Total Miles: 566.8
Don't be an asshole. That's good life advice in general, but it's especially true when it comes to asking perfect strangers for a favor, even one as simple as a little help getting from Point A to Point B. But I'll come back to that.
Before we had any thought of getting ourselves down the highway to our next resupply stop in Salida, CO, we'd first have to get ourselves to that very highway and 17 miles of trail currently separated us from that. Waking from a cold and somewhat damp stand of trees in the bottom of a river valley, we wasted little time climbing up and over a pass. Absolute silence was the only way to classify the wind conditions, leaving the acoustics of the basin we were in free to echo the cacophony of squeaks from the native pikas.
Over the other side, we descended into more stands of Engelmann spruce that have been decimated by their own mountain spruce beetle, as if in solidarity with the lodgepole pines. From the shady side of the valley, we watched the sun awaken the opposite slope and slowly creep its way toward us.
Crossing a fork of the Arkansas River, while we began the ascent back to the land of rock and snow, the clouds performed their usual early afternoon evolution, trapped in a daily time warp, populating a sky that hours earlier had been entirely vacant.
As the most threatening of them were at a safe distance behind us, we rounded our high point of the day tracing an arc from one shoulder of Bald Mountain around its summit and to the other. It was as if the trail was following a line directly beneath the vanguard of advancing clouds, making for some incredible sky photography.
The final few miles leading up to our destination of Monarch Pass took us through nearly the entirety of both the backcountry and official ski area of Monarch Mountain. Walking through ski areas in the off-season like this has always been one of my favorite things to do when a hiking trail happens to traverse them. You get to know them in a new and unique way, seeing them as they really are, with most of the calendar being but a dress rehearsal for the showtime of winter.
When we finally laid feet to pavement, it was time to turn on those hitchhiking skills. A brief list of helpful tips:
- It bears repeating: don't be an asshole.
- Smile and wave at every car that passes by. No one’s picking up a sad sack of a stranger.
- Have some dignity. You might smell like something that a reasonable person wouldn't even throw in the back of their truck, but you don't have to look the part too. That windshirt? Yup, it'll make that sad and dirty excuse for a shirt that's underneath a bit less of an eye sore.
- Don't be afraid to ask. Kindly asking for help is a skill that few of us possess anymore in a world where we are so increasingly consumed with ourselves and no one else. You'd be surprised at how many people will happily help when they hear you're only trying to walk from one side of the country to the other.
- Humans are not, by default, something to be feared. Full stop. Cynicism never advanced anyone’s goals, no matter how enticing a crutch it may be. Despite what I learned as a kid, strangers and people who pickup hitchhikers are not all ill-intentioned lunatics waiting to give you candy filled with razor blades. We may never find ourselves at a bar agreeing about politics, but does it matter?
- If you're a guy hitching alone, pray to whatever high power you believe in. This could be awhile...
With all of that in mind, we planted ourselves on the shoulder of the highway, thumbs in the air and smiles wide. Minutes later, a man on an ATV came not from the road in front of us but from the parking lot behind. Having just finished a ride with his wife, he offered us a lift into Salida so long as we didn't mind cramming in the back of his pickup truck with two dirt bikes. Challenge accepted. Off we went, knowing only the freedom of a hitch from the back of a truck, the wind in our hair, and wondering if the rain clouds above would hold out just a little bit longer.
Latitude/Longitude: 38.49603, -106.32514