trail angel

CT #21: Gratitude

My last town stop on the Colorado Trail was going to be Lake City, the town northbound thru-hikers have been talking about since Leadville. But, honestly, it wasn’t the town’s free movie for hikers or its amazing eateries that called to me; Lake City had a library.

Even in the age of smartphones, libraries remain a key destination in trail towns. They have computers with keyboards, they have WiFi, they have warm and dry places to sit, and they always seem to welcome hikers.

The Lake City library held a special appeal to me, as it was where I would finally iron out the (rather complicated) logistics of getting back home and purchase the tickets for the key legs of the journey.

And, since I finally have an appetite, by the time I got to Spring Creek Pass, the Lake City “exit,” I had just run out of food.

Perhaps, then, you can imagine my frustration as I stood on the side of the highway and not a car went past. Not one. Thirty minutes passed. Sixty minutes. Ninety minutes.

I began to get desperate. With the limited cell phone reception I had, I started looking for shuttles, but the one run by local trail angels had stopped for the season. I decided to start walking the 17 miles to Lake City.

I hadn’t gone a mile before a white truck came driving up. I stuck out my thumb, unable to hide my desperate hope. They drove past. I kept walking and then noticed the truck pull over and begin slowly backing up. I ran as fast as I could, pack and all, to the truck.

Val and Gary, a grandparently couple of native Coloradans, made room in their vehicle and welcomed me inside. They were camping nearby and were coming into Lake City for laundry and food, as well.

I wanted to cry or say a prayer of gratitude or dance for joy. My pathetic morning had just turned perfect.

We did laundry together, as I unloaded my resupply box and repacked my pack for the next leg of this journey. Then, we said our farewells, as I went to the library and they headed to the grocery store.

Lake City was a precious small town, and I enjoyed walking to the library and saying “Hi!” to locals in what I’ve been told is my southern way. At the library, I sat on a picnic table, charged my phone, and opened far too many browser tabs and apps as I worked to coordinate various transportation schedules.

No sooner had I figured it out (Huzzah!) and was preparing to call my family to let them know that Val called my name. They were heading to lunch and then out of town, past the trail. I could join them, if I’d like.

I had just decided that I’d make myself comfortable for a little while longer, grateful to be able to count on a friendly ride back up to the trail when it registered to me that I was being invited to lunch, too. This was too much!

How special it was, after three weeks in near-constant solitude, to share a meal with kind people! We talked about our families and our love of the outdoors. I had a delicious, non-rehydrated meal and wanted to “Ooo” and “Ah” over it, but I tried to remember that normal people don’t fantasize about food every moment of the day!

Eventually, it was time to head back into the mountains, and, eventually, it was time to say goodbye to the people who decided they were my “adopted grandparents.” I fought back happy tears as I hugged them and wished them well.

Then, I set off into the mountains, where, with tickets in my inbox, good food in my belly, and friendship in my heart, the miles were easy.

Who am I kidding?

There was a hailstorm! But, even the cold ice didn’t stop me from smiling.