CHAPTER 11: CHANCE ENCOUNTERS Denver to Canon City; Days 126-138 (6 rest); Distance = 114 Miles; People Met

= 53 Our hike away from Denver shouted out fall. The leaves were in full color around Chatfield Lake and Roxborough State Park. In Roxborough colorful leaves combined with colorful rock to form spectacular scenery. You expect to find spectacular scenery in Arches National Park or along the Continental Divide, Roxborough was along the lines of a hidden jewel, and all the more gratifying because of it. I likened the experience of hiking through Roxborough to when I watched Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark in the movie theater. Most blockbuster movies are hyped to attract large audiences expecting to see a blockbuster. I heard nothing about Indiana Jones ahead of time; I'm not sure why I even decided to go. All I know is that by the time that rock came rolling down towards Harrison Ford I was hooked, just like I was hooked by the surprising beauty of Roxborough. From Roxborough we headed almost due south towards Pikes Peak. We came to the small town of Sprucewood, which consisted mainly of a restaurant. The proprietors there held a community potluck dinner every Monday evening that served the same function as a church potluck. The potluck helped to bring the community together while also providing a square meal for those who might be missing one occasionally. After having climbed back up to the Front Range again we then followed the South Platte River south. The foliage created a spectacular scene on the mountains sloping down to meet the river. Primitive campgrounds and picnic sites dotted our route, accommodating the fishermen who visit the South Platte. We stopped at one primitive campground to fill up with water, only to discover there was not a faucet. I was told this by Dan and Shannon, up from Texas (where else?) for a fishing vacation. Shannon was an academic with faith, which meant we had some common ground right from the start. Her partner Dan was a bit older and had two vocations: he doubled as a border guard and a pastor.

Dan confessed that as a border guard he did not trust people. I checked out OK ahead of time because his dog accepted me. His dim view of humanity combined with his other vocation led to an interesting conversation that would be touched upon repeatedly through the remainder of the journey. I shared with Dan, as I did in talks across the country, that the essence of our problem with community was belonging to other things besides each other first and foremost. We belong to material things, ideologies and/or our selves as a greater priority. “Do you know why that's so?” Dan asked, in what turned out to be a rhetorical question. After a brief answer on my part he responded: “People don't belong to God!” I previously worked on my own theories for what was getting in the way of community. “Belonging to God” was not one of the reasons I came up with, but I was ill prepared for a theological debate about it. Little did I know this would relate to the greatest theological question of the journey, perhaps of my life and perhaps of anyone's life. Nor could I have known that I would get my first answer to the eventual question that very same afternoon.

We came into the small town of Deckers looking mainly to fill up with water and continue on until we reached National Forest land. The local restaurant and ice cream shop had an outside deck but no apparent outside approach. We stood around looking dumb for a few moments when a pick-up truck pulled up. A man with long blonde hair, glasses and tattoos came up to us with an energetic bounce and asked what we were doing. Don then asked us if we wanted to come inside to his wife's restaurant. Inside the restaurant we were treated to a couple treated us to beers. Bret was a trail runner adapting to climbing and Jennifer was a climber adapting to trail running. Their hospitality added on to Don and Leah's. Don very much wanted us to spend the night in their upstairs apartment. We were a little hesitant about this because they both smoked, but we sensed that accepting his hospitality mattered a great deal to Don. That evening we found out why. Because of their different schedules we chatted with Don in the evening over goulash, while Leah

was working. We talked to Leah in the morning, after Don had left for Denver where he worked. Both originally came from Denver; both had similar stories to tell. I'll focus on Leah's as an easier one to relate. Leah grew up surrounded by her Dad's motorcycle gang, and later became involved in a gang herself. She did some bad things for which she served time. Leah actually claimed to once be a “bad person,” though she did not consider herself to be bad now, for extremely good reason. At one point Don and Leah decided enough was enough and through a connection provided by Don's mother Donna were able to move away from the city to Deckers. In this small community Don and Leah became model citizens. They dutifully attended community meetings, engaged in community activities and provided firewood and food to people in need. This was not an easy lifestyle they now chose, particularly with Don's long commutes to Denver, but they gave every indication of being content. They had no regrets about switching from an easier lifestyle of trouble to a harder lifestyle of responsibility. They were very excited about belonging to this small community. How this relates to a grand theological question I'll get into later. Their new found community enthusiasm and contentment related to the earlier conversation I had with Dan and Shannon in that they did not come by this belonging to others by belonging to God first. Their old life left them empty; this new communal life was fulfilling, simple as that. I reflected that the opposite was not likely to occur. People do not go from a responsible life to a troubled one feeling fulfilled. They may find themselves forever trapped in their new troubled life, or perhaps even desirous of some addictive aspects of a troubled life, but not particularly contented or fulfilled. Whether or not this inner sense of good or bad is instilled by God, belief or belonging to God is not necessary to bring this out. This is what I would later relate to the two great commandments.

The day after Deckers we hiked into Woodland Park where we picked up by perhaps the most

famous person in the eyes of American Discovery Trail hikers, Dick Bratton. Dick was Vice-President of the American Discovery Trail, Trail Coordinator for Colorado and the main Public Relations person for the organization. He kept track of travelers out on the American Discovery Trail each year and sent out monthly updates to those travelers. Dick ultimately was the cause for us hooking up with Barrett and Buster for a spell. Dick served as the acting mayor for Great Mountain Falls, a small but vibrant town with a population of about 350. He also was head of the crew that built and maintained trails around the scenic Pikes Peak area, often times with grants that Dick secured. Dick brought up the health angle of building trails to me, both in terms of a healthy activity and the health that trail recreation enhances in others. Since our inefficient health insurance system seems permanently entrenched (Obamacare relies on corporate insurers as well), communities need to find ways to minimize the need for insurance. Community activities aimed at prevention now become important for both physical and financial wellbeing. Our stay with Dick in Green Mountain Falls delivered a few cherished memories. Dick drove us up to the top of 14,000' Pikes Peak, but I would not even put that first. More memorable were the mornings spent having breakfast at The Pantry, located in what amounts to the very small “business district” of Green Mountain Falls. As a bachelor Dick appeared to be very fond of eating out. Meanwhile, the locals seemed fond of having Dick eat out and available for them to drop by and chat. We got the impression that Dick very well may be the most popular man in town. Dick's place became the base camp for our second trip back to Connecticut for a wedding. This time we left for four days, as I also taught a one day Elderhostel course based on my book Systems out of Balance. Our return coincided with Ky's, who left to visit family in Denver. While Cindy and I stayed at Dick's, Ky stayed with his neighbors Martha and Neal Ekker. We had dinner with them one evening, along with Dick and Mike Grabon. Neal Ekker was an academic, taught guitar and wrote adventure mystery novels based on his

experiences leading rafting trips. He also once worked for ESRI, which provided common ground with my own former career as a GIS Manager. Martha was a cancer survivor and one of the most positive people we met along the way. She hails from back east and was a dedicated trail angel for Appalachian Trail hikers. The evening was a mixture of “talking shop” (trail hiking and building) and playing music. We could spend so many days at Dick's place because we day hiked for awhile using Great Mountain Falls as home base. On one of those days we hiked on a trail that Dick's crew just finished building, starting right from Great Mountain Falls and bringing us up to a shoulder of Pike's Peak with over one hundred switchbacks. I attended a trail crew meeting that evening and was delighted to give them a glowing report on their handiwork, one of the best built trails I've ever been on. Mike, our common dinner guest at the Ekker's the evening before, became our guide on this new trail that he helped to build. As a very bright and very talkative guide there was never a dull moment that day we hiked with him. Like my conservative nephew Tom, Mike feels things have gotten so out of hand with government that some type of revolution is in order. I suggested that the antidote to the problems of national government is not different national government but community. This became a heated discussion, my only one with a self-proclaimed liberal during the journey.

Our next stop after leaving Dick's was Cripple Creek, a town steeped in mining history and casinos. The hike into Cripple Creek was marked by overcast and cold weather, the harbinger of a large snowstorm on the way. We met Ky at the Cripple Creek community center, where she scouted out free camping for us at the nearby campground. She in turn was leaving the area as soon as possible to avoid being trapped by the snowstorm. Just as she was getting ready to leave a white pick-up pulled in next to us. Out popped John Nicholas from Leadville! In the few weeks since we last saw him he managed to land a steadier job driving haulers in nearby Victory. My biggest regret of the journey was now resolved as we all gave each other hugs good-bye. He did not try to sneak a twenty into my hand this time.

We set up the tent in the evening at the campground just as the snow started to fall. The campground was mainly for RVs and mobile homes, but there was a site for tenting. There was another tent there but we never met the occupants. Wet, heavy snow continued to fall throughout the night. Because of the adhering texture and weight I needed to bang the snow off the tent occasionally to prevent collapse. Then twice during the night I needed to climb out of the tent to move the accumulating snow away from the entrances. The neighboring tent did in fact collapse as a result of the twelve inches of wet snow. Two more inches came the next night, while in between we took a rest day at the campground. This had the feel of the “good ol' days” as a kid staying home from school because of snow. The campground had an office with bathrooms, laundromat, convenience store, television and warmth. We talked with Chris Jacobs, a musician that lived at the RV park while lounging in the laundromat. He retrieved his guitar and started playing, while sharing his dissatisfaction with how Cripple Creek had changed. Before the casinos there used to be a handful of cafes/pubs where musicians performed, blending in with the historical mining theme of the town. Now with the casinos local musicians were replaced with either larger acts or with karaoke, eroding in Chris's mind the original character of the town. A town welcomes casinos for the money they bring. Yet the supporting economy is in large part a low wage service economy. We were camped among the very evidence that this money is distributed in highly disparate ways, with much of it going to benefactors outside the town. The RV parks of Cripple Creek or the tent cities of Moab result from an economic system where disparity has increased steadily for over forty years. I don't think mere coincidence explains a connection between wealth disparity increasing steadily for forty years and another conversation we had in the office of the RV park. A woman who once worked for a corporation was now down on her luck. At one point she lashed out against “death” and “double” taxes. This may not seem unusual to you, diatribes against these are common, yet let's look a little closer

to the issue First, “death” and “double” taxes help the less fortunate such as this woman. Taxes come from somewhere. “Death” (an inflammatory term for inheritance) and “double” taxes mainly target the wealthy. Thus, as less taxes come from this demographic, more of the “tax pie” have to come from the less wealthy. Second, you here much more complaining about “death” and “double” taxes now than forty years ago, despite the fact that both have been reduced over that time span. Let's concede for a moment that eliminating those taxes is fair, a concession I'll take back in a moment. We are more “fair” about those taxes now than forty years ago, yet the complaining about them has grown exponentially; to the point that people like the woman in the RV park are irate about them even though they are in her own best selfinterest. Something peculiar is at work here. Third, “death” and “double” taxes are indeed fair. Wealth cannot be stored and concentrated without government. I realize backing this claim requires a long treatise in a society where people think corporate executives can be self-made people, but let me put out this one simple example for now. Squatters rights are the natural rule for property. You cannot own property 1,000 miles away save for the existence of government. This simple reality can be extended to all of accumulated wealth, which makes taxation of concentrated wealth by the only entity that enables concentrated wealth fair. Fourth, “death” and “double” taxes are not only fair, they are desirable. A sound economy is one where wealth is backed by production, rather than have money or income float down out of thin air. Inherited wealth is not backed by production by the inheritor. Let's take this to the extreme. An economy where all wealth is inherited means one where no production occurs. That is an economy headed for disaster. In contrast, an economy where everything is backed by production is the strongest possible economy. Much the same arguments can be applied to the capital gains involved in “double” taxation. Since taxes rightly are viewed as a disincentive, you want as much of your taxes coming from unearned wealth as financially possible.

Thus people down on their luck who happen to be irate about “death” and “double” taxes spite themselves in regards to something that is fair, desirable and in their best self-interest … and they are likely to be more irate about it now than even wealthy people were forty years ago, when the “death” and “double” taxes were greater and the wealthy controlled less wealth than they do now. The cause of such unintuitive behavior is one of the most important questions facing our society but, alas, that's not for a book like this to delve into deeper.

One benefit from taking a rest day in Cripple Creek was taking advantage of 49 cent breakfasts at Bronco Billy's on two successive mornings. Casinos often have deals like this as a means of attracting more customers to gamble, where the real money is made. In our case we did not even have to pay the 49 cents the second morning; the shift manager Janie was an avid backpacker who supported what we were doing and our breakfast was on the house. We tried to leave a tip but our waitress Linda gave it back. After our early breakfast we began out long descent out of Cripple Creek down the Shelf Road. This became the most remarkable day of transition on the whole journey. Indeed, we appeared to be transitioning back in time in regards to the landscapes encountered. We started at an elevation near 10,000 feet, amidst a foot of snow and subalpine meadows of fir and aspen, very much representative of the Colorado mountains we hiked through. We then descended into a narrow gorge, the depth of snow lessening the whole time until we descended below snow level. The gorge was reminiscent of Utah, even featuring an arch along the way. The gorge broadened out into wider, box canyons, similar to the ones encountered in Nevada. Some hunters stopped to tell us about bighorn sheep up ahead, reminiscent of the bighorn sheep we encountered in Nevada. We spotted a few climbers negotiating these canyon walls on a Sunday. Twelve miles later that day we ate lunch by some cactus, mostly out onto the plains by this time, but with some low hills still around us. A very long day brought us finally into Canon City, a prison town. I did not have good vibes about our chances for camping out around there and gave Ky a call.

Turns out she had her own problems with camping in Canon City the night before but was now staying with friends in West Pueblo. She fetched us and brought us back to the home of Don and Laura Craven, the first base camp for the longest part of our journey, heading across the plains of America.

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