Spring Creek runs bone dry
9:30 a.m. (Mountain time): I wake up more or less sweltering on the top bunk in Last Dollar Hut. I've slept the longest and can hear the rest of the group laughing outside the hut. My first impulse is to check our mouse trap in the middle of the room--no luck, it's empty. That means the little cretin is at large still in the hut. Oh well, we're leaving this morning. I step out of the hut and walk over to the group. A man with a thick Arkansas-style drawl has stopped for a visit. He's dressed head to toe in camouflage and carries a nasty-looking compound bow. Turns out he had been hiding up the hill a ways when Paul, a member of our group, stumbled on him while taking an early-morning ride. After Tim clarified the direction back to the hut for Paul, the two walked down. We had a pleasant conversation with Tim, who was in the area with friends and a client whom he guided on the hunt. So far they'd had no luck. Hunters are common in the hills along the hut route, so active travelers offended by such types should keep that in mind.
12:20 p.m.: After a long, leisurely morning cleaning the hut (which we did fastidiously), eating breakfast, and packing our things, we finally set out. We have a 26.3-mile route ahead of us, much of which is descent from the Last Dollar Hut. For the first few hours we bomb gloriously down a rough, rocky old Forest Service road. In parts it about shakes me apart, but generally is just fast, bumpy fun.
1:50 p.m.: Gradually the terrain has leveled. We now climb up and down--but pleasantly, mostly down--through random ranches and farmland. It's extremely pleasant riding, but a stormcloud has moved in overhead and we're now getting a little wet. This time of year that's common. We fly down a few fabulous downhill stretches with pouring rain slapping our faces.
2:15 p.m.: We're spread out a bit now. In groups we pass by the actual ranch where True Grit starring John Wayne was filmed. For true Americans, I'm sure that's sufficient reason to try this tour.
3:35 p.m.: Except for a brief section of paved road, the riding might be accused of being monotonous. But it's too beautiful. We pass by old ranches, windmills, and modern palacial estates. I really cannot get over the aspen trees.
Suddenly, a blue pickup pulls up. Joe, the guy from the San Juan Hut System office, jumps out of the truck and throws a box to us. In it is an extra digital camera, some batteries, and a software upgrade for our original Kodak DC-50 camera. We had been having some serious problems capturing images since the day before and couldn't explain why. A phone call to Kodak revealed that they had some random software bug start taking out the focus feature on their cameras. The upgrade couldn't be done remotely. In a stupendous feat of heroism, Brenda Buescher, our support person back home, managed to get her hands on a new camera, the new software, and a passel of treats including smoked salmon, oysters, Spam, cheese, and salsa. She then somehow got them onto a flight to Telluride. From there, Joe was able to drive the package to us. So, from the distress call Monday night at Last Dollar Hut, it took Brenda less than 24 hours to put a new camera, software, and treats in our hands. Now that's impressive.
6:30 p.m.: We arrive at the Spring Creek Hut, a name that would soon prove ironically tragic.
6:40 p.m.: We unlock and enter the hut and find out that, apparently, gambling has been legalized in Colorado. Except instead of doing the whole casino scene, they invented "Hut Trips." Here's how it works: Go to Telluride. Ante up $425 at the San Juan Hut System. Then (here's where the gambling starts) head out into the backcountry with a few water bottles and some clothes. If you get to the hut and there's food and water, you win! Otherwise, you lose! At the Spring Creek Hut, we lost. The folks who maintain the system failed to provide water or much in the way of food.
Just as this realization is setting in, we notice that the last group didn't wash their dishes--they're sitting in a nasty pile on the floor. Next, we start poking through the food stores and find them pretty depleted, just a random selection of canned soups and vegetables and some odds and ends.
7 p.m.: After a brief pow-wow, Paul, Annabel, and I head down the road with a couple of empty water jugs looking to fill up from a spring supposedly down the road. Instead, we find an unoccupied log home with a pump on the back side. We're able to fill our jugs plus a few random Nalgene bottles. We're very glad to have the water, because the failure of the hut system people to provide water would have put us in quite a fix.
7:30 p.m.: After a seriously annoying mile trying to cart three gallons of water on my bike, I come to the hut. I thankfully had a rack on my bike and was able to make a little better time than Annabel and Paul. I turned around to go back and help. As I did, Joe from the office passed me on his way up. "I got your water," he said. I turn around
7:45 p.m.: Joe dismisses the lack of food and water as the result of one group of riders who "took baths and wasted it." He's scarcely apologetic. Frankly, none of us believe that with about two dozen five-gallon jugs in the hut, they couldn't have kept it stocked somewhat better. Joe says he had just swung by to check on us because he had some time to kill. But the more we all think about it the more we think it seems fishy. We're pretty sure he knew the supplies were short. Joe assures us someone will supply the huts in front of us. We really hope so.
A quick poll among the members of the group later reveals the following evaluations of the San Juan Hut System: "Mickey Mouse," I say. "Bush league," says Paul. "Lame," says Mark.
8:30 p.m.: We finish cobbling together dinner and begin thinking about bed. The food Brenda had sent up does a lot for morale--not to mention our energy stores. More tomorrow.