It was a tough night of trying to sleep, as I was set up on a slope, with my head downhill! Everything ended up in that corner, and my sleeping pad (the thinnest possible piece of foam) crumpled up underneath me and felt like a rock. I woke up hot (which felt unusual for sleeping outside, but I guess I had never slept in such a warm climate before). I got up at 5:15, ate a poptart and a little granola, drank some water, and got ready. I crossed over the river for the final time, set my pack down and collected and filtered a bit more water, which was so much colder than the evening before! It was 60 degrees and I wore my fleece jacket and rain gear for warmth. As I climbed the switchbacks, I quickly became warm and had to take off my layers. I could already see the sun shining on the exposed areas above me. I put on sunscreen and prepared myself for the shadeless section. It would be my first time in a desert-like environment, and I appreciated the preview for my PCT hike. Although the trees had burned down, desert plants and flowers were blooming and provided interest along this section.
I had to stop every half hour to take my pack off my shoulders and give them a rest, just as I had done on the AT. At 8:45, as I was trying to photograph an orange flower (this new camera I bought for the trip was doing a poor job of taking close-ups!), Dave caught up to me. He didn’t manage to wake up as early as he had wanted and left at 6:45. I saw some bones that someone had displayed on a tree and tried to take a couple of pictures. (I never feel comfortable taking photographs when hiking with people because they also seem to want to keep moving).
After 30 minutes, I again had to take off my pack (this is also hard for other people to understand, as it only seems to happen to me!). I wished I could be hiking alone, where no one could hear my labored breathing, and where I could stop and rest and take pictures when I needed to. Dave wanted to find a nice place to take a snack break, and I finally found a suitable area after desperately needing to take my pack off again. Since I had already snacked and knew I needed to stop frequently, I wanted to continue. I told him that I was going to go on, but that he would surely catch me quickly. (He did not!). I walked through a short section of forest that managed to escape the fire, and then continued through more burnt areas. When I came to a large rock, I felt so grateful for a piece of shade! You quickly appreciate the smallest things when out in the elements all day long. The temperature had climbed to 91 degrees. My feet started to drag, my pack weighed heavily on my shoulders, and I felt worn out. Cyclists raced past me, and I saw two people on horseback, but I saw no other backpackers other than Dave. I wondered when this burn section of 11.5 miles would end.
Finally, I reached the road, signally the turn off to the fire station where there was emergency water. It’s always hard to walk non-trail miles, psychologically, but this water was necessary. This was the driest year in Colorado since World War 2. It took me some time to find the spicket, but I eventually found it, filled my water bladders, and slowly headed back to my pack. As I neared the end of this segment, a cyclist stopped to ask me how I was doing. I told him I was fine (but I really felt extremely tired and lethargic). I made it to the trailhead and found him seated on a bench, eating a banana. He was a nice, obviously athletic guy, and told me what he knew about the section ahead. He said the next water source was between 6 and 10 miles from here. (I had hoped to hike no more than 5 more miles, so this news felt devastating to me!). “Do you have enough water?” he asked. Yes. I’m fine. I told him pack was too heavy. He cheerfully replied that it would get lighter each day, but all I could think about was how heavy it would be for the 105 mile section ahead of me that I had to do with no re-supply. (The weight of my pack in the 100 mile wilderness at the end of the AT almost did me in!).
I used the outhouse and sat down under a tree to eat my lunch. It was noon. About 40 minutes later, Dave came along and joined me. His parents were coming to meet him to deliver more food and take away his trash (another reason why his pack was so light!). He was planning on hiking to Breckenridge, but decided, after talking to his girlfriend who he was having problems with, that he would go home with his parents and end his hike. He said I could stay and wait for them, but I still had many more miles to hike and I wanted to move on. But he seemed to enjoy my company and wanted me to wait with him. His parents finally arrived, he told them his news, and they offered to top off my water bottles. They asked me how I was coping with the altitude, and we talked about the beetle destruction of the trees along the trail. And then I continued on.
The morning miles had been much steeper than the profiles suggested, but luckily, the afternoon miles were a little more forgiving. Still, I was tired, and my pack was simply too heavy. I stopped every 25 minutes to take the weight off of my shoulders. At 3:30, raindrops began to fall. I took off my pack, and put on my rain clothes and pack cover, realizing that it hadn’t rained at all my first day! (I had heard to expect rain and lightening each afternoon). Then, the rain stopped. I found a place to camp at 3:50- next to a small creek, and set-up my tent. As soon as I had it set-up, it started raining! Perfect timing! Luckily, it was only light rain. I put all of my gear inside my tent and lied down until 5pm. Then I got up, tried to collect water in my pot (was only able to collect a little), filtered the water, and cooked my Thai noodles. I cleaned up and crawled into my tent at 6:30! It seemed so early compared to my AT nights! The squirrels were chattering loudly. I guess they had a nest in the tree behind me and didn’t appreciate me being in their territory! My left eye was watering like crazy, the backs of my legs had gotten sunburnt, as well as the inside of my right leg, and my knees were hurting. The right one (where my leg bones crunch together on the outside of my knee and cause a lot of pain) was especially stiff. (And I had no Arnica to help soothe them). It felt like my period was about to begin. And I felt lonely (which is not something that usually happens when I am in the woods). I wished the nice, young couple was nearby to keep me company. I tried to drift off to sleep as the thunder rumbled in the distance.