Jefferson Lake Rd to Hwy 9 (Breckenridge)
Day: 26.8 Miles
Trip: 104.5 Miles
I’m quickly approaching Mike and Chris, during my ascent of Georgia Pass. Mike, who has no idea that I’m behind him, is singing a tremendous version of “Bad to the Bone.” He’s even including the guitar riff that accompanies each line of the verse. “Nah, nah, nah, nuh, nuh!” I can’t take this any more. It’s time to make my presence known. “Morning, Guys!” Mike, slightly startled, turns around. “Oh, hey there. We figure you’d be jet-streaming past us eventually.” I smile. At the age of 68, he’s a wise-ass with a big heart, to be doing a hike of this magnitude.
At 11,900 feet, Georgia Pass is an impressive sight that offers a visual juxtaposition of rock, snow, and wild flowers.
At the bottom of the pass, a mountain biker approaches me from behind and stops for a chat. “Passed a guy three miles ago, who took a pretty bad fall. He was with his wife,” he says, while catching his breath. My blood pressure is rising. I press for more information. “I guess he dislocated his shoulder. His face is a little cut up, but he seemed to be in pretty good spirits.” Of course he’s in good spirits, he’s a smart ass. “We looked at a map and worked out the best way for him to get out, from the road that you and I just crossed.” I ask if they need any help, but the mountain biker doesn’t seem to think it’s necessary. “They said they were fine, that they were going to just take their time getting down to the road.” I trust this statement to be true, and I prefer to think that Georgia Pass will not be Mike’s last.
I’ll remember Mike and Chris fondly, for their stories about trekking through the Andes. “We hiked from hut to hut,” Mike said with a smile, “and they fed us a lot of rat.” Chris must have noticed my eyes widening, because she interrupted her husband. “They were mountain rats, not city rats.” I wasn’t sure what to say. “Ah, when in Rome, I suppose.” I hoped then, as I do now, that I never get that hungry during a backpacking trip.
While crossing a footbridge, I meet Jon and Anton. I hike with the young duo, for the remainder of the day. Jon and I make conversation easily, as we’ve both done thru-hikes of the Vermont Long Trail. We talk mud, bugs, and walking 272 miles through a green tunnel. While climbing a small hill called “U Turn,” Jon says “Going uphill exhausts you, going down hurts.” I’m not sure why I’ve never thought of it this way, but he’s absolutely correct. Jon also points out that I shouldn’t ever feel homeless, when I’m on a trek, because “home is where your heart is. As long as you’re doing what you love, you’re always home.” I like this kid.
The trail becomes unsightly, as we make our descent towards Highway 9, the road that leads to Breckenridge. This section of forest has been purposely clear-cut, to protect the nearby residential areas from potential forest fires.
Residential areas, like the one below us now. Malvina Reynolds’ “Little Boxes” comes to mind.
Breckenridge is a pretty easy place for backpackers to get in and out of, since the trail crosses Highway 9, next to a bus stop. I was already planning on going into Breckenridge, before I got here, but the need became much more imminent, a couple hours ago, when I realized I was losing my mind. The only thing I know for certain is that mild dehydration and altitude sickness are making me sick. I need to find some accommodation and put myself back together.
To my dismay, the Breckenridge hostel, Fireside Inn, has no vacancy. It’s Friday night, and this entire town is bustling with tourists in funny packs. Having no backup plan, I’m feeling quite screwed. Making plans, at the moment, is not my forte.
Jon and Anton spot a head shop, as we wander aimlessly, and lose their minds with excitement. “Hey! We’re gonna go check it out! Wanna come?” I can’t think straight. I have no idea what to do. “Sure,” I say unenthusiastically. There’s a bar next to the shop. Maybe, I can find a local who knows of a cheap hotel.
I spark up a conversation with a woman, outside a pub called “The Dive.” Yielding a half-empty bottle of Coors Light, she listens to my story, pulls out her cell phone, and proceeds to call every hotel in Breckenridge. It’s eventually decided that the Wayside Hotel is my best bet, and I reserve a room for the unfortunate price of eighty-five dollars. Jon and Anton are going to Frisco for the night, so I’ll be picking up the tab on my own. “I gave you a discount, honey, because you’re a thru-hiker,” the woman on the other end of the line tells me. I don’t care, but I thank her anyway.
Since my accommodation is slightly out of town, the Coors Lite Lady offers to give me a ride. “My boyfriend and I just need to stop by my apartment real quick, then we’re going to Denver for the weekend. We gotta get out of this place sometimes. There’s too many tourists.” I’m humbled by her kindness. “We’re just gonna have another drink first, kay?” This makes perfect sense to me. One would obviously want to get tipsy, before driving two hours to a city full of bars.
It’s been a long day, but I’ve finally gotten to where I need to be: hydrating in a hotel-room bed, in my underwear, watching trash television, and eating cheap takeout pizza. I’m a wreck, a wreck in Breck.