Turns out the first ever Rainbow Family Gathering was taking place at Strawberry Lake on the other side of the Park. If I hadn’t picked up that hitchhiker I never would have known about the gathering and my whole life would have been different. Every year since, the Rainbow Family holds a gathering in some national park each summer. But that first one was the only one I ever attended – although I was tempted to make the close-by one a couple years back in Superior National Forest. The Rainbow Family is anybody who shows up. (Talk about inclusivity.)
Actually I would have ended up there even if I hadn’t picked up that hitchhiker because the police had thrown up a roadblock at the other end of the National Park, on the other side of the Divide, and were pulling over every car, motorcycle, van and VW Bug to make sure no one else got to the festival. The Governor of Colorado, ironically named Gov. Love, had decided too many people were trekking in and had to be stopped. (Later, when I read the newspaper reports, I learned we were 10,000 strong.)
Well, just so happened, that VW Bug had two sisters from New Orleans and we hit it off. After a while there were about 40 of us pulled over at the entrance to the camp ground. One guy says he’s a local and knows the back way to hike in through the mountains. So we all drove our vehicles to Granby, the next closest town, and start out hiking about evening time. We hiked all night for there was never a flat surface to pitch a tent. Occasionally someone would scream when they lost their footing and slid down a ravine – I don’t know how those early settlers, or the Indians, did it.
The next morning at daybreak I gather the troops and tell them I think our leader is lost. I am going to climb that nearest mountain top and see if the Gathering can be spotted, and, if not, I’m heading back the way we came. About half the group went with me and about half stayed with their (I thought lost) fearless leader. (Later, when I read the newspaper reports, I learned that Gov. Love had called out the National Guard using helicopters to search for missing persons – lost hikers whom he – admittedly – had put in danger by blocking the camp entrance.)
After about an hour of hiking back the way we came in, we came across another group hiking in. Only they were hiking in 20 lb. bags of flour, oats and rice because they had already been to the Gathering and had been assigned to the kitchen detail: “Must have missed the turn-off in the middle of the night,” they told us. And sure enough, just a few miles later, me, my hitchhiker buddy, and our two friends from New Orleans are looking at wondrous Strawberry Lake. I say wondrous because an advance crew had built a sauna and everybody was skinny-dipping. Along about noon this guy walks by with a gallon water jug and says “Just take a sip – it’s electric.”
A little later the four of us are staking out a camp site admiring how well organized everything is. Plenty of food, showers, everything you could want. While we’re sitting around the common campfire, it suddenly comes over me that this was everything I was dreaming about gazing out my college dorm room window, but it wasn’t what I wanted. This Counterculture was a Drop-Out Culture! I wanted to be with political activists who wanted to wade into the mainstream, not follow a different stream. So, on the spur of the moment, I announce I’m heading East to the Democratic and Republican Conventions in Miami Beach, Florida. (Both parties had picked that island for their 1972 conventions in case they had to pull a Governor Love to avoid the tumult of Chicago in ’68.)
Tomorrow: Joining the Movement
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