We sure didn't want to leave Silverton today, but it's time to start
Chapter Three of this summer's saga: heading to Leadville so Jim
can train on the course for
the 100-miler there on August 18-19. We've thoroughly enjoyed the time
we've spent in Silverton and can't wait to return --so many nice people
around here and so many awesome trails to explore!
This entry contains a hodge-podge of topics, including
an introduction to one of the most courageous women I've ever met.
MOVING A HOUSE
The first topic is Charlie Thorn's house. Not the blue one that has served as
headquarters for Hardrock runners for many years; the Wrubliks are
living there now and may purchase it. I'm talking about the one next
door that Charlie also owns and is renovating. Several of the runners
helped him tear out old wood on weekends before the race this year,
supplementing the work done by hired help on weekdays. Then the real
work began a few days before the race:
In order to build a basement under the house, the structure had to be
moved. I wish I'd been there to see the whole process. Jim saw
more stages than I did. It was lifted onto "runners" and slid out toward
the street to give room to dig underneath.
It was still sitting like this when we were in town for the last time
on Sunday, so we'll have to wait until our next visit to see the "after"
shots. Charlie doesn't live in Silverton full time so this isn't as
inconvenient as it looks!
MOVING THE CAMPER
Moving our very mobile camper to the next destination is a
hassle after being in one place for over three weeks but it's a lot
easier than moving a house off its foundation! It's so nice to stay put
for a while. We'll have two very temporary campsites on our way to a
longer "residency" near Leadville.
The first one-night stop will be the huge parking area just below North
Pass on Hwy. 114 south of Gunnison. That's the
trail head from which I'll leave tomorrow morning on my last two
segments of the Colorado Trail. Unfortunately we didn't know about it a
month ago when we paid good money to stay in a private campground in
Free and isolated beats $25 a night in a crowded
campground (especially with a curmudgeon next door!) any time.
There is only one sensible way to haul a camper from Silverton to
North Pass: back the way we came. That meant experiencing the
Million Dollar Highway (Hwy. 550) between Silverton and Ouray again.
Since we were starting out higher this time, we didn't overheat going up
Red Mountain Pass. And the ride was less white-knuckle this time, at
least for me, because I was next to the mountain and not the huge
drop-offs into the Animas River canyon.
We stopped to refuel and buy supplies in Montrose, a nice little town, then headed east on Hwy. 50. It's a long uphill drive past the
Black Canyon of the Gunnison and the beautiful Blue Mesa Reservoir. Lots
of folks were enjoying the beautiful day out on their boars. The truck engine did indeed overheat
again, necessitating one stop to let it cool down. Damn. We were hoping
the new radiator cap would do the trick, but it's something else. Jim
checked the radiator fan and clutch and they seemed to be operating
correctly. So we're back to Square One, essentially, and still don't
know what's causing the problem. Old age, probably. (The truck this
time, not us.)
We drove through Gunnison and hung a right (south) on Hwy. 114,
enjoying the beautiful valley and canyon through which Cochetopa Creek
flows. We didn't see any mountain goats this time, but it wasn't for
lack of looking. I was thinking about following the creek farther
upstream last month near Eddiesville, wondering what interesting scenery
the next two CT segments would bring tomorrow.
Storm clouds had been gathering since Gunnison and the rain began
pouring down even before we arrived at the trail head. We parked the
scurried inside. It was mid-afternoon.
Jim was taking a nap in his recliner and I was on the computer
looking out the window when I saw a very wet hiker coming down the road
from the pass (there is a 6/10ths-mile road section here). He was headed toward
the gate to the trail at the other end of the parking area. It was still
raining a little and it took me about thirty seconds to realize I needed
to TALK to this man. He'd just come from the section I would be running
tomorrow and I had some real concerns about it.
I looked out the window on the other side of the camper and lo and behold, lookie what was there!
A woman and two horses!! She looked both out of place and very much
at home at the same time (my perception, not hers). I grabbed my camera
and took that shot through the window, raindrops and all.
I must have let out a little squeal or something, because Jim woke
up. I went outside to talk to these travelers, curiosity getting the
best of me. Jim soon joined me.
I spent about an hour talking to RJ, the hiker, and Erin Zwiener, the
One of the first things I learned is that the horses are actually
MULES. The one with the pack (Kershaw, named for a country singer) was a
bit skittish but soon nuzzled my hand as readily as Yoakum (also named
for a country singer -- do you see a pattern here??). Both were more
interested in nibbling on some grass in the parking area than in
socializing with the humans standing around talking, however.
The conversation flowed freely
about what to expect in each direction on the trail for our three very
different methods of travel. RJ, a kindly man from Denver who looks to
be about our age, is doing a traditional
southbound thru-hike of the Colorado Trail. Erin is going northbound on
the Continental Divide Trail, which shares tread with the CT for about
two hundred miles in Colorado. And I'm running sections of the CT/CDT in
whichever direction best suits our itinerary.
I found out some valuable information about the miles facing me
tomorrow (although I should have asked more questions when RJ said it
was "rocky") and both Erin and I had useful information about the trail
that RJ would hike next.
When I mentioned to RJ that we found a nice cooler with soft drinks
just up the trail a month ago, Erin said the grazing cattle she saw in
the valley had
apparently demolished it. The soft drinks were damaged or gone. That's
unfortunate. It's the only Trail Magic I've seen on the entire CT.
So Jim and I decided to be Trail Angels. We gave RJ and Erin soft
drinks, all the fresh water they could carry, and some fresh fruit. I
discovered on the AT how little fresh fruit the hikers get, and they
really appreciate it. Unfortunately, all our bananas were a bit past
their prime, but RJ and Erin were grateful for them (they tasted better
than they looked).
Erin's story is positively inspiring to me. She is a recent forestry
graduate and lives in Missoula, Montana. She grew up in Texas and
learned to ride horses and compete when she was very young. She gave
herself the trail name "Tree-Huggin' Cowgirl." She joked that her father
wanted a boy when she was born but by age two decided that his young
daughter fit the bill. Sounds like she was as much of a "tomboy" as I
At only 21 years of age, Erin's dream is to become the very first
equestrian to ride the entire length of the Continental Divide Trail in
one season, a distance of about 3,100 miles along the spine of the Rocky
Mountains. She started May 12 at the New Mexico/Mexico border and hopes
to finish at the Montana/Canada border by the end of September. If she
can't make it before the snow flies, she'll do a flip-flop in Montana
and get the northern section done before the southern section of the
state -- just like some northbound AT hikers do on that trail if they
think they will arrive too late to climb Mt. Katahdin last.
Erin started out riding her favorite horse and using a pack mule but
had to send her horse home after about a month of difficulties in New
Mexico. She soon found a replacement -- Kershaw the Mule. Her dog also
accompanied her for a few weeks but apparently ran off (he was later
found.) The dog is no longer part of the trek, either. Now it's just
Erin and the two mules. And a heap 'o courage.
Erin's trail journal describes an assortment of unique problems on
the trail, including gates that could not accommodate her four-footed
team. Almost like those early travelers through Stony Pass who had to
dissemble their wagons, she sometimes had to carry the packs so the
equines could get through tight spots. Fortunately, she's met lots of trail angels along the way who have
provided hot meals, occasional warm beds, rides into town for supplies
and feed, veterinary assistance, and tons of encouragement.
I am totally in awe of what this young woman has already accomplished
and what she still intends to do. Can you imagine the amount of courage
it takes to do what she's doing? Most everyone she meets on the trail is
both amazed and inspired by her quest. Some folks worry about her
safety, but she says people are so fascinated by her story that it's
been fairly easy to get help along the way and donations to defray her
expenses keep rolling in. She carries a satellite phone to keep in
contact with her family and to arrange services in towns ahead. I forgot to
ask if she's using a GPS. The CDT doesn't have waypoints but the device
could come in handy in other ways.
Erin appears to be a very independent, confident, intelligent
outdoors person with a great sense of humor and adventure. She exhibits the
same qualities as the folks I read about in my survivor book. I have no
doubts she'll reach her goal for this trip and others she has for her
You can read her journal and learn more about her trek at her website:
MOVING PAST MY FEARS
We all said good-bye somewhat reluctantly about 5 PM. Erin and her
mule team headed up Hwy. 114, below, northbound on Segments 17 and 16
toward Marshall Pass:
RJ passed through the gate and southbound on Segment 18 toward the La Garita
Wilderness. Jim and I went back inside the camper to prepare for our own
challenges tomorrow, grateful that we didn't have to spend the night in
a wet tent! (What weenies.)
Jim's main challenge is moving the camper over Monarch Pass to Poncha
Springs so we'll be closer to the trail head at Marshall Pass where I'll
be finishing my run. Monarch Pass gave us more trouble on the way to
Silverton than any of the other passes we've been up and over this
summer. It's an even longer haul uphill coming from the west.
After looking at our state maps and detailed DeLorme atlas, I
suggested Jim travel a different way than the obvious -- south through
Saguache, then east and north on Hwy. 285 to Poncha Springs, thereby
completely avoiding Hwy. 50 and Monarch Pass. The two passes he'll have
to cross are much lower than Monarch and the distance is about the same.
We don't know what the roads are like but it looks like a good plan to avoid strain on the truck's engine and
Jim's nerves. He says he'll go that way after I start out tomorrow.
Meanwhile, I'm doing the best I can to alleviate my own fears about
doing the longest run I've attempted during either my Appalachian Trail
or Colorado Trail adventure runs: 35.6 miles. Only once
did I do 35 miles on the AT, and that was at a much lower altitude in
Shenandoah NP on relatively smooth trails that I could actually run. The
longest run/hike I've done this year or last on the Colorado Trail has
been 29.3 miles. This is six miles longer and mostly above 11,000
I am no longer concerned about snow (I had to postpone this run from
a month ago because of snow above 10,800 feet in this area), but mainly
the amount of elevation gain I'll have -- more in the northbound
direction I'll be going -- and the danger of storms above tree line. The highest point
is in the middle at Sargent's Mesa, which will also be the middle of the
day and the most likely time for lightning. The segments are very remote, crossing only one road that is
described as very rough and only suitable for jeeps. What if I get
injured and can't reach help? In addition, going "backwards"
is trickier and sometimes the CT isn't very well marked. Even with
the directions I wrote backwards, topo maps Jim printed out for me, and
GPS waypoints, what if I get lost??
Without knowing much about the trail surface other than at least some
of it is "rocky," I estimate it could
take me between twelve and fifteen hours to complete the two segments
and more if I get off-trail. I
will be carrying more weight in my pack than usual; I need to take
more emergency supplies, fluids, calories, clothing, and lights in case I am
still out after dark. Additional weight means running will be more
difficult than usual.
I'm going to bed as prepared physically as I can be, but the mental
qualms may prevent a good night's sleep.
Next entry: can I show some of Erin's courage and forget my
worries about tomorrow's long section on the Colorado Trail???
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and
© 2007 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil