Everyone was up around about the usual time, our spot in the trees giving us a bit more shade than normal, but also helping to keep the frost at bay during the night. As everyone made breakfast, I headed over and asked Mike @Digiratus one of the strangest questions I think I've ever asked.
Did you bring your toothbrush charger?
See, for the first time ever, I brought my Sonicare toothbrush, knowing that I'd be away from home for over two weeks, and that my teeth just felt better when I used it. Anyway, it turns out that he had brought his charger and was happy to let me borrow it.
There was only one problem. His charger had some wonky pin on the platform - probably some change that Philips made in order to prompt new purchases. Undeterred, I figured I could outsmart those marketers.
Unfortunately, it turns out I was not smarter than the marketers - or at least their engineers. Even after charging all day, the toothbrush must have been just a little too far from the inductive charger - because even though the charging light flashed, it was still dead when I used it that evening!
Anyway, with my toothbrush plugged in and not charging, we headed out of camp around 10:15am, excited to get another bunch of miles under our belts. We weren't driving to the top of any spectacular Colorado peaks today, but our travels would take us to the precipice of what we'd come to this state to experience - 14,000' mountains rising up out of 10,000' ranges.
We continued along the route we'd started the evening before, winding our way south along FS-242 towards Radium Springs. As we did, one thing was for certain - the further south we went, the more colorful the Aspen seemed to be. This was a bit surprising to all of us - our assumption that colder temps up north would result in the color moving from north-to-south - but we weren't complaining. Quite the opposite; we stopped to take it all in.
Even Brett @Squeaky Penguin got out of his truck. I mean, as much as he does. This clearly was not one of the three* photos that would make up his detailed trip report.
* a later declaration by the man himself increased this number to six, I believe.
As the miles ticked away behind us, the road continued to zig and zag - up and over a hillside, through forests and meadows - our trucks like tiny ants along the path, trails of dust visible in the distance as the sun shown down through the billowy clouds.
Leading the way, Monte @Blackdawg would periodically pipe up over the CB or Ham - I don't recall which we were using at this point - to let us know of oncoming traffic or other notable things for us to be aware of as we followed at a distance to keep the incoming dust to a minimum. So, when he called out a "white Ford" parked on the side of the road with a couple people standing nearby, none of us really gave it a second thought.
That is, until we pulled up behind him to see two uniformed women chatting and laughing with him - they were a couple of game wardens!
Curious what we were up to, they of course assumed that we'd been out hunting and were going to check our licenses when they saw us coming down the hill. Naturally, we didn't have - or need - any, and Monte let them know that we were just out camping and driving around in our badass rigs.
And that's when the laughing started. "Hey, you guys are all in Toyotas!?" one of them said. "I think my husband follows you on one of those forums."
Guilty. As. Charged.
Anyway, a bit more chit-chat and we were on our way - the radio chatter quick to poke fun at Monte for flirting with the "cute" wardens; something none of us could actually know for sure, given that we couldn't hear a word that was said. That of course spawned an argument about which warden was the cuter one, and whether she was the one with the gun or not.
With that, we completed our final descent into Radium Hot Springs along the Colorado River and took a few minutes to admire the water as it rushed by with rafters in tow.
A quick restroom break, some snacks, and a bit more chit-chat were all that kept us from getting back in our trucks immediately. But eventually it was time to set off again - now in search of a place to have lunch. Ultimately that wouldn't happen - with some entertainment - for another couple hours, though we initially planned for it to be much sooner.
Still headed south, our sights were set on a short - couple mile - side trip up to Cottonwood Peak. Still in the distance, it rose up above the surrounding hills, surely a great place to get a look around.
Along the way we passed hunters camped here and there - each of the spots we thought might be a nice place to eat lunch, already occupied. Ever closer, Cottonwood Peak in the background.
Eventually it was clear that we simply weren't going to find a good place to eat down in the lowlands, and we started our ascent up the side of Cottonwood itself. The views as we climbed were incredible - the colors around us, the rock faces on one side, and expansive views to the other were exactly the reason we're always stopping every few hundred feet.
As we were out snapping photos, I noticed something wasn't right. The Redhead was looking a bit "low."
A quick check with the tire gauge showed that in fact she was a little under-the-pressure, running at something like 8psi on the passenger rear. Unsure where Mike could have gotten a flat, the best course of action seemed to be to get to a wider section of road and then affect a repair. But some quick thinking on his part and he realized that he'd simply left the valve a little loose when he's last aired down. Tightening the valve and adding a few more pounds of pressure was a simple fix if there ever was one, and easy enough to do while the rest of us continued to admire the view!
We continued our trek up, now working our way along the ridge line, the views continuing to get wider and wider, our trucks doing everything we asked of them at every turn and switchback.
Eventually, we found ourselves at the top. -ish. There are a couple caveats here worth mentioning. First, no road actually went to the top, and since we'd planned to drive to the end of the road, we passed right by the apex of Cottonwood Peak before turning around and making our way back to the highest point of the road. Second, even that highest point wasn't technically the top of the peak - it skirted along the southwest side by a few hundred feet - both horizontally and vertically.
And that was just fine with Brett - more than fine in fact! He jumped out of his truck and immediately challenged Monte to a race to the top. Of course, Monte being only slightly competitive meant that we really had to twist his arm to get him to accept the challenge.
Right. And on the count of three, they were off.
Mike and I, watching from our chairs, took bets on who would win. Brett clearly had an advantage - his frame smaller and his system more accustomed to high elevations. Monte on the other hand was as stubborn as he was competitive and would likely do anything to eek out the win.
Within seconds and less than a third of the way into the race, both were completely winded and walking up the hill. I did the only thing reasonable - I posted a poll on TacomaWorld asking the community who would win.
Eventually, they both made it to the top. Monte officially won by making it to the agreed upon destination, but Brett sort of won by getting to the actual top of the peak - Monte too busy catching his breath at 11,200 ft to even venture to the top of the mountain.
It was great entertainment while Mike and I ate our lunch.
The race complete and the young guns back down to make their own lunches while regaling Mike and I with how horrible they felt, I ultimately decided that I'd better give the little jaunt a go myself. So, off I went, the elevation definitely making things a little harder than at sea level. Still, I was jogging when I got to the top guys.
And the top was glorious.
Not only were the views spectacular, but Brett had found a patch of wild raspberries, and I was going to do my best to empty them of their tasty treats.
We'd spent much more time at the top of Cottonwood Peak "eating lunch" than normal, and we'd arrived at the top later than usual to boot - so when we finally decided we ought to get a move on, it was already nearing 3:00pm in the afternoon. We bombed down the hill, a few photos snapped here and there, but nothing like our journey up, and now found ourselves headed east towards Green Mountain Reservoir where we'd pound some pavement on our way to Montezuma.
Once again, we were dazzled by our surroundings - the colors as bright around us as the sun was above us. Fall was all around us, for sure!
Pavement at Green Mountain Reservoir meant that it was time to put air in our tires, and we each did so as quickly as we could - the wind here sharp, and cold - before turning south on CO-9 towards camp.
This was one of only two nights on this trip that we'd end up at camp well after dark. It was 8:00pm when we finally found a spot - well positioned for the next day's adventures, but in close proximity to quite a few other people. And - to make matters worse, we found ourselves in Summit County, where a fire ban was in effect - so no campfires for us!
Unsure exactly what to do with ourselves, we each made our dinners and ate them around the light of Brett's GFC, wishing that the LED lights would also provide some semblance of warmth. They didn't, and so it was only 10:00pm when we all decided we'd had enough and retired to our tents, only our shivering bodies to warm them up.
Except Brett. Turns out that one of the benefits of a GFC is that you can setup a Mr. Heater Buddy in the bed of your truck, and then everything in the tent gets warmed up for you after 5 minutes. Lucky dude that Brett.
Luckily for me, I too had an ace up my sleeve - or rather socks. While not as #fabulous as a GFC, I climbed into bed with Little Hotties keeping my toes nice and toasty, excited for what I knew was in store for tomorrow.