“Wow!” The words slipped from my lips as I stared at the waterfall directly across from me. My free hand held my camera in different angles trying to capture an ounce of the beauty as a keepsake. The other held firmly on the trekking pole that was gouged into the ground. It was mixture of that pole, a bit of traction my boots had managed to gain, and a few branches I had grabbed that finally brought my sliding down the 70 degree or so slope to a stop.
I looked again below me where the water was crashing down. Certain death did not await me unless some sort of freak accident should occur. The rocks, sticks, and rushing water from the siren that had beckoned me from the trail, though, probably could have done some damage. However, for the time being, I was safe where I was and had a stunning work of nature to take my thoughts away from the silly thing I had done.
It was the last full day of my road trip through Colorado and parts of Utah. The hike itself was a last-evening decision as I sat at Steamworks Brewing Company in Durango, enjoying a tasty Southwestern burger, Cajun fries, and a Prescribed Burn beer while trying to figure out the plans for the next day. When I stumbled across the reference to the hike while researching the area, intrigue instantly hit. The friendly bartender then said it should be a definite.
Without a doubt, the hike to Ice Lake was one of the prettiest ones I had ever done. The meadow of wildflowers in full bloom alone before the climb to the surreal blue mountain lake was worth the adventure in San Juan National Forest.
For much of the trip back from the lake, my thoughts had been about how I needed to share this hike with others. Names of friends ran through my mind as I thought about how much each of them would love it. Then contemplation on whether my mother would be up for it entered my mind with the verdict being she could do it. Finally, thoughts about coming back here and camping with my soul mate I have yet to date had made me smile. Those thoughts all seemed distant at the moment, for now I was thinking to myself how embarrassing it would be to ever return after I had to be rescued from my current predicament. As yet another distraction, my mind went back to everything this trip had been so far.
The Trip Had Been about the New Year’s Resolutions
When I first departed Hutchinson, thoughts about how the week away from work could be better spent on the New Year’s Resolutions first hit me. I could camp out at a coffee shop and finish a draft of the novel. Miles of Reno County could be traveled by bike. Meters could have been rowed. But then the Spanish podcast started, and I was soon saying words and phrases along with it. On the first hike, I planned out the remaining six chapters of my novel. The hikes themselves helped me move closer to my goals of being in the best shape of my life and the body fat percentage goal.
And then there were the extremely important resolutions with my getting to spend quality time with two of my best friends, Linda and John. Staying with both of them at different parts of the trip allowed me to hang out, talk for hours, and see their lives in their new homes.
Finally, there was the repeated test of my not being an island. Striking up a conversation has rarely been a problem for me. Getting close to others has been. When Gregg and Cindy invited me back to their cabin for dinner; April, Jeff, and Chip invited me to join them for a side excursion to Calypso Cascades; and Jay invited me to hang out with Andy and him at their campsite in Moraine Park, my immediate reaction was to retreat to my old ways, thank them for the invitation, and then go off on my own; however, after a pause with each, I rethought my ways and took up the offer. Needless to say, I was glad that I had done so with each.
The Trip Had Been about Going the Extra Mile or Four
Long before the trip had started, I already had my hikes picked out in Rocky Mountain National Park. The first day would be in Wild Basin to Thunder Lake. The second day would be to Flattop Mountain from the Bear Lake Trailhead, and the third day was to head to Mt. Ida from Poudre Lake. Things, though, changed after visiting the lovely Thunder Lake and on my way back I came across the 2.2 miles to Lion Lake #1 sign. My heading down that trail led to a lake that took my breath away, and then on the way back, I came across April, Jeff, and Chip, a trio I had run into at Thunder Lake and had enjoyed even though our time had been very brief. The rest of the hike was spent with them getting to hear stories from the amazing Fort Collins architects and the great love between the two (as well as about Chip’s adventures across the country and some of the stops he had already made on his journey).
Flattop Mountain led to my climbing up Hallett Peak, and once again, the views were unbelievable, but that is where I met another amazing couple from only thirty miles away from Hutchinson. Almost an hour went by as we chatted on the top of this stunning place in the park with a stack of rocks keeping us warm from the chilly, strong winds. By the end, they had decided I was their son they didn’t have, and they had given me proof that hopeless romantic love could still be there even after thirty-some years of marriage. It was also because of this addition that I met John from Georgia on the way down and had some great conversations with him, and, at the very last bit of the trail, met Gregg who had been abandoned by his hiking partner/wife, Cindy, who, being an excellent hiker, was waiting for him in the parking lot.
It was then the next morning on top of Mt. Ida where I found Gregg and Cindy examining the horizon as Gregg identified the peaks that surrounded us from his copy of Lisa Foster’s hiking book for the park. After quite some time up there together, we decided the three of us would explore Jagor Point, which provided even more beautiful views of the lakes below. Plus, this extra part of the plan led to my getting to know these absolutely wonderful people who were also still very much in love with each other after over thirty years of marriage.
And as I look back, if I would not have done any of these extra hikes, never would the best experiences during those hikes have happened.
The Trip Had Been about Relationships
From my very first night in Denver where I spent it with Linda and Tom, a reoccurring theme of people who had found their soul mate started. All three days of hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park led to my spending quality time with people still very much in love with their partners. That love easily showed with the way they looked at each other whether it be when they were hiking or talking about how they met (I ask all sorts of questions of strangers/hiking friends while we share the trails) regardless if they had been together nine or thirty-nine years. With the trip also giving me the chance to see the only two people with whom I had ever been in a serious relationship, I could juxtapose my relationships with those I had met. While both people are wonderful, beautiful, and amazing, we just were not great together romantically. And this trip had definitely hit me over the head time and again with the people I had met, the stories they had shared, and the love I had seen of what I have yet to look forward to finding.
The Trip Was about the Past and the Future
While being careful not to live in the past, Rocky Mountain National Park is loaded with great memories that launched others, so much reflection took place about the hikes I had shared with John and Shane as well as the ones I did last year during a relatively rocky point in my life. The long drives and the songs that played took me back as well.
And then there were the visits with Shane, Linda, and John, who are all at different stages with their departure from Central Kansas. Shane leaves on Monday, so he is going through the goodbyes and visiting his favorite places and favorite people one last time as a resident of Kansas. Linda moved several months ago and, with her great husband Tom, has been exploring the area and discovering so many neat things in her new home city. Then there is John, who has lived in Salt Lake City for 2.5 years now. He has definitely made it home with his getting a delightful dog, buying a house, and making so many great friends.
Only Fate knows when the time will come, but the three of them gave me a glimpse of what will be in store for me when the time comes for me to depart from Central Kansas.
And then there was the situation where I was right now, staring at a beautiful waterfall and contemplating my own rescue. Being your stereotypical guy, I wasn’t going to try to get help until there was no other choice, and there were still choices in front of me. In fact, there were three – I could try to go back the way that I came and climb up the slope towards much firmer ground that seemed like quite some distance away; I could take the horizontal route and hope for no more slippage and loose ground to take out my footing; or I could climb on down to the stream, follow it for a bit, and find a way back up to the trail from there.
Examining the possible routes left me with only one that felt relatively safe, which seemed like a good thing to consider now that I was in this situation, so carefully I made my way to where the side of the hill and the water met. There I stood, closed my eyes, took in a deep breath, and felt mist from the waterfall refreshingly hit my face. At that moment, everything seemed right, and that was exactly where I was supposed to be at that time. Opening my eyes after awhile, I soaked in the surroundings for one last minute before turning away from the waterfall and my former perch to head towards a good but still very challenging path that would take me to my unknown but yet beautiful future that awaited me.
And a few other stops along the adventure: