John's CDT
Tuesday, September 21, 2004
Today I Cracked

Today it's the emotions that are important.

I hiked out of Grand Lake in the rain around 9 AM. I'd tried to find breakfast early, but nothing was open, so I had a late start. I could see snow on the lower mountains around town, but the higher peaks were in the clouds. As I made my way on the trail around the lake, I struggled to be comfortable. Adding my thinnest insulating layer made me too hot, taking it off put my waterproof/breathable jacket in contact with my long sleeve hiking shirt, and the cooling from that made me too cold. Where my jacket was touching my bare neck was truly uncomfortable.

The air in the trees along the lake was still. Snow started mixing with the rain, but never stuck.

I was walking through thigh-high grass, and I don't know what made me stop. Suddenly I was in a struggle with my hike. Ahead was hours, days, and possibly weeks of more of the same or worse. The views were closed, I was cold, and the warm, satiating town stop did little to bouy my state. What was it going to be like later when the wind was bringing the temperature much lower, snow was obscuring the trail, and the joy of a hot meal was mitigated by uncomfortably cold fingers?

I entered a motionless struggle that began with tears and sobbing. Nearly out of the grey, I was misery facing more misery. In some way I knew I could not go forward with my hike, but I was loathe to take a step back toward town. I'd settle into a moment of disconnect in my mind, staring off at nothing, then, as fast and as natural as a bird reacting to spotting a bug, a thought would be with me.

Many thoughts came, sometimes at the same time.
Am I quitting?
Has this trail beaten me?
Am I a loser?
Will I let everyone down?
Will I be able to live with myself if I quit?
Why do I have to be so tough that I go on?
What does this mean for my triple crown?
What happens on my way back when I see Apple Pie and Spur?
What's this weather going to do?

Some questions would bring me to sobbing.
Answers came too, at least for most of the questions: I can still be a triple-crowner, I'm not a loser, my hike has been great so far, I only have to think about what I think, everyone will still love me if I stop here, and every other possible reasonable answer.

Except Has the trail beaten me? and What's the weather going to do? I was still frozen in the grass, crying. I decided that it would be OK to hike back to town and make a decision later.

Hiking back to town was not quitting. I went through the agony of THINKING of taking a step back toward town, and I'd begin to whimper, or sob, or cry. The questions and the thoughts of turning back actually were well mixed in my head as I stood there.

I knew I had to take action. If I was hiking, there were miles to put behind me. But I knew in my heart that I was not hiking. I was not willing to be miserable for 5 days. So I'd cry, then think about hiking back, and cry even more.

That first step north was the hardest step I've ever taken, harder that starting or ending any other hike, travel adventure, or challenge. My glasses were fogged up from being doubled over sobbing as I set out back toward Grand Lakes. I wasn't going to make a decision until tomorrow. I was just going back to town I told myself as the tears poured down my face.

The same grass got my pants soaking wet again as I passed through them again. I walked back past Ranger Creek, the fallen tree, through the tall willows with snow resting on them, and the Canadian geese floating on the lake. I pushed through the tears, and found myself gasping for air through my sobs. I'd recompose, hike, then crack again.

Before too long, Apple Pie and Spur were in sight. Apple Pie asked what was going on, and I could see the same question in Spur's face.
I said that I'm hiking back to town, and that I wasn't going to make any decisions about quitting today. Doubled-over in tears, I said, "It's too hard. I can't do it."
I recovered, and then listened to their words of encouragement, logic, and support. I answered their questions, then said goodbye.

The final mile into town brought a feeling of relief along with everything else. I just had to tell myself I wasn't quitting, just taking a day off. The thought of taking a nap came to me. I could take a nap. In a bunk in the hostel. Another factor that had been mixed in the emotions of the day was that I'm pretty much out of money, including what I have available on credit cards. My efforts yesterday and today to increase my credit limits were fruitless. Who wants to increase credit to a non-working thru-hiker? And I know from my time after the PCT that my limited post-CDT nest egg couldn't get any smaller and still be of use. Luckily, in this expensive town, the hostel offers a bed for $20 a night. I could even stay two nights if I needed to.

On a residential street in town, I saw an older woman walking with a cane and high-water polyester pants. She carried a purse and wore a light sweater. She was walking to her destination, not to her car. Our paces were wildly different, and soon I was upon her. As I headed away from her, hail began to fall. She had no hat. Her pace began to quicken. Last I saw her, she was still on her way and the hail was letting up.

I had a big Mexican lunch, then put in a call to my Dad, who offered all that a Dad can offer, which in my lucky case is a lot. He listened and offered support and words of experience. His brainstorming helped me know that the thoughts in my head were not distorted. I also left a message for Gottago. I'd been unable to reach either of them during my 'previous' stay in Grand Lake.

The hostel had room for me, so I hiked up the short distance, seeing Shadow Cliff as a refuge, a retreat, and almost a sanctuary. I knew it would be a good place to take care of myself. I took bunk one in a small room that looked half full with my arrival. I got out of my damp clothes, into my warm sleeping clothes, made my bed with the standard hostel tube, and went to sleep with a nearby river making a racquet and rain falling outside the open window.

I woke up to more rain and the same river. I wanted to talk to Gottago. She has experience with the CDT, she's hiked the upcoming section, and we know each other's minds pretty well. I got her, and we talked. I expected her to support my quitting the trail. I was calling for support. I got support, but support to keep on hiking. We talked through my objections & issues and problem-solved. She helped me see that I was not beaten by the trail. I came to understand that I could hike, and that all I needed to do was the next section, that I could hike to Silverthorne. I also realized that I needed good rain pants. I ended the call to make a dash to the gear shop before it closed for the day. Before I did, I jumped on the Web to check the weather. Although I couldn't do anything about it, I knew more information would calm me and help me make a decision. Today looks like the worst day of the storm. Through the rest of the week, there is less snow predicted and the anticipated highs and lows will climb. One forecast even said that it could be partially cloudy, and showed part of a happy sun. I can deal with that.

In the time, as I was on the phone with Gottago, the rain had changed to snow. The white flakes were coming down heavily and sticking. Grand Lake was a winter wonderland.

At Never Summer Outfitters, the place I got my shoes yesterday, I got Marmot Precip pants, new liner gloves, a fleece neck gaitor, and liner wool socks. I'm at my second dinner at Sagebrush BBQ and Grill, ready to hike tomorrow.

Night has fallen, the snow has let up, and I'm exhausted. The Shadow Cliff has a conference on sustainable development. I'll head back there and see what interesting conversations are going on.

I met a guy, Kyle, here at Shadow Cliff who introduced me to a new term: shit-ton. He says, "It's Nebraska talking."

Hi Cupcake,

My wife April and I (Eric) met you and Apple Pie way back up in Montana. As the two of you were departing, Apple Pie stumbled and nearly impaled me with her ice axe, but we thought you were nice folks anyway. :-)

I'm sorry to hear that your hike has proven so gruelling. I hope you can find a rewarding way through the next thousand-odd miles. But, if not, you'll surely find other meaningful challenges and adventures in other parts of life.

In any case, we're rooting for you!

- Eric and April (Cambridge, MA)
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