“I want to buy all your chocolate bars,” I told the manager of the Brooks Lake Lodge.
He raised an eyebrow. Then he emptied out all his gourmet chocolate bars on the table, added them all up, and said, “That will be $42.00.”
“Great,” I said, “I’ll take it.”
Due to poor planning, a few weeks before this decadent shopping spree I had asked my mom to send me five days of food to the Brooks Lake Lodge.
“I don’t know how much five days of food is!” my mom exclaimed.
“Don’t worry,” I assured her. “I’d rather you send me less than you think I need. If you send me too much, I’ll have to toss it. If you don’t send me enough, it’ll be no big deal since I’m sure the Lodge will have a small store that sells nuts, crackers, energy/candy bars, and stuff like that. So even if you send me a few pounds less than I need I’m sure there will be plenty of options at the Lodge to make up for it.”
A few weeks later I found myself listening to the Lodge manager cheerfully explaining to me, “So we have three different chocolate bars: dark; almond with caramel; and almond with nuts.”
I took a deep breath and exhaled for a long time, shaking my head.
“We also have Gatorade,” he said helpfully.
My Chilean mom is a typical Latin American woman who believes that the more you love someone, the more you should shove food down their gullet. At dinner, we would always have enough food to feed all the homeless in San Francisco. Therefore, I suspected she would ship an elephant just to make sure I wouldn’t starve.
However, she later confessed that she always felt bad when she mailed packages to me. “I just think that you’ve got to carry all of that heavy stuff on your back for days…”
I can’t blame my mom for what happened since she followed my instructions. I was simply caught off guard by a Lodge that had less selection than a communist store in Belarus.
Although I could have hitchhiked out of there, the Lodge is terribly remote and traffic is rare. I would have wasted most of the day doing the round trip. Buying $42 worth of chocolate bars seemed like the more sensible solution at the time.
The Lodge manager was worried that I didn’t have enough food to traverse the Wind River Range in Wyoming. “Hey wait,” he said as I was leaving, “I have a pair of Hershey’s bars in my drawer. I really shouldn’t eat them. Do you want them?”
“Sure,” I said and added the two Hershey bars to my candy bar collection.
After six days I finally made it out of the Wind River Range. The last day I had nothing to eat, except for one lonely, thin Hershey’s bar.
And despite my hunger, I didn’t savor it at all.
In Ghost Ranch, New Mexico
Today I’m back in my favorite rest stop on the CDT: the Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu. Their food is delicious, varied, healthy, and bountiful. I hate to leave.
I’ll write again from Cuba, New Mexico, where I hope to run into the same two dogs that followed me through the San Pedro Mountains during a snowstorm.
I’ll leave you with one last story that took place in the southern San Juan Mountains of Colorado…
I had lost my GoLite umbrella earlier in the day and spent over two hours retracing my steps to find it. My search was in vain. I despaired as storm clouds gathered overhead. If there’s one place on the CDT where you don’t want to be caught without rain protection, it’s the San Juans. The average elevation for 200 miles is about 12,000 feet, so don’t expect a warm shower.
In my haste, I made a wrong turn, taking the wrong drainage down to Weminuche Pass. It was nearly dark when I arrived in a valley. My altimeter displayed 10,600 feet, the lowest point in the San Juans.
Although I believed I was in Weminuche Pass, I wanted to confirm it. Cold darkness enveloped me. I saw some lights in the trees and headed that way. I expected to find a lone, humble tent. Instead, I found a half a dozen tents, some larger than a garage! Several hobbled horses patiently stood as the rain began to fall.
I stuck my head into one of the giant tents and said, “Excuse me, but is this Weminuche Pass? And if so, where is the CDT?”
Six hunters, decked out in camouflaged outfits, eyed me curiously. A tall, lean mustached man finally answered, “Yup, you’re in Weminuche Pass and the CDT is just one mile north of here. You want dinner?”
I replied, “No, I’m on a diet, thanks.”
I gorged on their hot thick chili, sprinkled with grated cheese, and covered with crispy nachos. I sat on a bench, eating like a civilized man on a long table, listening to how one hunter killed an elk with his bow. I shed my layers and dried out next to the toasty wood stove while the rain furiously pounded the shelter. I couldn’t believe that I was in the middle of nowhere.
Life was good. And it was about to get better.
Tom, the outfitter, said, “Listen, I got an extra tent with two cots with thick pads already set up. Nobody is in it and with this storm raging, you’re welcome to use it.”
I replied, “No, I have a pathetically small tarp, thanks.”
I entered the palatial tent and giggled at my good fortune. It was so enormous I could easily stand in it without hitting the ceiling and when I stretched out my hands, I couldn’t get close to touching the walls. As sheets of rain pummeled my new home, I smiled in happiness.
Tom wished me a good night as rain bounced off his cowboy hat. He said, “When someone comes to my camp late at night, lost, and during a rainstorm, you become one of my sons. I gotta take care of you. Sleep well.”
The storm battered my nylon palace all night. Puddles were forming outside as the earth couldn’t suck up the water fast enough. At 3:30 am, Tom rounded up the horses and woke up the hunters. Hunters get up well before dawn to get in position for the kill right when the sun rises.
I overheard Tom yelling over the din of the raindrops, “You guys ready to hunt?”
One of his clients yelled back, “Only if you supply us with SCUBA gear!”
At 6 a.m. I almost got up, but with no rain gear, I thought it was silly to hike up to 12,500 feet during a storm. Finally, at 8 a.m. I rolled out of my cozy cot and headed to the dining tent. I’ve never woken up so late on the trail. The hunters invited me to breakfast and explained that the conditions were too miserable to hunt.
“The elk just hides under trees in these conditions and are hard to spot,” a hunter explained as he handed me a plate with an enormous omelet filled with mushrooms and cheese. All this good food made me want to become a hunter too. I tried firing an arrow but I couldn’t even pull the string back on the composite bow, it was so taut. I’m supposed to be Superman, having walked over 5,000 miles in six months, yet I can’t even cock an arrow in a bow.
Finally, at 2 p.m. the rain stopped. Tom cut out a large garbage bag so I could use it as a makeshift rain poncho. I bid a fond farewell to Tom and his crew.
If you have the urge to kill a beast, or just want to pleasant horseback ride in the San Juans, please hire Tom’s services.
With little daylight remaining, I hurried over the mountain range to get to Squaw Pass before nightfall. Unfortunately, thunder and lightning quickly returned as I gained altitude. I donned the garbage bag rain gear and I wrapped myself up in my tarp as the ice cold rain battered me. The weather is the worse you can imagine: high winds and freezing rain. I would much rather deal with snow than freezing rain. My hands were so cold they were burning with pain.
The trail was a boggy and muddy mess. I slipped constantly and splashed in puddles of freezing water. Wind assailed me. My glasses fogged up in my balaclava and it was hard to see through my raindrop covered lenses. The sun was setting and I was still well above tree line. I frantically searched for the trail, but couldn’t find it. Desperate, I bushwhacked my way down the mountain, climbing over dozens of downed trees and sinking into oversaturated ground to get to Squaw Pass. Once again I was a mile away from the CDT, but at least I was as low as I could get: 11,200 feet.
The next day, the storm finally relented. It was cold and a thin layer of snow covered the mountains. Eventually, I got through the San Juans and out of Colorado. Now I am in the Promised Land: New Mexico. I have a bit over 500 miles to go.