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journeys often have turning points. One obvious turning point is when the breaking in period ends and one handles the daily exertion as a normal regimen. Physical turning points could come later as well, when one finally gets over the hump with an injury or, in the opposite vein, an injury or illness occurs to dampen or derail a journey. Emotional turning points abound on long distance journeys. A dramatic turning point came for me on the Pacific Crest Trail in 1977, as I stood high up in the Sierra Nevada surrounded by wet snow, gazing far down on a village with smoke enticingly billowing up from cozy fireplaces. I was two-thirds done with the PCT and, having already completed the Appalachian Trail, knew with absolute certainty I could finish the trail if I wanted. That begged the question of why I should, when such comfort awaited down below and reaching the goal was not important for my self-esteem. The answer I discovered on that ridge, which subsequently became THE ANSWER for most of my endeavors, was that the ongoing experiences of a journey offered more to life than the accomplishment of reaching your destination. With that thought I turned away from looking at the cozy village far below and headed on towards Mexico. That was the last time I questioned why I should continue a journey. A trail as long and diverse as the American Discovery Trail presents turning points brought about by different terrains, different cultures, different pathways and/or different seasons. Before the journey even started we viewed the Colorado border as a major turning-point-to-be for us. By reaching this border we were leaving the water barren states for a water bountiful one. Even in the arid places of Colorado we would be going through towns with water frequently. Without needing to meet Ky for water, we left our first Colorado campsite with full packs. Everything had the aura of change. The road surface changed from dirt to pavement. We were still in the desert, but now passed by irrigated land that featured crops and even cattails. In Utah we went by a town every hundred miles or so; on our first day alone in Colorado we would pass through two towns.
Within a few hours we met the Lacey family as they were out bicycling to the Utah border and back to their home in Redlands. Marie, David and son Zephyr stopped to chat with us both coming and going, inviting us to stay at their house when we passed through Redland, which we did. They were avid outdoors folk in a part of the country where opportunities for outdoor recreation was everywhere. They gave us a tour of Colorado National Monument, which for us was a last glimpse of red rock canyon country. Marie later made it to a talk I gave in Grand Junction, leaving us with a parting gift of home made cookies. We stayed with the Elisha family just on the other side of Grand Junction. Ky connected with Lori Jo Elisha while in Grand Junction ahead of us. Lori Jo was a transplant from Ithaca, NY, married to Kevin who was from the area. In addition to their jobs in the school system they worked a small farm, featuring a cow who was more like a pet. Their son Mansor had a huge passion for fly-fishing, while daughter Svea loved photography. The day after our stay with the Elishas we came to the Kannah Creek Trail. The starting elevation for this trail was around 6,000 feet, still in desert country, which in the area of Grand Junction was experiencing a heat wave in late August. Eight miles and 4,000 feet of elevation gain later we were on top of the Grand Mesa, expansive table top mountain terrain with mountain climate and 300 lakes. We went from sagebrush to fir, from 100 degree days to 70 degree days, from little water to abundant water everywhere. In one day we suddenly ascended into heaven. We were now going through National Forest where I noticed two things about the pathways. The ATV trails here contrasted with Nevada and Utah where an empty Bud Light can was found every few hundred feet. In Colorado there are ATV clubs who adopt ATV trails similar to Adopt-a-Highway programs. The results are an impressive display of stewardship. This is a program that needs to catch on in other places. As for the hiking trails on our route, I tried to scout these out ahead of time similar to what we did in Beaver. Rangers Denay, Susan and Andy at the Grand Mesa Visitor Center were happy to see us and
looked over our potential routes, but could only vouch for what was in their jurisdiction. They called a Gunnison National Forest ranger station for their input on our preferred route. The report back: “Trails are cleared and in good shape!” Um, well, not exactly. We spent a night at Fairmont Park Reservoir near the boundary of Grand Mesa and Gunnison National Forests, along with three ATVers from Texas up for bow hunting season. I've been in the wilderness now for many a hunting season. I have to admit to being a little leery when rifle season begins, because many rifle hunters are simply yahoos. I feel completely safe during bow hunting season. People don't adopt such a craft unless they are serious about it. Our evening spent around the campfire with father Kevin, son Jacob and friend Cody was tinged with mutual respect for what we all were doing. The next morning we entered Gunnison National Forest on a hiking trail and soon encountered blow downs. We were heading down a drainage at this point to Overland Reservoir and eventually came out to open fields; route finding was never a problem. Yet I wondered at why hiking trails were neglected in comparison with ATV trails, in quantity as well as maintenance. Our Grand Mesa National Forest map displayed non-motorized pathways in black or gray, motorized vehicle pathways in a thicker green. I understand making the motorized pathways more noticeable on the map; there are more motorized users. Yet the other thing of note on the map was the huge increase in mileage of green over black and gray. Back in the “good ol' days” the relative mileage of motorized to nonmotorized would have been reversed. At the Overland Reservoir I asked Forest Service range Albert Borkowski why this should be so and he provided a revealing answer. ATVers have a much greater financial investment in their sport than do hikers. They accordingly invest more effort and money into influencing decisions than do hikers. In other words, as with other endeavors of government, the basic principle behind lobbying is at work here. For my part I do not have a problem with the quantity of ATV trails as long as they are maintained as well as in Colorado. Nor did the route finding along a neglected trail bother me anywhere near as much as in Nevada or Utah. Cindy and I were just glad to be back in our beloved mountains, leaving
behind the desert for good. I can now say I've hiked the desert in summer; I need not build on that experience any further.
We arrived at Grand Junction in the middle of this stretch on August 23, along with a heat wave. That prompted the natives to offer their sympathies to us regarding the unbearable heat in their fair city. Such sympathy makes sense for the average motorist/tourist passing by. Anyone from Grand Junction naturally assumes they are used to the heat more than someone passing through. That was not true for us, for whom Grand Junction was an oasis. There were actually trees and something called shade throughout the city! When the natives extended their sympathies we chuckled in response. Grand Junction was a huge turning point in regards to my presentations across the country; but the point actually started turning a couple towns west, in Fruita. Cindy and I came into Fruita the same day we first met the Laceys. Before the journey I had made contact with the president of the Lions Club there, Ed Tolen. Besides giving talks to Lions Clubs I also created a few podcasts featuring Lions across the country, and Ed agreed to be interviewed while we were in Fruita. We met at the Colorado Visitor Center for the interview. Ed greeted us warmly, appreciative of what we were doing. He was young and energetic, a good get for any Lions Club, but unfortunately his job with a water company would be drawing him away from the area in the near future. We sat down in a nook of the visitor center and I asked Ed some prepared questions. The last one asked where he saw the Fruita Lions Club heading in the near future. Ed responded that he thought the Fruita Lions Club would fold. Unfortunately, Ed's response did not come as a complete surprise to me. Part of the impetus behind my mission was a decline in civic involvement for decades, even as volunteerism was on the rise. Yet this begs the question of why I was speaking to community organizations about declining civic engagement. Was this not preaching to the choir? In one sense I was delivering some new information for Lions Clubs, stressing the need for people
to be engaged WITH each other in community, rather than the more fortunate volunteering to do something FOR the less fortunate. Early on I thought I made this point clear only for someone in the audience to proudly declare: “We are right with you; out club does <insert good deed> FOR the community.” This frustration led to a turning point of using the journey to scout out examples of what doing things engaged WITH each other means, in order to drive home my call for community engagement. Yet I indeed was preaching to the choir regardless. I never created a podcast from Ed's interview, because I saw no point in adding to the “sermon” another example of declining civic engagement. Before we parted he did us the wonderful favor of paying our fee at the State Park campground in town. Added to the fresh disappointment from Ed's interview, the conversation we were about to have with our campground neighbors totally changed the direction of my mission. Our neighbors were Dan Brunson and Chris Fitting, two roommates from the Denver area. They were at the campground to cut costs while competing in a golf tournament in the area. Chris was an amateur and Dan a pro. We listened to Dan explain his zen like approach to golf, very interesting, and interesting as well to get the perspective of a pro golfer in the trenches as opposed to the sports pages. Both Dan and Chris were thirty year old bachelors. They listened to me talk about the virtues of community and responded enthusiastically. “You've got to be talking to colleges!” Dan exclaimed, and both of them proceeded to discuss how they might get me a gig at a college in the Denver area and beyond. Two days later we entered Grand Junction with a new resolve and energy to take the advice of our new, young friends. We hiked right onto the Colorado Mesa University campus with our full packs on. Within a couple hours we were invited by a teacher to speak to her social works class and met Dr. Chad Thatcher, head of the outing program at CMU. Chad was an ideas man and his ideas, along with the natural setting for recreation where CMU was located, led to a phenomenal outing program. I wanted to enroll in school again on the spot, but
Cindy was done with my previous life as a professional student. One of Chad's ideas was a program called International Learning Adventures. Students went abroad for adventures, but left some of their itinerary open to respond to what they experienced. This usually involved helping out locals in some manner, such as building a hut for those in need of shelter. This catered to Chad's philosophy that learning was all about exploring and responding to new experiences, rather than having everything planned and predetermined. One of the ILA students was Nicholas Moore. Impressed by the indomitable spirit of the seemingly less fortunate abroad, he returned home to help start a movement called Stay Positive. Amazing. I spend fifty odd years and obtain multiple degrees to conclude that we need to “Believe in Humanity” while Nicholas comes to the same conclusion and starts a whole movement around it while still a college student. I interviewed Chad and Nicholas for a podcast about ILA and Stay Positive that I recommend you check out. The impact of ILA on Nicholas reminded me of my own family's experience on a work camp trip in the Dominican Republic. Our children were 11, 13 and 14 years old at the time. Our 13 year old daughter Charissa remarked after we came back that she would rather go on work camp trips for a family vacation than go to Disneyworld. I was never more proud as a parent, nor more aware that people in our society ought to be transplanted elsewhere for a better perspective on ourselves. The outing program hosts what they call “Wednesday Night Wanderings,” a travelogue series for both the college and the larger Grand Junction community. We arrived at CMU on a Monday, by that Wednesday I became the speaker for the first program of the semester. As an evening presentation for an auditorium of people I could pull out all the stops. I showed slides of our journey to date; I performed on guitar; I talked about the virtues of community. Only now, instead of “preaching to the choir,” I was speaking to the youth that needed to hear about the virtues and need for community most. The young care. They have empathy as well as us old folks, perhaps more when they are still less jaded. They get many pleas from well organized non-profits to volunteer as a means to outlet their
caring. They don't get many pleas, if any, to engage themselves in community. Having been an instructor at many levels and venues I can tell when the light bulbs are turned on or off when I present. I could see while looking over my audience that light bulbs were shining brightly. Before leaving the campus and Grand Junction I received direct feedback from students that confirmed what I was detecting. Students generally are: 1) encouraged to volunteer rather than engage themselves in their community; and 2) moved by the need to engage in community when they finally hear a well articulated explanation for why that is needed. One college student who provided such feedback was Sami Jo Pfost, who wrote an article about our journey for the campus newspaper. For the record, I encourage no one to stop volunteering in reaction to the problems caused by forty years of increased wealth disparity; rather I encourage folks to additionally engage in community as a proactive means to head off some of these problems. The talks at the college were not the first ones I gave in Grand Junction. The Grand Junction Lions Club scheduled a presentation by me before the journey began. As depressing as Fruita's situation may be, here was a Lions Club to get excited about. At times they are the leading fundraiser among the 45,000 Lions Clubs in the world! When they are not they are surpassed only by clubs from Japan. Much of the fundraising comes from an annual carnival the Lions Club hosts. To pull off such a lucrative event they must be well situated, such as being a small city that serves as the hub for an area, and they must have something going for themselves as a club besides location. Most Lions Clubs I attended across the country had 10-20 people at the meeting. The luncheon I attended had around a hundred members in attendance. The dominant tone of the meeting is best described as playful. They roasted the president, Jeff Baker. Lion Jeff Baker roasted the members. The members roasted each other. All this embodied in little rituals designed to encourage good-natured exchange. This was a Lions Club that catered as much to the energetic young as much as the conscientious old. I felt like I was there to learn more than to teach. While in Grand Junction we spent one night in a hotel, compliments of the Lions Club; one night
at the outing program's building, sleeping on couches; and one night with RoseAnn, a contact Ky made through the UCC in Grand Junction. RoseAnn informed us about Sharefest, a weekend when Grand Junction churches close their doors while they spend the time doing some type of collaborative service for the community. RoseAnn also is involved in a clothes exchange program that sounds much like a potluck for garments. The potluck concept is one I promote as consistent with the spirit of community, I was excited to learn this different application of that community concept. For a great many reasons, Grand Junction would stand out as a town stop to remember.
Redstone was no less memorable than Grand Junction in its own way. Redstone is a small, unincorporated town nestled in a scenic mountain valley east of the Grand Mesa. The preserved history of mining adds to the appeal, along with the cultural events that occur. For the Labor Day weekend that we were there we participated in a farmer's market and attended the annual art show. As an unincorporated town Redstone must rely on volunteers for everything they get accomplished, and they accomplish much in terms of taking care of the needs of their own. At the hub of this caring community lies the Redstone Community Church where we spent the night, and Pastor Bruce Gledhill. We quickly learned that if we needed anything in town all we need do is mention Bruce's name. As we walked through town we saw the evidence of community initiatives through playgrounds, parks and preserved sites. On our final approach into Redstone we hiked with Barrett and Buster for the last time, though we did not know that then. Cindy and I stayed at McClure Campground the night before and came upon Barrett's campsite on an unmarked trail that I rightfully guessed would bring us to where we wanted to go. Barrett came to that unmarked trail by way of a local recommending this route for him to take. We were both surprised to bump into each other again on a trail that technically did not exist. I had hoped we would continue to bump into each other across the country, finishing up at the same time and then we would host Barrett at our home for a few days or months. He and Buster
enhanced our journey, particularly for Ky. His hike and work across the country increasingly tipped towards working, which led him to be in more frequent contact with Ky than with us. While Ky prides herself on being independent and living alone, there was no doubt she appreciated the company of Barrett and Buster. Ky would run into them one more time before they left the trail permanently for a job opportunity, but Redstone was where Cindy and I parted company with them for the last time. The most memorable part of our stay in Redstone came when we made a trip to nearby Carbondale for groceries and gas. There was a station giving out free ice cream samples in the supermarket. That attracted us like bears to honey. The attraction was mutual for the woman at the station, who wondered at our hiker's garb, particularly our gaitors. We explained what we were doing which got Jean Owens very excited. To understand the full impact of what followed with Jean, let us turn back to Redlands. Cindy and I stopped at a plaza there to have lunch first, before contacting our eventual hosts the Lacey family. At the local Safeway we ran into Brandon, a clerk who looked to be in this thirties. Brandon had no prospects of working at a better job, which meant he had no prospects of getting out of the trailer park. He was enthused about our walk to bring attention to the need for communities to address Housing, Health and Hunger, partly because of his own housing situation, partly because he was an avid hiker himself. As he expressed to us: “It would be nice to someday have a small backyard for my dog,” but he knew that was not going to happen for him no matter how frugal he was. This encounter was much like the one with Dre in the Cisco desert, who wanted to find us just to let us know what we were doing meant a lot to him. Not knowing at the time if he would find us he also sent us an email expressing his heartfelt thanks. I did not see Dre's email until we had wifi access at the Safeway plaza, right after Brandon finished giving us his heartfelt thanks as well. My eyes started misting as I juxtaposed Dre's email with meeting Brandon. We seemed to be getting caught up in something beyond us on this journey. The homeless issue confronted us again on the Grand Mesa of all places. We stayed a couple
nights and spent a rest day at the Mesa Lakes Lodge, out of the goodness of Steve Stiers. Steve acquired the lodge for his retirement job and he presented the laid back persona of one leaving the rate race behind. We were not the only beneficiaries of his goodhearted nature. The Mesa Lakes Lodge became the ticket out of homelessness for one of his employees. Holly first became homeless in Denver, moved to Grand Junction for better prospects that never materialized, before arriving at Mesa Lakes Lodge. Throughout her ordeal she did not fit the stereotype of the homeless any more than did the river guides Dre and April. I interviewed her for a podcast; her story is more common than mainstream America is led to think. In this case there was a resolution brought about independently of well meaning programs set up to address the growing problem. How often are such “off the grid” local solutions being applied across the country that we now need to celebrate and embrace? I had a mission as we hiked across the country, but I never thought of myself as a crusader. By the time the three of us encountered Jean at a Carbondale supermarket this stretch had been priming me for crusader mode. Jean and husband Cody used to do the same type of thing as us. They once spent 4 ½ months bicycling around Colorado for causes, in particular Alzheimer's. Her husband was a Vietnam veteran suffering from Agent Orange. Towards the end he needed a special hand-powered bicycle to continue raising awareness for causes. Now he was gone, but Jean saw in us the embodiment of what she and her soulmate once were all about. As Jean was telling us about her husband and their involvement in causes her eyes moistened. Our eyes moistened. She cried. We cried. We all hugged each other. We left the supermarket now feeling we were hiking for the Rogers, the Dres AND the Jeans out there across America. Podcast: International Learning Adventures at Colorado Mesa University Podcast: Mesa Lakes Lodge, with music from Lisa Lingo Podcast: Holly on Homelessness Podcast: Grand Mesa People and Places Podcast: An Evening with Texas Bow Hunters
Podcast: Motorized and Non-motorized Trails Podcast: Redstone
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