthroat, gracefully swimming the shallows. Toward the center is a green "black hole." In order for "lunker" trout to survive winter's hard freezes at this elevation, lakes must be deep.
I lay out two return options. One, go back the way we came. Two, chance making a big loop and finding a way down to the road below Bullion King Mine. Like us, Hans and Lisa prefer loops to out-and-backs. After nourishment we head cross-basin toward a large drainage that seemingly falls into an abyss, and slowly pick our way using the time honored trial and error method. There are a couple of steep snow patches to glacade...one has large boulders waiting to break legs at the bottom. I'm elected Crash Test Dummy and go first. The snow is soft and slow; I don't splatter on the rocks. We take turns at wedging snow cones up our butts...especially Lisa, who's wearing short shorts. Hans can't get feeling back in his fingers after using them for snow-brakes.
And so it went. Now Hans and Lisa are off to play in Gunnison, Crested Butte...Oregon...while we head off to work. Hi ho, hi ho...
Here's a link to a video of our Bullion King hike, with more photos and video of our glacading escapades with Hans and Lisa! I believe there is a common connective thread that quickly weaves a friendship from a kinship when hiking partners are fellow RV'ers. We understand what it's like to sell out...to part with all but a few boxes of possessions accumulated over a lifetime, say goodbye to friends, neighbors, and even loved ones, and embark on a dream held so long it doesn't seem real for months and miles down the road. Till one day, you awake to the sounds of birdsongs and falling water, instead of sirens and traffic and a chorus of barking dogs. It finally hits you right square between the ears, "I don't have to go to work tomorrow, or commute in god-awful traffic, or put up with a power-monger boss and snarky coworkers. I'm free."
Here is where I thought this post was at its end, all happy with a bow on top. But sometimes the gears in my head keep turning, and what I've written about makes me second guess choices and the Status Quo.
One must constantly reevaluate the Status Quo...lest they overlook life altering options.
There are times—like now, at work on Main Street, Ouray—when I question if Bobbie and I are playing it too safe. FYI, I'm not talking about climbing 14'ers. No, I'm talking about setting out on a new dream, or possibly reinventing an old one with a new twist.
Don't misunderstand, I love Lovely Ouray with all my soul; it is the finest of paradises in all the USA. I can make that statement with authority because we looked for someplace better on The Artful RV Journey, border to border, coast to coast. Thus, having found Paradise in our own backyard, we are committed to spend a portion of our lives here every year, from now on or forever, which ever comes last. The San Juan Mountains are "home," Bobbie decreed, and I agreed.
However...idle time is the Devils Playground, and it's hours till quitting time. Looking over the above post, thinking of Hans and Lisa moving on and other alternatives to the chair on which my ass is planted, two diametrically opposed Imps from Hell vie for my attention. The Freedom Seeking Wanderer screams, "Gooooo man! There's so much more to Life than home and work. That could be YOU out there, driving into the sunset." Shut up. I know that. It is us...half the year, anyway.
Then the Practical, Responsible, Accountant Type Imp—a statistician among Statisticians, a geek among Geeks—recites cautionary tales and speaks of risk management. He gives Power Point presentations with actuary tables and graphs that prove negative outcomes from good intentions...the kind of bullshit that, if listened to, would have reduced Ferdinand Magellan himself to an impotent, fetal positioned thumbsucker.
The wanderlust Imp sings of freedom, like Richie Havens. "Woodstock, baby," wild dreams, flights of fantasy. Who doesn't like butterflies, rainbows, and "flowers in my hair," happily-ever-after shit that I realize from experience rarely happens outside of Hollywood. The undertaker Imp uses a wily combination of guilt and fear to accomplish his argument. He has one of my feet in the grave and the other in an old shoe with a hole the sole...I'm destitute, living out golden years in a Lazy Daze RV so broken down that has to be towed to next destinations.
Still, sometimes, when I'm standing on the edge of life, thinking about jumping (just one more time, please), I almost believe I can fly...that jumping is the hardest part, but if I do, Faith will catch me and it will be a landing so soft and gentle a napping baby would ne'er stir from slumber.
Then, (God Almighty), as if on cue, (Damn it!) U 2's "Beautiful Day" comes over my work radio! Damn you Bono. I have a weakness for songs and melodies that pluck at heartstrings. What am I to make of it. Is it a sign? I know the inciteful lyrics. Somebody get me a Wing-suit...I'm fucking jumping.
Well why not? What am I waiting for? Bono's whaling "It's a beautiful daaaaaaaayyyyy... don't let it get away...It's a beautiful daaaaaaaayyyyy..." Jesus, I know better than to postpone dreams. Life sometimes doesn't wait for dreams! More importantly, death never waits. If I were my daddy (and I am in so many ways), I'd be dead going on two years at my age...and what good would a bank account full of dreams and dollars do me then?
It's up to me to squeeze every ounce of living from Life while I have a pulse, to wring it dry as year old roadkill, to fill days with happiness, because "happiness is a gratitude," just like old Krutch said, and so, too, vice versa...gratitude is a happiness; a symbiotic circle that has no beginning nor end, on-ramps or exits. "...Touch me, take me to that other place...Teach me, I know I'm not a hopeless case...It's a beautiful daaaaaaaayyyyy... "
Maybe it's selfish to want it all every day. But I have no crystal ball; what if my Hour Glass runs low on sand? I'd want to go out reaching, not grasping and holding on, for it is in reaching that we find the growth that is our salvation. Once a dream is grasped it loses its magic. I must dream anew to keep the magic flowing, to grow, cause if I'm not growing, I'm dying. If I'm not out on a limb, I'm not living. And right here, right now, I feel sorta safe, and dead.
Click here to hear "Beautiful Day."
It's A Beautiful Day" by U 2
The heart is a bloom, shoots up through the stony ground
But there's no room, no space to rent in this town
You're out of luck and the reason that you had to care,
The traffic is stuck and you're not moving anywhere.
You thought you'd found a friend to take you out of this place
Someone you could lend a hand in return for grace.
It's a beautiful day, the sky falls
You feel like it's a beautiful day
It's a beautiful day
Don't let it get away
You're on the road but you've got no destination
You're in the mud, in the maze of her imagination
You love this town even if it doesn't ring true
You've been all over and it's been all over you
It`s a beautiful day
Don`t let it get away
It`s a beautiful day
Touch me, take me to that other place
Teach me, I know I'm not a hopeless case
See the world in green and blue
See China right in front of you
See the canyons broken by clouds
See the tuna fleets clearing the sea out
See the bedouins fires at night
see the oil fields at first sight
See the bird with a leaf in her mouth
After the flood all the colours came out
It was a beautiful day
A beautiful day
Don`t let it get away
Touch me, take me to that other place
Reach me, I know I'm not a hopeless case
What you don't have you don't need it now
What you don't know you can feel it somehow
What you don`t have you don't need it now
You don't need it now, you don't need it now
Its a Beautiful day