It wasn’t that long ago that I was in the state of New Mexico after having spent most of the days of the previous two months on my bicycle meandering my way across the United States. Hanging out here in Frisco, Colorado for the past month living with my friend Doug, meeting new people, adjusting to a routine of waking up in the morning making a cup of coffee and reading for an hour outside, breakfasting afterward, deciding when I’d like to go for a hike or a trail run (or both), spending time at the coffee shop just around the corner, editing manuscripts and photos, brainstorming ideas, journaling, and so on and so forth, it seems like that bike trip was nearly a lifetime ago.
This trip I speak of ended with a knee injury, minor though it was, on my way from Taos to Santa Fe. To my surprise and enormous delight I found that after a day of rest I was still able to walk, hike, and run pain free. I ended up spending a couple weeks back and forth between Taos and Santa Fe debating on what to do, eventually purchasing a cheap car with which to continue my westward, photographic journey. But here I am now, and for the foreseeable future.
Immediately upon arriving in Frisco I was to be shown around, starting with Mount Royal which looms over the town like a minor Mount Olympus—residents and tourists alike hiking up it to offer their gratitude for perhaps the nearly always fine weather, or perhaps the magnificent views, or perhaps this beautiful, awe-inspiring place where they are lucky enough to live or visit. Or, perhaps it’s all of these things. There are no bloody sacrifices that I know of though, unless one counts anyone who might have taken a tumble descending the trail a little too swiftly and carelessly (raises hand).
Another thousand feet above Royal is Victoria, and then another thousand or so feet above Victoria lies Peak One of the Tenmile Range, and this is where we were to go on my second week in town.
The idea was simple enough. Wake up not too late and hike up to Peak One, then from there see what’s what and maybe traverse a few of the other peaks, weather permitting, and wander back down and find our way back to town. Unfortunately, Doug had been working his construction job rather maniacally that week, and the week previous, and was really hurting. Specifically, his calves were like red-hot staves, and we were only to make it to Mason Town (about a third of the way up the ungodly steep trail on Mount Royal) before we decided to call off that particular challenge and instead change direction and go for a hike along Peaks Trail which runs south to Breckenridge.
He really must have wanted to hike up to those peaks, though, because at the confluence of Peaks Trail and Miners Creek Trail Doug changed his mind again and asked if I still wanted to hike up there, to which I replied with an affirmative.
After an hour and a half more of hiking, and stopping several times to turn and look around and wonder to myself how it is that he who has both run and cycled across the country is moving so slowly (obviously never underestimate the power of being overworked), and having made our way to the rather patchy, ragged snow line, and attempting to avoid stepping in snow at all costs as we were both just wearing running shoes (and I in shorts), we came to an impasse: snow, at least knee deep and blocking the trail for as far as we could see through the trees.
However, as luck would have it we were in a breach in the forest that, looking up towards Tenmile Peak (Peak 2), seemed to continue all the way up the slope, like some giant had taken a monstrous axe and, raising it above his head took one massive swing and clove the forest in two leaving behind a field of boulders and loose rocks that began far upslope against the impenetrably solid rock of the mountain projecting itself towards the sky—indifferent to the fact that it is crumbling and eroding away slowly, inexhaustibly, over millennia, but realizing too that that doesn’t matter this day because it is still, and will be for our lifetimes and many other humans’ lifetimes to come, utterly there, inflexible and unyielding—and ended, basically, at our feet on the trail.
I suggested hiking up that way as the best course of action being as our choices were rather limited: continue on off-trail, or turn back.
And so it began.
As is often the case, things aren’t always quite so clear as they appear to be at first observance. Farther up there were stands of pine trees and firs along with the snow they harbored blocking our progress. At this point it seemed utterly absurd to turn around out of fear of our feet getting wet and cold and so we clambered through, sometimes post-holing, other times finding strong foundations which we could easily hike on provided by smaller trees still bent over and buried by the snow’s weight. Eventually we came out into an open scree field that quickly steepened so that we were using our hands at times to almost crawl up the slope. We had to make a decision too about what the best line might be to continue up the mountain.
As I seemed to be leading this part of the hike I took the bull by the horns, spotted a section that looked a lot like an enormous set of stairs and headed off that way, Doug looking on from behind me probably wondering why I had taken what he perceived as the more difficult of the two options we had debated over.
It wasn’t long before he was following me, but the skies had been clouding over for an hour or longer, and we had received some scattered bits of rain while clambering through the open field, but now thunder in the not-so-distant distance was making itself heard, and we even dealt with a brief shower of hail while I waited for Doug near my “stairs.” It was at this point, with resignation, that we thought it best to make our way back down the mountain, especially after he took a tumble when a seemingly solid hand hold broke loose. The question was, then, “which way?”
Thinking it a bit boring to just turn around and head back, I ran reconnaissance to a ridge northward we had previously looked at as a way up to the peak, to see what lie over its edge. What did lie over its edge was a gorgeous valley of brilliant green, flecked with the grey of rocks and boulders, like the inverse of a lichen mottled stone; fallen trees that looked like matchsticks from our vantage; and a criss-cross of shimmering ribbons of water: small brooks and creeks which all seemed to feed a much larger stream even farther below as the valley curved towards Frisco between the contours of the mountains.
The issue, perhaps, was getting down to that valley floor some two or three hundred feet below. I called Doug over to take a look. The undulating slopes all the way down were completely covered in snow. I thought it funny, considering all the effort we had put into assiduously avoiding stepping in snow that we were now considering traversing these slopes where there wasn’t a bare speck of ground for hundreds of meters all around us.
Doug first, glissading down on his butt, and then I, attempting to ski in my shoes and failing miserably so that I took the same way down Doug did only to end up with one leg laughably stuck in the snow up to my hip, the other up to its knee, and my left arm jammed up to my shoulder so that it took me a good while of struggle to work myself free.
We still had a couple hundred feet of slipping, and sliding, and sledding to do before we reached the valley floor as the slope that we slid down was multi-tiered and we had come to a stop at a place that was level. After laughing and struggling through more thigh-deep snow we came to another spot that looked appropriate for sledding. I was the first down this time, deciding not to attempt to “ski” it, and quickly focused with my camera on Doug as he wasn’t far behind me.
The rest of our hike back to town was a mostly uneventful, albeit stunningly beautiful, two hours of stream hopping, clambering over the multitude of fallen, mostly rotted trees dry as matches and nearly as brittle, wandering onto and off of unknown trails that while clearly marked had obviously not been used in years, and blundering our way through the forest in what we figured to be the general direction of the town, lost but not lost.
The hike that the two of us went on can be seen as a microcosm of my bicycle trip. In both cases there was a clear plan to start with, but unforeseen circumstances derailed it. From there two choices were made clear: either turn around and go home, or reconfigure things and continue the adventure in a different way. Obviously, the choices were made to keep going, in whatever capacity.
Life is full of unexpected surprises. That’s a statement that sounds cliché, but it’s a reality that becomes more apparent the second one walks out the door on an adventure, whether it be a multi-month crossing of a continent, or something as trifling as a day hike. Had I not hurt my knee on my way to Santa Fe I certainly would not be in Frisco right now, which of course means that none of this that has been written about would have happened, and had Doug and I turned around and just gone back to town we would not have had what was, in my mind, one of the most fun, exciting, spontaneous, and utterly unexpected adventures that I’ve ever had; not in such a long time have I felt so much like a little kid until that moment of brief and inexpressible joy when I slipped, fell, and slid down the snowy slope on my butt. The combination of the risks involved in climbing up some of the steepest parts of the mountain where a tumble could potentially result in serious injury, the sheer joy of sliding down the snow-covered slopes like a child in naught but shoes and shorts, and the rather dull portion of the hike up to the point where we decided to veer off trail provided an adventure with that balance that I think is so seductive of these sorts of things. It’s like that supreme balance of salty, bitter, sour and sweet in a particularly delectable dish that lingers in your mind long after the meal has concluded.
In conclusion, these adventures, which are each just multiple links in the single chain of the odyssey that is my life (or anyone’s life who so chooses to venture out on one) are lessons in persistence, perseverance, and stubbornness, but also, flexibility, open-mindedness, and acceptance. These journeys we embark on, which we can never know their end results, which have no end results but continue on indefinitely like ocean wave after ocean wave roiling upon the shore are in reality one single entity or event, or, as Alan Watts would call it, a “thing-event”—the ocean—each wave being what we distinguish as an individual, distinct event or thing, and as all of these waves are made up of that one ocean, and the forces that work upon it, they are connected in ways that we can not fully, or even partly, comprehend.
Is it not true that the longer one sits on a beach gazing off into the ocean, mesmerized by the rhythm of the waves’ surge and crash and pull, that the waves and the ocean become one, each successive wave becoming less and less distinct than the last?