Continental Divide: Mile 2280

I aimed for thirty miles, but only managed twenty-six by the time I tossed my pack down on Goat Flats and the sun hit the horizon. I knew I was short and felt a rising frustration as I thought back to the early morning. That’s where I lost time on an off-trail bushwhack turned three-hour adventure to cover four miles.

Goat Flats is a broad saddle along the divide. It’s a perfect perch for watching the sun transform the western horizon into a brilliant pink and orange haze. The last rays of sunlight slid up the nearby Pintler mountains until even their peaks were not high enough to catch the light. Mountains are always beautiful, but the setting sun casts a magical light.

If only I’d stuck to the ridge instead of dropping down to try to find a trail, maybe that would have saved an hour. Even better, I could have just stuck to the trail from the start, forgot all about the ridge, and saved two hours. I’d be a good six miles further, probably more.

That morning, back on the ridge, I pulled myself up a towering pile of rocks. I stood on top and gazed at the world falling away below me. The wind ripped past me, giant trees looked like miniatures in the valley below. The sun had just come up. Its angle left entire mountainsides in shadow and drew out the Pintler’s rugged beauty in the play of light and dark.

Three hours is a long time. Nine, maybe ten miles on a good trail, but at the end of the day, as the frustration began to rise inside me, I caught it with a simple thought, “Would I trade that moment on the ridge, that brief beautiful piece of life, for a few more miles? Would I trade this sunset?”

Looking back or looking forward, there’s no point to it. All you really need to do is look.

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