Upon waking up at 5:30 am, I turned back over to, perhaps, wake up at a more agreeable time. Waking up was becoming an increasingly larger problem in my life. My mornings slipped to afternoon and then, later afternoon, until I was by last Tuesday, getting up nearly at 5:00 pm. A vampire.
I am not immune to mood swings. There always seems to be a pull downward from any fanciful feelings – real, or imaginary, that I posses. I’m not one to really be satisfied by anything I do for very long and sometimes, well, you just don’t know what else to do, after finishing up a project.
Found myself checking trip reports, route descriptions and the weather for one big rock: Longs Peak. Tried once to reach the summit of Longs this year already. Back in August, my friend and I left Denver in the early evening, with the clear intention of camping out at the trailhead, getting up around 4:00 am and making the summit, before the inevitable thunderstorms roll in.
It was something my friend really wanted to accomplish, his Father tried and failed, but came back with the usual Longs ghost stories of people perishing on the hill. To prepare, he stopped smoking and drinking for weeks. A difficult step, but when one does smoke and drink in regularity, the first step in getting in better shape would be to stop those things.
My preparation was a few bagged 14ers already that year – but none too technical. I rarely drank, almost never smoked (unless drinking – and bored) and brushing off a 100 mile bike ride here and there was no real big thing. I sort of felt that it was my job to get a somewhat out of shape friend up a sort of difficult trail. That was really OK with me, this is a real friend and we do incredible things for each other. I’ll play guide and support and my ego, I’ve noticed has simmered down in the last few years. Grays appear on my beard, now.
We talked animatedly during the drive up. How we’d have to wake up very early, the meteor shower that was happening right then and how we’d be seeing it, while hiking in the middle of the night – magical. Perfectly timed. Until we got to the campsite:
So, we drove around. Other campsites in the area were also, all booked up. We talked about the situation at a picnic area, not far from a campsite. I suggested, animatedly (my usually composure) that we just camp (pointing) over that small hill, behind the restroom, next to the picnic table: no one would know – or really, care and we’d be up really, really early anyways. The chances of getting caught would be minimal and shit! we’d save some money! Or, we could just hang out in this car all night and sleep. I can, literally, sleep anywhere. We could even sleep in the bed of the truck, we could just move over the –
My friend objected.
“No. No, it’s really shady to me. Maybe to you it’s fine- you’re more adventurous, but I wouldn’t be comfortable. I wouldn’t get any sleep. I’d be a wreck tomorrow and I’d be in even worse shape up on the trail, when it starts getting technical. Fuck this – let’s go home.”
And so, we did. That was my first attempt up Longs Peak, ending before it began. I wasn’t too destroyed of the sudden change of plans. I could understand his view and the last thing I wanted was to go home without my friend and having a helicopter pick up his corpse.
Today, though was supposed to be my second attempt. If only I could get up. I currently sleep in a hammock. I have no bed – I gave it away and I just don’t want to own one right now. Since putting one up, I have had no sex life, but sleep is incredible. It’s going to hard to give up. Hard to describe the appeal, but one does feel the tension of the hammock around you, the slight swing. Being enveloped.
7:30 am came around and I got up. Better than 4:45pm the previous night, but with only a few hours of sleep and a strange day before of only being away for less than 10 hours. I was not on form.
Packed my gear, much less than the start of my last trip for two weeks – this one would only be three days. Mostly, it would be less books to read. Today, I had to bring more clothes though, snow had fallen on the mountains. How much was really to be seen.
Wednesday seems like an odd time to start such a trip. I had wanted to do this trip on Friday, but the weather wasn’t cooperating. So that got pushed to Saturday. Sunday. Monday…
I only left when the entire seven day forecast showed sunny days and clear nights. I sound almost as neurotic as perhaps my friend who doesn’t want to camp in his car, but Longs Peak is a killer. No other trailhead in Colorado that I have been to puts up a Death Count, next to the terrain profile. Longs is the gateway from fanciful hike to climbing a mountain.
My wait was one in purgatory. I had nothing I felt like working on. I just wanted to go on a bike ride, go on a hike, come back with a clear head and maybe figure out what to do, afterwards. Having to go on a little adventure is truly a irresponsible excuse to just not get your shit together, but I was opting into it. Look, some people drink, I loaf.
I talked a bit about my intentions to people, mostly with the same response: it’s way too late, man! And I agreed, I agreed. The season to try and hike the mountain passed a month ago and what I wanted to do couldn’t be done. I got myself ready for disappointment and another summit attempt foiled. But I also got ready for a successful hike to the top. Just maybe. And once my imagination grabs ahold of something, it just takes off.
“Maybe bringing crampons would be a good idea!”, I thought. “Just in case, you know – there’s a little bit of ice in my way – and that’s it. I could get across, no worries, continue on my way, until- “
Until the last obstacle in the standard, Keyhole Route up Longs Peak. Homestretch. A three hundred foot friction climb. Almost vertical. Not something I’m afraid of and in fact, something I have much experience with when I was a sport climber a, uh, half a lifetime ago. The impossibility comes with the ice that should now be on every hand and foothold.
I start my journey again from the doorstep of my house, with bike, trailer and all my gear packed in a day pack, with a few other things, all wrapped up in an enormous bright yellow bag, wrapped tight with two yellow bungee chords, fraying.
I feel a little angry at myself for ditching the night’s French class – I hadn’t fully prepared, anyways. The assignment was simple enough: 10 sentences on Anything. I chose one of the most important and confusing periods of 20th century French history, the May, ’68 student revolts, uprising and almost political takeover of France, itself. Ten simple sentences in an attempt to explain that with my abilities would be much like this trip I’m taking instead: wrapped up in good intentions, almost guaranteed to fail. Questioning the effort to attempt it, knowing full well of many, many different, easier and more successful options, ignoring them all.
Three miles, three miles into the bike ride of eighty-some-odd and I get a weird feeling. I stop and unhook the bungee chords, I peer in. My weird feeling had some traction. I had forgotten something: just, all of my clothes. I turn back. Back to the house. Find my black waterproof stuff sack of clothes, start again. Questioning why I use so many black waterproof stuff sacks for everything and how that doesn’t help when taking count on what I have and what I have left. The stove is in a orange one, my toothpaste/contacts/eyeglasses/pain relieving Stuff is in a white one. Everything else is in one of many black, waterproof stuff sacks.
I ride out of Denver as I’ve done many times, up West into Highway 72 towards Nederland. It’s fairly uneventful. I go slow, knowing I have a lot of road to get past me and there’s really nothing to do, except make camp, eat and sleep, once I get to the campsite. This will be the same campsite as before when my friend and I found it completely booked, but I have a hunch it won’t be this
time and if it is, I don’t mind ditching anywhere, for a few hours.
The ride up is beautiful and quiet on a Wednesday afternoon. The grade is not too bad, except in small places and I just lose myself in music and keep the crank moving the chain over the cassette. I get to Wondervu Hill, a named mountain pass of 8,660 feet. Already hucking up 3,000 feet for the day. Not a bad haul, for not trying all that much.
From Wondervu, one can see the main 13,000+ peaks of the Front Range. I take a good look, from left to right. They all have snow – could had been any winter day just a few miles west. Except my mountain, Longs. It seemed to have escaped whatever storm passed by. I had heard reports of over a foot of snow falling in one day, just a few days before. Crippling to my summit bid. As I checked the reports for Longs before I left. Sometimes, every half hour, I would watch the reports for the weekend got from 10% chance of 2″ of snow, to 70% of 6″ of snow.
After Wondervu, it’s a small descent and then a climb back up to Nederland, at 8,234 feet. The last time I came this way, I broke a spoke going down the hill on my front wheel. Front brake got all wonky at the same exact time.
Can’t remember – might have been wanting to do a Very Large Ride, maybe even a 300k that day and those plans had to be changed, since the bike needed to be repaired instead. That time, I had gotten to Nederland and found that the bike shop was actually in the coffee shop I usually stop at. The mechanic was on hand, as luck would have it, just coming back from riding himself.
He was able to repair the spoke just fine, but he also kept fidgeting with the front brake. Wasn’t working. He kept at fidgeting with it for over an hour, at one point taking a ball-peen hammer to it, to “loosen some parts up”. I’m not a squeamish person when it comes to things I own, but something didn’t look right on that idea. One unidentified part flew off the brake at one point. It was searched for, with much obscenities, until found and forced back in place. The mechanic finally gave up, gave me his card and asked if I could call him if I ever figured out what was up with that brake.
Arriving at Nederland this day, I went over to the same coffee shop. They seem to have the cutest baristas anyways and copies of Adventure Cyclist, whom I could more than likely land on the cover, some day, with the same weighed-down bike and the same dopey look on my sun and wind-burned face. I also wanted to see if the mechanic was in town to at least confirm that I still have no clue as to what the problem is, with that brake.
Grabbing some coffee and talking with the barista, the conversation went to injuries, after I pointed out that the photo of someone doing some impossible yoga pose in an ad tacked up to the bulletin board must have been her and she asking if I stretch all that much. She had fallen on the threshold of her door, on her knee and split it, enough to bruise – or even crack her knee cap. I thought that was wild. She wasn’t sure what to do, but I was sure to keep the conversation delightful and engaging, until the next customer.
I drank coffee and started on an Edward Abbey book, Desert Solitaire. I was already in love with it. The introduction ends like this:
Suddenly it comes, the flaming globe, blazing on the pinnacles and minarets and balanced rocks, on the canyon walls and through the windows in the sandstone fins. We greet each other, sun and I, across the black void of ninety-three million miles. The snow glitters between us, acres of diamonds almost painful to look at. With an hour all the snow exposed to the sunlight will be gone and the rock will be damp and steaming. Within minutes, evan as I watch, melting snow begins to drip from the branches of a juniper nearby; drops of water streak slowly down the side of the trailerhouse.
I am not alone after all. Three ravens are wheeling near the balanced rock, squawking at each other and at the dawn. I’m sure they’re as delighted by the return of the sun as I am and I wish I knew the language. I’d sooner exchange ideas with the birds on earth than learn to carry on intergalactic communications with the world of Betelgeuse. First things first. The ravens cry out in the husky voices, blue-black wings flapping against the golden sky. Over my shoulder comes the sizzle and smell of frying bacon .
That’s the way it was this morning.
The man could write.
After a half hour, I leave again. Another slow ride for forty or so miles more, on my slow bike, up another thousand feet, to the campsite I hope is available. It’s of some possible curiosity why I opt to go this slow way, almost all the time. By car, you can reach this trial head in less than an hour. Camp, with as many amenities as you can fit in your car and be infinitely more comfortable doing it – fresh for the hike early the next morning.
It’s the question I have on my mind, as I find myself up the first hill, directly after the small township of Nederland is conquered. It may be the romantic notion of an arduous trip, just to start the actual challenge. The challenge then, starts first at my doorstep and becomes more of an adventure and less of a hike. Riding eighty-something miles, only to have to hike 14 more miles and then to ride eighty-something miles back home is a doozy. Any way you put it. The total elevation gain then becomes larger than any other mountain hike in Colorado from any trailhead. From 5,000 feet, to 9,000+ feet.
There’s commitment involved. Whatever I bring, is what I brought. Whatever I didn’t bring, I don’t have, can’t use, can’t just go to the nearest town to pick up (wouldn’t have the time, or energy!) And I can’t bring everything, because there’s just a limit on weight I can carry under human power and the space everything takes up. It becomes a strategy just to complete everything and its good practice for a Very Long Trip somewhere Very Far Away. You could also scale up the exercise – what, if I didn’t have the time/money/resources/space of a full time job and a large house and even a support group made up of my family, what would I utilize in my every day existence?
There’s also just the time alone with oneself for reflection. Of the constant of pedaling and doing so, slowly. Seeing the world go by before you, knowing that it’s all happening under very small forces from human legs. Knowing the muscles are learning from being exhausted. In my mind, they take on the appearance of those Juniper trees Edward Abbey talks so lovingly about: just hard, dense and scraggly. There’s no bulk to them, only the fibers that can take such punishment remains.
The complete exhaustion. This is not something I can all together explain, except there is a point where your body does not want to go on, that your mind starts getting loopy and yet, you must. 7:00 pm was coming and with it, most of my daylight. Having not made the campsite, I still needed to go forward, even though my legs were about to quit for the day. Eighty miles is not a lot to ride. Eighty miles over thousands of feet of elevation gain, pulling a trailer that weighs 60lbs is altogether a different story. One could extrapolate that since it takes me twice as long and I’m going half as fast, it’s almost as if I’m doing 160 odd miles, instead of 80-odd. I’m willing to at least play with this idea, now, safe, while just writing about it.
I find, finally at mile marker 9 my turnoff to the Longs Peak trailhead and campsite. I get off my bike and start walking. I almost never do such things, but I had enough of riding for one day. It was only a mile or so to the campsite, but I still had no idea if there was room. Slowly making my way, I spied possible places to rest my body. Many places seemed reasonable, at this hour, at this time of year. I wasn’t worried.
Surprisingly, I find the campsite completely deserted. I took #10 for myself, made camp, made dinner and ate inside my tent while attempting to finish another chapter. Set my alarms for 3:00 am,
passing out. It might have been 8:00pm. Having almost flipped my sleep schedule around seemed as if it would be traumatic to my health.
The trailhead itself is at ~ 9382 feet, 5,000 more feet to the top on foot. It’s all about relations. A few years back, I tackled, La Marmotte course in France, used in one of the hardest Grand Fondos that there are. The high point in the ride, Col du Galibier at 2,645 meters (8,678 feet) would be below me.
2by almost a thousand feet.
The highest point on Earth would be another 20,000 feet, a little shy of 4 more miles. I’m at the bottom-middle of what we’d call, Heights. I can’t really feel the elevation, the summer has put me in good form after many small challenges. I can remember, maybe, a time when it wasn’t like this, though.
3:00 am came and I unbundled myself from my liner, sleeping bag and bivvy and got out of the tent. So many protective layers. Even in the beginning of October, it just takes a little bit of elevation to make the nights go below freezing. My sleeping bag has lost all of its down fluff. If it has feathers still in it, I’d be surprised. Needs a date with a dryer and a tennis ball.
Needed little to do this morning to get ready – just move some things out of the day pack and some things in: extra clothes, camping stove, bivvy (for emergencies), hiking poles, crampons, food. Secure the campsite for, perhaps someone to wander by and see a tent a bike and nothing else. Keep the mystery of just what I’m up to.
Trailhead was gotten to by 3:45 am. Signing the register with, “BICYCLE” in the, “License plate of car” was enough to make me a little delighted on being up so early. There was only one other person who had signed the book today before me.
The stars were out, stoping me in my tracks. Even so close to a major city, the sky this night was clear enough to see a faint band of the Milky Way. Twinkling through the trees of, “The Goblins Forest”. Everything on this hike has a name. I never understood why this forest was even named, until I was hiking through it, with a head torch and watching all the shadows bounce around. Good name.
Twenty minutes of easy hiking and I met my first hiker and the first person I had talked to, since the barista all the way in Nederland. A bro-dude dude, he was actually already going down the mountain, having the beginnings of a migraine. A good choice and he stated he’d try again, a different time. My friend and I have still beaten him, though, on quickest failure up this mountain. I feel prickly proud.
Hiking, I looked for sources of water. I hadn’t too much left as I can only bring what I can ride in with. A gallon of water weighs about 7 pounds. I noticed even at the start of the hike, there was snow. It accumulated alongside the banks of the stream, where it became precipitous, or made a sudden change of direction. The stream that the trail followed looked good enough, the snow itself probably wouldn’t even need filtering.
Hiking at a modest pace, I didn’t feel too tired from the bike ride the previous day. Those sorts of thoughts fill my head – how one type of exertion affects another. Surely, they overlap. My cycling has gotten, on the average, a lot better since I started hiking so much. Perhaps maybe from just being at elevation more. Perhaps from taking long, slow hikes, instead of short, intense rides.
Tree line was broached within a couple of hours of silent hiking in the dark, alone. No more people passed me. I would look down and think I could see some other head torches, but they turned out to be lights from houses, all the way in Estes Park. I would look up and see again, what I thought were head torches in front of me, they transformed into bright stars and would disappear behind the mountain’s ridge line, sometimes as a meteor would streak almost directly vertical, as if to accentuate my exceptional lose of both sense of distance and scale. I kept looking for others, as all the reports I’ve read said that one of the marvels of this early hike was seeing a faint line of other people’s torches, tracing the trail before you. This day, I was well and truly alone.
At the fork in the trail of Chasm Lake and the Boulder Field, you get to the first privy, sort of the last thing you’d expect, but a good idea, none the less. Other famous mountains have gotten the reputation of being piles of shit in the summer time, as the winter snow and ice melt, leaving what used to be pure white well, pure shit.
Made a wrong turn and started hiking towards Chasm lake. This supplied me with an incredible view of, “The Diamond” and the lake below and The Loft, farther ahead. Debated a while if this wrong turn was in fact a good idea. The trail could actually lead me to the top of Mount Meeker, instead – another reasonable goal for today, but I had no idea what that trail really was.
The sun was starting to come up – almost 7:00 am, as I turned around and faced East for an incredible view of the oversaturated bands of color that were about to explode in front of me. The horizon was a blood orange mix without definite boundaries, right above faint blue-green. The rest of the sky started its slow transformation from dark, dark, dark to light. The stars slowly faded away and I turned off my head torch. The sun eventually rose and overwhelmed everything, throwing the orange band completely away, almost all at once. The highest sunrise I have ever seen at around 11,000 feet coupled with an almost uncompromised view of the eastern half of the country which doesn’t begin to rise again, until the Appalachian Mountains. Not even while on a sailboat in open waters has a sunrise attempted to tear me up so well.
Strange to hike so far without seeing what I’ve tramped through. The route slowly meandered with lazy switchbacks, until the Boulder Field, where the trail abruptly ends and everything, except the tops of the largest boulders are visible. The Keyhole is easily seen not far ahead, a ridge between Longs Peak proper and Mt. Lady Washington, featuring two prominent overhangs of rocks.
Between The Keyhole and myself, I spotted a campsite occupied with campers, just getting up. I make smalltalk and find that their plan is just to go a few hundred feet higher to The Keyhole and turnaround. I tell them, because of the conditions (snow, everywhere) that’s probably my plan as well. I also tell them I’d kill for coffee. They offer some they have, lucky for me.
I make my way up to The Keyhole, where I meet a few other people, trying to figure out how they might have missed my roving attention for 5 hours and what time they could have possibly had started. They were having a very very hard time trying to get up the Boulder Field. One asks me where the trail is. I tell them, there is no trail, but follow the cairns and I point to one to the left of all of us. They continue to the right, I have no idea why. I tramp up to the left cairn. Everyone is slipping around, as the rising sun quickly melts the snow.
I ascend to The Keyhole without much trouble and attempt, fool-heartedly to make a phase change from ice to boiling water at 13,200 feet, using my very small propane/butane stove. I melt more water than I need for an 8oz coffee, just so I have some drinking water as well. It will be worth it. A little worried I’m going to blow through all my fuel, the fuel canister is optimized for cuteness and size, rather than fuel. Expensive little critter, too.
As I boil water, a few other people come up that must have started just after me. We all look at the other side of the ridge, the West side. There’s nothing that looks like a trail. Even the painted bulls-eyes on the boulders, to signify the way through, are difficult to even imagine their placement. The ridge line is fairly narrow to begin with. The drop on the oth
er side is around 1,000 feet. Probably more. Everything is covered in snow. Looks fraught with hidden crevices. We all discuss. Come to the conclusion that it’s impassible for anyone, except the truly insane, that no one is really willing to give it a go, including myself and we all seem to be of sound mind, knowing full well that the mountain is not going anywhere and we’ll all have another chance again, some other time.
And three people have died on this mountain, just in the past year.
Statistics like that put things in perspective. A fall from the route in front of us isn’t only dangerous, it’s deadly. Very easy to feel different, having this year personally summited about a dozen 14,000+ foot peaks, some more than once. One has to respect a mountain as if it’s alive and realize the massive proportions of the mountain, in relation to yourself. I’m OK with all of this – hoping, perhaps in my mind that somehow I’d be able to summit, but not quite sure exactly how. To be honest, I was hoping to summit Longs, then Meeker, then, I dunno – make a hang glider out of random rocks and sticks and write my name in the sky with smoke, but I’m a dreamer.
I finish my coffee as everyone else that has joined me up top starts the descent down to the trailhead towards relative comfort. A new group comes up, about three guys. They do the same lookie-see script as everyone else. They talk.
“So, what do you guys think, doable?”
The oldest man in the party, the one going, actually, the slowest responds.
“Oh, yes, of course, 100%, no problem!, Let’s go!”
And like that, they’re off. I am flabbergasted. A minute ago, I had made a sound, safe decision, based on my skill level, equipment, fitness and freshness and a myriad of other concrete and realistic points. There’s something though very dangerous in seeing a small group of people tramp away from you, through a route you just deemed, “impossible”. You realized you imagined that it was impossible, but, oh, it’s so very possible.
To these people. Still, not you. What they have in equipment trumps what you have: basically hiking gear and a pair of rented crampons, which you cannot remember how to strap onto your low-cut boots. It’s been over a year since you have worn crampons, and that was a world away on a enormous glacier, not on a snow-filled, narrow and precipitous ridge line. There’s no real experience to judge how to use them, here. The party ahead also all have ice axes. Damn it, you think. If only, $6? more? I could have rented an ice axe and summit this damn mountain. Don’t know how to use an ice axe either. Details, details.
But what they also have are themselves: they’re in a group and you are alone. They have cumulative knowledge, you’re just some punk city kid who’s imagination gets away from yourself. Often. I watch the party slowly make their way through the ridge line, until, they’re gone. I’ll never see them again.
I put on my helmet and start following them. The bulls eyes painted on the rocks, that mark out the route slowly do reveal themselves. “Ah!”, I thought, “Not so hard, just a little snow. Just… about a foot of snow. Just… go slowly, in a foot of snow, with a 1,000 foot drop to the right.” Just go, go, go, go. Humming sea shantys, as I do, when nervous along, or drunk, held up only by my bicycle, when walking home, broken-hearted,
In South Australia I was born
Heave away. Haul away!
South Australia round Cape Horn
And we’re bound for South Australia
It is not easy. My heart rate is already higher than normal. The coffee is not helping. I reach a point, not far into this malarky of an idea where there is a brief gap from one rock, to another to step over. To counteract this, there’s two, what look like stainless steal pins, with a diameter of about 1 1/2″ drilled into the rock. To step on! These do not create confidence in me, but I use one as a foothold and one as a handhold anyways. And, over the first, “problem”.
Problems in rock climbing are where the crux of the climb are. They’re called, “problems”, because you need to use a little forethought, before attempting them. If you answer the problem wrong, you fall. I do not want to fall. Going farther and ever so slowly higher, I follow the painted bulls eyes and the shuffle of snow of the people I’m following, like ghosts.
I get to some more problems, mostly slabs at around a 45 degree angle, covered in snow and nothing – absolutely nothing on the West side of them. Three in a row, which slowly change my direction counter-clockwise. I begin to feel I am about to trap myself, as climbing them up is arduous, but not impossible, but by the third one, I will have nothing to the right side of myself and then, nothing at the bottom of myself. The change in direction of the trail has left me very exposed. Not something I realized, until I was above.
I pause. I look. I assess. The way forward is finally, I succumb, above my ability. The risk vs. reward game I play in my head has finally become a landslide of, NO. I listen. I look back from where I came. Treacherous.
This is where I lose my shit.
I cannot help it. I become short of breath. Adrenaline flows into my blood. I realize finally how cold I am, how wet my boots and gloves are and how oh-so ill-prepared I am. How bad of an idea this was. How I may have really screwed myself in this one.
With no real good plan on how to get out of this situation, I just wait until this wave of fear recedes. I hatch a plan. There’s no real plan, except go back. Going back will be difficult, as going down will mean slipping down and slipping is not the action verb I want to use, as slipping means loss of control. I just don’t have any control on how to go down. Fear is still in me. I again pause.
Little steps. Time to take little steps. Each ridge by itself. Five feet at a time. Stay low. Go slow. Focus on this only. Do not look over the ridge line. Impossible, but don’t. Do not think of the guy who was in this very position and slipped. On snow and ice. A month ago. Do not.
Ever so awkwardly, I get myself down the last ledge I climbed up. I take a break. Remember to breath. Repeat. Second ledge, First ledge.
Off the first major hurtle. A simple walk back, around some boulders and back to the break into the trail with the steel bolts. Up and over. You got it. Back to The Keyhole, still without anyone else.
Totally lose my shit. Again. DEEP breathing, almost hyperventilating. Talking out loud to no one. “Oh shit. Oh shit. Oh shit. –
THAT WAS INCREDIBLE! I need to try that out, again, as soon as possible!”
I pencil in a mental note to perhaps, ride back in two days, with an ice axe and try again. I am somewhat embarrassed at how excited in almost every way at doing something so idiotic, but I do not know how else to make myself feel alive anymore.
I walk down and meet up with some people who have congregated near a tent site, just below The Keyhole and the Boulder Field. We all walk down the trail, at slightly different speeds. In only a few hours, I’m back at the campsite. Spending so much time already on the trail, I don’t do much, but make my way down. The trail seems boring, especially compared to what’s after The Keyhole.
Talk briefly with a few people at the campsite with a lot of gear who are about to go back up. So much gear. More gear than I would ever want to own. I feel as if I’m at an impassé. There are things I want to do with this mountain, with Mountains, but I’m not committed to having the equipment take over my life. A pair of hiking boots and a pack were perfect, I couldn’t possibly own a large truck to put bins of rope and climbing equipment in. What to do. Keep having these little adventures, catalyzed by my roots in being an urban idiot, hopelessly ill-prepared and too-eager to jump into harm’s way? How long, how many times can one do that, before they must grow up, old and out of that? Or before they perish from this tightrope of lack of foresig
ht I’ve strung between me and everything I try to do?
I make noodles at my campsite. A little jerky and that’s dinner. My caloric deficit will be incredible. I read. At around 8:00pm, I’m ready for bed and I fall, safely, silently and easily, to sleep.
My alarm sounds at 6:00am and I rustle up without too much trouble. Getting my gear in order, I melt some snow and ice I collected the day before going down and then make another cup of coffee, eat the last of my food – just some trail mix and shove off. I note that I haven’t taken one picture. It seems to me, most of the time, that there’s no need for photos of something thousands of eyes have seen. These mountain hikes give the impression of an amusement park ride to me and a photo taken that wasn’t for a purpose, even just to illustrate something in this story, would leave a bad taste in my mouth. As if a mascot from whatever place I’m at was also in that photo, waving. Thinking these things now is worthless, since in 10 years, I’ll want that photo, as I will have forgotten everything.
By 7:00am, I’m on the road, back to where I started. The road is undulating, but the majority of the time, I’m losing elevation, which is a relief for my legs, which are coming close to their limit of what, exactly, they can do. I stop frequently and marvel at how much easier it is to pedal, given my legs just minutes of rest.
I make it Nederland in a few albums on my portable music player’s time. I’m listening to the Basquiat soundtrack. In the film, the character who’s really just a thinly veiled Julian Schnabel comforts Basquiat’s alientation, telling him that, “his audience isn’t even born yet”. I’m now 2 years older than the age that Basquiat killed himself in a heroin overdose and people my age can’t horribly imitate his work fast enough. I’m on GrandMaster Flash And Melle Mel’s track, “White Lines” at the most steep of descents, realizing I’m attempting absent-mindedly to follow the white line that separates the main road from the shoulder. I chuckle.
Decide not to spend much time in town, but high-tale it to Boulder. There’s a dangerous road that connects Nederland to Boulder, HW 119. Steep grade, following a canyon’s cut, little if any shoulder, twisting and I’m told by a large sign that there’s construction being done on it and a, “Alternative Route is Advised”. John Cale sings, “Hallelujah”.
Before reaching the 10 degree grade, one of the more steeper roads in all of the front range, there’s a small reservoir you pass. Sun bathers will attempt to soak up anything in the atmosphere, regardless of the weather, with optional clothing on. It’s distracting.
Within minutes, I’m attempting to breach twice the speed the trailer I’m towing is rated for. This excites me. Keeps my mind on the road. This road seems somewhat cursed; it’s more dangerous than one would think and it’s probably the last place I should be, but, well, I’m on it. I keep having these fantasies – if you could call them that, of violent interactions with motorists that start something with me on this road. Perhaps, they’ve veered too close to me, and then give me the finger. Those things happen.
The next part is pure fantasy: I somehow then find the car parked in the middle of the town. I take something heavy and, in my fantasy, I start pummeling the car until the owner comes out and I pummel them, until the police show and then… well, I become less than human. Another scenario plays after the altercation on the road, where the motorist finds me sitting, enjoying a cup of coffee and a book, wanting to start something and I defect, as I’m well and truly a civilized person. This does not sit well with their anger, so they go outside and take it out on my parked bicycle. Kicking it.
This is where I lose my shit and kick them. And then we fight, the cops come… it all sort of becomes the same primal fantasy.
None of this happens today.
I stop at Trident coffee shop and continue reading Abbey’s Desert Solitaire. I am now his #1 fan, almost unable to control my brimming love for his writing. As I read this book, I observe the people around me, with stuffy contempt; mostly students with large, very large egos and no experience to keep it inflated. Well intentioned liars, all of them. I could probably include myself in this category, if I was to be honest, but my honesty is nullified by the fact that I smell horrible and the bathroom in this joint will soon bare witness to a mass migration of clothing from this morning, where it was at the freezing point to now, where it’s a balmy, 85 degrees.
I leave without starting a fight and after purchasing a copy of Gary Snyder’s “danger on peaks”. Seemed fitting. From Boulder, Denver isn’t too far away, with only one small, steep hill to worry about on McCallison. When I was just starting to explore the environs of Denver on my bicycle, this hill was the huge brick wall between myself in the closest city to Boulder. Getting up and over it was the accomplishment I remember. Of course this day, it seems very small and plain; it’s hundreds of feet in elevation, not thousands and the top that seemed to incline into the clouds really is just a little bump in the road.
I pass through Standley Lake, following the green spaces as much as I can. Standley Lake has some simple paths of dirt to go on and opt for those, over the road, for a little variety. I pass a girl with tattoos of musical notes on her sleeve which I found queer; I passed her the last time I road this same path. A strange coincidence, my jonesing mind showing me my desires or nothing at all. Will never know.
Downtown Denver is found is short time. I stop at the giant outdoor sports store and give back the crampons and end the afternoon at My Brothers Bar, sucking on a soda pop and eating a most unforgettable cream cheese and jalapeño double cheese burger, medium rare.