This is what happens when you get inspired by Mark Dean Kneeskern, author and publisher of The Last American Hitch-Hiker: Tales of Wonder. Strange possibilities start to grow in one’s mind… for example maybe I could get dropped off in Denver, walk along the Colorado Trail to Breckenridge, and hitch-hike back to Estes Park for a low-carbon-footprint, easy-on-the-wallet wilderness adventure. Sounds like a good idea to me, so off I go!
Maybe I’m not the only one who has morbid thoughts like, “What if I get out the backcountry and find out that someone has died?” A friend of mine was camped in the Wind River Range and hiked out after the planes stopped flying on September 11, 2001. I honestly don’t know that I would have noticed.
Rain was falling every day in Summit County in September 2013, and it was overcast with eerie, low-lying clouds which made me scared to walk over 12,000 ft Georgia Pass, but I did anyway. This blog isn’t a safety manual or anything, by the way.
I triumphantly finished my 8 day hike on 9/12/13 and arrived at the trailhead between Breckenridge and Frisco. Or should I say, I managed to stop crying, calling home, and having mini-epics everyday for long enough to get some hiking done. I caught the free Summit Stage bus into Frisco and tried to enjoy a sandwich, but my pits were too stinky to lift my elbows above hip level. It wasn’t raining yet and life was great, except that Marc wasn’t answering his phone. I left him a nasty voicemail about it, so that will show him.
I marched out to the interstate on-ramp and stuck out my thumb. (I hope my mom isn’t reading this.) A builder heading home to Georgetown stopped after I’d waited only about 5 minutes. Mark Kneeskern says in his book that girls have it easy when it comes to hitch-hiking, and I think he’s right. The driver told me there was flooding in the Front Range and turned on NPR: see, he must be an alright guy. I nervously started calling friends, but no one was picking up.
My first driver was no stranger to hitchers, so he showed me where to wait for my next ride. Sure enough, I had another ride within 15 minutes from a professional-looking guy heading to Denver. We had his radio and smart phone working the case to figure out where I should go from there. Did I mention today is Thursday, September 12, 2013? The night Elkhorn Ave in Estes Park became a river.
I decided on the strategic placement of Idaho Springs for the night, which gave me a multitude of options for tomorrow: friend Maggie in Granby, Shoshoni Yoga Retreat in Rollinsville (near Nederland), friends in Boulder and Denver, or possible re-entry into Estes Park. I broke the budget and got a room at the Indian Hot Springs, because it was POURING. I had the best shower of my life and slept in a bed. Don’t you appreciate these things so much more after backpacking?
Morning found me sitting in a hotel room watching the news about a disaster that was happening to all of my friends, eating stale crackers for breakfast, and wishing the clothes that I washed in the sink last night would dry. At least Marc and I figured out that we could exchange Google chat messages on my phone, and keep in touch. Estes Park lost cell service for 48 hours, but our house still had internet.
I called Shoshoni Yoga Retreat, who said of course I could come stay. I braved a stroll down the road-that-became-a-river into town. Three more hitches, and I was there. It sure gets cold going over Central City Parkway in the back of a pick-up truck (sorry, mom). We drove right by a mess of police officers too, but they didn’t seem to care. More important things were going on, I suppose.
I showed up at Shoshoni cold, wet, scared, lonely, and hungry. May Shiva bless those self-less yogis! They gave me a bed, shower, hot tea, dry clothes from lost-n-found, and let me do a load of laundry. I joined them for lunch, and then they put me to work. Hauling firewood helps keep one focused on the present. Thank you, Shoshoni!
Little did I realize during my pleasant yoga sojourn that none other than Michael Barnthouse, aka The Wolf, was planning a rescue mission. To quote Marc, “If I ever need a rescue, I’m sending the Search & Rescue away and asking for Michael Barnthouse.” Focused, reticent, and always on the move, Michael gets stuff done. Headed home from work in Southern Colorado, he offered to drive me and another friend, who was stuck in Golden, home to Estes Park.
Michael estimated he would be at Shoshoni at 11am. The Wolf is never late so I scurried to finish cleaning the bathrooms. Sure enough, he arrived at 10:50am and my last hitch was among friends. Peak to Peak Highway was open to residents only at the time. Michael got us through the National Guard checkpoint in 30 seconds flat, despite the line of excited disaster-seekers and confused-looking tourists (but they always look confused, don’t they?)
We spared no time for sightseeing at the new Lake of Saint Malo or ski run on Twin Sisters Peaks, and boggied right into Estes Park. I feel grateful to have survived the Colorado flood of 2013 and made it home safely, albeit two days later than planned. Be sure not to read books about hitch-hiking, unless you want to get the twitches for an adventure too. Have you ever hitched or picked someone up? I welcome your comments below.
Post Script: Mark Kneeskern left this world on August 31, 2014 when he was hit by a train in Fairfield, Iowa. May he Rest In Peace.