Henry David Thoreau said, “If you advance confidently toward your dreams, and endeavor to live the life which you have imagined, you will meet with success unexpectedly in common hours. You will pass through invisible boundaries and you will live with the license of a higher order of beings.”
Each year for the past 39 years, I sling a 45 pound backpack onto my shoulders and make my way to my favorite “Walden Pond of the Rockies” at 11,000 feet—high in the Colorado Rocky Mountains.
Each time, I feel the energy of life pulsing throughout my body from the climb through fabled aspen groves, enormous lodge pole pines and an endless variety of wildflowers. But my most favorite time of the year for packing into my secret stash—remains late September when the aspens flourish in gold and the underbrush explodes in burgundy, topaz, silver, bronze, saffron, red, copper, orange, pink, yellow and green. Each plant and tree offers visual delights that beckon my eyes and mind into the realm of spirit, serendipity and emotional bliss.
“You guys about ready?” my college friend Bob said as he hoisted his heavy pack onto his shoulders.
“Good to go,” said Dave, our ultra long distance running friend. Note that he and several companions just completed their run along the famous Route 66 from Chicago to Pier 59 in Santa Monica, California—some 2,400 miles. See his escapades at www.runitforward.cc . Contribute to his amazing cause.
“Let me fill up this water bottle,” I said, “and I’ll be ready as a rabbit trying to outrun a coyote.”
The three of us signed into the “Wilderness Camping Permit Box” at the trail head on the other side of the gravel road from where we parked the car. We stood along a clear mountain stream between two mountain passes—Battle Summit Mountain Pass and Tennessee Pass. Even being at the bottom of 14,000 foot peaks in the Mount Holy Cross range, we felt dwarfed as we stood at the 8,000 foot elevation.
“Let’s get ‘er done,” Bob said, spinning on his heels after completing the registration ticket and pinning it to his pack.
The rocky, root congested trail immediately inclined to cause our hearts to race and sweat to bead on our foreheads. Ahead, green aspen trees grew thick in a grove. The word for those trees is “aspen tremulus” or trembling leaves. When a breeze blows, they tremble, shimmer and wave to all of nature.
And the wind full of wantonness
Woos like a lover
The young Aspen trees
Till they tremble all over."
~Thomas Moore, Lalla Rookh, Light of the Harem
The trail broke upward into a bare spot on the mountain side. Bob seemed to have a wild hair up his pant legs as he hoofed it up the steep grade. Again, the trail moved back into a thick cover of lodge pole pines. Dave and I followed Bob with the usual small talk.
After a half hour, we broke out of the pines and hit a horizontal trail that skirted the base of a steep mountain grade, but at the other side, it took us up a 20 degree grade and a lot of footwork dancing around and over big rocks on the trail. You might think we faced drudgery and grind, but, ahead, a gorgeous shimmering gold stand of aspen trees delighted us, thrilled us and made the hiking incidental.
For the first time in years, I bought a pair of telescoping hiking poles. Experts say they take thousands of pounds off your legs by giving you greater balance and exchange of weight bearing. So far, so good. I was a “four legged” mountain climber.
Once past the huge golden aspens, we climbed back into a pine forest, but with a stop for water and talk. The entire valley opened up behind us. On the far side, immense old growth pines covered the northern side of the mountains with splotches of golden aspen trees creating a patchwork quilt of green and gold. Talk about Mother Nature’s handiwork!
“Nature is full of genius, full of the divinity; so that not a snowflake escapes its fashioning hand.” said Henry David Thoreau. “Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature, and not be thrown off track by every nutshell and mosquito's wing that falls on the rails. Let us rise early and fast, or break fast, gently and without perturbation. If the engine whistles, let it whistle till it is hoarse for its pains. If the bell rings why should we run? Be it life or death we crave only reality. If we are alive let us go about our business. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of the arts.”
My favorite authors draw my mind and spirit: Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Wallace Stegner, Edward Abbey and Jack London. They speak to me in profound appreciations to the spiritual plentitudes we experience in nature. Am I working like a horse to get up this mountain or am I galloping effortlessly over this hallowed ground. Does a man like Dave Carder, who just ran across America, feel what I feel? Does Bob struggle up the path or does he celebrate his flight through so much beauty?
That’s the profound joy of our individual expressions on this planet. We each express ourselves. If each of us provides the Great Spirit with individual expression then, on this day, three guys express the “emerging energy of the universe” with a joy of having a magnificent time.
Still, after the philosopher in me waxes romantic, my 45 pound pack weighs heavy on my hips. While I stopped for a drink, Dave hiked ahead to see Bob. As usual, I pulled out my camera and took pictures of my mountain paradise. Five minutes later, I slung the pack back onto my shoulders and headed up the mountain.
An hour later, the view behind me became even more fantastic. My climb of over 2,000 feet brought me higher into the realm of the peaks to the south of me. A couple of gray jays and a stellar blue jay flew down to see if I offered anything to eat. A couple of squirrels offered their machine gun chatter as I passed by them. The ground cover pleased my eyes with a kaleidoscope of colors.
Not long after, I reached a white water stream with a log bridge traversing it. I tested it for solid foundation. After finding it in good order, I walked across. I looked upward to see white water racing toward me and downward, the stream quieted into a pool. The black rocks of the stream gleamed with polished surfaces from centuries of water rolling over them.
On the other side of the stream, the trail moved sharply upward again. Soon, I passed over 10,000 feet and far beyond the growth levels of the aspen. From that point, only lodge pole pines awaited my passing. The thick green ground cover turned a bit yellow on both sides of the trail—making if feel like the fabled “yellow brick road” in the Wizard of Oz. I have got to smile knowing that I, too, am traveling that fantasy road in my time. And folks, this ain’t Kansas!
The trail led through endless rocks and gnarly roots that covered the path. I watched every footfall to make sure I didn’t trip. Every mountain climber knows that each footfall must be measured and certain. A turned ankle or fall could mean the end of a beautiful day.
As I neared my “Walden Pond in the Rockies” and felt the incline of the mountain level off, I noticed a sense of ease in my footsteps. Bob and Dave must be at the pond already. While I enjoyed their fellowship immensely, I couldn’t help appreciating my own moments of spiritual thought along with Henry.
Thoreau said, “When we are unhurried and wise, we perceive that only great and worthy things have any permanent and absolute existence. That petty fears and petty pleasures are but the shadow of the reality. Why should we live in such a hurry and waste of life? We are determined to be starved before we are hungry. Men say that a stitch in time saves nine, and so they take a thousand stitches today to save nine tomorrow.”
Those great philosophers engage me and have for my lifetime. As I wander through my life, as I saunter into my own woods around Walden Pond, as I step upon the mountainside—I too enjoy the harmonious vibrations of nature. I get the biggest kick out of living. I anticipate a fantastic sunset coming this evening over my Walden Pond. I look forward to a warming campfire. I look ahead to a glorious sunrise in the morning. Will those trout leap up for their catches as the sun rises over the waters of Walden Pond? You know, I will relish that moment when the time comes.
Near my destination, the biggest rocks, some the size of a small house, celebrated me along the trail. The ground became rockier, but a lot of moss grew upon the dead trees along the path. Thousands of dead trees made way and nourished the new ones springing upward.
Up ahead, I saw an opening in the canopy of the forest. Sure enough, I heard a few words from Bob talking to Dave. I savored my last steps before walking up to my magical pond at 11,000 feet.
Quite quickly and with no fanfare, I stepped onto the shoreline of a quiet pond about 200 yards long and 100 yards wide. Enormously tall pines lined every inch of the round pool. Dead trunks lay at different angles both in the water and out of the water as they fell from their lives. Water bugs flitted on the surface before me. Several gray jays flew out over the waters. Dragon flies darted about. On the north side, a huge 13,000 foot gray rock mountain cut into the azure sky.
Big rocks stuck out of the water near the shoreline. A couple of rainbow trout swam past me in crystal clear mountain water. That water arrived at the pond from the huge snowpack above timber line. Wild flowers grew in a profusion of colors as their leaves turned gold with the arrival of autumn.
I sighed, “Oh, this is so beyond beautiful.”
Bob and Dave walked up, “You did well bringing us to this awesome place.”
“Never wanted to disappoint you guys,” I said.
“We could climb that peak with the notch in it,” said Dave.
“You know,” I said. “I am really tempted to climb it because it is a great climb. But, we’re too close to nightfall and it would be very dangerous coming down in the darkness.”
“Let’s hike around the pond, then,” said Dave.
“Let’s set the packs down and get moving,” I said. “We can pitch camp after we get back, cook dinner and make a great campfire.”
We stacked the backpacks and took the food stuffs with us to make sure a bunch of critters didn’t devour them in our absence.
A trail led out of camp alongside the shoreline of the pond. We crawled over rocks and logs on our way through the thick woods adjacent the pond. In some places, the terrain fell away flat as a pancake and at other times; we struggled to keep vertical on steep rock inclines that descended right down to the water. Always, we enjoyed crystal clear visions of the rock filled bottom along with dozens of ancient logs from trees that had fallen and sank from being waterlogged for so long. Around us, dragon flies flitted and landed on water grasses. Much of the forest ground cover exploded in multiple colors. Yellow, topaz and gold dominated. Within 30 minutes, we returned to camp.
“Never have I enjoyed a more enchanting hike around a pond,” said Bob.
“Make that two of us,” said Dave. “Man, it’s got everything I ever remembered from my youth. Just loaded with animal life, plant life and interesting designs in the forest floor and on the water. Hey, let’s set up camp.”
We pitched three tents, inflated our air mattresses and fluffed up our sleeping bags. No doubt it would drop below freezing during the night in mid September at 11,000 feet. Once we set up camp, we searched the woods for firewood for the big fire ring next to a fallen tree near our tents. With a two hour supply of wood, Bob fired up his stove and we cooked water for hot chocolate. As we sipped the steaming brew of savory and delightful hot chocolate, Bob cooked up his Mountain House dinner of rice and broccoli. I boiled the water for my Himalayan rice and lentils. Dave cooked up a fantastic dinner of chicken, rice and vegetables.
Next, we lit the campfire for a roaring flame snaking into the night sky. The light threw shadows for 100 feet all around. The fire lit up the trees above us that revealed a starlit sky. Couldn’t help but see the Big Dipper just over the mountain peaks.
As we sat there, I recited my poem about sitting next to a campfire:
Have you ever sat near a campfire when the wood has fallen low,
And the ambers start to whiten around the fires crimson glow?
With the night sounds all around you that makes silence doubly sweet,
And a full moon high above you that makes the spell complete.
Tell me were you ever nearer to the land of heart’s desire,
Than when you sat there thinking with your face toward the fire?
“Works for me,” said Bob.
Thoreau said, “There can be no very black melancholy to him or her who lives in the midst of Nature, and has his or her senses still. I was suddenly sensible of such sweet and beneficent society in Nature. I reveled in the very pattering of the rain drops. In every sound and sight around my house, an infinite an unaccountable friendliness all at once like at atmosphere sustaining me.”
“Hey, you might like this,” said Dave, as he pulled a flat smooth rock out of his pocket. “Do you see this?
It read, “Meg Annette Rork.”
On the other side, it read, “May the force be with you.”
“Yeah,” Dave said. “I found it while I was running along the Teton
Range this summer. I couldn’t figure out why anyone would leave such a beautiful flat rock with a person’s name and a quote from Star Wars. I looked up her name and found out that she was a really beautiful woman who died at the age of 41. She had lived a fantastic life. She got married a month before she died. I Googled her to find out about her life story. From now on, I am going to carry this rock with me and take Meg on many adventures in my lifetime. It seems like a good thing to do.”
“Man,” I exclaimed, “that’s heavy duty profound. You have touched me deeply with that story. My God, what a terrible early death, but she lives on through her friends and that rock that you will carry on your adventures. Deeply touching my friend.”
“No telling what life brings to us or how fast it will end,” said Bob. “Nice to see you’re advancing Meg’s life a thousand fold.”
As usual around any campfire, mountaineers tell stories. We laughed as we sipped more hot chocolate. I told of my love affair with Henry David Thoreau.
“Well, I’ve got a surprise for you,” said Dave.
“Yeah, what’s that?” I asked.
“Since you’re a Thoreau admirer he said. “You might like this.”
At that moment, Dave pulled out his smart phone and turned on the audio from the book Walden. In a split second, Henry David Thoreau began talking about his experiences on Walden Pond. He spoke quietly and simply. He spoke to us as we sat around the campfire. He spoke about life and the pursuit of living. He spoke to us from 150 years ago—through the amazing technology of a smart phone with an audio book download.
“Good grief!” I said. “This is fantastic! This is incredible.”
“Pretty neat,” said Dave.
For the next half hour, we listened to Thoreau espouse his wisdom, his ideas, his thoughts on life. He described everything about living on Walden Pond.
“I can’t thank you enough,” I said to Dave. “Just amazing!”
“I thought you might like this as a special treat in the wilderness on your special pond that you have shared with us,” said Dave.
A few moments in life stand out. Somehow, those moments cement themselves into your memory banks—never to be forgotten. That night, as I sat there with my college roommate Bob and my new friend Dave whom I had met on my bicycle ride across America in Texas in 2010, I knew that I would remember the magic of Walden Pond at 11,000 feet, the campfire and the amazing voice of Thoreau reaching out to all of us over the endless tracks of time. Dave showed us the rock with Megan Annette Rork that he would carry to further her life adventure. Bob sat back with a sense of peace and tranquility for his own remembrances in the woods. All three of us gathered for a photo flash near the campfire. It turned out fantastically with three dudes enjoying a singular moment in time.
Later, we unzipped our tents as the temperature dropped. I walked down to my tent within 15 feet of the water. I looked up at the starry sky. Again, the Big Dipper entertained me. The stars flooded into my eyes. Orion, Saturn, Jupiter, Taurus and more heavenly constellations burst into my eyes. On this moonless night, the universe paid its attention to me and I appreciated its wonder.
I crawled into my sleeping bag with a sense of knowing that I had “sucked the marrow out of life.” Today had been an excellent adventure. I fell asleep quickly.
“I went into the woods because I wanted to live deliberately. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life...to put to rout all that was not life; and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” ~Henry David Thoreau
“Rise and shine dudes,” I said next morning, slapping their tent nylon.
“The sun is coming up over the mountains and will soon be upon the lake. Get out your cameras.”
We stood on the shoreline to watch the sun first hit the mountain tops, then work its way into the tree line, and finally, with slow moving drama, it reached the glass still waters of Walden Pond. The tall pines reflected off the water followed by the jagged rocks from the mountains above—they created a sublime tapestry of nature’s artwork. The combination of huge rocks along the shoreline, criss-crossing logs, dragon flies, water bugs and sunbeams—gave Thoreau’s musings a special accent on the transcendent.
We watched the magic unfold. Slow moving, changing colors. Certain evolving of sunbeams on the still waters. A slight breeze kicked up to create ripples on the far end. The pine needles seemed to spin on their own with the water ripples.
After the lake filled with sunshine, we filtered some fresh water, ate some breakfast and loaded our backpacks.
We stood on the edge of the water for a group shot. Three smiling faces. Three exultant spirits. Three souls plus Megan Annette Rork smiled into the camera. Seconds later, we headed into the deep woods too silent to be real. Walden Pond would continue shimmering throughout the day while we made our way along the mountain riches and pure golden memories.
Down the mountain, we walked on golden gilded trail replete with endless fallen golden leaves raining down from branches above. Golden ribbons hemmed the slopes and traced the streams that meandered down the valley—orange to red, saffron to copper and yellow to gold. They rained down on us like gentle golden butterflies. They decorated pine trees like Christmas lights. They caught in the purple asters and snagged themselves in the heavy under brush.
Bob and Dave moved through the magic. We shared an excellent adventure through autumn splendor.
Frosty Wooldridge has bicycled across six continents - from the Arctic to the South Pole - as well as eight times across the USA, coast to coast and border to border. In 2005, he bicycled from the Arctic Circle, Norway to Athens, Greece. In 2012, he bicycled coast to coast across America. His latest book is: How to Live a Life of Adventure: The Art of Exploring the World by Frosty Wooldridge, copies at 1 888 280 7715/ Motivational program: How to Live a Life of Adventure: The Art of Exploring the World by Frosty Wooldridge, click: