(Photo courtesy of Tosha Payne, aka Tosha-the-Brave)
There was once a time that Tosha-the-Brave decided to go on an adventure, high above the fruited plains. As a matter of course, Tosha thrived upon daring deeds, witty comments, and hiking through remote, wild tundra. She was also wise enough to seek a companion in her wanderlust. Or perhaps I should say, kind enough, as she allowed Jody-the-Tenacious to join her in adventuring.
On this occasion, many were invited, but only two emerged through the haze of July days to pack a little white car with sleeping bags, a tent, water, and foodstuffs. Three hours, two mountain passes, and one stop later, the two young women found themselves slowly bumping up a gravel road that looked much like an alpine mogul course. The end of this road was the beginning of the trail to Willow Lake. Having meant to go straight to the campground, the girls were momentarily puzzled, but decided to take a look around the trailhead to prepare for the next days' trek.
Upon walking up the river, a small cloud of wingéd terrors sprang up, and Tosha-the-Brave warned her fair-skinned friend to retreat from the thirsty mosquitoes. Both girls headed off to scout out a camping spot in the area, away from the pesky bloodsuckers. But however fast they walked, ever and anon, a haze of needle-nosed critters swarmed their arms and legs, plunging through their skin. Welts, heat, and frustration sent the girls back to the car, determined to rid themselves of the awful bugs.
After procuring bug spray and mosquito repellant buttons (and applying both), they continued their journey toward the campground. It was full—not a spot to be had. After eating dinner at a cluster of picnic tables, Tosha and Jody took a stroll through camp to see what they could see. Two different groups of campers willingly offered to share campsites, much to the relief of both girls. Profusely thanking both parties, they pulled in and set up the tent at one of the spots. Preparing to settle in for the evening, both girls snagged their toothbrushes from their packs, whereupon, Tosha-the-Brave cried out jubilantly, "I'm going to brush my teeth on a stage!" and jumped up on a large rock. Indeed, she did brush her teeth on a platform, dancing a jig and performing pilates all the while. The girls then climbed into the tent, sharing camping stories and laughter over the neighbour who dressed up like a bear to scare his friends.
Morning broke and so did camp. Soon, the two companions were bouncing over mogul-ruts and past a large trailer labelled 'USDA Forest Service Pack String.' It was soon evident that the pack string was going to be one of the most interesting and enjoyable parts of their venture. There at the trailhead stood nearly a dozen horses and mules, patiently being packed with coolers, large tent poles, and sundry other baggage. The pack was broken into two segments of mules with a horse-mounted rider leading each section. The hikers felt they had stepped back in time in this magical place, as they watched those equine beauties start up the trail.
But magic can be black as well as white, and the two friends soon found themselves in a pitched battle with bloodthirsty, flying vampires as they began the ascent to Willow Lake. The vampires had disguised themselves as those winged creatures commonly called mosquitoes. Their ruse was soon penetrated by the astute girls, however, as the mosquito clouds were thick and seemed to follow their every step. In spite of showering in bug repellant before leaving camp, small hypodermic needles pricked the girls again and again. The vampires would swarm close, land, choke on the repellant, and be forced to fly away—but some would count the cost of repellant low, those cavalier creatures bit.
Stopping for breath or to rest one's muscles was impossible in the the black swarm of flying vampires. Tosha-the-Brave boldly tromped on, in spite of hard breathing causing her to inhale more than one mosquito. Jody-the-Tenacious, though determined to reach the end, began to question her sanity; began, in fact, to doubt the vile creatures could be vanquished, and secretly thought of turning 'round and hiding in the car. But always, always Tosha-the-Brave forged ahead through the vampire clouds, slowing her pace to help her friend have the strength to go forward.
Morale was at its lowest when the intrepid hikers ascended a switchback that brought them out of the close, humid forest and into open air above a vibrant green meadow. Still their enemies would not give them peace, but the air was good, and directly ahead of them they had caught up to the pack string. Talking with the folks in the string distracted the girls from feeling discouraged. Hope began slowly to leak into their hearts and minds. Tosha applied a dose of bug spray to Jody's head and the crowding pack of vampire-mosquitoes veered away from her nose and eyes. Courage! Jody-the-Tenacious said in her heart. On they trekked, ever upward, over stones and streams, until they reached a windy height where an immense valley opened on their right, sheer cliffs towered ahead, and the vampires were scattered (true to form) by the strong sunlight. There the girls stood—panting—drinking in the verdure, the blue haze of a distant mountain range, and a much needed break from the vicious blood slurping mosquitoes.
Onward, ever onward, climbed the hikers, though they encountered thick, black mud and the path became a stream of snowmelt. Tosha-the-Brave managed to keep her feet dry, and thus was very pleased. After much effort, the girls clambered over some large rocks and came to the edge of a high mountain lake, aquamarine and sparkling in the noontide sunshine. Close at hand, a mountain goat looked up and skittered away, jumping the outlet of the lake in his hurry to gain the safety of the cliffs.
After a rejuvenating lunch, Tosha and Jody were tired, but determined to climb further up to reach the top of the cliffs, from which poured a thin curtain of rain-like water drops and a tremendous, foaming waterfall. The path was fairly easy to climb, wending constantly toward a bowl of mountains, a flower-sprinkled greensward, and the rocky cliff-tops dropping tons of icy water into the rippling lake far below. It was here that Jody-the-Tenacious managed to soak one shoe in a chilly river-crossing. Not long after, however, she met a curious little marmot who seemed happy enough to make her acquaintance, whereupon, she forgot her wet foot entirely in the pleasure of their chat.
Meanwhile, Tosha-the-Brave scaled several large boulders in her [successful] efforts to catch the waterfall on film from various angles. Jody sat upon a large rock, propping her feet on another to watch the clouds race o'erhead in the rich azure sky. She felt the breeze tickle her ears and caught the shimmer of the fairy-footed wind dancing its way across Willow Lake. All too soon, dark clouds gathered over Kit Carson mountain and the two adventurers knew they should return to the low lands in order to drive home. Reluctant feet bore them away from the high alpine valley; their lungs breathing in sweet air and their eyes trying to drink in the vistas chiseled out and softened by the Great Maker of all things.
Lower and lower they went, meeting fewer mosquito hoards on their downward journey. The final mile was clouded by flying vampires, still full of bloodlust and stinging bites... But the wonder of the lake and mountain-meadow-bowl was still so fragrant and deep that the girls were more prepared to battled the dark host. Besides, after rumbling down the rutted dirt road, they stopped for ice cream bars, a great delight to the happily worn-out hikers. But far sweeter than the ice cream was the triumph of making their way out of the land of the flying vampires, of seeing the beauty hidden in the mountains, and not giving up in the face of deterring enemies. Thus, Tosha-the-Brave and Jody-the-Tenacious drove off into the sunset, accomplished and happy to be headed home.