Monarch Crest (Salida) to Jay Creek Rd
Day: 17.3 Miles
Trip: 281 Miles
I’m standing outside of a cafe called Lucky Dog, with a twenty ounce coffee in one hand and a blueberry muffin the size of a softball in the other, when I notice a bearded man with a backpack wandering along the opposite side of the street. That looks like one of my people, a mountain person lost in a maze of pavement. No, that is one of my people; I know that person! “George!” The word escapes my lungs, effortlessly, without consent. Stumbling into a trail friends Is like rediscovering a childhood pal that you thought you’d lost forever. It’s been 120 miles and ten days, since I last saw George. We’ve so much to talk about.
George comes back to the Simple Lodge Hostel with me, to chug java, reminisce, and exchange new trail tales of sweat and grime. Neither John, the hostel owner, or any other management representative is present, which has been the case, throughout most of my stay at the establishment. On John’s behalf, I invite George to make use of the shower, bathroom, and kitchen. “Make yourself at home, George. The hiker box is over there. Fix yourself a snack.” Playing host is fun, gratifying. I feel like a saint. “I was going to stay here last night,” he tells me, “but the sign outside said there was no vacancy. I ended up closing down the bars and camping by the river, next to the homeless people.” A sense of humor and the willingness to be adaptive will go a long way, on a trip like this. George’s attitude is providing him with a cheap ticket through the town of Salida.
George needs a new rain parka, and I have a bad habit of leaving my tent stakes stuck in the ground, after I use them to dig catholes, so we mingle towards the only outdoor gear shop in town. The retail representative doesn’t seem to appreciate my story about improvised trowel mishaps, but he does inform me of a local trail angel who gives hikers rides to and from Monarch Crest. “He’s retired and does this stuff all the time, he says, while scribbling on a small piece of paper and handing it to me. I feel like I picked up a promising lottery ticket.
I dial the number, having no idea what to expect. calling strangers and asking for twenty-mile car rides isn’t a habit of mine. The voice of an elder gentleman answers on the third ring. I tell him my story, and he says he’ll meet me at a local pizza shop in ten minutes or less. “We’ll, that’s prompt,” I say to George, while stuffing my cellphone into my pocket. It’s as is he was sitting by the phone, waiting for me to call, before I knew he existed. George intends to spend another night in Salida, drinking beers and sleeping by the river, so we part ways on the sidewalk, unsure if we’ll cross paths again.
Louis is a legitimate trail angel, someone who’ll bend over backwards to help complete strangers have successful thru-hikes. Less than ten minutes, from the time to that I call him, Louis parks his white Subaru Forester in front of Moonlight Pizza.
After three cups of coffee, I slide into the passenger seat, feeling like a babbling idiot. This isn’t a problem though, since Louis loves to talk gear, trail, and Rocky Mountain adventure. “How you like those shoes you’re wearing?” He asks. “What kind of water filter you using?” He carries on. This guy is genuinely interested in hearing about everything and anything I’m willing to share about my time on the trail. Thank you, Louis!
It’s one o’clock, when I get to Monarch Crest, but I still manage to burn up seventeen miles of trail. I’m reenergized, from my day off, stuffed full of carbs, and focused. I feel awesome and the feeling only grows stronger, when I pass a sign that tells me I’m officially done with the Collegiate West Wilderness.
Ironically, I find myself walking through hail, an hour later. The grouch knows no boundaries, like a stalker that won’t let go.
The shit storm is temporary, however, and my stellar mood is left untarnished. A new chapter has begun, I’ve passed the halfway point of The Colorado Trail. Changes are on the horizon, changes that involve cow skulls stuck in barbed wire fences.
The sun is begging to set, as I scour the trails edges for a flat spot to rest my tent. It takes a well trained eye to do this efficiently, a skill I’m still toning. “Fidget!” a familiar voice shouts from the woods. I laugh. “Fidget” is a trail name that Mr. Oddity branded me with, when we were getting out asses kicked on Cottonwood Pass. I told him that one of the things I loved most about backpacking is being able to stay moving all day. “I’m normally a very restless person,” I explained. “I pace a lot, can’t sit still.” He laughed. “You’ve got a fidget gene. That’s all.”
Mr. Oddity isn’t here at the moment; I assume he’s ahead of me somewhere. Bastard Sherpa, Diptop, and Sprout have found a cozy patch of woods to rest their bones for the night, the sun is sinking, and I could use some fresh trail company. I drop my pack to the ground and dig out my tent. It’s good to be back in the mountains.