I agreed to hike 13 miles into the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness, on a piece of equipment I've never touched, and sleep in a cabin among four complete strangers...
Like any other venture, I approached this hike as merely a chance to get back into my element. I wanted to admire every passing branch of pine so intentionally that I could hoard them in my thoughts like a relic.
Even if I had to work a little harder for the rewards, why would this be any different?
After pulling into Lenado, I learned how to break down my board, hinge it back together, reposition my bindings, and apply the velvety skins to the bottom. I wish I could say that I discovered a more efficient way to do this, but alas, my fingers froze every time we switched from lofty to level stretches.
The Johnson Creek Trail's thick forests and occasional peekaboo of Maroon Bells, however, was more than enough to sustain me through numb extremities and debilitating hip cramps. It follows the east side of the Silver Creek drainage before cutting right to climb alongside the steep Johnson Creek, with several switchbacks for about a mile and half. Here, a wide, snow-covered road offers a short, but much needed break (on the calves and for snacks, obviously).
Five hours later, through darkness and glittery clouds of powder, I earned my first sight of the lodgepole structure that is Margy's Hut. I simultaneously cried and cheered as we skied the final 50 feet down to the deck.
We spent the next (regretfully short) 18 hours in the company of our new friends attempting and failing to finish an entire bag of red wine, reading about wild mushrooms, and writing songs on a two-string guitar.
We learned how to collect buckets of snow, melt them over the wood-burning fireplace, and boil it for drinking; we learned how to survive trips to the out-house; and we learned why Gray Jays are nicknamed "Camp Robber Birds."
In my spare moments, I studied scribblings left in paper-filled binders — some as old as me.
I flipped to a cartoon of a hiker dreaming of food, following another on map duty. I saw drawings of birds and quotations imparting wisdom. I read of a woman who had "never felt more free in her life."
It felt like an invasion to be reading something so personal. But despite my internal pushback, I continued...
Being able to hold tangible evidence of our shared experience was a new lesson of the outdoors for me: that my experience of the outdoors is more than just trees, sky, and everything else in between — there's an element of human connection, as well.
See, it's easy to feel like something is yours when it's experienced in solitude, but no matter how much I wanted to believe that my experience at Margy's was special, I'm really just one small fraction of the story being created there.
So, while the images I carry home will likely stay with me forever, I leave knowing that I'm simply a borrower of them.