I left the CDT at Dubois, WY for the year, because it was the least inconvenient place, logistically. It was a considered decision. I had things I wanted to accomplish–the Totality August 21 at Union Pass, WY and my volunteer week in Yosemite September 9-16 (due partly to my hiking addiction, after 10 years of week-long volunteer trips in Yosemite, I haven’t helped in at least 3 years), I toyed around with the idea of returning to the CDT after that in mid-September, but really why? To suffer some more? I suffered plenty in 2015 heading north through Washington on the PCT and it was worth it to accomplish my first thru-hike. But I’ve gotten smarter. Maybe.
I have been following the Instagram, Facebook and blog posts of other hikers on the CDT. I cheer out loud from behind my phone or computer screen as hikers I know or know of, finish the trail. Acorn! Endless and Queen B! I ache for those that have been prevented from getting to Canada by fire or road closures or injury. I miss friends who had to go back to work in August–Burning Calves and Dassie. And I continue to follow or look for the adventures of those still out there–the Ravens, Mudslide (AJ), German Mormon, with my fingers crossed that they will meet their goals.
If you’ve never hiked a long trail, a really long trail, it’s hard to understand why somebody would keep going. Why keep going through smoke, road-walking alternates around trail closures, fatigue, pain, weight loss, rain, and snow? I think the answer is different for each hiker. For me the answer was “I don’t have to.”
I have put off writing this update because I have a sense of failure. I could list all my excuses for quitting, I wrote a rather extensive litany of complaints in my journal, most of which are valid, but I’m just fooling myself. Bottom line? I was bone-deep tired of it all.
From Dubois I hired a shuttle service to take me to Riverton regional airport where I caught a plane to Denver. From Denver I took Alaska Airlines to Seattle and spent a couple days with my daughter, Sarah. Then Seattle home to Anchorage for a few days before joining my sister for a flight to California and a wonderful week of volunteering in Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite NP, with people I really enjoy.
I intend to finish the CDT next season, starting mid-July-ish at the border with Canada and heading south to Dubois. In fact, I’m already looking forward to it! I’ve been off trail for a month and feeling pretty good. Who wants to join me next year for awhile?
8/10 Ack, I’m in a holding pattern. I went into Lander for the night and spent the next day googling transportation logistics in Wyoming, not a lot of public transport hereabouts, but there are shuttles running in limited areas to a few towns and regional airports, and rental cars here and there. I asked the wonderful, possibly extended, family that runs the Holiday Lodge if they knew a company or person that could drive me to Riverton airport. English is their second language and Wyoming is not where they originated, ( I guess China but it feels intrusive to ask in these immigrant-sensitive times, “Oh, I’ve been to China! Where exactly are from?”) but they worked the phones and got me some great leads. I wound up renting a car from the RV park right here in Lander to do a little self-guided tour of towns, museums and sites near the CDT. There is so much history, I could spend weeks looking, learning and pondering, although I feel so aimless wandering in a car with no fixed goal in mind.
As a kid I watched Wagon Train and Bonanza and cowboy movies. In my high school a new class was offered and taught by a Native American, called “Indian Studies” and I realized that the history of the American West has been revised, scrutinized, detailed and retold from a lot of different perspectives through time. History isn’t static. The museums I’ve visited here have great collections of artifacts but sometimes the descriptions, although mostly factual, omit bigger picture information. For example, the plains buffalo nearly vanished in a short span of time leading to the starvation of the tribes dependent on them, and the tribes’ “relocation” as one museum puts it, to reservations. Buffalo hunters killed them to sell their hides for fashion wear back East in this narrative. But what about the link to the post-Civil War government policies and Acts that sought to move people from the East to the West and the idea of Manifest Destiny? In one place I saw the coolest collection of barbed wire samples with the year each was invented. In another, barbed wire was described as a solution to violence between ranchers who were hostile to another rancher’s cattle on their grazing grounds and remarked that barbed wire coincidentally lead to the demise of the formerly and necessarily free-ranging buffalo.
It makes me think. One of Mama Raven’s reasons for homeschooling her kids is that she says in her school district they don’t teach History anymore. One of my issues is that, since high school, I wanted teachers who loved history and who knew history, to teach it, not the basketball coach who stood in front of my World Civilization class while I raised my hand to correct him on the particulars of Ancient Egypt, but the guy who taught us Native American history. I just like history and read it on my own. I’ve always been curious about people, places and culture. Not chemistry, astrophysics or fluid dynamics which I can’t imagine anybody could teach themselves. Incorrect assumption I know. Hence the need for proper teachers or, for a proper curriculum so that our kids can learn to think about our world and be informed citizens. But I don’t know, is history being taught still? It’s a rather broad discipline, so how do school districts decide what the important bits are?
I put together a plan to hike to the right place for the eclipse. I want to be in the wild, nowhere near sold-out hotels and traffic jams and hoopla. (Every store is selling Wyoming Eclipse tee shirts, hotels all over the entire state have jacked up their prices and sold out, public service announcements warn about traffic issues.). That involved delaying off trail awhile longer.
I set up a flight home from Denver, a flight from Wyoming to Denver, a shuttle ride from Dubois, WY to the regional airport and a motel room the night before. The eclipse has been my obsession and if I kept to my original hiking schedule I would have been far enough ahead that I’d have to figure out how to get back south to the Dubois area. When I told Papa Raven this, he tried to hide the look that told me he thought I was nuts, “You’d still be in the path and would see a 96% eclipse.” I know, I know, it’s just a thing I’m fixed on–to be high in elevation, open country, 100%. I also know that with the near constant cloud cover of the last couple of weeks, I may only see brief darkness, no black disk covering the sun. Who knows?
At whatever point in time I decided I wouldn’t finish the CDT this year, I was both liberated and demoralized. I can’t call myself a thru-hiker anymore, which matters to who? Nobody. I have several reasons or excuses, all valid, all my own choice. After running into High Country, a hiker I first met on the train ride from El Paso to Lordsburg in April, I’m feeling better. This is his second season on the CDT. After some rough times last year on the trail, he had to go home without finishing. This year he has gone north, then flipped and went south so that he will finish the whole CDT at South Pass City very soon. In my age group, when he gets there he will have earned the Triple Crown (AT, PCT, CDT) hurray! He did the PCT in 2001 and only slept indoors 4 times the whole trail. Over a beer, we agreed that I’ll get to pick my months next year for Montana and for the chunk in the San Juans I missed, and that’s a good thing.
Heading back on the trail tomorrow. Tonight I will eat another burger at the Lander Brewery, truly the best I’ve ever had. Local-grown, free-range, organic, etc etc–the Black and Blue burger is another reason why I love Wyoming.
Very importantly, I have a nomination for the best beer can blurb. Melvin brewed in Pine, Wyoming.
8/18 Trooper set up a shuttle ride for us all, including German Mormon and me, back to Elkhart Trailhead. The driver was the 2nd or 3rd pompous, sexist Wyoming man to say, “Listen to me!” and proceed to drone on with information I neither needed nor asked for. Jerks, too bad they can’t read my face. I started hiking and never saw German Mormon or Trooper again but I did see lots and lots of people heading out for a few days camping. I met Joey and her service dog Thor, she asked good questions about solo hiking and gear and she is going to do the Colorado Trail next year. Thor was truly well trained, and handsome. It was a fun interlude but she was fast and I lost track of her. The outstanding thing today was the variety of mammals I saw carrying packs: humans, dogs, horses, mules, llamas (!), and goats (!!). Even with all the people on the access trail, and tents set up along every lake, I managed an isolated little spot just a few miles after turning northish onto the CDT.
8/19 The most amazing encounter of the entire trip happened after a few hours of hiking into a flow of people heading towards me, hikers spaced just 10 or 20 minutes apart. I saw a couple hiking from an access trail to a trail junction sign. As I got nearer, I recognized the man! It was the USASA Snowboard and Freeski Nationals Director I work with every spring at Copper Mountain. I think gobsmacked is the word. If I’d been just a few minutes faster, I’d have missed this encounter with one of my other worlds. So amazing to see this truly friendly face. After chatting a bit and catching up, I hiked down past a log jam of people taking off their shoes to ford a river, and then up a bit along a meadow where I dry-camped by a fire ring and old horse poo late enough that no hikers passed me.
8/20 It was great tread today, as it’s been since the Big Sandy trailhead, perfect weather and the Winds are spectacular with rock and lakes. It was beastly filled with people until past the Green River trailhead, seriously annoying massive groups of folks heading at me. I stepped off the trail dozens of times. When one man said, “Thank you sir,” without noticing my feminine legs below the skirt I wear, I snapped, “Ma’am,” as I managed to get back on the trail for a few feet. My bad, but really? You fat, clean, trail-hogging eclipsomaniac. I turned uphill and lost the hordes as I went up and over Gunsight Pass. Between 7 and 9am I saw no people, but by 12:30 I counted over 200! After 12:30 a dozen nice, regular people, and after 6pm a pack of at least 12 CDT SOBOs! Mid afternoon I met old guys Phantom and Kitchen Sink.
“Where you from?” they asked.
“I was born in Palmer, Alaska in ’53!” said Kitchen Sink.
“I was born in Oakland, California in ’53!” I said. We laughed.
8/21 Wow. Usually a hiking day doesn’t have a lot of surprises. Today had 4.
1. I saw my very first badger, ever, this morning as I hiked to Union Pass. It hissed at me, the dirty bugger, and then scuttled off into the sage, an enormous animal, wide and flat to the ground in cockroach proportions.
2. Of course, the eclipse wasn’t a surprise, but it was so much more than I expected. I knew there would be bunches of people and vehicles at road-access Union Pass, so when I saw them I stopped and dropped behind a rise so I had the eclipse to myself. I arrived early, about 10 for the 11:37 totality. I put on some layers, ate snacks and read my book. I put on my eclipse glasses and looked at the sun–an orange ball. As I read, I started to get cold and the light got funny. I glassed the sun and the moon was taking a bite out of the orange ball. It took a long time, 20-30″? I didn’t look at the time. Then the totality, the corona, white glowing around the black moon disk. I’ve never seen anything so amazing. It was dark, but not night dark, the horizon lit up 360 degrees on the mountains, like dawn or dusk all around me. As the sun started showing again, I choked up, I caught myself thanking the sun out loud for coming back with tales of Raven bringing light to the world in my heart. Yeah, I guess I’m a pagan. It took a long time for the sun to be free of the moon, and it was cold. I started hiking to warm up, a mile past all the people, cars, RVs and tents.
3. In the afternoon I flushed a fat sage grouse and her fluffy, nearly grown brood of 3.
4. At 4:30, I came to a creek and found 2 cold cans of Modelo! A first on this trail. I saved 1 for the couple of hikers just behind me. That beer tasted so great on this hot afternoon, so great.
8/22. Same ‘ol, same ‘ol, I couldn’t find a campsite when I wanted one, so I kept walking. Tonight’s is way better than last night’s cold and slanty desperation pitch. Tonight I have a fantastic view just 6 miles from where the trail crosses the highway to Dubois. Eclipsomania is over, today I saw 5 hikers, 1 dog, 1 biker, and 2 guys in a truck worried they’d misdirected a red-bearded hiker who had problems with his GPS. Not a hard day, just hot since I’m at lower elevations.
8/23 2 easy hitches and I’m in Dubois, DOO-boyz. I took an extra night on the trail, to make 5, because there were no motel rooms available until today. I could have stayed at the Episcoplian Church, for a donation, but that’s just weird.
8/11 Finally back on trail and better yet, the morning was sunny after days of clouds. Dassie and Burning Calves both texted me yesterday concerned, I think, that I had left the trail. The Ravens probably hate me for my rudeness. I enjoyed my aimless, expensive time off trail though. I ran into High Country in Dubois and he made me feel better about abandoning any attempt at thru-hiking. In his second year on the CDT, he will complete it. So can I. Dan has left the PCT in Oregon–the fires and smoke have shut parts of the trail and it is just miserable to hike in those conditions. So I count myself lucky here on the CDT.
Walking from the highway, I was almost immediately in trees. After the long, treeless Red Desert, trees again. Every stretch, the CDT changes. I am ready to be done hiking in 2 weeks. Next up, Yosemite. And then what? Training for the NYC Marathon November 5. I will have the aerobic fitness and whippet thin body shape but I’ll have to gradually reintroduce my leg muscles to a running stride. How glorious it will be to move through space without 20 pounds on my back!
8/12 Holy crap, as I pitched my tent last night at 7:30, a pack of 4 people with neon green race bibs came up the trail. I commented to them, “After seeing nobody all day, now there’s a whole bunch!” One replied, “And there will be more, probably going by all night long.” “Great, all night long.” It was awful, I’m still mad. Hey Adventure organization, if you can hang your GPS checkpoints, how about signage warning other trail users about the international hordes on the trail? All night long, groups of 4 with blazing bright headlamps and loud voices in assorted foreign languages woke me up. I found out today from another team that it is the World Championship Adventure Race lasting 6 or 7 days. Whoop whoop. Team Japan was awesomely friendly in comparison to the rest though and brightened my sleep deprived day.
I met a couple of LASHers (Long Ass Section Hikers) who added a new hiking phrase to my vocabulary. They are not fans of thru-hiking, believing 20+ miles a day is no kind of way to experience a trail. Trail Crew said, “I call us Thorough Hikers, we take our time and explore all the alternate and side trails.” I like that–Thorough Hikers.
It threatened to rain most of the day. Due to sleep deprivation and too many town days, I only walked for 9 hours and pitched my tent in a lovely, quiet, still spot near the top of a climb with a view over the desert. I had zero people go by and relaxed listening to maniac squirrels and a few birds, a call I hadn’t heard before, Osprey? I know they’re in the area.
8/13 I just missed my 20 mile goal today, but that’s OK. This morning started at 7am with an intense 20 second hail storm. A bit later I came on a smoldering campfire in a fire ring just off trail in a meadow. Pissed me off. I poured 1/2 my water on it to no avail. I hope the wind doesn’t come up. The trees and meadows continued with plenty of blowdown and unmaintained trail until I neared the Big Sandy trailhead and was suddenly deluged with huge groups of hikers, and a horse group of 4 decked out in chaps, spurs and cowboy hats, 2 men and 2 boys, with 2 working dogs neatly threading their way through hooves. I forced myself up and over a pass at the end of the day, getting wind chilled in a light rain, to find a protected little tent site with a view of a lake. The Wind River Range is spectacular, no wonder there are so many humans out here.
8/14 It rained a bit last night but I was warm and protected. I saw High Country first thing this morning heading SOBO. He’s nearly finished the CDT and the Triple Crown (AT, PCT, CDT)! He said he’d seen NOBOs German Mormon aka Hoss aka Johnny (who started the same day as me, the Ravens, Dassie, Burning Calves, High Country and Kay) and Trooper. The Winds are wonderful, remind me of the Sierra with sparkling lakes and granite, I’m happy. I met Trooper later in the afternoon because he was waiting for German Mormon. We’re all going to take the 11-mile sidetrail to a trailhead to hitch to Pinedale tomorrow. It’s been overcast all day, I’ve hiked in my jacket most of the time and pitched my tent near a creek after making it over Hat Pass to set myself up for a series of 3 tightly spaced passes in the morning and the 11 miles of supposedly “down to the Elkhart Trailhead.”
8/15 It’s still a jolt, like time travel, to go from trail to town, even after all my experience doing just this. Today I woke at dawn in my little tent camped near a stream after a night of gentle rain, all alone in the wild. I packed up, heated water for instant coffee while eating Walker’s shortbread cookies for breakfast. I kept on my wool longies and shirt, put dry socks into wet shoes, rain pants and jacket over all, rolled up my wet tent and put it in the pack, and started walking uphill into the clouds. The Winds are wet and blooming, granite and blue spruce, open vistas with snow rimmed spires and cirques and I feel like I have it all to myself. Photos can’t capture the feeling of the hugeness of the mountains, the quiet broken by the squeak of another startled chipmunk, the thoughts rolling around my head, and the joy of being in the midst of it all with cold, wet feet. I climbed up and over three actual passes in about two hours, then followed the trail another two miles to the junction that would take me off the CDT to a trailhead to town. In those eleven miles I saw 50 people walking toward me. Most said “hi” but few said more than that. There were a lot of fords, nothing treacherous or over knee deep. I have learned that it’s pointless to do anything special to walk across water if my feet are already wet. If there are rocks or a log, I’ll use them carefully, with my hiking sticks for balance. But for fords, I simply step in, my shoes provide the surest footing, my feet are already wet anyway from walking on wet trail with overgrown bushes, and it’s quicker to just keep walking rather than stop to change into water shoes or dry socks. A lot of the 50 people today were drying feet or preparing feet for the water or in some other way delaying at the fords. I said “hi” and plodded across without hesitating beyond making sure it was the best spot to ford. I felt a little showoffy and am pretty glad I didn’t trip and get soaked, but I teased one bunch of young bucks who were fussing with toweling off their feet, “Oh you guys do the whole shoes off thing,” as I stepped into the river without pausing, long gray hair and hiking skirt making me look like some kind of hiking goddess I’m sure. They might have laughed a little after getting over the idea that you don’t have to keep your footwear dry. I came across a woman and her dog resting by the trail. Sweet dog, he watched me approach, then happily walked over for a sniff and an ear scratch. Score! Turns out, Jan and I were the only female hikers in their 60’s either of us had met this year (“But I’m not alone, I have Jack here”). She was turning off at a junction so we wished each other well and said goodbye.
I acknowledge the anxiety I always feel when I face having to hitch a ride, it always works out, but I always have a backup plan–I can camp, I have extra food, I could walk further until I get a cell signal to call someone. How long will I have to wait for a ride? Is it the time of day when people will be going my way? These thoughts creep into my brain even as I watch my footing, ford streams, huff and puff my way up grades, and check my GPS and maps. I finally got to the trailhead at a dead end road. I went in the outhouse and took off my rain pants, stuffed my jacket into my pack, and tried to look a little tidier. I don’t have a mirror but I did comb out my hair and brushed my teeth this morning. I feel a little sunburnt and have been scratching bug bites on my forehead. My bare legs are hairy, scratched, scabbed and dirty. I stink. To other hikers, even complete stranger hikers, I look normal, I am instantly accepted in the club, no explanation. But the driving public? I don’t know what I look like to them. I saw a car leaving the parking lot and smiled and tentatively stuck out my thumb. The car hesitated and then the couple made a snap judgment, I must have looked OK, like a fellow retiree. They offered me a ride. I was so thankful. I doubt they’d ever picked up a stranger, Jerry and Sue from Louisiana, and I had fun trading travel tales on the way down to Pinedale. Their mission is to visit all 50 states, only 5 left. They were enjoying Wyoming but disliked the Great Basin or the Red Desert as I learned to call it, so I got to regale them with tales of the foot experience–wild horses, the bones of the land showing through the sage, water in the desert, spring water, and the wind.
Hey Ravens, I miss you! I’m attaching this amazing raven photo from Wendy Davis Photography!
In Rawlins, the Days Inn accepts hiker resupply boxes and offers a very low room rate that includes breakfast. I prefer not sending resupply to post offices because you have less flexibility about the time of day and day of the week to get your box. To thank a motel for this service, I usually try and stay there a night. Plus other hikers tend to stay at the cheapest places and so I get to see them. Burning Calves and I wound up in the breakfast room at the Days Inn, not knowing we were both there.. I was going to move hotels because when they couldn’t fix the TV in my room, they moved me to a room with a good TV but broken AC. The hotel staff were all so nice that I felt bad for moving. I asked BC if she wanted to share a room, and it wound up being really fun getting to know her better. She had to return to Germany in a few days to her job as a teacher. I want to visit her there!
I got word from the Ravens that they had to take an extra day on the trail out of Steamboat–8 days total, think of the food weight–but were in Rawlins. Reunion! BC, Dassie, AJ, the 4 Ravens and I all had a great dinner together. The Ravens said they needed a zero, so I immediately decided to stay another night in Rawlins so as to hike out with them for a stretch, and convinced Burning Calves to do the same. I’ve been so lonely on the trail, I’ve only camped with other hikers once in over a month of hiking.
7/30 Hiked out with the Ravens and BC after breakfast. It was mostly roads and paved highway, treeless, dry and quite beautiful. We made about 24 trail miles and camped in the scrub. A difficulty with hiking with other people is that there is no possibility of a private pee. You can walk out a ways after telling people to look elsewhere, or sometimes you can find a little dip or rise to hide in. I’m not particularly modest, plus I hike in a skirt which helps, but I still need to be aware so as not to offend or embarrass my companions. This “bathroom” situation is of course a frequent topic for hiker discussion, and at the dinner table the night before hiking out, the 8 of us shared a lot of stories about hikers habits. It’s hilarious.
7/31 After about 20 miles, BC had to leave us on a road that would take her to Baroil and on to the highway where she’d hitch back to Rawlins to catch a bus to Denver airport. I will have to visit her in Frankfurt! The Ravens and I continued on, finding tentsites in a bit of sand not too covered with sagebrush and sticker bushes of various kinds. It is so good to have company.
8/1 A long day. Since there are no trees, there is no shade and it gets really hot, especially trudging uphill with 3 liters of water. I struggled but survived, trying so very hard not to slow down the Ravens or make them feel they had to camp before the planned 25 miles. For the second time this stretch, and contrary to my usual routine, we stopped and cooked dinner and then continued on. It works like magic, fueling the last couple hours of hiking till dark. I’ve always just waited to eat till I camp because it seems like wasting time to unpack the stove and food and repack. But it works. I can hike till dark with good physical and mental energy and the cooler evening is very pleasant. So we made it up the last steep climb and pitched tents in the wind on the flattest and barest place we could find, the dirt road that is the CDT. It was a dreadful, windy, tent flapping night. I used earplugs to try and sleep and had to get up a couple of times to reset the tent stakes. No trees, no rocks, no way to block the wind out here. But I do love Wyoming so far, the bones of the land are visible, the ridges and rock outcrops, the folds and bluffs, you can see for miles. Cows and antelope pop up and either stare or sproing, and I just feel like I’m able to breathe and see. I guess it’s this sense of space and stretch through the vastness of the open country. I like it.
8/2 Another windy day, another 25 miles. Wild horses again, we are all ecstatic when we see them. They are so graceful and free. Antelope, cows and horses: because the country is so open, we see animals constantly. We camped in another windy, unprotected spot, there’s really no other choice. Tonight though I could hear the cheerful voices of Bling and Whisper in their tent, just being kids. I love the sound. I’ve missed it.
8/3 Woohoo, not only did we make it to Atlantic City, a mile off trail, but we were treated like guests, not customers, at Wild Bill’s Guns where we rented cabins for the night. Bill and Carmela’s cabins are clean and new, electricity and water are in the separate bathroom. They invited us onto their porch for lemonade and cookies and recommended the Grubstake for dinner. Another very hiker friendly place. Back at Bill’s, we got got chocolate cake and ice cream. Yes, I’m obsessed with food on the trail.
8/4 Bill cooked breakfast–Mama Raven claimed they were the best pancakes ever and my coffee cup was never empty.
My firstborn turns 34 today. Happy Birthday Glen!
After breakfast we hiked the road a few miles to the ghost town of South Pass City and picked up our resupply boxes from the visitor center before exploring the park. I saw legendary, speed-record holding, Anish’s signature 2 names ahead of my own in the CDT Hiker register, cool, she must be hiking SOBO. The town is restored and the interiors are arranged to look as though the inhabitants have just stepped away from the table in the middle of a meal. It’s really well done and unlike any historical site I’ve visited. We walked on towards Highway 28, taking a short cut that turned into a long cut when we came to a fence that promised trespassers would be shot and survivors would be shot twice. Seen this sign before, still not funny. Go, Wyoming.
We walked up the pavement and crossed at the proper spot. I had been torn all day, actually for weeks, trying to figure out how to best be in the solar eclipse zone, hiking, where to try to finish this year’s hike, and the complicated logistics of transport, including from the trail to an airport to get home to Alaska. Plus, it was hot and 120 miles in 5 days had sapped my wasted legs of energy. I still am annoyed by my general indecisiveness on this hike. So I’d been yakking to Mama about the fact that I’d be resupplying in a town they needed to bypass (Pinedale) and they’d be ahead of me from then on, and that I was thinking about trying to hitch into Lander for no reason other than I didn’t feel like walking today. Hopefully it wasn’t a big surprise to the Ravens when I didn’t catch up to them. I simply stopped, turned around and walked back to the highway. I might be notorious in my other life for fading from a party without saying goodbye, a little idiosyncrasy of mine, a kind of no-fuss decisiveness. I gave myself half an hour of trying, if no ride, I’d continue up the trail. I stuck out my thumb at the 70 MPH traffic and a pickup stopped within a minute. The old guy asked if I’d mind riding in the back of the truck. “Is it legal in Wyoming?” I asked. “I think so,” he said and we grinned. Then I hopped in and had the time of my life for the 25 mile ride. No second guessing my decision. What a great way to see the scenery! The last time I rode in the back of a pickup, I was 25, living on the Big Island and a bunch of us rode in the back of Billy Hopkins’ truck down to Waipio Valley for the day.
Can it only be a week since I got a ride out of Steamboat Springs back to the trail? Feel like I’ve lived a lifetime and walked across a continent.
7/20 I caught the free bus to the post office to mail a box, then paid a taxi to take me back to the trail. I hate hitching. The trail was kind of boring, green tunnel, but mostly level and easy. I met 3 members of the Mighty, Mighty Trail Crew. The work was going well since they get to use chainsaws on the blowdown, not handsaws. Thanks Mighty, Mighty Trail Crew! I camped a bit past my target stream just as the latest thunderstorm hit with rain and hail.
7/21 As I write this in my tent, I am miserable, worried, cold and wet. Again I had to choose, camp at 2:30 or go up into the alpine and over and down back into treeline. Although the sky had been rumbling in the distance, it looked OK. Then on the last pitch, painful hail, huge, furious pellets and nowhere for me to shelter. I pulled on my rain pants over already cold, wet legs. The jacket I already had on against the wind. I remembered Puff Puff and I getting frozen from the hail storm out of Chester, CA last year. We vowed to put our layers on the next time, just as soon as it started, no waiting. I continued up the flattish, exposed ridge, it wasn’t far, then ran as carefully as I could across the ridge and down the other side, I could see it was a long way to trees. The intense lightning and hail scared me, I ran, crouched as if it would help, breathing fast, not panicked, but chilled and afraid I’d slip on the accumulating hail, be crippled by injury and die of hypothermia. The storm has been on top of me for 3 hours now with ceaseless rain and no pause between the lightning flash and the boom of thunder. I shouldn’t still be cold in my down bag but all is damp. I’ve eaten a stale Snickers and had a hot whey drink. That helps. The Ravens said they are leaving Steamboat at noon today so they are maybe 30 miles behind, low and safe I hope. This storm hit at 3:00, too early.
At 6:30 I was warm enough to sit up in my sleeping bag although the storm continued till 8:30. I was so alone that I was reminded of the goodbye notes stranded mountaineers write to their loved ones. I think I get it. You just want to make sure the people you love know that you love them. It’s irrational I guess but that’s another unique gift we get for being human beings.
7/22. What a different day. I woke to sunrise glowing on my tent walls and the air perfectly clear. I unclipped the storm flaps and tossed my jacket, rain pants, socks, and ditty bags outside to dry while I made my usual coffee and granola. I headed down the trail with a smile on my face even though my shoes were still soaking wet and reeking from the day before and I wore a jacket. As I entered a big meadow, 2 mama elk and their babies looked up and trotted off. Then a huge bull elk and another 15-20 animals followed them. Glorious! I laughed out loud. After hours of walking downhill, I met 2 guys in camo and daypacks. I teased them, “It’s not hunting season yet, is it?” They were, in fact, training for hunting season, by walking up this incredibly steep trail. Nice! Of course I had to mention where I was from and the hunters in my family. They asked if I’d seen any elk. “Yup, 2 1/2 hours ago.” “Yup, with a huge bull.”
I came to a trailhead joining a dirt road walk. A car stopped (it rarely happens) and the young couple asked if I wanted a ride. Its kind of a delicate situation, you don’t want to discourage kindness to the next hiker, who may want a ride. “Where to?” I grinned. Maybe they’re going to Jackson Hole or someplace else way more interesting than this dirt road. “Oh, a mile or two down the road.” “Sweet, thanks for the offer, I’m doing OK though.”
The route turned me into a short stretch of blowdown bedecked trail, 200 trees in about a mile. The things you count to have something to think about. To a road. To a campground with a dumpster (the joy of offloading garbage is insane) and an outhouse (even more joy ridding myself of “pack-it-out” TP). To a trail. To a road. To an ATV road.
7/23 Stinking coyotes woke me way too early, before 5 am. They always sound so cheerful, I fell back asleep and woke late but I still managed over 22 miles. That’s good, for me. I listened most of the day to Timothy Egan’s fascinating book about Irish history and Irish immigrants from before the Civil War, TheImmortalIrishman. The trail sucks. ATV PUDs and water was an issue. But there was a nicely graded short cut dirt road for awhile. Then back to crappy trail. I made it to a beautiful water source, Dale Creek, and a lovely little established tent site was a surprise bonus. It was just far enough away from the burbling creek sounds that I wouldn’t hear voices in the harmonics.
7/24 Stupid, annoying, soggy trail, where there is a trail. It was only about 11 miles to the highway and my next resupply down the hill in Encampment/Riverside. 2 women, looked older than me, gave me a ride. They had “run away from home” they giggled, and were camping for a few days. My kind of women! I got to Lazy Acres where there is a choice of camping, RVing, or a motel. No matter what you choose, you can do laundry and take a shower. My wet shoes, socks and feet are horrendous. I really, really hate being stinky, what am I doing hiking for days in the same clothes then? Woohoo, Dassie, AJ and Burning Calves! They were heading out, but we got lunch and beer together. It was BC’s birthday! After, they hitched out and I got a perfectly comfy, clean, quiet, cheap motel room. I studied the maps and info and Yogi’s pages and realized I could shave at least a day and 20 miles by taking a road walk alternate. Totally cheered me up, I only needed 3 days of food max. Riverside has a couple of tiny stores, so my food purchases consisted of cheddar cheese, tortillas, candy bars, and individually wrapped danish. But it’s now just about 60 miles to Rawlins and more than half will be on beautiful, blessed, quick walking roads! Happy hiker! Even though the weather forecast was for 2 days of rain, I was OK because there would be no big exposed climbs in the next stretch.
7/25 I was extremely lucky to get an early ride to the trail from a nice local who decided that he could put off pouring concrete in the rain to give a hiker a ride back up to Battle Pass. I barely stuck out my thumb, he was the first truck. He had been in the Seabees at Adak, AK in 1979. Wow, I told him about my friend Cody Carpenter who has recently gone way out there to hunt caribou and stay in the old officers quarters.
It rained and drizzled all day, not cold, not windy. Actually it was quite pleasant hiking temperatures. Mostly roads today including another alternate, slightly longer than the official route, but I know now that better tread makes for faster progress. Lessons learned in New Mexico. And when I rejoined the trail, it was in terrible shape as usual. Makes me wonder if I could have found more alternatives. I had to go over, under, around and through more messy, boggy, nearly impenetrable blowdown. I carried extra water weight since the maps and notes warned about undrinkable, alkaline water on the road alternate to Rawlins. I found a dry, open campsite with crazy squirrels and some new bird calls. Cranes maybe? It rained some more but I was at such low elevation that cold was not an issue. It was a happy place.
7/26 Picked up plenty more water but my pack is light because I don’t need to carry much food. Not a bad walk in the cool cloud cover. Saw several cyclists. The road rolls a bit, goes from dirt to paved and has very little traffic. I saw tons of pronghorn antelope in the sagebrush. New animal to me, beautiful, smart and skittish. They bound away in dun colored herds with what looks like gigantic, fluffy white bunnies clinging to their bums. Since Battle Pass, Wyoming has been what I hoped for, namely not Colorado. Finally the skunk bush stink is gone, replaced with the divine (truly, ask the First People of this area) scent of sagebrush. The trail and alternate join up and cross I-80 and railroad tracks, then go through Rawlins. I got my resupply box with new shoes and then holed up in a motel. Tomorrow I will tour the old Wyoming prison and buy groceries.
7/13 It’s a lovely place, the Shadowcliff, and not expensive, but the hostel was full so I took a room in the main lodge and the noise was challenging, so I moved to the very quiet Bighorn for a second night. Did all the chores: laundry, fuel, groceries. And ate an early dinner for the second night at the Stagecoach happy hour. Cheap, delicious and a welcoming place. I got a text from Dassie. The next morning we met for breakfast (“We thought the Fat Cat Cafe would be appropriate,” joked Dassie) and the big surprise wasn’t AJ (Mudslide) but Burning Calves back on the CDT from the AT! It was great to see friends, the CDT has been lonesome. I told them to give me a head start and I’d see them on the trail. They slackpacked the RMNP loop today.
7/14 I took the RMNP shortcut to save miles and because you need a permit and a bear canister to camp in “Rocky” as the cheerful trail crew called it. It was an uneventful but beautiful day filled with day hikers. Best question of the day was “Have you seen anything?” I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain… “Anything?” “Animals!” I camped below Bowen Pass near water. Today I finally finished listening to the 10th anniversary edition of AmericanGods. There was an Epilogue, then a Post Script, then an Appendix.
7/15 I walked up the valley to Bowen Pass and saw a bull moose curled under a tree like a cow, then just past him, 3 more moose, the mythical herd. Our moose don’t herd up like this. Then a minute later, a hare came bounding up to me. That’s a new one. Somebody been feeding this guy? I thought I’d have to settle for the usual fleeing butt.
The pass wasn’t so bad, and the down went quite a ways, full of blowdown to a “road,” a skinny, slippery canyon full of 4-wheelers, Mr and Mrs plus the kids. The road transitioned to trail, ominously marked with tire treads. A few minutes later the dirt bikes were barreling downhill at me on the single track as I continued a 3-hour uphill trudge. They were polite and legal, and there was no blowdown in this section, just noise, fumes and dust. I turned off onto a no-motorized trail that crossed a paved highway and continued up. I found a sheltered tent site and called it a day before the cloud burst. I had been packing 3 liters of water since there were 9 more dry miles in the morning.
7/16 This morning was hard but gorgeous. A goat! Mama grouse and her two chicks, all equally stupid. I could be dining on fresh grouse daily if I would just take advantage and whack one with my hiking stick. There were a couple long waterless stretches. People in cars on the dirt roads are a little weird. I walked onto an isolated dirt road junction and a lone old guy in a car drove slowly into and out of view with just a little wave, didn’t even roll down his window to check if I was OK.
7/17 Up and over this morning to a series of good dirt roads. Fat Albert overtook me, super friendly and helpful.
As I walked down the road, I chatted with a 4-wheeler couple who later in the day on their return trip told me my friends behind were trying to catch up. Yay! Then a retired couple invited me into their RV and a cold drink. Nice! I made over 25 miles today, although I am now stealth camped behind some bushes on Highway 14. I feel like a freaking hobo.
7/18 I hiked the blacktop 8.5 miles to Hwy 40 to hitch to Steamboat. I hate hitching, it also makes me feel like a bum. I waited an hour until a really nice woman, 24, picked me up on her way to see a friend about a job with a SUP company in Steamboat. Thank you! I had happy hour beer and tapas with Dassie, AJ and Burning Calves who rolled into town an hour or two after me.
I had to come up with a plan to save my mind. I want to hike through passes, not 3000′ up to the tippy top of a peak and down, steep down, to the bottom of the crotch between peaks. Passes not peaks! Kinda out of luck on that issue. My slow pace both up and down meant for low mileage days, self doubt and it-is-what-it-is anger.
So I took a hard look at the elevation profile for the next stretch and made a plan. Less planned miles on some days, more on others. It worked!
7/9 I hiked up whatever peak it is north of Berthoud Pass parking lot and down the equally steep other side loaded with snow patches, talus and bugs, then up a traverse that wound around a hillside, then down a nicely engineered and constructed set of steep switchbacks (47 of them?) to a dirt road teaming with ATVs, trucks driven by unsmiling men, and boys cautiously riding dirt bikes. There was a campground of sorts, which a hiker somewhere ahead of me had noted in the comments for Guthook’s app for this area. The first site, near the road, was a little creepy.
Nobody was camped anywhere but I walked back through the trees until I was out of sight from the road. A perfect quiet spot in the rain. Tomorrow James Peak first thing.
7/10 I was hiking early in longies and jacket. Took about 4 hours to make it to the top. I was passed by 2 thrus, 3 day hikers,then another pair of day hikers. At the top there is of course a giant switchback going down. I slipped and fell twice on the loose gravel and rock, taking a little chunk out of my hand and dripping blood on my hiking stick. The trail continued with a traverse through scree on the side of a ridge then came to a trail junction, with a perfectly good trail leading away to a road. I knew I should have taken it. Next time I will check my other maps and not go blindly where the Guthook/Bear Creek tells me. The “untrail” official CDT went along a ridge, cairn to cairn, on tussocks and talus. Who decides on the “official” route? A committee? An agency? The CDTC? Why would you send hikers on unspoiled tundra when an existing trammeled trail is nearby? After awhile I did check my other maps and bushwhacked down to a road below, CR 80. I yelled to my wildlife buddies as I went, telling the sheep, moose, elk, bear and all the other animals I could think of how much I appreciated them not popping out of the brush and surprising me. The road walk uphill was great and apparently normal because the jeeps didn’t stop to ask if I was lost or OK. I rejoined the CDT at 3:30 with 3 short climbs and traverses in the alpine wind and cold and bits of rain until finally a steep down to trees and water. I was less worried today being exposed at 12,000′ 3:30-6:00 pm–the grumbling of thunder and the cloud mass was mostly behind me.
Some days your mind just goes into a loop trying to resolve unresolvable issues. When you create an official route on ground that doesn’t have any kind of previous impact–not a game trail, not a social trail–not only are you encouraging environmental impacts, you are putting hikers at greater risk for injury which would potentially require Search and Rescue (SAR) response. Who makes these decisions? Another issue that bugs me: Wilderness economics. There is so little money for wilderness restoration, trail construction and trail maintenance. But when trail conditions are crummy, the odds of hiker injury and rescue goes up. SAR is a different pot of money, also underfunded, than wilderness management. Yes, we are in the wilderness at our own risk, but where there is trail, there is responsibility, both for trail maintenance, environmental protection and human safety. And it all goes together but it’s all separated by jurisdictions and funding. I do my best to leave no trace and to diminish personal risk, but still, bad stuff happens to good people all the time. And we need more people doing stuff outside and in the wilderness partly because healthy and happy people are cheaper. Oh shut up Catwater, just hike.
7/11 It was a lovely campsite. It rained hard 6:30-9:30, then off and on all night. When I crawled out of my tent in the morning, I was greeted by a moose grazing in the lush grass across a meadow. Today was gray but I was happy to be going downhill or level most of the day, caught in the green tunnel and listening to the interminable American Gods. I saw a second moose and about 4 miles in, thanks to a heads up by a day hiker, a herd of 10-20 elk.
Then I startled a beautiful deer, palomino colored tail showing off her darker self and huge mule ears. She sproinged off through the trees and meadow. No intense climbs today and as I’ve learned to appreciate road walks, so too do I appreciate plodding through the murky trees, not the windy alpine. I made my 20 miles, the first in a long time, although finding a tent site was a miracle. The trail along the lakes has very few flat spots, what few there are have wads of deadfall and rocks. But I made do. I’m camped on a rock I’ve padded with my jacket and the rain is pouring down. Just a few hours to Grand Lake. What crazy slow stuff will the trail throw at me tomorrow?
7/12 Rain. Rained all night. Rained lightly all morning. But I’m at such low elevation that I wasn’t cold. The trail is overgrown so I wore my rain pants till I hit civilization hours into the day. The trail wasn’t so bad today, wet but NO wind, NO cold, NO elevation, AND I was going to be indoors for the night. I stopped by the post office and picked up my box. New shoes! New insoles! Laundromat, groceries, fuel tomorrow. I really should just drive town to town and forget about this hiking thing.
I hit the trail, the paved road actually, at 8 am, July 4th, out of Copper. I remember strategically avoiding the holiday in 2015 on the PCT and how pleased I was to miss the loud, drunken festivities in Sierra City. The trail was fine to the top of a pass, then blowdown, muck, and dim scrubby forest. The next pass had a nearby trailhead and better trail. Going over, there were a few snowfields left and I ran into a couple of guys with daypacks and fishing rods, who looked at me with incomprehension as I walked down towards them, it was weird. Weed is legal in Colorado, weird is legal everywhere. Plus there weren’t any fish in the half frozen lake, or in any of the lakes or streams I’d walked by. Although I had thought about slack packing the 22 or so miles to Silverthorne, the unknown conditions of the passes made me worry about being caught on a dayhike without shelter, so I camped just a few miles from Silverthorne.
7/5 A short walk into Silverthorne, the trail went from blowdown to clear trail with a few runners to a trailhead and paved subdivision roads down to very busy streets, a highway and a freeway. I met and talked with a USFS volunteer who just moved to Summit County in the Fall after retiring in Chicago. I learned all kinds of interesting stuff about the area, thanks Bob! I marched my way past the outlet stores and booked a room. Then since it was the morning, and they needed to clean the rooms, I got second breakfast, bought some replacement tent stakes and freeze dried dinners at the brand new REI, and finished the rest of my food shopping at the next door City Market. Turns out fireworks started a fire near Breckinridge which means almost everybody will have to take the shorter but less scenic Alternate.
7/6 A slow, miserable day to a campsite where the trail teed into another crappy trail. The trail was fine to the pass, there were gobs of day trippers, where the maps showed a junction. If there was a junction, I couldn’t tell. So I navigated cross country on a tussocked side hill, and through bogs and wind, finding a cairn here and there, and towards late afternoon a switchbacked downhill with rocks and side slope, dwindling to nothing here and there. Slow, treacherous.
7/7 An even slower day. There is not much trail or tread to follow, so I pick my route through eroded side slopes and snow patches. Eventually I dropped into a super lush valley, where an occasional hint of a trail followed the stream. I saw moose tracks, then 2 people, Laura and Winter drying their gear in a clearing. “How do you like the CDT?” Laura, section hiking, asked. “I hate it, it’s so slow, I can’t make any miles. But, it’s so great to see people out here,” I added lamely. Just after I passed them I saw a handsome young bull moose, his little antlers all fuzzy. Next to him a cow, sister? These moose are not Alaska-Yukon moose Alces alces gigas (“gigantic moose”) but reintroduced moose from Utah and Wyoming Alces alces shirasi (“mini moose”), I talked to them, they stared back and finally trotted away, good moose. I continued down the valley, and saw a third moose across the creek. These guys take their reintroduction to Colorado seriously and as I saw, they are thriving. I finally crossed the stream and continued up steeply on a beautiful, smooth, blessed dirt road. After all the roads in New Mexico, I have developed a true appreciation for the ease of walking and the faster pace I can summon up on decent tread. Thunder rumbled, lightning flashed and I was going to soon be above treeline for many miles. It started raining, then pouring. I debated with myself what to do. So few miles, so early in the day, such a wimp. I pitched my tent on a lovely flat spot at the notch of the last switchback that was still in the tree line. I crawled in as the rain pounded and the wind howled. Winter and Laura called out as they trudged uphill past me during a lull in the rain. The rain let up for a few minutes and I thought I would continue but the skies clouded and more rain started. Another hiker went by, Acorn. I decided to stay put. Inbar, the Israeli I last saw at Pie Town, stopped and talked. He’s doing great although his new backpack blew out after 3 days so he’s got to get to Grand Lake to remedy that. It got dark, the rain let up, the wind died, and it was the flattest, warmest, most comfortable night I’d had on the trail in a long time.
7/8 I congratulated myself on an excellent decision. I would have been grabby and anxious if I’d hiked up Jones Pass, and along a cirque yesterday and would have missed the beauty and views and joy of the mountains today. At the top of the dirt road, the Alternate rejoined the much better kept official CDT. When you start seeing day hikers, you know you’re near a trailhead and because there’s easy access, I envision all the volunteers who come out and work hard to give hikers of all stripes, good trails. Thank you! On an impulse, when I reached Berthoud Pass, facing another climb into thunderclouds, I hitched to Winter Park, rather than camp a mile from the highway. Within 12 seconds, Bambi and John picked me up. I felt way less chicken when they told me they were coming from a talk about thunderstorms, over 300 people per year get struck by lightning in Colorado. 10% are fatal, but the remaining 90% experience permanent affects, mostly invisible mental processing problems, just what I don’t need more of. Also you can apparently be struck from a storm more than 6 miles away.
So this is how it’s going to be, eh? A motel at every opportunity, slow, slow hiking in between. This trail ain’t your mama’s PCT.
6/28 I was reluctant to go, but finally hiked out at 9:45, with an ankle wrap on the right foot and duct tape on the left heel blister earned by wearing micro spikes on light-weight trail runners. The spikes smooshed the shoe structure too, so until I get new shoes, there’s a crumpled ridge of shoe rubbing my heel.
I was really pleased to find great trail, no snow, no blowdown, chock full of day hikers, Colorado Trail (CT) hikers SOBO from Denver to Durango, mountain bikers and a cheery guy, Dr Bob, finishing the CDT and the Triple Crown. Even though I won’t see any of these hikers again since they’re going the opposite direction, I am gladdened by the human contact.
6/29. What a day! 21 people, 4 tail wagers with dog food panniers, and 3 large youth-ish groups. At the end of the day I was overtaken by JPEG, the guy I met briefly on the PCT 2015–he took my photo at the 1/2 way monument outside Chester, and I found out months later–he’s somehow related to USASA former-President John Schaal from Michigan. JPEG and Gutpunch were on about their 30th mile for the day, trying to reach the highway a few miles further for a hitch to Leadville. I didn’t hold them up long, and found a perfect campsite near a creek. It’s a bit buggy out here and during the night I got a few splatters of rain.
I do not usually talk about gear, but I got a replacement tent in Salida after much thought. I’ve been using the Zpacks Solplex that I used for a 1000 miles through Oregon and Washington in 2015. A great tent, single wall with bug netting, very light. I had to manage condensation in the snow and rain of Washington and eventually the zipper needed fixing which Zpacks did for free. But gear wears out, and gradually there were more screen patches than I liked, the zipper was going again, and honestly I was sick of not being able to sit up without touching the walls, the condensation issue. So I upgraded to the Zpacks Altaplex, a taller version of the Solplex for not much more weight, 2 ozs. I got the camo color, it’s a little less see-through, and I think camo signals to other people that I’m packing a gun or hunting gear, just adding to the all-around badassery image I project. Uh huh, I’m joking! I’m not carrying a gun! I love this tent, it sets up with a single hiking stick and I have to fiddle around to get all the lines right but it stands up to wind and weird pitches surprisingly well.
There was a lot of uphill today, the first stretch was steep and I dreaded the second, but it wasn’t so bad. I think a lot of trail here is like in my mountains, the Chugach, trail is created, not engineered, when people or vehicles take the shortest way up or down, as straight a line as possible. Not great, but designing and constructing graded trail is expensive and labor intensive so meanwhile we walk on what’s already there, whether ancient wagon roads, social footpaths, jeep ruts or old mining routes.
I hit snow at about 3 and was out of it by 4:30. Melting snow means bugs so I broke out the Deet, just 30% strength, this isn’t Interior Alaska. The flowers today have been incredible, I tried to get photos of all the colors–yellow, pink, butter, white, purple, lavender–but nothing can capture the fragrance, and I am a truly bad iPhone photographer.
6/30 CDT miles 1214.4-1234.4. Way more miles than I wanted to do. I couldn’t find a flat spot for my tent, so I’m in the worst pitch ever, or to put a positive spin on it, I’ll call it a creative pitch. I saw jillions of people today on the CT and the trail tripped through varied terrain as it went, paralleling and crossing the highway to Leadville, then through more abandoned 10th Mountain Division territory and up into the alpine and finally down through Searle Pass. An absolutely clear day but I was still nervous about the high elevation exposure past 3pm in the Rockies. Silly rabbit, no thunderclouds were developing but still I galloped as fast as I could for miles of alpine traverse until finally I saw the route heading down to tree line and I set up my crappy pitch.
7/1 The terrible tent site turned out not to be too bad. I piled my pack, clothes bag, etc at the foot of the tent with my slippery sleeping bag on my slippery sleeping pad on the slippery tent floor and slipped throughout the night, waking up periodically to scootch back up to the head of the tent. I woke at 4:45, then again at 6:45, whoo! It felt great to start a short downhill day to Copper Mountain at a late 7:30! Lots of hikers coming at me, lots. Then I saw chair lifts and soon I was descending on the road I used to board down from the USASA Boardercross course in April. Another warp in the space-time continuum. I continued across where the bottom of the half pipe is supposed to be. Just below was a huge pile of snow for Woodward Camp with rails and boarders and skiers and in the grass all kinds of summer toys and kids and families. This place is fun! Paddle boats, zip line, big bouncy balls, mountain bikes, crazy positive energy. Rooms are cheaper here than Frisco or Dillon so I’m going to rest my ankle, eat and enjoy the hustle and bustle.