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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