CDT Blog Moving (maybe)
This is the home of my 2004 CDT Blog. My 2006 CDT blog is here. If I can work out the technical issues, it will stay there. If not, I'll be back here.
Epilogue: What You Don't Know
Wow! I just looked at this journal and saw that it has been too long since I gave you an update.
Getting off the trail (quitting) turned out to be a great thing. First, I feel I made a great decision. Other hikers this year made choices to hike lower routes in order to finish. Since the CDT’s so ‘not done,’ it’s easy to decide to get from border to border on foot any way possible. I haven’t read anyone’s journal yet (including mine!), but I suspect I’ll read that even with the lower routes, it was a pretty tough year.
I know I hate road walks, and I was on the CDT to see the high country. If I’d taken lower routes and finished the trail, I would have forever regretted not seeing it, plus had lots of road walks. And I know myself: I would have been on to other adventures, perhaps never returning to see the mountains and ridges I missed. I could have said I hiked the CDT, but I would have felt like I missed out, like I was cheating myself. Colorado holds such promise for beauty and views.
And, while I was Iowa City (my second destination after getting off the trail), I met Steve. Steve and I got together in Philadelphia and fell in love. It’s still new, so I won’t talk much about it, but . . . yippee! He and I would not have met if I hadn’t been at Tom’s when I was. That’s just how it goes. My weighty decision to hitch to Silverthorne rather than get food in Winter Park set my life on a whole new course.
So, after some time in Boston, a lovely weekend in Southern Vermont, a visit with Gottago in LA, and some time in the greater Bay Area, I’m back in Tucson, having arrived yesterday.
Things here are not exactly what I’d been led to expect, but I will make it workable. My goal is to have enough money in the bank to get on the trail next May (or June, depending on the snow) in New Mexico and begin a northbound hike. I’d love to do a thru-hike, but realistically I’ll be lucky if I can afford to just get to Berthoud Pass in Colorado. The timing will also allow me to experience the wildflowers in Colorado, one sacrifice I made in choosing a southbound hike. This could all go very well. Sure, I won’t have bragging rights to a one-season thru-hike of the CDT, but finishing the trail will still be a great accomplishment. And yes, the 1,500 miles I did this year is nothing to shake a stick at either.
It's Time to Close the Windows
I'm enjoying Iowa. Fall is here. The temperatures feel all over the place, but have been dropping. The rain's now a cold rain. The trees are turning, falling, coloring the landscape with unimaginable yellows and reds. It's surreal for this California boy to walk across fallen crimson leaves. The boundaries between sidewalk and lawns, between walkways and brown flower beds is indefinite in a visually relieving way. The leaves make it feel more like nature and less like urban. The color makes it feel more like fantasy and less like real life.
Then a car zooms by.
I've been filling my days doing what needs to be done, trying to not spend money. I'm carrying Tom's UI ID to have the advantages of being a student, like checking out DVDs from the library. I have access to the campus wireless internet access on my laptop. I set up my 'office' on most days. My table in the student union has a view of a bridge over the Iowa River. I'm in a secluded, very quiet dining room. It's heaven.
Spending time with Tom has been lovely. I'm aware that he's very busy with school. So, I've become his housfrau, cooking meals for us, doing some of the cleanning and laundry, and generally doing chores that take time, like grocery shopping. I'm doing it so that he can spend that time with me hanging out, not keeping house. It's nice to have the time to do it.
This is not My Grandmother's Iowa
I saw RUFUS WAINWRIGHT in concert tonight!! I stumbled across a flier announcing his show, and couldn't believe it.
He was in concert at Royce Hall the night I was leaving LA to begin my CDT prep final stages. He was performing in Berkeley the night I drove my car down to Monterey to park it for the trip. Again, no time.
I had been just missing him, so it was great to catch him here. He told the audience that he just got back from England where he finished Want Two, which should be out next month. Yipee.
We snuck back stage, but got kicked out before we could say hi.
There were a few technical sound problems with the show, but I enjoyed it. He alternated between piano and guitar wearing leather jeans and a gingham shirt with a shiny broach.
It's been raining in Iowa City, but it's a warm rain. I'm enjoying being in a college environment and visiting with Tommy. Tom's friend Steve arrived today.
Yesterday, while trying to figure out how to get on one of the UI wireless networks, I paused, opened a book of Rumi's writing and found these words from a poem called A Great Wagon. They'd speaken to me in the past, and I felt more today.
"Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I'll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn't make any sense.
The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don't go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don't go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don't go back to sleep.
Denver to Iowa City
I had an early morning to get to Denver International via public transportation in time for my flight. I didn't have a moment to spare. The first bus pulled up as I was walking toward the stop. The bus to the airport seemed to take a long time to get there. I was chosen for a special security screening, which took a long time. The flight was already boarded when I got on.
I'm glad everything went smoothly, but it was a little tight for my comfort.
Oh, and my checked luggage was selected to be X-rayed, so I had an extra step there.
I checked my laptop, which is in a padded laptop shipping container. I knew it was a mistake, but didn't know the reason until I saw it on the belt at baggage check. The Transportation Security Agency cut through the side and bottom of the box to inspect it, then just wrapped it up in tape. Nothing was lost or damaged, except the box. It pissed me off though.
My hour and a half of hitching at Des Moines airport (while waiting for the local bus) was fruitless, so I caught the bus to as close as it got to the Greyhound station and walked the rest of the way. I had too much stuff to be able to absorb much about Des Moines. I spent a few hours at the Greyhound station, making calls and doing email.
The bus ride is a blur, other than the front of the not-crowded bus sounded like a 1910 London Tuberculosis clinic, the back sounded like a quiet day-care center, and the young man across the aisle kept on telling the person on the other end of his cell phone that he was 18 and going to take care of himself. He was on his way to Chicago and didn’t need anyone’s help.
The landscape was full of tan, dry corn with an occasional harvester mowing it down.
My maternal grandmother was born in Iowa, but I don't even know where. That's as close to Iowa as I can get tonight.
From the Iowa City Greyhound depot, I walked seven or so blocks to Tommy's house. He's got a performance or rehearsal tonight, so I grabbed pizza for dinner. Pagliai's has been here for a long time. It's the type of place that is loath to change, but is very clean, popular, and well-run. It has black Naugahyde booth seating and shiny stainless steel pizza ovens.
Downtime in Denver
We took the dogs for a walk through the National Forest near the condo. The labs got in the water every chance they could. They knew the routine and would run ahead to the next pond. Lots of fun.
We made our way to Denver in the afternoon and Linda's house there.
I am very comfortable here.
I went into the Gill Foundation with Linda one morning. She works with them. They have been a steady supporter of Outright Radio, which I work with. I met with our grant officers and the new CEO, Rodger McFarlane, a gay past Eco-Challenge and Ironman winner.
Linda's been great to hang around with. I cooked a couple of nights, and each night we've enjoyed sittting down to dinner to talk. I've also joined her on some of her evening dog walks.
I have the days to myself, and the dogs keep me company.
Linda and I went to see Sky Captian on Friday. Once I got enough of the look, I'd had enough of the movie.
I've had a few tinges about leaving the trail, especially when the weather's nice in Denver. It has rained here too, which means snow on the trail, and I'm happy to have no part of that on-going challenge.
Support from family & friends has been great. My mother's relieved that I'm off the trail and others are looking forward to seeing me.
I've decided to take the time that I would have been on the trail and do some budget travel.
I'm using some miles to fly to Des Moines, Iowa, then getting to Iowa City where I'll visit Tommy, who's getting his MFA in Choreography. I really enjoyed visitors when I was in grad school.
Then, I'll get to Chicago where I'll get to see Johnny Thunder who's getting an advanced degree (MS? PhD?) in Sociology. From there, I fly to Philadelphia to visit my brother, his sort-of ex, and my cousin.
In early November, I fly to LA, where I'll do some computer consulting.
I need to get from LA to Monterey in mid-November. If anyone can offer a ride, let me know. I pick up my car to begin a Bay Area visit, including Napa for Thanksgiving. Tucson is my final destination.
A Better Bed Than My Hotel Budget Allows
Sleeping last night in Linda's guest bed was SO comfortable. Many of you who know me well know that I keep a comfortable bed. I like a cozy, luxurious sleeping experience. The guest bed at Linda's was beyond comfortable.
Maybe it could be that I also have been sleeping on the land for the past few months, and when on a bed, it was a cheap hotel bed with poly-blend sheets, icky blankets, and even worse bedspreads. I had thick flanel sheets, down on top of me, and four nice down pillows.
We went out to breakfast which was yummy, then to the post office. I had lots of boxes, as I expected. I also learned that Spur and Apple Pie had not yet arrived in Silverthorne. I guess it has been slow going for their alternate route too.
Later Linda dropped me at a pay phone while she took the dogs for a hike. I had lots of calls to make.
What's Behind Door Number Two?
It wasn't as cold last night as the night before, but I bet it got at
least into the low 20's. I was up early (for how cold it was), and was
happy to see the clouds had lifted. The morning sun induced me to start
hiking. My shoes were frozen and required extra pounding and pulling. I
put that onerous task off until the very end of my packing up. I knew
from yesterday that I'd be more comfortable in my camp shoes. I was. I
finally coaxed my feet into my shoes by repeating the mantra, "Go in. Go
I came across what looked to be a fairly recent failure of engineering
and/or manufacturing on top of a peak. A communication tower and its
accompanying wind turbine tower had both had structural failures,
presuably in a strong wind. In both cases, the tube for one of the three
legs had separated from the doughnut shaped disk that allowed the leg to
be bolted to the concrete footing. It was quite dramatic.
I soon was past Mt. Flora and headed to Berthoud Pass.
The old resort there is no more. The Forest Service has torn down the
lifts, and the area around the pass is a huge construction zone.
When I got to the pass, I didn't even think about which direction to hitch.
I really love to backpack. I love being in nature, getting my water from
the source, seeing flowers blooming in the middle of no where, and moving
along the trail. And, again, I love sleeping under the stars.
When I chose to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, I had something to prove to myself and used the hike as
part of the process of redefining the course of my life and livelihood.
Choosing to hike the Continental Divide Trail, I had nothing to prove. I
chose to hike to see the Rockies, to experience another segment of time
living outside, and to enjoy the experience.
The cold weather of the past few days wasn't that bad. The snow was really
nothing, especially since it wasn't icy. Hiking alone was more enjoyable
that I thought it would be.
So why then did I cross the road at Berthoud Pass and hitch toward Highway
70? Why did I not even hesitate in choosing to hitch to Silverthorne and
take a dramatic step toward ending my hike?
I can be a tough guy. I just felt this was not the time to tough it out.
The conditions were slowing down my hiking, and the weather was making an
early transition to winter. If I was going to be fighting winter, I
suspected I could not finish my thru-hike. If I couldn't finish this
year, I could finish next year. And if I was finishing next year, I'd
prefer to see Colorado in all its glory. I look forward to being on the
Divide when the wildflowers are blooming. I look forward to that hiking.
The hiking I was facing for the rest of this year did not sound like fun.
So, at around 10AM, I stuck out my thumb and got a ride with the first
car. A woman and her two sons could take me to Highway 70. Great. They
eventually took me into Georgetown, Colorado, so that I could have a
After some unsuccessful hitching, I took a break for a Mexican lunch, then
got a ride right away with Jessica, who owns Tomboy Soap Company. She and I talked the whole way into Silverthorne. She dropped me at Linda's
Linda is someone I know from Outright Radio. She's smart, low-key, and
flexible. She even told me that I needed to take a shower right away. She
said she'd been waiting for me to do laundry, but I warned her of hiker
laundry and did a load solo. Three dogs were with Linda at her condo:
Shawnee and Jo are hers, and Gertie belongs to an out-of-town friend. I
love dogs, and these are great dogs.
Linda cooked roast chicken, mashed potatoes and broccoli for dinner. Yum.
There's no land line here at the ski house, so I was a little limited in
what I could do. Perfect for my first day off the trail.
Linda's returning home to Denver tomorrow, and I may go with her. I won't
make a decision until tomorrow morning about continuing my hike, but I
think I'm done with the CDT for 2004.
The Jewel in the Crown in Almost a Day
The Jewel in the Crown in Almost a Day
I started hiking at 8:50 AM, stopped at 7:15 PM, and hiked 6.7 miles. My
breaks were short. The terrain was challenging. The miles are also
Jonathan miles, so they are lean. Let's see; Wolf puts me at a much more
respectable 7.5 miles.
Wolf also says that the section from Roger's Pass to Berthoud Pass is "the
crown jewel of the Continental Divide Trail." I tried to hike all 10.3
miles today, but I ran out of daylight.
Right now I'm camped more than halfway up Mt. Flora (CO14). More about
Last night was cold, cold, cold. Tonight I still have ice from last night
in my water bottles (which also tells you how cold it was today). This
morning my shoes were frozen nearly solid. I spent many minutes on each
foot coaxing each into to the shoe. Once I got them in, I couldn't really
tighten them. That would have to wait until after 45 minutes of hiking to
thaw them out. I blocked out the memory of the length of time my toes
were painfully cold, but it was more than an hour. Luckily, cold toes do
not impare basic hiking.
Also, luckily, the first 1.5 miles of my hiking this morning was little
more than basic hiking. The only element added to the basic part of the
hiking was snow. Once I hit the Ute Trail (CO14), which is west-facing, I
was negotiating snow drifts on the trail.
Most of the morning I was within sight of lots of large animal tracks. I
thought for a long time that they might be mountain lion tracks, but
ultimately decided they must be coyote tracks because of the occasional
claw mark as part of the track. Cool. I have to learn my tracks better
though. I should be able to distinguish between canine and feline at a
Once I left the Ute Trail, I spent the rest of the day hiking
cross-country across the tops of mountains. Sometimes I had a faint path
to follow, but it was always under snow. Cairns helped me find the way
too, but mostly I simply had to read the guidebook and follow the Divide.
James Peak was my first big climb, up 1,444' to 13,294'. I was the first
to climb up that side of James Peak since the snow, but once I was on top
I saw prints of someone who had been up from the other side. I enjoyed
lunch on top, taking advantage of the only curved rock shelter up there
that was oriented to shelter me from today's wind. The rest were for winds
from storms coming in the opposite direction.
Then I saw people.
Today's a Saturday, so I thought I might encounter other humans, just not
so many. I saw six people in three parties on the backside of James Peak.
One of the people was Leonard, who knew this area. He gave me lots of
My next section of trail was the hardest I've ever done on any hike: the
notch above Ice Lake (and between James Peak and Bancroft Peak). What made
its difficulty of note was the snow, and perhaps the route I selected.
The drop off on both sides was incredibly steep. I managed just fine, but
would have hated it if I'd taken someone there who wasn't up for it. My
route had three-point climbing, blind backward descents, and too much
trusting that there was no void below the snow.
Parry Peak was next. I'd misread the map and thought it said Party Peak,
which seemed apropos, since Parry Peak is the highest point on the entire
CDT at 13,391'. Party!
Given that all the peaks today were over 13,000', it seem a little silly
to single out one as the highest. They were all great.
After Parry Peak, I got to cross a great saddle with a strong cornice. I
saw the corince as I descended toward the saddle, and admired it for its
Then the low clouds came in and brought a cold wind with them. And thunder.
Weather had been happening all around me, but I'd been pretty lucky. I
decided on an early dinner to try to wait out the clouds and thunder, but
only managed to wait out the thunder.
My navigation after dinner was by GPS and compass. I could see only 20 or
30 feet in the fog-like clouds. So, I set off into the whiteness, at first
making a major adjustment in my course, then refining it until I found the
base of Mt. Flora. I never thought it would be hard to find a mountain,
but it was. My main difficulty was that I forgot that I had to drop
before climbing the peak. I saw the layout from the last peak, but a
snowy, long-ish dinner break expunged that helpful fact. I walked into
the windy, white void, weary of losing elevation.
As soon as I started climbing, hail started falling. Then I realized it
was 7PM. Not good.
I had hoped to make it to Berthoud Pass tonight so that I could hitch to
some place warm and dry. More notably, being near the top of a 13,000'
peak is not the best spot to think about camping. But 7PM on September
25th in Colorado means time to start looking for a flat spot.
Luckily, I did find a reasonably flat spot with not too much snow.
Styrofoam-like bits of hail covered the ground as I set up my tent. I'm
using the maximum number of tent pegs tonight. I can set up with as few
as four, but tonight I have ten. This tent's not going anywhere.
The only sparkling tonight is the frost on the ceiling of my tent.
What a Day of Hiking
The sky let forth with only stars and some clouds last night, and I had
sunlight in the morning. No sign of bears, even in an established
My review of the maps last night did not bring good news. I'd be next to
nowhere if I hiked out the trailhead road. I'm clear that I don't want to
be roadwalking when I have the chance to be up high.
I decided to hike the CDT and to not bail. That decision made my retreat
from Devil's Thumb Pass yesterday a bit far, but they were easy miles.
I left my trailhead campsite next to the gentle creek and headed back the
way I'd come last night in the dark. Soon I rejoined the CDT, and was
southbound again, covering the same 3 miles and 2,000 foot climb to
Devil's Thumb Pass.
Since I knew the trail, the climb passed quickly, and got exciting in the
clear morning air. Toward the top, I could actually see the Devil's Thumb
rock formation. I could also see the amazing views that were only implied
in the whiteness of yesterday. With each step, and peek up, I knew I'd
made the right decision to resume on the CDT.
At the pass, I followed the few tracks I left yesterday along the Divide.
In the clearness of the day, I could see the indentation in the snow that
was the CDT. I was relieved that it was so clear today. I was walking in
3-6 inches of snow, all of it powder, so my foot sunk with each step.
From what I could tell, I wasn't too far off track yesterday. And, from
what I could see, I was glad I retreated.
I made my way up the Divide, and the views opened up.
When I say the day was clear, that is not to say that there were not
clouds. There were. Some were fluffy and white; others were dark grey and
menacing. None were in my face. I could see the green valleys below and
the white, rugged peaks around me.
At the 'top,' south of the pass, I could see the trail laid out ahead,
again as a continuous indentation across the landscape. Sweet.
Hiking up high, my elevation was around 12,000' all day, was fantastic.
The snow-capped mountains go on forever in some directions. The trail was
laid on the Divide and exposed all day.
The sun stayed on me for all of lunch, even as snow blown from a nearby
snow shower fell on me. During lunch I watched snow fall on both sides of
me. That patch of sun between the snow showers followed me for a while as
I walked through the snow and past snow covered rocks.
Then, just as I was leaving Rollins Pass (CO 13), the white came in and
the falling snow caught up with me. I chose a slightly lower route on a
road and trail to stay safe. The snow fell for about an hour, then I had
the views again. While walking on the lower route, the former route of a
rail line, I found some much-needed water. A spring on the uphill side of
the dirt road flowed across the road, gathering deep enough in a rut to
allow me to pump. I filled to capacity, not knowing when I would next
I was within eyesight of the CDT from the non-purple alternate route. I
could have done it, but I had no way of knowing. No thunder developed,
and not much snow fell. Still, I did not regret the few lower miles,
especially since I was able to get water. The alternate route ended at an
old railway trestle, which had huge old timbers. I love stuff like that.
I veered off the road onto the trail that would lead back to the CDT. The
snow was full of a variety of animal tracks.
I'm camped in sight of Rogers Pass (CO14), where I found a level, but
It's cold! I'm not really prepared to sleep on snow, but I know I can
manage. Did I mention that it's cold?
Two things were cute today: the weasle on Devil's Thumb Pass (CO13), and
the thought of my little trail struggle two days ago at 8,500'.
My little crack outside of Grand Lake got all the emotions out of the way
for turning back today. At 11,750' on Devil's Thumb Pass, the ground was
ice, the wind was cold, and I was in the clouds. Visibility was about
20', but the white clouds covering the white landscape created a world
that closed in on itself.
I followed the Devil's Thumb Trail up to the pass, which is above
treeline. At the pass, I first saw a CDT post placed for northbounders to
show them the way down from the junction, the way I'd just hiked up. It,
like the other two posts I would find in the pass area, had horizontal
ice, perpendicular to the post, standing out about 6" from the post. The
ice pointed north.
From there, I could see another taller post. I puzzled a bit, but then
noticed the beginnings of a clue under the ice on the pole. I smashed the ice with a
trekking pole. Although the directional CDT sign was gone, I could see its
shape on the pole. It pointed me along the Divide, perpendicular to my
current path. Only there was no path along the Divide, just snow sitting
on top of frozen ground extending into the enclosed white foreground.
I was hiking the CDT, good conditions or not. I'd already invested a
climb of more than 2,000' to get here. The southbound trail was only one
I set out in to the white on a course that felt like the route a trail
would take. I didn't quite feel right, but a CDT post that appeared out of
the white air onfirmed that it was. Encouraged by my first 100 yards, I
continued. The next 100 yards did not bring a post, nor the next 50. I
kept thinking, "I just have to be looking for it a little harder. It has
to be there." I was also focused on discerning the tread. I knew that I
was probably missing a small clue that would tell me where my feet should
be walking. Nothing came as I the visual envelope closed around me and
the insistent wind tried to make me submit.
I began to think about cooking dinner in this cold, crooked wind, about
finding a place to set up camp, about the comfort of the night ahead.
Standing in the wind of white, I suddenly flashed on what it might be like
to have an untethered space walk (EVA-extra-vehicular activity, I think,
I was untethered in the weather. I could not see my last point of
reference and did not know if there was ever going to be a next point of
reference. Was I willing to walk blindly on hope, climbing to greater
altitudes as the evening started?
I decided to head back. I grew anxious to see the post closest to me as I
walked and it did not appear. It's at that point that I noticed that I
had not been leaving tracks on the icy ground. I could not follow my
tracks back to where I'd been.
I knew I could get there, so I just kept on walking. Soon it appeared out
of the white, then the tall post, then the post for northbounders. I got
my wildlife reward during this retreat. The weasle didn't know what to
make of my lumbering orange and black shape emerging from the whiteness.
It finally retreated to its hole only to pop its head up one last time.
It was so cute.
The distraction was not great enough for me to note that once again, I was
northbound on the CDT.
Darkness was less than 2 hours away, so I made a speedy descent, forgoing
dinner until later.
The views to the north began to open up as I walked down. The white
clouds were only local, and to the north, they came and went. When they
were gone, I could see 50 miles into a lower fall landscape free of snow.
It was quite striking until with white clouds returned, closing with
window to the rest of the world.
On my descent, I began to see blue sky. I could look up, back toward the high
valley that held the pass, and see it shrouded in white. I wasn't sure
coming down was the right decision, but I'd made it. I could always be
I hit the Devil's Thumb junction and this time went the third direction,
toward the trailhead, and, presumably, level spots for camping.
It was after dark before I found a nice spot by a quiet stream. I set up
my tent, which still had frost on the inside. It was never warm enough
during the day to melt the frost, even though my tent was on the outside
of my pack. I did a good bear hang and settled into my tent to review the
map and come up with some options. Where did this trailhead road lead?
Where would I come out? Would I be doing MORE roadwalks when there was
perfectly good Divide awaiting my steps?
The snow came down last night, and I was warm and secure inside. I had
frost inside my tent ceiling. Not much snow was piled up around the tent
in the morning, but I definitely left a footprint. The trail continued
climbing a bit in the forest, then began to level out. In a high meadow,
I saw an amazing color: fresh, white snow on dry, golden grass. It was a
light tan and deeply appealing.
I then came across a cabin. I think it was maintained by backcountry
skiers. Of course no smoke came out of the chimney, and it was locked.
The trail register, kept by the same group that ran the cabin promised to
provide use detail to the US Forest Service. They wanted justification
for funding. Apple Pie & Spur had signed the book at 2PM yesterday. I
signed at 10AM. I lingered a bit at the cabin then set out. I soon reached
the junction to Devil's Thumb. The sign did not indicate if it led to the
mountain or the pass, but it was in the right place, so I took it. I
could see Spur and Apple Pie's prints, which also confirmed the trail.
Then I saw something I didn't expect to see. Spur's footprints heading
out. I walked on, thinking I'd seen the wrong thing. But as the day
progressed, there could be no mistake. Had something happened to Apple
Pie? What would I find up there?
Those questions were quashed with one footstep, Apple Pie's, also heading
down from the pass. What could have happened? My first guess was that
they'd gotten a bit more weather than I had last night. I supposed that
they must have camped up there, then retreated in the morning because
their outbound tracks looked so fresh.
What did that mean for me? I knew that I couldn't back out based on
footprints. I didn't think that I was tougher than them, but I thought I
might have better circumstances.
As I climbed, the snow grew deeper. As I approached the pass, now 2,000'
above where I slept, I began to sense the conditions that drove Spur and
Apple Pie back down. I took some amazing photos.
Back on the Trail Again
I slipped out of Shadow Cliff before most people were awake. For me it was
the perfect place to stay. It offered much more intimacy than a hotel, and
a chance to be around like-minded people.
I found THE place to have breakfast in Grand Lake: Chuck Hole Cafe (or
diner or something). The locals were there. I was way back in the
non-smoking section, but I heard somebody come in and say, "Hello girls!"
to the two middle-aged men cooking the breakfasts. Lovers? I think so.
The most amazing thing happened during and after breakfast. I got caught
up on my journal. It feels like such a relief. It also delayed me getting
out of town.
There's no sign of my crack from yesterday, which was, by the way, the
equinox. This morning leaving town I simply felt like I was ending a town
stop. I did pause at the place I got stuck yesterday to take photos the
same view with snow.
Yes, there was snow on the trail. The weight of the snow on the trees and
willows in the first section bent them low and across the trail. I'd grab
a bare branch, give it a tug that would release some snow, and let the
obstacle spring back to its more normal posture. At first, it was fun,
then it got tedious. Luckily I didn't have to do it too many times.
Not a drop of rain fell today. It was all snow, which was great. Snow,
today's I think is called corn snow, bounces right off. I didn't get wet
and was able to wear my breathable windshirt all day. No clammy rain
jacket. I had my new Marmot Precip pants on. They were just right for
the snow. They are what I needed to continue in this weather.
I walked along the tiny Colorado River today, and I made my way along the
length of two lakes today, both the puddles left behind from the glaciers
that created them and the moraines that define the landscape around them.
There's as set of islands that look like arcing terminal moraines.
My short lunch was rushed toward the end by the first snow shower of the
day. Gritty, pebbly snow fell for at least an hour, leaving its coarse
texture on top of the powdery snow on the ground.
Monarch Lake (CO11) is really a resevoir. The trail crosses the dam and
I decided to make the miles today, which meant I had to get a big climb
done by the end of the day. I got into the spot Wolf notes as having
camping spots just as dusk was ending. The only snow-free flat, level
spot was under a giant tree and on the trail. I started putting up my
tent as darkness and more snow started to fall. I bear-hung my food.
I'm wondering if my toes will get warm before I go to sleep. They were
never this cold at any point duirng the day, but the transition from wet
socks to sleeping bag got them pretty cold.
I'm glad I decided to keep on hiking. I like it out here.
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."
Into Grand Lake and Getting Wet
No, I didn't fall into Grand Lake. I hiked into this little town in the rain. It wasn't a very heavy rain, but enough to get everything wet. I was lucky in that it didn't start raining until after I broke camp. I find that I'm sleeping better in my tent. I wake up less. Plus, mornings are more comfortable.
I dropped from the ridge I slept on (which may have been the Divide) into dirt roads in the forest. Soon, I was in more level terrain. I crossed the Colorado River and then was in Rocky Mountain National Park for a few miles. The trail passes the National Park Service's K...Visitor's Center. I ducked in to do a PocketMail round, but dead batteries in my PocketMail modem foiled that effort.
While I was on the phone with David, a bus load of clean, well-pressed people pulled up and unloaded. I said to David, "I look like Bigfoot to these people." The dirty hiker smell alone...
I had my boxes shipped to the Shadowcliff Hostel rather than the PO. I'm not sure why. I ended up carrying my box from the Hostel into town. I was planning on a quick in-and-out: A good meal, no laundry, no shower and a visit to the PO to send stuff out. Unless I could find a cheap hotel.
I dropped my pack and box on a street corner bench on a boardwalk, and began my search for the recommended restaurants and the ultimately elusive cheap hotel room. The hostel is cheap, but not very central.
I was starving, so I had a huge meat meal, including two sides of fresh sautéed spinach and a baked yam, at the Sagebrush. I then did my resupply box in the city park. They have a covered pavilion with benches, so it was perfect. Then I stashed my pack in the library (with permission) and took my extra food, used maps and guidebook pages, and other stuff to the PO to send to points west. I also got a welcome relief: a replacement keyboard. I've had awful luck this trip with my Palm folding keyboards. Luckily, Palm has been good to me. The last one could not type an 'a'. It was incredibly difficult to journal.
On my way back from the PO, I ran into Spur and Apple Pie. One thing lead to another, and now I'm crashing on the floor of their room. I could have hiked out tonight, but it's supposed to start snowing. Why I think it will be any easier to begin hiking after the snow has fallen, I don't know.
I also bought new shoes here. The Adidas I bought in Steamboat are great shoes, but not for backpacking, not for backpacking and snow. I now have some shoes I hope I love.
I had a 14" pizza for dinner which I thoroughly enjoyed. I chose chicken, anchovy, red onion, and spinach as my toppings.
Another Day on the Divide
The night brought a little rain, the type of rain that, had I continued sleeping out, would have caused me to think about getting inside, but never would have motivated me to actually do it. Still, I was comfortable in my tent with the door open. My hiking in the morning soon lead to multiple encounters with the mechanical menagerie and the related ruts, cuts, and rocks in the trail.
The CDT finally led me to trail, and up to Bowen? Pass in the Never Summers. At the pass, I had a choice between a red route and a purple route. Because of the rain and the unknown lightning threat, I reluctantly passed on Divide walk.
Minutes into Never Summer Wilderness, the rain began. As I was leaving, I hiked into the sun on the Divide. It was never summer in the Never Summers.
Today, I heard some lyrics on a song that I'd recently loaded. Although I'd heard the song before, the lyrics never really clicked. I guess they were waiting for the right time. The band is The The and the lyric are from the song Phantom Walls:
And all the while that you were waiting for love to keep the life from waning/ it's pain that stops the heart from hating/ that cures the mind of hesitating/ that helps the soul in separating from everything that it's been blaming.
That's exactly where I'm at, trying to find that place where the anger/pain moves me to a better place. I guess I'm going to sleep with cold toes.
Stopping at 7:30 there's, lots of time to do stuff.
Colorado and I
I had such high expectations of Colorado, I was bound to be disappointed. So far, sometimes Colorado's been awful and sometimes it's good. Today, I've been particularly assaulted by Colorado's less enjoyable aspects. On the CDT this morning, I've seen one SUV, six ATVs, and ten motorcycles/dirt bikes. The trail for one section actually seemed like it was designed a dirt bike track. And the dirt bikers were doing their best to tear it up, creating berms, cutting new tracks through the forest, and deepening the ruts they created.
It's strange that the Forest Service posts signs letting visitors know that they should be quiet in the wilderness for the enjoyment of the wilderness and follow leave no trace principles, then allows dirt bikes and ATVs, whose engines are noisy, and whose use creates both visual noise in the form of torn up landscape and sub-standard emissions.
A Divide Day
I was on the Divide all day, and it was great. OK, there was one section, a few miles, where topography forced the trail down off the Divide and onto scenic logging roads. But it got right back to the Divide as soon as I could. Well, actually the designated route stayed on the scenic logging roads, bypassing miles of spectacular Divide. Both Jonathan and Wolf gave me info on how to stay on top.
I climbed a lot. Parkview Mountain (CO8) was the high point at 12,300', my highest yet this trip, I think. The forest gave way to open grassland as I climbed, but not before some vague, steep route-finding. The approach to the mountain offered peak Divide hiking: steady wind, unobstructed views, and a grassy path underfoot.
Crossing Colorado Highway 125, the trail climbs to the Divide, which is a vertical rock spine here. Aspens, yellow in celebration, lined the picturesque section of trail. Who would have thought of vertical rocks with yellow-leafed trees.
At the first point the Divide got wider, I set up camp. Since darkness was rapidly enclosing my home for the night, I first cleared a spot for my bag, then set up the tent. Dinner was my next priority. I'd delayed cooking until I had enough water.
The water came from a friendly hunter at the highway. He also gave me an orange vest for safety when the big guns hunting starts in two weeks. It would seem this last two weeks has been just a warm-up. Oh joy.
Dinner was my yummy Thai glop.
I wasn't in my bag 10 minutes before it started raining and blowing. I moved my bag into the tent. I knew tonight it would likely rain, but I had to try to sleep out.
Not Being Silent
Slept OK along side the road. I used my earplugs. As I was leaving camp, I
noticed something I didn't see last night: A road kill badger. Or at least I
thought it was a badger. I flipped its partially furry carcass over. As I did,
I realized that could have be a big mistake. I'll save you the details, but it
wasn't too gross. What it did reveal is a front foot with all its claws. Big
claws. Very cool.
Less than half an hours' walking brought me to the next CDT junction, which took
me off the highway and offered better sleeping spots. Oh well.
This dirt road, the continuation of the CDT through private and public land, was
an elk hunter thoroughfare. Camps were set up along both sides of the road on
the public land.
At some point along the road, I stopped to get some cow water. I saw an SUV
pulling a trailer going 40 MPH on a 15 MPH road. When I'm walking, I just change
sides of the road to avoid eating the dust, but as I was finishing up my water
tasks, I didn't have that option. Some drivers slow down when they see someone
on foot. Not this guy. So I clearly and deliberately flipped him off. Two beats
later the vehicles were stopped. One beat later, he was out of the car.
"What the hell was that for?" he said in a defensive posture.
"You let me eat your dust."
"Well fuck you," flipping me off, "That's what roads are for."
"This road is also a trail, a national scenic trail."
We exchanged another round, and he got in his SUV and drove off. I'm normally not this agressive, but by not doing anything, people like him will continue to be rude. I hope he thinks about it the next time he's near pedestrians anywhere. It's wierd to be rude to the rude, but it felt like the only tool I had.
Going over it in my head later in the day, I decided that a more-aggressive
position in the road might force drivers to slow down. I'll be trying that from
here on out. It was nice to fearless with this guy though.
I ran into Apple Pie and Spur while they were having lunch. I'd just had lunch
less than a quarter of a mile earlier. The trail finally led me back up to the Divide. I wound my way, not questioning the path of the Divide. During a navigation break, I saw an SUV coming up the hill toward me. As it worked its way over the rocky ascent, I could see that it was pulling a flatbed trailer, a flatbed trailer full of stuff. My first thought was that these people were taking the scenic route to move their household, as absurd as that sounds.
This was a hunting camp in transit. The trailer had more stuff than I own. It
was a massive amount of stuff. They stopped right in front of me to check the
tiedowns on the load. They tried to be friendly, but I was so dumbfounded, I
couldn't respond. I couldn't think of anything nice to say, as much as my brain
Today's hiking feels like a transition area between places we want to be.
I'm pretty sure I found an elk tooth today. It was cool. I can hear coyotes howling near where I'm sleeping.
I got to the library for 1.5 hours this morning to work on my photos. The reservation system kept on extending my time, pushing me closer and closer to checkout time. I finally had to leave and rush to get out of the room on time. I mailed my many and varied boxes across the street from the hotel.
I returned to Mazzola's for another AYCE lunch. My server, Nick, offered to give me a ride to the pass after his shift. I was happy to accept because it gave me time to journal more and talk on the phone.
The ride in his doorless Jeep up to the pass was memorable. I had a road walk was about all I knew about starting the next section. I wanted to find out more before I set out. I got out of leaving town mode and entered hiking mode. I walked across the street with an eye on an open spot that I could finalize my packing and review the maps. Before I could get to my spot, a man stopped and offered me a ride.
Soon, I was walking east on highway 40, heading toward Colorado highway14, my first junction.
Colorado Highway 14 is a two-lane, virtually shoulder-less highway that is 9.5 miles of the CDT. The first sign I saw was 75 MPH. Great.
Saw large herd of something, either antelope or deer (do deer herd?), small herd of antelope, and a nice herd of elk. The elk were on private land. Very smart elk. The lead male antelope was closest to the road and made a sound to alert the herd to the weird intruder (me). Who knew that antelope made sounds?
Lots of road-kill, big and small, along the road walk.
I'm camped at mile 9 along the road on a flat area above road level. There's lots of traffic for being in the middle of nowhere.
Zero Number Thirteen—Steamboat Springs
I missed my library appointment this morning. Luckily the reservation system lets someone else on the machine if I'm more than 5 minutes late. Instead, I headed to the Geek's Garage with my laptop and paid to hookup to the Internet, my first fast connection this trip. I was happy to see the gay flag on the wall. On my way back, I stopped at a sewing/repair shop. They could fix the torn collar on my pack in a week, but since I was in town for a day, they could do it today. I dashed back to the hotel, got tied up in endless details, and got my pack back to them. I then set out to the far side of town to buy new shoes, grabbing a real sushi lunch on the way.
The phone I bought did not work with the hotel's weird phone system, my pack was fixed well, and I set up a nice evening for myself. I had a very nice dinner at Antares where I had the mixed grill after a nice salad, and a martini glass of plain mixed berries. The mixed grill had a sausage, venison, and lamb.
I walked around the corner and sat down to watch Hero in a theatre. The movie was beautiful.
The dinner and movie fed my spirit in a big way. Back in the hotel, I'm ready for bed.
My arrival at Steamboat Springs marks the halfway point of my hike. But, I'm jumping ahead.
The deep dark forest was still, quiet and dry. I made my way through the southern end of a huge blowdown.
In October of 1997, a microburst with winds in excess of 130 MPH knocked over more than 4 million trees in the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness and areas around it. Before too long I was at Rabbit Ears Pass, named for a distinctive geologic feature at the top of a nearby mountain. The rock looks like volcanic plugs to me.
The last section of hiking was an hour of downhill walking on the old highway. I met up with the new highway and got a ride within 10 minutes. It was about
10:30 AM. My ride used to hitch along this road in high school, so was glad to pick me up.
One of the challenges of hiking alone is the cost of a room in town, especially towns like Steamboat Springs. Luckily, I could do my bargaining from a phone at the visitor's center and not by walking from one end of town and back again. I ended up at the Western Lodge for $36 a night, a deal by Steamboat Springs' standards.
I took the free city bus to downtown and made my way to Mazzola's, one of the pizza places recommended by the guy at the visitors' center. What luck! They had an all you can eat (AYCE) salad bar that also had one entree (today shepherd's pie) and pizza: AYCE pizza. Perfect.
Since I've learned my lesson with other hotels on this trip, I specifically asked for a room with a phone that worked. The phone did not work, and I'd already paid for two nights. When I brought it up with Peter, the very nice and very talkative owner, he showed me the delicacies of using the phone. I decided at that moment that I would buy a cheap phone at Wal-Mart. But first, off to the PO.
When I arrived, I called a cab, for this is a laptop and bounce box town, then found Spur and Apple Pie already in line. We agreed to split the cost of the cab and went back to our respective hotels.
I was amazed to get an appointment at the local health clinic later in the day. I wanted to get my toe x-rayed to make sure I wasn't messing up my foot. They got me in and out in an hour and said I wasn't damaging my toe by hiking with it broken.
Apple Pie, Spur and I had a Mongolian dinner which was great. I got in some quality time at the library later in the evening, then made an appointment for tomorrow.
I like having my own room.
Gnawing Away At That 9.8
Last night I did need the tent, but not for rain. Some did fall, but the wind was the dominate aggressor last night. Being in the tent was almost as exhausting as being in the wind. My tent buckled and swayed all night.
When I say my tent, what I really have is the rain fly from a Hilleberg Atko. It can be set up without the tent part, which I'm not even carrying. Although it's a bit heavy, it is a 4-season structure I'm very comfortable in. So, I didn't worry about the buckling and swaying. The tent was doing what it was supposed to do. I didn't help that I had the door open though. A little shift of the wind would make my tent a wind sock for a moment.
Having the door open was a real treat. There are no bugs, and the layout is such that most of the rain falls on bare ground, so it's ideal for me. When I can't sleep out, at least I can experience some of what's going on outside.
I was exposed and high all morning while hiking, and the wind was unrelenting, gusting and bellowing. At moments I would lose my balance from the force of the wind on me and my pack.
I didn't start hearing thunder until late morning. It rained and hailed a few times during the course of the day, but it never amounted to much.
I walked on or near the Divide most of the day, with most views opening to the east. The light was good in the morning, but the rest of the day suffered from flat greyness.
I'm camped in the deep, dark forest tonight. Somewhere to the west is a vicious cell of lightning and thunder. It has been booming, then, as darkness fell, flashing and booming, for quite a while. I'm in my tent, so I'm prepared if it or its cousin come my way.
I'd hoped to get to Buffalo Pass (CO4) by lunch today, but my energy for the climbs was not there. Still, I managed to meet my goal for the day, which was to chip away at the 9.8 mile stretch leading to the final stretch to get to Rabbit Ears Pass (CO5), the gateway to Steamboat Springs.
I have about 10 miles from where I'm camped to the point I can hitch, which isn't actually the pass as far as I can tell from the notes on the map. Note I said hitch. I'm in Colorado! Hitching with thumb!
I'm going to try to get my foot x-rayed in Steamboat, then make a decision.
Tomorrow will be a month since I broke it. Even through the medication, I get occasional searing pain, which isn't good. I can be tough, but I'm not going to be stupid. If it's not healing, I should know.
Steamboat holds another surprise, which I won't tell you about until tomorrow.
Oh, I saw two 'new' animals today. One was a weasel/ferret/mink thing. It was way up high, like above 11,000', it had a light brown body with a black patch at the end of its tail. It was long and skinny, and its tail was about 1/3 of it's length. It was cute.
The second was in a pond. I think it was a brine shrimp, which I've seen in the Sierra. It was about 3/4" long, clear, with an undulating body, and a pointed tail. I actually saw two or three of these guys.
Four hikers, four horses, and one motorcycle were the extent of human exposure.
What About Compassion?
With all my rants and irritation about the elk hunters, I've had to ask myself about my falling star wish not to long ago: to have more compassion. I do have compassion for these men. They live in a culture that eschews fraternal intimacy between men. The outdoors, elk hunting in this example, provides one of the exceptions. This camp that I saw this morning probably had ten men sharing two large tents. They were cooking together and doing everything else related to survival together. Take away the elk hunting, and it might be mistaken for playing house, a completely unacceptable activity.
I'm sure these men are having a great time, getting to know each other better.
Why some elk has to die for it, I don't know. I'm thinking it would be interesting to interview a gay elk hunter. If anyone knows one, let me know.
Last night after I finished journaling, two or three ATVs came northbound down the trail. Darkness had been on the mountainside for more than an hour as the headlamps bumped their way down the hill toward me. Not knowing who was driving or how drunk they might be (it is Saturday night), I found my photon light and turned it on. Although I was camped off the trail, who knows where these ATV people might drive.
The first driver stopped and asked if everything was OK. I said I was just trying to get to sleep. I think he couldn't believe that someone tucked in the trees in a sleeping bag far from water could be OK. His camp had everything two giant pickup trucks with trailers could bring. I really have to wonder what the point of hauling everything into nature is.
I could hear their ATV engines for the next 15 minutes as they drove to camp.
Then the generator came on. Although it was distant, the noise was foreign to my ears.
The generator stayed on all night. The same ATVers were back at 6:30 AM off for another day of hunting.
I'm thinking a campaign with the slogan, "Elk hunting is so gay" might make some inroads to reducing the number of elk hunters.
Agita to Bliss to Bluster
Communing elk hunters ended yesterday and began this morning by ruining by my sleep with foul-smelling exhaust and lingering noise. I did choose to camp by the trail, but I didn't think the trail was a commuter route. Usually it's quiet along the trail.
I got out of camp with ease by 7AM sharp. I finished my climb, then began a long descent into a long valley with the North Fork of the Elk River (CO2). On my way, I became concerned about the number of elk hunters in the area. I didn't want to get shot. So, every once in a while, I'd let out a whoop/whoop to let them know I was there. It's a sound I make specifically because it carries further than shouting. I could here it echoing through the area.
Of course, elk hunters don't want human sounds, so after one round, I heard an
"Aw fuck" come out of the woods.
When I reached the valley floor I could see a large encampment; clearly not backpackers. From behind me I heard a shot go off, then the sound of ATVs coming toward me. I stepped off the trail to let them pass. They headed to the mass of blue tarps, white tents and parked ATVs. They were near a junction, so I stopped, confirmed my location, and walked on.
The area had been badly burned fairly recently, but the hills has some aspen that were turning. The golds were exciting to the eye and beautiful on the green, unburned hillside. I reached the business end of the valley having been passed by a man on a mountain bike. I never saw the ranger station or the campgrounds in this area. Instead I headed to the Three Lakes Trailhead, an alternate route that might used to have been the real CDT.
I stopped for lunch, then caught the spur trail. At the trailhead I saw welcome information. Only hikers and horses were allowed on this trail. The mechanical menagerie, including bikes, were prohibited.
My first steps on the trail were bliss. I was walking on duff. Light brown spruce needles carpeted the trail. No wide dusty tread full of rocks and ruts, just a simple trail switching up a forested hillside. After all the exposed road walking and destroyed trails, this simple footpath fed my spirit and calmed my brain.
The climb to Three Island Lake was a bit more than I had anticipated, but not bad. During the climb, I entered the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness. I don't think I've yet had many 1800' climbs yet on the CDT. Something tells me Colorado's going to change that.
I didn't get to bathe in Encampment, so a quick cleanup was in order. I'd hoped for a dive in, but the place I chose to approach the water was shallow and muddy. I waded out, waited for the wind to die down, splashed about, and got out. It felt great. More than 100 miles have passed since I've had access to a lake nice enough to get into.
I continued to climb as I left the lake. The forest found a balance with grassland as I continued up above 10,000'. I'm used to the Sierra where there are not high grasslands. These were so lovely in the afternoon light. The weather seemed to be in transition from mostly sunny to thunderstorms, and the wind was active and blustery. The sun dancing with dark clouds on the open grassland framed and accented with trees created an ever-changing presence.
Soon I left the bowl that was my last climb and walked onto a flatter area with clumps of trees. In the distance, to the south and east, spectacular mountains showed their faces in the warm evening light. The eye that I keep on the weather forced me to take a good look at the map and a good sense of the time. I finally relented. I had a climb coming up that would take me over 11,000' and the hour was growing late. It's getting dark on a cloudy night around 8 now, and the clouds coming my way said with a dark, threatening look, "Put up your tent and sleep in it." So I did. I have burned trees around me, but I told them not to fall on me. I hope that's good enough.
I am so happy to be away from all the intrusions in the wilderness. I guess I like being the only intrusion. It's much more relaxing to be up here in my own world.
The tread today in Colorado was open to everything but 747s and cruise ships over 200' long.
As I struggled up a hill littered with loose rocks and ruts created by motorcycles, ATVs, jeeps, pickup trucks, and SUVs, I came to a long-anticipated water source. Jonathan says it marks the spot where south-bounders can stop worrying about water for a while. To my right were deep muddy rocky ruts created by the mechanical menagerie. To my left was a less rutted, less muddy route. It was clearly the route drivers were taking. I chose to walk it, and as I approached, I was first a little confused, then dumbfounded.
The path was through the spring itself. Fresh motorcycle tracks traced a path right through the source basin.
Cows are so stupid, I can understand why we need to fence off springs to protect them from bovine fouling, but this was humans riding through a spring. The mechanical menagerie had been bumming my high all day, but this was the last straw.
I spent more than an hour moving rocks, boulders, and branches to make the route through the spring unpassable. At first, I thought I'd just do a little, but I couldn't let it be. I wanted it to be clear that this was no longer a route. The machines created the muddy ruts. They can ride through it.
Breakfast in Wyoming, Lunch in Colorado
I entered Colorado and promptly had lunch. I was excited to be in a new state and, more palpably, glad to be done with Wyoming. The only thing of note about the morning is that I woke up with lots of frost on my bag, a first for this trip.
My positive preconceived notions about Colorado evaporated during the afternoon. The only person out of the many that I saw touching the ground was a boy of seven or so who was playing with a fire he'd built under a tree. Behind him were a large RV, two vehicles, a running generator, and a trailer for hauling ATVs. The rest of the people were part of the mechanical menagerie. Nine ATVs, one motorcycle, and three pickups were all on the CDT out for some Saturday fun.
Half the ATVers were hunters ready to have a dripping dead elk hanging off the back, thus the rule: only one person per ATV.
I know these people have a different vision of nature that I do, but I find it really hard to be accepting. It's a flaw I acknowledge and embrace. I can get all the vehicles, noise, and exhaust I want almost any other place in the US. Why have it on the CDT? Did people not hunt elk before ATVs? What did they do then? Why not use helicopters to hunt and haul?
The day itself was lovely; warm and not too windy. The tread, despite its abused state, was on or near the Divide most of the day.
I'm camped pretty high up surrounded by four large trees. I'm sleeping on duff for the first time in a long time.
The Cost That Dare Not Speak Its Name
I overheard something today in the Encampment post office that confirmed something I'd long suspected. A woman talking with another woman said that she figured out with all the gear, ATV, etc., that her husband brings home elk meat that costs $600 per pound.
The other woman acknowledged a similar observation, then they both said, "But it's best not to bring that up at home." They'd shared a cost that dare not speak its name.
The first woman went on to say that the cost per pound really doesn't change since there's something new to buy every season. This may not be news to most of you, but to this man from a non-hunting family, it's clearing up misconceptions. I was raised believing that people hunted because they needed the food. Clearly the hunters I see with all the gear are hobbyist, not hungry. It seems strange to have a hobby of killing things, but again, it's probably just how I was raised.
Pink Rocks and Hunting Each Other
I've been on the side of Wyoming 70 for an hour and a half. It's almost 8 AM. Not a single car has come in my direction. None came (that I was aware of) last night either. It's cold and windy here on the mountain. I've been out of water for 12 hours now. Someone has to come along at some point.
I'm now in Encampment. It's 9:45 AM. A total of three pickup trucks came by in the three hours I was not-hitching. The third picked me up after some physical cajoling. At some point before the first truck drove by, I went searching for water. A house was not too far from the road. As I approached, I saw that the house was in the final stages of construction. Nobody was there, but I saw a water tank: empty. I spied a spigot: dry. I saw an open tank for horses: dry. Paranoid that I'd miss the only car in two hours I ran back up to the highway.
A retired teacher from Las Vegas picked me up. He was out hunting elk with his dog, Cassie. He dropped me at the Encampment farmer's market where I quenched my thirst with fresh pressed apple juice, and bought a hard peach and two lovely looking apples.
Questions about breakfast were met with nearly blank stares. Finally someone came up with a place. Before I went there, I stopped by the Sugar Pot, or something like that. She was not friendly and refused to even acknowledge that I'd walked in her shop even though there was only one other customer. I let the door slam as I walked out.
Breakfast stared with a pitcher of water and moved into eggs, hash browns and green chili with cheese on top. Yum.
Apple Pie and Spur walked in with their packs at 10:30. They had a ride lined up at noon. I had to get on it. I got my boxes at the PO, including a package of amazing goodies from Fenton. He sent lots of good stuff from Rainbow in SF.
Since the leg from Rawlins to Encampment took less time than I thought it would, both because I did that huge day and the non-purple alternate, I had lots of extra food. I sent a huge box of food back to Matt, my resupply guy. PO business done, my next order of business was finding the outfitter who had my Vasque replacement shoes.
Time was coming for the ride, but they were going to run an errand, so I had a little time. I walked half a mile to the Trading Post, a possible outfitter. Spur, Apple Pie and the ride pulled up just as I got there. No Vasque. We tried the Garage, an outfitter. No Vasque. I was out of time. I'm walking another section with blown out uppers.
The ride dropped me at the vista point I'd slept at last night. A 3-hour hitch for 3 hours in town. Hum...
I guess that's what I wanted though, a quick town stop. I could have never done it without the external pressure.
It's so nice to be hiking in the mountains again. The highlight of this afternoon's hiking was pink rocks. I hiked until dark in a landscape dotted with pink. Lots of quartz too.
We got what turned out to be a very predictable afternoon thunderstorm. It came.
It did its thing. It left. Its thing was pretty impressive, noise-wise. I also had the added tension of the knowledge I'd gained listening to Spur read the posted lightning safety info at the trailhead. Somehow the knowledge made me feel a little more vulnerable.
I sat out the worst of the storm and took the chance to read an editorial Fenton had written and sent along. I enjoyed some of the snacks he sent while the sky ripped open overhead and his words to Kentuckians about gay marriage gave me hope.
The landscape was amazing: mature fir and spruce trees lined open grassy areas, called parks, with pink stones and boulders as necessary. The mountains here are soft, but I could see some rugged peaks becoming in the distance.
Another nice aspect of this landscape here in the southern Medicine Bow Wilderness is the CDT. As a sign announced at the trailhead, the trails are not maintained. Instead, they use cairns and blazes to indicate the route. I love backpacking this way. Hiking cairn to cairn makes it less like a foot race and more like a journey of discovery. While searching out one of those route markers, I saw some people. At first I thought they were backpackers in camp. They I thought they might be cow inspectors because they were in a clump of trees with cows all around. As I got closer, I then thought they might be a video crew because of stuff they had.
Turns out they were elk hunters in full drag. Cute elk hunters. I offered a big Howya doin'? to which I got a finger to the lips and a shhhhh. I rolled my eyes. The closest one asked, in a very hunterly hushed voice, "I don't suppose it was you that bugled?" I said no and let go with a tooting fart as I walked off with a smirk.
The fading light of the day found me descending. I picked a spot just as the sun was setting, which is early for me. I didn't want to get to the bottom of a cold valley to sleep. Below me I can here a different hunting party bugling. I think the hunters are hunting the other hunters.
The Milky Way is almost stretched from horizon to horizon. It's right overhead, so if it falls, I'm a goner.
By the way, something big is going to happen tomorrow.
Say Goodbye to All That
I stepped into a forest today. I had soft soil under my feet. Water flowed clear every few miles. I'm overjoyed to be done with the arid parts of Wyoming. Hiking through them seems like a bad nap; did it go on forever? When did it start? Did I exist before today?
It's as if I forgot how to hike, I've been road walking for so long. I haven't enjoyed the shade of trees since the day after I walked out of Cirque of the Towers. I'm camped at a vista point on the trail on highway 70. I got here too late to not-hitch into Encampment. No cars are making their way east. Three westward cars have passed, and I can follow their brake light down the mountains for miles. I can also see that no headlamps are coming this way. So I decided to camp here. The moon is not yet up so the stars are brilliant and overwhelming. I'd rather sleep out under the stars than spend more money on another hotel room.
As long as I can get a ride for the 15 miles to Encampment early in the morning, I'll be happy. And not in the back of a police car...
Saw lots of antelope this morning, more sage grouse, some regular grouse, and that's about it.
Leapfrogged with Apple Pie and Spur today. They got ahead when I stopped for dinner. I can't hike without fuel. It seems they got a ride into town. Oh well...
The Remains of the Day
One of my biggest fears about sleeping in the open country of the last few weeks is getting trampled. Right now, journaling, I heard what sounded like hooves. They went away, but reminded me of my fear.
I'm set up tonight in a way I think I'll be set up for the rest of the hike. My tent is up, but I'm not sleeping in it. I have a nice little spot nearby with my groundsheet, pad, and bag. From here, I can enjoy the stars and the air. The tent's over there so I can enjoy a dry place should it rain.
The last few weeks have taught me that it doesn't rain here like it does in California. Plus, while in Rawlins, I looked up the details of my bivy. The top is not waterproof. It's designed to be used in conjunction with an open structure, like a tarp. I missed that when I spent nearly $200 on it. Live and learn. So, I'm prepared for rain, but not expecting it.
I walked a bunch of miles today, but don't really know how many. Let's see if I can figure it out. I'll be right back.
Well, it looks like I may have done over 30 today. Using Yogi's numbers (Fish Creek is 35 miles south of Rawlins), I figure I slept 5 miles south of Rawlins last night, and I walked 5 miles past Fish Creek after dinner. NO WONDER MY FEET HURT.
There's not much to do around here but hike. No tempting lakes (the lakes are reservoirs, saline, and opaque), no peaks (per se), and no lovely vistas to contemplate. So it's hiking and blessing cows before they are transformed into beef.
I was surprised how quickly I caught Spur and Apple Pie today. And as I wrote that, I heard their voices. It's 9:15PM, it's completely dark, and they are still hiking. They want to do a 30 so that they can get into Encampment tomorrow night. When they were closer to my bedroom for the night, I called out, "How are you going to find a place to camp?"
I pulled in here after sunset, but there still was enough light to scout out a spot. I find the sage a hard place to find good spots. Oh well.
Today, I heard coyotes, and I saw rabbits, both dead and alive, antelope, and two giant vultures.
Today, I also think the Rockies started again. I started seeing stands of trees, peaks in the distance, and rocky outcrops like mountains have. I'm days from Colorado. I'll be glad to leave southern Wyoming behind.
Saw huge sage grouse today.
Cows are Ripe
This morning from my sleeping spot, I counted them off as they came in empty. More came while I was walking my first few miles. I was able to confirm my count when they came out again, full. Thirteen.
Thirteen was not a lucky number today for the cows who were ripe and ready for picking. As each semi with a double-decker cow trailer passed me full of cows shitting themselves, I waived at the driver, but what it really was a Catholic-inspired gesture at the beginning of a blessing I offered to the last eleven trailers. I said aloud for all eleven, "Your time on earth is almost over. Thank you for your service." I did it mostly to be doing something.
What did I say to the first two trailers? I shouted, "YOU'RE ALL GOING TO DIE!" but I didn't feel good about that, so I changed it. Somehow, I was reminded of the accounts of trains carrying Jews to their death in Germany. I didn't let that bring me down. I didn't dwell on it. Thru-hiking has made me a beef eater again.
I just took step after step on the paved road surrounded by rolling hills covered with low sage.
I saw several small herds of antelope today. They are so beautiful. Too bad they run from me when I get too close, which is to say when I'm still pretty far away. Personally, I'd guess the distance is the killing distance of a rifle. I even saw young antelope running with the herd. Spur pointed out that there's always just one male in a herd, and he's always the one that's lagging behind the herd.
Spur's been using his monocular more than I. I had noticed that there is always one who is deliberately behind the rest. I just thought they drew straws at the beginning of each day, or perhaps had a rotation schedule pinned on the refrigerator. It's pretty obvious that the laggard is meant as the sacrifice, and it makes sense that it would be the one adult male. He's easily replaced. How so? The other way I see antelope are singles or pairs of mature males. I guess they are just biding their time, waiting for a laggard to succumb, or for some young females to leave a herd. It's all very interesting, and I wish they wouldn't run away from me.
I slept 'till 9AM. I must have needed rest. I had intended on getting up and getting to the huge list of chores that had to be put off until the Labor Day weekend was over.
First thing was upgrading the file recovery software from the disabled Demo version to the real version. I needed to get some erased images off one of the cards for my camera. They could only offer me an email link to download the full version, not a key to unlock a full version. That was another task for the library, and presented the technology challenge of a simple file transfer on a public computer.
Walking up at 9 also meant that checkout time was fast approaching. I had a lot to do. I downsized my bounce box by pulling out the portable CD burner and related items. I'd need that once I recovered the deleted images, and the bounce box, along with three other boxes, was slated to go out during my first trip to the post office.
Next call was to Vasque. The Vasques I bought in Jackson less than a month ago have gaping holes in the sides. I can't replace them here in Rawlins, so I have to keep wearing them, but I want to be done with them as soon as possible. They came up with a potentially perfect solution. We'll see if it works when I get to Encampment.
I packed and taped and stuffed my way out of the room, arranged to leave my pack in the hotel's service room, and called for a cab to take Spur, Apple Pie, and my boxes to the PO at 11:30. I finished up that PO business pretty quickly and walked, with laptop in box and another small box of stuff in hand, to Rose's Lariat for the best Mexican food since East Glacier. Truth be told, it was the only Mexican food since East Glacier.
My skipped breakfast and with my on-time lunch taken care of, I headed with my boxes to the Carbon County Library.
It was a great library with a very helpful, accommodating staff. The tech person logged my computer out of lockdown mode and logged it into exec mode so that I could do my various file downloads and have access to Windows Explorer. After more than an hour, I went into a small room with lots of outlets, brought in a small table and got to work on my laptop. I recovered my photos (yea!), burned CDs of them, and mailed the CDs off on my second trip to PO. One copy goes to my Dad's wife, Susan, who does some editing, then posts them. The other copy goes to my Mom, who's serving as archivist. I sent my laptop and CD burner on to Steamboat Springs during that second PO trip too.
Almost empty handed at this point, I headed back to the hotel to retrieve my pack. It was 5 at that point, and I couldn't leave town without having dinner, so I headed to Cappy's for a dull roast turkey special.
I was feeling bad about not having gotten many journal entries posted, so I worked on finishing the entries and sending them. By the time I finished that, it was 7, a little late to be leaving town. But I left town anyway. I had to.
I'm now camped about 4 miles out of town between Wyoming Highway 71 and a barbed wire fence. I can hear the trains' whistles as they pass through town from here.
I'm antsy to keep this hike moving.
Zero Number Twelve—Lost Day
One of my goals for the day was to get the modem on my Dell working, but it was not to be. It's hard to test a modem with tech support with only one phone line. I had also assigned today to get caught up on my journals. I did not get a lot done.
This was sort of a lost town day. Spur and Apple Pie showed up and we went to Fat Boys to celebrate Spur's birthday. I wish there were someplace better to eat. It was pretty awful, and the TV had a special episode of Fear Factor.
Zero Number Eleven: Rawlins
The people in the neighboring room were taken away by the police last night. One of the guys sounded too high on drugs to stand up, let alone talk.
Cappy's was on the menu for breakfast. When I walked in, I saw Tim and Andrea and joined them. Andrea was celebrating a birthday. They had healthy appetites too.
My Tucson doctor came through big time. I called from South Pass City to get a prescription for my toe. My doctor even found a pharmacy that took my insurance. Thanks Dr. Moynahan!
I built my day around a walk to the east side, taking the route that would let me pass all the closed businesses I wanted to visit. My first stop on the east side was Pamidas, a strange collection of stuff, like a small-town Target. I got new headphones, ending my music-less stretch. City Market was next. I got my prescription and lots of fresh produce. I'm here until Tuesday; I might as well make the best of it.
I caught a cab back to the hotel and proceeded to make a HUGE salad. My first step in making the salad was finding a salad bowl. The Family Dollar store across the street provided the perfect bowl for, yes, a dollar. The bowl is now part of my bounce box. This salad had a half a pound of turkey, a whole packet of Earthbound Farms greens, a tomato, cucumber, ear of corn, avocado, baby carrots, red bell pepper and a quarter pound of feta. It was fantastic. I dressed it with Annie's Goddess dressing. I rented two DVDs for entertainment.
15 Miles by 9 a.m.!
What a miserable night. Just as I started journaling, rain started falling. I slipped my bag into my bivy and pulled my tarp out over the sage on either side of my head. The plan did not work no matter how long I avoided the conclusion. My bag was getting wet through the bivy and the wind was catching my tarp. Moving headlights catching the flapping tarp and swaying sage made the whole situation even more pathetic. It was time to put up the tarp because the rain was not fleeting. I did the best I could and fell into a restless sleep.
My first alarm went off at 3 AM, the second at 3:30. I counted on my fingers the 5 hours I'd need to walk to get to Rawlins and see what hour I would arrive each time the alarm went off. Not wanting to miss the Saturday PO hours and then have to wait until Tuesday to get my boxes, I soon found the motivation to get my morning going. I said to myself, "It's raining. You are going to have to deal with it. The miles are not going to walk themselves. You are going to have to deal with the mud and the tarp at some point."
As soon as I was packed up enough to need to get out from under my blue mask, I got out from under it. The rain let up considerably within a minute. Until I took action, I wasn't getting any slack.
The tractor-trailer that had pulled up during the night was gone. I was in the dark, and traffic on the highway was almost nonexistent. By 4:15AM, I was walking. I had tied my Photon light to the back of my pack, had my Aurora headlamp on my head and walked facing traffic.
Headlights were blinding, especially high beams that allowed them to see me better, but allowed me to see nothing. I'd walk on the shoulder as far from the road as I could when trucks and cars came toward me. The camber of the shoulder varied wildly. Sometimes, because of my headlight blindness, I'd just stop until the vehicle passed. Once I found myself stopped in blindness. When the truck passed, I saw that I had a snow plow reflector post right in front of me. One more step, and I would have smashed into it.
At 5AM, the rain started to really come down. Seeing the rain backlit by headlights as it fell in waves onto the layer of water on the road added to the intensity of walk. Big tractor-trailers would add their own motion to the light and water dance.
Dawn came slowly, and the rain never really stopped until about 8. The heaviest rain came at 7. The wind and water soaked me. I just plodded along, amused by the stuff I was seeing on the side of the road. I nabbed a network cable from the side of 287. Other road walkers had created sculptures with road junk on posts.
As I was walking past the barbed-wire fences on either side of the two-lane road, I couldn't help but think of Matthew Shepherd, who was left to die less than 100 miles from here on a roadside fence like these. It was a dark morning.
As I approached town, I crossed the highway to read an information sign. I learned there's a color called Rawlins Red, the color used for the Brooklyn Bridge that originally came from the rock in the area. They called the mines paint mines.
Soon after that the Welcome to Rawlins sign greeted me. I still had a long walk through town to get to hotel row and the Best Motel. I checked at 9AM and headed to the PO in a cab. I knew I had lots of boxes and didn't want to carry them the six blocks back to the hotel.
As we pulled up to the PO, I saw thru-hiker-looking people. I soon learned they were Tim, Andrea & Merlin. Merlin was finishing a long CDT section, and headed to the train at that moment. Tim and Andrea were biking the Divide.
They'd run into Apple Pie & Spur at Sweetwater Bridge, and Apple Pie & Spur asked them to pick up their boxes. I looked, and sure enough they had all of their boxes. They mentioned that they were wondering how they'd get them all back to the Best Hotel. I said, "In the cab I have waiting." I could see the relief in their faces.
I got my boxes and brought everything back to my room. Tim and Andrea went on to explore town. On the ride back I pressed the driver for information about the town.
Back in the room, I piled boxes according to person, then had him drop me at Cappy's, the good breakfast place. I had a plate with hash browns on the bottom, eggs over medium in the middle and decent green chili over the top. Yum.
Rawlins has two main businesses, the railroad and the penitentiary. Some sort of oil boom brought some other source of income to Rawlins, but that's pretty much over from what I can tell.
Laundry was next. Some of the washers and dryers were for greasers, those with greasy clothes. I did some overdue mending while waiting for my clothes. My down bag, which is not supposed to go in the dryer, went in the dryer on low. It had been so wet in the past few weeks that I wanted to revive it. It was fluffy and wonderful after a couple of quarters.
My time on the phone revealed that the town was virtually shut down for the Labor Day weekend. Aspen House was my choice for dinner because it was open and had a decent-looking menu. The other nice place was closed for the long weekend. The lamb was yummy.
I watched, and enjoyed, Intolerable Cruelty on HBO and stayed up way too late.