Wanderer creates new words to describe Rockies
Editor’s note: Vail resident Polly Letofsky has been on the road since she left town Aug. 1, 1999, on her mission to become the first woman to walk around the world and promote awareness of breast cancer. From Vail she first walked to the West Coast, then crossed to the two islands of New Zealand, up the eastern coast of Australia and on to Malaysia and Southeast Asia, India, Turkey, Greece, Great Britain and Ireland. She’s now back in the United States, having arrived in New York City and crossed New York State to the Canadian Border at Niagara Falls and made her way to her home state of Minnesota. She’s crossed into Colorado and is expected to reach Vail Friday. You can follow along with Polly’s journey on her Web site, http://www.globalwalk.org.ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK – “How about ‘beautimous’?””That’s good! Or how about ‘remarkalectable’?””Or ‘splendilicious’!””That’s it. ‘Splendilicious.'”My walking companion, Debi, and I stood at the tip-top of Flat Top Mountain, a 12,386-foot peak in the backbone of Rocky Mountain National Park. It took us about three hours to climb the 3,000 feet and felt we had earned the right to, at the very least, make up our own superlatives.We found a flat rock to sit down on and enjoy our lunch with the whole sweep of rock-ribbed mountain peaks hugging us from every conceivable angle – except up. That direction was reserved for the Colorado sky highlighted in ‘remarkalectable’ blue.Even up over 12,000-feet – well above tree-line – the summer tundra was exploding with alpine flowers dressed in yellow, red, purple, white, pink and blue – like grandma had tossed a throw-rug across the slopes. If it were physically possible I would lick the whole scene right out of the sky.”Welcome home,” Debi said.Scenic wonder roadDetouring through Rocky Mountain National Park is going out of my way to get to Vail, but (a) I’d never been to the park before – which should be illegal as a Coloradan – or even as an American; and (b) July is the single greatest time to see the park and the wildlife and wildflowers that bless it. And, of course, (c) I couldn’t think of a better welcome home to my Colorado than to climb right through a John Denver song.Estes Park is a town that sits on the northeast corner of the park and serves as the gateway to all the hikers, bikers and jeep-mounted vacationers. The elk roam through town and say hello like good neighbors and nobody is freaked out except the tourists who fall all over themselves clicking the camera. Rocky Mountain National Park is a 416-square-mile protected wonderland, and even though there are 355 miles worth of hiking trails the vast majority of visitors see it through the windshields of their car on Trail Ridge Road. It’s the only road that crosses the park and is a national marvel, dazzling all who travel it. Officially known as Highway 34, it’s the nation’s highest continuous highway, peaking at 12,183 feet, 11 miles of which is above tree line. It’s been called “the highway to the sky,” the “scenic wonder road of the world” and “the motor nature trail.” When you enter Trail Ridge Road, leave your hurry at the gate. They say the area is so well protected that chances are ample of spotting rarely-seen wildlife like mountain sheep, moose, marmots, pikas, eagles, elk, deer and coyote. Our plan was to walk the 48 miles up and over Trail Ridge Road to the town of Grand Lake on the southwest corner of the park.The locals advise a half-day for exploring Trail Ridge Road by car, we figured four days to walk it would be ample.
But the ranger said “no” to our plans. He said the combination of narrow roads, no shoulders and looky-loos watching the big horn sheep is a recipe for disaster and if a ranger catches you walking on Trail Ridge Road, he’ll pluck you up by the scruff of the neck and drop you back in Estes Park like a mama with a lost pup. My shoulders slumped. “Then how can we walk to Grand Lake?”He told us there was a hiking trail up and over the spine of Rocky Mountain National Park but it ain’t for sissies. It’s f4 1/2 miles up and 14 down the other side. And you gotta leave early to avoid the noon-time lightning storms that will kill you if given a chance and you better be prepared to carry upwards of two gallons of water.”Debi looked at me, “You wanted Colorado you got it. Welcome home.””Yeah, whose idea was this to come through Rocky Mountain National Park anyway?”We did as we were told and decided on the advised plan B for tomorrow, then we piled into the truck like good little tourists to tootle over Trail Ridge Road for a day of fun. On Trail Ridge Road there are pull-offs for cars every few hundred yards so us tourists can click and ogle without flying off the cliff’s edge. The elk and big horn sheep put on a show, stopping cars with a strut of their stuff, moving slowly across the road like they’re models on a runway. They hold their heads high with attitude and move their long legs with style and grace giving us mortals behind windshields a chance to awe at their beauty. Marmots chase each other over rocks and slide down glaciers on their bellies and we all laugh wondering what it would be like to be a marmot having all that fun. At every turn on Trail Ridge Road the sky reaches beyond forever and the mountain peaks poke the cotton ball clouds right out of the sky. Is Trail Ridge Road worth the hype?And more. “All right, let’s stick to ‘splendilicious.'”
There will be a bring-you-on-lunch picnic at 12:30 p.m. at Ford Park. Bring your own sack lunch.The “Final Mile” parade will begin at the International Bridge in Vail Village at 2:30 p.m. The parade will proceed to Billy’s Island Grill in Lionshead. There will be a community celebration at 3:30 p.m.Donations to the Vail Breast Cancer Awareness Group will be welcome throughout the day. ====================================================================================By the numbersUnless there’s a major detour in Colorado before Polly’s Letofsky’s arrival in Vail on Friday, these are the final statistics of her walk around the world: • 14,124 – Total miles walked from Vail, CO, to Vail, CO, via India• 22 – Countries Polly has walked through • 1,900 – Breast cancer survivors that have walked with Polly • 13 – Breast cancer organizations around the world that have benefited from GlobalWalk• $200,000 – Estimate of how much money has been raised in eight currencies • 9 – Languages in which Polly can ask, “Where am I on this map?”• 0 – Sick days • 3 – Times Polly has had food poisoning (Luxembourg, Australia, Missouri)• 29 – Pairs of shoes Polly has walked through• 84,003 – Times Polly’s been asked how many pairs of shoes she has walked through • $1 – Amount Polly charges now for asking how many pairs of shoes she has walked through
$51.45 – Amount of money Polly has found along side the road 886 – Newspaper interviews and feature articles 6 – Newspapers that have gotten all the facts straight 58 – Times stopped by police 3 – Times that Polly had to call police • 3 – Times police have been called due to horny men • 1 – Cows named after Polly in New Zealand• 782 – Maps used • 15,000 – Photos taken • 17 – Bibles Polly has been given • 12 – Hottest temperature Polly had to walk in (India, Malaysia, Australia, Greece, Turkey)• -10 – Coldest temperature Polly had to walk in (Iowa) • 28 – Most miles walked in one day • 7.2 – Richter scale of earthquake that Polly rocked through in California • 5 – Forest fires Polly had to race through • 6 – Marriage proposals• 5 – Men with breast cancer Polly met • 36 – Boxes full of gifts that have been sent to Mom’s house for storageRead Polly’s journals on http://www.globalwalk.org==========================================