Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Colorado Trail: Reflections on a 500-mile Adventure (Part 1)

The Colorado Trail is a rugged ribbon of dirt, stretching 500 miles from Denver to Durango, crisscrossing the Continental Divide through the Rocky Mountains.  It climbs and falls over alpine ridges, the average elevation over 10,000 feet, as it passes through six wilderness areas and eight mountain ranges.
It’s an awesome journey.
In 1994, my friend Richard Shinaman and I completed a through hike of the trail — a six week ramble that continues to shape my life almost 20 years later.  My memories of that summer are a primary reason that I’m planning a through hike of the John Muir Trail with my wife and two sons in 2013.  I want to share the transformative adventure of a long trail with three of the people I hold dearest in my life.

And I want to share it with you too.  I recently dug into old boxes in my garage and found dusty containers of slides…  Yes, old 35mm slides (I had to search far and wide to find a projector on which to view them). 

I understand the fact that I own a box of 35mm slides dates me.  But that doesn’t matter.  The wild places along the Colorado Trail have changed little since that summer of 1994. 

Over the next few weeks, I’ll post pictures and snippets of my journal from that summer.  I don’t pretend to be anything close to a professional photographer (and these pictures were taken back in the days before digital — when you had 24 or 36 frames per roll and rarely took more than a single chance on any one view).  But they’ll lend a sense of the journey we had.  Who knows, maybe they’ll inspire you to dust off your old backpack and get some mud on your feet!

I hope so.
We set up camp on a gentle ridge above the South Platte River then headed down to fish and get water.  It rained briefly while we were at the river, just enough to cool things off and stir up the smells of soil and leaves.  Now the sun has retreated beneath the Rampart Range Mountains and we are enjoying the quiet of the valley.

Earlier today we passed a ghost town called the South Platte Townsite.  The only building left intact had a sign that read South Platte Hotel — an old western style building nestled against the river.  It was fun to stand beside it and imagine crusty old miners gambling and swilling whiskey to the clanking of some old piano.  This valley must have felt a lot different in those days.

This morning we woke with the sun and fixed a breakfast of potato omelets and coffee.  We started hiking early, the sky a bit overcast, the trail winding through streamside trees.  The ground was colored by columbine, Indian paintbrush and bluebells, and the air inside the aspen groves felt cool and fresh.

By afternoon, thunder rumbled and a soft rain made its way through the canopy of pine needles.  We pulled our rain covers over our packs, put on our raincoats and kept walking until we reached Redskin Creek.  We sat under a tree in the rain, cracking jokes and laughing as lightning tore at the sky and rain jumped on the stream’s surface.

Eventually birds began to sing and the sun came out.  We strapped on our packs and climbed a ridge west of the creek to pitch our tent.

Up Next:  A midnight hike across the Continental Divide.

Read the whole series:  Part 1  -  Part 2  -  Part 3  -  Part 4

J.S. Kapchinske is the author of Coyote Summer.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The John Muir Trail

Hot dog!  I’m jazzed!

Yes… I just used the words “hot dog” and “jazzed” — and I don’t care if that reveals my inner nerd because I really am jazzed!  Hot dog!

We recently made a big family decision here at the Kapchinske house.  We’re going to hike the John Muir Trail this summer — more than 200 miles of high Sierra awesomeness — a wonderland of granite cliffs, emerald lakes, canyons, crags, pristine forests and wildflower meadows.

The trail starts in Yosemite Valley and ends atop Mount Whitney, the highest summit in the contiguous United States.  It passes through portions of Yosemite National Park, the Ansel Adams Wilderness, the John Muir Wilderness, Kings Canyon National Park and Sequoia National Park — a land uncrossed by road for 140 miles as the crow files.

So let me say it yet again.  Hot dog!  I’m jazzed!

There is, of course, a lot do between now and then — obtain our backcountry permit, nail down the resupply logistics, check our gear, add a little muscle to the legs of my two boys (not to mention my own)...  I’ll fill you in as we make preparations, and once we hit the trail I’ll share glimpses of the journey with you.

In the meantime, if you’re interested in learning more about the John Muir Trail check out these guidebooks:

Up next:  I’ll start a short series of posts on the Colorado Trail.  Way back in 1994 a friend and I spent six incredible weeks hiking 500 miles from Denver to Durango, and that’s a big part of the reason I’m so excited to share the John Muir Trail with my family.  I’ll post old photos and snippets of my travel journal with you.  Between now and then, go get some mud on your feet!

J.S. Kapchinske’s novel Coyote Summer will be available for e-book readers early in 2013.  Please stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Midweek Meditation

into the strenuous briefness
handorgans and April

i charge laughing.
Into the hair-thin tints
of yellow dawn,
into the women-coloured twilight

i smilingly
glide.  I
into the big vermilion departure

(Do you think?)the
i do,world
is probably made
of roses and hello:

(of solongs and,ashes)

Monday, November 19, 2012

We Need Wild Places

Why should you get mud on your feet?  It’s dirty stuff after all.  And you’ll just have to wash it off. 

Better to stay on the sidewalk.  Maybe even the couch.

Or is it?  

You can probably guess my answer.  Get dirty.  Roll in the muck and the mire of life and wipe it all over your kids and your spouse and your friends.  Drag it inside.  Leave bits of it on the wood floor.  Throw open your doors and windows and let it pour in.

Because if you don’t, you’re missing things.  Things that matter.  Things that make your body stronger.  Things that make your spirit fly.  Things that can change your life from a ho-hum slog on the treadmill of mediocrity to a serious adventure worth living.  It’s true.

We need mud.  We need the fruits, flowers and forests that grow in it.  Whether we realize it or not, our minds and bodies—our very souls—depend on all the wild and living things that spring from dirt. 

In his book Biophilia, one of my all-time heroes, Edward O. Wilson, Ph.D., wrote that “To explore and affiliate with life is a deep and complicated process in mental development.  To an extent still undervalued in philosophy and religion, our existence depends on this propensity, our spirit is woven from it, hope rises on its currents.” 

The same line of thought is stated more matter-of-factly by Peter H. Kahn, Jr., Ph.D. when he writes, “For tens and even hundreds of thousands of years, we as a species came of age through daily and intimate connection with the natural world.  That propensity and need to connect—deeply and intimately—with nature is with us still.”

So get off the sidewalk.  Venture far from the couch!  Find some wild place, ramble into it, turn off the neurotic squabbling of your mind and just watch and listen and breathe. 

You’ll feel better when you get home.  Tired maybe, but better—deep down in your gut where it matters.  I promise.  So go outside.  Get mud on your feet!

(Need help finding a new place to get outside?  Check out this cool Where To Go tool by Discover the Forest)

J.S. Kapchinske’s middle grade novel, Coyote Summer, will be available for eBook readers early in 2013.  Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Here We Go

Your feet are made to get dirty.  Toes are meant for squeezing mud.  The world is here for us to walk on.  Thoughtfully.  Gently.

There are so many important things to do—things large and small.  So many adventures waiting to be had.  So lace up your boots (or take off your shoes), and let’s hit the trail.

Bring a child.  Hold her hand.  There are trees to climb.  There are streams to wade.  There are birds to watch.  We can stroll on sandy beaches and sit atop rugged mountains.  Together, we can learn and laugh and see new things.  We can be a part of this moment—every moment—and really live.

We’ll learn about people.  I’ll share some of my heroes, and I hope you’ll share yours. 

We’ll learn about places.  Wild places.  Places worth getting lost… and then found.

We’ll share adventures, hopefully lots of them.

Sometimes we’ll just share a smile.  Or take a moment to breathe.  Other times we might run like a thousand horses, our hair wild in the wind, our skin caked with dust.

Yes.  Your toes are meant to get dirty.  And I’m glad you’re coming with me.  Let’s get some mud on our feet!