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August 12, 1999
a year ago
two years ago

Chinaman's Gulch

Pictures of the whole day can be found here.

I was completely miserable when I got up. John had even gotten up well before I did and he had bought breakfast for me and even gotten us sandwiches for lunch and packed most everything for the day trip that we were going on. One life saver he brought were two 1.5 liter bottles of water from the grocery store that became indispensable. I didn't really know any of that. I packed my camera, extra batteries, a bunch of tissues if I had to 'go' out in the woods and that was about it.

We hopped into Borax and went to the parking lot everyone was in and I wandered about listlessly taking pictures of everything and everyone. I didn't really know much of anyone, and didn't really introduce myself and just floated around the periphery of the early and cold morning making images. John called me over to help him decide on which track he wanted to go on and he didn't really sound all that enthusiastic for one trip that he'd gone on before or for the trip that sounded like a drive in the park. It turned out that there was one trail that Ali, one of his friends from the trip he took to Twin Cone a few months back, really thought he should go on was Chinaman's Gulch.

Ali sounded enthusiastic enough and John looked interested enough that I told him that that should be fun. So he signed up for that.

We ended up in really, really capable hands. Two folks from the Rover Riders paired up as leader and tailgunner. 'Chief' lived in the Breckenridge area and knew the roads up here like the back of his hand, his tailgunner, Amid, is a doctor in the Denver area. They hooked up through the Rover Riders and made a most excellent team of guides. Poor Amid, however, had food poisoning the night before, so wasn't feeling completely up to par, but he was game and a very calming and solid influence through the trip. Together they kept track of exactly where people were, informed folks over the CB's of exactly where to turn and when to go straight, and on the really challenging parts of the trail they got out and took the time to get folks through with as much challenge as they wanted and as little damage as possible. They also made frequent stops to get everyone synched back together. They also took those as opportunity to make sure that everyone was okay.

It all started with a really, really long highway that went south of Breckenridge. A very, very far distance south, so we convoyed and did the proper convoy-type things, especially since we had a good seven vehicles. We allowed folks to pass who could, we had our lights on and Amid shepherded the tail end and told Chief whenever the last of us got through some turn, some town, or some minor obstacle. The trip was through beautiful countryside, quaint small towns, and the Rockies in the sunshine. I didn't really notice much as I was just curled up in my seat drowsing and grumping mildly at the cold that was eating most of my brain. Around 11 we stopped just off the road and everyone aired down their tires.

This mostly involved getting the air to get out of the tires until they weren't fully inflated anymore. But I got a look around at the world around me. Mountains, little high altitude meadows, and lots of trees. Hoorah! Trees! We were also, fairly quickly, wading through little creeks through the trees and up, first dirt roads and then rocky roads. I finally figured out why it's called the Rockies, it seems that most of the dirt roads that start out dirt and don't get graded that often soon become solid rock. Very bumpy going and lots of rock walking.

Rock walking is exactly that. Walking the truck over rocks, with the articulation available to Land Rover trucks in general, they can be rolling over one rock on one side while the other side is still on the ground or even in a hole and both tires will still have traction. It makes for a really bumpy ride, but it's also fairly impressive to watch the trucks go where it would even be hard to walk.

We went up and up and up and finally ended up at this place on the edge of a cliff, where the trail wound around the edges and there was a clearing further in on the mountain. The view from there was spectacular, I counted at least a dozen peaks within easy view and many more to either side. Trees and meadow all around and we just stopped to have lunch there. I ate my sandwich, drank some water and realized that with the food I woke up and felt much better than I had before. That was a good thing.

We meandered through to a big hill where the upslope was hard to get up without a lot of momentum, then a quick downturn that was just for fun. The trail led that way, and it was very keen.

It then went into a stream, and so we went stream wading for a while, going around about a foot deep in the water and through reeds and tall, tall grass so that it was almost like going through a tunnel. We doubled back eventually and then went into the woods around there. Through the trail and down through the gulch. There were a few rocky areas that we stopped at and some that we could just go around, and folks would try the harder routes and would ride some of the rock guards that they had along the bottoms of their doors and underbellies. We avoided a number of them, just taking the easy route as Jim helped folks through the harder bits.

One thing to not is that we were well above the 10,000 foot mark at this point, probably somewhere just about 12,000 feet. So every time we got out to spot a track or really look at an obstacle, it was hard work with the lack of oxygen. After living for months at 6.000 feet, this was almost familiar. It felt a lot like when we'd first gotten to Boulder. I was having very light nose bleeds and breathless with any hard exertion. But we had to scout things to see where to go and how to get through and with the exertion came some reaction from my body. I hope I gained some more red blood cells because of all of this.

Much of Big Rock stuff is getting a 'line' on the obstacle that will get the truck over the rocks by putting the tires on the taller bit getting the undercarriage so that it doesn't catch or stick on some of the other rocks in the area, and making sure that the truck has both enough traction and momentum to get across where it needs to go. A lot of the trick is just knowing what the truck can do and what it really can't do. That's sometime the harder part. Especially when you can see the driver in front of you in a nearly identical truck just wander through an obstacle like it was a cakewalk and you're looking at a ten foot tall rock with a front wall that looks like your bumper would get taken out before your tires ever found anything like a grip.

It was really amazing to watch, nearly like defying physical laws. Cars don't go up inclines like that! Or so I didn't think, and these beasts were making it. Some of them with more or less aplomb than others, but they were actually making it. One young kid with his parents, decided that he really had to go hard to get up the rock, and basically bellyflopped his car onto the rock. The jolt shook the wires off the starter coil and when he stalled it he couldn't start it again. So it took most of the guys to get the car rocked off the rock and back down into the shade of a tree, where it sat until folks figured out about the knocked off wire. Many of the younger drivers took it way too fast and too hard, thinking that speed or power was what got the guy over rather than careful placement and application of just enough power to make it work and not enough to make the truck bounce on very hard rocks. So half of the folks took some hard knocks on the rock, the other half did it as smooth as can be, just a quiet up and over that was as insane to watch subsequent times as the first.

Eventually everyone made it over, some a bit more banged up than others, but that was very keen to know that everyone could make it. There were a few more narrow-passage obstacles, close in trees, as well as a few good rock obstacles, but nothing quite as memorable as that one. The track, at one point, was being gradually taken over by a stream, and we went parallel with the rest of the stream on the way down the hill and it felt entirely like the Cascades with all the running water, the cool tunnel of tree shade, and the mountain shape underneath us. Really nice and pretty and I got a good shot of a good little waterfall.

We came out onto a dirt road that then took us to a little town where everyone lined up to refill their tires. John was one of the first and he got quarters while I bought two bottles of iced tea and an ice cream sandwich at the truck stop. He filled the tires with air and then parked in the flat spot beyond while others pulled up to refill as well. I ate most of my ice cream sandwich and then wandered around our truck and by the left front tire I heard air hissing softly.

I called John over and it turned out that some dirt had gotten into the bead of the tire where it meets the wheel, so that it couldn't seal and, therefore, couldn't hold air. We tried taking the air pressure down to nothing and then cleaning it out; but it didn't clear out completely and when we refilled it it was still hissing. So we had to change the whole tire out for our spare. That took a while, and what really peeved me was that while folks were willing to lend tools, no one really helped us do all this all that much. The Chief did some of the help getting the tire off the hub; but no one undid the spare while we were doing that. It's very, very, very unlike the NorthWest clubs we used to roam about with, where they'd be on us in a swarm trying to get things to work as quickly as possible rather than just standing back and kibitzing.

We managed it eventually and got back to Breckenridge without any further problems. We stopped at the same Loaf and Jug that we'd stopped at last night for directions, and asked them if they knew of a service center anywhere. He said that the only one he knew of was in the next town, but John took a look at the local yellow pages and found one that was just a half mile away. It was five 'til six, so we rushed over there and he went in and then came out and then hauled the tire in and then just stayed away for a while. There was a slender dog in the parking lot that looked like it belonged to the shop and thought its main duties were to cheerfully greet everyone that arrived, so I got out and petted it and followed it about and made much of it. I peeked into the service area and there was John watching as two guys were intent upon the tire on a stand. So it looked like he'd managed to persuade them. When he came out a while later, and asked the guy how much it would cost, the manager said that fixing a flat is normally $19, but since they had to do so little he thought it'd be cool if John got the guys in the bay a six-pack.

That was really cool. So we zipped back to the little shopping complex, found a liquor store and John found a twelve-pack of Micahlob and we brought that back for the crew. The manager met us at the door and grinned and waved at us as we zoomed off. I really liked that. John told me that they had originally said that they couldn't do it until the morning, as they'd assumed that the flat was still on the car. When John had asked if he could just drop the tire off until the next morning, the guy was pretty surprised and asked him to just bring it in. Instead of waiting until morning, they'd just used a tire iron to get the tire off the wheel and then blew out the insides with high pressure air. All kinds of crud came out, and then they put it all back together, brought it up to pressure, checked for leaks and that was that. They did in about five minutes what John would have taken hours to do and only with some of the tools he didn't have. So that was very nice indeed.

By this time we were exhausted from all the sun an bouncing about. So we just parked back at the hotel, went in and showered. It felt so very good to just get clean again, water sluicing down up on my head and clean, clean, clean after all the dust and sweat and heat and running about looking at the obstacles before folks tried them and getting all the camera shots right.

By the time we were done, we were well ready for dinner, so we took Borax out to the Breckenridge Brewery as some folks said that they were going to gather there. When we went into the Brewery, however, we didn't recognize anyone, so we went back out and then walked down Main Street looking for food.

Main Street in Breckenridge is like any main street in a ski resort town. Thousands of little shops, lots of restaurants that are fairly expensive or really really cheap and some restaurants which had a really highly-jacked up 'good food' section and a really cheap fast food kind of section. It wasn't really what we wanted. We just kept going, though, passing by coffee houses, Rasta Pasta (which did Jamacian pasta?), St. Bernards which had French Alps style food along with a full set of silver and linen napkins, pizza places, a seafood place with high priced fish, steak houses that blared 'In Your Face Steaks!', and even a floating restaurant on a little pond in the middle of town. That was mildly weird. Walk, walk, walk and we even found a little Irish pub with shepherd's pie; but it was completely filled with smokers. Eventually we went off the main road after nearly giving up and found a little place on the side road that had a really, really loud country bar on the second floor and a family style restaurant on the first floor. They had BBQ, some reasonably priced steaks and a special that was a chunk of sirloin steak with giant marinated and sauted shrimp. Yum. All of it was fairly reasonably priced. It was very much for families so it was really comfortable looking and there wasn't much of a line at all.

So we ate there. I had a rack of long-smoked, slow cooked ribs with their two styles of BBQ sauce, one spicy and sweet, the other tangy and rich. John had the special. I got plenty of lemonade, he got plenty of iced tea and by the time the waiter asked us if we wanted dessert we were so full and sleepy that that was that.

We walked back. John was a sweety and guided me to the lounge to get the two of us some hot chocolate before going to bed. They did instant chocolate, but added a little spritz of whipped cream and we watched a bit of pre-season football while sipping the hot liquid, crunching a bit on a few little balls of powdered hot chocolate that hadn't quite incorporated and watched the dark street outside. The stars, as we walked back, were so much closer than when we were down on 'the plain'. We had moved closer to the stars.

Sleep was deep and dreamless. I think as much because I was still sick as anything. Curling up just felt so very, very good, comfortable and warm and perfect. So much for the half a dozen books, the water colors and even the laptop I'd brought along to have something to do while sitting around...

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