Day 26 of the Colorado Trail

August 15

about 8.8 miles

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Check out time was (unfortunately) at 10am. I had to get up a lot earlier than I wished because of this fact. No rest for the weary! I walked to the other end of town for breakfast, which turned out to be very disappointing. It was a very simple and plain meal of scrambled eggs, thin, crisp bacon, and toast. (On the bright side, I knew that I wasn’t missing anything by not taking a zero here!). I had read an inspiring quote on facebook while in my room that I thought would help Chad, but couldn’t figure out to copy it electronically, so I hand-wrote it, and then typed it back to him and sent him a picture of Hope Pass with it, as I sat in the booth.
Then, I walked back to my room and started packing! I didn’t even have time to take a shower! I had hand washed some of my clothes yesterday and hung them up to dry, but they were still wet! I moved everything out of my room and over to a little grassy area with a picnic table across the street and spread all of my wet clothes over the table to dry in the sun! Ah, the life of a hobo!
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I tried to empty the gas canister that I was still carrying from Denver! But, it wasn’t emptying quickly enough, so I decided I might as well keep it with me. (The guy at REI in Denver told me it would last probably 4 or 5 meals!). I had left the canister I bought in Leadville at the hostel in Salida. When my clothes were close to dry, I packed everything up and headed to the outdoor lunch place, where I got another turkey sandwich and raspberry bar to go. I checked my e-mail and was surprised to see one from my “friend.” He communicates almost exclusively by text, so I wondered why he had e-mailed me. He informed me that he had not left anything for me while he was in Durango, both for “personal” and other reasons… I initially felt disappointed, but realized I was long past wanting to get to Durango to find a surprise. The idea had helped me get the activation energy of the hike going, but the hike had fed itself once I started. Now I would just be happy to reach Durango as the ending mark of the journey itself.
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The wife from the Raven’s Rest hostel and her small children came in to have lunch, as well. She was really pretty, seemed very nice, and was very thin! I kind of wished I had stayed with them. I would have had the place to myself, I think, and for the same price of my ride back to the trail from the lady in town, I could have both spent the night and gotten a ride back to the trail if I stayed with them… Oh, well. I was still trying to dry my socks and sports bra. There was a public bathroom along the central lawn in town, so I headed over there to get changed for hiking. I had just enough time to stop at the coffee shop for a latte to go. Luckily, they took a credit card because my ride was going to cost $25 and I had $26 in cash! The woman was waiting with her car trunk open when I stepped outside. She was very nice and helped me put my things in the car. She was a single mother of an 18 year old son, headed off to college. She talked about other hikers she had given rides to and blogs. As she dropped me off, she said that I could call her if I needed help further up the trail. There wasn’t any shade in the parking area, but there were a few picnic tables, some scattered small evergreen trees, and lots of downed trees from the beetle destruction. I sat at one of the tables and enjoyed my latte and raspberry bar, perfectly content. Life was good!
At 1:30, I started up the trail. It was gentle, easy walking to begin with. My pack didn’t even feel heavy and I felt like I had plenty of time. The views weren’t the best, but I could see San Luis peak behind me.
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I walked through another exposed tundra region without any weather problems, which was surprising for the afternoon!
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My guidebook said there was a camping site at an intersection ahead, but I saw nothing! It was all exposed! I continued on, climbing up a hill. I took a break under a little tree and kept going. I saw beautiful beams of sunlight streaming down through the clouds and marveled at the sight! I had seen rain streaming down from that a distance several times before, but never sunlight! I took a lot of pictures.
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I was thinking about my friend (and first yoga teacher), Checka, a lot in this area. She had talked about wanting to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, but I wasn’t sure if she would enjoy the demands of high mileage days (even though she is perfectly capable of doing them).
I saw several possible camp spots once in the forest again. I wanted to get as far as possible, though, so I walked through a meadow and to the edge of the forest on the other side.
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I looked to my right and saw a campsite! Perfect! I put on all of my layers and set up my tent. I then went to sit on the logs with my food bag. I felt lonely, sitting there, though! What good is it sitting around a campfire setting with no one to share it with? I decided that I wasn’t so hungry and went to lie down in my sleeping bag. I felt really tired. I snacked and napped, then stepped out before it was too dark to brush my teeth and pee. Then, I conked out! (An animal walked by my tent in the night).

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Day 25 of the Colorado Trail

August 14

10.8 miles

I got up at 6:30, ate a quick breakfast, and packed up, ready to hike the 10.8 miles to the highway, where I would attempt to get a hitch into Lake City (I had heard this was a very difficult hitch! One guy waited 2 hours!). It was cold and I had all of my layers on. I said goodbye to the couple and said I might see them on the road because I’d probably still be there waiting for a ride. Holly thought I would make it into town in time to have breakfast. “I wish!” But alas, that was not possible… She invited me to join them for their morning coffee, but saw that I looked ready to go and let me be on my way. Last evening, they commented on how beautiful their campsite was, but I didn’t see anything different about it than any other campsite. In the morning, however, once the clouds had cleared, I saw beautiful red rock walls. It was much nicer than where I had camped in the pines! IMG_1334
I stepped over the stream and started my climb. I got warm very quickly and had to stop shortly after to peel off some layers.
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I continued up the switchbacks, seeing a peak in front of me, but not able to determine where this path was taking me. Once I found my way around the peak, I entered into more of a bowl in the mountains and even saw a couple of deer (or elk?) at the edge of the forest! I stopped to eat a snack, take off more layers, and resumed the climb, eventually reaching alpine territory again. At this altitude, the temperature had become very cold! I loved walking in the bowl I was in, traversing a path under the rim with beautiful views all around me. It reminded me of Switzerland again.
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I headed towards the next saddle, very cold, but not wanting to stop to put on layers again. When I started descending to the other side, I could see clouds in the distance that were below me. It was a beautiful, peaceful sight!
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Scraggly bushes lined the trail, and as I made my way through them, my legs got very wet from the dew, and it felt like they were being scratched. I just kept going.
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Around six miles into the hike, I felt extremely and unusually tired. I walked over a rocky region and could see an intersection in the distance. I decided to reach that point and then take a little break. I found a place that was out of the direct path of wind, and ate a packet of almond butter and a snickers. I wondered why my energy level was so low. It seemed a bit alarming. My stomach hurt a bit, as well. I continuing walking underneath some rock cliffs and imagined that I could be in Ireland.
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Then, I approached an alpine pond.
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I wanted to wait until I came to the stream to collect more water. Something had been hurting on the bottom of my foot, almost as if there was something in my shoe or sock, and I couldn’t wait to take a break and see if I could figure out what it was. Ahead, I saw a lone figure standing in the meadow. It seemed to be some kind of animal, but I couldn’t tell what it was.
Finally, I reached the little stream. The animal was still there. I hoped I wouldn’t scare it away with my movements before I had a chance to see it! Collecting water was a slow process as there was only a dribbling flow. I took off my sock, but couldn’t tell what was bothering my foot. I just had to hope that it could take the pain for 5 more miles. I filtered my water, packed everything up, and then resumed my walk, at last reaching the grazing animal. It was a lone sheep! What was it doing out here all by its self? It wasn’t at all scared or concerned about me.
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I continued on through Snow Mesa- 3.3 miles of huge, fairly flat expanse at an altitude of over 12,000 feet. It was almost like a Stars Wars kind of landscape. Funny bugs would hop onto the trail, right in front of me, and then spasm with fright and jump away. It was very amusing!
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Snow Mesa kept going and going… I could see nothing in front of me but huge grassy expanses with mountains in the far distance.
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Then, a lone male hiker headed towards me. He looked a bit like Waldo and was very interested in telling me where I could get water ahead! I told him that I was all set- I had just collected water and was headed to Lake City. (It’s funny how all these northbound hikers feel the need to tell me things like this. I guess maybe they like to get information from people who are walking in the opposite direction, but I get along just fine with only my guidebook!).
On and on, I walked. Finally, I reached the rim of Snow Mesa!
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I looked down and saw that it was very rocky below and I knew it would be slow-going. More pikas were squeaking in the rocks and I felt sad that I would only have a few more chances to be among these creatures.
At last, I reached the safety of the pine trees, once again!
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For all of the beauty of the open, alpine environments, there is an equal amount of stress that comes with hiking through them, as you are always racing to escape the possible lightning.
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I had a couple more miles of descending before I would reach the highway. I could see the road and cars passing along it already. I tried to keep my pace steady, even though I wanted to reach the road as quickly as possible. As I neared the road, I saw a parking lot across the street, and a black SUV. Part of me hoped that my “friend” had at last come to meet me and help me out by giving me a ride into town! I reached the road at 1pm, and kept my eye on the vehicle. It didn’t move. I took my pack off, and stuck out my thumb. No cars stopped. A construction crew was nearby and I could hear them talking about me, wondering what I was doing and where I wanted to get to. Lake City was about 17 miles away, but in two direction along the highway. A car pulled out of the parking lot and headed past me. I stuck out my thumb, but the lady driving just smiled at me. Then, I saw some people headed to the black SUV! Maybe I should ask them if they could give me a ride! The woman and younger girl used the restroom and took their time getting into the car. I decided not to bother them. I continued trying to hitch, but still, no one wanted to stop. The, the black SUV pulled out of the lot. It sat facing the highway, not moving. The driver was looking at me. I wondered why he couldn’t just pull over to me. It seemed like he wanted to say something to me, but was frustrated because he was too far away to be heard. “Are you going to Lake City?” he called out.
“Yes!” I excitedly answered. He motioned me over. I threw on my pack and dashed across the highway, happily moving as fast as I could to their car. Without any hesitation, he helped me put my pack and poles in the back seat, next to the girl. He asked if I was hiking the CT and said they had just dropped off 2 CT hikers and picked one up. It took me a long time to understand who the girl next to me was, and who the hikers they had dropped off were, and how they were related. I finally understood that they had dropped off their son and his girlfriend who were hiking most of the trail this year, and the girl next to me was their friend, who had hiked the last section with them and was now being brought home with the parents. She was hiking the CT in sections. I felt very comfortable and happy with these people, and so grateful for the ride. The timing had worked out perfectly! The parents talked a lot about wanting their college-aged son to find something that made him happy. I am always, always struck and surprised to hear parents express these kinds of sentiments about their children, because it is something that I did not experience from my parents at all (quite the opposite, in fact). We talked about the AT and PCT, as well.

We reached Lake City and they dropped me off in the center of town, across from the Silver Spur Motel. I had been having a hard time deciding if I wanted to stay at the hostel, or pay more money to stay at a motel where I could have my own room and privacy. I opted with privacy, as that was what I was feeling like I needed the most. It took me awhile to find the “office” of the motel. It turned out to be the check-out counter of the store. Two guys outside of the store with their dogs said hi to me and asked me what I was doing. We chatted for a bit. They were from Fort Collins and out here driving from mountain to mountain, climbing several of the 14,000 footers. I told them that I think I would prefer what they were doing because they got to see all of the best views, and got a huge feeling of accomplishment after reaching the summit of each mountain they climbed. A lot of thru-hiking is walking through forested areas or plains, where you don’t get to see so much.
I got a room, which turned out to be extremely basic, but it would do. I took a shower and was surprised that it didn’t feel nearly as luxurious or necessary after hiking for six days and 105 miles! I was proud of myself for not wanting to reach town any sooner than I had come to it. I had made good on my intention and was happier for it.
Clouds had rolled in and it looked like it was about to rain. I put on my rain gear and walked the half mile or so to the post office to pick up my package. The woman who worked there was very nice!
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I then headed over to the Soup Kitchen, where one previous thru-hiker had mentioned that he had had his best meal on the trail! Unfortunately, it was after three and they had just closed! The lady said they would be open for the buffet at 5:30. I felt disappointed, but there was nothing I could do about it. I started the walk back to my room. Along the way, a car stopped and the woman in the passenger seat asked if they could give me a ride. I said I was fine and that I was only going to the store. The man seemed impatient and nearly drove over my foot a few times, wanting to take off! The woman said she would be back…
When I was almost there, she beeped and pulled up to me. I got in, even though I was merely feet away. I told her what I was doing out here and thanked her many times for her kindness and the ride. She told me that she could never do what I was doing and that she was so happy that she got to meet someone like me!
I ended up getting lunch at a little outdoor place near my motel. They were out of chicken, so I got a turkey sandwich with chips. It was good! I bought I raspberry square for dessert and brought it with me to the coffee shop to have with a latte. I sat inside at a big table and was joined by two older gentlemen who were seated outside at first, but had come in because of the weather. I was perfectly content. At one point, I saw two hikers in rain gear with bright orange pack covers walking down the street. Buzz and Holly! They had reached town 2 hours after me. I went out to try to call to them, but they were already too far down the road. I went back inside and finished my snack.
The hostel was next door and the owner was outside his truck, working with a pile of wood. I asked him about getting a ride back to the trail, but he said he couldn’t give me one (even if I paid him) if I wasn’t staying at the hostel. He did give me the number of a woman in town who gave rides to hikers and told me to get back to him if I still needed help.
The Fort Collins guys were packing up their car in front of the store and were friendly to me again. I stopped and chatted with them for awhile. One was particularly nice. They were on their way to Silverton, which I was, as well, but I would take a lot longer to get there on foot, and they would unfortunately no longer be there by the time I arrived. So, we wished each other goodbye. I went back to my room, hand-washed some of my clothes in the sink, left a message with the ride lady, and tried to rest for a bit. It was difficult again! It is amazing to me how little I sleep on these thru-hikes, even when I come into town! It is completely opposite to my non-thru-hiking life, where I could easily sleep 10 hours a night, take 2 two hour naps during the day (even right after drinking a coffee) and still never feel rested! I think when I turn my body into a hiking machine, it wants to stay active! And sleeping in a new (and often uncomfortable) environment, makes it always on alert. There is also a very limited time-frame within which you have to complete all of your chores!
I wondered if you had to be at the buffet at 5:30, or if you could go at anytime… I walked over around six, listening to my ipod along the way. (One thing that I miss while hiking is the ability to move more freely-and in more than a single plane! Being able to listen to music and dance becomes so special! I was looking forward to being able to do yoga again, too!). The Soup Kitchen was quiet. I got some lasagna, salad, and warm bread with butter. I didn’t do a good job of eating, though. Maybe it was too soon after I had eaten my big sandwich and dessert. My tummy felt full and the lady working there asked me if I was okay. “You suddenly got quiet!” she said. I ordered a piece of carrot cake to take back to my room and headed back. (The owner thanked me for returning).
Along the way, I thought about how differently people see me on the trail, as opposed to in “real life.” Out here, all people see of me is that I am open, brave, courageous, and strong, whereas, in real life, people see me as small and fearful, shrinking and afraid. I thought about the contrast between my mother constantly striking me down, not wanting or allowing me to be the person I am, forcefully exerting her control to stomp out any trace of the spirit and life inside me, and the many years I have lived in a state of un-living and depression because of it, and what I was displaying out here, so evident to everyone that crossed my path, even for a moment. I felt very emotional and cried for the realization of the truth of who I am, for all of the time that I had lost not living it, and for the strength I have shown in persisting through incredible pain and obstacles. I am living proof that no matter how much darkness overtakes your life, a bright spark always remains deep inside, waiting for the chance to burst open and be given life.

I had e-mailed Chad back, curious as to how the end of his race was and he called me back and left a message. Once back in my room, I gave him a call back. After telling me that he finished the race in eight days and sharing some stories from it, he said that after meeting me, he decided to turn his ride into a spiritual one, instead of a competitive one.
He told me about his stay in Silverton, mentioning a gun show in the street, and staying in a hotel that was haunted by ghosts. He also said that he wants to go on an adventure with me, but doesn’t know what kind because he doesn’t like to walk! As we finished the conversation he said, “What I love about you is that you are a wild child.” I found that to be quite amusing, because I am far from wild…
I called the ride lady back and we agreed to meet around noon. “You’re my kind of hiker!” she said. “All of the other ones want to be picked up at 6am!”
I tried to sleep, but my mind was occupied with thoughts and had a hard time quieting. I also had to get up to go to the bathroom three times during the night!

Day 24 of the Colorado Trail

August 13

19.5 miles

I had 7.5 miles to hike before I would reach the 12,600 foot saddle from which I could climb San Luis peak, so I had to get up as early as possible. For me, that was 5:30 am. (I really don’t like to get up when it is dark out!). When the first light showed around 6am, I noticed how cloudy the sky was, which was a very strange occurrence. Mornings in Colorado are always sunny! I wondered what this meant for my chances of summitting San Luis in the afternoon. The squirrels once again let me know that they did not appreciate me inhabiting their territory (either that, or they were really excited to start a new day!). I told them that I would be leaving soon and they would have the area all to themselves again. I packed up, said goodbye to my home for the night, and headed off around 6:30, passing through the gate, and then through fairly flat meadows with morning dew on the grass.
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Then, I started uphill, passing by some really nice campsites that I wish I had known about! I peeled off some layers and prepared myself for the steeper climbs. The clouds remained in the sky, and I was unsure if I would get the chance to climb another 14,000 footer on this hike. Around 8am, it started to sprinkle! I put on my pack cover, and it stopped soon after. I saw some nice yellow flowers on the way up. Because of the dry summer, there hadn’t been nearly as many wildflowers as usual.
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I then saw a horse and two men in their campsite to my left. The horse saw me, but the men didn’t. I had to say “hi” several times before they noticed me. I wanted to ask them what they thought this weather meant. They said they were from Texas and weren’t experts. I explained that I was trying to decide if I should climb San Luis or not. The older one said that there were 2 parts and that the second peak was hard. The younger one advised me not to do it. “We got hailed on,” he said. (‘If getting hailed on is the worst of it, I’m definitely doing it!’ I thought to myself… I had already been hailed on several times before…)
I continued on, making it to the final stream before the peak. I stopped to collect and filter water and noticed that one of my collecting bags had a leak. My pack and water bottles got very dirty and muddy in this spot. I continued the climb. The sky was still very cloudy.
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As I approached the saddle, the climb got much steeper, and I had to stop several times. There was a party of 4 at the top, looking down at me. I finally made it up to them. It was windy and cold, and I was hungry, but I had to hurry to climb the peak! I put on some warmer clothes, grabbed a snickers bar to put in my pocket, put my rain cover over my pack, and stashed it in a little ditch with the day hikers’ packs. Before I was ready, the other hikers headed for the peak and told me to enjoy my hike. “I’m coming with you!” I said. (The Colorado trail continued in the opposite direction of the peak). The girl told her father what I said and he responded, “She’s serious!”. (Yeah, she is…!)
I had my fleece jacket and rain gear on. The wind was strong and cold and struck the skin on my face hard. I hiked as quickly as I could with the steepness, very high altitude, and strong wind.
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I climbed false summit after false summit. I had 1,400 feet to climb, and couldn’t understand why it could be taking so long! Where was the top? It seemed much farther than 1.25 miles away! I saw the tiny shapes of people standing on the ridge like ants. I passed the two girls and closed in on the father and son. I kept climbing and stopping to take pictures.
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The wind struck my face with every step. It was not an enjoyable climb in any way. Finally, I reached the summit and joined the ant-like shapes. The two girls and a guy were getting ready to descend. Thunder rumbled and one of the girls jumped. “We better go now!” she said. I didn’t feel so great. I had cramps, my nose was running, and I was hungry and cold. I took some pictures and watched the dark clouds. I could see rain in the distance. The day hikers reached the summit and asked me to take their photograph. (I wasn’t sure why they had picked this day to hike if they lived so close and could come any day…)
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I ate my snickers bar and decided to descend. I said goodbye to the group and told them that I would see them in a few minutes, knowing they would pass me on the downhill.
About halfway through, one of the girls and the son, passed me. They were descending easily without poles and weren’t slipping. I wondered why I couldn’t glide as easily as them. Why was I slipping so much while digging my poles into the ground? Rain began to fall and a feeling of slight panic and certainly pressure filled the air. As the father and daughter came closer to me, I half-fell, but managed to save myself. Then, I really fell (for the first time on this hike) when they were steps behind me. One of the girls who was in the first group to descend was stopped on the trail. Her boyfriend was helping her with her rain gear. I passed them. As the father and daughter passed me, he asked if I was okay descending alone. I thought that was kind of funny, as I had hiked the entire Appalachian Trail and now 340 miles of the Colorado Trail alone… If I had voluntarily climbed this peak and couldn’t descend on my own, that would be a big problem!)
It began to hail. My gloves were soaked. I hadn’t even put a ziplock bag around my camera! My pace quickened as the steepness lightened up. I could see the other girl from the first party waiting for her friends along the ridge. The girl and son from the second party had headed toward their gear and then disappeared. I thought they had continued on and were now out of sight.
Once on flat ground, I could almost start running. I passed the daughter (the father had stopped to see if he could help the girl from the first party who seemed to be struggling). As I got closer to my pack, the rain and hail stopped and it looked like two (large) birds were emerging from their nest, stretching out their wings, and opening up to the sun! One was yellow. It was the girl, who had put on a yellow poncho, and the son, who had nestled into the ditch with the gear. (Rather cute!)
Once making it to our gear, we all quickly collected our things. The struggling girl and her boyfriend ran past us down the trail, calling out thank yous to the father for offering his help. I walked quickly and assumed the middle position between the two groups. The landscape was beautiful, but it had begun to rain again, and we all hiked as quickly as we could. The first group was definitely on a mission to get out of this weather as fast as humanly possible. The second group took their time, talking amongst one another. I noticed some interesting rock formations that looked like sculptures of people. I kept stopping to take out my camera, and then stashing it away again. The openness of the landscape reminded me of Switzerland and I felt happy when not rushing to escape the lightning.
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I had planned on collecting water at the next source, but when I reached the stream, the rain was still coming down, and I didn’t feel like stopping to filter it. I still had visions of reaching a road crossing and having “my friend” from home come meet me. Where could he find me? I would be reaching an intersection later on that day with a 10 mile path toward Creede. The first two miles weren’t accessible by vehicles, so if he met me there, I would have to hike an additional 4 miles. I still had no reception…
The rain continued to fall. It would occasionally stop for a couple of minutes, but start right back up again. I was growing tired of it. My energy was beginning to sag. I needed food. I saw a plastic gallon jug of water in a patch of grass along the trail and wondered if it was trail magic. Who would have left it there and why? I didn’t trust it, so I passed it by. I saw the first party marching up the switchbacks in the rain. The sight didn’t look very appealing. I saw a couple of pine trees with a dry patch underneath them, so I decided to sit there and eat my lunch. As I was finishing, the party of four came along, looking wet and downtrodden. The father picked up the jug of water (that was who had left it there!) and they headed to a clearing nearby to eat their lunch, sitting on logs and stumps. The rain eased up, and as they enjoyed their food, I could see the improvement in their moods! I packed up and wished them a good meal. The father offered me some water from his plastic jug. He said he was just going to dump it out if I didn’t want it, so I filled up.
I got hot climbing, so I had to stop to strip off some layers. Within minutes, the rain commenced again!
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I climbed a hill, descended the other side, and then could see the intersection to Creede!
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I crossed it, continuing on the CT, and as I headed up the next hill, I saw lightning flash to my right! I had just come out of miles of exposed terrain, was just entering a krumholz region, and was about to ascend to completely exposed terrain again. Danger! What should I do…? Should I remain in this area with the low bushes until the lightning stopped? I decided that since the lightning wasn’t right over me, I would keep going. I turned on my phone and stuck it in my rain jacket pocket. A minute later, I heard it make a noise! Reception! A got a text from my “friend”, but all it said was “hey”. I hurried to write him back, telling him I was in the middle of a storm on an exposed ridge. It took me several minutes to send it out, because I would only intermittently get a half bar of service (it must have been coming 11 miles away from Creede). I waited a bit, but got no response… I continued to climb up the mountain, back into completely exposed terrain.
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As I looked down, I saw in the distance some elk or deer passing by! I was getting hot and wanted to take off my rain pants. I saw a vehicle on a ridge well above me. Again, it started to rain. Better put the rain pants back on… I kept moving. I crossed one saddle and headed for the next. I decided that I was either going to camp 2 or 4 miles into the next segment. Everything was wet! I bypassed the first possible place to camp, crossed a stream, and came to a huge pile of rocks, where I heard the sound of pikas again! The rain had stopped and the sun had finally come out! I stopped to take a little power bar break. I took off my shirt for a second. It felt so good to have sun on my body for that moment! Then, I continued on. The pikas slowed me down, though! I saw them pulling bunches of leaves out of their nest, and racing back to their nest with them in their mouths! Others were playing, chasing each other around. Finally, I continued on through a pine forest, where I saw some pretty yellow flowers again. Then, the rain started once again! I was getting so tired of this! I found another tree to rest under while the thunder rumbled and lightning struck. I had only made it a couple of hundred yards from the rocks with the pikas. Then, I noticed a patch of blue sky to my left. I decided it was best to head towards the blue sky! I still had one more saddle to climb to.
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I made it to the top and started my final descent of the day. As I got closer to treeline, I saw a deer!
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Finally, I found a spot in the middle of some pine trees to camp. I set my things down and then heard a voice below! Someone else was camped there. I decided to go say hi, so as not to scare them. It turned out to be a nice couple (Laurie and John, or Holly and Buzz, as they were known on the trail). They were the first thru-hikers I had met on the trail! They were taking it slow, only hiking 10 miles a day, and taking seven weeks to complete. I had hiked 19.5 miles today, through a tremendous amount of exposed terrain at very high altitude in the storms, and they were thoroughly impressed. They said I was much tougher than them! I told them I better go set up my tent and they agreed “before it starts raining again.” As soon as I started taking the contents out of my pack, the rain started coming down again! (God!! Can’t I get a break?!) I tried to set it up as quickly as I could, but my tent zipper was stuck (just as it had been in the morning)! While trying to get it to open, the mesh ripped! My $365 tent that was meant for my PCT hike was now already damaged! The only thing that made me feel better about the rip, was that it had torn into the shape of a heart!
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I put a piece of duct tape over it to try to contain the damage. I brought everything inside my tent, and set up my stove right outside my tent door to cook dinner. The rain let up enough for me to go outside to pee and brush my teeth. Then, it started coming down even more heavily! Lightning was striking everywhere around me! It continued for a couple of hours, and my adrenaline was on alert. So much for a good night’s rest after a long, hard day…

Day 23 of the Colorado Trail

August 12

25 miles (!)

I started walking around 7:10. The first few miles were pleasant and I was making good time. I even saw several cute bunnies!
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I disagreed with Apple’s comment about there being nothing to see in this segment… It was largely flat, went through forested sections and many, many miles of open fields and plains, but there was beauty within these landscapes, too! (And it wasn’t all on roads like that other guy had said…)
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I made my way around a hairpin turn in a dirt road and eventually entered the Colorado plains… an environment I had not yet been in. I was in the middle of a vast expanse with mountains all around in the distance. I thought one of the peaks might be San Luis (the other 14,000+ mountain that I wanted to climb). The day was growing warmer and warmer.
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All of a sudden, I came across some grazing cows- a sight that made me laugh!
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There were 2 groups of them resting under some trees away from the trail.
There was rarely a chance to get any shade in this plains section, so when I found a tree, I took a break underneath it. But I couldn’t rest for long because I had a lot of miles still ahead of me!
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As I walked along on the dirt path that lead to a road, I saw a car stop and stay there. They seemed to be watching me. It seemed strange, but as I got closer, I began thinking that maybe there were waiting for me. Maybe they wanted to give me a drink, or a ride, or let me sit in their car for a minute to get a break from the sun beating down. But then, they took off! I guess not… Oh, well!
Several cars passed me as I walked along the dusty road, but no one took notice of me. The miles began to wear on me. I continued to walk and walk. Up ahead, the road curved. I saw some parked trailers, but no one seemed to be around. That seemed to be the start of segment 19.
A short ways into this segment, a car came towards me on the trail! I was completely shocked! On most of the trail, no vehicles of any type were allowed, much less cars! It was the first time I had experienced something like this! But then the young driver gave me a friendly wave, and I felt all right.
I passed another trailer which seemed to have been abandoned (quite eerie), but I had been dying to take my pack off and give my shoulders a break, so I stopped near it. Then, I continued on.
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    I came to one intersection where I couldn’t figure out which path to take, so I decided to cut through the middle and keep my eye on both! It, perhaps, wasn’t the smartest idea, because the ground was rough, but I figured out both paths lead to the same place! Up ahead, I saw a figure. It looked like a person, at first, and I instantly felt disappointed because my guidebook had said that it was likely we wouldn’t see anyone in this segment! (While I had come across very few hikers out here, there wasn’t a day that had gone by that I hadn’t seen a human being). I also didn’t want it to be the old grumpy guy that the woman I had met on Monarch Pass told me about! The person looked like he was stopped and just standing on the trail. Then, it looked like he was strangely moving from one side of the path to the other! Maybe it wasn’t a person after all. Maybe it was an animal! A cow, perhaps?
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    I continued on, keeping my eye out for the cow. As I reached the top of a climb, I came to another herd of them! And then realized that I hadn’t passed a lone cow on the part of the trail where I had seen the animal. Hmmm…
    I walked on, and at some point, spotted the figure again! It was swaying from side to side! And then it stopped and seemed to be looking back at me! I looked for the fenced-in spring in the middle of another herd of cows, but didn’t see it. And as I walked, I did a good job of keeping my own pace, and not rushing to catch the figure ahead. I found a nice tree to sit under and eat a light lunch, and then moved on. Finally, the figure was in striking distance! It was an older man whose backpack and himself were swaying from side to side! I had never seen anything like it! He was definitely losing a lot of energy!
    It had been awhile since I last took a break, so I took my pack off and then decided to make my move. As I passed him, he was slowly inching toward the left side of the trail. He commented on how hard it was to climb in the heat. I reminded him that the creek was only just a little over a mile away. He said he was hiking the CDT from Wyoming. (How could he hike that far with a pack like that?!) He was wearing white sun gloves on his hands. He told me he would see me down at the water.
    I hiked on as fast as I could. I came to a gate that I had to unhook to get through, and as I was undoing it, the whole thing sprang out of the ground with tremendous energy and landed into a twisted, jagged, crumpled, barbed mess!! OMG! I tried to pick it up and it cut my hand. I wished someone were around to help me out! I wasn’t strong enough to hook it back up with the bottom planted into the ground, so I just left it with the top hooked and hoped the old man would fix it!
    The landscape opened up and I could see the pond that was 0.2 miles away. It took much longer to get there than I had hoped, though! I first had to make it down a steep, sandy downhill. Then, I found the little path to the creek! Hooray! I saw a black SUV parked there, but no one seemed to be around. I changed into my crocs and took my water bottles and filter down to the water.
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    After I finished with that job, I waded in the water for the first time on this hike! I also decided to shave my legs, because a part of me had been hoping that my “friend” from home was going to come find me somewhere in this segment! Long before I started this hike, when I mentioned that I was hiking to Durango, he told me that every year, he takes a vacation where he flies to San Francisco and then drives to Denver, stopping in Durango along the way. He told me that he would leave something for me in Durango (like a treasure hunt!) and that made me excited to start my hike. In one of his texts, he told me when he would be in the area and asked how someone could reach me. I fantasized about him driving to one of the trailheads and maybe hiking a mile or so to meet me, possibly with a warm coffee and and a breakfast sandwich! Every day, I checked to see when I would be at certain trailheads, and wondered if his rented car would be able to make it up the dirt roads. But, I had had no reception in these segments, so there was no plan…
    I looked up and saw the old man, at a distance, staring at me! I hoped he wasn’t going to come hang out with me. Luckily, he continued on. I found it strange that he didn’t stop for water! This was the first source we had come to in a long time! And it was almost 90 degrees!
    As I continued on, I thought about my plan for the next day. I really wanted to climb San Luis peak to get another 14,000+ footer in, but timing was everything…I would either have to take a really short day (adding another day to my schedule), skip it altogether, or reach it in the early afternoon when storms were most likely.
    I passed through a field and saw a man in a skirt coming towards me! We warily passed each other before turning back to talk. He was hiking the CDT to Wyoming. (So far, the CDT hikers I had met were very strange and anti-social. Perhaps from being alone so much?) He wanted to tell me where I could get water next. I told him I didn’t need any- that I had just filled up at the creek. “There are beaver dams all over up there,” he said. Oh, well, I shrugged. I had already drunk some of it… “Well if you’re good, I’m good,” he responded, and off he went!
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    Up ahead, I saw the old man taking a break in a meadow alongside the trail. As I got closer, I saw him sit down, scooch up against his pack and put the straps on! I almost couldn’t believe it!! If you have to sit down to be able to put your pack on, you’ve got a big problem! Wow! This was almost like a character in a book! As I passed him, he called out, “Hey speedster!” I asked him if he had gotten water at the creek. He said no, he stopped for a minute “but I saw you.” He commented on how fast I hiked. “Watch how quickly I can hike away from you!” I thought to myself as I moved on.
    I kept pressing on, even though I was feeling very tired. My goal now was to get to the end of segment 19 or 1.3 miles into segment 20 in order to get as close as I could to San Luis. I crossed the creek on some logs and climbed up to the ridge. Sometime later, a man on a horse approached me. I stepped aside to let him pass and he thanked me. He asked me if I had seen the trailers and told me they were theirs. He was headed back to them tonight while the rest of the party was staying behind. He said he had better get going, as he had 6 or 7 miles to go. (I calculated backwards and told him it was more like 10 or 11…) I had already hiked 20 miles and had taken an hour long break at the creek! It had been a long day and I still had 4 or 5 miles to go (on my own legs and not a horse’s!). The scenery was definitely perfect for horse-riding! It’s just what you might picture!
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    I finally made it to the end of segment 19! I felt incredibly exhausted. I could see tents set-up, and a trailer. There was an open tent with coolers and food on a table, and it looked like trail magic to me! I wondered if the horse people would welcome me to camp with them and share their delicious food with me! But no one was around… 😦
    I walked on, and sat on a rock on the corner of the road and ate another power bar. I had to muster up enough energy to hike 1.3 more miles. I walked down a dirt road and turned right. I saw an upscale car in the trailhead parking lot and went up to read the trail register. I saw that there were 3 or 4 thru-hiker couples a few days ahead of me! I was starting to catch up! I crossed a little creek and a man with two boys came towards me. The man had a gun with him, which was scary to me. Then a single file line of horses approached! I stepped aside. The lead man was not so friendly (if people only knew how the slightest bit of positive energy greatly affects others- particularly those who are down…!). The woman was nicer. She commented, “Gorgeous day isn’t it?”. They were lucky because they were headed towards a beautiful sunset (as well as good food!). I was just plain tired and out of energy. The next 2 people didn’t acknowledge me, either, but the last rider, who was young and cute, smiled at me! That really helped!
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    I kept on my way, passing a ranch and more grazing cows. I was looking for the gate that marked 1.3 miles! I noticed some pine trees off to my right and went to check them out to see if I could camp there. I found a flat area and decided to stop there for the night! It was 6:30pm! Not bad! I set my tent up, cooked dinner, and went to sleep. No animals bothered me.

Day 22 of the Colorado Trail

August 11

17.3 miles

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After having strange dreams throughout the night, I got up at 6. I heard the guys talking not long after. I placed my stove right outside my tent and cooked up some oatmeal while I remained in my tent (this was the first time I had done this!). I decided that I could have a cup of coffee with the guys after I packed most of my stuff up. I brought my stove and pot with me, and Mel was impressed with how fast I was able to get a boil! (Much better than an alcohol stove, which I used on my AT hike!) This was my first cup of coffee that I had made on the trail! Unfortunately, the powdered milk doesn’t dissolve and remains in clumps no matter how much you stir it! I wanted to put some big miles into today since I felt behind due to last night’s storm, but I decided it would be nice to chat with people while I had the chance. Mel and Dave had already broken down their tents and they were trying to get John, who was not quite awake and ready to move, to do the same. They talked about going into town that evening for burgers. (I still had many days to hike before I would get my next town meal).
I went back up the hill to finish packing. The wind was howling already, which was a bit disconcerting. Then, I came down one last time to say goodbye. Tears started to form in my eyes. Mel said, “Well, it was nice to meet you, Wendy.” The tears spilled out. (It’s hard for me to leave people who make an impression on my heart). “Now, I’m really sad,” I said. Dave and John stared at the ground, not knowing how to react. Mel said, “We weathered the storm together. And now the sun will come out and shine on us.” His positive outlook immediately made me feel better. He said it was nice to share the evening together. I told them I hoped I would see them again. They said that probably wouldn’t happen because I hike much faster than them, but maybe if I take a really long lunch break…
I started on my way. It was quite chilly for a long time, and the wind continued to blow. This was an unusual weather pattern! I felt strong through the first two uphills, and more like my normal hiking self. I wanted to keep climbing until I got to the top, without taking any breaks! (I usually love hiking uphill, but hiking in Colorado is different than what I am used to. The altitude makes climbing much, much tougher, and I did not like going uphill most of the time out here!)
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I thought about how my Dad had not communicated with me at all in seven or eight years, and how he didn’t even know I was out here, much less want to do anything for me in anyway. I wished Mel could be my father.
After getting over the second saddle that I had wanted to get to last night, the profile showed three uphills. The second one looked steep, but very short. I came to a big uphill that kept going and going and I wondered if I had somehow missed the second one. I took out my profile, studied it carefully, and continued on. The plateau it showed was only a couple of steps! This couldn’t be the big one, but why was it so long? I crested the top and then began to make my way down a very steep downhill!
Finally, I began the third climb. It had gotten quite warm and I was feeling tired. Luckily, there were switchbacks on the third climb, but it was very slow-going for me because I was out of energy.
At last, I reached the jeep road. I had one little uphill to finish off the climb, but I was feeling hungry and tired, so I sat down on a tree stump and took a little lunch break. I ate a packet of smoked tuna and some snacks.
I then continued on and finished the climb. At the top was a man wearing ranger type clothes with a CT patch, talking on the phone. I smiled. He said he was making a call to his mother. I decided to check if my phone had reception, as well. I had the smallest bit of reception. When the man was finished with his call, he told me that he had a tent set up about 30 minutes ahead with sodas and snacks. I then realized that this was the Trail Angel named Apple! Then he said, “Can I ask you a question?”
“Did you see the cairns?… Did you take a lunch break just after the start of this last uphill?…”
“Yes…” I was starting to feel a little spooked.
“There’s a tracker down there keeping count of the hikers and I thought I missed one.”
I was startled that someone was watching me. “Who is keeping track of me? ” I asked. I told him that was spooky! (I hadn’t yet fully understood that he was the one who had put the earthquake detector in the ground and hooked it up to a computer and his walkie talkie to let him know if a hiker was approaching…)
He went the other way and said he would see me down there in a little while. When I arrived, he waved me over, pointing to the tent with cold drinks and snacks. He only had sodas, which is really the last thing I want to drink (especially while hiking), but I felt like I had to take one. He seemed like he really wanted company. The bland chips and peanuts were also not at all tempting for me, but I felt obliged to eat some because he kept saying what a shame it was for this food to go to waste, as he tossed some chips out for the animals.
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(Today was the last day he would be providing his trail magic to CT hikers for the year). He also had a large sleeping tent set up with a heater to boil water inside. It would have been a great shelter to come across in stormy weather like we had last night! Unfortunately, for us, it was too many miles away. I really wanted to keep moving to get in my miles, but felt rude about leaving so quickly. I asked him if he had met Andrew, Chad, and Jasmine. He had brought Andrew into Creede and drove all three to the trailhead of segment 19. They had all skipped segment 18! Apple had told them there was nothing to see! He asked me if I had had any trouble with the falcons and told me that one thru-hiker came though a few weeks ago with scars on his cheek from the talons of the bird that swooped right by me! Wow! His walkie talkie went off and a woman’s voice told him that one hiker was on their way… I knew, right away, that it was Mel! Apple said it would be another hour…
He asked me if I had gone into the water at Baldy Lake. I told him, no, that it was storming. He then told me that it was full of leeches! “You mean, if I had put my feet into the water, the leeches would have jumped on me?”
“Yes.”
Well, I’m glad I didn’t go in then!
I finally said I should get moving, partially filled one of my water bottles, and asked if I could empty my trash. Then, Mel emerged!
“Wendy! What a surprise to see you here! Were you waiting for us?”
It was now 2:30. Mel was going to hike out to his truck and then drive back to pick up Dave and John. Dave was not feeling well and was really struggling. Mel said to me, “I don’t know if you are a stickler, Wendy, but I could give you a ride, too!”
I told him that I could just hike out with him! He seemed to like that idea.

Trail Angel "Apple" and Mel

Trail Angel “Apple” and Mel

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I threw out my useless maps and packed up, as a northbound hiker came by. He stopped and rubbed his eyes. “Is this real?”
Apple told him that I was a southbound thru-hiker. He told me that the scenery from here on out is about to change.
“Good!” I said. (I had heard that the last 2 sections were the most beautiful).
This guy didn’t feel the same way. He said it was all rocks- “like being on the moon.” Then he said, “Are you aware that there is no water for the next 20 miles until the middle of segment 19?” And that the next 20 miles is all on roads like this one? And partly highway?”
“Ummm… no…”
He was scaring me!
Mel wanted to go and said I could stay and chat, but I didn’t want to talk to this person who only had negative things to tell me! I said I was ready to go!
We talked easily the whole way back to the truck. At one point, it started to rain and then hail. I was getting cold and wet and told Mel that I wanted to put my rain jacket on. He helped me take my pack off and then put it on again when I was ready! How sweet! Of course, the precipitation stopped as quickly as it had started! Mel walked me right up to the gate and asked if he could take my picture. We exchanged contact info, he gave me a nice hug (with my pack still on), and then we said goodbye. I thanked him for the wine, for taking care of me, and said that it was nice for me to run into them at that time. I told him, “I think the calmest people are the most in control.” He said he agreed. He opened the gate for me, told me to be careful of the barbed wire, and off I went, all by myself again!
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I walked on the path through the meadows, not knowing where I would camp (considering that guy had told me the trail was on roads for the next 20 miles!). Then, I sat down and had a snack, as I was feeling hungry. Three guys on ATVs passed me (always an unsettled feeling). As I headed uphill, I found a grassy spot along the side of the trail and pondered staying there for the night. But after looking at my guidebook, I decided I might as well finish off this uphill and see what was up there. I came to a gate, and across the way, I saw a couple of Elk grazing! And they didn’t seem to mind me! I was so glad I had made this decision! I quietly tried to open the gate, take out my camera, and take come pictures, but they ran off.
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There was a nice, flat pine floor for me to camp on right there! It was only 5:12pm. I cooked dinner, started catching up on my journaling from Salida, and was in bed before dark. I felt happy!
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Day 21 of the Colorado Trail

August 10

16.7 miles

I got up around 6:15. It was another cold morning, so I snacked in my sleeping bag. I packed up and went out to the rocks to check out the sunrise. It was as equally as unimpressive as the sunset. (For all of the romantic notions that people might have about seeing the stars and gorgeous sunrises and sunsets in our lengthy time outside, that very rarely happens on an excursion such as this. Most of the time, I am camped in the trees with no views to be seen, the weather is much more cloudy and rainy than sunny, and I can’t stay up long enough to see if the stars are out…)
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I was on the trail by 7:31. My energy was low, and the miles dragged on. It didn’t help that there were no great views (which always boost my energy). I just put my head to the ground and plugged away. My happiest moments came when I saw a scavenger bird hanging out in the meadow bushes, and a marmot playing in the remnants of a log cabin.
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The difference between how I had felt yesterday and how I felt today was extreme.

In the afternoon, I saw a lone mountain biker. He asked how I was. “Fine,” I said. He laughed. In actuality, I didn’t feel fine. I felt extremely tired. It was a hot day and the heat always sucks the energy out of me. I imagined reaching Baldy Lake and relaxing for a bit along its shore. Then, I discovered that it was a half mile off the trail! Extra miles!
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I tried to cover 10 miles before noon. At 11:45, I found a big pine tree on the top of a hill near the end of segment 16 to eat lunch under. It was windy and dark clouds were approaching yet again. I was very chilly.
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The “trailhead” was completely unrecognizable! Someone would have needed to have driven in with an off-road jeep if they wanted to start the next section! (It was also irritating that the mile points and landmarks in section 16 in my guidebook were way off! We rely on those points to keep track of where we are.)

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At 3:30, I finally made it to the Baldy Lake turn-off, after having walked nearly 17 long, tedious miles. I planned to drop my pack and get some water (it was the only water available in a very long stretch), and continue on for another 3.6 miles. Then I saw several men! My first instinct was one of fear. I wouldn’t be able to drop off my pack as I had hoped…! But as I went over to them, they turned out to be very friendly! One of them even offered to help me take my pack off (when I declined, he realized that I had done this many times on my own!). They offered the son to watch my pack (he was going to stay and nap) while we all went down the half mile long hill to collect water. Wonderful! I took out two of my collecting bags, my filter, my 2 platypus bags, and one of my hiking poles. But it was too cumbersome to carry like that. One of the guys offered to let me put my filter in his pack. On the way down, I instantly turned into a chatty girl! Sometimes, I just need a little company and the opportunity to express my female energy to put me in a better mood!
The hike today had been a very rocky one and taking steps on and around them was hard. The bottom of my right foot was hurting.
At the bottom of the hill, Mel introduced himself. He was very nice. They walked around the lake to collect their water while I took the most direct route to the water. But my collecting bags didn’t work so well in the shallow, stagnant water. I tried to step out onto a rock where the water was deeper, but my foot slipped off and got totally submerged. I cursed loudly and the two men looked over at me. I had imagined that the lake would be blue and beautiful, but it turned out to be green. It was taking a very long time to collect and filter the water, repeating again, and again. But the pump that the men were using was taking even longer. (If this was a race…)
I climbed back up the hill with all my things and now full water bags. It wasn’t easy to carry! It had smelled like cow down by the water, so I wanted to put iodine tablets in my water for extra measure. By the time I got to the top of the climb, it started raining! The son had set his tent-up and was inside. I quickly found the iodine tablets, but couldn’t open them! And when I did get an individual packet opened, the tablet disintegrated into powder! They were too old! I did the best I could and then put everything away as the rain fell harder! I got out my rain jacket and rain pants and went to stand under the pine trees. This time, there were no dry spots underneath them! The rain quickly turned to hail. And the size of the hail grew larger! All I could do was stand there and get pelted. I was freezing cold!! I had wanted to pack up and continue hiking, but was now forced into a holding pattern. I realized that I didn’t even have a chance to put my camera into a ziplock bag! I hoped it was okay. Hail covered the ground, our packs, and the kid’s tent. Then, it switched back to rain. Lightning and thunder followed. The kid emerged from his tent, brushed off some of the hail off the tent, checked on the packs, and asked me if I wanted a jacket. He also said he had a sleeping bag. I told him I was okay. When the rain slowed a bit, I went over to my pack and dug my fleece jacket out and then returned to the trees to try to find a dry space. I failed. I was so, so cold.
Mel and Dave came back and wanted to know where I went. Dave’s son pointed to me in the woods. I remained where I was for awhile and then made my way over to them. They were trying to decide if they should move or camp here for the night. I voted to move in order to keep warm. The weather had a different plan, however. The storm was not letting up. It continued to lightning and thunder. We were in the middle of a swirling weather pattern. It would have been stupid to climb even higher. Mel said it was a plains storm. He was cool as a cucumber- very calm and in control. Dave brought out his flask of whiskey. “This is what I brought it for!”. He took a swig, passed it to his son (who said, “I’m not 21 yet. Can I still have some?), then to Mel. Mel looked at me, “Wendy?”. I took a sip. He saw enough flat ground for their tents and invited me to stay with them. My first camping company on the hike! I didn’t want to camp on the hail and several inch-high plants (the bottom of my tent is mesh!), so I decided to go back up to the intersection where I remembered seeing a patch of dirt. Mel said he would help me set up after he got his tent set up. “Just give a call over.” John, the son, came up to see if I needed help, and again I told him I was fine. Then it started raining again! My gear was getting wet! I hurried to put everything in the tent.
I was so cold that I was shivering! I changed into my long johns and dry socks. My toes hurt from being too cold. I didn’t want to cook dinner in the rain, so I just got in my sleeping bag and slowly tried to warm up. The rain kept coming down.
A bit later, Mel walked up to my tent. “Wendy? Are you awake?”
“Yes.”
“I brought your water bottle up here and set it against this log. And I have some wine. Do you have something to put it in?”.
“I only have my pot,” I said.
“Well, wine in a pot is still good!” he said. I searched for my pot while he stood outside, rain falling down on him. He said he hoped to see me in the morning and that I should come down and have breakfast with them.
I ate some goldfish crackers with my wine. It was delicious! How fortunate was I to meet these nice people to keep me company through the storm and have wine brought to my tent in the rain? I felt happy. I snacked on chips, a peppermint paddy, and chocolate covered gogis. Yum! The wine didn’t give me a buzz (I only had a tiny bit). The rain finally slowed enough for me to get out and pee and brush my teeth. I kept my food with me inside my tent.

Day 20 of the Colorado Trail

August 9

17 miles

I got up at 6, showered, packed up, and headed out around 7. The hostel owner was unfortunately going out of town that morning and wasn’t able to give me a ride back to the trail like he did for most of the hikers. So, I had to find a ride on my own. As I walked up the main street, one of the coffee shops was just about to open. The lady was bringing the tables and chairs outside. A father and young son were already waiting. I decided that I had time for a snack, took my pack off, leaned it against the brick wall, and waited for them to open. There weren’t a lot of choices for baked goods and the few they had were absolutely enormous! I ended up getting a peppermint paddy cupcake and a coffee (which was very strong!). It was the best breakfast ever! The nice girl from Sweetie’s came in to deliver some baked items, and I felt happy to see a familiar, friendly face. I went to the bathroom to get washed up and saw a decorative sign that simply said, “Journey.” It made me stop and reflect. This walk I was undertaking had meaning.
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This was one of the roads that I wished any of the passerbys could have given me a lift, but that didn’t happen. I tried to find a good spot to hitch once I reached the highway, and stuck out my thumb. Many cars passed without stopping. Then, a truck with a wagon attached pulled over! He asked where I was going and told me to get in. As I was about to open the door, without warning, he decided to turn and pull-in off the road! He very nearly ran over my foot!
I put my pack in the back of the pick-up and joined him in the front. He told me that he was headed that same way to chop wood. His name was Daniel, he was originally from the Upper Peninsula in Michigan and had moved to Salida not too long ago. He spent a lot of the ride talking about his 24 year old daughter, Madeleine, whom he was extremely proud of. She was a very bright girl and had done extremely well in her biology studies at the University of Michigan. He shared a favorite memory of her as a little girl on a camping trip on which it rained for three days straight and everything they had was wet and muddy. When she appeared out of the tent with her pink sundress over her muddy overalls, it instantly brightened his spirits.
He drove me all the way to the Monarch Pass trailhead, but that wasn’t where I had gotten off the Colorado Trail. So, we turned around, looking for the CT access point. I remembered what the area where I hitched looked like, but I saw nothing like it along this Highway. For 2 hours, we drove back and forth, searching for the unmarked trail, stopping to ask anyone we could. At one point, he said, “I’m getting angry!” and I tried to calm him down, “Don’t get angry. It will be okay.”
We finally reached the probable place where I had hitched in. He pulled over and as I got my pack out, he went across the street, looking for a trail marker. He saw one! Yay! I looked in my guidebook, and it said that the next 2.9 miles were road miles that could be accessed only by a high-maintenance vehicle. He looked at me and asked if I wanted him to bring me up to the trailhead. Yes! It was already 9:35 and I had lost a good deal of hiking time. I would be crossing another 4 mile exposed route later in the day and had to be careful of the impending storms. So, back went my pack in the back, and up, we drove, slowly and carefully over very bumpy terrain. Hooray for high maintenance vehicles! At times, we weren’t sure we would make it, and he hoped there would be a place where he could turn around (the road was very narrow). But it all worked out. We found the tiny dirt parking lot, and got out to say goodbye. I asked him for his address so I could send him a thank you card, but he declined. So, I told him I would give him a hug as a thank you, instead. He told me to look him up if I ever came back to Salida and he would buy me a meal at the restaurant he worked at.
I started my walk feeling good, strong, and happy (despite carrying food and supplies for 105 miles!). It wasn’t long before I spotted three women ahead of me, who were doing a lot of talking. When one of them noticed me, she said, “Let’s let this ambitious hiker pass.”
Another one asked where I was going. “Oh, you are VERY ambitious!” Their names were Kathleen, Irene, and Gail, and they were very friendly. We talked about the Appalachian Trail, and they were just as amazed as the people that I had met earlier in my trip. I asked them why and they said it sounded so idyllic to them- so much green! The climate out here was very different and often arid.
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I continued on my way, still feeling good. The climb was not very difficult.
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Shortly before reaching the alpine environment, I spotted 2 deer (or possibly elk) in the forest! I continued to climb, and for the first time, I saw a wooden sign at the summit! At last, I could see my destination, which psychologically greatly helped. The wind was very strong at the top. I took off my pack, took several pictures, and felt very happy. (The ladies were nowhere in sight!). I had remembered that the cyclist that I had chatted with on the second day had told me that Monarch Pass was his favorite part of the trail, but I didn’t see why. I had already seen better views earlier in my hike.
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On I went, walking along the exposed ridge, stopping to look around often. About a half an hour later, a woman hiked toward me. She stopped and wanted to chat. She was fairly quiet and there were often long pauses, but she kept looking at me, definitely wanting to continue talking. I had kept my pack on, knowing that I had four miles of exposed tundra to cross and it was already 1:30 in the afternoon! I wanted to keep moving! I finally had to put my pack down because my shoulders were in too much pain. After a half an hour, I told her I needed to be on my way.
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I walked as quickly as I could, checking the sky for dark clouds. Before I got to the trees, thunder began to rumble and dark clouds overtook the skies. I couldn’t afford to take any pack or food breaks. I had to keep moving. At last, I reached tree line and sat down to eat some lunch. (the peppermint paddy cupcake had given me plenty of fuel for many miles!)
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I continued on, passed the only shelter on the trail (in the distance), saw mountain bikers ahead, and a hiking couple taking a break in the woods to my right. I continued onto a dirt road, and at some point, saw a pipe with water coming out to the left of the trail. I wasn’t sure if it was safe, so I passed it by. But after a couple of minutes, I decided to check my guidebook pages to see if they said anything about it. It said it was a piped spring! So I returned and collected water. I sat down on the side of the trail and filtered it, as the rain began coming down again. An ATV rider rode passed me. It continued to rain as I walked, and I became very cold. In the distance, I heard ATVs roaring and what sounded like kids making mooing sounds (rather unpleasant). Occasionally, I would stop underneath a pine tree, which sheltered me from the cold rain, but standing still only made me grow colder. So, I continued on. The lady I had talked with had mentioned a log cabin a little ways off the trail, but the ATV riders had taken it over, so I just kept walking. The rain was coming down hard. I passed an outhouse and the parking lot and began the next section. A man appeared on the hill ahead, seemed to look at me for a minute, and then disappeared back. It was a bit unnerving. Later, I saw him with a woman and some baskets. I guess they were just picking something.
At the base of a grass hill, I came to a large tree that was dry underneath and stationed myself underneath it. I added another layer, cut my ripped fingernail (very hard to do with cold, numb fingers!), and waited for the rain to slow. Then, I continued on, climbing again, and then passing through grassy meadowlands with lots of rocks (not good for camping!). Occasionally, I would wander off the trail to look for a camping spot, but I was having no luck. At one point, I passed through a forest area and saw lots of hail and gigantic puddles all over the place! I was glad I was not in this area when the storm hit!
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I continued to look for a spot to camp, but it was either too wet in the woods or too open in the meadows. I went through a cow gate, through an open expanse, through a rocky region, and then climbed up a hill. At the top, I found pine trees! I went in aways and decided I could camp there. But then, I decided to go down the slope and see if there was a better area down there. There was!
As I set up my tent, it began sprinkling again! When it stopped, I made a pot of macaroni and cheese, which again was cold, clumpy, and disgusting! I wanted to watch the sun set on some rocks a couple of minutes away from my tent, but it was not a good night for it. By the time I got into my sleeping bag, it was 8:20. I was too tired and it was too dark out to write anything in my journal.
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