Friday, April 29, 2022

Day 86: Slackpacking: Living the good life

July 15: The weather today was expected to generally be nice, and it was time to enjoy a bit of hiking without a full pack weighing me down! It was, however, over 20 miles between where I got off the trail in Rocky Mountain NP and Willow Creek Pass where Amanda could pick me up again. And over these rugged Rocky Mountain mountains, that could take all day! So I planned for a super-early start. But it was still about an hour to drive to the trail from Winter Park, so we set the alarm for 5:30am, which I hoped would get me on the trail and hiking by 7:00am.

The added benefit of leaving so early was that we weren't required to have a reservation to enter the park, nor was there anyone at the toll booths to collect an entrance fee.

So Amanda dropped me off, and I started hiking with nothing more than a light day pack. It felt wonderful!

The trail followed the road for a bit before veering off to the mountains to the west. It ran through the burn area for a bit, but then exited into a healthy forest and steadily climbed ever upwards eventually peaking nearly 3,000 feet higher over Bowen Pass. After Bowen Pass, the trail moderated a bit, largely following the contours of the mountains rather than the steep ups and downs.

That's Bowen Pass in the distance.

Early in the afternoon, I caught up with a hiker who introduced himself as Milkshake.

"Oh, really?" I said. "I've met a Milkshake before...."

So naturally I had to tell him the whole story. (It's a pretty crazy and interesting story--among one of my favorites to tell. Because, you know, it's not often that I'm deliberately looking for a dead body in the woods! At night! Well worth a read if you aren't familiar with the story and infinitely more interesting than today's blog post!)

This was not the same Milkshake whose body I tried finding in the woods in the dark, but it was the first time he had heard of someone else using that trailname--much less to have such an interesting story attached to it.

About 15 minutes later, we caught up with another hiker. This was one named Puffy, another guy I had never met before, but it was Milkshake's hiking partner so Milkshake stopped to rejoin his usual hiking partner who had stopped for a rest and I continued on alone. But I did tell them that they shouldn't fall too far behind me because I had it under good authority that there was some epic trail magic at Willow Creek Pass, but it wouldn't be there for very long after I arrived. ;o)

I know Amanda was pretty disappointed during her last visit to only run into one hiker to give out trail magic too. Here there were two people! But it only lasted as long as I was there.

About 5 minutes after parting ways with Milkshake and Puffy, I found Skunkbear on the side of the trail eating lunch. Skunkbear!!! Now there's a familiar face! =)

Bumped into Skunkbear on the trail!

So I stopped to chat with her a bit and catch up. The last time I had seen her was way back in Creede, and it wasn't until today when I finally figured out that I had actually left Creede before her. All this time I thought she had been ahead of me most of the time, but it turned out that I had actually been ahead of her the entire time. Well, until yesterday when I took a zero day and she finally passed me ever so briefly.

After finishing lunch, we hiked the last 5 miles to the pass together. Skunkbear said that she hoped there was a water source near the pass. I assured her that there would definitely be water. *nodding* And even better, it was clean drinking water from town. She wouldn't have to treat it or anything. "You just have to make sure to get there before I do," I told her somewhat jokingly. "There might even be balloons." Amanda likes people to know it's my birthday. Or in this case, it was my birthday yesterday.

An hour into the hike, Skunkbear spotted a moose in a distant meadow. This moose was quite a distance away and was nothing more than a dot in my camera, but it just confirmed for me that this area had a huge moose population! I'd seen moose out here every day for the last three days now! 

There were definitely some blowdowns along the way that slowed us down!

The last few miles of the trail before the pass were once again in the burn area, with a few problematic blowdowns slowing our progress on the trail. It's weird how the fire seemed to jump around like this, but it was part of the same fire that devastated the national park and the vicinity around Grand Lake.

And immediately upon reaching the pass and exiting from the trees, Skunkbear--who had been hiking in front of me--turned around and said, "I see balloons!"

Yep, Amanda was already there. And Amanda had picked up birthday balloons from somewhere after dropping me off.

Skunkbear hung around for about an hour, eating snacks and drinks. Amanda reported that there was one other hiker who passed by while she was there, which had been for several hours, but it wasn't a name I recognized. 

I did mention that Milkshake and Puffy were behind me somewhere, and I imagined they would arrive at any minute. I'd only left them for 5 minutes when I caught up with Skunkbear, after all, and then I stopped to chat with her for several minutes. And I had definitely mentioned the trail magic at the pass, so they knew this was here. It seemed likely that they couldn't have been more than 5 or 10 minutes behind me.

But the minutes clicked by, and they weren't showing up. What happened to them?

Amanda had brought some more temporary tattoos after I told her about using up the ones I started with, and Skunkbear was excited to put some on, so we all put on some tats.

And Skunkbear filled up with lots of water from the jugs that Amanda had brought. Skunkbear seemed a bit shy about taking too much food or drink, like if she took too much, there would be less for others behind her. But we assured her that as soon as she started hiking again, we were jumping in the car and heading back to Winter Park for the night. Any left over food or drinks would be consumed by us or thrown out, so by all means... pig out!

We lounged around chatting for the better part of an hour, but finally Skunkbear said she had more miles that she wanted to get done before dark and said goodbye, heading off into the forest never to be seen again. (Well, never seen by me again. Obviously, there were others who would see her!) I kind of thought at the time that might be the last time I'd see her on the trail--she seemed to hike faster than I did and I was now behind her. It seemed unlikely I'd be catching up at this point, but who knows?

Milkshake and Puffy never showed up. I don't know what happened to them, but we definitely didn't feel like sitting around for another couple of hours waiting for them to pass by. Maybe they even stopped to set up camp already? We just had no idea, but we'd already been there for an hour! No trail magic for them, I guess. Their loss.

Then we made the long drive back to Winter Park for the night. Our stay at the Airbnb that Amanda had reserved had come to an end so we checked out when we left that morning, but I made a reservation at a hotel across the street which is where we headed when we returned to the town.

It was an uneventful drive. The password for the hotel's wi-fi didn't seem to work, but I noticed that if I sat by the window looking out over the main street through town, I could actually pick up a weak wi-fi signal from the Airbnb we had stayed in the previous two nights! That's how close we were! Problem solved! =)

This was the first day I noticed pink elephant heads on the trail.

Kinda weird how it can look so green and lush on one side of the trail and a barren wasteland on the other!

Amanda and Skunkbear

Skunkbear shows off her new temporary tattoo! =)

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