Yet another post with a John Denver song title. Last time was for West Virginia, nicknamed “The Mountain Stare”. No offense to the folks from Appalachia, but those “mountains” are anthills compared to the majesties of the Rockies. At some point in western Kansas, surrounded by long rolling hills and farmland, I reached 3000 feet in elevation- the same height above sea level as the higher mountains in West Virginia. It was hard to tell, but throughout Kansas, I was slowly and gradually walking uphill. As I crossed into Colorado, setting my watch back an hour for mountain time, I expected to see the Rockies at the top of each hill. In truth, Eastern Colorado is full of flat, wide open cattle range. A postcard from Limon, Colorado joked that the name of the town was just an acronym for “Life In the Middle Of Nowhere”. I pressed on, motivated by the generosity I was shown while passing through “nowhere”. I was also fueled by some water drops from some newfound friends near the western Kansas state line.
I was so excited to get that first glimpse that I walked my longest day, 28 miles, the 2nd day i was in Colorado, then did it again a few days later. Nearly 50 miles away from Colorado Springs and I got my first hazy view of Pikes Peak, elevation 14,000 feet. It took a couple days to reach the city at the base of the mountains, stopping to bunker down in a church basement to wait out a Spring blizzard for a day, but then all of the sudden, BAM! There they were in their full glory.
I walked a little slower, entirely in awe of this new habitat I wandered into. It didn’t take long to realize how diverse and eccentric Colorado really is- one night i was hosted by an active military family at the Air Force base, and the next with the Twelve Tribes of Israel- a religious group that forfeits all their personal worldly attachments to live and work in a communal family group (or tribe). They didn’t have much in common except that they were willing to help me.
But as excited as I was to jump into things, I was wiped out. Kansas was windy and cold, and truly tested my fortitude. I was ready for some recuperation and chilling time. One of my best buddies, Seth, who goes to school in Montana, was coming down to Colorado with a few of his school friends to ski at Vail for its closing weekend. Thankfully for me, he found time to pick me up in Manitou Springs and let me hop onto his weekend ski trip. I am not a skier, and did not want to spend all my money on a lift ticket, or risk a jeopardizing injury as many noobs are wont to do. While they were busy shredding the gnar, I explored Vail on foot, making some connections for when I would walk through later. I watched the pond-skimming event, looked through all the expensive shops, and went to a free concert every night with Seth and his/my new friends (including Sublime and Jimmy Cliff). It was awesome to see a familiar face from home and laugh about inside jokes, something I hadn’t done in quite a while.
So, I decided to extend my vacation for another few days and ride back to Montana with them. Seth, for the 2nd time (first to come down to Colorado and now on the at back to Montana), drove through a blizzard throughout the night in his Volkswagen Vanagon with 7 passengers sitting on a pile of stuff in the back. It was uncomfortable and cramped, but I wouldn’t have rather been anywhere else just then. I spent 5 days in Bozeman, Montana at Montana State University, chilling with Seth, his friends, and another friend from home who also goes to school there, Casey. We played frisbee, I jammed on the pianos in every lobby, and stuffed my face at the all you can eat cafeteria. The day before I left, Seth and I took a trip through Yellowstone National Park, which was like traveling to another planet in some far-off galaxy. The next morning, I walked to the interstate off-ramp and stuck out my thumb. It took 2 days and only 3 rides and I had hitched all the way back to where I left off. It got the job done, but I much prefer walking.
I couldn’t be in a better mood and couldn’t resume my hike from a better spot- the Garden of the Gods. From Colorado Springs to Denver, I skirted the base of the mountains, getting a taste of the wacky Colorado culture I learned to love so much, and getting help from friends of family and the family of friends along the way. I began to meet many other vagabonds/transients/travelers most of whom would hitchhike from place to place. There was a dispensary on nearly every corner in the city, supposedly more common than Starbucks. It was very strange the first time I saw a dude walk out of a dispensary with 2 full brown lunch bags full of guess what. If this same dude was in Kansas, he could get locked up for a decade before he had the chance to blink. In Colorado, however, it was legal and completely in the norm.
As I ascended into the mountains, it was like walking into a dream. There were snow-capped mountains all around, waterfalls and dense rivers, bighorn sheep and mule deer, black-billed magpies and goshawks, spruce and birch trees, etc. No wonder why so many people I met in Colorado spend so much time outdoors. Once I reached the ski resorts, I was hosted by one resort employee after another. Many of them knew each other or worked together and just happened to pick me up without knowledge that the other had done so the night before. To get to Loveland Pass at nearly 12,000 feet in elevation, I spent a couple days trudging through shin deep snow and huddling next to a fire at night to stay warm. It could have taken an additional couple days, but some really groovy folks at the Easter Seal disabilities camp let me crash in a room COMPLETELY FILLED WITH PILLOWS. Once I did get to the top of the pass, I was 4 times higher than in West Virginia, but 100 times more amazed. It’s a truly spectacular sight.
A few days later, I was back in Vail. It was much easier walking on top of the snow on Vail Pass thanks to some free snowshoes complimentary of one of the ski resort employees I met. I didn’t see any of the dudes I met last time in Vail, but I did meet a chick who let me stay in her apartment while she went on a crazy bike ride in New Mexico. The next day, completely by chance, I did run into the dudes from last time, one town over. We played frisbee golf, made some dank food, they partied like it was 1999, and I partied like it was 1969 if you know what I mean.
In Eagle, Colorado I met a kid who has inspired me more than anyone I’ve met so far on this hike. His name is Weston and he sat next to me and introduced himself as I was taking a break. We spent a long time sharing stories and digging each others perspectives on life. It was evident from the start that he is a deep thinker- the kind of person with the capacity to accomplish many amazing things. He felt stuck in Eagle, and after working on a farm in North Carolina, he knew he had to begin his adventure soon, but he was struggling with where to start. Within 24 hours, he was ready to join me, even with the knowledge that I was about to walk into the desert. At first, I was excited to have a new potential walking partner, but after a little thought I started to worry. This made me think about how I had changed since I started walking and I realized that I wouldn’t have been able to keep up with my current pace. To his credit, Weston had become more prepared in one day than I had after 10 months of planning. He already had a solid grasp of what he would be facing and showed an admirable level of confidence and courage. Ultimately, I felt that I need to finish my journey as I started, and that he would gain much more from starting his adventure solo as well. Weston, you are a true hero of mine and I hope our paths cross again. We will both be much wiser when that time comes.
It was starting to get warmer and I was camping out every day, making great pace. I would get chewed up by mosquitos, but the swallows would swoop in and snatch them out of the air, right before my eyes. I was starting to descend through the canyons and I knew Summer was about to start because I was getting sunburned again. I looked back the next morning and I had made it down the last of the Rocky Mountains. I was on the edge of the desert now and it was getting hot very fast; I needed to carry more water. So much for the spring i was familiar with. While in Grand Junction, I got a wagon to carry my stuff along with a few water jugs, and I picked up a wide-brimmed straw hat so I wouldn’t get burned as bad. The problems started almost immediately with the wagon. It tipped over and spilled out all my stuff numerous times, the wheels popped, it strained my arms, and it was impossible to maneuver off-road. I had a very rough couple days on the trail and decided to turn back and walk on the road again. Then the worst happened. My camera was nowhere to be found. When I realized it wasn’t around my neck that morning, I spent an entire day searching for it, putting up “Lost Camera” signs, and asking around to see if anyone grabbed it by mistake or maybe to try to find the owner. No dice. This was a real low for me. After such an amazing time, I lost all my pictures and videos from Colorado. That was near the end of May, and I have still heard nothing about my camera. I am now putting much mor focus into my journal. Still, I entered Utah in a gloomy mood. (Spoiler Alert: things completely turn around in Moab. Just wait for my Utah post!)
Thanks to Jon from Weskan for keeping me hydrated during that long stretch before Colorado Springs; to Pastor Davis from Cheyenne Wells for letting me sleep in a bed my first night in Colorado; to the Good Shepard Inn in Kit Carson for helping me recuperate when my feet were killing me; to Patrick from Weskan for the much needed extra carbs; to the Ellicott Baptist Church for letting me bunker down during a nasty blizzard; to Michael and his family from Colorado for serving our country and being true to your word- serious respect; to Shamiyah and everyone from the 12 tribes in Manitou Springs for living a simple, but fun and respectable lifestyle, not to mention the bed and the delicious Maté; to Seth, John, Casey, Jenna, Zack, Ted (and his mom), and Derrick for an amazing weekend at Vail and week in Bozeman; to Clark from Colorado Springs for helping me restart from where I left off and for the killer jam sesh; to Harrison and his friends from Castle Rock for supporting a fellow wandering musician; to Chris, William, and Ava from Denver for letting me join your family for a day or two; to Bob and his wife in Idaho Springs for getting me a room so I didn’t have to sleep in the snow; to Jeff, Natalie, and my fellow MD Jonah from Georgetown for being so positive, bright, and welcoming; to Josh and Sarah from Georgetown for showing me some real southern hospitality thousands of miles away from Alabama; to Renette from Summit County for the snowshoes- huge help!; to John and Tony from Dillon for being true bros; to Josh, Christie, Colton, and Kenny for a night of fun and the most intense pillow fight I’ve ever witnessed; to Jeanine from Vail for being so upbeat and jazzed about living life to the fullest; to Torry, Ben, and Terrence from Edwards for judging people in a good way; to Weston from Eagle, again, for having a sense of adventure; to Erik Ritchie from Eldersburg for the best Dudetrek Day ever; to Strings Attached from Austin for “On the Road”; to the church at Redstone for a solid nights sleep and the unforgettable windows; and to Reg from Paonia for some answered question, in more ways than one;