I am a goal-oriented person, and now that I look back over pre-trip email exchanges I understand my mistake. If I would have read Rob’s communication as the explicit, complete explanation of the plan I would have been better prepared psychologically: “We have a tentative plan for three dudes to backpack the Front Range September 26-28.” My brain added “details to follow,” but three dudes backpacking the Front Range was all Rob and Ed needed to know.
I pinpoint the beginning of my confusion with the girl with perfect teeth. We came across a lot of really healthy looking people going up Gray’s and Torrey’s, and once we’d completed that one quite concrete goal we seemed to walk into a sort of undefined mist of “what to do next.” At precisely this point, the girl with perfect teeth showed up. I’m not going to say she flirted with Rob and especially Ed at 13,000 feet, because they’re both married, while I stood there and silently observed–because I am also married–and attempted to not pass out. But when she finally turned to begin her descent while we three prepared to begin whatever the next phase of this trip was going to be, we suddenly became three dudes backpacking the Front Range. She walked out of earshot, and all I could think to say was “she had really nice teeth,” to which Ed added “well, if she’s so great why isn’t she at her job today?” Rob said something like “I believe she and Ed are meeting for pizza later,” followed by “I think we should follow the cairns that way.” I had understood that we were going to hike a section of the Continental Divide Trail, which sounds like a well-defined trace following the exact line on the map where water flows toward the Pacific rather than east, so a from-the-hip decision to follow some cairns in a general direction surprised me. “Don’t you have a map?,” which is a pretty straightforward question that I never got an answer to, which in three dudes out backpacking code means “no.”
Turns out we didn’t need a map, because following the Continental Divide Trail was not nearly as important to Rob and Ed as following a trail on the Continental Divide. They just wanted to be out, and once I understood it was easy for me to re-set my “goal” to “just keep walking, and as long as you make your flight home on Sunday it’s all good.”
You don’t meet a lot of people out on the trail, but the ones you do are usually pretty interesting. About half-way up Mt. Edwards on Day 2, we were overtaken by a 72-year old out doing part of the loop we were attempting, but as a day trip with a much lighter load. We met coming the other way a young guy who had just made it across a tricky looking knife edge we were getting ready to cross, after he had already ascended another difficult peak just beyond Gray’s. We all nodded afterward when Rob noted that “any time you think you’re out doing something pretty badass, there’s always somebody out there doing something even more badass.” I think that was the real wisdom of the trail that I got from Rob and Ed, that difficulty is relative and depends mostly on your attitude any given day, and that what matters is just being out in a beautiful place. When you accept and believe those two things, you shed all the baggage you went outdoors to escape in the first place, and open yourself up to what is incredible around you. But I still had to make it out of there alive.
Seriously? After the first night driving in an endless search for the trailhead, you still woke up the next day with expectations?
I don’t want to spoil “On The Road Day 3” for you. I’ve been otherwise occupied, but will have it to the presses soon. But this is a great opportunity to say whatever I want and not have to edit it for clarity. So . . . ahem . . . yes. I came to Colorado to learn as much as I could from people who knew much more about backpacking than I did, hoping to figure out your secret knowledge as I try to expand my own goals and capabilities. I arrived with an open mind and an open spirit. I took that first evening, and the 50 or so extra miles of back country sightseeing, as a suggestion that I lighten up a bit, that not everything has to be planned in detail, or that plans have to be followed, or that a plan always has to work out if you happen to know what the plan is. I’ll admit, there may have been a hazy shadow of “concern” (perhaps too strong a word, but the first that comes to mind) that I had hooked up with “Larry and Moe Go To Colorado,” but I was ok with that . . . until it became obvious the next day I was probably going to die somewhere near but not precisely on the Continental Divide.
It was an excellent adventure that has improved with age and distance. I look forward to the next.
Can’t wait to see if you make it out alive.