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, The Immortal Irishman. 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.