PIKE NATIONAL FOREST, Colo. — Neal Taylor figures he and his wife, Teresa, have greeted about 190,000 exhausted, sweaty hikers.
They’ve served 800,000 pancakes and enough spaghetti that the noodles spliced together would reach the moon. And, as the ever-smiling caretakers for eight years at Barr Camp, at 10,200 feet, halfway up the trail up Pikes Peak, they’ve brightened a lot of peoples’ long, hard days.
Their residency on the peak has come to an end.
Teresa Taylor graduates from Colorado College this month and has a job with the school lined up, and he will be the new caretaker at the Catamount Center, a research station and educational center on the north side of the peak.
“We always said when we first took it over we would always know when it was time to leave, that something would come along,” said Teresa Taylor, 53. “And it did.”
Built nearly a century ago as an overnight stopover for burro trips up Barr Trail, the camp consists of a couple cabins, shelters and campsites, run by a nonprofit organization. There are no roads, just a Cog Railway stop 1.5 miles away.
The Taylors ran their own printing company before taking over as caretakers in 2005. Neither thought they would stay more than a few years, and they discovered it was a lot more work than they thought. But they also discovered they loved it much more than they thought they would, for the people.
Maybe it’s the altitude, or the wilderness, or the lack of a television to distract people, but the Taylors found people become open and genuine at the camp.
“We meet strangers during the daytime, they spend the night with us. By the end of the night, we might have so much in common and shared so many stories, and sometimes intimate stories,” said Neal Taylor, 50.
People like Carl Nelson, who made the hike up — 6.5 miles each way, 3,800 feet of climbing — to say goodbye.
“I was not a runner when I started doing this and they were running all over the world and they just encouraged me to run,” said Nelson. “They have blessed our lives up here.”
“I don’t know who’s going to replace them but that would be a tough act to follow,” said hiker Karl Schaller.
Two part-time camp workers will take over running the camp until November, while the Taylors interview candidates to be the new caretakers. While it might sound like a dream job, it’s hard work and a lot of customer service.
“You really have to make this your first priority but it’s worth every minute of it. It is an incredible experience,” said Teresa Taylor. “Yeah it’s a lot of work but you come here for the experience. It will touch your heart and change your life.”
Neal Taylor is looking forward to a few days enjoying the trappings of civilization, such as electricity and showers, before he starts moving into his new home at the Catamount Center. It’s still in the woods, though a little more comfortable than their loft at Barr Camp. And there’s a road.
Teresa Taylor, who has been living in town while studying at CC, will see her husband of 32 years on weekends, or whenever he hops in the car to visit.
They spent their final weekend doing what they’ve been doing for eight years: making pancakes for breakfast and spaghetti for dinner — their staple five nights a week — and helping their three overnight guests have a memorable adventure on the peak.
Along with their hiker friends, they’ll miss the quiet, the changing of the seasons and the wildlife, such as Bob the half-tailed squirrel and the birds that eat out of your hand.
And they bring no regrets with them off the mountain, just eight years of fond memories.
“This is one of those unique jobs that you look at and say, ‘Boy, how did you get that job?’” said Neal Taylor. “We realize how unique it is and how fortunate we have been. It’ll always be a highlight of our lives, no matter what happens from here on out.”
But, said Teresa Taylor, “I don’t think we’ll eat spaghetti Monday night. ”
Distributed by MCT Information Services