Zero, zero, zero….

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.

Eclipsomania: Pinedale to Dubois

Could the Winds be any more beautiful? Yes.


German Mormon: he’s German and doesn’t drink. Johnny is one of the 10 people who started the CDT the same day I did, and he’s super nice, actually all the Germans I know are fabulous.
Trooper, changing into hikng shoes at the trailhead


The Winds

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.

Thor and Joey
View from my campsite

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.

Ritchie’s partner (name help!) and Ritchie
Ritchie and Catwater

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.
” Alaska.”
“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.

My Eclipse spot
During totality
Dirty Girl gaiters celebrating the eclipse

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.

Life after fire
First view

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.

The Winds, Lander to Pinedale

The Winds
Lily pads
Dark woods

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.

Weather in the Range

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.”

High Country
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.

Good Morning

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!

Burning Calves, Ravens and The Red Desert

Rawlins Reunion: around the table left to right, Burning Calves, Dassie, AJ (Mudslide), Whisper, Bling, Papa Raven, Mama Raven, Catwater

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.

Fun times in Wyoming
Mama Raven
Bling in the lead as usual, the kid is fast!

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.

Wildebeests at a watering hole
Antelope run away, cows look stupefied
South Pass City

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.

Ha!  To be continued…