Whether by virtue of the relocated campsite or a general warming, the second night passes not as cold as the first.
I sit, mug of tea in gloved hands, feet on a convenient log, facing east awaiting the cresting of the sun over the far ridge.
Only the merest sway in the very tips of the aspen branches betray any motion of the air. Breakfast follows. Rivulets of bacon grease congeal on my hands in the aftermath of a well-stuffed burrito.
Studying my map, a nearby mountain pass intrigues me— a potential access point into a new drainage.
I decide to change focus, leaving my fly rod alone and instead bike to the top of this pass, in part to ascertain its suitability to drive over another day.
The road starts out broad and smooth, but once I cross through a stream it narrows and steepens, becoming rougher and more rutted with each passing mile.
Towards the top I stop at the remnants of an old miner’s cabin, perched on a ledge.
It overlooks the spread of the valley below and another distant range, a jagged etching against the skyline of blue.
Life must have been harsh for its occupants, and I wonder how often they had the time or inclination to sit on their porch and admire the view.
Were these mountains they lived among a source of strength and inspiration, or an implacable, unforgiving opponent?
I come across a lake, about an acre in size. I notice several small fish cruising the shallows, and decide to return to its shores for lunch after summiting the pass.
As seems the rule, the road saves its steepest angle toward the summit, where thin snow blankets the last mile.
I contemplate briefly continuing down the far side to explore the countryside below, but lacking the provisions for an extended ride, wisdom dictates I return to the lake to eat.
Given the month and altitude, the lake is surprisingly ice-free, and what I had thought were fish turn out to be a species of amphibian of some description—slender finless tails, four limbs and external gills on their shoulders, some quite large, like tadpoles on steroids.
They alternately forage along the lakebed and rise nose-first to eat small midges off the surface. The lake is likely fish-free for these creatures to thrive.
I don an extra layer to ward off wind-chill on the descent. While naturally much faster than the climb, it is also much bumpier.
By the time I return to camp my wrists and shoulders ache from the road. What toll such a journey must have taken in the days of horse and wagon and no Advil.
Back sitting in the sun, eating peanuts and summer sausage, I return to reading about the battle for Guadalcanal, where my father was stationed during World War Two.
So many questions come to mind now that I wished I’d asked. Common with youth in general, I was always pre-occupied, time marching while I paid little attention.
With the benefit of hindsight we project onto others motives we’d like to think we’d ascribe to ourselves.
I’d liked to have asked him first and foremost why did he volunteer? Patriotism means more than simply waving a flag in public.
Was he driven by a sense of calling, an understanding that the world was gripped in some visceral struggle and on the shoulders of him and his generation fell the responsibility to take up arms?
Or were the motivations more mundane—peer pressure for example. All those around him were volunteering, and to not follow suit meant standing out from the crowd, not in a good way?
As I read I wonder how I would have responded were I in his shoes, and I am grateful for life’s timing, for never having had to make that decision.
The sun dips below the horizon, taking with it the heat from the day. I retreat to the camper and don the first of several subsequent layers of clothing to ward off the advancing chill.
Once again, I have spent a day in the high country, encountered no other human, and I count my blessings.
Hayden Mellsop is a Realtor with Pinon Real Estate Group and a former fishing guide.