Day 8: Vallecito Trail Head to Vance Ranch (64 miles)
After seeing one human the past three days I ran into at least 20 folks in the last mile (20+ minutes) of the adventure. I reached the Vallecito trailhead parking lot ~11:20 AM and cracked open a sparkling water from the cooler.
It’s disorienting to immediately transition from five days of solo hiking in the wilderness, with everything on your back, to being behind the wheel of a hatchback automobile. Thankfully the Vallecito speed limit is 25 mph — a reasonable speed to adjust and slowly try to say goodbye until next time.
I drove into Durango to: shower at North Main Laundry, enjoy my first non-dehydrated meal at Famburger, and visit Maria’s Bookshop. I have shied from folks after previous solo journeys, but I felt confident and excited to engage which was a main goal in this journey. Everyone I interacted with was kind and responsive, especially when I took the lead, and it felt soulfully validating. I quickly hit my limit on city noise though and headed out to Vance Ranch after a grocery run.
Two weeks ago I found this yurt nearby the Weminuche with “no internet/cell service,” in the description — Perfect. From previous experience I’ve wanted another night to transition out of the woods. You know, something in between being fully on the grid, but with a comfortable bed and not needing to dig a 6" hole to take a shit.
I arrived at 4PM and found the ranch to myself, two dogs, and 6–7 horses grazing. I don’t know how to properly call horses over, but after a few attempts the gentleman above came across the field for connection. I felt bad I didn’t have any food to offer, but gave him all the pets/scratches. It was hard to say goodbye — he wanted more. As I walked up the hill back to the yurt he comforted himself along the post.
Later on that evening while I was journaling owners, Beth and Bill, showed up to greet me. Lovely people. Bill’s father bought the ranch in 1968 with intention to retire on it, but he died young so that didn’t happen. Bill and, from what I gathered in photos and notes in the yurt, the rest of his family grew up exploring Vance Ranch living out his father’s dreams. I shared my dad died young and that felt nice to connect.
Beth recently retired from the U.S. Forest Department. She taught me about the brush-like oak I saw along the property and how all the pine beetle destruction was mostly focused on the mountain Douglas Fir in the Weminuche — not so much on the Ponderosa in their elevation. Still, the current drought is hard on the ranch. Even Bill admitted that, “while cycles have always happened we are to blame with this one.”
Day 9: Vance Ranch to Lubbock (493 miles)
I had hoped to go on a morning walk with them, but I had a long drive ahead. Beth and Bill strolled up to say, ‘Good Morning’ at 8:45AM and I had to decline — until next time. Beth handed me a tasty carrot cake cupcake I used for breakfast, and I promised I would visit again on my next adventure into the Weminuche. You should visit, too.
Long drives alone are especially hard when you’re leaving a spiritual home. I struggled throughout the drive to Lubbock, but made it in by 7:30PM. In a hotel room with no connection to the people or land, and completely worn out from the drive, I fell asleep fast.
I slept well — 9 hours — and checked out of the room at 9:30AM to find my driver side tire flat. Not fun, but par for the course with what I was looking for with my work and took it in stride. I struggled, but learned how to put on the spare and coasted to a Discount Tire a mile from the hotel.
Emit, a DT customer associate, greeted me and we talked about travel while he did his job. He’s spent all of his life in the panhandle, minus one year near Idaho Falls. He felt genuinely interested in my experience of exploring so I suggested Caprock Canyon and Palo Duro. I said it would mean so much to me and I hope he visits these parks with his family. Amazingly his Lubbock shop had a set to replace all of the Fit’s stock/Sweetwater Angel tires and I was back on the road to Austin by 1:30 PM.
I finally wandered back home.
I’m reserving my time in the Weminuche to myself right now, but I’ll share the journey through longer stories later. I want to share one, meaningful moment:
Day 7, 8:10AM — Chicago Basin Camp
When alone in the wilderness you spend a lot of time talking to yourself. First, as internal dialogue, but after two full days of not seeing another human soul you start to vocalize. At least, I do.
Breaking down camp this morning I envision a child is with me on the journey. Maybe 10–14 years old. It’s their first backpacking trip and eager to learn the process to prepare for the day. I’m happy to share what I know. Each step of the way I say out loud what to do, what I’ve learned not to do, and that, “well, this is just one way to do it.”
It takes about 45 minutes of this for me to catch myself before its time to leave for Columbine Pass. I start to cry before putting on my re-assembled pack. So much of this adventure was/is intentional on claiming my masculine persona, including my soul-connected desire to be a father figure.
This morning I validated that desire and thankful my training to be a Big Brother starts next Wednesday.