I got up at 6 am, dressed, and went for a brief walk looking for something to eat for breakfast. I found nothing. I had called a taxi company the night before and asked them to pick me up at 7. I packed up, drank some water, and went outside to wait for the taxi amid throngs of Mexicans getting on and off of a bus in front of the hostel. My pack was gigantic! I waited and waited on the street corner, looking at my watch every couple of minutes and no taxi came. Finally, I called the company again. It finally arrived and the driver started the meter before I even put my pack in! He had no idea where I wanted to go and made me give him directions. I gave him my maps and read him the directions that I had copied. Finally, he started the cab, first turning the wrong way onto a one-way street… We had to turn around. The meter was rapidly rising and we hadn’t yet made it away from the hostel! By the time we got on the highway, I started panicking about how much this ride was going to cost me! (I thought it was going to approach the cost of my flight from Boston to Denver!) I told him that I thought I needed to get out and find some kind of public transportation (the trailhead was about 35 miles out of Denver). I asked if he could do a flat rate. “No,” he responded. He asked me how much money I had. I told him I couldn’t afford more than $80. He agreed to take me for $80 (although he still didn’t understand where I wanted to go…). After a great deal of tension and worry, we finally arrived at the parking lot at 8:03. Although I had been trying to tell him that we were going to a recreational area, a trailhead where I would start hiking in the mountains, he wondered what I was doing here. “Where are you going? he asked. I said, “Durango.”
“Durango?! That’s far away! Do you want a ride?”
“No! I want to walk there!”
“You’re going to sleep in the mountains? Do you have a tent in there? No wonder you are so skinny! You walk all of the time.”
I told him that I was skinny because I do yoga…
He was incredulous. “I am amaze-ing” he said in his broken english. Yes, you are…
Suddenly filled with wonder, he started looking around the front seat for a water bottle to help me out, but didn’t find one.
I thanked him, bid him goodbye, and walked over to the trailhead sign to take a picture of the beginning of my journey.
I realized that I had forgotten to put sunscreen in my hipbelt pockets, so after having already put on my pack and taken if off several times for pictures, I had to take off my pack once again, put on the sunscreen, and put it back on again.
At 8:30, I was finally ready to begin walking. Not having walked in a very long time, I had no conception of distance- no conception of how far a mile was. My pack was heavy and the day was hot. The first six miles was a relatively flat track that was heavily used by runners and cyclists. I was the only backpacker and I stuck out. For some reason, my pack was filled so high that it reached the back of my head, which was both uncomfortable and embarrassing. When I realized that I hadn’t placed my guidebook pages in my pocket, either, I had to stop and dig them out. Start and stop. Start and stop. As I walked, the pack dug into my shoulders and weighed heavily on my back. I yearned to throw it off and start running like the weekenders who were out. That seemed like a much more freeing idea than carrying this heavy burden. I had thought that as soon as I began this hike, that all of my daily cares would instantly slip away, but instead, I was consumed with the confusion and hurt of the things my new “friend” had texted me. Why would he say those things? I was both physically and mentally uncomfortable. The sun beat down on me, my water turned luke warm, and my chocolate melted. I know understood what the caretaker who I met in the Smokies on the AT meant when he told me that his water would turn to the temperature of tea every day while hiking on the PCT because it was so hot.
The one thing that made me happy, was seeing the bighorn sheep that reside in that first section! Several of them were standing alongside the path, unafraid of the people passing by. I looked up at the rock cliffs and saw more of them! And then, after standing there, taking pictures of them, I saw some of the babies! I was so happy! I could have stayed there all day looking at these animals, but I had to move on. (A backpacker walked by during that time, but did not acknowledge me).
When I finally reached the dam, I knew I had completed the first 6.2 miles, and I felt my first sense of accomplishment. It was 11:14. Just ahead, I saw the two backpackers who I saw starting the trail just as I arrived at the parking lot. They were planning to hike to Breckenridge in six days
9105 miles) and hoped to hike 16.8 miles that day to get to the river. I had only planned to hike 8.9 miles (or 12.6 at the most). An AT hiker I knew that had hiked this trail last year, recommended that I spent the night at Bear Creek, where there was plenty of water, to get acclimated to the altitude. I told the two men that I had done no training at all for this hike- that I had only done yoga! (And then realized that it was obvious that I was actually in much better shape then them…I felt a bit bad about saying that). I moved on, wondering if it might actually be possible for me to hike 16.8 miles as well.
I climbed up the next section and crossed over a bit of muck, only to realize that this was Bear Creek! In no way did my imagination of this place match reality! (The way Wolverine described it made me think I would be camping in a beautiful open meadow, looking over an alpine lake!). I turned back, tried to collect some water from the muck (quickly learning that shallow stagnant water does not flow at all into collapsible water bags), and continued on. There was no reason to stay there. After the creek, the hike became harder. The uphill was steep, I was tired, and my pack was hurting. It was too heavy. I had brought too much food for this first section. My spirits sunk, but I pressed on. I made it to the “dry campsite” at mile 11.8 and continued on to the campsites at mile 12.6. A woman who was hiking a section in the opposite direction was taking a break, and asked me how far I was headed. She encouraged me not to overdo it, and told me stories of hikers who got such bad blisters that they had to end their hike. I continued on the next 4.2 miles to the river, arriving at 4:50! I met a hiker heading the opposite direction who asked. “Are you the girl I saw taking pictures of the sheep?” Confused as to how someone hiking the other way could have seen me early on, I finally realized that he had just collected water and was coming back to set up his campsite (thru-hikers never like going backwards!). He asked me if I had hiked any of the other long trails, and I told him that I had hiked the AT. He then rolled up his shirt sleeve to reveal his tatoo of the AT symbol. He had hiked it in ’08.
I went down to the river and asked some people if they knew where I could camp (camping by the river wasn’t allowed). They said they were going to a campsite 11 miles away and could give me a ride. Eleven miles away?! No, no, no… I just hiked 16.8 miles and have to get up early to start the burn section! I need a place right here! I crossed the river, found a bank to collect water, and met a nice young couple who were finishing filtering their water for the night. They had hiked the 16.8 miles in 2 days and were turning around the next day to hike back to their car. When they found out that I flew out here from Massachusetts, they were completely amazed. “You flew all the way out here just to hike this trail?”. They thought it was incredible that I hiked the 16.8 miles in a day (“You’re fast!”) and were blown away that I hiked the AT for nearly six months. I think I activated their imaginations and they were nice company for me.
I headed back across the river with them to find a campsite, and took the first available mound. “This will do just fine”. They hiked back further to set up their camp. It felt like being in an outside motel- three of us in the same vicinity, but each having our own private areas. It was a nice, comforting set-up. I went back to collect more water, made my first dinner with my new canister stove (mac and cheese) and was visited once more by Dave, the AT thru-hiker, who passed by on his way to get more water. “How was dinner?”, he asked. He wanted to know if I had any duct tape that he could cover his blisters with, so I gave him some. (I started to realize why his pack was pack that he was boasting about was so light…) He asked know how far I planned on hiking the next day and when I planned on starting. We both wanted to get up early because the next section had no shade and no water. A forest fire in the 90s had burned down all of the trees.
I hung my heavy Ursack food bag on a tree and crawled into my new tent, surprised that it was still light out. My shoulders, backs, and hips were sore, and I was sunburnt on my arms. But I had hiked more miles than I expected to, I saw the bighorn sheep that I had hoped to see, and I made it past the section where bears had reportedly stolen the food from several hikers in the past few weeks! And most importantly, I was finally a thru-hiker once again.