Colorado’s Closure: Steamboat Springs to Encampment

Chimichanga’s parents dropped us at Rabbit Ear’s Pass above Steamboat Springs after having arrived there around the same time as us, owing to a serendipitous encounter.

They were (still are) on a roadtrip in the West, and, while driving over Battle Pass, Wyoming, they pulled over because they saw a man hitching.

This man happened to be Maine Man, who we hiked with through much of southern Colorado.

Maine Man needed a ride south to Steamboat; Chimi’s parents were headed south, anyway; and we were, of course, hiking north to there, from Grand Lake. So we all met up for a fun night in our last Colorado town.

At the pass, Chimi’s Dad gave me a bag of cherries. His mom tucked two sticks of incense and a bouquet of tiny wildflowers into my shirt pocket. Then she did a cartwheel. Then Chimichanga and I backpedaled up the dirt road, waving goodbye, turned and departed.

Generally, I hate goodbyes. I get all mopey. But this goodbye was great. It was more a celebration of two intersecting adventures.

Our adventure took us through subalpine fields near Rabbit Ears Pass, dimpled with lakes and scattered with wildflowers. We saw Indian paintbrush and yarrow and sunflowers tall enough to brush the stirrup of a short-legged man riding a 17-hand horse.

We stopped at Lake Elmo in the late afternoon for a snack, sitting on a log near the shore. I bit into a “Cool Mint Chocolate” Cliff Bar.

“Wow,” I said, “this is a really good one.”

“You’ve never had that one before?” Chimi said. He was looking over his maps. “I can’t believe you’ve never tried ‘Cool Mint Chocolate.‘”

He seemed perplexed – maybe even a little offended.

I shrugged, looked at the label. “It has caffeine,”I said. “I wouldn’t have eaten it so late in the day if I knew it had caffeine.”

Chimi stopped what he was doing, set his map on his lap, took a breath and turned to me. “Dude,” he said, “you have got to step up your Cliff-Bar game. You have no idea, do you? I bet you’ve never even tried ‘Pomegranate Chia.'” He shook his head in disgust. “I thought you were the real deal.”

Then he went back to his map.

After that drubbing, I ate my Cliff Bar sadly.

Colorado’s Diminuindo

Following a night at Summit Lake — an idyllic setting wherein placid waters reflected pale moonlight, frosty stars and a row of pitch-pine trees — we worked our way into the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness. 

All throughout the region we traipsed amid purple panicled flowers that smell like honeysuckle and look like lupine but are actually bluebonnets. Most of our days in the Zirkels were overcast, with light sprinklings of rain. We moved through rolling mountaintop parklands strewn with granite boulders. The trail’s grade was mild, so we made good time in the direction of Wyoming.

The Rabbit Ears Range and Mt. Zirkel Wilderness combined to form Colorado’s diminuindo. Unlike most of the state’s previous ranges – jagged, jarring, with severe elevation gains and losses – the final two were gradual and easy.

Colorado finished the way a good song does: coasting to a close.

Wyoming Day

We camped about 14 miles shy of the border. In the morning I woke and hollered to Chimi.

“Today’s a big day,” I said. “It’s Wyoming day.”

“Yup,” he replied. “Let’s go get it.”

We took a two-track road that turned to trail a few miles before the border. I could feel my gait quickening. I wanted that border. As we neared, the maps north of Colorado disappeared on my GPS, because I had yet to activate the Wyoming Topos. It looked like we were dropping off the edge of the earth.

The border was marked with two signs and crystal-colored rocks set in a row. One set read “WY;” the other read “CO.”

Crossing, we gave one another a fist-bump and took one photo looking like hoodrats. A mild celebration at best, which is strange considering this border had been a purpose of our efforts for nearly two months. Wyoming took a moment to sink in, I think. We needed to feel the arid winds, to see the wildlife, the people, the first town.

At the time, the border, for me, was simply a reminder – good or bad – that this journey is teleological.

Then we cruised into the Sierra Madres. In keeping with my tendency for doing gangsta things since ’87, I cowboy camped my first night in the Cowboy State. 

On a high ridge we cooked our dinners while watching the sun set over rounded, timbered mountaintops. Wyoming. Wyoming. I kept saying the word in my head, just to try the name of the place that would once again be my home – this time for a month or so.

By afternoon the next day – after working through a maze of subalpine forests and pink granite boulders, marking our way by use of numerous well-placed cairns – we hitched from Battle Pass into Encampment, Wyoming.

We are now in Rawlins. A little more than 100 miles into the state. The next post will tell of crossing the high desert.

The Euphoric Moment – Addendum

Many times during the walk, but especially during the mornings after coffee, I entered a certain – I don’t know what to call it – maybe a mood. A state of mind that coincides with exercise and mountain air and a special condition of atmosphere. Perhaps it’s a witching hour – although it’s a time independent of clocks, a time unstuck in time, as it were – when shafts of light slant through groaning trees and birds call at far-off distances and the air is clean and cool.

I began calling these times “euphoric moments.” And I’m trying each day to get a read on what prompts them. I don’t know much, but here’s what I’ve discerned:

The euphoric moment comes when you do away with thoughts of progress, like how many miles you need, where is the next water source, what do people think of me, what shall I do after the trail, who am I to be and what kind of man shall I someday become. The moments come only when you walk lackadaisically, without a care for the future, enjoying the place in its immediacy, because this moment – the one you are in – is like the Wyoming skies, specifically in the way it seems as though it alone will go on forever and ever.

The euphoric moment is ushered, often, on your breath. On your breathing.

If the moment is perfect, you might not even notice it, for it is an integral contentedness, organic and endemic, like when you’re drinking red wine on the balcony of a motel room and watching the sun sink slowly over a mountain lake, a time when time itself moves drippingly, and you can’t bother to be assailed by all the multifarious concerns of the greater world. The sweet moments, when all is suspended and the simple act of living is suffused with magic – these are the moments I live for.

And, I’ve noticed, the more time I spend on-trail, the more often these moments arrive, so that my way of being is defined more each day by tranquility, serenity and the peace of the present, rather than the anxiety of becoming. The mood is of being, rather than becoming. It is of enjoying now, truly, rather than some fabricated conception of later. At this point – which is the only point in time I’m guaranteed – I understand more than ever that I like to think slow, to move slowly, and to savor these fleeting moments in life, partly because each of them builds eventually, unyieldingly, toward death – a small but true part of why the moments are all so very precious.

Chimichanga is good at living in the present. He says often that “right now, your time and your youth are the most important things you have” and “the thing people overestimate most is their time.”

Little Chimyisms like that.

I don’t know. All of these thoughts, this long and difficult journey… it feels as though I’m arriving at something. But what? I can feel it. It’s like a penumbral sort of sensation, one of coming closer to something, of getting at something. An understanding, yes, like when you’re arriving at a truth.

Maybe I’m crazy. Or maybe you know…

Who knows?

Don Delillo said all plots tend deathward.

Maybe that’s why Thoreau said: “Rise free from care before the dawn, and seek adventures. …There are no larger fields than these, no worthier games than may here be played.”

Scenes From the Trail



Posted in Backpacking.

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