“Are you keeping track of all the dinners you’ve cooked?” Dad asked, both impressed and somewhat overwhelmed by the meals I’d been whipping up. Sure, though it’s usually one of the last things I jot down in my journal, recounting the details of the day, e.g. “Cooked brats w/ tortilla, must[ard], pickles.” During our 7th meetup—the first in Colorado—I wanted to introduce Dad to carnitas. As I slowly coaxed the large, hard chunks of precooked pork shoulder into soft, shreddy goodness with little crispy bits, I got the sense that this was something he was unfamiliar with. I’d already made quesadillas two ways, chicken and “pizza”, so I thought tacos would be a novel vehicle—until remembering that I’d replenished our mobile pantry with burrito-size flour tortillas. Rather than reverting to quesadillas (for which the large tortillas would have been well-suited), I suggested burritos. I’m pretty sure he envisioned me wrapping the carnitas in a “raw” tortilla and callin’ it a day, but that’s not what I had in mind. I set aside the cooked carnitas and wiped the griddle clean. Onto the tortilla went a schmear of refried beans (from the small cans of bean dip that Dad had recently taken a shine to), a handful of grated cheese, two spoonfuls of carnitas, and some cherry tomatoes that Dad had sliced. I semi-successfully wrapped our over-provisioned burritos (realizing after the fact that the tortillas would have been far more pliable had I gently warmed them first) and then plopped them onto the hot griddle to toast the outside, warm the inside, and (I hoped) ensure that they’d maintain their tubular shape. They were amazing. And whether it was his growing “hiker hunger” or simply a newfound recognition of carnitas’s awesomeness, Dad picked away at the leftovers until there was none left over.
“I could have died” was not what I wanted to hear when he showed up to our 8th meetup, followed by deep, heaving sobs. Early on, when I’d welcome Dad with open arms, he’d stiffen and almost pull-back with a comment about how he must smell. I didn’t mind and hugged him anyway. This was the first time he said, with a high, cracking voice, “Can I have a hug?” What had happened!? He was ok, but he had gotten off the trail during the previous day’s storm, and instead of retracing his steps, decided to head cross-country to rejoin the trail, where he encountered some pretty scary terrain—on the top of a mountain, in the rain, with limited visibility. He reached me around noon, so I was able to make him “brats w/ tortilla, mustard, pickles” for lunch as he began to unwind. Throughout the afternoon, we entertained curious dayhikers with little tidbits such as: “Today is day 17!”, “71 years old!”, “285 miles so far!”, “In the middle of Wyoming!”, “Only 775 miles to go!”, “New Mexico!” That night I made burgers, and it was the first time he asked for seconds.
Arriving to our 9th meetup in tears was not setting a good precedent. Dad had about 45 miles to cover over 3 days, but for some reason, he ended up hiking almost 22 miles on the first day. Additionally I moved our meetup spot to a location that I could more easily access with the Jeep, which shaved off a mile and a half, leaving him with 21.5 miles to reach me. I could only guess at his intentions, but it seemed as though he might try to make it in one day. And that’s just what he did. The problem is that those additional miles (beyond his planned 15) don’t come for free. Hiking an extra 6 miles means hiking for an extra 3 hours (as the terrain in Colorado has gotten more mountainous, his pace has slowed to 30 minutes-per-mile or longer), which meant showing up at 4pm utterly depleted, as opposed to 1pm with enough energy remaining to do his resupply chores. Once I got some food in him (our goto “sausages wrapped in tortillas”) he started to come back to life. Also, for the first time, we had a dinner guest. “Mappy”, whom Dad had crossed paths with on the trail previously, showed up as I was setting up for dinner, and though he had intended to hike a few more miles that evening, the pull of some rare company, not to mention a cold soda and the quesadilla I offered, was too much for him to pass up.
I didn’t realize that the trailhead for our 10th meetup was located within the boundaries of Rocky Mountain National Park until I showed up the day before Dad was set to arrive. At the time, I only vaguely recalled the fact that once you step into a National Park, you can’t just camp anywhere, like in other public lands. But I had a bigger problem. The park had only recently instituted a timed-entry reservation system, and given that we just happened to be reaching the park on a weekend in the summer, the timeslots for the next several days were all sold out. A wave of helplessness swept over me—how was I going to reach Dad? The least appealing option heartily endorsed by the park rangers would be for me to show up just before 6am or just after 5pm (i.e., outside the times that the timed-entry system was in force), and then I could stay in the park as long as I liked. Ohhhkay, but at the time I was also hung up on where we’d stay. We could only camp at designated campgrounds, none of which were near the trailhead, all of which were fully booked, and the rangers made VERY clear that camping at trailheads is VERBOTEN! To make a long story short, the wilderness office was able to issue me an obscure permit that allowed me to park at the trailhead in order to camp outside the boundary of the park, which, incidentally, was a mile away. I later opted to reserve a site at a private, full-service campground outside the park (visions of having to frogmarch Dad to the park boundary back from whence he came did not sit well with me), but the wilderness permit effectively bypassed the timed-entry reservation system, allowing me to come and go when I pleased. And the parking permit came in handy, as I decided to hike out to meet Dad, climbing 2,700 feet over 7 miles before reaching him near Bowen Pass with precious cargo in tow: two cans of Coke. Once we made it back to the trailhead, we drove to the campsite I had reserved, and I made him pancakes for dinner.
Dad needed a break. He wasn’t ready to completely take a day off, but he was ready to take the shortcut that bypassed the high route through Rocky Mountain National Park. Even so, he’d still have to hike at least 22 miles from the trailhead within the park to get beyond the park’s southern boundary. So we decided to break that section into two short slackpacks. The next morning I dropped him off within the park (just before 6am!) and then picked him up 10 miles later (technically our 11th meetup!) at a trailhead within the town of Grand Lake, Colorado. We returned back to the private campground, where I cooked up some massive breakfast sandwiches for lunch, he did laundry, and we both took advantage of the campground’s bathhouse to take our first real showers in 22 days! Hot water! Lather! Privacy! For dinner I cooked up a ribeye steak. Even though he had hiked 10 miles that morning, he said that he was finally able to take his mind off the trail and relax.
While Dad slackpacked another 12 miles to get out from under the thumb of Rocky Mountain National Park, I tried to score a campsite for our 12th meetup at a Forest Service campground. Unfortunately the camp hosts were away, and nothing looked obviously available, until I chatted with one couple who appeared to be packing up, but were actually moving to another site, and they suggested I take their former site. So I snagged it, and of course it was only after Dad had arrived and pitched his tent that another family showed up with a reservation that suggested the campsite was theirs. Conveniently the camp hosts had returned by then and were able to get us situated—though we found out later from some other campers that the site they stuck us in had been reserved by their friends who had to run home for some reason—sheesh!—but wouldn’t be back until the next day—phew!—so turns out everything was copacetic since we’d be vacating the site early the next morning before their friends returned. Oh how I longed for the simpler days of dispersed camping. That night we enjoyed ruby red trout fillets with rice. After 23 days on the CDT, Dad had hiked 382.3 miles.