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highest incorporated town in the United States at 10,161 feet and the temperature reflects that. During the Continental Divide Trail Expedition we came down into Leadville for a respite from snowstorms—at the end of September—and spent an evening in the fire station while the temperature dipped to single digits. Recalling the trials of our CDT hike, the reason we hiked twenty plus mile days through the desert over the summer was to get to the Divide before the bad weather started. I thought that coming through here a couple weeks earlier than we did in 1985 would be sufficient. Coming into Leadville we did not know where we were going to stay. For old times sake I had hoped the fire station again, but as we were hiking into town we met John Nicholas. We chatted for awhile and he invited us to stay at his place. His “place” was really two places plus a few outbuildings cramped together, along CO 24 south of town. You did not think “affluence” while passing by the homes along that stretch. John was there because he left his air conditioning and heating business along the Front Range to take care of his elderly Uncle Louie. The property was now his, including all the antique furniture that made Ky envious. In Ky's estimation John could have sold those antiques for a fortune. John did not view his family's homestead through the lens of dollar signs, though he was not set on remaining there, either. He worked a temporary job driving a huge hauler for a molybdenum mining operation; he hoped to get a more permanent gig elsewhere. We at first declined to stay with John, because at the time I had my heart set on the fire station. In parting John tried to give us money for our cause but we declined that as well. This was not a neighborhood where you felt right taking money from people. When we were about a half mile up the road John drives up, hops out of his car and declares we dropped something. As I held out my hand he snuck a twenty dollar bill into it and took off back for home.
I'll confess something that I'm ashamed to admit. John had such an incredible aura of gentleness about him that upon first impression I thought he was simple. Here I am touting kindness across the country, yet when I find the embodied spirit of kindness I judge there must be something unusual about the person. We ended up staying with John after all, as the fire station did not work out, and we discovered he was not “simple,” just a genuinely kind and gentle man; the kind of person you never forget no matter how brief the encounter. There was something unusual about John after all. John wanted us to sleep in his own bed, but we drew the line in accepting this kindness. We slept on the floor of the “other” house on the property, the one teeming with rare antiques. Because John got up so early to work we never saw him outside of the first day, even though we proceeded to take a rest day and spend two nights in Leadville. On the morning we left we could not say good-bye to this gentle soul, which for a little while became my biggest regret on the journey.
Given past history, perhaps we should have been satisfied with the cloudy, cold, raw weather we faced heading out of Leadville, but this was supposed to be our vacation. Ahead was Argentine Pass, the highest point along the American Discovery Trail at 13,183 feet, which we were supposed to cross on September 19, our 25th anniversary. Up until now the little “vacations” we intended on the journey were like week-end retreats. This now was supposed to be our grand anniversary vacation, but the forecast was not promising. Much of the second day out of Leadville was on roads, with approaching storm clouds looking more ominous throughout the day. We crossed the Divide back to the west side at Fremont Pass, which set us up for that final crossing of the Divide back to the east side at Argentine Pass. Before reaching Fremont Pass we crossed the Arkansas River for our first time, at this point flowing through a small culvert underneath the road we were on. We would approach this river again many more times east of the Divide, in different shapes and conditions. The day was supposed to be “only” twenty miles, as we would camp near a trailhead at Copper
Mountain before heading up to the Colorado Trail. We had been on both the Colorado and Continental Divide Trails already and, unlike the less known trails, were well maintained and a delight to hike on. We were looking forward to hiking on these well groomed trails again, though with also some apprehension because of the darkening clouds. We took a break just before the trailhead at Daylight Donuts near Copper Mountain, where Andrew and Natalie gave us some of their pastries that they otherwise would throw out at the end of the day. Andy Held, a resident of nearby Frisco, came in and spotted our full packs as well as my Mountainsmith camera bag. One of his clients as a web marketer was Mountainsmith, as was the Copper Mountain ski resort that brought him to this same doughnut shop. We engaged in conversation over our common interests of outdoor recreation and having a positive impact on society. He noticed the poor condition of Cindy's backpack; I commented I would ask Mountainsmith for a backpack as a replacement. He said he would put in a good word for us, which turned out to be the least of his assistance. I asked him directions for the Colorado Trail trailhead. Andy obliged but added that at least ten inches of snow was expected in the mountains that evening. He suggested that if we continued down a bike trail to Frisco instead he would put us up for the night. We took his advice and went the six extra miles to Frisco, finishing at dusk. This became our longest day of the journey with full packs, 26 miles, aggravating the occasional troubles with my left foot. When we reached Frisco we gave Andy a call and he instructed us to go to the Hotel Frisco where he paid for our lodging. Bad weather lasted through the next day. The mountains were cloaked in white as Andy predicted, though Frisco was being drenched instead with a cold rain. We met Andy and his wife Wendy at Rocky Mountain Coffee Roasters to chat some more; I created a podcast regarding his communal experiences with an art gallery. He set us up for an interview at the Summit Daily, our next stop after parting company for good with Andy. Had we gone on the Colorado Trail we would be hiking nearer to Breckenridge than Frisco. Ky
now needed to come to us and bring us back to Breckenridge because of an arrangement to stay at a cabin owned by Kent and Melissa, son and daughter-in-law of Pastor Bruce Gledhill back in Redstone. After our interview at the Summit Daily we decided to wait for Ky at the Frisco Visitor Center. While waiting for Ky we spent about ten minutes chatting with Gretchen and Ardie Davis and their friend Gloria. They were “visitors” to Frisco as well, having come to the area for a wedding. They were very psyched about what we were doing; I gave them my card and they gave us twenty dollars. A couple days earlier John had to trick us into taking twenty dollars, but that was not the case here. We never solicited money from the people we met outside of the talks I gave. Sometimes I felt sheepish when money was offered; sometimes I accepted the donation readily when the “aura” seemed right. Something seemed right about accepting this donation, as if donating to our cause was simply a natural thing for Gretchen and Ardie to do and we naturally needed to accept. Those two sequential stops at the Summit Daily and Frisco Visitor Center would lead to two separate chains of serendipitous events, the first short term and the latter affecting us all the way into Illinois. Both of these were, in turn, the result of our serendipitous meeting with Andy Held and our route change bringing us to Frisco. Stay tuned for how this all plays out. From Breckenridge we packed for five days, not meeting up with Ky again until Idaho Springs, on the other side of Argentine Pass. This was determined when we planned for this stretch to be a vacation and did not change these plans now that bad weather kept us low and stalling our progress for awhile. We did not part with Ky until late in the afternoon the first day, after she dropped us off back in Frisco. Because of our late start we planned to camp in just a few miles on National Forest land in between Frisco and Dillon. We targeted a campground first, but the host would not give us any kind of break over the motorized campers; in fact, he was cranky that we even asked. As we kept hiking we failed to find a suitable spot on within the National Forest, which then brought us out to the Dillon Reservoir. Camping along the reservoir was out of the question, which caused us to continue further until
we reached the town of Dillon, now at dusk. This was a bad situation, having to find a place to camp in a built up tourist area after dark. We came to a town park, now almost deserted except for two police officers in the parking lot by their cruiser. I went up to one and announced: “Excuse me, we are walking 5,000 miles across the country. We overshot where we intended to camp tonight on National Forest Land. Is there anywhere in town where you would let us camp for the night?” Apparently, the officer mainly focused on the first thing I said, which he found somewhat incredulous. He replied: “The police around here don't have a sense of humor. There's no camping in town.” I then resorted to a trick that worked for some backpacker friends of mine once, though in retrospect this might not have been the best follow-up: “Well, then, could you put us in jail for the night?” The officer again replied: “I told you, we don't have a sense of humor here. We'll just write you a ticket.” We were very much on a low budget for the journey, but we no longer had a choice; we had to get a hotel room for the night. We went to a nearby Best Western and tried to sweet talk the night clerk into the best deal possible. The young woman wanted to accommodate us, but she was on the low end of the corporate totem pole, not in a position of making decisions such as comping a room. We got an AARP discount for the night. More rain came during the night, which made us glad we “bit the bullet” with the added expense. The next morning we made sure we got our fill of the complimentary breakfast. There we noticed we were given headline coverage from the Summit Daily that morning. More importantly, the hotel manager noted the coverage and comped us the room after all. I don't know if the police officer ever saw the story on us, but others did that day. As we hiked
along a bike path from Dillon to Keystone one elderly couple stopped their car just to talk with us. Soon after that Deborah Steiner recognized us from the newspaper story and hiked with us for a short bit on the bike path. She offered to put us up in a hotel in Keystone, but we wanted to make it beyond Keystone for a short mileage hike the next day over Argentine Pass. She gave us her number in case we changed our minds. The most interesting meeting that day came as we waited out one of many showers at a bus stop. Jaclyn's bridal party shared the bus stop with us, in the area for a little fun before the October 8 wedding. Two of the party were from her home in Texas (what is it about Texans in Colorado?); three were from the seminary she attended in Denver. When the shower subsided we all walked together to a coffee shop where Jaclyn treated us to iced caramel mochas. We attempted to leave Keystone only to encounter the heaviest shower of the day. We holed up in another bus stop just outside of town, one in the process of being painted by Reid. He was originally from New Hampshire and his father, like us, had hiked the Appalachian Trail. Reid was done for the day and for us, enough was enough. In the hopes that the weather would break by the morrow we gave Deb a call. She made arrangements for us to stay at the Arapahoe Inn in Keystone and Reid was glad to give us a ride there while talking to us about long distance hiking.
Our day out of Keystone featured nice, cool weather. Time to “go for it,” which meant going over Argentine Pass the day before our anniversary. We put in a long twenty mile day, longer than I envisioned ahead of time for this special event. Fortunately, the more recent rain events down low were also rain events higher up, so much of the snow from the original storm that kept us low was gone. As we neared the pass we had to carefully stamp through some snow patches while traversing steep slopes, the kind of situation that heightens the senses a bit, but most of the way was clear. I estimated the mid-day temperature to be in the teens at the pass, which would make our coldest afternoon of the journey happen on September 18. We sat down on the lee side of the pass, though the
sound of the wind remained pervasive. We watched another hiker come up to join us. Josh and his dog were planning a circuit around to Grays Peak, very ambitious for the time of day when they were now at the pass and I'm guessing they eventually came up with a Plan B. I thought the route from Argentine Pass to Denver would be all downhill, but that set me up for a rude awakening. We spent our anniversary in Georgetown, camped in the backyard of the library in town. Our old hiking buddy Mike Hinckley came out to meet us for our anniversary, and he would maintain a big presence in our hike from there to near his home in Denver. Also meeting us in Georgetown the next morning was Dave “Rocky” Rockwell, who also lived in the Denver area and became the second old high school friend to hike with us for a day. Rocky was very fit from avid cycling and had no trouble keeping up with us, which was a good thing because the route from Georgetown to Idaho Springs had a significant ascent and descent. He was one of the brightest kids in my high school class and was currently a lawyer. We got into long talks about old times and discussions about the issues. In Idaho Springs Ky had made a connection for us with Stacey Todd, with whom we had a bit in common. She was a long distance hiker, having thru-hiked the Colorado Trail. Stacey also played women's college basketball. Considering that Cindy and I are both UConn alumni, being women's college basketball fans comes with the territory. Stacey had played with AAU ball with ex-UConn players Ann Strothers and Keirsten Wauters. In the evening we went out for pizza with both Stacey and Rocky, and stayed in Stacey's home that night. We were to have many nice stays with incredibly gracious hosts throughout the year, but this one was special because of Stacey's shared passion for long distance hiking. There are things about our passion that are understood only by others with the same passion. From Idaho Springs we hiked to Kittredge, once again with another steep ascent and descent in between. I remember this particular day as feeling in the best condition of the journey. I charged up the steep descent with full pack on and the feeling that my lungs and legs now could handle anything, like
when I was a young pup. Late in the day I made a navigational error that brought us to a private road with lots of posted signs. Yet the road was displayed on my map as continuing on through to Kittredge so we kept going. The first house we came to was modest, hardly what you would associate with a private road. The owner was outside and I went up to him to find out the scoop. Had we gone farther on the private road we would have ended up on former presidential candidate Gary Hart's property. “Paully Wally” (as he introduced himself) told us that Hart did not take kindly to strangers on his property instructed us how to bushwhack around the edge of the property. We felt a little bit like guerrilla commandos as we negotiated forest, steep slopes and streams to get to the other side. Mike hooked us up with a ski-patrol friend of his in Kittredge, though he informed us that Sue would not be back from work as a nurse yet when we arrived. We set up our tent in Sue's backyard, where we also chatted with her neighbor Judy. When Sue arrived she brought us out some hot cider and invited us to stay inside, but we were fine camped where we were. The next day we came to the Castle Trail, which brought us over the last hump of hills to overlook Denver. Beyond Denver was nothing but flat plains. We would be heading back up into the Front Range when we left Denver heading south, but there was still an aura of sudden change before us. Behind us was the wilderness part of our journey and summer, as wintry as summer can be in the mountains. Immediately ahead of us was fall on the prairie and communities. The bulk of our “mission” for this journey now lay below us, stretching out to the horizon and beyond. Just like we never hiked the desert in summer before, we never hiked the prairie in, well, at all. In a sense a brand, spanking new experience with all its uncertainly lay ahead of us.
Mike joined us for the final leg of this stretch to Chatfield Lake. Ky met us there and brought us all over to a Mexican Restaurant, Mike's treat of course, and on to his home in <>. We stayed at Mike's place for two days, catching up on blogs and other Internet stuff as well as preparing for the next leg of
our journey. We then left our old friend for a new one, Dan Brunson, one of the two young golfers we met at a campground in Fruita, CO. Dan had worked as a chef and that was evident in the meal he prepared for us. During and after dinner we talked about golfing. I've played golf, but not often because of the expense. I could understand the enjoyment if one is not easily prone to frustration, but did not really think of the sport as for the masses and the underprivileged as is the case with basketball. Dan changed my mind a bit on golf. He shared with me a program by the PGA where they mentor youth based on the sportsmanship of golf. In a game like basketball you try to get away with what you can. Bumping people off of position, grabbing their shirts and other tricks are fair game if not caught by the referee. In golf this would be unthinkable. Golfers are expected to play precisely by the rules and self-report when something goes wrong. Failing to do so would incur being ostracized by your peers. By mentoring youth PGA golfers were passing this honor code on to them. Before meeting Dan and his friend Chris, I was just giving talks to Lions Clubs. After that meeting I started to target colleges; the University of Colorado at Denver was set up through Dan's connections. Since our first encounter with Dan I had presented to four colleges, including one at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville and at Colorado School of Mines in Golden. The talk I gave at UC Denver led to perhaps the most glowing testimonial I received, provided by Student Activities Director Joe Halter. Dan's connections also led to a community radio appearance which I did right after the presentation. This was the second third radio interview I did while in Colorado, including an additional community radio in Crested Butte and an interview I did over the phone for a North Dakota station while we were in Leadville. An NBC television station in Grand Junction also did a short spot on us. More coverage meant more opportunities to get out the message of kindness and community across America. Ky brought us to both the college presentation and the radio interview. After that she parted company to go back home for the first time. We had gone back home for a wedding while in Utah and
we would be doing so again in a few days. Ky was getting the jump on us in leaving but we all would be coming back to the Denver airport on October 4. After the radio interview we were picked up by Dan and he brought us to a campground by Chatfield Lake. During the journey we had a few people join us for hiking, but Dan became the only person who actually camped out with us. He prepared another fine meal as we celebrated his birthday. The next morning we left in search for an IHOP where we could treat Dan to a birthday breakfast, before the zen golfer finally brought us to where we left off hiking. Besides becoming a close friend in a short amount of time, Dan and his friend Chris changed the direction of our journey from the time we first camped with them in Fruita. This made saying goodbye to Dan very difficult. Such tough departures soon would start to pile up. Podcast: Argentine Pass Podcast: Seasons
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