CDT 2021: Day 82, Chihuahua Gulch to Keystone

You got to come on up to the house

Top O' and OldTimer look for the correct way to go

When I wrote about Day 165 of my Appalachian Trail thru-hike, I said, "I don't believe life is controlled by fate, destiny, or luck. Random stuff happens. When it does, you can only respond the best way you know how."

I was thinking then about how some thru-hikers had to leave the trail for no fault of their own. We don't get to choose when and how many of the things that happen to us occur.

In my frame of mind then, I was thinking of negative occurrences, but I also know good things can happen randomly.

DateSaturday, July 3, 2021
WeatherClear early, gradually becoming mostly cloudy; temperatures from the low-40s to upper-60s
Trail ConditionsA gradual descent on trail, gravel road, and asphalt highway
Today's Miles10.3
Trip Miles1115.8

Today was such a day when something completely unplanned yet good happened to us. Though we were in the wrong place — we didn't intend to be in Chihuahua Gulch and a few miles off the trail — we happened to be there at the right time to be offered some wonderful trail magic.

The offer would make us change our plan of returning to the CDT today, but we weren't about to complain.

Western roseroot

Yesterday afternoon's storm clouds were gone this morning. The sky was clear when we awoke before sunrise.

Top O' saw a moose stroll through our campsite just as he began to crawl out of his tent. It was about 15-20 yards away. He tried to quietly point her out to OldTimer and me, but I only got a glimpse of her. She was gone before we could take a photo.

Instead of the moose, I took photos of wildflowers growing nearby. Some were western roseroot, a member of the stonecrop family and sometimes called king's crown.

American bistort

American bistort were also growing along the streams next to our campsite. They may have been the reason the moose walked by because many animals like to eat the leaves and flowers. The plant is also edible for humans and is said to contain a large amount of Vitamin C.

Finding our way

We left our campsite before 6:30 a.m. Though we had a map and were following an old Jeep road, we had some confusion figuring out the route. The area was used by people with high-clearance four-wheeled-drive vehicles and dirt bikes. We found more tracks than the road shown on the map.

The route also crossed a creek more than once, and we had to search for the best place to cross.

Sunlight hitting the tops of Arapahoe Basin and Lenawee Mountain

The sun's rays had not yet reached the valley, so the morning air remained chilly. Sunlight only hit the tops of Arapahoe Basin (13,173 feet high) and Lenawee Mountain (13,202 feet high).

Top O' and OT look for a way to cross a stream

Our plan for the day was to make our way to a road that would connect us with the CDT. We intended to follow the trail for another day or so until we could get a ride into Frisco or Silverthorne and resupply. I also needed to pick up a pair of shoes waiting for me at the REI store in Dillon. All three towns sit on the shore of Dillon Reservoir. They are linked together by a public bus system, so after we got to one town, we could easily get around to do our shopping.

We were unsure, however, how this would work if we wanted to find a motel room. The towns are tourist destinations. Being the Fourth of July weekend, we knew the motels would be full.

Mountains ahead in Chihuahua Gulch

Getting to the road was slow because of our navigation difficulties, and also because the Jeep road was extremely rugged and uneven.

Top O' crosses a stream while OT waits

One of the stream crossings went over a sketchy combination of a downed log, a wobbly plank, and rocks. Getting across took extra care, but we all made it without slipping into the cold creek.

Soon after crossing the stream, I met a couple walking up the valley on a day hike to Ruby Gulch. They began asking me several questions when they learned I was hiking the CDT. Top O' and OT soon caught up and joined the conversation.

They told us their names were Carter and Jane. The more we talked, the more interested they became in our hike. Carter said he was thinking about doing a thru-hike someday.

It wasn't long before they told us they had a condo in Keystone, a nearby ski resort. Then unexpectedly, they asked if we would like to stay the night there. They even offered to drive us into Dillon to resupply.

The offer was a sudden change in our plans, but a welcome change nonetheless. I learned on my AT and PCT thru-hikes that an offer like this is made from the heart and should always be accepted, and of course, we did. We figured out we could continue our walk to the road, but instead of joining the CDT, we would follow it into Keystone.

We were excited about how Jane and Carter's offer solved our problem of finding a place to stay during the holiday weekend. After working out details of how to find their condo, they continued on their day hike, and we headed to where the Jeep road ended at Forest Road 260.

It wasn't long before we met another day-hiking couple. They too were surprised to find three thru-hikers in Chihuahua Gulch. We didn't get another offer to stay in a condo, but they tried to give us food or money.

The forest road was where we reconnected with the CDT, though now we were going to hike on it only briefly before making our way to Keystone. The road was a remnant of mining and logging days. It was lined today with cars, trucks, and RVs owned by holiday campers, hikers, and ATV enthusiasts.

We met some NOBO thru-hikers as we began walking on the road. One was Crispi, who has been hiking with Longbird. I first met the two of them in Chama.

Montezuma Road

The forest road took us to Montezuma Road, and we arrived there at 9:30 a.m. This was a paved road that led us to Keystone. It wasn't busy, and there was a wide shoulder to walk on when any cars or bicycles came by.

When we got to the resort area, we had difficulty finding a place to eat lunch. Some businesses were closed, and others were too crowded. We ended up settling with Subway. We then called Carter after lunch, and he told us how to get to the condo, which wasn't far to walk.

After taking showers and getting our laundry started, Carter drove us to a shopping center in Dillon. The REI store where I needed to pick up my shoes was there, and we all bought fuel canisters.

A grocery store was in the same shopping center. We each bought food we needed for the trail, plus we bought items for tonight's dinner. We wanted to do something nice as a gesture of thanks to Jane and Carter. Admittedly, though, we could have coordinated our purchases better. The meal turned out to be more like a potluck dinner.

Returning to the CDT tomorrow won't be difficult. Our hosts told us about a series of bike paths that will give us a safe route to the trail. We will reconnect with it just north of Breckenridge. Better still, despite our unplanned exit yesterday, we will be able to keep our footpath unbroken from Mexico to Canada.

Random acts of kindness like our invitation to stay with Carter and Jane have happened to me before. I continue to be amazed at how thoughtful people often are to smelly, dirty hikers. Their simple, unselfish gestures show they want us to be successful in completing our hike. And truthfully, they really do help.

As I said before, I don't believe in fate, destiny, or luck. I don't even like the words. They imply to me what happened today was a mystical event beyond human control. To be sure, it was a random occurrence. Still, it didn't just happen because the three of us took the wrong way down from Grays Peak yesterday.

No, our stay with Jane and Carter happened because they were two thoughtful people who became intrigued by our journey. They wanted to do what they could to help us on our way. It started as a random moment and became an intentional expression of caring. I can't think of a better definition of trail magic.

Does life seem nasty, brutish, and short
Come on up to the house
The seas are stormy, and you can't find no port
Got to come on up to the house

You gotta come on up to the house
Come on up to the house
The world is not my home, I'm just a-passing through
You got to come on up to the house


"Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine."ref.