There are places in the world where our memories of being there are so strong that when we return after some time has passed, we can be overwhelmed by emotions. I’ve led, I don’t know how many, pack trips over almost twenty-five summers into some rugged and beautiful places in Colorado’s mountains.
When a dear friend, who is also an old camper and wrangler, came to town and suggested a hike into one of those spots from days of pack trips, I said yes, of course.
Two dear friends, campers and wranglers, and one joyful partner and I had breakfast at a favorite mountain café and then dared the old deeply rutted road up to the trailhead. It took us a moment to orient, without horses, and recognize the little trail we’d take to get to this spot and to remember that we’d stop here, horses grazing, while campers readjusted saddle bags, pack mule loads were checked, and then get everyone started again.
We shouldered our day packs and began hiking up this trail to the little pond where we used to ride to for lunch, swim on the horses, and sometimes hunker down in the trees to wait out a storm before riding back to our camping spot.
The further we hiked, the more we remembered. This corner with that view, playing pass the stick, jolly ranchers, singing the Ping-Pong Ball song, Mrs. Mumbles, and tortillas with peanut butter or summer sausage to eat when we stopped for lunch.
But as we hiked that last little bit of the trail, and we came suddenly out of the trees to that little pond, we stopped and collectively relived a moment we’d experienced so many times before. Tears came from somewhere, an ache for pack trips we’d loved so much and looked forward to every summer. Hugging and laughing and marveling at just what hadn’t changed in the last 14 or 15 years, we took pictures of wildflowers, of Audubon and the Indian Peaks, of each other, and then we gathered in that same spot in the trees, ate our snacks and told our stories. And we felt the spirits of ourselves and those who had been there with us, still wandering in the trees or catching frogs by the pond or enjoying FOB time or retying their loose horse. We left ourselves there, one more time, and hiked back to the trailhead.