Day 128: Point 8,350 ~1 mile west of Leadville to 3 miles south of MacDonald Pass, ~29 miles, ~2,350+ miles total
A day of brushy trail, tangled alternates, and meeting good people along the Divide.
When I daydreamed of hiking long distance trails it was for the appreciation of vistas, wildlife, plant communities, wilderness; to test my body and mind; to see places I’d not been before. Never did I think I’d hike the PCT or the CDT to meet people. Now I find some of the most meaningful experiences of hiking are the serendipitous encounters with people we meet along the trail.
Cookie Monsta wrote it best in a trail register on the PCT. I try to recall his words, “Hiking the PCT is restoring my faith in humanity.” His thoughts resonated strongly then and now even more so here on the Continental Divide.
For 2300+ miles we have met many good, kind, people. Sometimes it’s someone who stops to see if we need anything on a remote gravel road. Other times it’s someone who offers a soda, a meal, a blessing, a ride. Business proprietors who are welcoming and helpful to seemingly dirty and homeless strangers. They often know little about the CDT, they just see a person who might be in need and they give what they can.
Travel in general often means one meets new people, experiences life different from the familiar. I haven’t traveled much and so it has only been as a hiker that I’ve put myself out into the travel universe.
As hikers, we sometimes have unique needs and thus our journey involves going beyond the trail in hopes of meeting benevolent strangers. Embrace the mantra, “The trail provides.” The result has been that I take great comfort knowing there are
good people in the world.
Indeed, it is the people we have met along the Divide that are so memorable. Some are kindred spirits whom we chat with along a road, trailhead, or even in a laundry mat, speaking of trails and Norm Maclean or mountaineering adventures. We find we want to keep talking with them and if we lived close by, invite them on our next hike or ski trip. Others might come from a different walk of life, but having reached out to us, are a reminder to appreciate instead of judge.
The people we meet while hitching, or who offer us rides have been the most memorable. In the San Juans in Colorado, Charlie arranged to take time off work to drive us up the steep jeep road to Stony Pass, sharing the area’s history of mining, geology and ultra marathons along the way. On route to Bannock Pass in Idaho, we met Blair, a third generation rancher (in the US, many more generations back in the UK) who was preparing to move his cattle down from the mountains for the season. He offered to come pick us up at the little trafficed pass that evening, be it 5 pm or 9 pm. He showed up a few minutes before the time we’d agreed upon with a bowl of nectarines from his mother’s garden. He shared the history of the pass all the way down to Leadore. Later we realized, he’d driven at least 50 miles out of his way to help three strangers (Soulshine too!) walking the Continental Divide.
We have had conversations with people along the Divide that stick with us for miles and weeks after the 20-40 minutes we physically had in their presence. One ride into the Bitterroot Valley, at dusk as the light faded on the golden hills and the stars started to shine, entailed stories of travel by stars and Melbourne, Australia including plans to relocate his family to such a desirable community. The next person we talked to, had spent the last few years traveling and decided they wanted to move to the region our ride desired to leave.
Other times we are advised, “Don’t go to this place.” And when we enveitably get there, we meet kind people who have lived there all their lives and can tell us so much about why they love their home. We can affirm that we too have found something to appreciate about their part of the Divide.
I am still trying to find the words to explain to myself why meeting people along the Divide has had so much significance. Hiking long distance trails reminds and challenges me to be a better person. To think less about myself, instead to embrace the example of the people we have met on trail. While walking, I ask myself, how I can give more to others? Not just through structured giving and volunteer activities, but unplanned acts of serendipitous kindness.