Painted Desert

Painted Desert

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Chop wood, carry water

Two (more) adventures with Kris.

Still catching up on photos from the end of the summer... Kris and I rode in the Tour de Fat, which is a bike parade put on by the New Belgium Brewery, makers of Fat Tire beer. It takes place in many cities over the summer. Last year I had done the one in Fort Collins, but this year I did the one in Denver, which was huge. People are encouraged to dress up, and then we all bike extremely slowly through the city.

It was fun getting to ride on streets normally taken up by lots of car traffic, like York (above, with flock of geese overhead) and 13th. Several of the people riding had big stereo systems attached to their bikes, and 80s gangsta rap was a popular choice of music... I think this is a Thing, but I'm not sure what to call it. Anyway, in the below video you can get a sense of what it was like to be in the parade.

Here we are coming up Lincoln, maybe? It was so crowded we had to take our feet off the pedals and shuffle along with dangling feet for much of the "ride." Also below, see some fellows dressed as Mormon missionaries with grade school backpacks, and King Soopers.

Above, Kris stabilizes herself during a stop on the back of one of the stereo setups, which was being pedaled by another king and his jester. The king had a scepter which he swung about meaningfully during the ride, until the head flew off. (If you are wondering whether I was also in costume, well, not really. I was wearing a cowboy hat and a flannel shirt, but I'm not sure that counts as a costume in Colorado.)

We were passed by a cute couple riding with their arms on each other's shoulders. Then a seemingly random  young man with kilt and older woman with sequinned dress decided to do the same, which was even cuter.

Here is some of the bike parking after the parade. There was a festival set up in City Park with beer, shows, and stuff, but after watching the yo-yo show Kris and I had to leave, because we were going backpacking.

We went to Goose Creek, which is somewhere southwest of Denver. We weren't going to be hiking very far, and somehow we decided that this meant we could bring a six-pack of beer. Which is still pretty heavy even if you're only going a few miles... in fact, I'm pretty sure beer weighs the same no matter how far you carry it. So we decided that we should start drinking it as we were hiking.

This photo is ridiculous. We were trying to build a fire and there was a big log up the hill that looked like we could roll it down toward the fire. Kris went to roll it and it fell to pieces. It was completely rotten, feather-light. We took turns shooting pictures that made us look like Mountain Women.

Some of you may remember my trip with Jess to Dominguez Canyons, in which we accidentally left the stove on all night and used all the fuel and had to cook over a fire for the rest of the trip. You may also remember the trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, in which we set Kris's stove on fire, twice. Well, before this particular trip I thought, "Maybe I should ask her if she's tested her stove since then." And then I thought, "Of course she has." So I didn't ask. But I should have asked.

The stove did not work. On looking into the bottom of it (for the first time ever, possibly), we found that one of the o-rings had been melted a little. It couldn't connect properly to the fuel canister. So we had to cook over the fire. Hey. We had wood-fired pizza, it was great. And beer.

The next day, Kris used my fine-pointed tick tweezers to pull the o-ring out, and put it in upside-down, so that the undamaged side would make contact with the canister. This worked, which allowed us to boil water for oatmeal without my clumsily dumping the water in the fire like at Dominguez Canyons. Then we set our remaining beer in a stream to stay cool, leaving Kris's hydration bladder too so we could fill it up on the way back to camp that evening, and we set off on a day hike to the old pump house.

Goose Creek flows through a valley of granite weathered into knobs and boulders. Some time ago, someone decided that they could make a dam by simply pouring cement into the holes between the boulders. They set up a camp in the Lost Creek Wilderness to accomplish this, but the project was abandoned before completion.

The carved letters on the doorway of this old house read, "Lost Creek Hilton." Below, an oddly weathered granite outcrop.

Mysterious machinery was rusting in the sun at the site of the old pump house.

If you hike a ways on a faint trail past the old pump house, you will come to this overlook of a lovely valley with stream and more granite boulders, with no obvious safe way down into it.

So many giant boulders lay together they formed cave-like environments, with clean floors and fire rings where people had camped, and with beautiful shafts of sunlight for taking pictures.

It was lots of fun. The joy of cave exploration without the cold mud, danger of getting lost, and head injuries of actual spelunking. Although come to think of it, I did still bang my head really hard at one point. Hm. So hard it still hurt an hour later. And then somehow forgot about it till just now.

We went back to camp and found that our beer was gone from the stream, along with Kris's hydration bladder. Kris went up the hill to make sure her wallet was still in the tent (it was). But this put both of us in a bad mood.

I tried my best to imagine that whoever had come by hadn't seen our tent, and stood there by the stream agonizing for several minutes over whether the items were forgotten and ought to be cleaned up, the wilderness brought back to its natural state, or whether the beer & bladder should be left there in case someone was returning for them. They called out, I imagined, searched and searched for some sign of a campsite, but finding none, eventually decided the items had become litter. I imagined it was a mom and dad and small daughter, their first time in the wilderness, and that the father was saying to his little girl, "Yes, I'm not sure but it looks like someone forgot their stuff. It's good to pick up litter, so we'll carry these back to the car."

Because it's just too rotten to imagine that some other hikers deliberately stole our stuff.

Unlike the city or the beach or the park, the wilderness is generally filled with folks who went to some trouble to get there, who did that because they really love to hike and want to do that and nothing else, who are already carrying a lot of their own stuff, purchased at great expense from REI with their yuppie white people money, and who have no inclination to take your stuff as well. Crimes of opportunity -- "Hey, they left their backpack on that towel, man, take it" -- rarely occur when you have to hike for two hours to get to the opportunity, and where everyone in the area is perceived as belonging to the same group (for instance, hikers) as you. I've been leaving valuable stuff around campsites my whole life and have never had anything stolen. The very idea that a fellow hiker or camper would steal something is abhorrent.

But now, not only did we have to deal with that disagreeable thought, we had no beer for supper.

Somehow we survived, and put the fire out and went to bed in the wind and the cold. And some indeterminate time later, Kris woke me up.

"Do you hear something?" she said. I did. It sounded like crackling. More startlingly, I also saw something -- light playing on the walls of the tent, as if we were back in the city and trees were tossing about under a street light. Our fire had started itself back up.

Well, there was no use groaning about the cold. There was an unattended fire burning in a bone-dry Colorado forest in September. So I put on some clothes and enough boots to cover all of my feet and we stumbled out to look at the fire. It was still in the pit.

We wanted to put it out with even more water than we'd used the first time, but we didn't have much water. There was that stream down the hill, but we didn't have much means of carrying water up from it -- untreated, the stream water would contaminate any container we used, and so we needed to save at least one of our containers to carry drinking water in tomorrow. (We could technically have filtered the stream water, but no way were we going to sit next to a stream for 15 minutes in the freezing cold pumping water that was just going to be thrown on a fire.) With Kris's hydration bladder gone and mine reserved for drinking from, that left us one Nalgene, which we decided to supplement with the plastic bag our pitas came in and another bag, and our cooking pot, so we'd each carry a container in each hand.

As we labored back up the hill it was clear that the plastic bags were compromised, so we tried to go fast. It is very difficult to run up a forested hill in the dark without spilling water out of your cooking pot. We put the water on the flames and the coals until we could put our hands on the coals, and then we went to bed again. In the morning we hiked out.

This is the view from just outside the wilderness area. There was a fire here. All over Colorado are mountainside swaths of bare and blackened trunks, each dead forest ugly and majestic at the same time. The small plants and wildflowers begin again immediately after a fire, of course, but the devastated trunks seem to last forever.

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