“Bro, that is not a road!”
“Captain Obvious” – as we will refer to him for the purposes of this story – wasn’t fueling any optimism I had about cutting the hike short, but I had to agree. This opening in the trees fronted by a snow bank over what looked like a large log spelled “long cold night” everywhere, and that despite what the phone in my hand was telling me. We were supposed to be on a road!
Cap and I had embarked on this adventure into the backwoods of Nederland, CO searching for a host we had met on Couchsurfing.com. Originally planning to arrive around 9 pm, it was now after 11, our car was ditched in a snow bank, and essentially, so were we! Finding a spot on this back road that Google had taken us down, we got a call out to Julie, our host and explained our situation. “We’re on [road name] and Maps tells us we’re like 1.5 miles from your house, but there’s snow all over the road”.
“No problem” she says, “I’ll be down there with my 4wd in a few minutes!”.
“So do we sit tight, or what?” I asked the Cap’n.
“No, let’s get our crap together for when she gets here, I’m gonna light up a doobie and we’ll head up the road to meet her.”
“Perfect!” Or so it would seem.
Minutes pass, and we listen for the sound of approaching vehicles, but all we hear is the sound of silence. The snow on the ground absorbs all the sounds except for the runoff stream that goes alongside the road and the occasional car on the distant highway. I had changed from my Chacos into approach shoes, and we had loaded our backpacks with water, sleeping bags, and a change of clothes. Our plan was to crash at Julie’s and come back for the car in the morning.
“Hey Julie, we’re headed your way, figured we’d meet you up the road.” I had found another spot of service a quarter mile up the road and there was still no sign of a car coming to our rescue.
“Yeah” she replied. “I just realized where you are, and that way is way too snowed in for even me to get out to, and I don’t have a snow machine. If you want, you can try to backtrack and come around through Nederland.”
“Well, we’re somewhere between you and our car right now, so we should be there in less than half an hour. It’s only a mile.”
“Ok, yeah the road will be on your right, it’s like a 4-wheeler trail, and I’ll be the first house on the left, A-frame roof.”
“See you soon.”
How wrong I was! “Soon” as it turns out would become a very relative term. Not recognizing the aforementioned log and snow bank as the road (my phone was out of service and the GPS was basically guessing my location). A half-mile later, we’re hiking out of the snow, approaching a house and being greeted by a dog.
“Cap, is this it?”
“What did she say about the house? Are these the cars she described?”
“No, but there’s a yurt!”
We keep hiking another half-mile or so and I’m coming back into service. Checking my GPS, I realized that we had passed our turn many paces ago. I should also add that we were now hiking down a hill that we’d have to come back up. Also, it’s near midnight. Thank God for a full moon that night!
“Cap, I’ve got good news and bad news. Good news is I know where we are now. Bad news is that we’ve gotta go back up this hill. Also, my headlamp is getting weak.”
The dog is still following us, chewing a random bone she found somewhere along the road. We turned around and began heading back up the hill, towards the house we had passed earlier.
“Hey, she did mention she’s building a yurt, didn’t she?”
“Yeah, sorta, but I’m not sure this is it.”
I began poking up the driveway trying to see if maybe the house was behind this yurt when a voice cut the night from the house below.
“What the f*ck!!?”
I quickly diverted my headlamp so as not to blind the man standing on his balcony, and moved to where he could see me with my hands open, but also kinda behind the woodpile in case there was a shotgun pointed my way (I later learned there was).
“Woah…hey…” I’m decently winded from the hike uphill still. “We’re looking for Julie’s house, it’s on [other road name].”
Her name apparently doesn’t ring any bells, but also having a penchant for the obvious, he simply informs me “Well that’s not here.”
“Yeah, we found that out. Can you tell us how to get over there?”
The man, realizing we were not out there to hotwire his snow machine or steal firewood became thankfully rational and tried to offer us directions that were the opposite direction of our car. But we thanked him anyway, told him what an awesome dog he had, bade him good night, and retreated a little more up the road to discuss our options. At this point, despite the lateness of the hour and the tiredness of our bodies, I’m still rather enjoying the adventure only to the extent that it is dampened by the fact that this nice lady is still waiting for us to show up.
Coming back to where my Maps is telling me this “road” is, I’m semi-confident that it’s only going to be a short trudge through the snow to the house.
“Bro, that is not a road”
“That’s not what Google Maps says.” I replied, until this point having taken Google as gospel and not realizing that when it comes to Maps, bike trails and backroads are basically one and the same!
“Look, there’s a snow bank there, I see no markings through the cedars here, we are going to get lost!”
I was not crazy about the hike back to the car for a couple of reasons. 1) If we hike back and drive around the other way, all of this hiking – as fun as it was – will have been for naught. 2) It’s more hiking in the opposite way of our destination. And 3) backing my car down a narrow mountain road in the snow and dark wasn’t my idea of a fun time at 1 AM! But hike back to the car we did. At least we knew where it was – pulled up in a driveway in front of a snowed-in gate with a “no trespassing” sign and threat of 24hr surveillance.
We trudged back through the snowbanks, trying to stay on existing tracks made by man or snow machine. One step to one side or the other would sink us in snow to the crotch. Somehow we managed to stay dry and warm and avoid hypothermia! The heater in the car was a welcome relief once we got back and threw our gear in. We’d been hiking in the snow for about 2 hours. I carefully navigated the car backwards down the hill we’d come up earlier until I found a good spot to turn her around and we were back on the road.
More straightforward navigation led us a better way this time and we arrived at Julie’s cabin around 2AM! Kind soul that she is, she had waited for us, napping on the couch until we arrived. She welcomed us warmly, and we briefly shared our travels in mountain navigation as she showed us our accommodations. As we turned in, sleep was not far behind! I nestled into my sleeping bag there on the couch, thankful to finally be there, but even more-so, thankful to simply be.