Take a Trek

Day 11: Trail Angel For a Day

Tennessee Pass (Leadville Hostel) to Timberline
Day: 11.3 Miles
Trip: 154.1 Miles

If the Leadville Hostel had a trail name, it would be “Zero Day.” Wild Bill has created a black hole that feeds on outdoor enthusiasts. He’s so convinced that his guests will spend a second night, after being dazzled by their first, that he denies accepting payment until the morning. It’s tempting, but I’ll save my zero day for when I need it.

I find Wild Bill wandering around the dining room, finishing up his introductory rant with a pair of fresh Germans. “The splatter guard is next to the microwave for a reason, okay?” When I inquire about checkout times, he takes a deep breath, sighs, and says “now, if you’re really leaving, the checkout time is 10:30 for people that we don’t like. Otherwise, you’re welcome to hang around ’till the sun goes down, as long as your stuff is out of the room by 10:30.” I wince. “Look, get you’re things out of the room, by 10:30, so housekeeping can get in there, and then stick around as long as you want. The checkout time is for folks that we don’t like.” I guess I should have known that Wild Bill liked me, when he tried to make oh with my ear last night.


Wild Bill getting frisky

Wild Bill offers me a ride back to the trailhead, in exchange for a favor. He asks that I help refill a small trail magic cache, twenty yards up the trail from Tennessee Pass. “You don’t have to hitch, plus you get to be a trail angel for a day,” he explains. I’ll also get first dibs on whatever we put in that little cache of his. I grab my pack and head for the parking lot.


Wild Bill’s magical box

With the fresh trail magic in place, I walk Wild Bill back to his truck and request that he doesn’t pass to the other side any time soon. According to Leadville legend, he died from a heart attack, in 1977, came back to life, and built the greatest hostel on earth. “I won’t die again, unless the timing is right,” he says, while shutting the door of his truck. Thunk.

And now the real fun begins: My ravenous appetite and I are completely alone, with a treasure chest full of junk food.


Junk food treasure chest

Changes in atmosphere and scenery are often distinct and dramatic, upon entering wilderness areas. The Holy Cross Wilderness is notable for its jagged, towering peaks, and the voracious insect population that dwells here.


Entering Holy Cross Wilderness

I move swiftly, maintaining a breeze, to keep the bloodsuckers at bay. I’ll enjoy this scenery on the move, it’s the only possible way. “Well, hello there, Mr. RJ,” a voice calls from the side of the trail. It’s Roger, or “Mr. Oddity,” as he’s known on the trail. “Come have a seat and take a load off, won’t ‘cha’?” I join Mr. Oddity and another hiker, Paul, for as long as my exposed skin can afford. A few days ago, the zipper on the right leg of my conversion pants broke. Frustrated, I mailed the zip-on legs home, along with my busted tent. Now, I’m running around the Rocky Mountains with a single pair of shorts and the leggings that I reserve for sleeping in at night. Basically, I’m a severe badass.

I’m amused to here that Paul has also met Jon and Anton, or “Beavis and Butthead,” as he refers to them. “I camped with them a few nights ago. They were out of food, so they were trying to trade me weed for something to eat.” I’m laughing, picturing this likely scenario in my head. “I told them I was all set, but gave them some food anyway. Those guys are something else.” The laugh is appreciated, but my legs are an insect buffet; It’s time to move, turn the breeze on again.

I climb out of the meadow, seamlessly, effortlessly, powered by little Debbie snacks and soda pop. I don’t consume things like this in my “normal” life. I’m wasted on sugar.


Holy Cross Wilderness Area

By the time I reach Timberline and set up camp, little rivers of blood are running down my legs. I reach into my beard, with swollen hands, and remove the mutilated remains of kamikaze mosquitoes. I cover up with my leggings and build a fire, smoke is the original insect repellant. “Well, hello there! Is this the mosquito-free campsite?” Paul is heaving his way up the trail. “Sure is. I’ve got it all warmed up for you boys.” Mr. Oddity is close behind.

Let me tell you something about Mr. Oddity: After sixty-three revolutions around the sun, this man is nearly twice my age, and his pack is three times the weight of my own. The fact that Mr. Oddity has held pace with me for the past seventy miles is mind-boggling. The next time you here someone say they’re “too old” to do something, think of Mr. Roger Oddity and slap them in the face. If the person complaining about being too old is you, slap twice.


Mr. Oddity

While eating dinner, we watch the atmosphere above us fade from magenta to orange. Blue and purple are added to the great canvas in the sky, before the dramatic sequence fades to black.


Awesome sunset

But the show is far from over.

To the far east, a magnificent spectacle has begun, a fierce lightning storm is battering a distant mountain range. The barrage of strikes lights up the sky, like an enormous strobe light. We watch, from the warmth of our campfire, our insect repellant. Paul recites an old cowboy poem that he memorized as a boy, and Mr. Oddity plays his tin whistle. It’s an unusual scenario that yields a unique sense of contentment.


Tin Whistles and Cowboy Poems