Ever been upset, frustrated, overwhelmed, and just need to get away? Yeah, me too. I had one of those days recently, so I decided to get out of town and clear my head.
When I got home from work, without even changing my clothes, I stuffed some socks, a hoodie, a tank top, and toothbrush into my gym bag, and 5 minutes later was on the road. Drive I-70 West until the sunset was as far as my plan went.
After a spectacular sunset cruise through Glenwood Canyon, I spotted Glenwood Hot Springs. I went there frequently with my family when I was a kid, but hadn’t been in years so I decided to stop for a quick dip.
It felt so good to relax in the warm water under the moon and stars, but my fingers eventually started to prune so I went to find food.
I left the hot springs a little before 10pm, when I saw a Village Inn across the street and suddenly HAD to have french toast and bacon! All alone, with soaking wet hair, smudged makeup, and an oversized hoodie I devoured about 1,000 calories worth of breakfast foods and some OJ. I wondered what the people in the restaurant thought when they looked at me, all haggard and somber looking, but to be honest I didn’t care what they thought. In fact, it was kinda of perfect that I looked as discombobulated as I felt inside. I felt mysterious and kind of bad ass.
After dinner, I booked a nearby hotel room off Groupon and went to bed. Tomorrow was going to bring some adventure. I just knew it.
At 6am the next morning I drove to Aspen to find my adventure. I decided to try to get to the Maroon Bells, knowing it might be a challenge in the winter. I didn’t realize that the entire road was covered in 4-5′ of snow and slush and that the only way to get there was to hike, cross-country ski or to snowmobile. I thought about renting a sled for a few hours, but decided to save my $250 and hike. Everyone I had asked and the websites I visited all agreed that it was roughly 6 miles from where the drivable road ends to Maroon Bells Lake. I stocked up on some water, food, grabbed my GoPro and decided to take on the 12 mile challenge.
When I started the hike around 8am, the path was mostly ice, and although slippery, I maintained a steady pace. After 3 or 4 miles it started to soften up and was much easier to tread on. I could feel myself starting to let go of the things that were bothering me, took some deep breathes and soaked up the quiet natural beauty all around me. I was all alone in the middle of nowhere, miles from the nearest person, home or business. I felt tiny and insignificant.
I knew it was a risk going alone, especially with it being the worst avalanche season in as long as I can remember, but it was a risk I was willing to take. Anyways, after hiking for nearly two hours, the slush became so soft that sometimes I sank past the top of my boots. This made it much more challenging to keep my pace, and it wore out my legs much faster. I was already beginning to feel sore, and I had pulled a muscle in my hip. I could also feel my shoulders and face burning in the spring sunshine, but it was too warm to wear my sweatshirt and beanie. After what seemed like forever, I stopped to rest for the first time. I sat on a fallen tree and stretched out my legs and back for a few minutes before continuing on my way.
The Maroon Bells were looking bigger and more majestic with every step I took. I knew I had to be getting close, but I was beginning to think they were a mirage.
FINALLY! I had made it! I passed a post marking mile number 9, and I thought to myself “That’s strange, it’s supposed to be 6 miles. They must have started counting from the bottom of the road, not from where the road closes for the winter.” As I approached the lake at the bottom of the bells, I sank deeper and deeper into the slush. I decided to keep my distance from the edge of the lake because it was hard to tell where the ground stopped and the water started. I also wanted to conserve energy for the long journey back to my car.
I stomped out a small area in the middle of the field to make a firm place to chill, tossed my hoodie and bag onto the packed slush and lay on top, staring up at the wondrous peaks in front of me. I don’t know how long I lay there, but other than the birds chirping, it was so quiet I could only hear myself breathing.
After a while, I set up my GoPro and did some handstands like I always do on my adventures. When I finally decided to head back to my car it was about 2pm. I was running out of food and water, my legs were aching and I had a long, long way to go through the sinking slush.
Mile marker after mile marker, I trudged through the soft snow. I stopped to rest on the same tree laying across the road, but the more I sat, the more my legs hurt and the hungrier I became. I kept moving. The amazing landscape all around me was the only distraction from my aching muscles and growing hunger pains. I frequently looked behind me to marvel at the Maroon Bells again and again, or maybe I was double checking that the experience I just had was real.
More mile markers. …6,5,4… I figured since I left the bells near marker number 9, I was on my final mile or two. I couldn’t wait to take off my wet shoes, drink the coconut water I had in the car and to just sit down.
…3,2… I started to wonder what was going on as I approached mile marker number 2 instead of my car. At that point it didn’t take a genius to figure out the count had started at the base of the trail, not the base of the road, and it was a lot further than I prepared for. Finally there was a pink ribbon attached to a wooden post which I assumed stood for mile number one. **Sigh** Instead of the 12 miles I had planned for, I hiked a total of 19 miles! I had never been so happy to see my car in my life, and immediately tore my wet boots and socks off. My feet felt raw on the bottom so I drove all the way home in my spare socks. Shoes of any kind were not an option.
Even though I was physically exhausted, mentally I felt calm, clear and ready to head home and deal with reality. The struggle I had felt those last few miles had pushed me beyond my comfort zone and to a new personal level. All in all, I was stoked on my adventure and recognized the significance of what I had just accomplished.
“Be uncomfortable. Be comfortable being uncomfortable. It might not be easy, but it’s a small price to pay for living the dream.”