Colorado Trail, encapsulated

Waking up in Durango the following morning, having completed a goal that had been in my mind for the past three years, felt wonderful. For the next two days, I had nothing to do but sleep, eat, and relax! There have been so few days in my life in which I’ve felt this way. I hung out at the Steaming Bean and enjoyed a latte and a bagel sandwich with tomato and avocado, wrote a few notes, caught up with a few people back at home, and headed back to my room. I let myself sleep as much as I needed. I weighed myself on the scale in the motel gym and found that I weighed only 117 pounds! I hadn’t weighed that little since high school! Although I had lost a lot of weight and muscle, I still felt good. And after a day of resting, it was clear that my body was ready to start moving again!

I find the contrasts between my regular life and my thu-hiking life to be incredible. At home, I could sleep all day long and never feel like I am well-rested and ready to get up. I eat a lot of junk food because it often seems that sweets and coffee are the only things that boost my mood and energy, even if only in the few moments after, and I eat often throughout the day. I only physically exert myself during my yoga practices, and my energy level fades easily. My spirit feels small and contained and unfulfilled.
When I thru-hike, however, the extra weight quickly disappears from my body, just as the pressures from life release from my mind. I become strong, grounded, centered, and full of possibility. Life opens up around me. Fear dissipates. I work much harder than I do at home, and I make visible daily progress towards a goal that I have set for myself. All of my energy is given to this singular goal. I am not torn in several directions. I have a purpose. Every day is unique and special. Every day holds distinct memories. I breathe fresh air, live with the rhythms of nature, rising with the sun, and lying down with nightfall. I make the most of each day. I am inspired by the beauty that I see all around me.

Carrying everything that you need to survive for days on your back, allows you to quickly realize what is truly important in life. Certainly, the physical body needs air to breathe, water to drink, food to eat, and clothes and shelter to keep warm, but it is clear to me that the ability to express one’s self, as well as positive energy from others are equally necessary for the spirit to thrive. A kind word or smile from a stranger can do wonders to boost the spirit of another. And the ability to talk about how one is feeling or what they are going through can bring incredible relief, as well as the acknowledgement of being seen. We all want to be seen. When any of these essential pieces of life are missing, incredible happiness is felt when found again. Happiness is so easily attained.
As physically alone as I was for most of the hike, an endeavor such as this is not possible without the help of others. Thru-hikers rely on the kindness of strangers to give us rides into town in order for us to rest, re-supply, and recharge. People at home are needed to send us our re-supply packages and be there to pick up left-over pieces of life back home. A warm attitude goes a long way towards easing the difficulty and struggles in a journey such as this and notes of encouragement become especially uplifting. I was lucky to have someone who was looking after me at various times throughout my journey. No one person was constantly there, but there was always someone I could communicate with. And the best cheerleader award goes to my chiropractor, Dr. Maalouf, who always had something encouraging and uplifting to say to me!

When I set forth on that hot, sunny day at Waterton Canyon, I was unaccustomed to the heavy pack on my back, completely out of synch with the rhythms of backpacking, feeling out of place amidst the throng of runners and cyclists on the path, and bogged down with the confusing anger, criticisms, and blame from my “friend” back home. There were no other thru-hikers around, unlike my start on the Appalachian Trail, no excitement about heading to Durango, and no big, expansive views as I had expected to see in Colorado. My days and nights were filled with incredible discomfort from the weight of my pack on my shoulders, the burning sun, the effort of moving and breathing at high altitude (I hadn’t known that it takes the body three weeks to become acclimated), and the hardness of sleeping on the ground without a proper sleeping pad. There was no one around to provide positive energy or humor, and at times, I wondered what I was doing out here. But as I continued to walk, I began to shed excess layers and pounds, leaving all things unnecessary behind. I learned to release my fear around things such as hitchhiking alone, and being struck by lightning on long, exposed high altitude ridges. I clearly saw how everything I had done before had prepared me for this hike, just as this hike was preparing me for the next. I met people who reflected qualities that I don’t often acknowledge about myself back to me. I reflected on the timing of such meetings (Chrisselda in Fairplay who brought me to the yoga class with her, the man at the restaurant who I shared a table with and who drove me all the way back to the trail, Chad and his stories of spirituality and awareness, Mel who brought wine to my tent on a cold, stormy night…) and realized that the choices I had made allowed me to meet those particular people at those particular times. But, I also felt that there was a higher alignment at work. Something much greater than myself was looking after me and keeping me protected and these people appeared exactly when they were most needed. I learned to trust and to remain open.
It took me a couple of weeks to get adjusted to this new rhythm of living, and by then, I realized that my hike was nearly half over already! I looked forward to hiking a longer trail and living this lifestyle for months at a time again on the PCT. Five weeks is too short of a hike.
But there were several things about this hike that made it more enjoyable than my AT hike. The first was that there were far fewer people on the trail, which for me meant far fewer problems during my hike. I had many people problems on the AT, and it was such a relief not to be bothered by anyone out here. It was also more relaxing to not have the pressure of keeping a public journal. I had been harassed by an AT hiker at the end of my hike, who often signed into my guestbook as various made-up names and wrote made-up slanderous things about me. He continued this behavior for several months after my hike. I didn’t want to have to deal with those kinds of problems again, so I didn’t write an online journal and only wrote down things for myself when I had leftover energy at night. No one was expecting anything from me, and I wasn’t letting anyone down. And no one was judging what I had to say about my experience, or harassing me. This hike was more for me, and even though I was exhausted most days, it felt more relaxing because I didn’t have a second job of writing for other people. The trail, itself, was also much gentler on the body than the AT. The altitude was very challenging and something that I didn’t experience on the AT, but the tread was mostly dirt, which allowed for greater daily miles. I loved the open exposed terrain once I finally got to those parts, but the other side of the beauty was the danger that went along with it. I always felt in a race to get through those parts to beat the impending storms, and never got to linger or enjoy them. Overall,though, this hike was a wonderful experience.

When I returned home, some of my yoga friends commented on how different I looked. I thought it was because I had lost weight, but one of my teachers told me that my face looked different, as well- that it looked more open. Several people also asked me if I had grown! I was worried that all of the work my chiropractor had done would be erased and that my shoulders would slump forward again from the weight of my pack. But it turned out that just the opposite had occurred! My rhomboids had strengthened from having to work against the weight of the pack, and my posture had actually improved!

My worry now was how could I keep these effects. How could I remain open and happy while returning to work? That was the big challenge! After my AT hike, it took only 5 days at work for my spirit to feel crushed and imprisoned. I rapidly grew depressed and put on more weight than I ever had before. When I expressed my concerns after my Colorado hike to my yoga teacher, Jacqui, she said, “Just keep stepping over the obstacles in your path like you stepped over the rocks on the trail!” She’s a smart one, that Jacqui! I really liked that advice. Sometimes, I would look down at my feet and pick them up, remembering that I can just step over the things in my way!
When I saw her again a couple of weeks later, she asked, “How’s the trail?… I mean this one!”

I remained as strong as I could for as long as possible, making it through this past winter the best I ever have with the help of my yoga practice. I’m proud of how far I have come. But the effects of the hike just couldn’t be sustained. My energy levels greatly faded, and the extra weight came back on… My purpose was gone.

The time has now come for me to take another long journey. It’s time for me to really live again.

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Day 33 of the Colorado Trail

August 22

23.6 miles

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)!
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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…
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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.
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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.
“What?”
“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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

Day 32 of the Colorado Trail

August 21

16.3 miles

Light arises noticeably later in the mornings. At 6 am, it is still dark out! Fall is coming. Even so, I got up just after 6, cooked some oatmeal, got ready, and hit the trail at 7:08. I walked out of the woods, back down to the trail where I had my dinner last night, through a meadow, and soon after came to two much nicer campsites. Oh, well. It turned out that I had gotten one of my best night’s sleep last night, actually. No animals bothered me (probably because I wasn’t sleeping in a place people normally sleep).
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Luckily I had my strength back today! I made my way through the first part of the day quickly. A man headed up the hill towards me wanted to inform me where I could get water before the lake (around 15 miles away). I had 2 1/2 liters on me! Sometimes, I think I must have “helpless” written across my forehead, but actually, it seems these guys are the ones who haven’t planned where to get their water and have gotten themselves in bad situations because of it.
I reached the last possible place to camp before the tundra sometime after 11, where there was a side trail to a “great view.” I decided to check it out. It really wasn’t worth it… Maybe it was great if you weren’t going to climb any higher!
I continued on, committing myself to cross Indian Ridge in the afternoon. I took a snack break about a mile before entering the tundra and I could see the exposed terrain from this spot. It looked beautiful!
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At 12:08, I reached the “tundra”. It was not as exposed as the guidebook made it seem! There were scattered evergreens and scrub brush throughout- many places to dive into if lightning struck! I couldn’t understand why there were such dire warnings about this section!
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At one point, I heard a man’s voice, which surprised me, especially since I saw no one. Later, I saw two backpackers ahead of me, climbing the switchbacks. I scared two more grouse and saw a weasel on top of some rocks! It was so cute! It was too quick for me to get a picture, though. The sight of a new animal made me very happy.
A bit later on, I caught up to the couple who were now eating on the grass. They didn’t even hear me when I was right behind them while I took a picture of the view! When they did notice me, they were very friendly and asked if I was coming from Denver. The man asked how old I was. “You look 22,” he said. His wife thought I looked 23. (I’m not sure how people were getting these impressions…). They commented on how I was almost done and I said I was kind of sad about that. They said they felt the same way. I had been doing a good job of enjoying my time in the last segment, as well as thinking of things to look forward to when I got home, though. (It’s always a tough transition).
The couple was from VT and had started their hike in segment 18. The guy was a writer and wanted to take photos of the mountain bikers out here and interview them about their gear for an article. I had been standing on the trail with my backpack on the entire time we were talking, and finally decided I might as well have my lunch, too, if we were going to keep chatting. We talked about the AT and the problems I had with certain people on it. They were very sympathetic and wondered what could be done to prevent such problems in the future. We talked about the thru-hikers on the CT this year that we had both met (Andrew, who we agreed should be called Andre, and Chad and Jasmine, all of whom were really nice). We also talked about the PCT and the John Muir trail (which they had hiked). They finished eating first and took off, but it didn’t take me long to overtake them again.
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The rest of the hike on the ridge was beautiful and the climbing wasn’t too difficult! I had asked the spirits for a clear day and they had delivered!
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I started down a very steep and gravelly descent, which was very slow going for me, but the views were wonderful! I could see the lake we all planned to camp at (due to water scarcity and lack of camping spots in the next 8 or so miles).
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I reached it at 3:22! I was surprised to see that another couple had set up tents there. The ground was not very conducive to tent stakes, so I set my tent up in tall grass (not sure how it was going to be lying down on it…). It did not set-up easily, however. I struggled a good bit with it and then collected water to filter. Tim and Delia came down and scoped out a spot to set up. As nice as the lake looked as we descended, the ground was very clumpy and unpleasant to sleep on. I had imagined that I would finally get to put my feet in water (for only the second time), but approaching the edge of the water, I saw giant dead amphibians with four limbs everywhere! Disgusting! Later, I noticed they were even in the creek where I had collected my water! They looked like catfish with 4 limbs! Delia wondered if what was killing them would be harmful to us, as well. I didn’t think so. (Tim thought it was from lack of oxygen. He said they were newts).
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Delia asked me if I had a filter pump they could borrow because theirs had broken. I let them borrow my Sawyer (gravity) filter. I asked them if they would mind taking some pictures of me doing yoga poses (now was my chance!) and Tim said Delia would love to do that! They had asked me earlier in the day if I had seen a mother/daughter team. They were thinking that tonight would be their last chance to reunite (they had met them earlier in the hike, but had lost them when they had gone into town). I hadn’t seen them, but said I bet they would reunite tonight as the young couple I had seen yesterday mentioned them as well.
While Delia and Tim were setting up, the girl who was already set up came to the edge of the water to wash her clothes. She asked me if I had hiked the whole trail and was very excited to see another female doing it alone. She was just starting her hike in the opposite direction and was joined by her brother, who would be hiking with her for the first 2 weeks, and then her parents would hike with her for a week. She would finish the rest alone. She thought I should find a job with NOLS.
Delia filtered liters and liters and liters of water. Then, she said she was ready to take pictures. I hadn’t done any yoga (except for that one little class) since before my hike, so I didn’t know what my body was going to be able to do, but despite the loss of a lot of muscle, and no stretching or back bending, it seemed to still remember!
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The mother and daughter team did make their way to the lake and Tim and Delia had a very excited, outgoing reunion with lots of hugs and exclaiming. They set their tents up on the other side of the lake and the couple returned my filter and said goodbye. They told me that the mother and daughter planned to camp tomorrow where I had planned to camp (about 5 miles before Durango). I felt a little sad about this, because I didn’t click with them, and wished to spend my last night on the trail and finish just as I had started- all on my own. I was left alone to eat my pot of bean soup, cold and lonely. (There was such great possibility of this being a social night, but the other parties wanted to stay among themselves…)
The temperature had rapidly dropped from the 80 degrees when I first set-up here and dark clouds had overtaken the sky. I could hear the talking and laughing between Delia and Tim and the mother and daughter until it got completely dark out as I lied in my sleeping bag. I saw why my tent was so difficult to set-up. My hiking pole (that is used as the main support and height of the tent) had slipped and was slanted, not allowing the back wall to be taut. I hoped that it wouldn’t rain. As soon as I tried to go to sleep, the wind started whipping…
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Day 31 of the Colorado Trail

August 20

20.1

Rain, rain, rain!

I noticed that it wasn’t as light as it should have been when I got up to pee. At 6am, it started raining! (What?) How strange! I made some oatmeal and ate it sitting on top of my sleeping bag instead of needing to huddle inside of it, as it was 56 or 57 degrees- the warmest morning on the trail yet! I decided to take it slow and not rush out into the rain. When there was a pause, I decided it was time to break down the tent, so I got out and wiped off as much of the water on it that I could. And then (of course) the rain started again! I crawled back inside my tent, took my sleeping bag out of my pack again and lied down for a bit. There was no point in going anywhere right now. This also meant that I would not be hiking a long day today! Mother nature had spoken. The next time the rain stopped, I packed up the tent and got moving. It was 7:53 by the time I got on the trail.
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I didn’t feel so great today. I had cramps from my period and was very cold. I hiked with my rain gear and hat on for most of the morning. The rain kept coming down. For what was the warmest morning so far, it was now the coldest of hiking days. I saw two groups of grouse in the morning hours. They blend in so well with the trees (which doesn’t make for good pictures)!
My energy was very low and I felt hungry earlier than usual. I found a tree to sit under to eat lunch while the rain came down. I was shivering.
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As I continued on towards the last big climb of the day, I saw a couple ahead of me making the ascent! I was gaining on someone else! I stopped several times on the climb to take pictures and catch my breath for a moment. The pass was at an elevation of 12,000 feet, and the effects of altitude always seem to kick in above 10,500 feet.
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I could see the girl posing for pictures at the top. I didn’t make it to the top before the rain started coming down hard again. All views were obscured by the clouds. I was just a few minutes too late. Luckily, the descent was pretty, and the red clay under my feet was not slippery. It was so green that it made me think of Ireland.
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I took a break once the rain let up and turned on my phone. I was so surprised to see that I had reception (it was virtually non-existent in the second half of the trail)! And I got four texts! One of them was from my Swiss friend, who asked me to let him know when I would be in town next because he would like to talk! (I had been thinking that it is always me who initiates contact, and that he had completely dropped out of my life in the past couple of weeks, so this was a huge surprise for me!).
The rain kept coming down. I slogged on. At the creek, I caught up to the couple who were ahead of me and we chatted a bit. They were section hiking. They found a place to camp not much farther ahead, and I continued on, mile after mile. When the rain cleared, pretty light reflected off the mountains in the distance.
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In my final mile, I could see huge dark clouds behind me! I felt like they could quickly overtake me, so I hurried to find a campsite. I went up into the woods on my right and searched for some fairly level ground without too many sticks underneath. I set up my tent as fast as I could and then noticed the clouds dispersing. I returned to the trail from the middle of this dense forest so I could have a view while I ate my last thai noodle dinner.
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Then, I returned to my tent to change into dry socks and settle down for the night. I only have 39 miles to hike before reaching Durango! I wished for good, clear weather tomorrow afternoon for crossing Indian Ridge.

Day 30 of the Colorado Trail

August 19

14.8 miles

Despite all of the activity during the night, I felt well-rested and ready to get up at 6:45! (Amazing!). I showered, got dressed, and went to the same place for breakfast as I did yesterday. I ordered the same omelette, but got the Belgian waffles instead of the pancakes this time. Once back in my room, I gave Amanda a call. We had a good conversation and agreed to help inspire each other to write. We are both interested in the same things. My Swiss friend did not reply to the message I had written him yesterday. Both he and my other “friend” had dropped out of contact, and I felt very distant and disconnected from them.
I returned to the breakfast place to have my water bottles filled up (they didn’t fit under the sink faucet), and talked to the motel owner about getting a ride back to the trail. He had told me yesterday that he offered that service to hikers, and we could pay him what we thought it was worth (that way, the responsibility was on us). He said he needed 15 minutes, so I did some back bends and half a sun salutation in the meantime, and was surprised that I seemed not to have lost a lot of my flexibility!
The ride to the trail was nice. The owner asked me, “So, what’s your story, Wendy? Who are you and why are you out here?” Wow! This was a perceptive guy and these were my favorite questions! I told him my story and he was very encouraging to me and told me that I was strong. When we arrived at the trailhead, he told me to enjoy the rest of my hike. “Heck, enjoy the rest of your life!. Don’t let those people get you down!”. I was glad that I had my sunglasses on because tears immediately formed in my eyes.
As I was putting on sunscreen along the side of the highway, I got whistled at. (I didn’t mind…) And then, I headed across the road and was off once again!
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Despite my heavy pack, I did just fine. I passed a bunch of day hikers in the early section and eventually was on my own again. The beautiful southwest scenery reminded me of one of my yoga teachers, Jacqui, and I thought about her a lot in this section. I found out while hiking out here that she had lived in Durango for part of her life! I really liked the red stripes in the mountains. It was a bit dry for my taste, but the landscape was open and beautiful.
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A couple of mountain bikers passed me. One of them liked my hiking skirt.
Around 2, I found a tree to sit under to eat my lunch at the top of a hill. I said out loud, thinking about my food distribution over the course of the next several days, “I don’t think I need my Snickers.” At that moment, a good-looking backpacker rounded the corner. (“Well, hello there!”) I asked him where he was going. “Durango”
“So am I!”.
He said he had to catch up with the rest of his group ahead. Of course, he did… By “group”, he probably meant girlfriend!
It didn’t take me long to catch them- young husband and wife, their dog, and the father of one of them. They were only hiking 13 miles a day and planned on getting to Durango on Saturday. We all planned to camp at mile 12.3 into this segment. They told me to go ahead and get set-up (like it was just a hop, skip, and jump for me!). They thought we were now at mile 8.5.
It took me a bit of time, but I reached the turn-off at mile 10.2. The trail opened up into an incredible landscape again! Wow! I kept stopping to take pictures of the unbelievable peaks.
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I crossed the saddle and started to descend the switchbacks. I could see the lake I hoped to camp at in the distance! It looked like what I imagine Tahoe to look like. The thought of finally camping by a lake made me happy. Although I felt a bit sad at the start of this segment, knowing that it was my last, and already missing the animals and scenery, I concentrated on enjoying these 4-5 days, on being fully in the moment, and looking forward to things in the future. I felt strong, relaxed, and happy (despite the pain of cramps).
I descended for a very long time and the lake disappeared from my sight. After I reached the next intersection, I realized I had passed it! I was now at mile 12.9. I was not going to turn back. My guidebook said there was camping at mile 14.8, so I pressed on. I felt fine, and it would only be to my advantage to make a little more progress today. I found a nice spot under the familiar pines and set-up my tent. I couldn’t stomach the idea of eating macaroni and cheese again (without butter, mind you), so I just munched on some snacks and enjoyed my Snickers bar. My only pressing concern was when I would reach Indian Ridge. My guidebook strongly warned about the danger of crossing the ridge in the afternoons, and unfortunately, that is exactly when I would reach it. I would either have to hike a really long day tomorrow, or risk being on the ridge in the storms…
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Day 29 of the Colorado Trail

August 18

5 miles

Last night, I lied down to sleep, exhausted from a long, wet day. I heard the edges of my Tyvek groundcloth rustling near my head and assumed that the wind must have been particularly strong. It was a cold night and I slept on and off. I woke up at 1:20, and my Tyvek was still rustling. At 4am, I sensed an animal near the edge of my tent. I told it to go away, but it remained, so I batted the sides of my tent. It kept coming back! I shined my headlight and batted the tent again. Then, I felt something on my upper arm! My brain immediately perceived that if the animal was outside my tent, there was no way I could feel it on my arm! The animal must be INSIDE my tent!! I jumped up and turned around. I saw a creature bounce up against the head of my tent!! What was that? A frog?! A mouse?! I let out a shriek and shined my light in that direction. A mouse was frantically trying to climb up the netting! A mouse had been rustling beside my head all night long! I unzipped the tent as fast as I could and raced outside (realizing, thanks to my yoga, that the poor mouse was just as frightened as I was and wanted to be released as much as I wanted it gone!) I peed and then looked up at the sky. I noticed a brilliant field of stars for the first time on my hike! But I had more pressing matters to attend to than looking at the stars! I had to get the mouse out of my tent! I pulled back the Tyvek and saw nothing. I contemplated staying outside my tent until the sun came up, but it was much, much too cold for that. I decided to go back in the tent and turn my sleeping bag around so that the mouse wouldn’t be near my head. It was REALLY cold. I rested my head on my backpack so it would be lifted from the ground and tried to rest. Then I heard a rustle! My body jumped. It’s still in here! Several times this happened… My body was exhausted and desperately needed sleep, but it was being pumped full of adrenaline. I wished daylight would come soon! The wind was now really kicking in. Finally, at 6, light appeared! I got up, ate a quick snack, and got my stuff together. Then, I heard a noise on the train tracks. It was 6:35. It seemed extremely early for a tourist train to be coming through! I saw a headlight and then a tiny, single car came along. It was followed by another, and then another. A whole parade of them! Some waved to me. I broke down my tent and packed up, heading past the other camper who was standing outside his tent. I said hi, but he said nothing back! How strange! (This was the person that the group of guys had mentioned to me. He seemed to present a weird vibe to them, as well).
I was bundled up in all of my layers- hat, fleece hood, and gloves.
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I crossed the Animus River and came to a lovely creek, but my hands were too cold to fill up my water, and I didn’t want to carry the extra weight up the 5 mile climb ahead of me. I got warm quickly as I ascended, and had to stop and strip off layers a couple of times.
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A couple of miles into the hike, I ran into a husband and wife team who were running the trails. The woman wanted to chat with me. She said that what I was doing was a very honorable thing! She asked me if I had had any incidents and I told her about the one I had last night. “At least it wasn’t a bear,” she said. (If it were a bear, it certainly wouldn’t have been INSIDE my tent!)
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I continued to climb, feeling like I was going kind of slow. At one point, I saw a canine stealthily sneaking across the trail, with its eyes fixed on something. I was surprised it didn’t take notice of me with my loud, labored breathing. As I got closer, it looked around and as it saw me, darted off and sprang into the forest. I wasn’t able to get a picture. I think it was a fox, or perhaps a lynx.
I passed Molas Lake and continued on. I was so close to the highway, but was never reaching it! The trail wound about. I saw people looking out over an overlook and hoped to reach them quickly to see if I could catch a ride into town, but I had a long series of switchbacks to climb, which took me further away from them. Finally, I came out onto the highway (well below the overlook). I was exhausted! I stuck out my thumb to the passing cars, but no one stopped. I had to trudge uphill to the overlook, where tourists were stopping. It was my best chance to get a ride into Silverton (six miles away). No one paid any attention to me there, either. They were only interested in taking in the view, using the restroom, and getting back into their cars. I saw an elderly couple head to their car and asked if they were going to Silverton. “Yes,” they replied.
“Would you mind giving me a ride?” I asked.
The husband looked at his wife and said, “Up to you.” She looked at me uncomfortably.
“It’s okay. I can ask someone else.” I said.
“I don’t feel comfortable,” she responded. Sigh…
A promising young, athletic couple came into the lot. The man was looking through his giant camera while the woman used the restroom. I checked out their car and saw that the backseats were out. Bummer.
Then I went over to an Asian couple taking photographs with a tripod. “Are you by any chance going to Silverton?” I asked.
“Yes.”
“Would it be possible to take me?”. They said yes! Hurray! I went to get my pack while they made room in the back. They were a nice couple- Frank and Lisa. They were on vacation and were very relaxed and at ease (opposite to the elderly couple!). They even offered me water. We talked about the trail and the extremely dry year.
They dropped me off at the Brown Bear Cafe, as breakfast was the first thing on my mind! I thanked them several times and walked across the street. I took off my pack to leave outside. A woman was sitting on the bench and started chatting with me. She was really impressed with me taking the time to do this “especially at your age”. She believes that spending this time in nature will make me a better person. She asked what made me do this, which I always think is a great question, and she volunteered to watch my pack while I had my breakfast.
I ordered an omelette with cheese, mushrooms, peppers, ham, and toast. I went out to see if the lady wanted to leave, but she was fine, so I said I was going back to order my second breakfast. Finally, I had my trail appetite! I ordered 2 blueberry pancakes and doused them with syrup and butter. I had coffee, as well as water. I felt very dehydrated from not drinking much on the hike this morning. The woman’s man friend came in to give me my pack back, as she was ready to leave. I checked my e-mail and caught up on facebook. I learned the very sad news that my friend Amanda and her boyfriend were separating after having a baby five months ago, and I felt so sad for her.
I then made my way over to the Prospector Motel, where the man in the office was on the phone. He told the person at the other end that there was a “young lady” waiting. He had one room left for $57. Perfect! The room wasn’t ready yet, but he said he would put my pack in my room for me. He was very nice.
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I made my way to the post office, picked up my resupply box, sorted through my things, and sent a small box home. From the post office, I saw a street with an “Arcade” sign and immediately knew that this was where the gun show that Chad had mentioned took place. I laughed out loud.
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On my way back, I passed by the couple who refused to give me a ride. I gave them a big smile!
Once back in my room, I showered, put my dirty clothes in my sleeping bag liner, and then headed the several blocks in town to the RV park where I could do my laundry.
Screen shot 2013-04-03 at 12.23.59 PMThe man in charge was thankful that I was doing my laundry there! I called Charlie back, wrote Amanda a message, and flipped through some magazines. Two workers came in to do some laundry. The coins had gotten stuck in the dryer I was using and one of the women helped me out.
I listened to my ipod on my way back to my room. When I reached my door, the owner saw me and asked me if I did my laundry. “Done!” I proudly said.
He nodded. “Go and get some rest now!” he said.
I thanked him. I tried to nap, but it was difficult again! I was hungry. I got up at 3:45 and walked back into town to find some dinner. I got to Steller’s Pizzeria at 4pm. There was only one other party in the restaurant, but the service was extremely slow. I ordered a cup of tomato bisque soup, a small salad, and a San Juan Supreme 8 inch pizza. Before I even had a chance to eat the pizza, the waitress kept asking me if I wanted it boxed! (Give me a chance, lady…!). I decided to order a Stella Artois to have with my pizza. The owner introduced himself to me. “What’s your name? You look familiar. Are you from Durango?” He asked if I would be coming back for dinner tomorrow or was I headed back to the trail. I finished my pizza and was too full for dessert. I chatted with the waitress and with a couple who were celebrating their 12th anniversary. We heard gunshots while we were talking. The gun show!
I went in search for another candy bar to add to my food bag, but the store had a sign saying “be back in five”, so I went across the street to get a piece of fudge. The girl gave it to me for free because she said it was so tiny!
I went back to the store to get my candy bar. The cashier told me about the free brass band concert that evening and the railroad exhibit. The gun show was having a slow start, as the audience was not yet big enough. I decided to walk down to the train station. I called Chad and left him a message, telling him that I just wanted to let him know the gun show was about to begin in Silverton! The depot was closed, but I saw the array of put-put cars lined up on the tracks.
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I called Laura and left her a message, then listened to some Michael Jackson on my way back! Fun! Chad called back. He had just finished a 9 hour bike race and was going to eat some Mexican food. He implored me to go walk around the Grand Imperial Hotel and see if the hairs stood up on my arms. I didn’t feel comfortable walking into a place I wasn’t staying at, but he insisted. “Go in like you own the place.” I did and the hairs kind of did stand up on my arm.
I went back to my room to plan the next (and final!) section a bit, and then headed out again to check out the concert. All of the seats were long taken by the time I arrived, so I stood in the back. The band was composed of volunteers from all over the country who paid their own way to come out here and perform for a few days. They played Carmen, the theme from Superman, a Wellington- style piece, and a foxtrot, among many others. The conductor was very articulate. I managed to get a seat when some others left. I began to feel very sleepy, though. My eyelids were starting to close, so I left at the intermission and headed back to my room. Amanda had written me back and informed me of two other break-ups from yoga people that I love. It was almost too much sadness for me to bear.
As I was getting ready for bed, a huge moth flew into the bathroom! I was unable to get it out, so it stayed in there all night! At 9:43, Chad called back, wondering if I had checked out the Imperial. He told me about his experiences with spirits. Later, he talked about how strong he felt, despite the bad things that were currently happening to him, and how riding his bike helped release some of these emotions. It reminded me of how I was feeling in Lake City. I asked him if he was ever going to to tell me what happened to him. “Uh… I don’t know…Only if it feels right…” he responded. (Men…!)
He called me buddy and told me to call him again.
Throughout my sleep, I was bothered by the term “buddy”… and had a conversation with him about it in a dream. I had to get up to go to the bathroom three times during the night and hoped the gigantic moth with its huge hairy body would not fly onto me! So scary!

Day 28 of the Colorado Trail

August 17

21.2 miles

I slept in a half an hour later than I had wanted to. Sunrise was unspectacular, but luckily, no storms had come through overnight, for which I was very thankful!
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I wiped as much of the condensation off my tent as I could, packed up my things and headed off. There were some ducks swimming in an alpine pond, but they flew off before I was able to get a picture of them. I wound my way through the open landscape, up and down hills.
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I saw yellow marmots playing on the rocks (the kind that Mel had talked about, but which I hadn’t seen until now). I followed the path around a red, shale rock and onto some switchbacks (which were completely unnecessary-they only lengthened the distance we had to travel).
As afternoon approached, I still had another 5 miles of exposed trail to traverse, above treeline. Dark clouds were already hovering and rain threatened. I hiked as quickly as I could, but I was hungry and needed food. I found a flat rock to sit on and eat some lunch while the wind picked up. Rain began falling with three exposed miles still to hike.
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As I came into a meadow region, I saw a horse near a canvas tent. I wondered who was living out here. The horse seemed curious about me and walked towards me, but ended up staying in its territory. I saw a second horse tied to the canvas tent.
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The rain became heavier and then turned to hail. On and on I hiked, watching the dark clouds. I felt lucky to notice the sign showing the split for the CDT and CT. The path I was following continued more naturally in the direction of the CDT, while the CT turned a sharp right and headed uphill (not the best direction to be headed in a storm!). I was still quite a ways from the forest.
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I made it to the top of the hill, and saw the turn-off for Elk Creek. Before heading down this path, however, I happened to look down into the valley on the other side and heard the “baa-ing” sound of 2,400 sheep, grazing in the meadows! What an incredible sound and sight! I looked on in astonishment! Just as with the moose, I had nearly missed the opportunity to see these animals!
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I headed down the switchbacks of the Elk Creek path, which took me a long time because I kept stopping to take pictures. It was so beautiful!
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There were flowers by the creek and I could see an old, abandoned wooden shack up ahead. More marmots were playing in the rocks.
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Then, I descended the most slippery, steep, dangerous, and slow-going part of the trail that I had encountered yet!
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After the treacherous part, the trail followed the path of a beautiful, flowing stream. I noticed the vibrant green color of the moss contrasting with the red rock in part of the stream. The rain continued on and off throughout the afternoon.
After traversing 40 consecutive miles of tundra above treeline, I was happy to finally be back within the safety of the pine trees! The soft pine needles felt welcoming to my feet, and the branches of the trees allowed me occasional respite from the rain.
Just as I was thinking that I hadn’t seen a single ranger on my entire hike, I came upon two of them talking to two girl hikers! Before leaving Boston, I had read about one guy’s encounter with a ranger at the start of his hike, who had sent him back because he had brought an alcohol stove with him. One of the girls asked a ranger if it was okay to sleep with their food in their tent. “Gasp!” he responded. They seemed uninterested in me, so I continued on.
I was feeling very tired, but was trying to get as close to the river as possible because I needed to get to Silverton as early as possible to pick up my maildrop at the post office before they closed for the weekend. My legs were tired and my mind was numb.
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I passed by some campsites with lamas, then ran into a man who was headed the opposite way as me, and who wanted to chat for a bit. He told me there were two hikers right in front of me. (I had wondered if I would catch Derek and Amanda, whose parents gave me a ride into Lake City, and now I knew I had). I reached a green pond with some ducks swimming, then walked by more pines, and saw two young hikers huddled under a tree. I asked if their names were Derek and Amanda and they said yes. They were also tired and planned to spend the night there. They decided to end their hike in Silverton. I asked them to thank their parents for me and continued my way down the hill with the rain still starting and stopping.
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I met another group of hikers coming toward me. They asked me if I knew the guy camping at the train tracks. I still had a couple miles to go and it took all of my energy. Finally, I reached the train tracks at 6:30 and saw a tent where I would have liked to camp at the edge of the woods. Instead, I found a spot by the tracks in the grass, set up my tent, changed into my warm clothes, and made a pot of thai noodles, which I ate inside my tent. I cleaned up my pot, brushed my teeth, and settled in for what would be my most eventful night on the trail…
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