Hail, hunters, and hash
3 a.m.: I'm now finding that this hut reeks. As further evidence of inattention on the part of Joe, hut guy, the garbage is really full and a bit on the ripe side. It's also stuffy in the hut. I wake up and have trouble getting back to sleep, so I go outside to catch a few winks. My bunk's foam mattress and sleeping bag make for a cush outdoor sleeping arrangement and the night sky is clear and blistering with stars.
7:15 a.m.: The clear sky has clouded up again and raindrops begin pelting me. I gather up my stuff and head back into the box for a little more shut-eye.
11:30 a.m.: After an acceptable breakfast of cold cereal and tea, and some half-hearted hut cleaning, we are generally ready to go. I take the liberty of writing a note to the next group that will come along, informing them of the water we found down at the unoccupied house, as well as advising them to not bother complaining to Joe since he really could scarcely seem to care less. As I write the note, some math runs through my head. Between the five of us, we've given the San Juan Hut System $2,125. That breaks down to about $375 a night for five people. For that kind of money, we figure we could have rented a Jeep, two big canvas wall tents, and bought a load of food. We'd be nearly as comfortable, have a more flexible schedule, have an out in case of a big mechanical problem or injury, and the option to send someone down for beer. Hmmm. Suddenly, the hut system doesn't seem quite as great. Still, the route and scenery can't be beat. And, in all fairness, it's quite possible that the poor supply is the exception rather than the rule.
11:50 a.m.: A few minutes down the road, we run into Rachel, who Joe sent up to resupply the huts. The first words out of her mouth are, "Don't bitch at me, it's not my fault." She has water for us and intends to stock the rest of the huts.
1 p.m.: Today's route is almost annoyingly straightforward. We ride 32 miles from Spring Creek Hut to Columbine Hut along the same, gravel Forest Service road. It's not particularly challenging, with 1,800 feet of both ascent and descent. Plus, it's not at all technical. Sometimes the washboard does beat us up a little bit when there's no way to get around it. In all, though, pleasant riding. The rain clouds that woke me up this morning have grown considerably black and louder, however. It looks like we're in for a little weather.
1:25 p.m.: Turns out, we're in for a lot of weather. It starts hailing and raining in sheets, along with some serious wind. Oddly, like most storms in the region, it passes quickly. We continue.
1:40 p.m.: Annabel and I, pressured to ride hard by the storm's urgency, have taken a bit of a lead. We stop at a trailhead and dump our packs so the others will know where we stopped and decide to explore a little off to the side. We pass a veritable hunter's metropolis where nearly a dozen camp trailers and tents are set up. We can tell they're hunter camps immediately by the elaborate, long-term cooking arrangements and seating they've assembled. It's bow season right now through the Uncompaghre National Forest, so the hunters we encounter tend to be a little more behaved, patient, and fewer in number than the average hunting crowd. Even in later, modern firearm season, the danger and problems posed by hunters is generally overstated. We have no problems with them.
2:25 p.m.: I come to our next big milepost--the junction with the road to Montrose, Colorado. Paul has pulled away from me and is nowhere in sight. I look around and figure he must have decided to keep making good time and head off.
3 p.m.: Paul's still nowhere to be found. I start to worry that the main group is too far behind, but with the thunderclouds still a threat, don't want to fall too far behind Paul either. I ride faster.
3:30 p.m.: I still haven't seen Paul, and I've nearly made it to the hut. I see a group of cattle ranchers off to my left and ask if they've seen him. They're ranchers in the classic sense of the word--horseback, floppy weathered hats, and friendly drawls. No, they haven't seen Paul. I ask them if they know where the hut is, having only a general sense of how to get the final mile or so. "No, I don't know where the hut is. I've heard of them, though. A couple two three weeks ago some fellow came down asking us where some water is. He was on that same hut thing." I groan to myself. So, two weeks ago another rider found the huts inadequately stocked with water. Why doesn't that surprise me? Next time, I think I'll just camp and use my $425 for fire tinder. At least then I'll feel I've gotten some use out of it.
3:45 p.m.: I make it to the Columbine Pass, about a mile short of our hut and still haven't caught Paul. Now I'm a little concerned.
4:45 p.m.: After scouring the area where the hut is supposed to be and finding nothing, I begin to doubt myself. I go back to the main junction and hunker down under the porch of an empty Forest Service building and wait. Another cloudburst comes through, dumping hard. I'm glad to be on a covered porch.
5:34 p.m.: From the porch, I see Paul and Mark whiz by. Paul had been behind me all this time. After catching him and the rest of the group, some sense is made of the situation. Paul had pulled off the road to look at some mushrooms. I flew by him in hot pursuit, only at that point, in hot pursuit of nothing. Keil had a flat tire, so Mark went on ahead. But then, Mark, alone, decided to duck off into the woods to relieve himself. While he was doing that, Keil and Annabel passed him, unknowing. Then they caught up with Paul, who stopped for a rest. Paul asked, "How's Mark?" At that point, Keil and Annabel looked stunned, since they believed Mark was ahead of them. They had waited for a while, thinking they had lost both me and Mark. Right about then the storm I was enjoying from the covered porch nailed them. They all took cover, Mark alone and the three others together. The area Mark was in got covered in a few inches of hail. He also saw a road culvert explode with flash-flood water. All this time, none of us knew where the others were.