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!