Tuesday, July 28, 2015

This Week: Steamboat Springs, CO

Dine without the dash, Part I
“So, you walking down?” asked the Old Man sitting next to me. He wore a teal polo shirt with the name of a Las Vegas casino on it, matching teal golf shorts, a white golf cap and white running shoes. He was very tan with a Tom Selleck mustache and dark sunglasses. He sat hunched over his plate with a bit of a pot belly, but skinny arms and legs.
“I dunno. I haven’t decided.”
“Well, if you do it, I’ll do it.”
“Uh, OK,” I stammered.
To be honest I hadn’t been paying attention, but the conversation at the table was whether or not anyone would hike down Mount Werner. About 12 of us had signed up for a nature hike as part of the Steamboat Wine Festival. The hike was followed by lunch paired with local beer and wine.
Our group of hikers had met at Gondola Square three hours earlier and rode the gondola to Thunderhead Lodge.  When we stepped off the ramp onto the lodge deck we were greeted by bright sunshine and a picturesque green pine forest. The sun rose higher in the August sky bathing the pine trees and us in warmth. We then walked the Vista Nature Trail loop at the back of the chalet with two nature guides who pointed out the different tree and flower species and gave a history of the ski resort. Afterward we entered the chalet for a sandwich buffet lunch and some craft beers on the outdoor deck overlooking the town of Steamboat Springs below.
As we finished up lunch and I munched on some brownies a couple from Denver asked our guides about hiking down the mountain instead of taking the gondola. One of the guides said it was about four miles on the Thunderhead Hiking Trail and that walking at a leisurely pace would take about two hours or so. It wasn’t a difficult path, but it was steep; Mount Werner is a ski mountain after all. At a few minutes before 1 PM, I calculated I would get down around 3 PM. Plenty of time to clean up before the evening Wine Walk in downtown Steamboat. Walking off the brownies seemed like a good idea. Along with the couple from Denver, another couple from Aurora also decided to walk down. Including the Old Man, that made six of us.
We said our goodbyes to the rest of the group and made our way to the exit. But first, we three women decided it would be prudent to use the restroom. After doing so, we exited the building where the men were waiting on the back deck. The Denver woman retied her shoes and I was adjusting my backpack when the Aurora couple just up and left for the trail head. The Old Man decided to adjust his fanny pack and retie his shoes too and asked if we would wait. I stopped while the Denver couple kept going.
The deck where we just had lunch disappeared behind the tops of the pines trees as we descended. I walked ahead at a good pace and I could hear the Denver couple chatting ahead of me. I was happy to be hiking, not just simply walking as we had done earlier that morning. It was a fantastically beautiful day on Mount Werner; shining sun, a few big puffy clouds here and there, but nothing threatening. In the shade of the trees, the temperature was perfect. I began to day dream about the upcoming wine weekend and what a great place the area was. Maybe we should get a second home here? As I rounded a switchback the backsides of the Denver couple came into view. From behind me came a shout.
“Oh, Shit!” and a crackle of branches.
I turned around to see the Old Man slide down the switchback on his butt. He had scraped his elbow on an aspen tree and it was bleeding, quite runny, down his arm.
“Are you OK?” I asked as I approached.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine.” I could tell his pride hurt more than his arm. He propped himself against a tree. “I need to rest for a minute,” he said. His breathing was heavy. I wondered if I should continue on. I never said I would hike with him, just that I was hiking. Instead I grabbed his arm to help him stand up.
“Damn,” he said kicking his feet into the dirt. “I wore the wrong shoes.” His shoes were regular tennis shoes, exactly like mine, but a different brand.
As we began walking down the trail again, I paid more attention to him and realized his breath was labored.  His walk slowed to a crawl as he began tiptoeing around every switchback touching trees for balance.  I slowed down with him and the once clear voices of the Denver couple disappeared.  Eventually, I had to stop and wait for him to round the switchbacks. He asked if we could rest.
“So, where you from?” I asked trying to break the awkward silence.
“Las Vegas, been living there since I retired.”
“When was that?”
“Oh, about 20 years ago” I raised my eyebrows. This guy even was older than I thought.
“So what brings you here?” I asked.
“My son invited me. He runs the wine festival and got me free tickets.” Remembering the wine walk, I glanced at the time on my cell phone and casually said we should get going.
“How much farther do you think it is?” he asked.
“I dunno. Let me look.” I was able to get on Google Maps and clicked a tab that would find my location. We had only walked a ½ mile, but I didn’t have the heart to tell him that.
“We have a long way to go,” I sighed.
We started and once again I had a good lead on him, but would pause until he made a switchback and was at least in my sight. I heard voices and soon two young, rather strong looking men came up the trial. We all said hello. Then Old Man came around a tree.
“Say you don’t know how far it is down, do you?” he asked. The guys looked quizzically at each other.
“Um, the trail is four miles or so,” one of them said.
“But how far is it from here?”
“Well, you’re practically at the beginning. If you’re having trouble I suggest you come up with us and ride the gondola down.”
“Go back up? OH HELL NO! I ain’t doing that!” he yelled startling all of us.
“I know this sounds counter intuitive, but walking up is actually easier.”
“No. There’s no way.”
“If you want, we’ll carry you. We can do a cradle lift and get you up.”
“No way. I’m not going back up.” The guys then looked at me.
“Are you with him?” one asked.
“Yeah, I’m with him,” I said.
“Good luck then.” The guys quickly disappeared above us. He rested for a few more minutes, but I was getting antsy.

“If we’re going to make the wine walk, we need to get going.” As we walked, I began to talk about what a lovely day it was and asked him questions about the wine festival, anything to keep his mind off his difficulty and keep him moving. Every time we stopped, it took him longer to get going. At this pace, it would take us four hours to finish. 

To be continued...