Spring Creek Pass (Lake City) to Continental Divide
Day: 11.5 Miles
Trip: 376.1 Miles
After two days of loafing around Lake City, I’m itching to get moving again. As Mr. Oddity would say, my “fidget gene” is going off. I’m restless, pacing around Raven’s Rest Hostel, reading and rereading all of the bits of information that have been left here and there for backpackers to discover. I’m in the mood for one more gorging session, before I head back to the trail. I inquire with Geology Tom, a long-term guest from New Zealand, about a breakfast spot that serves stacks of French toast and dark coffee. He’s a skinny, young man, with the disheveled hair of a mad scientist who has better things to do than use a mirror in the morning. From the opposite side of his lap top, Geology Tom recommends a place called Tic Toc Diner. It’s on the far end of town, a five minute walk from here. Lake City, home to three or four-hundred residents, is tiny. Why is such a small place called a city, I wonder.
I invite Mr. Oddity to join me for breakfast, and take a seat in the living room while I wait for him to get ready. There’s a guest book sitting on the table in front of me, a collective diary created by an assortment of wanders who’ve passed through this Rocky Mountain nook. “Please sign, before you go!” the cover suggests. I pick up the relic, along with a nearby pen, and start flipping through pages. Everyone is grateful and appreciative to Lucky, the man who owns and operates Raven’s Rest Hostel. Some have left a few words, while others have written paragraphs and short stories about their experiences on and off the trail. A few of the names have the URLs of blogs next to them. One of the web addresses belongs to my Hawaiian acquaintances, Pippy and Zippy. I look it up with my phone. They call themselves the “incrediduo mother-daughter adventure team,” or some such thing. I smile and shake my head at the thought of what they’re doing, their ability to physically and emotionally transcend a generation gap in these rugged mountains. I’m particularly interested in a distraught post about Pippy’s stuffed animal, Tortoro, who went missing a few days ago. I know what happened to her beloved companion: Diptop found the white, lipless, creature lying in the dirt, when I was hiking with his group. He took an immediate liking to the bizarre-looking toy, named it No Lips, and declared that he would carry it all the way to Durango. I laugh out loud at the unlikeliness of my discovery, while leaving a comment on Pippy’s blog; I feel like a detective that just solved the worlds most useless case. Geology Tom looks up from his laptop, to see what all the fuss is about. He’s studying mineral deposits and fossil fuels, while I giggle like a schoolgirl about a missing stuffed animal. My life is ridiculous.
Surprisingly, Mr. Oddity has never been to an American diner. “I wish I’d brought my camera,” he confesses, while looking over the double-sided sheet of paper that serves as a menu. I suppress a cackle, trying not to choke on a gulp of coffee. “It’s fast, cheap, calorie-dense, American breakfast food,” I explain. “It’s the ideal cuisine for backpackers, while in town.” Mr. Oddity raises his eyebrows, without shifting his focus. I already know what I’m having, a stack of French toast and hash browns. These authentic diners always have the best hash browns. There are only two waitresses working the floor, zigzagging around each other, like bees in a hive, through a maze of occupied tables. I can tell the restaurant is understaffed and struggling to appease a hoard of hungry, time-conscious patrons. Mr. Oddity and I took the last available table, and most of the guests are still looking at their menus. This place filled up all at once, and now these two girls are getting their asses kicked, running back and forth, while I sit here and sip my coffee.
Our meals arrive and I marvel over the tower of carbohydrates and sugar set before me. I lift each piece of bread and slather its underside with butter, creating a triple-decker butter and sugar sandwich. I drown the entire concoction in maple syrup, spray a pile of fried potatoes with ketchup, and wash everything down with my third cup of coffee. “It’s like a heart attack on a plate,” I hear Mr. Oddity exclaim, from a place far away. Normally, I would agree with him, but not today. It’s going to be a while, before I pay mind to such things again. This is the best stack of heart attack that I’ve ever tasted.
I return to the town park that I attended yesterday, to meet the daily shuttle that transports hikers from Lake City to Spring Creek Pass. Mr. Oddity waits with me, but he’ll be staying in Lake City for another night. We haven’t talked about it until now, but that this will be our last goodbye. Mr. Oddity has an abundance of time to burn, whereas I’m already stretching my leave of absence a little thin. My work, relationships, living situation, and bank account are starting to tug at me from the east coast. We briefly embrace one another, and my tongue turns to knots. I want to say something meaningful, something that sums up the profound experience that we’ve shared together, but words elude me. In a few fleeting weeks, Mr. Oddity and I have experienced a lifetime of highs and lows together. I look him in the eye and smile at the memory of our day on Cotton Ridge Pass and the shit storm that we rode out under a bush. This is the man that I nearly pissed my pants next to; our bond is indescribably special. “You’re one of the good ones,” he says as we part ways. It takes one to know one, Mr. Oddity. You’ll be missed.
The complimentary shuttle service is organized and run by a few locals, including Lucky, the owner of Raven’s Rest Hostel. “You’re driving today, eh?” I ask, while tossing my pack into the back seat of his Honda Element. I love pretending that I have a french accent, when I travel. I grew up ten miles from the Canadian border, so I can pull it off quite nicely. “Yeah, looks like it,” Lucky responds. “You got everything? Did you forget anything at the hostel?” I appreciated his consideration, before dropping me off in the middle of nowhere. “Nope. I’ve got all fourteen pounds of my life back there in that bag.” He nods in agreement and we cruise out of Lake City.
Lucky, a native Irishman, first came to the United States to hike the Appalachian Trail in 2005. He had the time of his life, wandering up the east coast, and the following year he returned to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Like clockwork, Lucky came back in 2007 to hike the Continental Divide Trail and complete the Triple Crown of Hiking. It was during this 3,100-mile trek, from Mexico to Canada, that he visited Lake City for the first time and met a pretty, young girl that changed his life forever. Cupid shot them both in the ass, they fell in love, and spent the next two months hiking north towards Canada. Somewhere in the craggy mountains of Wyoming, they decided to leave the trail, elope, and move to Lake City, where they made three babies and opened Raven’s Rest Hostel. This is the most intense trailmance story that I’ve ever heard of, and I can’t help myself from stating the obvious: “Backpacking defined your entire life!” I exclaim, feeling like a Wheel of Fortune contestant that just solved the puzzle. Lucky is smiling. “It sure did. Sometimes, when I think about it, the whole thing feels like a dream.” My mind begins to fumble through the short archive of my backpacking career. In retrospect, it all seems surreal. “Life is supposed to be an adventure,” Lucky carries on. “If you know what’s going to happen every single day, you’re not doing it right.” I like this guy’s attitude.
When Lucky drops me off at Spring Creek Pass, there are two hikers standing by the road, waiting for a ride into Lake City. They look haggard and hungry, like reflections of myself from two days ago. “Have a good hike, man,” one of them says to me, while shuffling towards Lucky’s Honda. “Yeah, thanks. Enjoy Lake City,” I reply. I couldn’t be happier to be getting back on the trail, heading into the unknown. When I hiked through the Sierra Nevada Mountains last summer, I became acquainted with numerous John Muir quotes. “Going to the mountains is going home” was my favorite. These seven words define the emotion I experience, ascending into the San Juan Mountains.
Some of the Lake City locals told me that the rest of the trail is “nothing but eye candy.” I climb steadily for ten miles, rise above tree-line, and take a gander at what they were talking about. I’m treading on the Continental Divide again, this time in the San Juan Mountains, surrounded by craggy peaks and euphoric vistas in all directions.
In the morning, I’ll climb another eight-hundred feet to the highest point on the Colorado Trail and begin an epic twenty-five mile ridge walk towards Silverton, my last resupply town. For the first time since I left Waterton Canyon, the end of my voyage feels like a reality. I can see the light at the end of the trail, shining at me from a place called Durango, another town I know nothing about. I’m not sure what’s waiting for me in Durango and I’m in no hurry to find out, especially today. I pitch my shelter in a clearing near the ridge, fix myself a snack, and write in my journal, while gazing through the vestibule of my tent. It’s too nice out to be inside though, even if my house is made of silnylon. I wrap myself in layers of polyester and spend a couple of hours exploring the meadows, wildflowers, and unreal scenery that most will only ever see in books or on a television screen.
Life on the Divide