Heading out for the Labor Day weekend show – not to San Francisco, but to the mountains surrounding Steamboat Springs, Colorado. This was my second mountain training hike.
Accompanying me were fellow visually impaired hikers, Mo Salama and Bonnie Vegiard. For the first three days of hiking, we would have local Achilles Houston guides, Bernie Tretta and Zach Cater-Cykes and the last three days of the week would be Colorado guides, Janice Koppang and Marlys Laugsand.
Bonnie and I arrived first in Steamboat on the afternoon of August 31st and began scoping out the resort and town. We found a quaint Mexican restaurant in town with open air seating and promptly ordered margaritas. After our fill of food and drink, we decided to head back to the condo. Being in unfamiliar territory and having to navigate by foot and the local bus, we wanted to make sure we got back before dark.
Mo, Bernie and Zach got in by late morning the next day. After they settled into the condo, we had a quick lunch and headed out for our first hike – Creekside and Pioneer Trails. With only a half-day of sunlight, our trek was an easy to moderate 3 miles out and back with an 800-foot elevation change.
We encountered gorgeous tree-lined trails, wooden bridges, a very cold-water creek and only a handful of other hikers and bikers. Upon reaching the bridge, everyone wanted to take a break and rest by the creek with its refreshingly cold water.
The next morning (actually every morning for the rest of the week) started with a hearty breakfast of veggie omelets, fruit and bagels and coffee – lots of coffee. Mo turned out to be a pretty good short order cook. He whipped up some yummy omelets for the whole gang.
After breakfast, we headed for the main Steamboat Springs ski mountain area where we hiked Thunderhead Trail winding along the Mt. Werner gondola pathway. This turned out to be a moderate, but fairly steep 4.1-mile trail with a 2000-foot elevation change.
Since most of the trail was fairly open with few shade trees, the sun got pretty intense at times. We were gasping by the time we reached the summit and decided to take a long lunch break and enjoy the view from the top. After resting, the consensus was to take the gondola back down the mountain.
On day 3 of our trip, we tackled the Fish Creek Falls Trail which was the most challenging and also the most beautiful of all our hikes. This 7-mile trail had an elevation change of 2000 feet and some sections of the trail with a maximum grade of 38 degrees. Boy, that’s pretty steep!
We had a few anxious and adrenalin producing moments when we came to a couple of really hairy and narrow cliff sections where we had to side-step the trail and hug against the side of the rocks as we traversed the trail. But we were rewarded with the smells and sounds of several waterfalls which fed into crystal clear babbling brooks along this trek.
Another highlight on this trek is when Zach spotted a moose on the switch back from which we had just ascended. We heard other hikers following us and approaching the area where the moose was feeding. We all began “whispering loudly” to let them know about the moose ahead of them. However, from the conversation of the other hikers, we could tell they were oblivious to the moose and just passed on by without incident.
We only covered about 5.5 miles of the 7-mile trail when a thunderstorm began forming and we decided to head back down the mountain to drier and safer ground.
Early the next day, we had to sadly say so long to Bernie and Zach as they headed back to Houston. But within a few hours, we were greeting our new guides for the rest of the week, Janice and Marlys from Grand Junction, Colorado. After Janice and Marlys got settled in to their room, we went out and grabbed a quick lunch and looked for a short trail for our afternoon trek.
We remembered seeing the trailhead of Uranium Mine Trail the day before when hiking Fish Creek Falls Trail, so we decided to give it a go. Janice and Marlys quickly got into guide mode for the three of us visually impaired hikers and we were soon headed up the moderate 1.5-mile trail with an elevation change of a little over 500 feet.
In addition to the closed-off mine entrance, highlights of this trek were another creek side rest stop and some off-trail rock climbing. Since it only took us just under two hours (including our playtime on the off-trail rocks), we decided to go back to Fish Creek Falls Trail and do a quick one-hour trek along the initial part of the trail.
Day 5 took us to Three Island Trail in the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness. This was our longest hike – 6 miles with an elevation change of just under 2500 feet. The weather started out cooler at the start of this trek than any of the previous four days, in the mid-40’s and cloudy. However, as we ascended, it quickly warned up and we were back in shorts and T’s for the rest of the hike.
We passed several creeks and beaver dams along the trail and again did some off-trail rock climbing. But the highlight of the trek was what we dubbed the “goat lady” whom we encounter coming down the trail as we were half-way through our ascent. She had with her four goats and a dog that almost trampled the “three blind mice” going up the hill.
When we reached the mesa at the summit of the trail, we were rewarded with some beautiful tall grassy fields and the glassy lake surrounding three islands. It was such a gorgeous place to take our lunch break and relax before heading back down the mountain.
On our final day, we decided to do only a half-day hike on Lower Bear Creek Trail in the morning and then head over to the Strawberry Park Hot Springs in the afternoon. That turned out to be a great plan since thunderstorms rolled in just as we were completing the trek. After we got back in the car and drove to the hot springs, it began raining as we pulled into the parking lot.
We found a little pavilion where we took our lunch break and waited out the rain. Then we were able to relax and soak our week-long aching hiking muscles in the multi-temperature pools formed by the natural hot springs. It was heavenly way to end our week-long adventure!
Ultimately, I want to document the larger story of my journey in the film “One Step at a Time.” The goal of this documentary is to bring hope, inspiration and the joy of achievement to all through an impressive chronicle of determination and resiliency.
I have had several personal blind friends die much too early in their lives due to a complication of factors, including poor exercise and diet choices.
My hope is that this documentary will be seen by tens of thousands for years to come to empower the blind and others to live a healthier lifestyle through physical activities.
If you are interested in being a part of this film, you may make a donation on my personal fundraising page: http://bit.ly/2uzITej
My three guides and I are paying all of our own expenses for this trek (travel, tour package, equipment, etc.).
Funds received will go exclusively towards capturing, creating and distributing this film.
All funds for sponsoring this documentary are tax-deductible to Achilles International Houston, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.
Thank you for your consideration for what promises to be a life-altering experience for me and all those who join me on this journey, in person or by film.