Good Hiking Redux: Why We Came to Colorado

rm_trail1.jpgThe Odessa–Fern Lake circuit in Rocky Mountain National Park is a trail-lover’s trail. It links a half-dozen alpine trout ponds with 18 miles of well crafted paths and crazily diverse terrain: rocky ice ledges at 11,000 feet to soft elk meadows at under 9,000. I’m at a loss trying to take it all in: yellow aspen bling-bling peppers steep conifer carpets; greenback cutthroats flicker under glass; dawns, dusks, dawns; gold medallion leaves raining down and underfoot… You get the picture. A three-day solo walkabout, clockwise from the Bear Lake trailhead. Two-mile-high October-cusp air is crisp and cold and the weather is dry enough not to have to use a tent fly. Temperatures range from blustery sun and seventy to yak-wool cool in the mornings.

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As I settle into my heavy stride, or as I dangle my feet above another lake or stream, there are thoughts of writing the “Side-of-the-Trail, Breath-Catchin’ Blues,” a part deux, if you will, to “Good Hiking” (my one-hit wonder from the summer of ’00).

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Sumpin’ ’bout dem mashed-toe, knee-poppin’, thirty-three-somethin’ blues, from my red-and-brown (and, um, gray-peppered) whiskers to the bottom of my old firefightin’ shoes. But the song doesn’t come. Instead a bull elk in yonder grass, fifty feet from my tent door, distracts me with his bugling and I’m lost again.

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Of course, hiking out and coming down is always a shocker, but you have to do it. A wise man once said, you cannot stay on the mountain forever. The transition from wilderness to humanity however, is especially on a fall Sunday afternoon in Estes Park during the 2006 Elk Festival. There is an elk calling contest, a wolf-petting area, and oil-dipped turkey legs. There are T-Shirt shops named Moosely T’s and Rocky Mountain Tops. There is a Dairy Queen, a Starbucks, and more people wearing black leather chaps than I’ve ever seen in one place, with hoardes of Denver biker clubs prowling the crowded streets.

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I’m happy to get behind the wheel again, this time on the Peak to Peak Highway, south along the mountains to Nederland, where Buddhist prayer flags, rice wine, and a plate of steamed momos and jalapeño chutney greets me in the Kathmandu Restaurant.

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Then I ride the last of the sunset back down to the plains. Yes, the aspen-splashed Continental Divide just behind the Hogback is a constant reminder of why, after traveling the world, we came to Colorado.

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