The squirrels let me know that it was time to get up again. (I realized that the places that I pick to sleep underneath the protection of pine trees is also the home of territorial squirrels!) The temperature had dropped to 40 degrees. It was cold! I just wanted to stay nestled in my sleeping bag. My sleeping pad was all crumpled up again, and my piece of Tyvek that serves as my groundcloth had slid towards the tree side. I got up at 6, put on all of my clothes, and went out to pee and retrieve my food bag. My granola had frozen, so I just ate a poptart in my sleeping bag. I was on the trail by 7:06, dressed in my fleece pull-over and rain jacket and pants. My fingers were freezing! I didn’t even want to stop and collect water because I was too cold. There had been a creek running alongside the trail (several yards away and not easily accessible), and I had thought I was approaching the headwaters where it would be easier to collect. But all of a sudden, I was descending into the woods! I had no idea how far away the next water source was! Luckily, everything worked out. There was lots of water in the next segment. As I hiked, fond memories of my time spent with my Swiss friend last summer came into my head and made me smile. And, I saw my first bunny of the hike!
As I continued into the woods, I wondered where the man ahead of me had spent the night. I saw no signs. My body was having a tough time with the climbs today. It just didn’t want to put in the effort, but I kept pushing along. (I had reached an elevation of over 10,000 feet by this point- higher than I had ever been). My goal was to get to Rock Creek at mile 7.3 of this segment. I arrived just after 1 and it was way too hot and early to stop and cook there! It was a pretty area, though. I collected and filtered water and ate part 2 of my lunch- a packet of peanut butter and a snickers bar (earlier I had some beef jerky and trail mix). Then I began another climb. I stopped to chat with a friendly squirrel and then heard 2 people who were headed towards me talking. They weren’t very friendly. They only wanted to know how far away the water was and what it was like. A bit later, an older, more friendly man came along. He asked me how far I was going and I told him I was doing the whole trail. He was very impressed with that, and even more impressed that I was doing it alone. He said that he would never come out here alone and that I was very brave. “Bravery,” he said, pausing and looking into my eyes. “That’s a good thing.” I thanked him and continued on, through meadows, and up smaller hills.
I estimated that I had hiked 9.1 miles of this segment, but there were no more landmarks until mile 14.9, so I had only the elevation profile to guess where I was. The trees became smaller and the landscape opened up, and for the first time, I could see the Continental Divide in the distance! This was the first open view I was able to see on this trail. It had surprised me how much of it had been in the woods. I came to Colorado for its open, sweeping expanses, and had bin a bit disappointed by the scenery so far.
I took a small break and continued walking. My plan was to camp a few miles away from the trailhead and hitch into town the next morning, so I could make the best use of a motel room. Then, thunder started to rumble… Sprinkles of rain started falling. And the trail was continuing to climb! I needed to find a place to camp- away from the lightning- but I didn’t see anything. I looked at the elevation profile and estimated that I was at mile 12 of this section. There were 3.1 more miles to the end of this segment. It was now about 3:40. I decided to make a push to the end and hitch the 20 miles into town that evening! There was no point in staying out in another storm, with no good spots to camp. I noticed the beautiful aspen trees and flowers along the last stretch, as I hurried along. Maybe because I was now on a mission and was trying to hike as fast as I could, my awareness of the things I was missing and would have seen if I had taken more time became stronger.
From the time that I had started planning out this hike, I had been worrying about hitching long distances alone, and as I got closer to the road, I stopped and looked up at the sky, asking the spirits (and my brother) out loud to please deliver me a really nice person at about 5:00 to take me into town. As I continued to walk, I saw the road and heard many trucks whizzing by, which was a good sign for being able to get a ride. I walked on the train tracks after emerging from the woods and made it to the road at 4:45! I had just hiked the first 72.2 miles in 4 days!
I crossed the highway and asked 2 bikers which direction Fairplay was. “Are you going to walk there?” the man asked me. “No! I’m going to hitch” and I stuck out my thumb as the first car passed by. It didn’t even slow down.
A silver car pulled into the dirt parking area, and 2 women got out of the car. They were clearly tourists, and played around the trail signs, completely ignoring me. I continued to stick my thumb out, but no car would stop. I started to become a bit demoralized. I looked at my watch. It read 4:55. I still had time… Two big trucks slowly came up the hill, heading towards me. I felt a bit scared and put my thumb down. One of the trucks pulled into the parking area and rolled down his window. I walked over to him and he asked where I was going. “Fairplay” I answered.
“Come on in.”
I looked over at the ladies, half hoping that they would finally offer me a ride, but they still didn’t acknowledge me. So, I climbed into the passenger seat, set my pack down, and glanced at my watch. It was 5:00.
Still, I felt a bit wary. There was a bed behind the seats. I hoped he didn’t want anything from me. He asked me if I had ever been in a truck with beds before. Nope…
He turned out to be a very nice man. His name was Ron and he told me that he usually takes another, more direct route to his destination, but tonight, for some reason, he felt compelled to take the more scenic route. He didn’t know why. We talked about the storm that had rolled in last night. He called me a “tough cookie.” And he told me about the time that he picked up three punk teenage girls who were hitchhiking from Florida to get to a concert in Denver on the 4th of July years ago. At this one location, no car would stop for them. Without any camping gear, they spent the night in a meadow next to a highway in the rain. The next morning, Ron drove by and picked them up. They couldn’t thank him enough. Not only was he the first trail angel of my hike- he was simply an angel! He dropped me off at the gas station at the entrance to town, shook my hand, and handed me my pack. I dug out my town map and guidebook pages and determined that one motel was not far ahead. I went in and asked how much a room was. I decided to stay. The man behind the desk asked me what my name was and then said, “I’ve always liked that name!” (Ever since he heard the song from the 60s with my name in it). I asked him for dinner recommendations, went to my room, showered, and then called my sister to wish her an early happy birthday. It was pouring out and I was glad I had chosen to come all the way into town. I was growing hungrier and hungrier while on the phone and told my sister I needed to eat.
I headed across the street to the little barbecue place. I felt SO tired! I ordered a pulled pork sandwich (which was a bit spicy for me) and texted my “friend” back home. He had texted a couple of times and I felt bad about not responding. It was nice to have a bit of company over dinner, even if it was virtual company. The owner of the place was a chatterbox. She guessed that I was a hiker when I pulled my money out of my ziplock bag. I told her that I had just walked 72.2 miles and had 416 to go. “No wonder you are so skinny!” she said. “You walk all the time!”.
“No,” I told her. “It’s from doing yoga. That’s all I did to train for this!”.
“Yoga- I just had class yesterday and will again tomorrow,” she said. “I’m never bitchy after yoga class.”
“I know! Isn’t it the best?”
She told me that they did hip openers yesterday and that she hoped they would do backbends tomorrow. She asked me what my favorite pose was.
I told her I didn’t have a favorite, but that I was excited about going from camel to thunderbolt for the first time on my own a few weeks ago.
“I’m going to ask my teacher if we can do that one!” she said.
She talked about how they did buzzing breath, robin’s breath, and lion’s breath and then said, “You should come to class tomorrow morning!”
The idea made me so happy! I told her I didn’t have yoga clothes with me. (“Stay in the back row and don’t go in front of me!” she responded). “I’ll pick you up at 7:45 right outside the motel.”
I ate my blueberry cobble with cinnamon ice cream, so happy that I decided to eat dinner at this place and so happy that I mentioned doing yoga. Great things were already happening to me. Chrisselda returned with her special rock formed from the tears of the Apache woman that was given to her by a customer who was in the military and who left these rocks in all of the places to which he traveled in the world. She told me about the powerful energy it contained and let me hold it to see for myself.
I returned to my room, tried calling Laura a second time that day, tried to find my chiropractor’s e-mail to let him know how I was doing, and e-mailed the person in my lab who would be sending my next couple of mail drops to let him know I was already ahead of my planned schedule. I finally went to bed a little after 9, but the pillows were too thick and fluffy and I couldn’t sleep like that! So, I had to lay flat without a pillow. (I also discovered that I already forgot to flush the toilet in my motel room! How quickly you adapt to a different lifestyle…) It rained a little more as I tried to sleep.
Today, I realized that when I hike these long trails, I never feel damaged, inadequate, lacking in anything, or that I am somehow not “good enough” like I often feel in regular life. Out here, I feel strong and confident, without fear, and generally happy. I feel like the brave person that everyone who meets me tells me I am. I feel more like the real me.