Take a Trek

Day 10: Wild Bill

South of Kokomo Pass to Tennessee Pass (Leadville Hostel)
Day: 11.8 Miles
Trip: 142.8 Miles

Sleeping in the basin next to a mountain pass is never a great idea, since these places are sinkholes for cold air. I wake up, shivering, in a tent full of gear that’s been drenched with condensation. Topless Tom has already left, and I’m not sure what George is doing in that burrito-bed of his, but I’m out of here. I need to start hiking and generate some body heat.


George-The Burrito

I meet a trio of elder women that resemble The Golden Girls, near a landmark known as Camp Hale. The women explain to Topless Tom and I that the long concrete structure before us was used as a bunker, by the 10th Army Division, during World War II. “They trained for combat here,” she tells us. “One of those boys that trained here drowned in a lake, just last winter. He used to ski from his house to the other side of the lake, to check his mail. He fell through the ice and died from hypothermia.” I’m not sure what to say. I can’t believe what I’m looking at.


Camp Hale

And I’m not sure how to feel, when I find out that I’m hiking through an area that possibly contains live munitions. I haven’t seen a sign this sketchy, since Waterton Canyon.


Another sign of sketch

It’s been ten days and 142 miles, since my clothes have seen this inside of a washing machine. Doing laundry at camp is good fun, but the Leadville Hostel is only ten miles down the road from Tennessee Pass. It’s hitchhiking time.

While crossing a trailhead parking lot, I strike up a conversation with a touristy-looking man, named Ken. He and his wife, visiting from Boston, are in the middle of a sightseeing extravaganza. When I tell him what I’m doing, Ken offers to give me a ride to Leadville. “We’re going there anyway,” he says, enthusiastically. “Hey Jean” He yells to his wife. “This guy just walked here from Denver! He’s been out here for ten days!”

Ken and Jean have a son, who thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail a number of years ago, so they’re familiar with the program. I’m dirty and hungry and there’s a promising trail town nearby. It’s pretty apparent that these folks, especially Ken, are more than happy to be helping me out. “He’s been out there for ten days,” he tells Jean, four or five more times, with a smile on his face. Once we get to Leadville, they insist on delivering me to the doorstep of the hostel. In return, I offer my sincere gratitude and pose for a picture with Jean. I’m not just a backpacker, I’m a tourist attraction.


Jean and Ken

From the outside, the Leadville hostel makes me wonder if I’ve been tricked into joining a hippie commune.


Leadville Hostel

But, when I walk through the front door, I realize that I’ve stumbled into something special.


Entering the Leadville Hostel

The establishment is owned and run by a stern personality, named Wild Bill. Wild Bill takes me on a wild tour of his wild hostel, while rattling off rules and regulations, like an auctioneer who’s given the same spiel nine million times. “This here is the kitchen, okay? Everything is right where you need it. If you use something, clean it and put it back, okay? There’s a splatter guard for food in the microwave. It’s there for a reason. You’ll notice the microwave is spotless, lets keeps it that way, okay?”


Leadville Hostel Kitchen

“This here is the dining room, okay? If you eat here, which you probably will, take your dishes back to the kitchen when you’re done. We don’t want to see any dirty dishes laying around, okay?”


Leadville Hostel Dining Area

“If you want to watch TV, that’s fine. You want to read a book or use one of these games, that’s fine too, just as long as everything goes back where it belongs, okay?”


Leadville Hostel Lounge

“This here is the bathroom. Everything stays clean, okay? If you need a towel, it’s a dollar, okay?” I tell him I have my own towel, and he tosses one of his own into my arms anyway. “Yeah, but just feel it. It’s all nice and fluffy, isn’t it?”

Initially, I find Wild Bill to be a bit abrasive, but his spiel is justified. For twenty-five dollars a night, this place has everything that a mountain-weary wander could possibly ask for, plus much more. In order to keep it this way, he needs everyone who walks through the door to respect what he’s created, which is a hostel with one of the best cost to awesome ratios in existence.

At some point, during Wild Bill’s tornado of an introduction, a few familiar faces walk through the door. Roger, the Irishman from England, has arrived. I first crossed paths with Roger at mile seventy, as I was trying to hitch a ride into Leadville. Also, to my astonishment, Jon and Anton have just arrived. How the hell did these two catch up to me, I wonder. I burned up 22 miles of trail, including three passes, yesterday. “We skipped that last section,” Anton says, with a slight chuckle. “Yeah, we were falling behind,” Jon adds. “Oh…Kay…,” I don’t know what else to say. “I guess your new trail name can be skippy,” I joke towards Jon. “No. No, it’s not,” he snaps. Whatever. I’m hungry.

Did I mention that Wild Bill offers his guests the use of bicycles to get around the town of Leadville. George and I are doing groceries in style.


George, a grocery shopping maniac

Since the scale at Leadville Hostel informed me that I’ve already lost six pounds, I’ve decided that its perfectly reasonable to hang out in the Safeway parking lot and eat a jar of peanut butter.


I need calories

We love you too, Leadville.


Leadville loves itself

And we love your old, mining-town dive bar.


Trying to go out for drinks

Even if the elevation and physical exertion of backpacking make me drunk after one beer.