Colorado Trail

Turning fifty, physically, was like a light-switch was flipped and stuck in the on (or off, depending on how you look at it) position. The mental fight began soon after. Hiking the Colorado Trail just seemed like the right thing to do.

In 2017 we wanted to hike the Colorado Trail. But, as it were, life has a way of dictating what we do and what we do not do. There are times when we wonder if we are really in control, or if we are merely allowed to make decisions based on current events. The later seems more likely.

Why the Colorado trail? Why not! We live in Denver and love exploring the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Day hikes and backpacking are a big part of our lives. Being in nature is a great way to unwind, relax and clear our heads of the junk we’d rather not think about.

But, really, 486 miles, Denver to Durango? Seems a bit lofty to some. There are definitely longer thru hikes we could take, not to mention shorter ones. The Colorado Trail just happens to be in our backyard and has a draw to it that is somewhat unexplainable. It just feels right. The current plan, the CT in 2018. Is that etched in stone, is anything? Just like Colorado weather, no one really knows what tomorrow will bring until they actually experience it. We can plan, prepare and hope that everything falls into place all we want, but the future remains a mystery until it happens.

Hiking in your fifties is certainly not like hiking in your twenties. It would be nice to complete the Colorado Trail sooner than later. One can only imagine how hard it must get as we age. Though, speaking of goals, we plan to hike until our legs are taken away from us, and then we’ll just look for some mobility device, buy an RV, crawl or move to some distant mountain hideaway.

Alas, here we sit on the back half of life, if you will, looking forwards and backwards. There’s been so much, there will be so much more. Amazing how we find ourselves at this odd crossroads, not necessarily on the map, and yet here it is. We’re fiftyish now and wondering what’s next. Funny, it was never a real worry before, but for some strange reason we find ourselves contemplating something we never thought would be a notion to consider. It’s quite silly really, why is this time the midlife meme? Who or what gave it power? Of all the things we could be thinking about, our minds, like our bodies, fell prey to this phenomenon of turning fifty. It’s like a built in mechanism that is time released.

Most days are like, yeah, we’re in the fifty crowd, we got our AARP cards in the mail, we grunt a little more now, things are starting to go. Other days are like, big deal, we’re still here, still together and still moving forward, like we have a choice. We count our blessings, we think back on all the memories and look forward to even more. We still have plenty of wants. Our bucket list, if we actually made one, seems to becoming more of a priority list vs the perpetual “one day” list.

Not putting too much emphasis on numbers, fifty never was much of a date on the horizon, though now, perhaps, that understanding might have changed. It was just a number, just another day, and just another year. Yet, somehow, someway, turning fifty, physically, was like a light-switch was flipped and stuck in the on (or off, depending on how you look at it) position. The mental fight began soon after. Hiking the Colorado Trail just seemed like the right thing to do.

To that, we are motivated more than ever to keep ourselves moving, maintaining a healthy (healthier) diet and exercising regularly (more regularly). Adjustments to our hiking gear, trail food and trail duration are modifications we are looking at closely. Let’s face it, thru hiking is not easy, doing it at fiftyish isn’t helping matters, but we can and will complete the trail with the proper gear and mindset. For now, plan the hike and keep ourselves fit and healthy.

We’ll either hike it thru or in segments. Capturing, embracing and absorbing every moment as they come. The plan is to document our adventure by taking innumerable amounts of photos, endless videos, and stitching them together by segment, 28 of them to be exact.

There’s a lot of hype in the thru hiking world about pack weight. Quality hiking gear isn’t cheap. Replacing it with ultra-light gear isn’t that easy, if even needed. Most emphasize base weight, that is, everything but food and water, consumables in a nut shell. We’re guessing people want to take less and be lighter on their feet, ultimately less time on the trail. While less might be more comfortable while in motion, there is a level of comfort each of us has to consider, otherwise we become miserable and want off the trail. For us a balance must be found. Let’s face it, if you love the outdoors, you most likely want to spend more time there, not less. A quick hike doesn’t necessarily make for an opportunity to embrace all the trail has to offer. We’d rather slow down, smell the wildflowers and take it all in. If that means a little extra weight on our backs, so be it.

If your interested, here are the boring details on our gear to date. [ Miller’s Backpack / Debbie’s Backpack ] If you have any questions, we’d be glad to answer them.

Peace,

MAD

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Mueller State Park

Have you ever had a plan, got stuck in traffic and then changed everything, direction and all, and found yourself far and removed from the original destination?

This trip was supposed to be in Rocky Mountain National Park. However, due to an accident and a general distaste for traffic, we altered our course and found ourselves at Mueller State Park, 135 miles in the opposite direction! Seems we broke all the rules on this outing, finding ourselves to be quite, shall we say, unorganized and without pep in our step. We were in no hurry to get up and out the door, though determined to hike. We made lackadaisical plans for a sunset hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. Nothing wrong with that. A nice late day hike till the sun would fade behind the ridges and back for a few photos of the late day colors mixing above the high peaks before heading home. Sounds like a plan.

Out the door, determined as we were, more like, hey…whatever happens happens. Well, it was not long before we ate our own words. We normally get up, leave and arrive at the trailhead before first light. Leaving midday is not something we are accustomed to. And yet, here we were 45 minutes later still in town, red light after red light and soon in a long line of cars creating your typical traffic jam…an accident was blocking our way.

We could see the mountains, and yet were sitting motionless in town making no headway. Once again, determined, we altered course. A left, a right, another left and a few more rights…we were headed south needing to go north. Have you ever had a plan, got stuck in traffic and then changed everything, direction and all, and found yourself far and removed from the original destination? Next thing you know, we were altering our plan by making no plan at all…just drive, away from the city. A few hours later, “there’s Pikes Peak, isn’t Mueller State Park around here?” Keep in mind, this scenario should be, “there’s Longs Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park is just around the corner.”

Map in hand, and finally on a trail, we relaxed and began to leave it all behind. Quiet, alone with nature, we walked. Mueller State Park is a sleepy forested area full of wildlife near Pikes Peak, Woodland Park and Colorado Springs. The surprise of the day, we now know where our next fall colors hike will be next year!!! Mueller SP is loaded with aspen meadows. But, until then, shhhh, it is a secret.

After a nice hike and some exploration of a few vantage high points, we had dinner in the woods as the sun began to go down. Back in the truck, we found ourselves taking a lazy drive through the park and then on to a small highway. We watched the sky change and the last light of day sink behind the high peaks and finally the ridge lines leaving only a silhouette of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. A surprise change of events with the same results. Nothing like living in the moment.

Peace,

MAD

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Chicago Lakes – Mt Evans Wilderness

Protective, loving and sweet only begin to describe what one would see when she peered deep into our eyes awaiting the chance to just cuddle. She was what life should be, love.

It is with a heavy heart that we share our latest adventure. To those who have been following us and know, our beloved Billie “Bean” lost her fight with cancer and has left a huge hole in our hearts. Thank you all for your kind words, prayers and warm thoughts.

On a brisk evening back in 2011 the local news stations were forecasting a strong snowstorm for our area, upwards of a foot of snow, temps dropping into the 10s with sustained strong winds. A blizzard if you will. That same evening  a small bundle of joy crawled up inside our hearts and never left.

Balled up on the doorstep was a nervous, shaking and cold Chiweenie. Abandoned to the cold and left to die, she somehow found her way to the home in the neighborhood that would not, could not or ever would say no. Frail, exhausted and afraid we slowly wrapped her up and took her in. Not that she had the energy to run, much less fight. A trip to the local veterinarian to get checked out, see if she had a chip and if anyone was looking for her, and the next thing we knew six years later those eyes still looked at us with love of family, home and safety. She gave as much to us as we did to her.

Two months ago our little baby girl, Billie “Bean” was diagnosed with terminal bladder cancer. It wasn’t enough that someone had abandoned her at a young age, now she would be sucker punched with a devastating health blow. Again, we bundled her up and loved her all the more, keeping her as comfortable as possible. Her fight came to an end the other day, though ours continues, we miss her all the more even now.

Our hike to Chicago Lakes is much like she was to us, full of relaxing surprises around every corner. A beautiful soul enjoying the natural world and the time she was given with us, and the time we were blessed to have been given with her. Protective, loving and sweet only begin to describe what one would see when she peered deep into our eyes awaiting the chance to just cuddle. She was what life should be, love.

Our hike began next to the lazy Echo Lake, adorned with late summer color and migrating water fowl. Birds singing as the sun began to make its way over the ridge, life had once again returned to the Mt Evans Wilderness. A short stroll around the northern corner of the lake, we soon disappeared into the alpine wilderness on our way to the Chicago Lakes nestled beneath Mt Evans. Quiet, peaceful and inviting was the trail on this late summer morning.

The path rocky with expansive views of our distant destination. Across Chicago Creek, we traveled onward to our next way point, the Idaho Springs Reservoir. At first glance one would have thought a light shower was upon us, though not a cloud was seen in the sky. Hundreds, if not more, trout were jumping through the surface of the lake feasting on the morning’s delight. Mosquitoes we hoped! Just passed the reservoir a pleasant surprise awaited. Someone had made a “labyrinth” to the side of the trail inviting all who passed to take time out and enjoy its short path.

labyrinth

Beyond this we began a moderate climb to the upper valley, dense woods gave way to an old burn area, some forty years earlier, that was now in the regeneration process, and doing well we might add. The ground was covered in many various colors of vegetation while aspens and pines pushed their way higher and higher with each new growing season. Life had returned to a once devastated area of the forest.

Another creek crossing, perhaps two, and we soon were greeted with the open expanse of the upper valley and its headwall capped on all sides by Rogers Peak, Mt Warren, Mt Evans, Mt Spalding and Gray Wolf Mountain. The Chicago Lakes are simply a spectacular sight inviting the traveler to relax, sit back and absorb the surroundings. A few clouds, a few stray showers and warm food in our bellies and we were ready to build a small log home right where we sat. Solitude, serenity and peacefulness took over from there. The circle of life resides well in this corner of the Mt Evans Wilderness, a place for one to explore physically, emotionally and spiritually as the sun sets and rises and time itself seems to stand still.

Peace,

MAD

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Eccles Pass

Back at camp, we carried out our duty to do nothing. Breakfast and the inevitable to follow, a walk in the woods with a small shovel. Funny how mundane tasks in the city become something of an art form in the high country. Backpacking Eccles Pass will always remain an experience to remember.

What a beautiful late summer outing, backpacking Eccles Pass. Heading up into the Gore Mountain Range near Frisco, Colorado can be some what of an uphill battle, especially with a full backpack. Though, once out of the gulch the trail levels into picturesque meadows surrounded by mountain peaks. Simply put, the hike up is lush and quiet. Aspen groves give way to mixed pine woods with fresh running streams and a much more laid-back environment versus the hustle and bustle of city life.

Arriving in the high valley, you’ll find open meadows thinning out to rugged peaks and big open skies. Wildflowers abound here, while gentle creeks flow from snowmelt high above bring life giving waters to the valley below. There’s room for everyone and everything here, that is, man, nature and wildlife enjoy the pristine unmaintained landscape of the beautiful Eagle’s Nest Wilderness, just the way it should remain.

We camped just below Eccles Pass, somewhere around 11,500′, out of touch and out of time with nowhere to go, no place to be, relaxing and allowing the natural flow of things to overtake our minds. A room with a view, if you will, positioning our tent to face west at the mountain range, prime for sunset and sunrise and a hopeful moose having dinner among the reeds.

The nights were quiet, so much so you could hear a mouse chewing on a pine cone fifty yards away. Shadows danced all around the meadow under an almost full moon. We were alone with only nature as our cohabitant. We would drift in and out of sleep with anticipation of first light and exploring further.

“What was that?”

“A bear”

“What!?”

“A rabid moose”

“What?!!”

“An alligator…”

The next morning we would wander, aimlessly, exploring fields of wildflowers, cool running streams and eventually up to Eccles Pass for the view of a lifetime. From our vantage point the whole landscape disappeared into further untouched lands waiting to be explored. Trails winding in and out and over further mountain passes. If only we had more supplies we could just walk on in any direction letting our imaginations lead the way.

Back at camp, we carried out our duty to do nothing. Breakfast and the inevitable to follow, a walk in the woods with a small shovel. Funny how mundane tasks in the city become something of an art form in the high country. Backpacking Eccles Pass will always remain an experience to remember.

Does a bear sh*t in the woods? I know we do! Finding that “spot” where you need to relieve yourself can be tricky at times. You obviously don’t want an audience, hell, we don’t even want a chipmunk watching, nor do you want someone to find your, well, you just don’t want someone finding “it.” Privacy, secrecy and no mosquitoes coming up behind you is what it’s all about.

“How deep should I make the hole?”

“I don’t know, how full of sh*t are you?”

After breaking camp, we fueled up, loaded up and began our decent back to city life. How we would love to just stay and never go back. Backpacking Eccles Pass, much less anyplace in the Colorado High Country, just seems to sit well with us. We always feel at home and as if the weight of the world and all its frustrations just lift off of us. Perhaps one day we’ll just take that one last look behind us as we disappear into the wilderness for good.

Peace,

MAD

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Mount Audubon

Lack of sleep and a 3,000′ ascent with the wind blowing in your face is not an idealistic adventure. But, in our defense, we’re stubborn. Mt Audubon is still a nemesis to us, always fighting us as we make our way to its summit, yet somehow, the relationship we share with the mountain seems to work. As expected, the mountain fought back.

We were overly eager to get back in the Colorado high country after having taken a week off from hiking. We set the goal of heading to one of our all-time favorite areas, the Indian Peaks Wilderness, to pay a visit to a nemesis of ours, Mt Audubon which sits at 13,223′ above sea level.

The trail is fairly aggressive, up hill all the way and mostly above treeline. Seems every time we attempt this strenuous alpine adventure the mountain always finds a way to fight back! This outing would not be an exception to that rule.

Once again, we had a fight on our hands. Our plan was a three in the morning wake-up call. Somewhere between seven the night before and two the next morning we were able to get about two or three hours of sleep. We’re blaming that on the full moon.

For some unknown reason, we got ourselves up and out the door and were on the trail by 4:30 in the morning. Headlamps on, bear spray in hand and a less than desirable caffeine level we wandered off into the dark woods awaiting the first light of day.

Amazingly, we broke treeline just as the sun came over the horizon. Wow, what a sight. We began to awaken with the dark now giving way to light.

The night before our hike we looked up the weather for the region and summit of Mt Audubon one last time. Mild temperatures, little to no wind and clear skies were in our favor. Anyone who knows mountain weather will feel our pain on what came next. As we approached the cutoff for the trail that lead to the summit, the wind came vigorously down off the peak and hit us smack in the face! Little to no wind? It would stay this way throughout the duration of our hike, well, until we got back down anyway. We’ve grown to understand that Mt Audubon also has a sense of humor.

Still somewhat half asleep we opted to bypass the summit trail and head off into an area we had never explored. Off trail exploration is something of a comedy act with us, we’re always surprised at our findings as much what those findings lead to. We followed the Beaver Creek trail for about a mile and then headed for a ridgeline to get a view down into the valley where Upper and Lower Coney Lakes sit.

It wasn’t long and we found ourselves navigating a snow field, scree and thick alpine scrub brush. And we thought we were alone! Once again we were looking at each other with that awkward stare of, “what now?” We were surrounded by bear scat and had just about wandered into a den when we found ourselves in quick retreat!

The conversation went something like this, “What’s that? Bear scat. It’s everywhere. (twig snaps followed by grunting sounds from bush) Was that you? No. We need to go…now!”

Back on the trail and laughing at ourselves, we did an about-face and made our way back towards Mt Audubon. Little sleep, certainly not enough coffee, and now full of adrenaline, we were deliriously hiking along. “Hey, you know what, the summit really isn’t that far and we’ve dealt with the wind before.” What is far? It was an additional two miles and another 2,000′ to the summit!

Stubborn, determined or just insane, we made our way up. Loose scree and talus fields are no fun when you are half-asleep. The debate is still out on the actual amount of oxygen at 13,000′ and we are still not sure what grumbled at us earlier. Suffice it to say, we had another incredible day in the Colorado high country and can’t wait to go again.

The views (see video below) were amazing to say the least. What followed as we made or way back to the trailhead can only be described as a sad, yet graceful, fall off the mountain. We must have appeared drunk.

Lack of sleep and a 3,000′ ascent with the wind blowing in your face is not an idealistic adventure. Mt Audubon is still a nemesis to us, always fighting us as we make our way to its summit, yet somehow, the relationship we share with the mountain seems to work. As expected, the mountain fought back.

Peace,

MAD

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To the World Their Baby Never Existed

Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep, Baby Loss, MAD Hippies Life, Miller Harrell, Debbie Harrell, to the world their baby never existed

“They left the hospital, never to mention their baby again. Their tears were shed in private, and they had to bear the burden of their grief and their pain silently. To the world their baby never existed.”

In October Debbie and I went to a Remembrance Walk for our daughter Shira Rose. We had no idea what we were walking into or the experience we would have…we can’t even begin to express our gratitude for the support and love we have felt since, and during, the Remembrance Walk. It wasn’t until this year that we had even begun to “allow” ourselves to discuss Shira and do something after 33 years in her honor. We began writing, started our blog and talking [perhaps for the first time] with each other about our hidden feelings that had been kept at bay, deep within us, for so many years.

We went to the Remembrance Walk unprepared to grieve, to feel and to somehow be those young parents we were so many years ago who had just lost their daughter. It was all so surreal. Cheryl Haggard, co-founder of Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, gave a speech that day which hit a special place within us, we couldn’t help but think to ourselves, “thank G-d we came.” Seeing Shira’s name on signs along the route, hearing her name read aloud and releasing a balloon to the heavens was like coming home. Our daughter has a name, she is our daughter, she lives on and will always be a part of us.

Our experience and story was recently shared on the Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep Facebook page

“Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep Co-founder, Cheryl Haggard met Shira Rose’s parents, Miller and Debbie Harrell after speaking at the NILMDTS Remembrance Walk on October 3rd, 2015. Miller walked up to her and in a hushed tone, voice breaking, he simply said, ‘It’s been 33 years for us…

She had asked the audience to look around them that day.

‘Most likely the person standing next to you experienced the death of their precious baby recently. Within the past 5 to 10 years. They probably left the hospital with a beautiful care package lovingly assembled by other bereaved parents. And hopefully a photograph. Whether that photograph was taken by a professional photographer, a nurse or taken by the family themselves, they were encouraged to, and knew it was ok to create those memories of their baby. They left the hospital with empty arms and a broken heart, but they left with something tangible to remember their baby by. Something to hold onto. They have been told about or ‘googled’ support groups and resources nearest to them. They have shared their baby’s story with family and friends and possibly even the world through social medial. They have found acceptance and support by a beautiful community of bereaved parent’s online and right here, today.’

She then asked the audience to look around them again, and this time to look closer…

‘You could be standing next to a mother or a father whose baby died 20 or more years ago. They might be hesitant in telling you about their baby, because they were told it wasn’t appropriate to mention their baby. If you ask them questions, they might share with you their story of how they were never allowed or discouraged to hold or even see their baby. How they were told it wasn’t worth naming their child, and told to move on…try to have ‘another’ one. Forget about this one. They left the hospital, never to mention their baby again. Their tears were shed in private, and they had to bear the burden of their grief and their pain silently. To the world their baby never existed.’

That is, until now.

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep has given parents a safe place to share their baby. Share their story. And even share their photographs. Whether they were taken by themselves or taken by a professional. These parents have read our stories, and seen our photographs. Our babies have given their baby’s a face, and our stories have given these parents a voice. Some parents have given a name to their baby…and they are looking for ways to honor their baby’s memory.

Please share with us, especially, if you are a parent that has experienced a loss 20 or more years ago, your experience and how you think grieving and remembrance has changed between then and now. Was there a certain moment in time, when you decided enough was enough? How did you break the silence?”

Peace,

MAD

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Lost Lake

Beautifully adorned, Lost Lake is a deep blue wonder surrounded by sub alpine trees that reach high into the sky.

The winter thaw is upon us, the creeks and rivers are running fast, the lakes are filling back up and the wildflowers are blooming like a fireworks display on the 4th of July. On the menu for today, four moose, three deer, a black bear and an amazing landscape! Hiking Lost Lake in Colorado is an adventure close to Denver full of wildlife, wildflowers and waterfalls.

Many people are coming out from their long hibernation, along with the bears, and heading up into the mountains to enjoy the cool mountain air, the incredible explosion of colors and trade in their skis and snowboards for hiking boots and backpacks.

Hiking Lost Lake is an old favorite which never lets us down when it comes to an abundance of wildlife, wildflowers and waterfalls. And once again, we were not disappointed as indeed we were witness to several moose, deer, a black bear and an amazing breathtaking landscape full of the life we’ve come to appreciate that springtime in the Colorado Rocky Mountains provides.

Nature’s air conditioner! Many of our hikes are broken into segments, not necessarily to stop and rest, although in the high country that is not such a bad idea! There are those places along the trail that pull you off the beaten path to explore rare opportunities to experience the wild and untamed landscape. When the snow melt begins in spring and the creeks begin filling, the rapids and waterfalls can be quite dramatic. Here, the Middle Boulder Creek bursts with an incredible volume of fast moving water creating a spectacular sight. The heavy mist fills the air and makes for a great spot to cool down. Exploring such a hidden gem is remarkable, while sitting and soaking up the roar is equally meditative.

As much as you might want to stay here, there is so much more to see when hiking Lost Lake. Though, a quick mental note to return again is always a good idea.

Moving on, the trail deepens into the sub alpine world as you climb higher and deeper into the Indian Peaks Wilderness of Colorado. Snow capped peaks begin to emerge behind the tall pines and the trail resembles more of a creek than a footpath as the ever increasing evidence of snow melt overtakes the landscape. The land is alive and your curiosity begins to spark the imagination of what lies around the bend.

And just as the sun rises in the morning giving way to a vast array of colors in the sky, you turn the bend, rise over the ridge and find yourself witness to an incredible landscape that could only be compared to paradise on earth. Beautifully adorned, Lost Lake is a deep blue wonder surrounded by sub alpine trees that reach high into the sky. The cloudless morning sky is endless, rich and clear and the breeze is ever so slight though crisp and cool. All around, snow capped peaks beg to be summited.

A few backcountry campers, still in awe of their find, begin to emerge from their slumber to fill their lungs with the mountain air while the birds serenade us all with songs of the high country. It wasn’t that long ago we were dumbstruck by a waterfall, yet now that begins to fade as this new encounter has stopped us dead in our tracks. Mouths wide open and our souls leaping with joy, we are now witness to an awesome natural wonder. Yes, let’s build our dream cabin right here and never leave!

After we collected our thoughts and got passed the awe of what hiking Lost Lake has to offer, we began exploring around and above. It is really quite amazing, while you can keep close to the shoreline, equally fun is to climb high above and look back down for a new perspective. Soaking up such a view not only gives you and bigger and much grander understanding of the landscape, but offers views that would otherwise never be seen. Alas, our time here was growing short, though not short on experience. We took one last good look around and chose the long way back out to the main trail.

Peace,

MAD

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