Thursday, September 16, 2010

500 miles and the Colorado Trail Completed!

On the trail near Cascade Creek - photo by Pete Vogt
Yippee Yahooooo! I finished the 500 miles of the Colorado Trail yesterday, arriving at the trailhead early evening.  Not a soul around, and no phone to call Kelly for my ride, so I rode down the river valley, and found a lovely person out in his yard.  He not only offered me a beer - he gave me two, and then later brought me a wonderful meal which we ate by the trail.  Thanks to my new friend!!

The ride was a completely inspiring experience, better than I could ever have imagined.  I have kept a handwritten daily journal every step of the way, and plan to write an article ASAP.  I'll keep you posted on that...

Spectacular vistas, incredible camping spots, and no major trouble, although several near misses.  I think the very best part was just being with my wonderful, affectionate, brave and beautiful horses, Magic, Midnight, and Maggie.

Wiley ended up leaving me for the 13th time in Breckinridge.  We took a wrong turn and ended up on the "Wheeler" trail, down the wrong side of the mountain, coming out on a closed Forest Service road.  I tried to get some insight by looking at my Colorado Trail Guidebook (which was not helpful).  When I looked up about 30 seconds later, Wiley had disappeared.  I called and called, and whistled and yelled, as I knew he was in earshot.  I looked for him for an hour, but he was gone gone gone, and I finally gave up.

I called George from town, who eventually heard from someone in Breck that found him, and that delivered Wiley to George in Denver.  Wiley has made his choice clear, and George will now keep Wiley safe at home while I continue my nomadic lifestyle on horseback.  Wiley is 12 now, and I guess he just couldn't do the mileage.  I'll be able to see him when I get to Denver, and George (who is a small animal vet) will take good care of him in his old age.  Wiley loves George and will have two other dogs to play with.  It seems the best choice for Wiley, although I sure will miss him on the trail.

I also lost the trail again near Lost Creek.  When I came out of a deep gulch, I missed the trail and ended up climbing out along a steep rocky stream, which got smaller and steeper as we went.  I always hate to retrace my steps, so we kept climbing, finally coming to a place where trees had fallen over the trail.  I tried to lead the horses around this roadblock, but it was worse.  In the end, those brave and powerful athletes each jumped the huge logs!  Magic went last, carrying the pack.  Wow.  I was impressed. 

But the worst was yet to come.  When we got to the top, we found ourselves above tree line, in a terrible boggy area.  I hate bogs, and so do the horses.  I was riding Midnight and let him pick his way through the maze of soft stuff, eventually clearing it.  We did see two lost rogue cows up there.

Finally, I had no idea where I was or which way to go, completely off the trail, with no trails in sight.  I just conjured up my intuition and chose to head for the top of the mountain.  It was beautiful up there, and luckily I was in good weather.  I passed over the top and decided to just keep heading in one direction, hoping to eventually cross a trail or a road or something!  No houses in sight - just mountain after mountain.

Eventually, we came down into a beautiful aspen glade (which were golden in the light of the afternoon sun).  I picked up a faint trail, which lead to another more disctinct trail, and finally merged with the Colorado Trail!  That made me so happy!  I found it!!!  We camped shortly after and I celebrated with hot Tang and rice/jerky mix for supper.  We found a lovely spot on the banks of Lost Creek.  There was lots of grass and water and the horses grazed all night.  I built a nice fire and watched the sunset, happy to be back on the trail again without having to backtrack.

The next day, I headed out mid-morning, after a breakfast of coffee and dry oatmeal (the way I like it).  I passed through the Lost Creek Wilderness area and it was lovely.  There are all kinds of stories about the notorious Roberts Gang who used the area as a hideout and hid their spoils from the many stagecoach and train robberies in South Park.  The money has never been found.  I looked, but didn't see any likely spots to dig, and just rode on, through aspen and fir, and pines.  Waterfalls and creeks provided refreshment for the horses all along the way.  It was a perfect day.

My last night in the wild, I camped by Buffalo creek, fast moving river a day's ride (almost 20 miles) from where I would end my journey.

I had a large, hard packed campsite under the huge trees I'm so fond of.  I built a fire, and the horses were tied to graze, with Magic at liberty.  After a meal of rice and jerky, I headed to my tent and my huge fluffy cozy warm sleeping bag.  (Thanks George).

I drifted into slumber to the music of elk bugling their love songs to each other. 

I woke in the deep of night, wide awake for no reason, and decided to check on the horses.

Horrors!!  They were all gone again.  How they manage to get those knots untied continues to escape me, but here I was, on my last night, with a repeat of my early days on the trail.

I was out of the treats I usually use to catch them, so I took the pan and filled it with pine cones, which make a similar sound.  I shook the pan and randomly started up the trail, having really no idea where to look for them in the forest.  About a quarter of a mile from camp (in the pitch black of the deep forest at night), I heard rustling in the woods to my left.  Somehow, I knew it was their sound, and sure enough, Magic and Midnight came to me out of the blackness.  Good good boys!  Maggie was easy to locate then, and pretty soon I had them all tied up in camp.  I treated them to trail mix which they love (nuts, berries, m&m's), and went back to bed.  I slept well the rest of the night, in thankfullness that I woke when I did.

The next day dawned a beauty and I rode the rest of the way in sunshine and happiness, the horses in good shape.  Well, Maggie is still thin, but has good energy and a light step.  Magic carried the load, and Midnight led the way.  I promised them water and green grass and that's what we found at the trail's end.  They even finished the trail mix, nickering their appreciation.

But it is me who is thankful and appreciative.  Those wonderful beings carried me safely all the way, never complaining and staying strong until the end.  They have proven themselves worthy companions and stalwart carriers of my dreams. 

There will be many more adventures to come. 

For now, we are back in the Denver/Fort Collins area.  I plan to head to the "Fort" tonight to reunite with friends and check on shifts available for work at the hospital.  Now comes the time for rest, and gearing up for the next adventure!

I plan to be here for at least a couple of weeks, and eventually will head out, with the destination still South America.  So stay tuned and stay in touch!  And let me know you're out there.  It's so good to hear from old friends and new.  And if you have any photos for me - please email them so I can post them here...

Happy Trails!