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Day 3: Buena Vista, Colorado To Nathrop, Colorado

7.5 miles - Hike Through Familar Arkansas River Valley; Buena Vista, Johnson Village and Nathrop - April 3, 2010

The Trailhead in Buena Vista, Colorado

The Trailhead Outdoor Store

Special thanks to Keith Baker, a local resident and owner of The Trailhead Outdoor Store. Keith was my shuttle on this third morning of my hike. We met at his Buena Vista store at 9 a.m., and we drove in seperate vehicles to Nathrop. He then drove me back to East Main Street in Buena Vista to begin my walk.

A plug for The Trailhead: This store is an excellent retail source for outdoor gear, camping equipment, maps, shoes, bike rentals, etc. in Buena Vista. If it is related to outdoor activities, there is a good chance they sell it. There is also a full service bicycle shop inside the store. You can buy directly online via their website:

You may notice in photos that I wore brown North Face hiking pants each day; I bought those at The Trailhead for 30% off! :)

Colorado Scenery - Driving On Highway 285 In Nathrop, Colorado
Colorado Scenery
Photo Above: Colorado scenery from U.S. Highway 285 in Nathrop as Keith shuttled me before today's hike.

"Life is too long to be miserable."

As Keith drove me back to Buena Vista, we talked about many things. Somehow I shared about some of my life issues related to work, career, where to live, relationships ... all that. I threw the conversation in his lap.

"Keith, you're a man life experience. What do you think? Have any wisdom for a guy in his upper 30s?" I asked.

There was one statement that Keith made that stuck with me throughout the day: "Life is too long to be miserable."

Too long? I always viewed it as "Life is too short to (fill in the blank)." I know life is short, but life can also become really long if you're miserable as well. This comment resonated with me. Perhaps I think too deeply about these types of things. Or maybe not enough. But hey, at least I had something to ponder while on the tracks today.

Post-Day Two Woes And Concerns

The night before, after my second day of walking, an uneasiness overcame me. The sense that doom was not far creeped into my mind. Fear. What would the next day hold?

My face was sore from windburn and a slight headache nagged me. Would these go away before my walk tomorrow?

Two blisters had grown on my big left toe and fourth left toe. They hurt. Today I planned to walk on lighter and older sneakers, which I already tried on and believed would help. But what if they don't?

As I slept, strong winds whipped against my house in Buena Vista for what seemed like hours. The wind howled with an eerie and haunting squeal. Would the wind be as bad as it is now?

I had unfinished business remaining about shuttle drivers for Sunday and Monday, Day 4 and Day 5 respectively. What if I can't find a driver?

All these petty and bothersome thoughts mounted into one pressing question as I lay in bed: Was this long hike of Chaffee County stupid? Why am I even doing this?

There was so much "noise" in my head! I finally arose from bed and looked out the window, only to see thick gray covering the mountains. It was definitely snowing west in the higher elevations. Another thing to scare me.

But after some research, I learned it was 28 degrees and the valley had blue skies. Also, it was expected to reach the 40s for our high.

I decide I would go anyway.

Life is about showing up. Giving it a go. Continually showing up even after you fail.

Sometimes I receive compliments about my writing - that I'm talented and a "natural" at written expression.

I am no natural. I was an underachieving C student in high school. I flunked out of college as a freshman because I was irresponsible and immature. Eventually I did graduate college and obtained my masters degree, but it was far from easy.

Any good writing you might see is because of years of daily hard work. Many of my jobs required writing in various capacities. I read articles and blogs about successful writing and communication. Receiving direct feedback from my editor in California (from a different project) has also helped. I will gladly accept encouragement about my writing, but know it is because I have been willing to take the next step. To show up.

Somehow, this walk is about showing up -- it can be the hardest part of any challenge.

The Hike Begins In Buena Vista, Colorado

I take my first step and I feel like I'm home. All my worries are gone. I'm back. Have you missed me, railroad tracks? What a sweet friend you are!

I lean down to capture the adjacent photo of the tracks. It's my best one!

My hike feels casual. I feel giddy inside because I only have 7.5 miles to go today.

An array of sounds surround the tracks. Birds are chirping. Children are laughing and shouting in a park. A man walking his dog near the tracks says "hi" to me.

The tracks cross Cottonwood Creek, a main tributary creek of watersheds encompassing areas east of the Continental Divide that include Mineral Basin, Cottonwood Pass, Mt. Yale, Birthday Peak and Mt. Harvard.

If I hiked in natural terrain, I would likely walk downhill to reach the creek level, followed by a climb back up, but not here. These tracks were designed to be as flat as possible for large hunks of moving steel.

Interestingly, although these tracks seem flat, I have been hiking on a gentle descent. The elevation slightly decreases the entire course of the tracks, as it runs in the same directional flow of the Arkansas River.

7-11 Buena Vista, CO I walk through familiar territory, and it's all from a unique corridor.

I snap a photo of the back of the 7-11 and City Market across Highway 24.

Buena Vista, CO High School Buena Vista High School.
Buena Vista, CO Neighborhood I walk past Cornell Street. I have friends who live on that street. :)
Bongo Billy's Cafe Behind Bongo Billy's Cafe on the south edge of town. Originally I envisioned stopping to buy coffee for my hike, but Keith generously filled my coffee thermos at his store this morning.
Buena Vista, CO

Buena Vista, Colorado

I reach the southern edge of Buena Vista; this is not a large town. I also turn back to capture the view of the Buena Vista entrance sign.

There is so much to say about this community. Below are some of my better Buena Vista pages of things around town:

  • Car Show
  • Town's Only Traffic Light
  • Snow in October
  • Hot Air Balloons
  • Ice Cream at Punky's
  • Snow in Buena Vista, CO (Video 8:45)
  • The Overlook
  • The tracks travel along Highway 24. In the foreground are buildings at the Chaffee County Airport. If the mountains were not dominated with thick clouds, the view of Mt. Princeton would be impressive. Sigh!
    Buena Vista Colorado Correctional Facility

    Buena Vista, CO Prison

    Photo Above: This photo of the correction facility was taken after my trip was over. I was parked on the shoulder of Highway 24 and en route home.

    I walk closer to the prison and I am nervous. I know the prison really can't do anything about my presence as the tracks run parallel and outside their property. Yet I trepidate over any possible trouble. Maybe someone in the watchtower will become suspicious of me. There are signs in this area stating not to pick up hitch hikers. What if someone suspects I escaped from the prison, or that I'm trying to break onto the grounds?! My mind runs wild with scenarios.

    To make matters worse, the tracks run along the highway, and in many stretches there are no bushes to conceal me. A police officer or prison security personnel could easily spot me and give me trouble.

    So I walk quickly. Hard and fast. Don't stop. Don't take any pictures. Just keep your head down and walk swiftly and confidently as if I'm exercising.

    The tracks run through an area with thick red brush (adjacent photo) on each side. I keep walking. I see in my peripheral vision that the main prison building is on my left. Another 50 yards ahead is a large clearing on the right (west), and anyone on the highway will notice me.

    At the opening, a pick-up truck slows down and makes a U-turn practically in front of me. I wonder if in this moment I will hear "Hey!" or that someone will come out to confront me. But I keep walking. I make no eye contact with the truck.

    The truck rides off and I hear its engine accelerating behind me. I am free and clear.

    Johnson Village, CO

    Photo Above: Facing south, the bridge of Highways 24 & 285 in Johnson Village.

    Johnson Village, Colorado

    I approach Johnson Village, an unincorporated area that Highways 24 & 285 run through.

    By the way, do you know I am running for mayor of Johnson Village? If you live there, please vote for me! :)

    Johnson Village, CO I hike south of the highway bridge and the intensity from the prison wears off. If nobody confronted me on that previous stretch, I will be okay here. I relax. I capture another photo of Johnson Village and notice many smaller mountains I've climbed are in the background.

    This hilly and mountainous range does not have a particular name, but the general area east of Buena Vista and north of Highways 24 & 285 is known as the Fourmile area. (There is one large watershed and creek named "Fourmile.") During the winter months, when I don't want to deal with huge amounts of snow, I spend time here.

    Below are peak names and links to their hikes:

  • 1 - Midland Hill
  • 2 - Garufi Point
  • 3 - Unnamed 9,124' Point
  • 4 - Unnamed 9,390' Peak
  • 5 - Limestone Ridge
  • Colorado Horse Ranch


    South of Johnson Village, the views becomes pretty, but the roar of vehicle engines and tires humming on the highway spoil the scenery.

    A large field of beautiful horses is on the right. Many of the horses stand calmly, looking at me with curiosity.

    Mt. Princeton would look great from this spot, but ahhhh, clouds conceal the peak.

    Chaffee County Hike I turn back to capture another view of Midland Hill. Two beautiful horses pose on the right.
    An engine sound reverberates from the sky. It is loud - louder than the highway noise - it is an airplane flying in the valley!

    I pull out my camera and do my best to photograph it. My fingers fumble with the camera settings, and I don't have time to adjust them perfectly. The aircraft is flying fast! I go with whatever default camera settings and hope for the best.

    Chaffee County Railroad Tracks

    The tracks become quiet, lonely and dusty. A breeze makes its way from the west. I slow my hiking pace and look down at the railroad ties, as I think and pray about things for what seems like a long time.

    Then I look up and notice I am approaching a bridge. It's time to cross the Arkansas River again.

    Two photos of the bridge.
    Arkansas River, CO

    Arkansas River, CO

    The Arkanas River

    TOP: The Arkansas River as I face east. This stretch of river is known as the "Milk Run" - it is rated an easy river section in the upper Arkansas River Valley. Kayaking beginners or rafters desiring to experience more of a "float trip" might like this part of the river.

    SECOND: I look down at the river from the bridge. Various shades of green and gold contrast with the contours of rocks in the river bed.

    Chaffee County Hike I walk past milemarker 236. I am making progress! :)
    I encounter an animal's skull (deer?) and a rusted tin can on the tracks.
    Cloudy Mt. Princeton I continually attempt to photograph Mt. Princeton to the west, but the clouds do not relent.
    Green Rock A green rock. This one is so interesting to me that I place it in my backpack as a souviner.
    Chaffee County Road 301

    Chaffee County Road 301

    Chaffee County Road 301

    Chaffee County Road 301

    I reach Chaffee County Road 301, a long dirt road that connects Johnson Village with Highway 285. It kind of serves as a short cut to Fisherman's Bridge river access point, a common spot for kayakers and whitewater rafters to launch onto the river.

    Notice the clouds that have rolled in during the past hour.


    The blisters on my left toes feel better. I notice my sneakers are lighter and easier for walking long distances, but the lack of ankle support seem to make it harder on my ankles.

    After 5-6 miles of hiking, I am near the Fisherman's Bridge area and rest. It is a good time to pull out the camera too. Of course, with my luck, gusts of wind slam hard against me once I set the camera on the tripod.

    The hike becomes long. Oh so long! Yes, the walk is shorter today, only 7.5 miles, but again I notice my morale does well for about five to six miles, and then it declines. I am ready for the end.

    Sugarloaf Mountain, Nathrop CO I cross another bridge over the river. That is a nice view of Sugarloaf Mountain, a mountain I hiked in 2008.
    I keep walking. At the spot where the tracks split, I notice houses in the distance - that is Nathrop!
    Ruby Mountain, CO The view of Ruby Mountain.
    Nathrop, Colorado

    Nathrop, CO

    Nathrop, Colorado

    Nathrop, Colorado

    Arrival in Nathrop, an unincorporated town.

    I walk about 0.25 miles from the tracks to Highway 285. My car is parked across the highway near the post office.

    My last picture that includes the Chaffee County Fire Department building includes Ruby Mountain and a pointed peak to its right. In October 2009 during the World Series, I hiked to its summit and claimed it as Yankees Mountain. ;)


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