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467 Summer Stories - How Far Is It? 2011-09-02

Bear Peak, Boulder CO

"Summer Stories - How Far Is It?" is the first in a new series of stories that happened to us on our summer trip to Colorado. The stories should be posted on most Fridays. Enjoy. : )

I drove out to Colorado by myself this summer. Unexpected duties left my wife, Amy, in Nashville, wishing she could be with me. (She joined me a week or so later.)

After sitting in the vehicle for hours on end I arrived at my friend Mark's house in Boulder. I quickly packed a day pack and headed to the Flatirons (the open space on the western edge of Boulder) to hike Bear Peak.

The story begins on the descent...

After descending Bear Peak and the upper Fern Canyon Trails I met a couple at the junction with the Shanahan Trail. They were from the Great Plains. I honestly do not remember which state they claimed; but they are all relatively flat, hence the name "plains". I didn't think the couple had hiked a lot, especially in the mountains. The man was definitely laboring.

Sizing the couple up, they were probably younger than me by a few years. They wore tourist clothing typical for middle aged couples. Their white shiny sneakers were fresh out of the boxes and they carried a plastic grocery bag partially filled with supplies. They looked like they had just stepped out of their car at an interstate rest area and were strolling to a covered picnic table for lunch.

I was not in a hurry and they wanted to talk, so I stopped. Not only were they not hikers; but I also knew they were not from Boulder. The folks from Boulder are not very friendly walkers. They would have never stopped and started a conversation. The couple was also pale and a bit soft. Boulderites are fit and bronzed no matter their age. That is probably why I think that Boulderites are unfriendly, I can't keep up with their pace long enough to talk to them.

The man started the conversation, "how much farther is it?"

How far is it? What a great question. In most cases the answers should also be considered a question! I learned many years ago to never ask, 'how far it is', because you will never get the answer you are looking for. If, for example, you are headed uphill and you meet a downhill hiker and pop the question - how far is it - the downhill hiker might say something like, oh it's an easy 15 minutes. An hour later you might still be struggling up the 'easy' slope cursing the downhill hiker.

Not only do I not ask how far it is; but I try not to believe in unsolicited comments. Often times hikers will 'help you' by volunteering a distance. I put even less faith in these answers. The volunteers seem to be gloating at the fact that they have already been to the destination and you haven't. These hikers hardly ever give accurate information.

Trying to lighten the mood, I announced to the couple that they were probably fifteen minutes away.

Relief swept over the man's face; but after reading his reaction I had to rescind the answer. The man was probably only going to be able to walk fifteen more minutes, and he needed a kinder answer.

Looking at the struggling couple I asked, "where are you going?"

They really didn't know. I did learn they they were vacationing from the Plains and that the woman was the one who wanted to do the hike. So they were hiking. They had some water and snacks in the grocery bag and were hiking in the mountains. They felt like they were prepared for a long hike.

I proceeded to answer all of their questions about the Fern Canyon and Bear Peak Trails. They probably did not like my answers; but I tried to let them know that it was a tough, but worthy hike.

The couple left continuing uphill. They wanted to at least get high enough for a view. The man turned and gave me one last glace before falling in line behind the woman. I truly felt sorry for the man, he was not having a good time.

I hope they made it to a spot with a view or they were at least happy with the view wherever they ended up turning around.

Skills to Master - Instead of asking 'how far is it', know how far it is. Carry a map, and compass or GPS and know how to use them. If you refer to the map often, plotting your course off the trail's features, you will learn to track your position. This simple feature based navigation is easy; but still takes practice. You have to refer to the map often and be aware of your surroundings for the map only navigation to be effective.

Happy How Far Is It trails


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