“Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” – JMuir
Welcome back, Cowboys & Ladies! It’s been awhile but I have had another adventure, whooHOOO wOOhoOO! What’s with the excessive whoohOO’ing? well, the adventure included trains and, as the title alludes, a little of the “I think I can” mentality. Before diving in, I’ll start by saying while I can find infinity+1 ways of saying I can’t to things, I’ve always been infinitely rewarded whenever I’ve said Yes, I CAN. That was true of my recent 4d backpack trip to southwestern Colorado. As in the (formerly) wild wild West part.
I was in great need of what John M. so wisely recognized – deep immersion in Nature – and somewhat impulsively booked a guided trek in the Weminuche Wilderness with San Juan Mtn Guides based out of Durango. What I wanted was: Time off the grid. High altitude’ness. Remote & wild. And to not get eaten by a bear. ALWAYS that.
So I plunged right in by hopping on a 1920’s steam engine train operated out of the original 1880 depot building that dropped me and my guide, Jim, off in the middle of actual nowhere. The train ride was really fun and winds high up alongside the Animas river through incredible scenery, which was just a warmup as it turned out. For the short version of the rest of the story, watch this: ColoRADo
After taking the lesser traveled fork off the trail that leads (most) to Chicago Basin, the climbing work began for Jim and I. While it might seem strange to head off into the wilderness with a complete stranger, Jim is an all around multi-mountain sport athlete with Jason Bourne badass levels of outdoor survival skills. In other words, he made sure I didn’t get eaten by a BEAR.
The rest of the story kinda goes as such: hike all day with mouth wide open because a) steepness and b) it was so beautiful, talk about bears 25% of the time, think about what’s for dinner (not me), and concentrate on not impaling myself on the miles of schisty talus we traversed. Exactly my type of fun!
In fact, that last point was a major ‘I Can’ challenge, along with climbing above 13,000ft, sleeping alone in a tent where things with bitey teeth lurk outside, making water aka going pee in the dark, and tackling off-trail navigation.
In another show of great sportsmanship, Jim cheerfully tolerated my threats to wake him in the middle of the night with the whistle I kept in my sleeping bag in the event of bitey teeth intrusions. I did not use it. I also did not sleep much.
Perhaps that was due to typically going to sleep with a potent mixture of dried salmon, dark chocolate & butter cookies on my breath, but I enjoyed just listening to the peace & quiet of nature. Wind rushing, the birds sending out their bedtime tweets (and retweets), soft raindrops. There were plenty of peaceful moments during the day too since we only crossed paths with a sum total of four people. Which brings me to why I seek out these type of places: to disconnect fully, no devices, no agenda, no tick tock of clocks. Only the rhythms of the raw & elemental environment, which is best experienced in a protected wilderness area like the Weminuche.
DISCLAIMER: SOAPBOX MOMENT. Sadly, we are rapidly losing these special places around the world. Greater than one-third of the planet’s surface is used for agriculture. We are obsessed with Pokemon Go’ing while in effect we lose our lungs (forests). Last plug: check out the super cool Changed Earth data visualizations from NASA.
At the end of the four days, when my toes had earned their blisters and with my suprachiasmatic nucleus reset, I got the John M feels again: “I know that our bodies were made to thrive only in pure air, and the scenes in which pure air is found.” Touché.
On the final leg of the trek down Elk Creek Valley on the Colorado trail, I found myself somewhat wistfully wishing I had seen a bear. I did find some unhelpful reinforcement of my fears by spotting this poor lad in the Durango train museum the next day. See, I WAS right – they bite!!
Note: no bears were hurt in the making of this trip.