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Thursday, July 13, 2017

The rat that gnaws inside

"Probably the thing that bothered me most...was not the fear of dying, but the fear of getting old and realizing I'd let doubt and fear stop me from living the life I'd really wanted to live." Andy Kirkpatrick, Psycho Vertical. 

"Outdoor life is fraught with peril," I thought upon successfully negotiating an anorexic pine suspended over a creek surging with spring runoff. I've swayed less after a couple of pitchers at Mister Grumpy Pants Brewery than on that fucking toothpick-for-a-bridge...stabbing at whitewater in search of purchase with a too-short hiking pole. Not only was the balance beam narrower than a balance beam, but it had a curved surface and was springy...like walking a rubber band. 

But we were someplace we hadn't been for over twenty years, and that was pretty cool. I didn't remember negotiating so much water the last time, though. Perhaps it was fall; twenty years is a long time. I made a mental note to ask my Bobbie App about it, as soon as she crossed the balance beam...then promptly forgot.

I pitched my hiking pole to Bobbie so she'd have one for each hand, told her to adjust them to maximum length. Even with two poles fully extended, it was a significant test of balance for a couple of Geezers. Of course Bobbie made it look easy...

A mile up the trail we were presented with a sketchier crossing, this time on a steep fall line with more water and slippery wet boulders. 

Always wanting to keep our feet dry, especially at the beginning of a hike, we set off upstream in search of an easier crossing, another log or a series of stepping-stone boulders. Nothing. So I pieced together a boulder to boulder crossing...some wet, some slippery, and a couple submerged, hopefully not so deep as to overtop our precious waterproof boots. 

The water was deep, a mesmerizing swirling cascade. One misstep would have us crotch deep or better. Having already drowned two, I moved my iPhone from jeans pocket to a zippered pocket on my shirt...a precaution that pretty much sentences me to a head-first plunge. It took a while, and, like everything else I think I have figured out, didn't go as planned. You know what they say: True adventure begins when plans go awry. If your life wouldn't make a good movie, you're not doing it right.

We finally made it across the stream...only to face a steep, slippery bank on the other side that added several degrees of difficulty. The nasty Russian judge gave us 3.9. No blood, no points!

It's almost ha ha funny, how I go to the expense of purchasing waterproof boots only to risk my life trying to keep them dry. I should carry an old pair of sandals to wade such creeks. Being only one fall removed from an Eloquis-induced brain-bleed, and knowing that curveballs are Life's favorite pitch to throw, I decided to trade dry boots and boulder hopping for soggy socks on the return trip. 

Trading dark timber for sunshine and wide open views
After another mile or so, Rico Silo broke into a wildflower meadow above timberline. Delayed a couple weeks by above average snowfall, my favorite time of the year had finally arrived. Virtually every hike going forward to mid August will be awash with wildflowers...and afternoon thunderstorms (cue lightning).

So, a few minutes later at the junction of Rico Silo and the Colorado Trail, a flash of lightening. A long roll of thunder ensues about 20 seconds later...the bass drum kind that rearranges intestines. I looked at my watch: 12 noon straight up. Time to head down.

Clear skies suddenly gave way to sinister dark clouds and sprinkles of rain. Lightening continued to flash, followed by more rolls of thunder—the kind that puts a little pep in your step. The rain picked up, too; we were pretty much soaked except for our feet. So what did we do? Yep, boulder hopped back across the creek I had promised to wade, then re-walked the rubber band bridge...trying to keep our feet dry!          

Keeping an eye on thunderheads. Naw, we're good...

Five minutes later...

You can barely make out the Colorado Trail in the photo below...looking toward Silverton.

Through-hikers of the Colorado Trail (or any long distance, high altitude trail) often ignore rain and lightening in order to stay on schedule. I ran into such a through-hiking family from Dallas/Ft Worth before heading down. I mentioned the turning weather and told them to be careful when hiking into black clouds above timberline, especially in places like this where there's virtually no place to hide. 
What should we do? they ask. 

Well, first thing I'd do is chuck those metal hiking poles and power down cell phones and that GPS. After that, about all you can do is lay down flat as a watered-down pancake and break out the prayer beads. I don't actually believe in prayer anymore, but it gives you something to do.  🙏 

They head south into night-black clouds and rolls of thunder. We head north to Petroleus Rex and patchy blue skies, trying to outrun burgeoning blackness and Miss Adventure.

There was a shard of unhappiness in my heart that undermined everything I wanted to believe about myself. No matter what I did, no matter how good I felt, It would be there to bring me down again. Andy Kirkpatrick, Psycho Vertical.

I can't over-express the joy wandering brings, especially in mountains. It takes my mind off the hopelessness of a world Hell bent on self destruction...you know, the tit for tat bravado and bluff reminiscent of high school bullies. But no sooner than I am back home, a rat begins to gnaw my insides back to reality. Maybe if I quit feeding the rat it will die...

Panorama →


  1. Thank you for more nice pictures. I have to experience the higher altitudes through folks like you and Bobbie. When I lived in Washington I would stand at my max, the 6200 foot altitude on Mt. Ranier, and dream of what was "up there".

  2. Bobby is doing a very bad imitation of a geezer but I may have to rethink my desire to follow you anywhere for my wilderness fix. I think I’m not brave enough but I definitely think your life would make a good movie IF you wrote the script with lines like the one labout the nasty Russian judge, Petrolus Rex and curveballs being life’s favorite pitch to throw.
    All that said, I too find that only time in nature with zero crowds and nature’s amazing beauty will shut out the hopelessness temporarily. The wildflower meadow above timberline with those gorgeous wild columbine and that water cascade really call to me. Your pictures are fantastic. Are these really iphone pics??

    1. Thanks Sherry,
      On this post, yes, iPhone photos only as I forgot my camera :((

    2. Yes, Sherry, and lines like "I've swayed less after a couple of pitchers at Mister Grumpy Pants Brewery than on that fucking toothpick-for-a-bridge...stabbing at whitewater in search of purchase with a too-short hiking pole." That there's some descriptive writing!

  3. Maybe the rat needs more beer...
    You know where I would have turned around on that hike!

  4. I, too, need my time with nature lest I lose my sanity.

  5. Spectacular story and photos!! just amazing beauty.

  6. Your header photo is beautiful!! Love, love all the wildflowers this time of year. I'm with Gayle!! I would have turned around at the rubber band. I've often thought carrying water shoes would be a smart idea for just these times. Great hike and gorgeous scenery:)

  7. Reading your blog--or hearing my husband read aloud--is often for me a spiritual experience. (And as I am not a very spiritual person, that statement speaks volumes.) The sentiments expressed in the quotes by Anthony Kirkpatrick resonate within my being and I am reminded that I waited far too long to make changes that would bring me happiness. I feel fortunate to have rediscovered the joy of wandering, exploring, hiking, climbing, pedaling, paddling and otherwise challenging myself both physically and mentally. Your posts inspire me to continue to make the most of "the dash" that will be inscribed on my headstone.

    1. And your comment, Annie, along with the others like it, is what inspires me to keep going...and keep pecking away.
      Thank you,

  8. Nature is the balm that soothes all life's craziness. It's always been so for me too. Pretty darn beautiful hike.


  9. I'm also obsessed with trying to keep my feet dry on stream crossings. Need to start carrying water shoes of some kind. It's really looking great there in the high country right now!

  10. Exquisite writing AND scenery! Glad you outran the weather gods to hike another day!

  11. I dislocated my kneecap last year on a "simple" creek crossing, which I was using a walking stick on for balance, so your fear lies in a real place! I'm still extremely nervous about water crossings.
    This gnawing is familiar to me. I think each of us has a hole in our hearts that we try mightily to fill and plug as much as possible. Some do this with numbing agents, some with nature, some with relationships. Perhaps it is what makes us human.

    1. Though I do like the occasional "numbing agent," I try to fill the hole in my heart with endorphins. Without endorphins, I would be a helpless, hopeless, homeless substance abuser. And they are legal!!! So cool. :)

  12. We new right off you were in territory not familiar looking to us so we were glad you put a name to the trail.
    So we are guessing you must have started down in the vicinity of Little Molas Lake or there a bouts . The google post on the Colorado trail made for a nice read. Nothing prettier than snowy mt peaks and wildflower slopes. Another all "Natural High".......lucky couple you are.
    Stay Thirsty my friends.

  13. Older you get craizier you get but fun for us bcb people. Great pictures as usual. Careful out there my friend

  14. Every year I am just amazed at how many flowers there are. It's such a beautiful area.

  15. I love it!!!! We visit your area every single year for a good chunk of time. This year, we may be late for the height of the flowers. Thank you for letting me see them now!

    I'd be terrified of those stream crossings... I carry light sandals for those because I am true geezer about crossings like those!

    You should try out a trail cam - they are SO much fun! Thanks for the comment on my last mountain lion video. I'm going to put up another one tomorrow.


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