A good friend of ours whose husband is also going through dementia advised me to always pack a bag with:
1) Wet wipes
2) change of clothes for your loved one
3) Large plastic bag (to put the soiled stuff in).
So I listened a little bit. I put wet wipes in the backpack today.
I saw there was a guided hike at 10:15 today at "Maroon Bells". I didn't know what "Maroon Bells" was but I remember one of the last things our Airbnb host had said before she left us on our own for the weekend was: "Have you been to Maroon Bells?" and "You've got to go."
So I didn't remember what she said, but then this hike came up in my internet search. I also learned in the "How to get there" section that the public transport takes people from Carbondale to Aspen and to Maroon Bells.
So we packed the backpack with wet-wipes, jackets, water, granola bars, nuts, an apple, compass, phone, and camera. Time was tight so we drove to the park and ride to catch the bus.
The first bus that arrived had a helpful driver. He explained the next bus was the one we should get on. It would go all the way to Aspen with 20 stops in between. One of the stops was where we were to get off for Maroon Bells. The bus was empty when we got on.
Seniors over 65 ride free. So I said we were seniors. So I rode free too.
The bus began to fill up more at each stop. It was pretty full by the time we got off.
The driver told us when to get off. So we get off. But then we didn't know what to do. Where to go. This was Maroon Castle stop. Where were the bells? We were supposed to catch the hike at the "Info Center". Do we go to the castle? Is that the Info Center? The digital sign said catch the bus to Maroon Bells.... Which bus? Where?
Fortunately another bus came and dropped off a couple who had been given instructions by their motel concierge. Catch the bus to Maroon Bells here. But where, here. We were still confused when a bus pulled up and we asked and he was going to Maroon Bells.
We didn't go into Maroon Castle, but we could see it from the bus stop.
The bus took us to a huge ski resort area. Signs said to by bus tickets to Maroon Bells there. So we went inside and I bought two senior tickets to Maroon Bells. $6 each.
A LOT of other people had the same idea. The bus to Maroon Bells was full.
There was a couple there that were sight impaired with seeing-eye dogs.
The bus driver explained that in the 1800's this was mining territory. Then the Silver Act devalued silver and Aspen as a town went down to about 200 people, mostly farming and ranching. Then some guy started a ski resort in the 1940's. Now it booms with tourism.
So many people were driving up and walking around the Maroon Bells Wilderness Area that they were destroying the vegetation and air. So the area imposed that all people must come up by bus.
I saw cars up there, though. Campers and a ranch. Yes, I learned, cars are allowed past the gate before 8 a.m. and after 5 p.m.
The bus stopped at a place with cave-like structures for waiting for the bus, information about the area, and toilets.
We arrived at 10:30. 15 minutes after the guided hike was to start. I asked the Ranger if they had left yet. Yes, but if you hurry down to the lake, you can probably hook up with them.
Hurrying with George is not really hurrying. With his dementia he walks slower and breaking into a trot doesn't even happen if we are crossing a busy road.
It was earlier in the day and if I moved faster, he would pick up the pace a bit.
Wow, the view was awesome. I told George, "Wow, I can't believe we are here. This is surreal."
George said, "It is, I was thinking the same thing." Which is a lot for him to say. He was doing well this morning.
A nice paved sidewalk to the lake. There were lots of groups of people down there. Which one was the guided hike?
I hovered near each group as we passed. I thought, if someone looks or sounds like a ranger, I will ask.
There were two guides. They asked if we were here to do the lower lake or the crater lake hike. How long is the crater lake hike? About 1.5 hours to get there.
We will do the Crater Lake hike. George was standing erect. He was sharp. We can do this, I thought. So one of the guides led us to a trail and went with us, just George and I.
These weeds below are natural to the area. The leaves can cause rashes when touched. Some people are more sensitive than others. And the toxin is activated or the symptoms get worse in the sun. I said, we have them in Wisconsin too.
The guide was just out of college with a degree in Environmental Biology. He is working for a non-profit that does environmental education. He said he is happy to be out hiking and getting paid for it.
Anyway, the Aspen self-trims its lower limbs since they don't get much light anyway.
And if you rub your hand on the bark you come up with a powder which is a sunscreen of about SPF 5.
Aspen multiply with seeds like a normal plant but they also spread through the root system making a clone of themselves in such a way that the host (first) tree doesn't have to compete for resources (sun and soil).
On the far side of the mountain is one of the largest Aspen ... clusters? Clone bunch? Group of genetically identical Aspen in the United States.
"I'm fine," he says.
I hear no stumbling. I keep thinking we are almost there. We rest and keep going.
At one avalanche area, the rock had piled up at the bottom creating a shoot or ski-jump effect. So when the snow comes down in an avalanche it shoots across the valley and over the trail where we were standing.
And the size of the cone also is an indicator... and this one has hairy ends on the cone... but I don't remember the name of tree it belongs to.
Look at the terrain we were hiking over. There were a LOT of people on the trail. I would suspect that this park also gets 2 million people a year. There were so many people hiking. We often had to stop and pull over and let hikers pass.
And there were a LOT of hikers with over-night packs. Groups of 2, 3 and 4 going off or coming back. With bedrolls and pots hanging from their packs.
Josh quickly took our picture by the "Maroon Bells" at Crater Lake. And then he said goodbye and off he went.
One end of the lake was full of logs. Josh said there was no outlet, there. It was the prevailing winds that drove the logs to this end of the lake.
But I didn't ask George. I thought it could be my coffee breath... I hoped it was my breath...
"Are you ok?" I ask.
"I'm fine," he smiles his dopey dementia smile that tells me he is getting foggy in thought as well as unstable on his feet.
We rest more often. We stretch. We do some of our exercises. Nothing seems to help for longer than a few minutes.
At one point I look back and he is weaving like a drunk. We rest again. I take a picture of him leaning back and show it to him. I am hoping that if he corrects his stance he won't be so wobbly.
"Ya," he smiles.
I take a selfie. You can see I am worried and George is smiling but not focused on the camera.
We run out of water. A woman offers us hers. We take it. She is on her way to the Crater. I feel bad, but she insists. I give it all to George. We are making progress moving from sitting place to sitting place.
We watch younger folks moving quickly over the rocky trail. George says, "Ahhh, to be young again."
"I know, I have been thinking about that a lot on this trip," I say. He says he has been too.
When we were young and able we were working all the time. Rarely did we get a chance to travel and explore. Certainly not for 56 days.
At one point a ranger passes. "Are you ok?" she asks.
"I'm fine," says George.
"He is dizzy," I say and she says to drink a lot and take our time. She said that there are a lot of people on the trail so just tell them if we need help.
Finally I can see the lake where we started this hike. HURRAY! But we are moving so very very slow.
People are gathered, all trying to get pictures of a huge moose. By the time I get there he is laying in the grass. People keep trying to get closer to take a better picture. I hear a ranger say that the moose already charged a woman trying to get a closer picture. The woman was surprised the moose charged her.
The ranger said, "She could have been killed. We are predators of the moose, of course he is going to protect his space."
More and more rangers and volunteers were needed to keep the people back from the moose. I wonder with the huge amount of tourists if they will eventually have to restrict access to this wilderness area even more.
I am thinking we shouldn't go to National Parks anymore. Adding our footsteps and pictures to the millions of others who have gone and will go on the same trails and roads as us. I have thoughts of just going home now.
We get back on the sidewalk and I take George's hand. He is still very wobbly and very, very slow. I start dreaming of a family style bathroom where I can go in and help him get cleaned up. Where I can rinse out his pants. He is foggy. He will need help.
We arrive at the restrooms. Pit Toilets... men and women designation.... No family bathroom.
I hand George the wet wipes and separate a few so he doesn't use all of them in one wipe. I explain it is a pit toilet so he can throw them down the toilet. I send him in. I worry.
I make some noise so he can hear me.
There is a drinking fountain, thank goodness! I fill our thermoses.
I wait and wait. I wonder if I should yell for him. He finally emerges, smiling. He hands me the bag that the wet wipes were in. There is one or two left.
"Did you wipe out your underwear good?" I ask.
"They are in my pocket," he said.
I have him take them out and put them in the plastic bag with the wipes. Now there is pooh on his pocket. Oh well....
There is a drinking fountain. I run the water and have him rinse off his hands.
There is a cave like area to wait for the bus to take us back down to the ski resort. There are a lot of people waiting. I am so tired. Fortunately there is room for both of us to sit. I think, "now we are those old people for whom young and able folks are supposed to give up their seats."
The bus is packed. Fortunately, again we have a seat. There are a lot of people standing.
I had thought we would dine in Aspen, explore more of downtown Aspen. But now he had a wet spot on the front of his pants and I can still smell pooh and we are tired.
A statue near the bus stop in Aspen.
Poppies near the bus stop in Aspen.
George touches my arm, "Have I told you yet today how much I love you?" he asks.
"I love you too," I say. And I think to myself, is he still my George? How much of George is still there?
I see a bike go in a building and descend on a switchback ramp to go under the hwy we are on.
I pull the clothes out of the dryer. His underwear still smells like pooh. I put them back in the dirty clothes bag.
George helps me fold clothes. When it is time to make stacks to carry them out to the car, he seem confused about what to do. I make a stack for him to carry. We take the clothes to the car, I go back in and get our waters and books.
I hunt out a gas station and get us a couple drumstick ice cream treats. Comfort food....
I am grateful that George can still read and stream programs on his ipad. That gives me a moment to upload pictures, keep a record of our experiences, and plan our activities.
I have some friends going through this whose husbands are not so cooperative and pleasant as George.
From now on I hope I remember to pack a full supply of wet-wipes, and a change of pants.
Tomorrow is Sunday. The bike trail will be busy. I don't know what we will do. At this point, I would like to just rest. Maybe shop a bit.
Our host comes back Sunday evening. I will need to remove our stuff from the common areas.