The next morning I woke up on my own around 5:30. It’s daytime much earlier than I’m used to in Mountain Time Zone! Undeterred, I rolled over and went back to sleep for a little while. The air mattress and sleeping bag combo is actually quite comfortable. Around 7am I woke up again (for real this time) and made myself some coffee in a French press, cooked a little oatmeal with raisins and packed a picnic lunch for myself: a sandwich, some chips, some pretzels and an apple.
I’d done some research back home in advance of the type of hike I wanted to do. Not too long. But not too short. Not too hard. But not too easy. I wanted a hike that would take me all day but not overnight. In the end, after searching on All Trails website, I settled on the Willow Lake Trail. 10 miles of difficult hiking that would lead me to an alpine lake of snow melt. Perfect!
By 9am I was at the trailhead and parked. The lot was packed and I literally got the very last parking spot in the whole lot. I grabbed my backpack (with my lunch and a gallon of water inside), my water bottle and my jean jacket. With that, I headed up the trail and began an epic day-long hike.
A snowmelt creek greeted me around the very first corner. Wild flowers. Small waterfalls. Switchback after switchback. I hummed hymns. Scott had gifted me some bear mace but I’d also heard that humans singing as are much a bear deterrent as anything. So I kept on singing.
By 10:30 I was starving so I paused to sit and eat my completely mushed up peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I realized fairly early that I probably didn’t have enough water for the day but I managed to keep on. The elevation climbed and climbed and I could feel my lungs starting to ache. Crestone itself is at 8,000 feet and I knew the pinnacle of my hike would be 11,700+ feet. I kept breathing, singing and just kept going.
I’m not a fast hiker. There’s no race here. I lived in Yosemite National Park in the glorious summer of 1996 and worked in the Camp Curry Coffee shop. I know hiking. I know the lifestyle. I know the hikers that seem like they’re in some sort of race. (With themselves?) I’m not that. I sit when I want. I drink when I want. I eat when I want. But I don’t stop, that’s for darn sure.
I encountered a number of really nice people along the way. Distanced but friendly. About a third of the way up I encountered a breathtaking view of a ginormous green meadow below. More waterfalls. Little bridges made of fallen logs and stones that would require my full attention. Slipping and falling into freezing cold water was not on my agenda!
Somewhere along the way I ate my chips. And then the pretzels. In addition to not quite enough water, I also didn’t bring enough calories! I kept going. The sun bore down even as the temperature seemed to drop slightly the higher I went. I was grateful for my dorky sun hat.
Finally, around 2pm, I reached the hike's summit and the ice cold lake. And wow was it worth it! Big horn sheep grazed calmly nearby. A few people here and there sunning on the rocks. I found a place and took a mosquito-free nap. They don’t seem to be able to make it at this altitude. I was glad for my jean jacket at this altitude.
I ate my apple in silence, meditated a while and then decided I should probably get back down the mountain. I looked and looked for the trail. I couldn’t find it! Oh no…. I could barely remember what the boulder-strewn trail looked like there at the top and after taking the wrong path about four times and turning around, I finally found it. I saw how I worked with the panic and moved through it.
The trip down only took about three hours but somehow I’m still not certain if it’s easier to go up or down. Heading down works different muscles even though it’s much faster.
I was at the base by about 5:30 or 6:00 and gratefully sank into my car for a water refill. I’d drunk over a gallon during my hike!
Sore from head to toe, I slowly drove back to my Hipcamp at Dreamweavers. Somehow I cooked dinner. Somehow I made hot tea and did my dishes. Somehow I brushed my teeth. I was in that tent and completely passed out asleep by 7:30pm. But not before a ridiculously contented selfie in my bed. I'm so tired but so happy to have spent the whole entire day hiking. (Also - that blazing forehead birthmark is why I return again and again to the bangs.)
I had a big day ahead of me the next day after all - a visit to all the religious centers in the Crestone area. Or as many as I could possibly visit in one day.
May it be so.
Packing came easy on Thursday before my trip. I’d been fussing all week with things, getting ready to go out of town. Tying up loose ends at work. Sending last minute emails. Staging piles (and piles!) of camping gear. Those sorts of things. Feeling burned out with all things day job, this trip felt like I was embarking on an adventure to find myself - to figure out what I want to do with my life. I mean, I already know: I want to serve in the best place possible that's most authentic to me. But I’m burned out, I’m restless and I need some space.
I woke up Friday morning at 5:30. It was the last alarm I’d set for over a week. I grabbed the cold things out of the fridge, loaded the toiletries and was out the door by 6am. Most everything had been packed the night before, carefully thinking through when and how I’d need various things. What would make the car Tetris the easiest to sift through throughout my time on the road?
I stopped at a Starbucks somewhere in the mid-cities and grabbed some coffee and something to eat. I’d keep going, heading west, up through Wichita Falls, onwards to Amarillo. By Amarillo, I was ready to have lunch but struggled to find something on the East side of town. I exited the first picnic area West of Amarillo and pulled over to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. To eat with chips and a nectarine. A meal I would eat many, many times over throughout the next week.
I’d planned all my meals of course. From beginning to end, all the moving parts were all thought through so as to cause the least amount of worry and interaction with anybody. I didn’t want to do a lot of shopping beyond buying gas, ice and perhaps some souvenirs here and there.
After Amarillo it was onwards to Santa Fe. I listened to the BKS Iyengar book Light on Life, a book that breaks down yoga philosophy with such elegance and practicality. And earlier, I’d been listening to Eknath Eswaran’s commentaries on the Upanishads. As I pulled into Santa Fe, I headed straight for The Ark. It’s a big spiritual bookstore filled with goodies, great books and the last time I was in town I only had five minutes in it before it closed. I sorta swore that the next time I was in Santa Fe, I’d make a point to visit again. I picked up a set of prayer flags for our backyard deck. I also got a book on the 21 Tara's.
I got to my friend Scott’s house and waited for him to get off work. Just for a few minutes, it wasn’t long.
He arrived and after unloading my car, we settled in for a drink. Me some pink wine and him a cold beer. We chatted about all the things while we killed a little time before dinner. When the timing felt right, we decided to head out to Paper Dosa for dinner, a delicious Indian place with alarmingly good dosas.
We ended up sharing a table with another couple. The restaurant was extremely busy and this was a good decision for all of us in order to get a table in a timely manner. We got to know them a little, although now I can’t remember their names. Either way, it made for a sweet little evening.
When we got back to the house, I changed the sheets on the bed I'd be sleeping in and took a shower. I was asleep before I knew it, with an elderly black cat named Lula purring next to me.
In the morning we got up, had some coffee and tea and I researched Crestone a little bit before getting dressed. We headed out for a fabulous French breakfast where we talked about all sorts of things - from my unease with work to his leather business. He also shared his yoga journey with me - how he’d stumbled into Iyengar yoga and it was proving to be fairly miraculous with his long disabled leg.
We headed back to his house and I took some pictures of him in his leather working studio. As much for him as for me, I’d say. We parted ways after that and I headed over to the Jackalope - a really cool home goods and garden store in Santa Fe. After endless wandering I settled on a simple teal blue dress that I’d wear almost everyday after that. I even shimmied into it in the parking lot in front of God and everyone!
The drive to Taos was uneventful and very beautiful. Upon arrival I headed straight to a delicious pizza place called Out Back Pizza. After that the Hanuman Temple for a brief encounter with Hanuman’s energy.
Turns out, Saturday is the only day they open the Temple. Fortunately for me, it was Saturday and my timing was impeccable! I arrived just after they opened the doors so I was towards the front of the line that was slowly queuing out front. Covid protocols meant everyone wore a mask and they would only allow six people in at a time to pay respects and meditate.
When it was my turn, I dinged the bell over the entrance to the shrine and put a little money in the donation box and headed in. I hadn’t brought any flowers or goods that the temple could use. Money would have to do. I sat on the floor of the temple and looked at all the shrines. I closed my eyes and sat for a few minutes to see what would come to me. “Life is for service” and “be of service” is what I kept experiencing. Fitting for Hanuman. Fitting for the questions I’m asking myself on this wandering adept adventure.
I exited the shrine room and gratefully accepted the caffeinated chai and some prasad. I had a bit of a drive ahead of me - to get to Crestone, Colorado before dark. Back at the car, I rearranged a few things and got settled for a fairly long drive ahead of me. About three hours to Crestone.
Not far north of Taos, I approached a bridge. I could see people stopping and walking to it so I slowed down as I crossed. Holy shit that was a deep gorge! I had no idea! It’s part of the Rio Grande - but way up in Northern New Mexico! I pulled into the rest area just past the bridge and walked back down to the bridge for a better look. A suicide hotline was there at the center of the bridge. It really was a “sure fire” spot if you wanted to jump. There would be no survivors.
Back in the car, I turned up some music and headed on, stopping briefly at the Earthships. The nice people wouldn’t let me in though. I was nine minutes past their closing time. I could see it was quite the place, with gardens and living quarters like buried into the earth for year round living and comfort.
I passed an Amish cart and horse. I passed into Colorado and marveled at the cannabis dispensary right there at the border.
Onwards to Crestone. I got into town and promptly hit the Higher Elevation dispensary there in town before plugging in the GPS directions to my campsite. (Nothing wrong with a little legal sativa, people.)
I found my Hicamp (called Dreamweavers) after only a little effort. When I pulled into the gate, I wasn't sure where to park or what to do so I inched forward to the doorway to the structure that was to my right. A tall, older man stepped out to greet me. “I’m here to see Jodi. I’m camping here tonight through a Hipcamp reservation.” He seemed a little bewildered at my comment and possibly a little confused. His name was Robert and the little elderly starving dog with him, he called “Shorty.” Jodi, the woman I’d been communicating with about camping, had left for Sedona just that morning, he said but that he could show me around.
Oh dear, I thought, but followed him into the house.
We started walking through the house. I hesitate to use the word “house” though because the structure seemed to me to be a series of shacks and prefab structures that had been strung together for a rambling ranch “house” effect. He took me through the “healing room” where I could see a massage table set up (complete with rumpled sheets) underneath a row of chakra colored crystals that would line up with someone’s body if they'd been stretched out on the table. I turned a corner and Robert said “Hey Merlin, come say hello to Aurah!” A little curly headed man with glasses peered out of a room, pulled back a curtain doorway. Smiling and seeming very friendly, he said “Hi Aurah! Nice to meet you.” Robert explained that Merlin was the resident wizard. I couldn’t tell if he was kidding or not so I laughed it off and said “every place needs a resident wizard, man!”
Then a peek at the shower I was invited to use. ‘Nope’ I thought. Then the kitchen where I “could put my things” if I wanted to. I opened the refrigerator door and saw it was lined with wooden shelves and the whole thing packed to the gills. ‘Nope’ I thought and we kept going. Past the washer and dryer that don’t work. Past more piles of clutter. We exited out the other end of the place and I think I understood at this point to head back out to the road and take the second entrance into the compound. I could camp anywhere I like. And then Robert made a menacing comment about mosquitoes. I wasn’t quite sure what he meant, but I would soon find out!
I pulled into the second driveway and noticed three other campers had already chosen the most obvious camping spot near a firepit. I parked my car pretty far from theirs and walked around. It wasn’t a prime camping location. It felt more like I would be camping in a dump. Piles of stuff, lumber, tools, trash, tires and more just sort of littered the place. I got the feeling that at one time it was quite the place but that Covid and a lack of work hours on the compound had left it in utter disrepair. I pitched my tent along a fence strewn with homemade dream catchers. Seemed like the most obvious place. And besides, it had a helluva view of the mountains.
I started to lay the tarp and then my tent. The mosquitos, it turns out, are a Whole Thing in Crestone for about 6-8 weeks in the summer. The ground is saturated with snowmelt water and they sort of emerge from the ground. They don’t even need standing water to propagate. I rubbed some mosquito wipes along my legs and back of neck and arms in an effort to be able to focus on setting up my camp.
I quickly cooked my first dinner: a Kalachandji’s meal heated up in a skillet on my borrowed camp stove and hot tea. I did my dishes as quickly as I could while thousands of mosquitoes bombarded me. After securing my little outdoor kitchen for the night, I dove into my tent and zipped it up as quickly as I could. Finally: sleep after an epic travel day. I needed the rest. The next day I’d be heading up to Willow Lake at around 11,700 feet elevation….
May it be so.
Periodic updates from Aurah in the Field.
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