The motion moving through Eastern Colorado became rhythmic. I haven't had a change of scenery for almost 800 miles. The only thing that keeps me moving was the mountains approaching. Each time my left foot stepped forward, my right would follow. This motion would continue until I did it close to 90,000 times to complete a 20-30 mile day. Each day walking would show more and more of the mountains. First would be a simple outline followed by some white spots. After a day or two outside Denver, the actual size of the mountains revealed itself. All I could think about was what the very first settlers thought. They have made it so far, but now this obstacle of unexpected proportion showed itself. At least I knew that the Rockies is split into two separate mountain ranges with a valley in the middle. Getting over the first mountain range was still a mystery to me since my cart can't fit on normal hiking trails and I can not be on the interstate as a hiker. The second passage was more simple because state route 40 extended for many miles eventually into all of Utah.
My mental motivation to keep me moving through the Great Plains was Boulder and Denver. This was a major stop for the trip. There were talks and presentations planned for me to do about clean water and I had friends waiting for me with open arms. When approaching the mountains, I wanted to take my time because I had no clue how my body was going to handle the elevation change. At least for now, its time to relax in Denver, give my body and feet a rest and plan ahead.
My day leaving Denver was bittersweet. The next time I will see friends is an over a thousand miles away in San Francisco, but at least I get to be in the mountains! It was not long until the streets of Denver and Golden were navigated and the elevation started. The climb to an eventual 11,600ft began. The roads were windy and beautiful. Pine trees cover each shoulder with different mountains and rock faces around each turn. Even with being in such a beautiful place, it was extremely difficult to concentrate. The beauty ignored, while I focused staying completely self-aware of my body. The air continued to get thin the higher I climbed making breathing more difficult. What seemed to be a never-ending climb caused my heart rate to constantly increase to the point of what felt to be 160 bpm. If I decided to stop and relax for a bit, the weight of all the water would pull on me, making everything more challenging. As I climbed, it felt as if someone was pulling on me trying to get me to turn back. There was a refusal inside me to stop, the Rockies were not going to win this easily. While walking an image from my trip to Tanzania continued to pop into mind. It was of two boys pushing a broken bicycle up a hill that was strapped with 4 jerry cans of water. If those elementary school-aged boys can do it, so can I.
The first mountain town destination was Nederland. This provided the chance to chat with some locals and figure out the best spot to cross over the continental divide. There only seemed to be one spot, Rollinsville Pass. A 13-mile forest service road that leads to a collapsed tunnel but has a few social trails to get up and over. This was the best option, so I set out for the adventure. The Forest Service road is not maintained so it's going to be rocky and bumpy with my cart requiring some extra energy. Since I spent the morning planning the day, I didn't start my journey until the afternoon. While 3 miles away from the start of the Forest Service road, all the moisture on the other side of the mountains came over at once. The darkest cloud I have ever seen with white streaks covers the sky. It was only a matter of time until it starts to pour. Before the rain, came the lightning and the thunder that seemed to move the earth. To top it all, hail the size of dimes fell for a few minutes. It was one of those moments I had no idea what to do or go. Luckily a family saw my situation and provided me with some protection from the hail. The quick adrenaline rush made me exhausted and when I made it to camp, I almost immediately fell asleep.
At 6 am, I woke up freezing, but ready to start the climb to Rollinsville Pass. It was so cold, the feeling of frostbite was imminent. I never packed any gloves and I was already wearing four layers to keep my chest warm. So I grabbed two pairs of socks for each hand which helped keep them warm until the sun peered over the mountains. The climb was as rocky and steep as imagined. Every few moments or so, there would be an overlook where the whole mountain range was visible. I was higher than most clouds, higher than most people in the world. What a beautiful feeling. All I wanted to do was continue to climb to notice the subtle differences in the view the higher in elevation I went. Within a few hours, the trees disappeared and only a shale mountaintop was left. Only one hundred feet and a collapsed tunnel were left. At 11,200ft, I set up camp to enjoy this elevation and to naturally adapt for the final climb tomorrow. Sitting this high and ending early gave me the chance to think. There was no cell phone service or people, just me, my thoughts, and two heavy blue jerry cans. It was perfect, there was nowhere else I wanted to be. There was nothing else I could see myself doing. I found a reason and a cause to be passionate about.
The final climb. The last quarter mile walk to the collapsed tunnel was intimidating. Many signs told me to go back. To the left of me was the mountaintop, to the right was a hundred foot drop. I arrived at the tunnel and observed a few possible trails I could take and started to scout their potential. One caught my eye but it required unpacking everything. First I fully packed my backpack, hiked over, and placed it on the other side of the tunnel, and went back. The path was very steep, going uphill was no issue, but downhill was terrifying. One wrong step could lead to a slip resulting in a painful fall to the bottom. My heart was beating a mile a minute and my nerves made it hard to breathe. Two more trips were required, first for the two jerry cans. Next was the cart. After 15 minutes, I did it! Officially on the other side of the Continental Divide. The last few miles of the day were completely downhill to Winter Park. Winter Park is on state route 40 which I will follow all the way through Colorado and Utah.