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).
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!
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!
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.
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!
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).
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).
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!
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…


Day 31 of the Colorado Trail

August 20


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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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…
Screen shot 2013-04-03 at 1.23.00 PM

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.
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.
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!)
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.
“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.
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.
Screen shot 2013-04-03 at 12.24.16 PM
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.
Screen shot 2013-04-03 at 12.24.27 PM
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
There were flowers by the creek and I could see an old, abandoned wooden shack up ahead. More marmots were playing in the rocks.
Then, I descended the most slippery, steep, dangerous, and slow-going part of the trail that I had encountered yet!
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.
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.
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…

Day 27 of the Colorado Trail

August 16

18.3 miles

A day of indescribable beauty, amazing animal encounters, and of course, the ever-present fatigue!

My day started with an uphill climb, beginning in the forest, and then opening out into the exposed tundra of the Continental Divide. The beauty was overwhelming! I could see red-striped mountains to my right and amazing views in every direction. And no one else was out here! It was unbelievable! This, right, here, is exactly why I had come out here to hike!
I stopped often in wonderment and took many pictures. There was a steep climb ahead and at one point, I saw that there was a small side path to the peak of the mountain I was climbing (the Colorado Trail wound around the mountain). I decided to check it out. (I would much rather climb extra distances for views than to get water…). I carefully made my way down, and continued on a winding path around different peaks.
Eventually, I headed down to the dirt road, walking along the embankment above the wide gravelly path to avoid slipping in this steep descent, and reached the end of segment 22. I was tired! The road continued uphill, and around a hairpin. I was moving very slowly. A car headed toward me and the driver seemed strangely proud that he slowed down to avoid hitting me. (Ummm…thanks?)
Once I made my way back onto the trail, a pack of ATV riders with masked helmets covering their faces rode past me. It was a bit eerie. When the CT turned off this path to the right, I was happy to be alone and in peace again. I came out to another expansive landscape, where the trail led under a rim.
It was time for lunch and I looked for a soft patch of grass to sit on, but it was all a bit scraggly. I had wanted to reach the next water source so I would only have to stop once to collect water and eat, but it wasn’t appearing! So, I just sat down and ate. As I continued on, I saw a wooden stick with a CT marker on it with an upright black animal holding onto it!
The animal remained perfectly still as I walked towards it and I couldn’t figure out if it was real or not! Was this a stuffed animal, or maybe wooden? Did someone place it here as a joke? I yelled out to it, “What are you?” afraid that it might move towards me suddenly. It remained perfectly still! I took my camera out of my pocket and took a picture. Suddenly, it dove under the rocks! Holy cow! That was a bit creepy!
A little ways ahead, a squeaky marmot stood on its hind legs, blowing out whistles. I took a video of him.
My guidebook had said that there would be 1,500 feet of climbing for this day, but as I continued to climb, and could see that there was even more ahead, I couldn’t believe how wrong it was! I had already climbed more than that in the first half of the day! This was psychologically hard to adjust to. I was extremely tired and my head was stuck in mileage calculations. How far had I hiked so far and how many miles did I have remaining? I pressed on and on, always looking at the next climb up ahead.
For some reason, I looked back into the valley and was stunned to see a pair of moose!
I had walked right passed them and hadn’t seen them because I was so stuck in my head, thinking about how much work I still had ahead of me! I walked back down the trail to get a better view. What an incredible sight! One of them galloped into the swampy bushes and became completely hidden from view. I called to the other one and he looked up at me. I was so glad that I decided to look back at that moment!
I made my way around more interesting sculptural rock outcrops as I climbed to the next saddle.
After this pass, it began to rain and then hail, but it didn’t last long. Slowly, I made my way down toward a pond.
It was gorgeous! Part of me wanted to stop and camp there, but another part of me knew I had to keep moving. Every mile that I didn’t hike today would only mean additional miles for the next day and day after. Dark clouds were also hovering.
I took a short snack break and moved on. I headed toward the next saddle, putting away mile after mile.
As I continued through another rocky part, I found more playful marmots. I stood and watched them play with each other. They weren’t at all afraid of me.
As I continued on, another marmot ran down the trail toward me. Alarmed, I yelled, “What are you doing?” at it and it dove into a rock cairn.
I came out to another open grassy section and climbed up, looking for the intersection with a camping spot 300 feet off the trail. I arrived at 6pm, and had to figure out which way to turn. I made my way down through some bushes and into a little area my guidebook described as a “meadow”. The ground was very lumpy, had big dirt holes all around, and the grass was very thick. It was definitely not ideal for setting up a tent, but I had no choice.
I was at an elevation of 12,500 feet, in completely exposed terrain, all alone. I set up my tent, put on my warm layers, and set my stove up outside of my tent. I couldn’t see the flame and slightly burnt my fingers for the first time on this trip. I hoped it would not storm tonight! I got out of the tent several times to take pictures of the setting sun behind the rocks and nestled my body into the dirt divets.
It was cold, but not as freezing as I thought it would be at this high of an elevation. I felt a bit on edge in the surroundings I was in, all alone, but remained very calm and stoic, gathering my internal strength. Surprisingly, I ended up getting one of my most restful nights of sleep on the trail.

Day 25 of the Colorado Trail

August 14

10.8 miles

I got up at 6:30, ate a quick breakfast, and packed up, ready to hike the 10.8 miles to the highway, where I would attempt to get a hitch into Lake City (I had heard this was a very difficult hitch! One guy waited 2 hours!). It was cold and I had all of my layers on. I said goodbye to the couple and said I might see them on the road because I’d probably still be there waiting for a ride. Holly thought I would make it into town in time to have breakfast. “I wish!” But alas, that was not possible… She invited me to join them for their morning coffee, but saw that I looked ready to go and let me be on my way. Last evening, they commented on how beautiful their campsite was, but I didn’t see anything different about it than any other campsite. In the morning, however, once the clouds had cleared, I saw beautiful red rock walls. It was much nicer than where I had camped in the pines! IMG_1334
I stepped over the stream and started my climb. I got warm very quickly and had to stop shortly after to peel off some layers.
I continued up the switchbacks, seeing a peak in front of me, but not able to determine where this path was taking me. Once I found my way around the peak, I entered into more of a bowl in the mountains and even saw a couple of deer (or elk?) at the edge of the forest! I stopped to eat a snack, take off more layers, and resumed the climb, eventually reaching alpine territory again. At this altitude, the temperature had become very cold! I loved walking in the bowl I was in, traversing a path under the rim with beautiful views all around me. It reminded me of Switzerland again.
I headed towards the next saddle, very cold, but not wanting to stop to put on layers again. When I started descending to the other side, I could see clouds in the distance that were below me. It was a beautiful, peaceful sight!
Scraggly bushes lined the trail, and as I made my way through them, my legs got very wet from the dew, and it felt like they were being scratched. I just kept going.
Around six miles into the hike, I felt extremely and unusually tired. I walked over a rocky region and could see an intersection in the distance. I decided to reach that point and then take a little break. I found a place that was out of the direct path of wind, and ate a packet of almond butter and a snickers. I wondered why my energy level was so low. It seemed a bit alarming. My stomach hurt a bit, as well. I continuing walking underneath some rock cliffs and imagined that I could be in Ireland.
Then, I approached an alpine pond.
I wanted to wait until I came to the stream to collect more water. Something had been hurting on the bottom of my foot, almost as if there was something in my shoe or sock, and I couldn’t wait to take a break and see if I could figure out what it was. Ahead, I saw a lone figure standing in the meadow. It seemed to be some kind of animal, but I couldn’t tell what it was.
Finally, I reached the little stream. The animal was still there. I hoped I wouldn’t scare it away with my movements before I had a chance to see it! Collecting water was a slow process as there was only a dribbling flow. I took off my sock, but couldn’t tell what was bothering my foot. I just had to hope that it could take the pain for 5 more miles. I filtered my water, packed everything up, and then resumed my walk, at last reaching the grazing animal. It was a lone sheep! What was it doing out here all by its self? It wasn’t at all scared or concerned about me.
I continued on through Snow Mesa- 3.3 miles of huge, fairly flat expanse at an altitude of over 12,000 feet. It was almost like a Stars Wars kind of landscape. Funny bugs would hop onto the trail, right in front of me, and then spasm with fright and jump away. It was very amusing!
Snow Mesa kept going and going… I could see nothing in front of me but huge grassy expanses with mountains in the far distance.
Then, a lone male hiker headed towards me. He looked a bit like Waldo and was very interested in telling me where I could get water ahead! I told him that I was all set- I had just collected water and was headed to Lake City. (It’s funny how all these northbound hikers feel the need to tell me things like this. I guess maybe they like to get information from people who are walking in the opposite direction, but I get along just fine with only my guidebook!).
On and on, I walked. Finally, I reached the rim of Snow Mesa!
I looked down and saw that it was very rocky below and I knew it would be slow-going. More pikas were squeaking in the rocks and I felt sad that I would only have a few more chances to be among these creatures.
At last, I reached the safety of the pine trees, once again!
For all of the beauty of the open, alpine environments, there is an equal amount of stress that comes with hiking through them, as you are always racing to escape the possible lightning.
I had a couple more miles of descending before I would reach the highway. I could see the road and cars passing along it already. I tried to keep my pace steady, even though I wanted to reach the road as quickly as possible. As I neared the road, I saw a parking lot across the street, and a black SUV. Part of me hoped that my “friend” had at last come to meet me and help me out by giving me a ride into town! I reached the road at 1pm, and kept my eye on the vehicle. It didn’t move. I took my pack off, and stuck out my thumb. No cars stopped. A construction crew was nearby and I could hear them talking about me, wondering what I was doing and where I wanted to get to. Lake City was about 17 miles away, but in two direction along the highway. A car pulled out of the parking lot and headed past me. I stuck out my thumb, but the lady driving just smiled at me. Then, I saw some people headed to the black SUV! Maybe I should ask them if they could give me a ride! The woman and younger girl used the restroom and took their time getting into the car. I decided not to bother them. I continued trying to hitch, but still, no one wanted to stop. The, the black SUV pulled out of the lot. It sat facing the highway, not moving. The driver was looking at me. I wondered why he couldn’t just pull over to me. It seemed like he wanted to say something to me, but was frustrated because he was too far away to be heard. “Are you going to Lake City?” he called out.
“Yes!” I excitedly answered. He motioned me over. I threw on my pack and dashed across the highway, happily moving as fast as I could to their car. Without any hesitation, he helped me put my pack and poles in the back seat, next to the girl. He asked if I was hiking the CT and said they had just dropped off 2 CT hikers and picked one up. It took me a long time to understand who the girl next to me was, and who the hikers they had dropped off were, and how they were related. I finally understood that they had dropped off their son and his girlfriend who were hiking most of the trail this year, and the girl next to me was their friend, who had hiked the last section with them and was now being brought home with the parents. She was hiking the CT in sections. I felt very comfortable and happy with these people, and so grateful for the ride. The timing had worked out perfectly! The parents talked a lot about wanting their college-aged son to find something that made him happy. I am always, always struck and surprised to hear parents express these kinds of sentiments about their children, because it is something that I did not experience from my parents at all (quite the opposite, in fact). We talked about the AT and PCT, as well.

We reached Lake City and they dropped me off in the center of town, across from the Silver Spur Motel. I had been having a hard time deciding if I wanted to stay at the hostel, or pay more money to stay at a motel where I could have my own room and privacy. I opted with privacy, as that was what I was feeling like I needed the most. It took me awhile to find the “office” of the motel. It turned out to be the check-out counter of the store. Two guys outside of the store with their dogs said hi to me and asked me what I was doing. We chatted for a bit. They were from Fort Collins and out here driving from mountain to mountain, climbing several of the 14,000 footers. I told them that I think I would prefer what they were doing because they got to see all of the best views, and got a huge feeling of accomplishment after reaching the summit of each mountain they climbed. A lot of thru-hiking is walking through forested areas or plains, where you don’t get to see so much.
I got a room, which turned out to be extremely basic, but it would do. I took a shower and was surprised that it didn’t feel nearly as luxurious or necessary after hiking for six days and 105 miles! I was proud of myself for not wanting to reach town any sooner than I had come to it. I had made good on my intention and was happier for it.
Clouds had rolled in and it looked like it was about to rain. I put on my rain gear and walked the half mile or so to the post office to pick up my package. The woman who worked there was very nice!
I then headed over to the Soup Kitchen, where one previous thru-hiker had mentioned that he had had his best meal on the trail! Unfortunately, it was after three and they had just closed! The lady said they would be open for the buffet at 5:30. I felt disappointed, but there was nothing I could do about it. I started the walk back to my room. Along the way, a car stopped and the woman in the passenger seat asked if they could give me a ride. I said I was fine and that I was only going to the store. The man seemed impatient and nearly drove over my foot a few times, wanting to take off! The woman said she would be back…
When I was almost there, she beeped and pulled up to me. I got in, even though I was merely feet away. I told her what I was doing out here and thanked her many times for her kindness and the ride. She told me that she could never do what I was doing and that she was so happy that she got to meet someone like me!
I ended up getting lunch at a little outdoor place near my motel. They were out of chicken, so I got a turkey sandwich with chips. It was good! I bought I raspberry square for dessert and brought it with me to the coffee shop to have with a latte. I sat inside at a big table and was joined by two older gentlemen who were seated outside at first, but had come in because of the weather. I was perfectly content. At one point, I saw two hikers in rain gear with bright orange pack covers walking down the street. Buzz and Holly! They had reached town 2 hours after me. I went out to try to call to them, but they were already too far down the road. I went back inside and finished my snack.
The hostel was next door and the owner was outside his truck, working with a pile of wood. I asked him about getting a ride back to the trail, but he said he couldn’t give me one (even if I paid him) if I wasn’t staying at the hostel. He did give me the number of a woman in town who gave rides to hikers and told me to get back to him if I still needed help.
The Fort Collins guys were packing up their car in front of the store and were friendly to me again. I stopped and chatted with them for awhile. One was particularly nice. They were on their way to Silverton, which I was, as well, but I would take a lot longer to get there on foot, and they would unfortunately no longer be there by the time I arrived. So, we wished each other goodbye. I went back to my room, hand-washed some of my clothes in the sink, left a message with the ride lady, and tried to rest for a bit. It was difficult again! It is amazing to me how little I sleep on these thru-hikes, even when I come into town! It is completely opposite to my non-thru-hiking life, where I could easily sleep 10 hours a night, take 2 two hour naps during the day (even right after drinking a coffee) and still never feel rested! I think when I turn my body into a hiking machine, it wants to stay active! And sleeping in a new (and often uncomfortable) environment, makes it always on alert. There is also a very limited time-frame within which you have to complete all of your chores!
I wondered if you had to be at the buffet at 5:30, or if you could go at anytime… I walked over around six, listening to my ipod along the way. (One thing that I miss while hiking is the ability to move more freely-and in more than a single plane! Being able to listen to music and dance becomes so special! I was looking forward to being able to do yoga again, too!). The Soup Kitchen was quiet. I got some lasagna, salad, and warm bread with butter. I didn’t do a good job of eating, though. Maybe it was too soon after I had eaten my big sandwich and dessert. My tummy felt full and the lady working there asked me if I was okay. “You suddenly got quiet!” she said. I ordered a piece of carrot cake to take back to my room and headed back. (The owner thanked me for returning).
Along the way, I thought about how differently people see me on the trail, as opposed to in “real life.” Out here, all people see of me is that I am open, brave, courageous, and strong, whereas, in real life, people see me as small and fearful, shrinking and afraid. I thought about the contrast between my mother constantly striking me down, not wanting or allowing me to be the person I am, forcefully exerting her control to stomp out any trace of the spirit and life inside me, and the many years I have lived in a state of un-living and depression because of it, and what I was displaying out here, so evident to everyone that crossed my path, even for a moment. I felt very emotional and cried for the realization of the truth of who I am, for all of the time that I had lost not living it, and for the strength I have shown in persisting through incredible pain and obstacles. I am living proof that no matter how much darkness overtakes your life, a bright spark always remains deep inside, waiting for the chance to burst open and be given life.

I had e-mailed Chad back, curious as to how the end of his race was and he called me back and left a message. Once back in my room, I gave him a call back. After telling me that he finished the race in eight days and sharing some stories from it, he said that after meeting me, he decided to turn his ride into a spiritual one, instead of a competitive one.
He told me about his stay in Silverton, mentioning a gun show in the street, and staying in a hotel that was haunted by ghosts. He also said that he wants to go on an adventure with me, but doesn’t know what kind because he doesn’t like to walk! As we finished the conversation he said, “What I love about you is that you are a wild child.” I found that to be quite amusing, because I am far from wild…
I called the ride lady back and we agreed to meet around noon. “You’re my kind of hiker!” she said. “All of the other ones want to be picked up at 6am!”
I tried to sleep, but my mind was occupied with thoughts and had a hard time quieting. I also had to get up to go to the bathroom three times during the night!

Day 22 of the Colorado Trail

August 11

17.3 miles


After having strange dreams throughout the night, I got up at 6. I heard the guys talking not long after. I placed my stove right outside my tent and cooked up some oatmeal while I remained in my tent (this was the first time I had done this!). I decided that I could have a cup of coffee with the guys after I packed most of my stuff up. I brought my stove and pot with me, and Mel was impressed with how fast I was able to get a boil! (Much better than an alcohol stove, which I used on my AT hike!) This was my first cup of coffee that I had made on the trail! Unfortunately, the powdered milk doesn’t dissolve and remains in clumps no matter how much you stir it! I wanted to put some big miles into today since I felt behind due to last night’s storm, but I decided it would be nice to chat with people while I had the chance. Mel and Dave had already broken down their tents and they were trying to get John, who was not quite awake and ready to move, to do the same. They talked about going into town that evening for burgers. (I still had many days to hike before I would get my next town meal).
I went back up the hill to finish packing. The wind was howling already, which was a bit disconcerting. Then, I came down one last time to say goodbye. Tears started to form in my eyes. Mel said, “Well, it was nice to meet you, Wendy.” The tears spilled out. (It’s hard for me to leave people who make an impression on my heart). “Now, I’m really sad,” I said. Dave and John stared at the ground, not knowing how to react. Mel said, “We weathered the storm together. And now the sun will come out and shine on us.” His positive outlook immediately made me feel better. He said it was nice to share the evening together. I told them I hoped I would see them again. They said that probably wouldn’t happen because I hike much faster than them, but maybe if I take a really long lunch break…
I started on my way. It was quite chilly for a long time, and the wind continued to blow. This was an unusual weather pattern! I felt strong through the first two uphills, and more like my normal hiking self. I wanted to keep climbing until I got to the top, without taking any breaks! (I usually love hiking uphill, but hiking in Colorado is different than what I am used to. The altitude makes climbing much, much tougher, and I did not like going uphill most of the time out here!)
I thought about how my Dad had not communicated with me at all in seven or eight years, and how he didn’t even know I was out here, much less want to do anything for me in anyway. I wished Mel could be my father.
After getting over the second saddle that I had wanted to get to last night, the profile showed three uphills. The second one looked steep, but very short. I came to a big uphill that kept going and going and I wondered if I had somehow missed the second one. I took out my profile, studied it carefully, and continued on. The plateau it showed was only a couple of steps! This couldn’t be the big one, but why was it so long? I crested the top and then began to make my way down a very steep downhill!
Finally, I began the third climb. It had gotten quite warm and I was feeling tired. Luckily, there were switchbacks on the third climb, but it was very slow-going for me because I was out of energy.
At last, I reached the jeep road. I had one little uphill to finish off the climb, but I was feeling hungry and tired, so I sat down on a tree stump and took a little lunch break. I ate a packet of smoked tuna and some snacks.
I then continued on and finished the climb. At the top was a man wearing ranger type clothes with a CT patch, talking on the phone. I smiled. He said he was making a call to his mother. I decided to check if my phone had reception, as well. I had the smallest bit of reception. When the man was finished with his call, he told me that he had a tent set up about 30 minutes ahead with sodas and snacks. I then realized that this was the Trail Angel named Apple! Then he said, “Can I ask you a question?”
“Did you see the cairns?… Did you take a lunch break just after the start of this last uphill?…”
“Yes…” I was starting to feel a little spooked.
“There’s a tracker down there keeping count of the hikers and I thought I missed one.”
I was startled that someone was watching me. “Who is keeping track of me? ” I asked. I told him that was spooky! (I hadn’t yet fully understood that he was the one who had put the earthquake detector in the ground and hooked it up to a computer and his walkie talkie to let him know if a hiker was approaching…)
He went the other way and said he would see me down there in a little while. When I arrived, he waved me over, pointing to the tent with cold drinks and snacks. He only had sodas, which is really the last thing I want to drink (especially while hiking), but I felt like I had to take one. He seemed like he really wanted company. The bland chips and peanuts were also not at all tempting for me, but I felt obliged to eat some because he kept saying what a shame it was for this food to go to waste, as he tossed some chips out for the animals.
(Today was the last day he would be providing his trail magic to CT hikers for the year). He also had a large sleeping tent set up with a heater to boil water inside. It would have been a great shelter to come across in stormy weather like we had last night! Unfortunately, for us, it was too many miles away. I really wanted to keep moving to get in my miles, but felt rude about leaving so quickly. I asked him if he had met Andrew, Chad, and Jasmine. He had brought Andrew into Creede and drove all three to the trailhead of segment 19. They had all skipped segment 18! Apple had told them there was nothing to see! He asked me if I had had any trouble with the falcons and told me that one thru-hiker came though a few weeks ago with scars on his cheek from the talons of the bird that swooped right by me! Wow! His walkie talkie went off and a woman’s voice told him that one hiker was on their way… I knew, right away, that it was Mel! Apple said it would be another hour…
He asked me if I had gone into the water at Baldy Lake. I told him, no, that it was storming. He then told me that it was full of leeches! “You mean, if I had put my feet into the water, the leeches would have jumped on me?”
Well, I’m glad I didn’t go in then!
I finally said I should get moving, partially filled one of my water bottles, and asked if I could empty my trash. Then, Mel emerged!
“Wendy! What a surprise to see you here! Were you waiting for us?”
It was now 2:30. Mel was going to hike out to his truck and then drive back to pick up Dave and John. Dave was not feeling well and was really struggling. Mel said to me, “I don’t know if you are a stickler, Wendy, but I could give you a ride, too!”
I told him that I could just hike out with him! He seemed to like that idea.

Trail Angel "Apple" and Mel

Trail Angel “Apple” and Mel

Screen shot 2013-03-26 at 11.58.03 AM
I threw out my useless maps and packed up, as a northbound hiker came by. He stopped and rubbed his eyes. “Is this real?”
Apple told him that I was a southbound thru-hiker. He told me that the scenery from here on out is about to change.
“Good!” I said. (I had heard that the last 2 sections were the most beautiful).
This guy didn’t feel the same way. He said it was all rocks- “like being on the moon.” Then he said, “Are you aware that there is no water for the next 20 miles until the middle of segment 19?” And that the next 20 miles is all on roads like this one? And partly highway?”
“Ummm… no…”
He was scaring me!
Mel wanted to go and said I could stay and chat, but I didn’t want to talk to this person who only had negative things to tell me! I said I was ready to go!
We talked easily the whole way back to the truck. At one point, it started to rain and then hail. I was getting cold and wet and told Mel that I wanted to put my rain jacket on. He helped me take my pack off and then put it on again when I was ready! How sweet! Of course, the precipitation stopped as quickly as it had started! Mel walked me right up to the gate and asked if he could take my picture. We exchanged contact info, he gave me a nice hug (with my pack still on), and then we said goodbye. I thanked him for the wine, for taking care of me, and said that it was nice for me to run into them at that time. I told him, “I think the calmest people are the most in control.” He said he agreed. He opened the gate for me, told me to be careful of the barbed wire, and off I went, all by myself again!
I walked on the path through the meadows, not knowing where I would camp (considering that guy had told me the trail was on roads for the next 20 miles!). Then, I sat down and had a snack, as I was feeling hungry. Three guys on ATVs passed me (always an unsettled feeling). As I headed uphill, I found a grassy spot along the side of the trail and pondered staying there for the night. But after looking at my guidebook, I decided I might as well finish off this uphill and see what was up there. I came to a gate, and across the way, I saw a couple of Elk grazing! And they didn’t seem to mind me! I was so glad I had made this decision! I quietly tried to open the gate, take out my camera, and take come pictures, but they ran off.
There was a nice, flat pine floor for me to camp on right there! It was only 5:12pm. I cooked dinner, started catching up on my journaling from Salida, and was in bed before dark. I felt happy!

Day 21 of the Colorado Trail

August 10

16.7 miles

I got up around 6:15. It was another cold morning, so I snacked in my sleeping bag. I packed up and went out to the rocks to check out the sunrise. It was as equally as unimpressive as the sunset. (For all of the romantic notions that people might have about seeing the stars and gorgeous sunrises and sunsets in our lengthy time outside, that very rarely happens on an excursion such as this. Most of the time, I am camped in the trees with no views to be seen, the weather is much more cloudy and rainy than sunny, and I can’t stay up long enough to see if the stars are out…)
I was on the trail by 7:31. My energy was low, and the miles dragged on. It didn’t help that there were no great views (which always boost my energy). I just put my head to the ground and plugged away. My happiest moments came when I saw a scavenger bird hanging out in the meadow bushes, and a marmot playing in the remnants of a log cabin.
The difference between how I had felt yesterday and how I felt today was extreme.

In the afternoon, I saw a lone mountain biker. He asked how I was. “Fine,” I said. He laughed. In actuality, I didn’t feel fine. I felt extremely tired. It was a hot day and the heat always sucks the energy out of me. I imagined reaching Baldy Lake and relaxing for a bit along its shore. Then, I discovered that it was a half mile off the trail! Extra miles!
I tried to cover 10 miles before noon. At 11:45, I found a big pine tree on the top of a hill near the end of segment 16 to eat lunch under. It was windy and dark clouds were approaching yet again. I was very chilly.
The “trailhead” was completely unrecognizable! Someone would have needed to have driven in with an off-road jeep if they wanted to start the next section! (It was also irritating that the mile points and landmarks in section 16 in my guidebook were way off! We rely on those points to keep track of where we are.)

At 3:30, I finally made it to the Baldy Lake turn-off, after having walked nearly 17 long, tedious miles. I planned to drop my pack and get some water (it was the only water available in a very long stretch), and continue on for another 3.6 miles. Then I saw several men! My first instinct was one of fear. I wouldn’t be able to drop off my pack as I had hoped…! But as I went over to them, they turned out to be very friendly! One of them even offered to help me take my pack off (when I declined, he realized that I had done this many times on my own!). They offered the son to watch my pack (he was going to stay and nap) while we all went down the half mile long hill to collect water. Wonderful! I took out two of my collecting bags, my filter, my 2 platypus bags, and one of my hiking poles. But it was too cumbersome to carry like that. One of the guys offered to let me put my filter in his pack. On the way down, I instantly turned into a chatty girl! Sometimes, I just need a little company and the opportunity to express my female energy to put me in a better mood!
The hike today had been a very rocky one and taking steps on and around them was hard. The bottom of my right foot was hurting.
At the bottom of the hill, Mel introduced himself. He was very nice. They walked around the lake to collect their water while I took the most direct route to the water. But my collecting bags didn’t work so well in the shallow, stagnant water. I tried to step out onto a rock where the water was deeper, but my foot slipped off and got totally submerged. I cursed loudly and the two men looked over at me. I had imagined that the lake would be blue and beautiful, but it turned out to be green. It was taking a very long time to collect and filter the water, repeating again, and again. But the pump that the men were using was taking even longer. (If this was a race…)
I climbed back up the hill with all my things and now full water bags. It wasn’t easy to carry! It had smelled like cow down by the water, so I wanted to put iodine tablets in my water for extra measure. By the time I got to the top of the climb, it started raining! The son had set his tent-up and was inside. I quickly found the iodine tablets, but couldn’t open them! And when I did get an individual packet opened, the tablet disintegrated into powder! They were too old! I did the best I could and then put everything away as the rain fell harder! I got out my rain jacket and rain pants and went to stand under the pine trees. This time, there were no dry spots underneath them! The rain quickly turned to hail. And the size of the hail grew larger! All I could do was stand there and get pelted. I was freezing cold!! I had wanted to pack up and continue hiking, but was now forced into a holding pattern. I realized that I didn’t even have a chance to put my camera into a ziplock bag! I hoped it was okay. Hail covered the ground, our packs, and the kid’s tent. Then, it switched back to rain. Lightning and thunder followed. The kid emerged from his tent, brushed off some of the hail off the tent, checked on the packs, and asked me if I wanted a jacket. He also said he had a sleeping bag. I told him I was okay. When the rain slowed a bit, I went over to my pack and dug my fleece jacket out and then returned to the trees to try to find a dry space. I failed. I was so, so cold.
Mel and Dave came back and wanted to know where I went. Dave’s son pointed to me in the woods. I remained where I was for awhile and then made my way over to them. They were trying to decide if they should move or camp here for the night. I voted to move in order to keep warm. The weather had a different plan, however. The storm was not letting up. It continued to lightning and thunder. We were in the middle of a swirling weather pattern. It would have been stupid to climb even higher. Mel said it was a plains storm. He was cool as a cucumber- very calm and in control. Dave brought out his flask of whiskey. “This is what I brought it for!”. He took a swig, passed it to his son (who said, “I’m not 21 yet. Can I still have some?), then to Mel. Mel looked at me, “Wendy?”. I took a sip. He saw enough flat ground for their tents and invited me to stay with them. My first camping company on the hike! I didn’t want to camp on the hail and several inch-high plants (the bottom of my tent is mesh!), so I decided to go back up to the intersection where I remembered seeing a patch of dirt. Mel said he would help me set up after he got his tent set up. “Just give a call over.” John, the son, came up to see if I needed help, and again I told him I was fine. Then it started raining again! My gear was getting wet! I hurried to put everything in the tent.
I was so cold that I was shivering! I changed into my long johns and dry socks. My toes hurt from being too cold. I didn’t want to cook dinner in the rain, so I just got in my sleeping bag and slowly tried to warm up. The rain kept coming down.
A bit later, Mel walked up to my tent. “Wendy? Are you awake?”
“I brought your water bottle up here and set it against this log. And I have some wine. Do you have something to put it in?”.
“I only have my pot,” I said.
“Well, wine in a pot is still good!” he said. I searched for my pot while he stood outside, rain falling down on him. He said he hoped to see me in the morning and that I should come down and have breakfast with them.
I ate some goldfish crackers with my wine. It was delicious! How fortunate was I to meet these nice people to keep me company through the storm and have wine brought to my tent in the rain? I felt happy. I snacked on chips, a peppermint paddy, and chocolate covered gogis. Yum! The wine didn’t give me a buzz (I only had a tiny bit). The rain finally slowed enough for me to get out and pee and brush my teeth. I kept my food with me inside my tent.

Day 20 of the Colorado Trail

August 9

17 miles

I got up at 6, showered, packed up, and headed out around 7. The hostel owner was unfortunately going out of town that morning and wasn’t able to give me a ride back to the trail like he did for most of the hikers. So, I had to find a ride on my own. As I walked up the main street, one of the coffee shops was just about to open. The lady was bringing the tables and chairs outside. A father and young son were already waiting. I decided that I had time for a snack, took my pack off, leaned it against the brick wall, and waited for them to open. There weren’t a lot of choices for baked goods and the few they had were absolutely enormous! I ended up getting a peppermint paddy cupcake and a coffee (which was very strong!). It was the best breakfast ever! The nice girl from Sweetie’s came in to deliver some baked items, and I felt happy to see a familiar, friendly face. I went to the bathroom to get washed up and saw a decorative sign that simply said, “Journey.” It made me stop and reflect. This walk I was undertaking had meaning.
Highway 12 was supposedly 12 blocks up, but seemed more like 24. IMG_0923
This was one of the roads that I wished any of the passerbys could have given me a lift, but that didn’t happen. I tried to find a good spot to hitch once I reached the highway, and stuck out my thumb. Many cars passed without stopping. Then, a truck with a wagon attached pulled over! He asked where I was going and told me to get in. As I was about to open the door, without warning, he decided to turn and pull-in off the road! He very nearly ran over my foot!
I put my pack in the back of the pick-up and joined him in the front. He told me that he was headed that same way to chop wood. His name was Daniel, he was originally from the Upper Peninsula in Michigan and had moved to Salida not too long ago. He spent a lot of the ride talking about his 24 year old daughter, Madeleine, whom he was extremely proud of. She was a very bright girl and had done extremely well in her biology studies at the University of Michigan. He shared a favorite memory of her as a little girl on a camping trip on which it rained for three days straight and everything they had was wet and muddy. When she appeared out of the tent with her pink sundress over her muddy overalls, it instantly brightened his spirits.
He drove me all the way to the Monarch Pass trailhead, but that wasn’t where I had gotten off the Colorado Trail. So, we turned around, looking for the CT access point. I remembered what the area where I hitched looked like, but I saw nothing like it along this Highway. For 2 hours, we drove back and forth, searching for the unmarked trail, stopping to ask anyone we could. At one point, he said, “I’m getting angry!” and I tried to calm him down, “Don’t get angry. It will be okay.”
We finally reached the probable place where I had hitched in. He pulled over and as I got my pack out, he went across the street, looking for a trail marker. He saw one! Yay! I looked in my guidebook, and it said that the next 2.9 miles were road miles that could be accessed only by a high-maintenance vehicle. He looked at me and asked if I wanted him to bring me up to the trailhead. Yes! It was already 9:35 and I had lost a good deal of hiking time. I would be crossing another 4 mile exposed route later in the day and had to be careful of the impending storms. So, back went my pack in the back, and up, we drove, slowly and carefully over very bumpy terrain. Hooray for high maintenance vehicles! At times, we weren’t sure we would make it, and he hoped there would be a place where he could turn around (the road was very narrow). But it all worked out. We found the tiny dirt parking lot, and got out to say goodbye. I asked him for his address so I could send him a thank you card, but he declined. So, I told him I would give him a hug as a thank you, instead. He told me to look him up if I ever came back to Salida and he would buy me a meal at the restaurant he worked at.
I started my walk feeling good, strong, and happy (despite carrying food and supplies for 105 miles!). It wasn’t long before I spotted three women ahead of me, who were doing a lot of talking. When one of them noticed me, she said, “Let’s let this ambitious hiker pass.”
Another one asked where I was going. “Oh, you are VERY ambitious!” Their names were Kathleen, Irene, and Gail, and they were very friendly. We talked about the Appalachian Trail, and they were just as amazed as the people that I had met earlier in my trip. I asked them why and they said it sounded so idyllic to them- so much green! The climate out here was very different and often arid.
I continued on my way, still feeling good. The climb was not very difficult.
Shortly before reaching the alpine environment, I spotted 2 deer (or possibly elk) in the forest! I continued to climb, and for the first time, I saw a wooden sign at the summit! At last, I could see my destination, which psychologically greatly helped. The wind was very strong at the top. I took off my pack, took several pictures, and felt very happy. (The ladies were nowhere in sight!). I had remembered that the cyclist that I had chatted with on the second day had told me that Monarch Pass was his favorite part of the trail, but I didn’t see why. I had already seen better views earlier in my hike.
On I went, walking along the exposed ridge, stopping to look around often. About a half an hour later, a woman hiked toward me. She stopped and wanted to chat. She was fairly quiet and there were often long pauses, but she kept looking at me, definitely wanting to continue talking. I had kept my pack on, knowing that I had four miles of exposed tundra to cross and it was already 1:30 in the afternoon! I wanted to keep moving! I finally had to put my pack down because my shoulders were in too much pain. After a half an hour, I told her I needed to be on my way.
I walked as quickly as I could, checking the sky for dark clouds. Before I got to the trees, thunder began to rumble and dark clouds overtook the skies. I couldn’t afford to take any pack or food breaks. I had to keep moving. At last, I reached tree line and sat down to eat some lunch. (the peppermint paddy cupcake had given me plenty of fuel for many miles!)
I continued on, passed the only shelter on the trail (in the distance), saw mountain bikers ahead, and a hiking couple taking a break in the woods to my right. I continued onto a dirt road, and at some point, saw a pipe with water coming out to the left of the trail. I wasn’t sure if it was safe, so I passed it by. But after a couple of minutes, I decided to check my guidebook pages to see if they said anything about it. It said it was a piped spring! So I returned and collected water. I sat down on the side of the trail and filtered it, as the rain began coming down again. An ATV rider rode passed me. It continued to rain as I walked, and I became very cold. In the distance, I heard ATVs roaring and what sounded like kids making mooing sounds (rather unpleasant). Occasionally, I would stop underneath a pine tree, which sheltered me from the cold rain, but standing still only made me grow colder. So, I continued on. The lady I had talked with had mentioned a log cabin a little ways off the trail, but the ATV riders had taken it over, so I just kept walking. The rain was coming down hard. I passed an outhouse and the parking lot and began the next section. A man appeared on the hill ahead, seemed to look at me for a minute, and then disappeared back. It was a bit unnerving. Later, I saw him with a woman and some baskets. I guess they were just picking something.
At the base of a grass hill, I came to a large tree that was dry underneath and stationed myself underneath it. I added another layer, cut my ripped fingernail (very hard to do with cold, numb fingers!), and waited for the rain to slow. Then, I continued on, climbing again, and then passing through grassy meadowlands with lots of rocks (not good for camping!). Occasionally, I would wander off the trail to look for a camping spot, but I was having no luck. At one point, I passed through a forest area and saw lots of hail and gigantic puddles all over the place! I was glad I was not in this area when the storm hit!
I continued to look for a spot to camp, but it was either too wet in the woods or too open in the meadows. I went through a cow gate, through an open expanse, through a rocky region, and then climbed up a hill. At the top, I found pine trees! I went in aways and decided I could camp there. But then, I decided to go down the slope and see if there was a better area down there. There was!
As I set up my tent, it began sprinkling again! When it stopped, I made a pot of macaroni and cheese, which again was cold, clumpy, and disgusting! I wanted to watch the sun set on some rocks a couple of minutes away from my tent, but it was not a good night for it. By the time I got into my sleeping bag, it was 8:20. I was too tired and it was too dark out to write anything in my journal.