I should preface the title to this post with a bit of a caveat. Our perfect timing had nothing to do with when we all showed up at the camp site. In fact, only Dan @drr and Mike @Digiratus were really "on time."
See, Mark @IDTrucks had coordinated a meeting with Monte @Blackdawg in Grand Junction where he'd gotten a local shop to open up on a Sunday evening in order to help swap a coil spring from one of Monte's old front shocks to replace the broken one he'd discovered less than two days before the trip started. Monte was more on time than normal - only an hour late or so as compared to the original planned meeting time - but Mark was later by another hour, a fact that I'm sure the shop owner appreciated, as the 20 minute job stretched into three hours.
Ultimately however, they easily beat me to camp, as it was 12:30am when I finally pulled into my spot at Silver Lake, a couple hours outside of Grand Junction, to freezing temps and a roaring propane fire ring. We hung around the fire for another couple of hours - everyone happy to be together again - before climbing into bed for what would be our first cold night at over 10,000 feet of elevation.
The next morning...
Even after my 21 hour drive and nearly 24 hours awake, I was the first one out of the tent in the morning - or rather, I sort of tied with Dan as he climbed down out of his GFC. It was 9:30am and the sun was shining, warming up camp immensely. My first look around showed us to be in a beautiful location - the skies blue, and the lake clear.
After a bit of a stroll, I found myself back in camp eating breakfast - Honey Bunches of Oats with Almonds and some extremely cold milk, the ARB fridge reading 31°F, even though it hadn't been on all night. With Dan and I banging around, the sun warming the tents, and the excitement of a new adventure in front of us, everyone else was up shortly - breakfasts being made and camp being put away. Still, it was nearly noon when we pulled out of camp and got on the trail.
Immediately, it was clear that we'd arrived to this section of Colorado at the perfect time of year. The fall colors on the aspen were amazing, and we couldn't help but stop at regular intervals to soak in the golden color.
As we made our way through Grand Mesa, we wound our way past numerous lakes and through woods composed of evergreen and aspen. The roads here were well graded, allowing us to make good time - the warm, dry weather making the situation a bit dusty but otherwise quite pleasurable.
One interesting thing we ran into - which we'd see a lot more of along the two week route - was a beaver pond, its dam holding back the clear water of roadside creek.
Our CB radios loud with the chatter of friends finally able to talk-rather-than-type with each other, we pushed on, lunch now on several of our minds.
It was 2:15pm when we found ourselves at Leon Lake - heading north on FS-127 - the perfect place for an afternoon lunch. Having enjoyed the tuna sandwiches we'd eaten on our Nevada Backcountry Discovery Route trip just a couple months before, I'd prepared an entire Tupperware of the stuff, and eagerly spread it out on some sourdough bread. Yum!
Lunch also presented me with the first opportunity to break out the homemade chocolate chip cookies I'd brought - the batch of sixty or so of the yummy treats sure to last our group less than a week, even if we only ate them at lunch (which we didn't ).
A quick dance of circle-the-wagons was in store as folks found the perfect spot to park for lunch.
This is a lunch view I could get used to.
A little under an hour later, we set out again - as before, the yellows of fall casting a warm light on our adventure, the spacing between our trucks lengthening in order to avoid a bit of the dust.
And then, our first - or at least first notable - "uh, hey guys," - over the radio. It was Mark. For some reason, he'd gotten out of his truck to look it over - perhaps he'd felt a weird vibration, or was just wondering if the duct tape he'd used in several places was still holding together - and what he saw wasn't good. Apparently, he generally used his front skid plate to hold his front diff in position.
It's here that I should note that - no, that is not normal on a Tacoma.
At any rate, he'd neglected to install his front skid for this trip - having "run out of time" for that 3 minute operation - and now his front diff was working its way down and out the bottom of his truck, the rubber bushings wiggling over the bolts that normally secure the whole thing in place - the bolt heads now buried somewhere up inside.
Luckily - or perhaps this was Mark's plan all along - trail maintenance is somewhat of a specialty for the rest of us, and within minutes, Monte had produced a set of sockets, Dan had his bottle jack in hand, Mike produced a Milwaukee M18 mid-torque impact wrench, and I happened to have a couple of washers - left over from my upper control arm replacement - that fit the bill perfectly to secure the bushings and front diff.
Mark got to work - as usual - in style.
Emily, his girlfriend - and if we're all honest, better half - took a breather from the bumpy roads and truck chatter to catch up on a little shut eye. Smart woman, this one.
Half an hour or so later, everything was secured and tools were re-stowed. We were once again ready to roll.
The afternoon continued in much the same way as the morning. We exited - and then re-entered - dirt roads near Vega State Park; roads were reasonably graded and the fall colors were in full force and effect. Our band of five, 1st gen Tacomas made quite the statement as we cruised through the wild.
Through the day, there was only one unplanned re-route - when we ran into a landslide and had to backtrack a few miles to find a different route - or so we thought. As Monte pulled up to the end of the road, he got out and scouted the situation.
Back on the radio he hold us that that, "A huge pile of dirt has been pushed over the road. I can't even see any indication of a previous road." We didn't have the ability to do this at the time, but it's clear from looking at Google Earth now, that the "pile of dirt" was clearly a landslide.
What we didn't know - couldn't have known - at the time, was that we were a few short feet from a go-around that would have saved us a couple of hours. Of course, it's not like we were in any real rush anyway...
Well, that's all water under the bridge, and a great reminder - as we discussed in camp later that evening - that even the best route planning always has uncertainty in it, and we enjoyed our alternate route just as much as the original one I'm sure.
Just before sunset - aournd 6:45pm if I recall correctly, we pulled off the side of the road into our evening's home. A nice flat area nestled in the aspen, we were sheltered and yet still had a bit of a view - a distant hill illuminated by the long rays of the sun.
Tents were deployed and camp stoves extracted from their bins. Mike broke out the propane fire and got it going. Now, it was a waiting game - those of us with ham radios and APRS leaving them on so that Monte's parents - Steve @woodnick and Megan - could find and join us for a few days of exploration!
As we waited, a light show across the sky and landscape provided ample entertainment, the colors vibrant as the air around us cooled.
It had been a great first day. We hadn't hit any high peaks, and yet here we were - camped at just over 10,000 feet once again. Our camp fire lasted late into the evening - talk of wood vs. propane camp fires, and what "established" camp sites really means, taking up much of the time and leading to much energetic banter. These were fun times - times we all look forward to on trips like this! Finally, around 11:30pm, we called it quits, climbing into our tents and hunkering down for another chilly night.
If we'd known the sight that the next day would bring, I'm not sure any of us would have wanted this day to end.
The Whole Story