The first character in the story is Joel. He has become a good friend of mine. A little while back, we made a plan for him to drive out to Vegas with me and do some climbing prior to me taking the exam. It was great knowing that I was going to have a reliable, competent parter for climbing. On the drive out, we hardly had to dip into music or podcasts. Most of the drive was filled with engaging conversation about a variety of topics. This type of thing has never happened in my numerous road trips with people. Even my wife and I rely on podcasts and music to get through a long drive. Then while climbing, we never had to worry about whether or not the other person had us. This made for a great start to the trip.
The next character was Lance. Lance rented a room from me one summer and became a good friend. He was taking a course at Red Rock but we were able to camp together and catch up during his down time. In previous trips, I have had the pleasure of climbing with Lance but this trip did not allow time for that. We did spend some quality time around the camp site in the evenings. I even had the chance to give him a mullet before he left to go back to Colorado.
Another person who made an impression on both Joel and I was Mike. Mike was also taking the course with Lance and sharing the same site in the campground. It turns out that he is a guide and a teacher with three kids. We were inspired by this. Joel has two and I am about to have my first. To see someone in the industry with kids and making it work was encouraging. There was a lot of discussion about kids, family, work, and how to make the most of all three.
The next two characters provided one of the largest small world happenings of the trip. We are hanging out at the site one evening and this Outback with two people stops to ask if they can share our site with us. We gladly welcome them. After some initial discourse, Joel finds out that Nat and his girlfriend Lissa are good friends with a good friend of his and that they had actually heard of each other. This small world connection made for an instant friendship. Nat and Alyssa were great campmates. The funniest part of our time together for me was one evening. They had gone to a longer climb that day. When we got back to camp, I noticed that Lissa was wearing a ring that I hadn't seen previously. I just figured she hadn't worn it the previous days. I eventually question her about it and she nonchalantly responds, "oh, I just got this today," as if nothing happened. I was then told the story of their engagement from earlier in the day. Congrats guys.
One theme that was started with Lance was that of catching up with friends that I had previously work with in North Carolina. The next person fits into that as well. Abbie is a young lady that is always excited about being outside and having fun. I was able to do a day of cragging with her a few days before the exam. We climbed a few routes in an area that I hadn't climbed at before. It didn't matter what it was but she was psyched to climb. When you are with people like that, you know a good time is going to be had no matter what. The only downside was that I forgot to get my guidebook back from her after our day of climbing and she ended up taking my guidebook to Utah right before I needed it for the exam. Luckily, some of the other guys in the exam had guidebooks so I was ok without it.
The next group of people were those in the exam with me. We had a great group of guys. There were eight of us taking the exam with four examiners. Each candidate came from a different background with different skill sets. We had a teacher, an arborist, a craftsman, a guy who does operations for a large guide service, and a few guys like me who guide full time. One of these guys stood out a bit more and that was Wade. Wade is a skilled climber. He was able to float pretty much every pitch on the exam. He also seemed to have an endless tank of energy and psych. His excitement for climbing and just moving over terrain encouraged me during the days that we climbed together. Having people like him around during a stressful time like an exam is always welcomed.
The next group of people were the examiners. We had a great crew. Four experienced Mountain Guides with many years on the instructor team for the AMGA. Out of the four examiners, I only had the chance to work with two of them, Dale and Art. Both of these guys are great guides in their own right but are also great instructors. Even on an exam, Dale and Art are able to find areas in your guiding that you can improve on. Daily we would get feedback on how we did during our stretch of the day. Having a chance to learn on an exam is great. I can't wait to get back and start applying some of the feedback which will hopefully correlate to my guests having a better experience. These guys not only helped us improve our guiding techniques but also gave advise to help our careers as guide prosper and last. I cannot thank these guys and all of the previous instructor members that I have work with for all that they do to help the industry and each and every guide that goes through the process.
After the exam, the people I encountered shifted themes. Previously they had all been climbers. The next few characters in this story, except one, are not climbers and our meetings were very much due to chance or possibly fate. The first guy I came across was Herb. I met Herb as I was preparing to leave Las Vegas. I had just finished the debrief of the exam and was about to start my truck so I could hit the road and head back east. Just before I turned the key I hear someone yell my name. I open my door to see Herb walking towards my truck. I had seen Herb talking with a few of the other guys waiting to do their debriefs at the Whole Foods. He comes up to me and explains that he is trying to get back to Colorado and was wondering if I could give him a ride. I was hesitant at first. It would have been easy to say no and get on my way but I didn't. Instead I agree to give him a ride to Glenwood Springs. It turned out to be great. Herb and I had some great conversation across the desert of Nevada, Utah, and western Colorado. I have give people rides before but never for eight hours. Herb was a great companion to have for that section of the drive which at times seems to drag on until you hit the mountains. This showed me that you never know who you are going to meet but that there are some people out there with great stories.
That night I met up with a friend in Boulder, CO. This friend was a previous roommate and coworker, so I would call him a very close friend. Unfortunately, our time of catching up was too short due to it being late and him having to work the next day. I also was trying to get to IL that next day. The next morning we headed out the door together, him to work and me back on the road. If you thought anything in this brief summary of a few weeks is crazy just wait.
I headed out of Boulder to reconnect with I-70 eastbound across the plains. For those that have not driven across the plains, it is an experience. Time does this weird thing where it can be slow for this 100 miles then the next 100 miles goes by in what seems to be only a few minutes. I also tend to get a little crazy from boredom, caffeine, and loud music while driving across the plains. This trip had very little of the boring drive I was used to. The previous day, some snow had gone through the front range of Colorado dumping only a few inches. This day, I was going to encounter this but I had hoped to drive through it and get in front of it. As I was heading east, I saw that some signs were saying that I-70 was closed at Burlington which is right before the Colorado/ Kansas border. With that information, I headed south to Highway 40. It reconnects with I-70 so I figured it would be a great way to get around the closure. I just to the last town before Kansas on 40 and find it is also closed. After pulling up a map I notice the next highway east is 96 to the south. I begin heading that way. Once I hit 96 I notice the weather getting worse. I continue heading east. My thought is if I can get in front of the storm things will go smoothly. The storm is only 50 miles wide if that. It shouldn't be to hard to do. I eventually made it to Kansas. This is when things go crazy. As I moved further into the storm it got worse. This wasn't just some random rain storm in the plains, this was a blizzard.
This blizzard was causing the snow to move horizontally, which also limited visibility. At a few points, visibility reduced to zero. This worried me, not only because I couldn't see but no-one else could see and I drive a white truck. This was not the time to have a vehicle that blends in. As I pushing on at 25-30 mph on this highway, I would occasionally see cars off of the road. It was hard to not stop to help but I knew that if I stopped I would also be stuck. Eventually I came across the town of Tribune, KS. Lets just say there isn't much there. I drove through it but soon found out that the next town was 20 miles to the east. I promptly turned around and headed back to the small truck stop in Tribune. While trying to get to the gas pumps or the parking area my truck decided it didn't want to continue on. Luckily, I was stuck in the parking lot. I then grabbed my avalanche shovel and a few other things out of the back of my truck, threw them in the front cab, then I ran inside. There I was able to hang out for a bit and dry off. The only problem was that there was no power. The few of us in the building started talking and discussing the situation. After a few hours, the visibility increased and we saw a plow go past on 96. We then jumped on the occasion and got our vehicles unstuck and decided to caravan on to the east. We encountered loose cattle, more cars off the road, snapped telephone poles, and snow drifts that made travel difficult. We caught up to the plow in Leoti. The driver informed us that the roads were all closed and that he was turning back to the west. We decided to not continue and to possibly get a room at the motel in town.
With the roads closed we were not the only ones with this plan. With only a few rooms left, the guys in the caravan decided to not take a room and hang out behind the motel. By this time the storm had mostly passed. We ended up hanging out behind the motel for the rest of the day. One of the guys, Eric from Louisiana, had some ingredients to make dinner and I had a stove and plenty of cookware. We ended up bonding over pan fried pheasant breast and creamed white beans with onion and elk jerky. We enjoyed the process of the adventure and delay in our travels. We ended up sleeping in our vehicles that night, which luckily didn't get too cold. The next morning we found that the town had power again and that the roads were opened. With a quick farewell and good luck we parted ways. I continues to the east eventually arriving in the St. Louis area where I would recover from some crazy days of driving.
So many times with trips we focus on the activities, which are great and exciting but this time the people are what stood out to me. On this trip I reconnected with old friends, got to know former acquaintances better, and met many new people that I will not soon forget. The next time you are on an adventure, think about the people.