I was hiking with Dad when we finally learned how to pronounce Berthoud Pass. A backpacking family of 5 informed us with a chuckle, “It’s BIRTH-ed”. The next day, after hiking back to the Jeep while Dad continued onward, I drove ahead to Berthoud Pass, essentially a parking lot at 11,307 feet that would become my home for the next three nights. The following morning, the day Dad was set to arrive for our 13th meetup, I hiked from the parking lot up to Mount Flora—at 13,146 feet, it was a strenuous climb. I went over the top and nestled myself within a rocky windbreak to wait for Dad. He showed up not 15 minutes later, much appreciating the soda I brought, and then we both hiked up to the peak and all the way down to the parking lot. For lunch I whipped up something Dad deemed “casserole-esque”: roasted chicken with rice bound together with one of his poblano corn chowder backpacker meals. (I think he has one set aside in hopes of a repeat performance!) After 26 days on the trail, Dad decided that the following day would be his first zero, so that we could meet up with old friends Casey, Kyle, and their son Tam who drove up from Denver for a short dayhike and picnic. As they placated Tam with the promise of ice cream on the way home, I cribbed the idea and suggested the same for Dad, which we expanded to include a take-out BBQ lunch in Winter Park, not to mention a brief respite from the trail and the busy Berthoud Pass parking lot.
“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 that would have been ok with him as-is, 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.
Dad told me during our 2nd meetup that he had been trying to figure out some way we could hike together for one of his 2 or 3-day segments between meetups. At that moment, I was not so receptive to the idea because I was still trying to balance all the responsibilities as his “support team”: grocery shopping, cooking during meetups (and feeding myself the rest of the time), seeking out various bits of gear, exploring and hiking on my own, and getting to our pre-arranged meetup locations—on-time. All of which I thoroughly enjoyed, but I had yet to really establish a rhythm or catch my breath. That, and the terrain through which the CDT wove between South Pass and Rawlins was, frankly, pretty underwhelming.
When Dad departed South Pass (hiking southbound on the CDT), I didn’t have much of a plan for what to do with myself before we met up in 3 days. I knew I’d need to get some groceries and gas, and that the nearest station was in Lander. After that, I decided I’d aim for a campground in the nearby national forest. When I discovered upon arrival that the campground was adjacent to a trailhead, I opted to stay a second night. On my “day-off” in between, I hiked up to the first of the Stough Creek Lakes at an elevation of 10,500 feet, about 14 miles round trip. Much to my surprise, on the second night, Dad’s inReach location put him only 9 miles away from our first meetup. Given his 25 minute-per-mile pace and early starts (he usually gets going around 5am) that put his arrival at 8:45 the following morning! The problem was that I was at least 2 hours away, and was hoping to stop at a grocery store en route. So I also had an early start. I wasn’t sure whether he’d be more in the mood for breakfast, as opposed to the cheeseburgers I’d previously promised, so I picked up the ingredients for both. After reaching our appointed lat/long at 8am, I hiked up a nearby hill that gave me a view of the CDT receding into the distance. Just like clockwork, Dad materialized out of the chaparral at 8:35am and we walked together down the trail to the Jeep. He wanted a shower, but in my haste to arrive on time, I hadn’t filled it. So we pilfered water from a nearby livestock reservoir, and he was able to clean himself up. Though his “hiker hunger” had not yet kicked in, I managed to feed him both breakfast sandwiches for lunch and cheeseburgers for dinner.
“Was your Dad going to hike the CDT this year, if not for the pandemic?”
This is what Stephanie asked me, innocently enough, after dinner on June 10th. Whatever prompted her question is lost to everything that came after, but this is where the story begins for me.
I wasn’t sure. But it made me wonder whether his having a hiking partner might be a motivator. I was near the end of my monthslong landscaping projects, and this seemed like a good alternative to finding a job.
So I texted him the idea and he seemed intrigued. But the following night we spoke on the phone and he decided that the risk of contracting the coronavirus (at his age) was just too great. So no hike. At the time I was secretly relieved because when I first proposed the idea, I hadn’t fully wrapped my head around the reality of leaving Stephanie for months at a time, of forsaking the comfort of our backyard gardens and nightly barbecues and dips in the pool.