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Continental Divide Trail Project Report: Hopewell Lake, NM, August 2011

An open letter from a grandfather to his two grandsons, about his CDTA volunteer time.

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by Bruce Carr | 2011-10-04 00:00:00-06

Continental Divide Trail Project Report: Hopewell Lake, NM, August 2011 - 1
Sleeping in mother nature’s flower garden.

My dearest boys,

I just returned from my Continental Divide Trail Alliance - Hopewell Lake project and want to add another chapter to Bobo’s Misadventures. In addition to an expected trail work experience, several things happened that were entirely unexpected. Sort of like life, right?

On the eve of my departure to New Mexico, the sunset was exceptional. Crooked Stick sunsets are always a delight, but tonight’s was a real show stopper. As I watched the sun go down over Shavano, I could not help but wonder how such a thing of beauty was created? There are a lot of theories on how our sunsets are created, but one thing is for sure, a sunset is not manmade!

Continental Divide Trail Project Report: Hopewell Lake, NM, August 2011 - 2
Sunset on Crooked Stick.

After sunset I went down to a local restaurant for dinner. I saddled up to the bar and started talking with the young man sitting next to me. You know I like to learn people’s stories, so I started learning about my new friend, Phillip. Phillip is in Salida on a solo fishing trip. He is a software consultant from Denver, is married with a young child, does not particularly like his work, Is 40 years old, and was recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

He shared the story of his two most recent MS episodes, one of which has left his left leg feeling permanently hot. He also attempted to describe how he is trying to come to terms with his illness. He went on to describe the out of this world cost for his medical treatments and the price he will pay the rest of his life for the simple misfortune of getting sick. Phillip was remarkably upbeat, given his future.

Here I was on a stool next to Phillip on the eve of four very physically demanding days in the woods, and in perfect health, while the young man sitting next to me, 20 years my junior, has a life changing medical condition. How did this come to be? More importantly to me, what do we think and how do we act when we learn of others' misfortunes?

We have all heard the quote, “There but for the grace of God go I”, but I just can’t accept that. I have done nothing to earn a special place in God’s graces, and I am sure Phillip has done nothing to fall out of Gods graces. I have never seen the problems of others as a contextual/comparison opportunity for me to feel good about my good fortune. What to do?

I decided I would carry Phillip's condition with me in my heart while in New Mexico and do my best to send him healing energy. Praying? Yes, perhaps it can be called that.

On Sunday, July 31, I mounted my trusty BMW GS 1200 and left for Hopewell Lake, New Mexico. The ride was everything you hear about Colorado and New Mexico: curving roads, Norman Rockwell scenery, cool, dry weather, perfection.

On my way down I was passed by another GS and Gold Wing, pretty much hauling the mail. Up to that point I was behaving myself, but given I am almost 60 and yet to fully mature, I gave chase. My BMW was fully loaded, but I had set the suspension accordingly, so it handled pretty well. We ran through the mountains as a group of three jet fighters, having a ball. We pulled into Chama, New Mexico and had lunch as three old friends. Such is the motorcycle and adventure bond. One guy was a retired judge and the other was an ad man.

Continental Divide Trail Project Report: Hopewell Lake, NM, August 2011 - 3
Loaded up, the trusty BMW is always ready to take me on an adventure.

One the special things that I like about group adventures is the make-shift family that forms around shared purpose. Whether it is the burning man family or a trail family, I always enjoy being a part of my short-term focused family.

In the case of my New Mexico trail family, I decided to name us the Flower Children. I did so because we worked in Colorado meadows during the peak flower bloom and because some of the trail experiences brought me back to the flower child mindset of questioning everything.

We set up camp Sunday afternoon in the wildflowers and had our orientation meeting.

Continental Divide Trail Project Report: Hopewell Lake, NM, August 2011 - 4
Paying attention at our safety meeting.

Continental Divide Trail Project Report: Hopewell Lake, NM, August 2011 - 5
A make-shift family photo.

We were told we were going to build brand new Continental Divide trail, but we were around 45 miles from the Continental Divide. This did not make sense to me, until we were told the Divide crossed reservation land, and the Native Americans said they already had a trail and did not need another one. Thus we were building the “Continental Divide Trail,” just 45 miles from the actual divide.

Our leaders, Mugzy on my left and Jon on my right, introduced themselves, followed by volunteer self introductions. Our flower family consisted of a man who had hiked the Appalachian Trail four times and had 15,000 hiking miles under his belt, a couple of wonderful cooks that gave us everything they had in order to make our food enjoyable and plentiful on a $7.50/person/day budget, a strikingly beautiful lady who worked harder than any woman I have ever seen, a 77-year-old man that outworked all of us combined, a young man who took time off from his restaurant job to work hard labor and be with folks who share the love of the outdoors, an brilliant engineer from the New Mexico lab, a young man learning music, another young man who was working on building a new life, plus Jon and Mugzy, who went out of their way to assure everyone their work was valued and appreciated. Great leadership!

Continental Divide Trail Project Report: Hopewell Lake, NM, August 2011 - 6
Me as the head of the snake, breaking trail.

We would build new trail like a snake. The head of the snake would establish the route, followed by a couple of volunteers (me and a young man named Xander) who hacked out organic matter with a heavy tool, followed by a team raking the organic matter into piles, followed by tossing organic matter off the trail, followed by a cleanup crew to make it tidy. We were always mindful of how water impacts the trail, working hard to avoid creating erosion problems. After a half day or so, we found our rhythm and work that we individually found comfortable.

Tuesday morning, I found myself at the head of the snake. We were crossing beautiful meadows in full blossom and aspen groves, doing what I think makes America great and what has made civilizations successful for eons: difficult volunteer work. When we're committed to a common goal and each other, watching out for each other, we can create a lasting benefit to all of humanity. We were engaged in the slowest of all possible enterprises, working with our hands, walking the land, building and creating a thing of beauty intended to be of benefit to others for eternity. Totally satisfying.

Continental Divide Trail Project Report: Hopewell Lake, NM, August 2011 - 7
A new trail is taking shape.

I was immersed in these thoughts when a frightening and intense sound thundered out of the sky. It was a shocking contrast to the quiet of the forest. One B1 bomber flew by, then another screamed at us at tree top level. I was immediately struck by the visual image of one of the fastest, most destructive machines in the world flying so low, while we toiled laboriously on the ground to create something good. Fast/slow... destruction/creation. What a contrast!

In a flash, the machine and noise were gone, leaving our little family attending to our business of creating a timeless thing of beauty and utility.

The extreme opposing images kept rolling around in my head. I started thinking, “Is the B1 bomber Americas premier visual and audible symbol of freedom and global stability? Or is the B1 the tip of America’s spear turned on our humanity? Does the bone chilling noise coming out of the B1 represent power and freedom? Or is that awful noise the tearful cries of humanity being shredded? Are humanity's basic needs for health, hope, security, justice, food, and fuel being consumed and sprayed out the tail of a machine purpose built for destruction and death?”

Boys, I would guess you will be the ones to answer the questions above. For humanity's sake, I hope we as a country make the switch and use our power to create, rather than destroy. Using destruction to gain success just doesn’t make any sense to this old flower child.

The last three days we worked on the trail and visited with campers coming through the camp site. We talked with a German motorcyclist who had traveled the trail that extends from Canada to Mexico and with Americans who had just started on their bikes, headed north from Mexico on their way to Canada. On the last night of camp, our cook Tim made an upside-down pineapple birthday cake for me! Wow, what a generous and appreciated surprise.

Continental Divide Trail Project Report: Hopewell Lake, NM, August 2011 - 8
Sorry, I can’t divulge my wish!

Continental Divide Trail Project Report: Hopewell Lake, NM, August 2011 - 9
The nicest bedroom on the planet.

Friday I packed up and rode home with a tired body and an energized soul: another wonderful volunteer CDTA project completed and a glorious motorcycle ride home through New Mexico and Colorado.

Hey, Ethan and Nate, remember how I'm always harping on the power of writing things down? Just before I left for New Mexico, I was reviewing the written things I wanted to accomplish this summer. My calendar showed that I wanted to hike two fourteeners before leaving for California. I hiked Shavano once this summer, but since time was running out, I wasn't going to be able to hike the second mountain.

Xander, the young man who was at the head of the snake with me, mentioned in camp that he wanted to hike Shavano and Tabeguache. Both are 14K+ mountains. Since both are also in our backyard and Xander had impressed me with his work ethic and maturity, I invited him to hang out at Crooked Stick. Once home, I asked him if he wanted company up Shavano.

Yesterday, Saturday August 6, we hiked Shavano while Xander bagged both mountains. I got my two 14K hikes completed. Did I get up those mountains because I wrote it down? Did writing things down and living with intention coalesce, enabling me to get up the mountains? I think so. If you want it, write it down.

Next week I leave for my sixtieth birthday Triple Crown: Muir, the Grand Canyon, and Zion. I will do a trip report for you when I return.

I love you both,

Bobo Bruce


"Continental Divide Trail Project Report: Hopewell Lake, NM, August 2011 ," by Bruce Carr. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2011-10-04 00:00:00-06.


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Continental Divide Trail Project Report: Hopewell Lake, NM, August 2011
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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Continental Divide Trail Project Report: Hopewell Lake, NM, August 2011 on 10/04/2011 13:05:24 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Continental Divide Trail Project Report: Hopewell Lake, NM, August 2011

Rebecca Cummings

Locale: So. Cal
Happy 60th! on 10/06/2011 00:19:27 MDT Print View

What a wonderful letter to your sons. Your reflections nicely recall the satisfying feeling of physical labor and collaborative work, leaving behind something concrete and lasting. How many of us have jobs today that produce tangible things? It's no wonder so many actually enjoy such back-breaking work. Thanks for your volunteer efforts, and your words.

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
Good Memories on 10/11/2011 16:50:04 MDT Print View

Great story. Good view of the effort required to build a trail from scratch.

Reminds me of my days in 1980 as a professional trail builder on PCT, the 9.5 mile Snow Creek section. Live in a tent, pack lunch in your daypack for the day, cook breakfast and hit the trail with your tools, Usually I used a pick to "pull tread" but often a bar and sledge when making rock switchback foundations. Sometimes I ran a gasoline powered Swedish rock drill to make holes for explosives.

Trudge back up to camp beside Snow Creek, rinse the dust off in a deep hole in the creek then have a cold beer retrieved from that same cold creek. Next I'd cook up dinner on my SVEA 123 stove. A hard life but in 1980 $12.90 an hour was decent pay.

At the end of the summer it was back to Pennsylvania to teach environmental studies in high school.