Monday, June 25, 2012

Hale the Conquering Hero

 June 23
The cold morning kept me in my sleeping bag until the rising sun's appearance pulled me out into its warmth.  I continued yesterday's movement toward the lower floors of the Rockies, on the way running into a group of six mountain bikers crawling over a toppled tree.  They were doing the whole Colorado Trail.  Once through the obstacle they jounced upwards and I wished them luck with their future hemorrhoid operations. 
About two hours in I reached the old site of Camp Hale.  The 10th Mountain Division trained here from World War II until the late sixties when the base moved a few miles to the northwest.  My cousin Brian, whose pack I am using this year, was based there during the early 1990s. 
Ninety minutes later I reached the division's World War II memorial.  The 10th Mountain had led the charge against the Nazis in the Italian mountains, crossing the Po River before any other Allied forces and conquering tough terrain in the Appenine and Alp ranges.  Almost a thousand of their number gave the ultimate sacrifice during the campaign. Between the old Hale and the memorialized Hale the trail was sponsored by a woman's hiking group known as the Yaks.  The name seems a poor choice as it conjured in my mind thoughts of large, extremely hairy ladies making cowlike sounds.   
Only a quarter mile from the monument I ran into Mark and his son Stephane, who were hiking the same CT section I was.  They pointed out to me a trail magic box beside the path.  A kind soul had left snacks, sodas, bug spray, a first aid kit, and various other items to assist long distance hikers.  I'd read of this phenomenon occuring on the Appalachian Trail, but this was my first personal run-in with such thougthfulness and generosity. 
The next stretch took me up Tennessee Pass, which was mercifully much lower than the passes of yesterday. I was soon over, but running out of water.  I stopped at Tennessee Creek to refill.  There were Mark and Stephane again setting up their tent.  The spot looked to be a great improvement over last night's, which I had tiredly set up on too steep a hill.  With the convenient water source, a nice location, and a rare opportunity to speak with other humans I was unable to resist stopping early and joining them.
Later we gathered around the ashes of an old fire, where I learned Mark had fled his home in New Jersey after a trip out west taken with some college buddies.  According to Mark, he had given up the corporate working world in order to pursue a simpler life.  Son Stephane, aged fifteen, shared this love for nature and travel.  Besides their hikes in the Rockies they had visited Costa Rica and Alaska recently. 
I discovered even more about my new friends when a French couple arrived and the two bantered easily with the newcomers in their native  tongue.  Turns out Stephane's mother is Belgian and the whole family is fluent. 
We stayed up until well after dark telling stories and sharing our life philosphies.  I was sad to say goodnight, but the previous evening's rest had been fitful at best and there were still many more wilderness miles left. 
14 miles/2651 total miles

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