Over halfway through Oregon. Only 166 miles until the Washington border! I am still sick… I’m pretty sure that I got Cdif from the antibiotics I took for the giardia. (I hate western medicine!!) Yesterday, I learned that the probiotics I have been taking for over 2 months were not doing anything because they didn’t contain the strain that fights cdif. I’ve hiked most of the trail unwell, so I am sure I can finish off these last 700 miles in the same condition. Southern Oregon was cold, stormy, and wet. There are a lot of bees, trees (and mosquitoes in Oregon!) And cute weasels. Crater Lake was a spectacular sight (even when it was cloudy). I am getting very sad about this journey coming to a close. I will miss many of these people and the simple life… Thinking about being in the airport and going back to Boston is already a traumatizing thought.
As much as I did not want to, I had to get out of my sleeping bag and make my way out of my tent at 12:30 in the morning to pee. I was SO tired in the morning, but got up at 6:30 anyway. Again, I had to pee before I even ate my breakfast! How unusual! I took the time to cook some oatmeal and then boiled water for a second time for my much needed coffee. While I was packing up, a hiker came by from a different path than I had taken last night. It was Purple Haze. He must have taken the road back to the PCT.
I headed out at 7:53, concerned about finding the trail as it turned off onto the “new PCT” which wound the rim of Crater Lake. My guidebook made me think that it was easy to miss. I was surprised to come across several small streams within the first couple of miles and stopped to collect some very cold water at one of them. While I sat beside the stream filtering the water in the damp woods, I noticed wads of wet toilet paper around me!
I headed on without any problem finding the correct path to take. The day was cool and overcast. While in the woods, I saw two large weasels scamper across the trail! They moved too quickly for me to take a picture, but I was grateful that I got to see these creatures! They would take a couple of running steps, then spring into the air, and again, run, run, spring! The trail climbed and the mosquitoes once again came out. When I reached a paved road, I noticed that I had two fresh, symmetrical bites on the back of my thighs, just under my skirt line! As usual, I was confused about where to go when I hit the road. I took out my GPS and kept my eye on it as I walked ahead. I reached a stonewall near a parking lot and saw a few people out for a stroll. I knew there was a water pump near this area, off the trail, but I had already filled up and did not need anymore. However, I saw a couple of buildings and assumed one of them must be a restaurant! That was worth checking out! First, I headed over to the stonewall to see what the people were looking at. My jaw dropped as I saw my first view of Crater Lake! Although the sky was filled with gray clouds, it was a magnificent, unexpected sight to me. A few tears welled up in my eyes as I realized I had just walked over 1,830 miles to see this! Wow!
Then, my mind returned to the hope of some warm breakfast! I headed over to the main building, dropped my pack inside the doors, and found a gift shop and small take-out cafeteria. It was enough for me. I bought a microwavable breakfast sandwich, yogurt, and coffee, and felt so happy sitting inside eating it! I took out my maps and tried to figure out which way the trail went as I sat at the table. It seemed pretty easy to follow. Surprisingly, the food wasn’t hurting my stomach too much! I used the restroom and headed back out to the lake, hoping someone could take my picture. The people there seemed too occupied with their own group, so I moved on. I laughed out loud at the realization that I could be stuck in the lab right now, being made to tell people who will never listen, what to do. Or, I could be right here, looking at the natural wonder of the deepest lake in the United States after walking the entire length of the state of California!
The trail climbed, then dropped back down to the road, and then re-entered the woods. It was not marked, so a large part of my focus was always checking to see if I was still on the trail. A couple headed my way through the wooded part of the trail and the woman said she was impressed by me! I think she mentioned all of the weight I was carrying. At the points along the roads, I saw many more people who drove there, got out of their car to take a quick photo or two and then got back in. Several times, I hoped that they would stay long enough to take a picture of me in front of the lake, but they always seemed to jump back into their vehicles too quickly. Tumbleweed had talked about how strange National Parks are and I agreed. They feel like the city to me, teeming with people, most of whom seem to seek a quick and easy form of gratification. As a thru-hiker, they are the places where I feel the most anonymous and the most unseen. No one knows what I am doing or how far I have just walked.
A couple of hours later, I reached the busiest overlook point. I was finally able to ask someone if they could take my picture. I threw my arms in the air, as I posed, and said, “I just walked 1,830 miles!” to which I received no response. Maybe I wasn’t heard, or maybe there was a language barrier. Or maybe it just wasn’t a comprehensible statement. I walked down the pavement, re-slung my pack on my back and headed on. By now, I was tired of looking at this lake. I just wanted to get back onto the solitary trail and back into my own space. I still wasn’t done with the tourist section yet, though. Not knowing where the trail went, I climbed a steep hill where I thought the trail went. Nearby, there was another crowd of people in street clothes gazing at another view.
I wanted to see what they were seeing, but then discovered I had already be seeing a similar view for the past couple of hours. I checked my GPS, dismayed that I had just wasted the time and energy to make this extra climb. I headed back down, mistakenly continued to follow the road up, and then turned back down, realizing that I needed to cross the road and finally head away from the lake.
I saw a strange cloud formation in the sky that looked like a thunderhead. Hmmm… The trail went back into the woods and I came across a couple of people headed in the opposite direction, but none of them wanted to talk. I was just left to counting the number of miles I had left over and over in my head.
Later in the afternoon, I heard thunder. I stopped to put on my pack cover and rain jacket. My maps and guidebook pages had mentioned an alternate route that went by Diamond Lake, where there was a pizza place and heated bathrooms. One of the early “trail angels” that I had had problems with advised hikers to stop here. Nowhere did it say how far off the trail it was. Another previous hiker had mentioned that it was a good place to collect water in this otherwise very dry stretch of trail. As the rain started falling, I imagined arriving there to find friendly hikers, a nice pizza dinner (something that I had barely had on this hike!), and a heated bathroom in which I could rinse my very dirty clothes. This scene kept my spirits boosted as I continued to walk in the rain, my energy decreasing with every mile. I came upon a stretch of trail with downed trees everywhere! Many of them had fallen across the trail. The terrain was fairly flat and I could see the line of trail stretched out in front of me with tree after tree laid across it. I felt like I was in a hurdle race!
I made it to the road and then to the trail junction with the sign to Diamond Lake and the number 9 below it. 9? The lake couldn’t possibly be 9 miles away… It must be a half mile or less. Why had there been no mention of its distance from the trail? I decided to head down and see. I reached an outhouse and a parking area, but no one was around to ask. I took out my maps, studied them to the best of my ability, and realized that they did not cover the area that I needed them to! I only had an enlargement of the Diamond Lake area itself! And now I was just wasting my hiking time. I still couldn’t believe that the lake could be nine miles away. The hiker’s advice about stopping there for water would make no sense! There was a water source 8 miles ahead on the PCT! I decided to walk a bit and see if it appeared. After awhile, I realized that it probably was in fact 9 miles away and dejectedly decided to turn back. I had seen a couple of jugs of water back at the intersection and decided that I would at least be able to pick up some water there if there was any left. So much for the company, pizza, or bathrooms, however! I was mad that I had listened to someone’s advice that I had already learned not to trust. And I was mad that I had spent so much unnecessary energy and effort hiking useless miles, taking time away from my actual progress.
Fortunately, when I arrived back at the intersection that I had started from, I found a little remaining water in the few gallon jugs left by some former hikers. I sat and filtered it, collecting my calm before heading out again.
In a mile or two, I heard someone singing and strumming a guitar! It sounded nice. As I approached, he stopped. I looked over to see Tumbleweed sitting on a log with his tent already set up. It was 6:40. “Hey!” he said. I went over to chat with him for a moment. He said that Purple Haze had walked by a little bit ago and that he and I were the only hikers he had seen all day! I told him what had just happened, expressing my frustration. It helped to have someone to commiserate with. Tumbleweed looked so relaxed and calm. He was not at all worried about getting to Canada by the 17th, but I was still very stressed. Some of these guys made it look so much easier than it was for me! I told him I was going to keep going as I need to get in my miles in the evening since I can’t ever get up early! He waited until I was out of earshot to start singing again, to my dismay. I wished I could stick around and listen to him!
After a couple more miles, I saw Purple Haze setting up his tent along the side of the trail. I had now started the next climb. The woods became more and more dense and there looked to be no possibilities to camp anywhere as it started getting dark! I started to worry and thought I might have to night hike. I had noticed that in the past four days, it had started to get dark noticeably earlier. Where I was once hiking until 8pm, I now found myself stopping closer to 7:30. I walked on, scanning the terrain, still seeing nothing but steep slopes covered in thick brush.
At 7:45, I finally spotted an area in which I could set up my tent alongside the trail. I breathed a sigh of relief. Somehow, it all works out. I got to work on setting up my tent, which I had been greatly struggling with. Now that I was in need of it to protect me from the rain, I had to learn to work with it. We needed to learn how to get along! By the time I started cooking my disgusting pasta dinner, it was dark out. After I cleaned up and crawled into my sleeping bag, I heard my liner rip. Wonderful…. Was there anything I owned that was going to survive this journey? I still had well over 800 miles to hike!
mile 1726.6-about 1732
I had a very tough time getting any sleep due to the pain in my stomach from the spaghetti. It was awful!
When the sun came up, I walked across the wet lawn and went inside to use the bathroom. Breakfast was not served until 8:00, so this was one day I could have actually slept in a little, but I was not able to sleep. When I returned to the lawn, I saw a curious deer checking out our tents! My sleeping bag was extremely wet from condensation. I pulled out my iphone and kept it close to me in case anyone happened to feel like texting me now that I had reception and access to electricity. Of course, they did not…
All of a sudden I heard a loud song blasting from somewhere. I recognized the voice as Christina Aguilera and then thought, “That’s one of my songs.” Only then did I realize that it was coming from my iphone! I shoved it further into my sleeping bag try to quiet the sound as I tried to mute it or turn it off, none of which was happening… How embarrassing! I hoped my neighbor Phil was able to sleep through it, or if not, that maybe he thought it was coming from a car on the road.
I tried to lie back down for a few minutes and then got up and started gathering my dirty clothes into a pile to take to the hiker bathroom. Phil beat me to it, however, so I ended up waiting. I looked through the register in the lobby and had a cup of coffee with Phil while we waited for breakfast to open. His wife was on her way from Bend to deliver his hiking poles to him, which he had forgotten. As we waited in line, a section hiker that had invited himself over to our table the night before, and who we both had a very hard time with, asked us if he could join us for breakfast. We didn’t feel like we could say no. My mood shifted. We gave the waitress our tickets for the pancake breakfast for which coffee was not included. We were supposed to get a fruit cup with it, but somehow our waitress did not know about this. Wight arrived straight from the woods and sat down next to me. As I ate, my stomach hurt more and more. I had to excuse myself for the bathroom a couple of times. Wight said that it was probably from overeating, but I had eaten a very ordinary amount- both at dinner and breakfast, and the pain I was experiencing was something very different.
I now how to attend to the chores of laundry, drying out my sleeping bag and groundcloth, and sorting through my resupply. I had a mountain of food in front of me and thought I was going to have to leave a great deal of it behind until the owner said I could mail some of it ahead. He said they could take the box to the post office for me! Wight asked to borrow my phone to call his son and then wanted me to join him for lunch. My stomach was still feeling awful and I needed to finish sorting.
Phil’s wife had arrived in the meantime and he had finished his own sorting and was now heading back to the trail. His wife asked me if I wanted a ride, but I was not yet ready. He thought he would see me soon.
I wrote a short blog update, a few postcards, and finished all of my sorting and packing. The woman at the front desk knew nothing about shipping a box out, so she went to find the owner’s wife who told her she would take my box to the post office for the amount of postage plus a $5 fee. I asked if I could include my stamped postcards and she hesitated and told me there would be another service charge for those. Are you kidding me? This place was all about making money!
Although I was still making trip after trip to the bathroom and the pain was not subsiding, I decided to have lunch anyway, since that seemed like a normal thing to do.
Hiker after hiker was streaming in. The Germans arrived and happily toasted each other at the bar. StoryTime arrived and called my name. I told him I was not feeling well.
Finally, after 5:00, I was ready to head out. Most of the hikers had gotten a ride to the trail head, bypassing a couple mile section of trail. I decided to hike back the same way I had come in- up the hill of the side trail and then through the forest. I hoped I could hike off the pain.
I passed a couple of day hikers and then ran into a couple more on the trail across the road who asked me how far I planned on going tonight. I told them that I didn’t know. I was just going to hike until it got dark.
When the light started to fade, I saw no apparent places to camp. I was in the middle of woods with sloped terrain filled with brush on both sides of the trail. I looked below and thought I saw a flattish looking place so I decided to head off the trail. I could hear what sounded like a loudspeaker in the distance and a voice that was saying, “Down with hikers. Hikers get off the trail.” It was a bit eerie. I searched the area for a place to lie down and finally picked a spot. Instead of making pasta, I made a cup of ginger tea and ate a few snacks. My stomach was still in great pain. The words on my teabag read, “Travel light, Live light, Spread the light, Be the light.” I found them to be very appropriate.
I made it to the border of Oregon on the evening of August 1st! I had so much energy all day and easily hiked the 28.4 miles (except for the last mile) to the border. And I was happy that I kept up with Bandleader and Sky Eyes, so I would have someone to take my picture at this meaningful place!
All day, we couldn’t see any views because of all of the forest fires around us, and we smelled and breathed in the smoke. The air had turned cool the night before (after 2 weeks of very hot and surprisingly humid weather!). By the time we reached the border, it was cold and misty (just what you might picture Oregon to look like!).
I found a cozy place to camp right next to a dirt road less than half a mile after the border, washed some of the dirt off me, put on warmer layers, and cooked my dinner. (I’m a little worried about how cold I will be in Washington because I am often still cold now in all my layers!).
I’m still having a lot of stomach/intestinal problems, but my spirit is strong and I can still hike, so that is all that matters to me.
The next morning, the air cleared and I cried thinking about this trip being over. I feel like I am leaving my soul out here. This is where I am the most happy and the most strong. I slept on a bridge the other night. Since mile 300-something, I have set up my tent only twice. I almost always sleep (and hike alone), but if I am in the vicinity of others, I am always amused when I am the only one who hasn’t set up a tent. I’ve become a cowgirl camper!
I endured a lot of hardship in California- giardia, repercussions of some awful antibiotics (10 weeks now!), two resupply boxes that did not get to me (very stressful!), personal heartbreak, storms, etc, but I accept it all. This journey has been a lot about letting go (letting go of being in control, letting go of attachment), and also about opening up.
One of the best things about this hike is what other people are reflecting back to me about who I am. Although I have been alone a lot, at certain times, people drop in to my life, seemingly to remind me of my own self- worth (the thing I have always struggled the most with). People like Fun Size and Bandleader and Muk Muk and Dust Bunny. They don’t know much about me- only what they see in this very moment, and I can’t believe the compliments they have given me. And many people from home have sent me care packages (several of whom also don’t know me very well), which is extraordinarily meaningful to me.
I think I am starting to like myself out here and I wish I could just keep hiking this trail…
But winter is coming and I have to hike fast to be able to finish and avoid the bad weather.
It’s a catch 22. So all I can do is stay in the present as much as possible and be grateful for the opportunity to be out here. And then pick a place out here to live and begin a different, better life.
I had 7.5 miles to hike before I would reach the 12,600 foot saddle from which I could climb San Luis peak, so I had to get up as early as possible. For me, that was 5:30 am. (I really don’t like to get up when it is dark out!). When the first light showed around 6am, I noticed how cloudy the sky was, which was a very strange occurrence. Mornings in Colorado are always sunny! I wondered what this meant for my chances of summitting San Luis in the afternoon. The squirrels once again let me know that they did not appreciate me inhabiting their territory (either that, or they were really excited to start a new day!). I told them that I would be leaving soon and they would have the area all to themselves again. I packed up, said goodbye to my home for the night, and headed off around 6:30, passing through the gate, and then through fairly flat meadows with morning dew on the grass.
Then, I started uphill, passing by some really nice campsites that I wish I had known about! I peeled off some layers and prepared myself for the steeper climbs. The clouds remained in the sky, and I was unsure if I would get the chance to climb another 14,000 footer on this hike. Around 8am, it started to sprinkle! I put on my pack cover, and it stopped soon after. I saw some nice yellow flowers on the way up. Because of the dry summer, there hadn’t been nearly as many wildflowers as usual.
I then saw a horse and two men in their campsite to my left. The horse saw me, but the men didn’t. I had to say “hi” several times before they noticed me. I wanted to ask them what they thought this weather meant. They said they were from Texas and weren’t experts. I explained that I was trying to decide if I should climb San Luis or not. The older one said that there were 2 parts and that the second peak was hard. The younger one advised me not to do it. “We got hailed on,” he said. (‘If getting hailed on is the worst of it, I’m definitely doing it!’ I thought to myself… I had already been hailed on several times before…)
I continued on, making it to the final stream before the peak. I stopped to collect and filter water and noticed that one of my collecting bags had a leak. My pack and water bottles got very dirty and muddy in this spot. I continued the climb. The sky was still very cloudy.
As I approached the saddle, the climb got much steeper, and I had to stop several times. There was a party of 4 at the top, looking down at me. I finally made it up to them. It was windy and cold, and I was hungry, but I had to hurry to climb the peak! I put on some warmer clothes, grabbed a snickers bar to put in my pocket, put my rain cover over my pack, and stashed it in a little ditch with the day hikers’ packs. Before I was ready, the other hikers headed for the peak and told me to enjoy my hike. “I’m coming with you!” I said. (The Colorado trail continued in the opposite direction of the peak). The girl told her father what I said and he responded, “She’s serious!”. (Yeah, she is…!)
I had my fleece jacket and rain gear on. The wind was strong and cold and struck the skin on my face hard. I hiked as quickly as I could with the steepness, very high altitude, and strong wind.
The path was gravelly and I dug my poles into the dirt and leaned all of my weight on them to take a step. Still, I started sliding down the path! I became worried about the descent, having this much trouble ascending! I dug in and tried again, glad that no one was around me to see this, once again…! Still, I managed to gain distance on the party ahead of me.
I climbed false summit after false summit. I had 1,400 feet to climb, and couldn’t understand why it could be taking so long! Where was the top? It seemed much farther than 1.25 miles away! I saw the tiny shapes of people standing on the ridge like ants. I passed the two girls and closed in on the father and son. I kept climbing and stopping to take pictures.
The wind struck my face with every step. It was not an enjoyable climb in any way. Finally, I reached the summit and joined the ant-like shapes. The two girls and a guy were getting ready to descend. Thunder rumbled and one of the girls jumped. “We better go now!” she said. I didn’t feel so great. I had cramps, my nose was running, and I was hungry and cold. I took some pictures and watched the dark clouds. I could see rain in the distance. The day hikers reached the summit and asked me to take their photograph. (I wasn’t sure why they had picked this day to hike if they lived so close and could come any day…)
I ate my snickers bar and decided to descend. I said goodbye to the group and told them that I would see them in a few minutes, knowing they would pass me on the downhill.
About halfway through, one of the girls and the son, passed me. They were descending easily without poles and weren’t slipping. I wondered why I couldn’t glide as easily as them. Why was I slipping so much while digging my poles into the ground? Rain began to fall and a feeling of slight panic and certainly pressure filled the air. As the father and daughter came closer to me, I half-fell, but managed to save myself. Then, I really fell (for the first time on this hike) when they were steps behind me. One of the girls who was in the first group to descend was stopped on the trail. Her boyfriend was helping her with her rain gear. I passed them. As the father and daughter passed me, he asked if I was okay descending alone. I thought that was kind of funny, as I had hiked the entire Appalachian Trail and now 340 miles of the Colorado Trail alone… If I had voluntarily climbed this peak and couldn’t descend on my own, that would be a big problem!)
It began to hail. My gloves were soaked. I hadn’t even put a ziplock bag around my camera! My pace quickened as the steepness lightened up. I could see the other girl from the first party waiting for her friends along the ridge. The girl and son from the second party had headed toward their gear and then disappeared. I thought they had continued on and were now out of sight.
Once on flat ground, I could almost start running. I passed the daughter (the father had stopped to see if he could help the girl from the first party who seemed to be struggling). As I got closer to my pack, the rain and hail stopped and it looked like two (large) birds were emerging from their nest, stretching out their wings, and opening up to the sun! One was yellow. It was the girl, who had put on a yellow poncho, and the son, who had nestled into the ditch with the gear. (Rather cute!)
Once making it to our gear, we all quickly collected our things. The struggling girl and her boyfriend ran past us down the trail, calling out thank yous to the father for offering his help. I walked quickly and assumed the middle position between the two groups. The landscape was beautiful, but it had begun to rain again, and we all hiked as quickly as we could. The first group was definitely on a mission to get out of this weather as fast as humanly possible. The second group took their time, talking amongst one another. I noticed some interesting rock formations that looked like sculptures of people. I kept stopping to take out my camera, and then stashing it away again. The openness of the landscape reminded me of Switzerland and I felt happy when not rushing to escape the lightning.
I had planned on collecting water at the next source, but when I reached the stream, the rain was still coming down, and I didn’t feel like stopping to filter it. I still had visions of reaching a road crossing and having “my friend” from home come meet me. Where could he find me? I would be reaching an intersection later on that day with a 10 mile path toward Creede. The first two miles weren’t accessible by vehicles, so if he met me there, I would have to hike an additional 4 miles. I still had no reception…
The rain continued to fall. It would occasionally stop for a couple of minutes, but start right back up again. I was growing tired of it. My energy was beginning to sag. I needed food. I saw a plastic gallon jug of water in a patch of grass along the trail and wondered if it was trail magic. Who would have left it there and why? I didn’t trust it, so I passed it by. I saw the first party marching up the switchbacks in the rain. The sight didn’t look very appealing. I saw a couple of pine trees with a dry patch underneath them, so I decided to sit there and eat my lunch. As I was finishing, the party of four came along, looking wet and downtrodden. The father picked up the jug of water (that was who had left it there!) and they headed to a clearing nearby to eat their lunch, sitting on logs and stumps. The rain eased up, and as they enjoyed their food, I could see the improvement in their moods! I packed up and wished them a good meal. The father offered me some water from his plastic jug. He said he was just going to dump it out if I didn’t want it, so I filled up.
I got hot climbing, so I had to stop to strip off some layers. Within minutes, the rain commenced again!
I climbed a hill, descended the other side, and then could see the intersection to Creede!
I crossed it, continuing on the CT, and as I headed up the next hill, I saw lightning flash to my right! I had just come out of miles of exposed terrain, was just entering a krumholz region, and was about to ascend to completely exposed terrain again. Danger! What should I do…? Should I remain in this area with the low bushes until the lightning stopped? I decided that since the lightning wasn’t right over me, I would keep going. I turned on my phone and stuck it in my rain jacket pocket. A minute later, I heard it make a noise! Reception! A got a text from my “friend”, but all it said was “hey”. I hurried to write him back, telling him I was in the middle of a storm on an exposed ridge. It took me several minutes to send it out, because I would only intermittently get a half bar of service (it must have been coming 11 miles away from Creede). I waited a bit, but got no response… I continued to climb up the mountain, back into completely exposed terrain.
As I looked down, I saw in the distance some elk or deer passing by! I was getting hot and wanted to take off my rain pants. I saw a vehicle on a ridge well above me. Again, it started to rain. Better put the rain pants back on… I kept moving. I crossed one saddle and headed for the next. I decided that I was either going to camp 2 or 4 miles into the next segment. Everything was wet! I bypassed the first possible place to camp, crossed a stream, and came to a huge pile of rocks, where I heard the sound of pikas again! The rain had stopped and the sun had finally come out! I stopped to take a little power bar break. I took off my shirt for a second. It felt so good to have sun on my body for that moment! Then, I continued on. The pikas slowed me down, though! I saw them pulling bunches of leaves out of their nest, and racing back to their nest with them in their mouths! Others were playing, chasing each other around. Finally, I continued on through a pine forest, where I saw some pretty yellow flowers again. Then, the rain started once again! I was getting so tired of this! I found another tree to rest under while the thunder rumbled and lightning struck. I had only made it a couple of hundred yards from the rocks with the pikas. Then, I noticed a patch of blue sky to my left. I decided it was best to head towards the blue sky! I still had one more saddle to climb to.
I made it to the top and started my final descent of the day. As I got closer to treeline, I saw a deer!
Finally, I found a spot in the middle of some pine trees to camp. I set my things down and then heard a voice below! Someone else was camped there. I decided to go say hi, so as not to scare them. It turned out to be a nice couple (Laurie and John, or Holly and Buzz, as they were known on the trail). They were the first thru-hikers I had met on the trail! They were taking it slow, only hiking 10 miles a day, and taking seven weeks to complete. I had hiked 19.5 miles today, through a tremendous amount of exposed terrain at very high altitude in the storms, and they were thoroughly impressed. They said I was much tougher than them! I told them I better go set up my tent and they agreed “before it starts raining again.” As soon as I started taking the contents out of my pack, the rain started coming down again! (God!! Can’t I get a break?!) I tried to set it up as quickly as I could, but my tent zipper was stuck (just as it had been in the morning)! While trying to get it to open, the mesh ripped! My $365 tent that was meant for my PCT hike was now already damaged! The only thing that made me feel better about the rip, was that it had torn into the shape of a heart!
I put a piece of duct tape over it to try to contain the damage. I brought everything inside my tent, and set up my stove right outside my tent door to cook dinner. The rain let up enough for me to go outside to pee and brush my teeth. Then, it started coming down even more heavily! Lightning was striking everywhere around me! It continued for a couple of hours, and my adrenaline was on alert. So much for a good night’s rest after a long, hard day…
It started to rain around 4:20 am. Luckily, it was short-lived and not heavy. I’d been having terrible nightmares all night. Whenever I woke and returned to sleep, the nightmare would pick up where it had left off! (Awful!) In the dream, half of my school campus had been closed off and turned into a crime scene. One of the teachers had gone out into the woods around midnight the night before and was brutally attacked again and again. She refused to die, though. She returned to town in a ravaged, near-death state. I felt very scared and it was hard to shake off the feeling (especially being out in the woods, alone).
I got up at 5:55 and ate some granola pieces and a trail bar in my sleeping bag. It was cold- 42 degrees! By 7 am, I was packed up and ready to go. The big morning climb was not strenuous because it was spread out over so many miles.
I reached the 11,800 foot summit, which was my first time above treeline, and planned to take a break there, but it was too cold and windy! Still, it was beautiful and I felt so happy to finally be out on an exposed summit! This is why I wanted to hike out here!
I put on my rain jacket and started the descent. About 8.7 miles in, I met a nice cyclist heading the opposite way. He stopped and asked me if I was having a good day! He asked me where I was planning to camp and told me he was set up 5 miles away. (I thought that was too early to end my day). He wanted to make sure I had enough food and water, and told me that the white van I would see was his in case I was wondering. He hoped to see me again later.
By the time I got to the river where I could fill my water, I was so tired! I tried to find a nice campsite area where I could eat my lunch, but ended up sitting on a log stump in not-the nicest area. I had peanut butter and honey on an english muffin, a little beef jerky, a little trail mix, and a snickers. I continued on and saw his white van. Then, I got lost! I couldn’t find the trail. ATV riders came roaring down the dirt path from the woods! I knew I was no longer on the CT! I kept walking, hoping there was an intersection ahead that would lead me to the trail, but I found nothing. I saw some trailer campers, but no one said anything. So, I retraced my steps. I realized that I missed my turn-off before the white van! The van had distracted me!
It was now 2pm, and I started another climb. As I crossed a road, a pack of cyclists came flying down and I almost followed them, taking the wrong way a second time! The CT crossed the road and continued into the woods. I managed to find my way, returning to my solitary trail. This was the toughest climb of the hike so far. It was hot, dry, and the incline was steep and unrelenting. I had to stop many times to catch my breath and take a moment of rest. Finally, I made it to the top of the climb. There were so many dead trees all over the ground! I guess it was due to the beetle destruction.
The trail was not well-marked in this area. I would come to forks, look at my guidebook pages, and receive no indication as to which way the trail lead! Luckily, at an intersection ahead, someone had hand written a “CT” and an arrow, so I knew which way I was supposed to go. I started descending the switchbacks. My pace considerably slowed. Several mountain bikers came whizzing by, and each time, I would have to step off the trail and let them go by. I had been unable to charge my ipod before this trip, rendering it useless, so I couldn’t bring it. That turned out to be a good thing, because it would have been dangerous to be on this trail with all of the mountain bikers flying towards you without notice, unable to hear them and quickly step aside! I sat down on the side of the trail for a break and checked to see if I had any cell service. I was getting exhausted. After finishing the switchbacks, a very outgoing cyclist in an orange shirt, in his fifties, came towards me, letting out whoops. “Are you all alone? Where are you going? You’re brave!”. In a loud voice, he shouted out, “This is a national scenic treasure you’re on! It’s way better than the PCT or the AT! You can see all the peaks!” I wanted to tell him that it was me and him, out in nature and that he didn’t need to talk so loudly. He started naming the peaks. “I’m sure you’ve researched them,” he added. (Actually… no, I had not…). “I hate the Collegiate Peaks!” he continued. “You know why? Because they are so dry!” I thought I was finished with the driest sections of the trail. I guess not… He then told me about a bike race that would be starting in another week, along the same route I was traveling, from Denver to Durango. He told me that the bikers camp along the way. that it is a self-supported race, and the first one to Durango wins. “I think you are going to enjoy it,” he told me. I was so exhausted… I had just hiked 20 miles and wanted to relax and rest. I didn’t have energy to create conversation. He took off and said he would see me in a little while.
At the next intersection, I sat down to rest. I had planned to continue on until I came to the next landmark- a set of power lines, but for some reason, I decided to look around the area. I saw some flat ground… Maybe I should camp right here! I set up my tent underneath some trees and went back out to the grassy mound in the sun. The temperature was in the 70s. It was warm in the sun, but cool in the trees where my tent was, and it was hard to know how to layer. I checked for reception and got a very faint signal. I didn’t feel like eating much. Another backpacker came around the corner. He was almost staggering, looked exhausted, and his face had a look of suffering. He gave me a slight wave, but did not really look at me. He just kept walking. Then I realized who it was! It was one of the 2 men I had met a few hours into the start of my hike, who so happily planned to hike to Breckenridge in 6 days! His more obviously out of shape friend was no longer with him. I looked at my watch and thought about him finishing in the dark. With so much suffering, I wondered if hiking this stretch in the amount of time he wanted to do it in was really worth it.
20 miles was plenty enough for me for the day. I rested for about 40 minutes, cleaned up, and then went out to watch the sun set for the first time on my hike.
I woke up sometime after five. I checked my phone and found a message from my Swiss friend, telling me that the timing wouldn’t work out to talk, as he had activities planned from the late afternoon on. We were now separated by a time difference of eight hours and it was making finding time to talk even more difficult. I decided to try Skyping him from my bed, but it was a one way phone call due to the lack of reception in my motel room! He could hear me, but his voice was transmuted into that of an impossible to understand robot! I decided to get dressed, went outside, and walked until I got reception. I told him a little about my hike so far and showed him the dilapidated town I was staying in. I was standing next to a little shack with broken windows- a far cry from what he was used to seeing in Switzerland!
I got cold from standing outside, so I went to the motel office for a coffee and danish, put my hair up and contacts in for yoga, and went outside to meet Chrisselda. We had a pleasant ride over to the recreation center and even saw a fox in the field! The sky was unusually cloudy for a Colorado morning. Chrisselda introduced me to the lifeguard and to the yoga teacher, who was also named Wendy! I asked her how much the class was and she thought for a moment and then said, “For you, it’s free since your name is Wendy and because Chrisselda brought you.” My name was bringing me lots of good luck on this hike! And it was lucky that I arrived in town on a Tuesday night so I could attend the Wednesday morning yoga class! I weighed myself in the locker room and discovered that I had already lost a few pounds!
It felt so wonderful to be in a yoga room again, on a pink mat, listening to relaxing music. I couldn’t believe I had found myself here! I did a downward dog before class started, and as I lifted one leg into the air, a few other people in the room said, “wow!”. Eight of us took the class. We started with even breath (increasing the length of each breath), moved on to robin’s breath (something new to me), seated forward fold, and side stretching. Then moved to table top cat/cows, lifted one leg and brought it to the the opposite side, lifted and lowered it, and alternated several times. We then did high plank, downward facing dog to high plank, lowered halfway, upward facing dog, and downward facing dog five times (the second half of a vinyasa). She then pronounced us ready for camel pose, which I was a bit startled by, because that it a pose that should be done at the end of class, after a great deal of opening work. It suddenly made me thankful for my teachers who “smartly” sequence and for the passing of their knowledge to me. We continued with rag doll, warrior one to three and back (twice on each side), and then did splits (another pose we were not prepped for…). She kept calling child’s pose “bakatana” or something like that which always threw me. We did wild thing, turtle pose, side bends in a wide straddle, paschimotadasana, janu sirsana, a spinal twist, and savasana. During the class, Chrisselda would shout out her feelings. “I love you!” she told the teacher as we were doing camel pose. “I love you, too!” the teacher called back. It was amusing for me to hear people talking in a yoga class… Very different from my classes in Boston! Although I found the poses to be a collective hodge-podge, it was evident that the teacher had a lot of heart, and doing yoga always makes you feel good. As class ended, she commented on how wonderful the energy was in the room today. Chrisselda said that “Wendy brought it!” I thanked the teacher and gave her a hug before I left. What a nice experience!
Chrisselda gave me a ride to the post office, where I picked up my first resupply box. Along the way, she pointed out where the breakfast place was. She gave me a hug before parting. My hiker hunger was starting to kick in. I ordered a “mountain scrambler.” Unfortunately, I had an inattentive waitress, and I watched my breakfast sit on the counter for a long time before it was brought to me. (The cook was also getting frustrated about it not being delivered). By the time it was brought to me, it was cold. I thought about ordering some oatmeal after I finished my eggs, but it was 10:00 and I needed to walk back to the motel, get in a shower, pack up all of my stuff, and get out of my room by 11.
I sat outside and sorted through my food, deciding what I wanted to send home and what I wanted to throw away. Lily, the dog of the housekeeper, kept me company.
I gave the cleaning lady a tip, stashed my pack in the office, and walked back into town to mail my unneeded things home. I ended up getting lost and asked a little Indian girl where the post office was. “Look for the American flag. There’s one in front of every post office,” she told me.
I checked out the lunch options at the Java Moose, but didn’t find anything too appealing, so I headed back to the Burrow. I wanted to eat at one of the outside tables, but they were all taken. Inside, it was extremely crowded, stuffy, and hot. I asked if I could sit outside and was directed to a table occupied by a man. “Do you mind if I join you?” I asked. I ordered a buffalo burger and sweet potato fries and we chatted. He was here on vacation from Texas and intended to go fishing today, but the lake was dry. I told him what I was doing and that I needed to hitch back to the trail in the afternoon. He said that since his plans didn’t work out, he had free time and could drive me to the trail if I was ready! I had wanted to do some writing and order a milkshake, but decided to take him up on his kind offer instead. The trail was 20 miles away and it might not have been easy to find a ride! We stopped by the motel to pick up my pack and headed out. His name was Walt. We talked about hiking and GPS devices, and he pointed out a herd of antelope in a meadow. My first antelope!! I offered him some gas money, but he wouldn’t accept it. He gave me a half hug and I waved goodbye. I needed to put sunscreen on before I could resume my hike. It was now 2 in the afternoon.
Shortly into the hike, I met an older gentlemen who was headed in the opposite direction. His name was Oakley Westfield, but went by Graybeard on the trail. We had a nice chat. He told me there was a guy several hours ahead of me, who was planning to hike about 7 or so more miles to a campground. (“He’s young if that’s an incentive.”) I found it strange that a thruhiker planned to stay at a campground, and he sounded too ambitious and too far ahead for me to catch. I stuck to my own plan. The walk was pleasant- nice forest and nice flowers. I felt happy. I came into an opening after having just taken off my pack for a break, only to realize that I forgot to put my visor on (I hadn’t needed it in the woods). “I don’t want to take my pack off again,” I said aloud and then noticed two people lounging in the grass. “Where are you going?” they asked.
“Durango? That’s that way,” the man said, pointing to where I had come from.
“No it isn’t. It’s that way,” I said, confidently pointing ahead.
They asked where I started from and were amazed. The man said that there are hardly any men who would do that alone, never mind women. They couldn’t believe that this was my first time in Colorado.
Later on, a nice girl on a mountain bike, who was headed the opposite way with her big dog stopped to chat with me. “Are you doing the whole thing by yourself?”. She said that she was scared to sleep out here. Her boyfriend makes her bring a gun. She makes her huge dog sleep in the tent with her. I told her that after you get used to it, you come to feel protected out here. She told me that there was a guy only a few miles ahead. “He’s 19. He does 25 miles a day. What you guys are doing is so far!”
The terrain was fairly easy throughout the afternoon and dotted with nice wildflowers. At mile 4.5, I stopped at a creek to fill up on water.
I continued on another mile and a half and started to look for a campsite. I didn’t see any, so I continued over the river, where I happily found several spots! There was even a fire ring. Unfortunately, the mosquitoes were out in droves. I set up my tent as the temperature cooled and wind picked up. I tried for quite awhile to make a fire, but only ended up getting a huge blood blister on my thumb. (I’m going to blame in on the wet sticks…) I made a pot of macaroni and cheese but had to keep walking in circles as I ate because the mosquitoes kept trying to bite me. I cleaned up and got in my tent at 6:21pm. It was still light out and I had time to journal. I wish I could have relaxed more in town. Hopefully, I will be able to in Breckenridge! Tomorrow, I have a 2,000 foot, six-mile long climb to 12,000 feet!
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.
I didn’t sleep well again… This time, I made sure to have my head at the top of the slope, but the bigger slant was in the left to right direction, and my sleeping bag kept shifting to that side. My sleeping pad had balled up underneath me again. It was totally useless. And my mind continued to be disturbed by that “friend’s” words from home. It took me two days to fully understand what I already knew to begin with- that a person’s anger always stems from their own behavior and inability to make changes within themselves. The anger that he was projecting on to me was simply a misdirection for what he didn’t like about himself. This has been a long-standing pattern in my life. People who display unhealthy habits are drawn to me and then tear me apart for being who I am. I now understand that I can’t allow these people into my life. It’s so hard for me to give up on people though, especially when I think I can help them.
The chatterings of a squirrel woke me up at 5:45. My period did in fact come (and I was grateful that it waited until I was out of the treeless and waterless section). I ate some granola and a poptart, packed up, and headed out at 6:50. The first three miles passed quickly. My food bag was noticeably lighter. And I found a heart in the middle of the trail that someone had made with rocks! (I imagined that someone ahead had left it for me and was curious about who that person was).
I crossed Buffalo Creek, put on some sunscreen, and then started a climb. And after eating a power bar by a stream at mile 11.9 in this section, I was finished section 3 by 10am! (The Colorado Trail is divided into 28 segments of different lengths, split by trailheads where the trail can be accessed. Many people hike it section by section). A third of a mile into section 4, I headed towards some campers lounging in camp chairs. When a thru-hiker comes across a scene like this, the first thing that comes into our minds is trail magic! But these people didn’t even say hi to me, much less offer me any food or drink. And two barking dogs started running directly at me! I made my way around them and turned back onto the trail, thankful to be alone again. I was starting to feel tired and my spirits were dragging a bit. I found an embankment covered with pine needles and sat down for a rest. I turned on my iphone and was greatly surprised to find that I had reception! I didn’t have any texts or voicemails, but reading facebook updates and having a connection to people I knew from home gave me a little morale boost. I left a voicemail with Laura, letting her know how I was doing, texted my friend in Switzerland, sent Erik an e-mail, and resumed walking.
It began to rain around 11:25, but I decided not to put on my rain jacket. It only lasted 20 minutes. Just after noon, after hiking 4.6 miles into the segment, I found a place with the nicest running water yet to stop and have lunch. It was in the woods and the bugs were out, so I had to apply repellent first. My mood was finally beginning to improve! I snacked, put on sunscreen, filtered water, and looked at my guidebook pages, and then headed back out at 1pm. I climbed and climbed up the next section. At first, it reminded me of the beginning of the trail up Mount Washington, and then turned into forest. As I took my pack off for a break, I saw a female hiker headed towards me. I told her she was the first person I had seen all day. (I was the third person she had seen. Apparently, there were 2 men ahead of me). She was hiking the trail the opposite way I was, and I congratulated her on her near finish. We asked each other about the water availability ahead of us, and continued on.
Around 2:45, it began to rain again. I eventually put my rain jacket on, hopped over a tree, and continued on through a large meadow, dotted with yellow flowers. I finally felt like I was in Colorado! (I had known since I was in college that Colorado was a place I had wanted to go, but this was my first time I had actually made it out here!).
I walked over a mile in the rain, and then started to get tired again. I also had to pee. I found a couple of large trees with dry pine needles underneath, so I put my pack down and took a break there. I looked out in the direction I would be going and saw the rain coming down. And then, I looked back towards where I had just come from, and saw no rain in the air! I was standing right on the rain line! Incredible! I left the protection of the tree and continued through the meadow. Looking up towards my right, I saw a man setting up camp, but he did not see me. The rain had stopped and it was now hot out. I felt tired and found a nice flat rock to eat a power bar on. I decided to lie back on the rock and rest for awhile (something I rarely give myself permission to do). The sun was bright and I needed to shade my eyes with my hands. Within a couple of minutes, clouds began to move across the sky. More and more clouds moved in, filling up the sky, and the temperature immediately got cooler. A storm was coming and I needed to find a place to set up my tent! Thunder began to rumble. Most of the area was covered with thick plants and rocks and my eyes scanned the landscape for a flat area. I was also looking for a place where I could collect water. I found a small, exposed clearing on the side of the trail, but decided to press on. To my right, up a slope, I saw a stand of pine trees and decided I could camp underneath them. So I veered off the trail, headed for the trees, and dug my tent out of my pack. I had a hard time staking the tent because the ground was so hard! I looked around for some rocks that I could use to pound in the stakes and came across a campfire ring and the skeleton of a large animal! This was an actual campsite that I had found! By 4:30, I managed to get everything inside my tent and I stayed there for the next 2 hours, as the storm came in. At first, there was sprinkling rain and lightening in the distance. Then the wind picked up and the thunder grew louder. The temperature dropped from 80 degrees to 70 to 50! I put on my fleece pull-over and my rain clothes and got into my sleeping bag, fading in and out of sleep while lightening flashed all around me! I was weathering my first Colorado storm! Eventually, it passed, and I emerged from my tent to cook some mac and cheese. I added salmon for more protein, but the whole meal was cold and disgusting! The processed cheese remained hard and clumpy, and I just couldn’t stomach the taste. As I crawled into my sleeping bag for the night, I realized that I had hiked 50 miles of the trail so far- already 10% of it!