South of Chalk Creek Wilderness to Monarch Crest (Salida)
Day: 12 Miles
Trip: 263.7 Miles
By the time I wake up, I’ve been confined to my sleeping bag for nearly fifteen hours. For the first time in two days, I’m warm and energetic, ready to hike. My fever must have broken, during the night. I’m anxious to get to Monarch, hitch a ride to Salida, and stuff my face with a variety of Italian carbs.
The only major climb of the day is a one-thousand-foot scramble to the top of Bald Mountain. It mocks me from afar, for being a lazy bum yesterday. I can’t wait to step all over it.
Standing on the summit of Bald Mountain, I feel better than I have in days. The struggles and discomforts that were experienced in The Collegiate West seem petty and irrelevant.
The emotional lows of backpacking often come in waves, a smothering sensation that make moments like this immensely powerful.
I’d like to wait for Mr.Oddity, share this moment with someone, but time isn’t a friend of mine right now. I’m still a little worn down, tired, low on calories, and I have a long ridge walk ahead of me. If The Grouch awakens and mixes up another batch of shit storm, the progress I’ve made in health will be haltered and reversed.
We live on a spec of perfection, within a universe of infinite possibilities. I could walk these ridge lines forever. Heaven isn’t unattainable, it’s all around us. If you’re alive, you’re part of it.
I turn around, to look for Mr.Oddity, to tell him that I can taste nirvana, but the ridge of Bald Mountain has been swallowed by fog.
The store at Monarch crest, the home of my resupply package, finally comes into view. There’s a hostel in a salida, twenty miles east from here. I’m a mere thumb ride away from all of the conveniences that society takes for granted.
Catching a ride out of Monarch Crest is more difficult that I anticipated. A car pulls over, twenty feet behind me. I approach the driver of the vehicle to say hello, and the woman bounces out of her seat. “Did you stop for me?” I ask. She has six inches of a foot-long Subway sandwich in her mouth. Her eyes are the size of small saucers, as she shakes her head back and forth. I smile, trying not to laugh. The woman tosses the remaining sandwich onto the passenger seat and hastily drives away. I couldn’t have taken a ride from her anyway; I promised my friends and family that I would’t take rides from sketchy people who pull over the curbs of highways to binge eat.
A truck pulls over in front of me. While walking towards the vehicle, a camera-wielding arm stretches out from the passenger window. I see the fingers fondling buttons. The arm retracts, and the truck resumes down the highway. I’ve never been led on and teased, while hitchhiking before. I should have worn something a little less sexy.
I’ve been waving my thumb in the air for an hour, when a rusty truck, with a bed full of rusty bicycles, stops five feet from where I stand. A sunburned man, in dirty overalls, leaves the drivers seat to greet me. “Dogs are in the back seat, and my son’s In the front seat, but I got room in the truck bed, if you want.” I thank him, tell him I need to get as close to Salida as possible, and sit down, next to a pile of rusty bicycles.
The Simple Lodge Hostel delivers what it advertises, basic accommodation for backpackers, vagabonds, and budget-minded travelers. I don’t usually take zero days, while trekking, but considering the ass-kicking I took in the Collegiate West Wilderness, I think I can make an acception. I reserve a bed for two nights, upon arrival.
I’m in the middle of getting the lowdown about washing machine whereabouts and funny looking town clothes, when Mr. Oddity arrives and drops his hand on my shoulder. “Don’t listen to a word he tells you!” He’s cackling and smiling, like a drunk rental clown at a kid’s birthday party. The hostel owner, smiling, has paused his spiel. He knows that the thru-hikers have endured an onslaught of nasty storms. A little crackpot behavior is to be expected. The weathers been pretty bad up there, huh?”
The trail is washed from our skin, hair, and clothing, but remains in our spirits. Mr. Oddity and I are clean, a bit more sensible, and ready to embark on a quest to silence our stomachs. Three other hostel-dwelling thru-hikers, Bastard Sherpa, Diptop, and Sprout, join us at a local pizza parlor. Also in attendance are Claire, a supposed vocal actor, and Ben an aspiring fly fishing guide. The feast is mammoth, fitting, and deserved. It’s not quite as tasty as nirvana, but close enough.