Lightning danced in the saddle of San Luis Pass on a summer night in 2004 as Tom and Sandi Yukman collected their children, Patrick and Becca, to head for safer ground. They had hiked for roughly 300 miles on the Colorado Trail, enduring one of the wettest seasons on record.
Patrick will never forget that night. And thanks to his journaling skills, others now have the opportunity to taste the rage of a mountaintop storm, and the anxiety of a family searching for shelter.
In the words of an 11-year-old boy: It did snow, and once we found camp two miles later, the weather was so bad we slept with our food in the tent, a significant peril considering bears. But we would rather brave bears than the weather.
"I was really scared for our safety," remembers Patrick, now a 23-year-old software engineer living in Madison, Wisconsin. "But I think I learned a lot from watching my parents stay calm and face the situation."
This story and many more from the Yukman family can be found in the book The Colorado Trail, from a Child's Point of View, available in Colorado Springs at Mountain Chalet, Poor Richard's, and Mountain Equipment Recyclers, as well as in Monument at Covered Treasures Bookstore. A quality hardback with secure binding, the book sells for $20, and all proceeds go to the Colorado Trail Foundation.
Sandi Yukman, a longtime philanthropist, outdoorswoman and Colorado Springs Utilities employee, is the publisher. She says she wanted to give back to the Colorado Trail Foundation; it was Patrick's idea to share his journal. Becca, who's a year younger, offered her drawings from the trip.
"I think it's a great way to support an organization that helped us have such a wonderful adventure," Patrick says. "It gave me a wonderful appreciation for nature."
Today really started out pretty good, and it was a day that was full of little discoveries — a robin egg here, a bobcat track there, the remains of an old Model-T car with a wooden frame just there in the woods.
The Colorado Trail, a 487-mile ribbon of singletrack, rolls along and over the spine of the Rocky Mountains between Denver and Durango. Sandi and Tom wanted to thru-hike it, and were thrilled when both kids agreed to the idea. Early that summer, the family made several "practice" hikes, day trips that covered the first few segments of the trail. Then, with buoyed confidence, the Yukmans loaded their backpacks and spent the next 46 days hiking about 410 miles.
Not every day was filled with wonder. ("It was a hard and boring day. Becca found a caterpillar she named 'Jesse,' though," reads one entry.) But most were, and the words and pictures reflect as much.
As we approached our campsite, we hiked through fields of wildflowers of all different colors as tall as Becca, merely another one of the amazing sights we caught today.
"We had our trials and tribulations," Sandi remembers. "We ran out of bug spray. I got sick. And the kids wouldn't just eat anything. My goal was to not have them lose weight, so we had to carry heavier food with us, but they did great." Patrick says he'll always be grateful for the opportunity to bond with his family. "It was just us, kind of fending for ourselves out there," he says, "and a having great time of it."
After we set up camp, Dad went fishing and ran back all excited. Turns out he had spotted a mother moose and her baby just up the creek! We all clambered down to see it, and it was definitely the coolest (in the "cool dude" sense) sight we saw all day. Then we fell asleep listening to beavers slap their tails against the water.
Sandi says the first 50 books have sold and 1,000 more have been printed. The printing's being done for free, but the Yukmans are asking for help in covering binding and sewing costs. Anyone interested can donate at gofundme.com/CTchildbook.