On the trail: Stumbling upon Ruby
July 31, 2012
ASPEN – I know that having a lot of people in town spells good news for the Aspen economy and generally benefits us all. But late last week I was completely burned out on the hordes of tourists, part-time residents and others – including Aspen Music Festival and School students.
They’ve been riding bicycles on sidewalks, demanding a host of special considerations at local restaurants while leaving paltry tips, driving erratically while talking on their cellphones and berating grocery-store workers for not giving them attention at the exact moment they demand it. I’ve witnessed all of this firsthand, and I’m sure you have, too, to varying degrees.
And so on Friday afternoon I loaded up $100 worth of supplies into my four-cylinder, rear-wheel-drive Chevy S-10 and headed up Independence Pass in search of a place where I was unlikely to encounter significant numbers of humans. I wanted a quiet spot where I could commingle with deer, bears, beavers and squirrels. My plan was to camp along the midpoint of Lincoln Creek Road, at the Portal Campground next to Grizzly Reservoir, and do some fishing there or in one of the many high-country lakes nearby.
As I climbed the steep and rocky road in my beat-up Chevy truck – which doesn’t look so hot but continues to surprise me with its versatility – darkness started to fall, and I had to alter my plans a bit. Earlier, I encountered a semi-truck on the pass that was stuck on a curve near The Grottos, an obstacle that slowed me down by about 30 minutes. But Lincoln Creek Road was the real problem, with boulders jutting out and hitting my truck’s undercarriage and huge mud puddles obscuring large rocks that also were capable of doing damage.
The Lincoln Gulch and Portal campgrounds were full, to my surprise. I pressed onward, telling myself I was on a “mission from God” and that nothing was going to prevent me from finding the coolest spot in the area. In that regard, I succeeded, and I set up camp in a free and open space at about 7 p.m. under overcast skies about a mile south of Portal.
It rained all night, but I had prepared for it by erecting two large tarps over my tent. I listened to a lot of Radiators, Subdudes and Grateful Dead as I fell in and out of half-drunken sleep. I managed to stay dry and woke up around 10:15 the next morning with a vague plan to drive my Honda Trail 90 farther up Lincoln Creek Road in search of a good fishing hole.
What followed proved to be an adventure and a workout. The steep road, alternately consisting of large rocks, gravel and mud, was nearly impassable in some spots. If Jeeps, large Ford pickups and Range Rovers were having difficulty, how would the Trail 90 fare? There were times when they wanted to pass me, others when they were mired in trouble and I passed them. Only kids on their fancy dirtbikes and ATVs were able to zoom up and down the road.
It was fun but tiring. A few times the motorbike got stuck on a rock or in a large crevasse and I had to get out and push it. It was steep, and I had to use first gear most of the way. My jeans below the knee were caked with mud. Occasionally, I hopped off the bike to lighten its load, using its power in low gear to pull me (and it) higher. Undaunted and sweaty, I pressed onward. Finally I reached the end of road, and there was no fishing hole – I had stumbled upon the historic mining town of Ruby.
It was a peaceful place, surrounded by wetlands and crumbling cabins and majestic trees and mountains. I climbed a hill and hoisted my shirt at half-staff on an old flagpole, proclaiming myself the honorary mayor of Ruby. I passed a resolution to drink all the Coors Lights in my backpack over the course of three hours. I was so thirsty, the beers went down like water. I explored a little but was content to sit and take in the views. Had I found any bears or deer, I would have made them honorary councilmen, and we would have passed a series of emergency ordinances. Ruby, I felt, needed to be rezoned.
The way back was treacherous because a thunderstorm rolled in. The rocks were slippery and tough to navigate going downhill. I coasted a lot with and without power. Had I increased my speed, I would have surely lost control and careened into the large boulders or prickly shrubs that lined each side. The lightning strikes around me heightened the sense of danger.
When I got back to the campsite, thankful that Mother Nature had spared my life, it was dark and felt like 6 or 7 o’clock. I checked the time, and amazingly it was only 4:20. I lit a fire amid the dampness and kicked back in my canvas chair with a cold vodka cocktail. I vowed not to do anything too strenuous for the remainder of the trip.
Life is good on Lincoln Creek despite the sticky situations.