The noise of the tent material whipping in the wind got progressively worse throughout the night. There was no way I could sleep through this. I hoped my neighbors couldn’t hear it, as well. At some point in the night, something violently and suddenly struck my thigh hard. Oww! I felt mad! What was that? It turned out to be my hiking pole that was holding up my tent, which was now collapsed. I got up and wrestled it back into position. But the wind continued to whip through my tent. It didn’t let up all night long.
And then, I heard rain. Steady rain. I looked at my watch. 6:02. Just when it was time to get up and get going! This happened 2 days ago, as well! I thought the mornings were supposed to be sunny in Colorado! Since the rain was falling so steadily, I stayed put. The side of my tent was collapsed, so I put my pack (with the pack cover facing out) against that wall to try to create some tautness. Luckily, it didn’t appear that water was dripping into the tent near my head. The rain continued. It was now 7 o’clock! This was ridiculous! I needed to get going! I sat up and dug into my food bag. There was no way to cook, so I ate some cold cereal. Then, I steadily packed up as much as I could, pondering how I was going to break down my tent without getting all of my stuff wet! I decided to pack my Tyvek outside of my stuff sack, instead of at the bottom. I packed up everything inside the tent and then went out to break the tent down. One of the tent guy lines had come of the stake, and I had a hard time finding the loose stake in the tall grass. Finally, at 8am, I was ready to head off. I was pretty sure I was the first one out. I saw the groundcloth and a soggy green, wet tent belonging to the sister and brother headed north. It appeared that I wasn’t the only one who had trouble.
Since it was raining, there really wasn’t an opportunity to take pictures (my memory card was nearly full), and certainly no need to apply sunscreen (which I had been running low on)!
I had to go to the bathroom, but there was nowhere to go. I had to wait until I reached the woods.
After a slight uphill, the trail started to descend “across a rockslide” which my guidebook warned about. Chad had also told me how scary this descent was for him, so I was nervous. But it turned out to be no problem at all! The clay tread was not slippery, and I didn’t find the descent steep or dangerous in anyway. Sometimes, I don’t understand why people make such a big deal about things…
Finally, I found some woods and was able to go to the bathroom. Water was sloshing around in my socks because of the holes in my shoes. It felt so uncomfortable. There were no more views to be seen, no more open landscapes, and it was raining all day. I just wanted the hike to be over with and to be in Durango.
I made it to mile 7.1 of the final segment at 11:40, where there was a campsite, a bench, and a bridge. I decided to have a nice lunch break and make myself a cup of coffee for a treat. I took my food bag and stove and canister over to the bench, and ate my last packet of tuna (I was only able to eat those with the promise of a snickers bar afterwards!). Then, it started to sprinkle again. I guess I wasn’t going to get coffee after all! I moved back to my backpack to keep everything as dry as possible and ate a packet of almond butter and a snickers. Because the rain remained light, I decided to go ahead and make the coffee. I needed the energy and a mood changer.
As the rain became steadier, I packed everything up and moved on, beginning my final climb of this trip (1000 feet over 4 miles). As I approached mile 8, strong emotions began to well up inside up me. I thought a lot about the girl whose brother was hiking with her for 2 weeks and how lucky she was that she got to do that with him. I wondered if Ted would have joined me for any portions of my hikes if he was still alive. I felt both extremely sad and angry that he was taken from me so early and that we never got the chance to spend meaningful time together. I wondered what he would have been like and how we would have gotten along. I wondered what we would do together. It was all so unfair.
I also felt sad and frustrated about the continued resistance from my Swiss friend. We get along so well and so naturally. Why does he have to block this connection? Tears began to flow out as I climbed. It was a cathartic moment for me and I was so glad that the mother and daughter were not around. I didn’t want to make small talk. I needed this time to be alone and to cry.
I knew when I reached the top of the climb, but I didn’t see a bench or an “excellent” campsite like my guidebook mentioned… I was a bit confused. I continued downhill for the next six miles. The hike was essentially over for me. At times, I wondered if I should make the push to go all the way into town tonight, but I felt very tired, and it seemed too far to go.
After awhile, I found a nice place to sit down, eat a power bar, and check for reception. I decided that if I came to the gate at mile 14.4 by 3pm (or just after), I would go all the way tonight. I moved on looking and looking for the gate. Where was it…? Minutes ticked by as I walked and walked, but I saw no gate. Finally, it appeared! It was 3:20. Too late…
A mountain biker came up behind me. He asked if I was finishing up the trail and going into Durango tonight. I told him maybe tomorrow. He went ahead and then said something.
“I’m finishing, too.” He was just finishing his ride from Denver to Durango. I congratulated him and asked him how long it took. Eight days, he said.
“Eight days! You should do the race!” I told him that was the average time it was done in.
He admitted that he was doing this as I test. He knows the first place finisher from the race this year and told me that he set a new record by finishing 15 minutes under 4 days! Wow! The guy I was talking to said he slept every night and didn’t ride at all in the dark (but he rode all day). I mentioned what a hard day this had been for me with the rain starting at 6. He said that luckily, he was already packed up by then, so it didn’t bother him as much. He took off and I continued my solitary walk.
I was now on the look-out for the spring at mile 16.9. Beyond this point, camping was not allowed at any point along the trail. I walked by some flat camping spots, but I wanted to get as close to mile 16.9 as possible, so I could get into Durango in time for breakfast! To my right, I saw a swampy area with tall plants growing out of it. That couldn’t be the “spring”…
Then, I came to an intersection. I checked my guidebook. It wasn’t clear, but it might have been mile 17.1… I went on and reached “Gudy’s rest.” Oh, no… This was definitely mile 17.4! That swamp WAS the spring and I was now a half mile past the point where camping was allowed! I looked at my watch. It was 4:57. There were 4.1 mile to get to the end. I decided to go for it! I drank some water, ate a snack, and slung my pack on my back once more. I walked as fast as I could. I was dead tired, but the thought of finishing tonight and not having to camp again gave me some energy. The terrain wasn’t bad. A runner with a dog came towards me and I wondered if he would be my ride into town. On and on, I walked, as quickly as I could. I crossed a bridge and entered the canyon environment.
A motley group of three guys with water bottles in their hands walked in my direction. The first said hi, but none of them acknowledged what I was doing.
I got really tired and had to sit down on a rock for a break. I dug out another power bar for my last bit of fuel and drank more water. The runner and his dog ran past. I guess he wasn’t the one who was going to give me a ride…
The trail was now pretty flat. I saw a rock sculpture and took a moment to add a rock to it.
Then, I reached a trail head sign. I still had a ways to go, though. It started sprinkling again. I came to a rare trash bin and threw out my trash from the previous few days, realizing that I was now only steps away from finishing. It was time to take it all in. A guy walking his dog came towards me, but didn’t say anything. And then, I reached the parking lot. This was it. My hike was over. I was tired and alone. There was no fanfare. No one was waiting for me. No one was there to congratulate me. But more emotion welled up in me than when I had reached the summit of Mt. Katahdin in Maine, marking the end of my Appalachian Trail thru-hike. Maybe it was because I was so tired. Maybe it was because I was so alone. I had walked from Denver to Durango, hiking these 500 miles in much higher altitude than I had ever been in, crossing miles of exposed terrain in hail and lightening, camping alone almost every night, hitchhiking alone, and hiking all but a few miles alone. I had it done it all by myself. And now, here I was, at the other end. My journey was over.
A woman was about to walk her dog. I asked if she could take my picture. She asked me of I had hiked the whole trail and if I had done it alone. She was impressed.
I took one last look towards the sky. The dark rain clouds that had filled the sky all day were no longer in sight. Instead, the sun was shining through a beautiful array of white, puffy clouds.
I made my way towards the dirt road. Was this where I was supposed to hitch? A woman with two poodles came walking towards me. She asked if I had just finished and if someone was coming to pick me up. She said that if I wanted to wait 20 minutes while she walked her dogs, she would drive me into town. She told me that she was moving and had packed everything up. Otherwise, she would let me sit and wait in her house! “You must have a lot of stories!” she called back as she headed off.
I heard a motor coming in my direction, but couldn’t yet see the vehicle. It sounded like a motorcycle. As it slowly came into view, I saw that it was an old hippie van. I stuck out my thumb and it stopped. “Where are you going?” the woman in the passenger seat asked. They could take me!
The driver got out and opened the sliding door. “Be careful of the small plants,” he said. There were trays of drying mushrooms and basil set out. This couple was on an adventure of their own. They were from Venice Beach, CA and were out here foraging and trading food for seven months. They had just gone out collect water and were discussing whether they needed to treat it or not. (The man, who had already drunk some of it, thought no, and the woman thought yes).
They dropped me off at a gas station towards the middle of town (Durango was much bigger than I had heard it was!) and I made my way to the Durango Inn. I asked how much the rooms were. “$150 for a king and $120 for 2 doubles,” the girl said. My stomach dropped a little. I told her I think I have to go somewhere else and asked where a cheaper place was. She then told me she could give me a room for $89 a night! She said they offered coffee and oatmeal for breakfast (and then realized that was probably the last thing I wanted to eat!).
I made my way to my room and was so excited to see 2 beds with white sheets (just what I was hoping for!), pillows galore, a nice, fancy bathroom, and conditioner, shampoo, and lotion! I was in heaven! I took a shower, feeling so happy to be both clean and having accomplished my goal! I checked my phone. Chad had called, but didn’t leave a message. I had e-mailed him several days ago, but hadn’t heard a response.
I walked into town and headed to Carver’s, where I had heard that thru-hikers get a free beer after completing the trail! As I walked in, I heard a song that my Swiss friend had introduced me to as one of his favorites almost two years ago. It was a song that I had never heard played in America. I was astounded that it was playing now, in this place! I thought it was a sign that his presence was here with me now.
I sat outside in the beer garden (which also reminded me of Europe and him), and ordered a hamburger with avocado, cheese, and bacon. I wasn’t allowed to choose what beer I wanted. I could only get the “Colorado Trail Nut Brown Ale” which I thought was too dark and heavy for me. And it wasn’t even free, because it came with the hamburger I ordered as the special for that night. It turned out to be not so bad, though!
I had called Chad back on the way over and left a message and he called back while I was eating dinner. “What are you doing?” he asked.
“Eating,” I answered.
“Eating?! Are you done?”
“Yes!” (I had said that in my message!)
We talked for awhile. At one point, I mentioned my hike in the Swiss Alps. He said, “You’re pretty well traveled for a kid.” I told him I wasn’t a kid! He had thought that I still lived with my parents! (??)
As we talked more, he started to tell me about his recent troubles. It was what I had already guessed. I had wanted to order dessert, but the waitress didn’t want to interrupt my call. Chad was not about to hang up, though!
Finally, I had to wave her over, but it was too late for coffee. They had dumped the last of it out. I was having trouble deciding between the chocolate cake and the blueberry cobbler. Chad thought I should get the cobbler, so I ordered that. It wasn’t good. It was too corn-syrupy sweet!
I walked back to my motel, still on the phone. It was good to have some company at the end of my trip.