The Road Less Traveled

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity”
― John Muir, Our National Parks

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We took the road less traveled recently, when we rode a narrow gauge train from Silverton, CO to its Needleton stop. We were 4 of 5 travelers exiting the train at this spot, the other a bow hunter on opening day, looking to stock his freezer for winter. We set off at 3:48 p.m. with heavily weighted packs, backpacking 6 miles into Chicago Basin along Needle Creek. This was the most weight our 11 and 6 year old girls had ever been tasked with on a hike. We set up camp far into the basin, on a tiny flat spot in the steep slope of the grass with fresh mountain water near. It was a perfect base camp, providing shelter and rest between day hikes to the top of 14k+ peaks and the beautiful glacial melts of “Twin Lakes.” Yes, this trip left us with seriously sore muscles, aching backs, creaky joints, growling stomachs filled with limited food (you pack it in, you pack it out, and extra food = extra weight), and (at least 1) lost toe nail(s?). But as we were packing our bodies and goods out 4 days later, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Robert Frost’s well known and eloquent words.

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Later that afternoon, we read the poem aloud over giant pasties from Eureka Station in Silverton  (our sincere recommendations!). The English puff pastry hand pies were traditionally filled with a beef stew, to be topped with brown gravy (for my husband). My nontraditional pie was a Reuben inside, pastie outside. Yes! I did ignore my wheat allergy and put a ginormous amount of bread into my gluten intolerant belly. Don’t worry I didn’t die, just got some major bloat. These hand pies (and the french fries and sweet potato fritters we scarfed with them [blush, blush]) made the already brilliant writing in The Road Not Taken so much more enjoyable minus an empty stomach.

There truly are things you can only see along the road less traveled by, and we’re trying to fill our hearts with all of them rather than focus on the hardships. Though we’re ever so grateful for the amazing food in town, as well as the super duper hot springs down the road that evening in Ouray, here are just a few things we couldn’t find where all the other tourists’ shoes had trod.

  • unique cairns leading (and at times confusing – we’re looking at you Mt. Eolus) the way
  • water gently rolling over giant slabs of smooth granite
  • friendly and brilliantly white mountain goats that adore human urine (Really! They follow you around licking it from the rocks.)
  • rock hopping stream crossings
  • moss covered anything
  • pushing perceived physical and mental limits
  • stairs built of rock, by human hands and muscle, going straight up the side of a mountain
  • giant boulders perfect for reading giant novels upon (The Signature of All Things) by the sounds of a rushing stream
  • content children, creating entire new worlds without any store bought toys
  • tiny chipmunks waiting for their chance to make away with any food scraps left behind
  • wild fruit grown by God’s hand – strawberries, raspberries, currants
  • close encounters with waterfall after waterfall
  • pumping filtered water from a fresh mountain stream, just steps away from a temporary tent home
  • Dehydrated meals in a bag that actually taste so very gourmet on an empty stomach
  • yellow aspen leaves littering a narrow, dusty mountain trail

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We took this road, far and deep into the mountains, and I do think it made a difference. And that difference? Well…

“It had nothing to do with gear or footwear or the backpacking fads or philosophies of any particular era or even with getting from point A to point B.

It had to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles with no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets. The experience was powerful and fundamental. It seemed to me that it had always felt like this to be a human in the wild, and as long as the wild existed it would always feel this way.”
― Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail