Well my friends, we’ve come to the end of another journey. I want to thank those of you who followed along, and cheered me along the way. One of my biggest regrets after the PCT was that I didn’t take the time to write down some of the things I’d learned along the way. It’s a question that people always ask, and I often fumble dumbly to reply. It’s not that I can’t remember the lessons, it’s just that they can be hard to relate to others. I usually say that it made me realize that if I was a house, I have many more rooms than I initially realized. I don’t know if this translates well, but it’s true, and it usually satisfies the questioner, or at least makes them stop asking questions.
Hiking the Colorado Trail has reminded and refreshed many of the lessons I learned on the PCT. I’ll do the best I can to share these with you. Many of them are common knowledge, but spending days, weeks, months, and miles with this knowledge internalizes it, settles it into your bones, and (I hope) turns it into wisdom. What I love about thru hiking is that it’s like a life in miniature, and I think you’ll see that the same truths exist on and off trail. Here are few of the things I’ve learned:
-Get enough food, water, and sleep. You can’t run the wonderful machine that is you without these things.
-Listen to your body. It will tell you if something is wrong. If you don’t listen, it will make you listen.
-Be prepared, but don’t over prepare. It’s important that you do your due diligence, but you have to know that nothing goes totally to plan, and you need to be able to roll with the punches.
-Stretch! Your ability to stay physically and mentally flexible is imperative.
-It’s important that you foster community on and off the trail. It’s almost impossible to complete the trail without a helping hand somewhere. Accept the kindnesses of strangers, and give back when and how you can.
-Everyone poops (and occasionally smells). No one is above the laws of nature, and anyone putting on airs is all the more ridiculous for it.
-It storms. You learn that sometimes you can outrun it, but sometimes you have to hunker through it.
-Sometimes you’re alone, and you need to learn how to be ok with that. Sometimes even the people you like (and who like you) are in different places (physically, mentally, emotionally).
-Constantly challenge yourself, but don’t compare yourself to others. This isn’t a competition, and trying to be anyone other than yourself is a disservice to everyone.
-Sometimes you need a break (or a nap). Take it.
-Nothing is beautiful and exciting all of the time. Sometimes you have to slog on through until things get good again.
-You can accomplish nearly anything one step at a time.
-The things you work the hardest for will mean more to you.
-Humans are fickle and we always want what we don’t have. It doesn’t matter how amazing the thing you’re doing is, you’ll eventually want to be doing something else. Remember why you started doing this thing, and carry through with it.
Finally, you can’t do something like a thru hike to impress other people. Sure, sometimes people are interested and impressed, but ultimately it has to be for you. For me it’s like a secret ember that I can call on in times of need. When a task seems impossible or a situation unbearable, I can look inside and remember these things I’ve done. I can remember the literal blood, sweat, and tears (as well as the joy). I can draw upon these lessons, and the strength of my bad ass secret self. I’m a house with more rooms than I ever imagined, and I have the keys to all of them…
I’m slow moving again this morning l, but again no rush. I’m only going around twenty miles. As I’m breaking down my campsite there are two very bold does who come to visit me. They aren’t quite full grown, and I’m curious why they are so unafraid. I try to scare them off, but they just frolic a bit around and through my camp. I take a video to show how much they just don’t seem to care that I’m there. They take off for awhile, only to tear through camp again (and almost give me a heart attack) just before I head out.
I’m glad I didn’t try to go as far as Deana last night. This Sawtooth Trail section is gorgeous, but exhausting. It’s very exposed, lots of climbing, and over a lot of unstable rocks. That being said it is breathtaking! My views all morning keep me excited about still being on trail. Just when I think I’m done with the trail, the trail lets me know it’s not done with me. Almost at the peak of the Sawtooth area I come across some trail chickens and their chicks. They don’t seem to care how close I am, so I’m able to get a decent picture.
A little past Taylor Lake I finally get a significant downhill section. My plan was to kick ass at this part to make up some time for my slow morning. This area is crazy steep though, and I’ll definitely die if I fall off of one of these cliffs, so I don’t go too fast. It’s an almost 3,000 foot descent though, so the air, heat, and landscape change dramatically. There’s all sorts of creeks, butterflies, and overgrowth. I even come across some delicious raspberry bushes. The wild roses have hips so large that they almost look like flowers themselves. The path to s made of crushed red rock. I’ve never seen Durango, but red rock formations are exactly what I’ve imagined thinking about it.
Near the bottom of this descent, I meet another thru hiker named Mountain Mama. She’s with a day hiker, and we have a nice chat while I filter water for the next climb, and douse my hat, neck gaiter, and handkerchief in the water. I can’t believe how hot it is down here. I’ve been over 10,000 feet for the majority of this hike.
I bid farewell to the ladies, thinking I’ll see them at the top of this climb (the very last one of the whole trail!). I don’t know if it’s my acquired strength from a month of hiking, or just my excitement that this is the last climb, but I absolutely crush it. I only stop a couple times on the way up. The first time is to photograph a spoon in the middle of the trail. We’ve all heard of a fork in the road, but never about a spoon in the trail. The second time is to get some photos with an adorable horned toad lizard. His chunky little butt was easy to catch, and he has a face made for camera. Aside from a green snake the first or second day, he’s the only other reptile I’ve seen on the entire trail.
When I get to the top of the climb, it’s almost time to quit for the day. I pass the first obvious campsite so that Mountain Mama and her friend can have it. As I move a little further down the trail, I realize that it is now less than ten miles to the end of the trail. It’s all downhill. I’ve already hiked twenty miles today, but I decide in this moment that I’m going all the way. I won’t finish until around 8PM, but it’s a Tuesday, and I’m sure I can find somewhere to stay in Durango tonight. This last section is a bit blurry, but it’s mostly just me flying down the mountain, trying to descend faster than the sun. Some mountain bikers congratulate me on nearly being at the finish line. When I realize I have service, I call the motel I’m supposed to stay at tomorrow, and sure enough they can get me in tonight.
There’s some minor discomfort everywhere as I push myself for these last ten miles, but suddenly I reach the trail terminus. There’s no one there to take a picture for me, but a selfie will suffice. 486 miles, and another “adventure of a lifetime” under my belt. It’s strangely anti climactic, but I remember this feeling well from the PCT. The feelings will come in time. Before they fade, I’ll try to put down the small, hard earned wisdoms I’ve learned/remembered in my next entry, after I’ve had a moment to reflect on them.
Now it’s time to to try to remember who I am off of the trail. This sounds easy, but it takes some practice. When you’re on trail everyone knows who you are, or at least what you’re doing. Your purpose and goals are clear. Thru hiking is hard, but it’s easier in a way than your regular life. It’s a good reminder that your normal life actually is an adventure…
“Because love’s such an old fashioned word, and love dares you to care for people on the edge of the night, and love dares you to change our way of caring about ourselves. This is our last dance. This is our last dance. This is ourselves, under pressure.” – Bowie & Queen
I wake up at 6AM, and decide that I’m going back to sleep. There’s no reason for me to rush today, as I can’t check into my hotel in Durango until the afternoon of the 25th. I get up an hour later, but am still in no hurry. When I leave camp though, it’s at a decent pace. My Sarah Vowell book is getting good, and I’m lost in that for a large portion of the morning.
I stop mid morning for a snack and potty break. Just before I pack up, Deana hikes by. I first met her when I was hiking with Ann, and last saw her in cow land. I say hello, and she looks in almost every direction except where I am. I say hi again and she finally spots me. Laughing, we talk about how pretty the last few days have been, but also how we’re about ready to be done. She’s hiking extra far today because it’s at least a fifteen mile waterless section, and she wants to camp next to a lake. I head back out a few minutes after she does.
The trail passes through some pretty forested areas today, but they seem a little lackluster after the extremes of the San Juan’s. As the day progresses, I find myself following the rim of a valley. The view is excellent, but changes very little. I catch up to Deana chatting with a northbound mountain biker. In my flash judgement he’s kind of a douchie dude bro. This trail hasn’t had many of them, unlike the PCT where they exist in spades (especially in the beginning). Our whole interaction consists of him trying to impress Deana, who has mentioned her boyfriend at least three times. Dude bro isn’t getting the hint. We eventually manage to leave the conversation. Deana and I chat about food that we’ve gotten sick of, and food we’re looking forward to. All the food talk makes me hungry, so I hid her farewell and sit down for lunch.
My lunch spot is a little windy and chilly, so I don’t stay long. I’m not really in need of a nap like I was yesterday. When I get moving again I start listening to some true crime podcasts, which are intriguing, but creepy as hell. I’m looking over my shoulder for a good part of the afternoon. As the afternoon draws on, rain clouds gather, which surprises me a bit. I had service this morning, and it looked like only sun for the next few days. Soon it starts dumping on me, but I hide under the protection of a massive fir tree. The rain turns to hail, and eventually stops after five minutes or so. This pattern repeats a few time throughout the afternoon. I don’t mind too much, as I said, I’m not going that far.
At the top of a short climb (but my longest climb today) I decide to set up camp. I erect my tent, and then take my water bladder about 3/4 of a mile up the trail to where the first water source in miles is. I fill the bladder, and then head back to camp where I filter it. While it’s filtering I go for a short walk along an overlook path. There’s several uprooted trees along the path, but the view is the best I’ve had all day. All in all it’s about two miles of non trail hiking, but without my backpack on it doesn’t seem bad at all.
Back at camp I make an early dinner. I like my campsite, but there is a frustrating amount of large, buzzing flies. I get no peace while eating or blogging. Reading over some of my previous blogs I realize that my quotes don’t always make sense. They’re not really meant to. If they match up with the day, that’s great. What usually happens though is I’ll hear the quote in a song, audiobook, or podcast, and turn it over in my mind throughout the day. I guess I’m saying, don’t try to read too much into the quotes, they’re just something I enjoy thinking on, even if they or their source are silly.
“It’s time to start living. Time to take a little from this world we’re given. Time to take time, for spring will turn to fall, in just no time at all.” -Pippin
This is probably my worst night of sleep on this trail. The wind comes up violently every few minutes. If it was consistent, I could probably sleep through it, but it’s just irregular (and loud) enough to wake me every single time. I should have grabbed some earplugs in town, but I always forget. Around midnight, I put my headphones in on shuffle. This helps me sleep through some of the wind, but it’s also uncomfortable, and I get tangled up several times. The moon is almost full too, and it’s bright enough to make sleeping difficult.
When I finally get going this morning, I have a chilly climb to the top of the pass. There are three very happy people coming down from the pass. I wonder if they’re section hiking, or if they’ve just started the CT northbound. As I reach the top of the pass, my hat gets blown off despite it being secured to my chin. Luckily I’m fast and stab it with one of my trekking poles before it can fly away forever.
I stop mid morning for a snack and to filter some water. Someone has stuck a stick between two small toadstools, making a ridiculous little phallus. It’s dumb, but it gives me a good giggle. Several water sources I’ve seen today have had some sort of grey mineral and strange scent. It’s probably fine… Shortly after filtering my water I meet a northbound thru hiker who asks my opinion about him starting so late in the season. I assure him he’ll probably be fine. I have absolutely no idea if he’ll be fine, but he seemed likes he needs a pep talk.
I decide against napping at lunch because of the birds I call camp thieves. They’re a large grey and white bird that don’t seem to be afraid of people at all, and try to steal your food if you’re not paying attention (and sometimes while you are). Just after lunch I pass a mountain that appears to be made entirely of rocks. Yeah, most mountains have rocks, but this appears to just be a giant pile of small stones. I wonder what’s keeping it standing.
I realize around 3PM that I’m just doing a zombie shuffle. I’m moving terribly slowly. I think I might actually need that nap. My restless night is certainly part of it, but there’s an element of senioritis as well. That feeling of boredom you get when you’re so close to being done with something. I remember this feeling from the PCT. It’s amazing that you can get used to something so extraordinary that you actually feel bored. A short nap does wonders, and I’m able to shake the feeling for now. I remind myself of how lucky I am to be out here doing something I love, and also that it will soon be over.
I’m not looking forward to tackling another pass after lunch, but Black Hawk Pass is quite pretty, and it isn’t too steep. The views from this climb are spectacular. I can’t believe how colorful all of these mountain ranges are. The campsite I’ve been planning on all day is just down the other side. I consider going further now that I’m rested, but I don’t want to get to Durango before the 25th or I’ll have to pay for another night in town. I’ve gone plenty far for today. Besides I actually have a phone signal here, and I could use an extra hour of sleep after last night.
“It all goes away. Eventually, everything goes away.” -Elizabeth Gilbert
As much as I want to sleep in, my body is set to trail time, and I just can’t. I organize my things, take another lovely shower, and head out to breakfast. Just after I sit down after ordering, in comes Jamie the travel nurse who I’ve been playing leap frog with. We chat a bit, but we’re both trying to sort out what we’re doing once we get to Durango. I manage to get myself a room, and a Greyhound back to Omaha. That’s going to be a looooooong day (and night), but I’ll manage. I haven’t been granted my time off request, so I don’t have time to gamble with multiple standby flights. I could technically still be granted my September leave, but right now it looks like I need to be ready to work in Denver at the start of September.
I wander over to the post office just before it opens at 11AM. I’m the second customer, and get my resupply box quickly. I take it over to a nearby park to sort through. Jamie joins me there with his own resupply. There are three short haul hikers there as well getting ready to set out. They’ve stayed in Silverton a few nights to try to acclimate to the altitude. They ask quite a few questions about what we’ve been doing on trail, and about trail conditions. We answer the best we can and wish them luck. Jamie has made us a sign for hitchhiking back to the trail. It works in no time. John, a mountain biker passing through town on his way back to Durango picks us up. I get to sit in back with his adorable dog. Just as we’re leaving town I get a message from Sunrise who is just getting to town. Damn, I missed him. Maybe we’ll catch up in Durango. I booked two nights there just in case.
We get to the trailhead a little after noon. Jamie and I say our farewells. He’s trying to finish on the 24th, and has a lot of miles to cover today. I’m not that ambitious, hoping to finish the 25th. I take my time on the gradual climb, stopping often to take photos of the dream landscape around me. I’m surrounded by colorful crags and plateaus. I have to remember to step off the trail to take pictures because there’s a lot of bike traffic on this stretch.
It’s not nearly as windy as it was two nights ago, but it’s still pretty breezy. At one point I hear disturbing moaning sounds. It takes me a moment to realize it’s just the trees bending in the wind. It’s eerily human sounding. It seems I’ve moved past the bark beetle infestation. Here the trees look healthy. Climbing above the timberline once more, I decide to camp near a large pond (not too near though, or I’ll get too much condensation in my tent). The wind up here near the pass is s little stronger. As I’m writing my blog in my tent I can’t tell if I’m just hearing the wind whistling through the peaks, or if it’s coyotes. Realistically it’s probably both.
“And you think of all of the things you’ve seen, and you wish that you could live in between, and you’re back again only different than before…” -Into the Woods
The wind is so violent all night that I question how much a tent can actually take. It appears that my tent can take a lot. I don’t sleep much between the rain, snow, and wind, but that’s mostly because of the noise. I should have brought ear plugs. I manage to stay warm enough, and I’m thankful for the sleep that I do get. This morning I see that the wind froze the rain/snow combo to my rain fly in solid sheets of ice. I have to leave it in the sun a bit before I can break and peel the ice away. One of the snaps that attaches my rain fly to my tent has frozen solid, and I can’t separate the two pieces until later.
It’s clear and cold this morning. Looking back I can see snow dusting the area I was hiking through yesterday. I guess I’m getting through here just in time. As the morning proceeds it get windier and colder. I only have a little way to go before descending dramatically into Elk Creek, so I put on a burst of speed. The landscape is still breathtaking, and I’m glad I get to see some of it in full sunlight. I question my decision not to put on something warmer as a zig zag down to Elk Creek, but there’s nowhere to stop and change on these exposed switchbacks.
Elk Creek cuts a cleft in the mountainside that you can’t really see until your right on it. It’s kind of a giant, steep, secret passage. There are a few doorways cut into the mountain. I’m assuming they were used for mining? Whatever they are, they’re creepy. As I make my way down carefully, drops of freezing water fall on my from the towering ledges above.
Once I finally make it to the bottom, I haul ass for several miles. I’m back down below the tree line for the first time in a few days and I the flat and shade help me make some miles quickly. I have to slowly pick my way over a mass of downed trees at one point. The combination of the beetle bark infestation and extreme weather make quite a mess. After crossing the railroad tracks that connect Silverton to Durango, I see Jamie, the travel nurse. He hiked several miles further than me yesterday to camp out of the storm. I’m glad he had a nicer place to camp, but I can’t imagine going down those switchbacks in the rainy, windy, dark. I’m glad he’s ok.
Now it’s time to climb. Just five miles of switchbacks and climbs stands between me and Silverton. I take it slow, and steady. The trail is graded well here, and it isn’t too bad. I take deep breaths and feel pretty strong. As I climb I get some excellent views of the valley below me. As I near the highway I get stunning views of what’s ahead.
I don’t have to wait long before a kind mountain biker named Caleb picks me up. He even has a lime bubbly water for me. What a hero! He recommends tacos at a place called Avalanche, which sound delicious. He drops me off at my motel at the edge of Silverton.
I get my tent out and drape it over my table so it can dry out. I proceed to get all my clothes ready to wash, and by this time my room looks like it’s been destroyed by a tornado. It’s amazing how much crap fits in my backpack! I wash my shorts in the sink and let them “dry” while I shower. I have no desire to wash my clothes while wearing my rain gear today. After my shower I head over to the laundromat. While I wash my clothes I chat with an older hiker named Snickers who is section hiking the Continental Divide Trail. I also spend a little tine trying to figure out how to get to Omaha from Durango when I finish next week.
I follow Caleb’s advice and head over to Avalanche for dinner. The tacos look good, but so does the pizza. I opt for the pizza. It’s so so. In these situations you should really listen to the locals. Oh well. I grab a pint of ice cream and enjoy it in the bathtub. This makes everything so much better, except that now I can hardly keep my eyes open.
Before I leave town tomorrow I have to pick up my resupply package at the post office. It doesn’t open until 11AM though, so I can sleep in a little and enjoy breakfast in town.
“I have been running so sweaty my whole life, urgent for a finish line. And I’ve been missing the rapture this whole time, of being forever incomplete. Ever unfolding, ever expanding, ever adventurous and torturous, but never done.” -Alanis Morissette
I’m happy to report that I slept very warm last night. It was definitely cold out, but I was very toasty. I wake several times during the night to the sound of rain. I’m slightly concerned when it’s still raining at 5AM, but when I wake up at 6:30AM and it’s still raining I get mad. I thought the trail and I had a deal. It could have its horrendous afternoon thunderstorms, and it can even rain all night, but it’s not supposed to rain in the morning! I consider sleeping in a bit longer, but I have no idea when it’s going to stop raining. I could be here all day. Grumbling, I get to work getting everything organized inside my tent. While packing my bag, I make sure to store my rain fly in a separate plastic bag. It might rain all day, and I have no desire to sleep in a soggy tent tonight.
It looks like everyone who camped near me is still in bed, but I’m on my way. I’m not sure where Sunrise camped, but hopefully he’s ok. The rain misty valley is beautiful, but obviously wet. My understanding of weather is that the mountains are like cheese graters, the clouds are cheese, and that causes rain, which is of course the grated cheese. I’m covered with cheese. As I get to the top of my first climb, the sun comes out for all of five minutes before it starts raining on me again.
As I descend over this pass, I get a view (albeit a very misty one) of the beauty of the San Juan’s. I can see what everyone has been talking about. I suddenly realize I’m shivering, and decide to add some layers. I hardly ever use my rain pants because of how much they make me sweat, but I need them today. I also put on my gloves for the first time. It takes forever to get dressed with my cold useless hands, but eventually I warm up a little.
I’m not going to lie, I cry several times this morning. Not because it’s difficult and freezing (or not only that), but because of how beautiful everything is. Besides, the wind is practically tearing tears from my eyes and snot from my nose. The landscape is breathtaking! The Sierra is called the range of light, but with the clouds flying by overhead, the San Juan’s must be the range of watercolor. The way the light, shadows, and colors unfold across the dramatic landscape leaves me in awe.
I’m not moving very quickly because of the weather, and by how absolutely stunning everything is. Each corner I turn or pass I climb, brings a new wonder. It looks like something straight out of a fantasy novel, all of it too good to be true, despite the wet and cold. I get lucky and have a few solid moments of sun at lunchtime. A couple that was breaking down their tent not far back passes my while I eat. I decide to get moving as the clouds start streaming over the pass, and the wind picks up. Near the top of the pass needles of snow sting my face (yes it’s August). I pull my neck gaiter up over my nose which helps a little. As I descend down the other side it turns to rain. Thankfully my rain gear is keeping me warm (mostly). As I climb the next pass, it turns to snow again.
I’ve had to go poo all day, but there hasn’t been a single private, dry, or non windy place to do so. Biology is not waiting any longer though. Thankfully at the top of this pass I can see miles in either direction, and I appear to be alone. I hope no one sees my fish belly white ass while I do my business. If they do they’ll probably think someone has lit a warning bonfire. Pelting snow is not a good feeling on your butt, just saying…
As I descend from this pass the snow and wind worsen considerably. The couple who passed me while I was eating lunch have set up their tent again for shelter. I consider doing the same myself, it’s absolutely awful out here. I stiffen my resolve though, deciding to move on. I’m rewarded not long after with some sunlight and a little warmth. The wind is still out of control, causing my eyes and nose to leak some more, but the snow has ceased.
I stop on a sunny boulder to have a snack, when a parade of hikers with dogs and alpacas pass me from the other direction. The alpacas are doing all the work, and I’m a little jealous. As the afternoon continues I stop over and over again to take pictures. None of them will do justice to what I’ve seen. The landscape is beautiful on its own, but earning it through this hike makes it mean more to me. Today’s difficulties and hints of danger add layers to the beauty that just won’t translate in photos.
I find an absolutely stunning campsite, just about as far as I was wanting to go for the day. Setting up my tent is an elaborate affair with the wind trying to turn it into a kite at every turn. Getting the rain fly on is especially silly. My tent is a drama queen, but I eventually wrestle it into submission. Some of the hikers I’ve passed say it may snow tonight, so I prepare the best that I can. I’m currently well bundled up inside my tent listening to it rain some more. I still have a long hike tomorrow to get into Silverton, but it’s mostly downhill. I’m very much looking forward to a hot town meal and a warm bed with a roof over my head.
“Somewhere in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of who knows where, there you’ll find something in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of clear blue air. You’ve found your heart, but left a part of you behind.” -Come From Away
I can’t believe it, but at 6:30AM in my beautiful, warm, private room, I wake up and can’t fall back asleep. I guess this is a sign to get going. I get everything cleaned and packed up, and I’m back at the bakery by 8AM. There’s a free shuttle up to the trailhead at noon, but there’s so many miles I could cover before then, so I decide to try to hitchhike. I walk the length of Lake City to hopefully be picked up at its outskirts. While I’m trying to hitch, a woman comes along, puts her hands on my shoulder, and prays aloud that someone picks me up. I thank her of course, but bold move madam, bold move. It takes a little while, but I do finally get picked up by a young engineer named Eric. He’s on his was to Creede today to work on a project. He’s recently applied for an engineer position with the Forest Service, so I hope that works out for him.
I get started up the trail around 10AM. Today has quite a few climbs, including the high point of the entire trail. The weather is calling for rain, and I’m worried about being up high for a prolonged time. There’s nothing for it though, but to get going. I need to make some serious miles today if I’m going to get to Silverton by Friday. I pass an elderly couple early on, but they’re not moving too quickly. For several hours I have the trail all to myself. I enjoy my lunch on a rock in the full sun. There’s nothing to cast shade up here past the timberline. My bagel modification works out ok, but it’s certainly messier than tortillas.
After lunch I start climbing again. Behind me, in the distance I can see another hiker. He doesn’t catch me until I come to a large field where I have to play peek-a-boo with a tiny spring. While I’m filtering water we chat a bit. Jamie is a travel nurse, and he’s exhausted from working with Covid related problems. This hike is his rest and recuperation. He’s munching on lunch, so i say my farewells and get moving again.
I get some excellent views as I climb, but it’s slow going today on steep switchbacks. The land is devoid of trees and shrubs, but it’s incredibly green. The sun has been hiding behind the clouds for a few hours now, giving everything a cool, mysterious feel. More importantly I get a break from the intense UV rays. I stop to pee over the edge of a switchback (there’s absolutely nowhere private to go), and almost get run over by two mountain bikes. I didn’t realize they were behind me, or that they were even allowed on this section. I apologize for whipping it out in front of them, and we have a laugh before they speed past. I meet them again at the trail’s highest point. They’re taking pictures by the sign. We’re at 13,271 feet. I’ve been higher on Mt. Huron, but that’s not actually part of the trail.
Thankfully, immediately after the high point the trail descends dramatically. I’m ecstatic that weather has cooperated, and that I made it over this hurdle today. The valley I start descending into looks like a fun Mariokart racetrack. Mining roads, off-road vehicle paths, and trail all overlap. There are abandoned mine shafts and crumbling cabins around too. Finally I start dipping down to the first water source for hours, and I find Sunrise filtering. I pass him (the campsite I want is just half a mile ahead), but I’m pretty sure we’ll see each other again tomorrow. I end up camping next to the bikepackers who I peed in front of. We chat a little, but the rain finally breaks, and it’s time to jump into my tent and make dinner. I’m thrilled that I made it nineteen miles today, especially since I thought I’d be lucky to do twelve with my late start. I still have two longish days ahead of me, but they’ll be more manageable now that I’ve made it this far today. I’m at about 12,000 feet tonight, and I can already tell it’s going to be cold.
“How do I wake my spirit cold? We always say when our history is told. If only we knew the things we know. There’s a question ages old… How do I wake my spirit cold? There’s a question ages old.” -Tall Heights
Sometime in the middle of the night I hear something snuffling around my tent. Is it a bear, a moose, the vengeful ghost of JonBenét Ramsey? I don’t know. I’m warm until about 3AM, and then cold slinks into my tent. I have only myself to blame. I have warm layers I can add, but I’m too lazy to move. As is often my way, I don’t want to get up. Hiking is easy, but getting up in the cold is hard. As I’m breaking down my tent, Sunrise passes me. Apparently he is aptly named.
Before too long I’m climbing San Luis Pass. Sunrise is at the top eating breakfast. He’s taking his time today, as he only needs to go about half as far as I do. He’s wearing an amazing pair of Sesame Street socks that he pillaged from a hiker box. I fly down the other side of the pass, admiring the deer grazing below me. It’s not until I stop to filter water that Sunrise catches me again. My filter has been wildly slowed by its time in cow pie country. I need to make sure yo back flush it next time I’m in town. He amiably waits for me, so we can hike the next section together. We chat for the next hour or so until he turns off towards the trail leading to Creede. Hopefully we’ll catch up again somewhere down the trail.
I now need to tackle this terribly steep pass. It’s marked with bleached logs sticking out of rock cairns. I can follow the path ever upward with my eyes. I do my best to make it between cairns to catch my breath. It’s slow going. I’m glad to be out of cow country, but this is a harsh reintroduction to climbs. After finally conquering this climb, I have a power nap and enjoy lunch. Enjoy is a strong word, I’m sick of my lunch food.
Immediately after lunch is another climb, yay! This one is interesting though because I see a weasel. At first I think it’s carrying a baby, but it’s a actually a dead chipmunk, probably for lunch. This climb is a long one, but to my relief, much more gradual. I’m a little worried about the gathering storm clouds. I’m going to be above the tree line for several miles. I decide to go for it though. I really don’t have time to waste, and it’s not storming yet. Of course it does start storming once I’m above the timberline, but the thunder is a ways off. If it gets dicey I can always scramble down. It rains and hails lightly on me, but nothing major. After one of the louder peals of thunder, a pika screams ridiculously close to my ear, and nearly makes me fall over in terror. Little bastard… There are spectacular views once I reach the top. I take some photos, but I still have so far to go today. I literally jog down the other side where the trail allows.
I make a quick descent, but now I’m on an area called the snow mesa. There’s no snow now, but I’m still above tree line. It’s a mostly flat, five mile walk until I can descend again. The sun comes out for awhile and feels like it’s frying me. The UV rays up here always make it feel hotter than it actually is. I stop to filter water again, and decide to take the rain cover off of my backpack. Almost as soon as I’ve done that, the storm has returned. Now I’m in a pickle… There’s no low point up here. No trees, no boulders, just a long flat mesa, and approaching lightning. I start hauling ass. Though it rains and hails on me again, the lightning stays mostly to the west. I’m in no mood to take chances with it though, so I speed towards the cleft in the mountainside that lets me scramble downward.
I’m on the final stretch for the day. I can see Highway 149 below me, and the occasional car passing. This is supposed to be an easy hitch into Lake City, but it’s after 5PM, and dark because of the storm, once I reach the highway, the wait begins. I start losing hope after seeing only four cars pass in an hour. I start considering setting up camp and just trying in the morning (despite my reservation at the Raven’s Rest Hostel). I don’t want to sleep in my wet tent though, so I give myself until 7PM. I add several layers of clothing during my two hour wait. Finally I’m rescued, just before giving up, by some other CT hikers dropping a friend off at the trail. Huge thanks to Skiqqles and her boyfriend. She reminds me of my lovely PCT friend, Zen.
I get dropped off at the Raven’s Rest, which is comfy. It’s a bit too casually run for my taste, but I’m happy to be here. I’m less happy to learn that they’ll be closed tomorrow. I had planned on taking a zero here in town to rest and recuperate. I quickly find a spot for tomorrow night. It’s a little pricey, but I need a good rest before pushing on to Durango. After showering I head out to Packer Saloon and Cannibal Grill for dinner. I chat with another hiker named Brie at the bar. She’s from Philadelphia, and this is her first thru hike. She seems to be enjoying herself, and I have a good laugh at the locals flirting with her. With my tummy full, I slink back to the hostel and fall asleep fully dressed.
CT Day 28
4 non trail miles
After sleeping in a little, it’s time to vacate the Raven’s Rest. It’s definitely too early to check into the North Face Lodge, so I decide to go find breakfast. The Lake City Bakery doesn’t disappoint. I have a chorizo breakfast burrito, cinnamon roll, and a maple & bacon donut. As I’m preparing to leave, an elderly lady remarks that my backpack looks heavy. I assure her that it is.
My next stop is the laundromat. It’s clean, but less than half of the machines are working. I once again end up with $20 in quarters. After I get my clothes less stinky, I head over to the North Face Lodge. I’m still three hours early for check in, but I might as well try. The receptionist (owner?) is amazing. She has my room ready for me. This is spectacular. I’ve only been up for about two hours, but I’m ready for a nap! The room is kitschy, but sort sort of cool Native American themed.
After my glorious nap I head down to the local soda fountain for coffee shake. It starts pouring as I walk back, so I take shelter in an alcove with a public piano. When the rain lessens I walk to the local grocery store to resupply. They have most of my normal stuff, but I’m trying bagels instead of tortillas this time. It looks like I’ll be having pop tarts for breakfast instead of oatmeal. I also refuse to get any peanut butter this time, I’m fed up.
I rest in my room a bit, and get some chores done. I head back into town for dinner at Southern Vittles. I get a fried catfish poboy and some hush puppies. I chat with a hiker I met at the hostel yesterday for a bit while I eat, and then walk back to my room in the dark. The walk back has a bit of a horror movie vibe, but I sing along with music on my phone and successfully don’t get murdered. Lake City is a trip. It’s set up like an old west town, boardwalks in front of the flat faced shops. There’s several old churches, and just as many saloons. It would be a fun spot to return to in the future. I definitely recommend checking it out if you’re in the area.
Back in my room I panic a little over non trail related things. I still don’t know if I’m working in September, which means I don’t know how soon I have to finish the trail. I guess I better get moving just in case. I also don’t know if I have to find a place to live in Denver next month or not. I also found out that my nephew has Covid today. He’s fine for now, but it’s another thing to worry about. As much as I enjoy resting and relaxing, I think I’m ready to be on trail again. Out there my worries are more primal. How far do I need to go? Can I avoid storms and dangerous wildlife? Do I have enough food? Is it a fart or a poop? It’s simpler.
“Life before death. Strength before weakness. Journey before destination.” -Brandon Sanderson
Due to my second mileage miscalculation, I need to do another two days of twenty miles apiece to get to Lake City in time for my reservation. Eyeroll to me, Hermes the genius. Despite first light peeking into my tent, cows mooing violently nearby, and my need to get moving, I’m sluggish. There was another storm last night around 10PM that lasted at least an hour. The thunder and lightning were intense, and kept me up awhile. When I do finally get moving the smell of the rain damp sage brush is invigorating. The sunrise is also stunning.
I start the cool morning off strong, listening to a Sarah Vowel book. I freaking love her, and I wish that my history teachers had been more like her. The sun is still hiding behind clouds this morning, which is delightful. The only real challenge is dodging wet cow pies which are EVERYWHERE! I eventually come across Cochetopa Creek, which is a welcome sight. It’s the first significant water source in the past couple days. It’s gloriously fast moving. While it’s probably not cow poo free, it’s probably cow poo light. Nearby I see a salamander or newt strutting down the middle of the trail. I hope he doesn’t get squished by a hiker or a cow (or a cow turd).
There’s no bridge here, but there is a substandard log crossing. I looks harder than it is. When I get across I take out my tent to dry in the sun while I filter some water. While dealing with my water I notice that one of my filtering bladders is busted. Luckily I have a spare. I’ve almost used it to pee in so I don’t have to leave my tent in the middle of the night. Thankfully I’ve never actually done that. It really starts heating up while I take care of these chores. A hiker named Royal comes along, then a couple I haven’t met before, and then my friend Leo shows up as well. He’s going by the name Sunrise now.
Sunrise and I hike together throughout the afternoon. It’s hot and exposed, but we make the best of it. When the clouds do occasionally cover the sun there is an immediate difference. Sunrise stops to set up camp about two miles before me. He’s going into Creede tomorrow (an easy seven mile jaunt from where he camps), while I need to push on another twenty miles to Lake City. We give each other sweaty hugs, and hope that we see one another again in a couple days. He might pick up his package in Creede and then come zero in Lake City. As I hike on alone, the storm clouds start gathering in earnest.
I find a beautiful spot to set up camp as the sprinkles start. A couple of ladies with their dogs pass me going only a little further. They ask me if I saw the moose, which I haven’t. When I go back to collect water from the stream I can see him down in the valley. He’s too far away to get a decent picture, but he’s enormous, and those antlers! I’m glad I’m seeing him from far away. I slip into my tent and enjoy a short nap before working on my blog. As I sleep I hear the wind and rain kick up. I need to make dinner, but I’m so lazy. Some other hikers are setting up nearby. They’re loud, but it’s only 5PM, and they sound good natured.
I finally start making dinner in my tent again. I can’t stress how much of a bad idea this is, but the weather on this trail has sort of forced my hand. While I’m cooking, hail so heavy it starts to bend my tent poles pelts down. The temperature immediately plummets. It’s impossible to hear anything except the thunder over the sound of the hail. I have to hit the top and sides of my tent to knock some of it off. The extreme storm is over by the time I finish dinner, but the rain continues. I bundle up for possibly a very cold evening. I put my water filter in a plastic bag and shove it down to the base of my mummy bag. Ice crystals inside the filter could comprise its function. Fingers crossed that it doesn’t get too cold up here tonight, and that my twenty miles to Lake City go smoothly tomorrow. I’m craving ice cream again.
“All beautiful things come with edges and thorns, and the body you’ve borrowed is starting to look kind of worn.” -Smith & Thell