If Neal and Teresa Taylor had planned to fight the notion that they share one of the best jobs in Colorado Springs, the guy with the camera was blowing it.
The photo he was asking of them wasn't for him, he explained. It would be for his friend, the one Neal had helped rescue after a heart attack months before on Barr Trail.
"He says you're a big part of his second chance in life."
A minute later, the visitor was gone and Teresa was wiping tears away.
"That was pretty cool," she said, smiling.
As it turns out, the Taylors own up to loving their job, anyway. As caretakers for Barr Camp, they keep the single waystation on Pikes Peak's 13-mile eastside trail open, warm and welcoming, 24-7, 365 days a year. This means cooking for hikers, taking overnight reservations, keeping a 35-bed cabin clean and, yes, often serving as first responders to emergencies on the trail.
Before you conclude the job sounds perfect say, like running your own B&B, spiked with a taste of "Grey's Anatomy" there are some other details to consider. Caretaking also means cutting mounds of wood, relying on a hand-agitated washing "machine" for clean clothes and hiking seven miles to Manitou Springs (usually about once a week) for anything not stockpiled in the main cabin or the root cellar.
"To be a caretaker, you have to do it because you love it," Neal says. "You're not going to escape society, because society hikes up here in droves. It's not the escape people think it is. What it is, is a great place to work hard."
The Taylors never have run from hard work. For nine years, they operated their own print shop in Monument. They've turned their high-school relationship in Michigan into a solid marriage. They also compete in ultramarathons, or 100-mile runs, even with Teresa at 47 and Neal at 44.
In fact, training on Barr Trail helped birth their "pipe dream" of caretaking at 10,200 feet.
"I actually had an article inside the kitchen cabinet about the caretakers up here, from the mid-'90s," Teresa says.
About three years ago, the Taylors heard through a friend that the previous caretakers were looking for replacements. It was perfect timing: The Taylors had just sold their business. But that was just one piece of the puzzle.
They had to be willing to put retirement planning on hold while subsisting on a living stipend from the nonprofit Barr Camp, Inc. They also had to trust in random, nearly forgotten snippets of previous job training. For instance, Neal's experience as an electrician's apprentice has helped him maintain the camp's solar power system; Teresa's environmental health studies have come in handy with the composting toilet operations.
Two-plus years into their stint, they can handle hosting 5,000 visitors in July, or not seeing anyone for three days after a snowstorm in January. And they're aware of the tradition they maintain: This marks the 30th year caretakers have maintained the camp, with the U.S. Forest Service's permission and they are committed to keeping it alive until the right successors walk through the door.
"Lots of people come here and say, "This is a perfect job,'" Neal says. "But you give it a few minutes, and something wouldn't work."
Smiling, he adds, "It's usually the spouse."