The company and comforts of the Buena Vista RV park pull a heavy blanket over my will to hike. This may be my first true course of what thru hikers call the ~town vortex~. Shadow flips paleo pancakes for breakfast. Country Mouse leads me through yoga and foam rolling. Then I sit and write in the shade of their RV’s awning with my feet in a blue plastic bucket of hot water and epsom salt. Bliss. Eventually, however, I must face the one down side of seeing these friends three times on the CDT: saying good bye to them for a third time. They drop me off back at Monarch Pass around 4pm. Thank you AGAIN Country Mouse and Shadow!!
From the parking lot the trail climbs up to a ridge walk, which is awash in golden hour light and inexplicably wind-less. Bliss. Bliss here too! There are more clouds milling about today. Conditions that up my sunset expectations and rightfully so.
At the high point of that ridge, I run into two dudes on mountain bikes. Our brief conversation comes to the topic of trail names.
“I don’t have a trail name, but my bike is named Night Hawk,” one of them says.
“I like it! Maybe my backpack needs a name,” I think out loud.
“Yeah, Name it dolly.”
“..Hm.” I pause. “Yeah, I dunno. I was thinking something like… Night Hawk Slayer.”
I tack on a smile to neutralize my response. Not intending to threaten the man! So excuse me while my claws retract to their resting position… but COME ONNN!! You bros get to ride around on Night Hawks, and I’m carrying a Dolly? Could they think of a more gender normative name if they tried?
As I hike on, I rethink my reflex. Maybe the guy had a spidey-sense for my taste in music and meant it as a tribute to Dolly Parton. In which case, I dig it.
That night, I spread my piece of tyvek and sleeping pad and bag at Marshall Pass among the car campers. I hear trucks trundling along the forest service road all night long. When it wakes me up at 4:45am, I give in, pack up and start walking. There’s a charity bike race course marked along part of the CDT ahead, and I hope to get out in front of it.
For the next 70 miles, the trail is about as low key as Colorado gets. Relatively level (what I’d call “Colorado Flat”) and long stretches of road. The road walking reminds me of Wyoming. Or is it a preview of New Mexico? Or is it just the common denominator of the CDT? Either way, it begs big miles. Back to back 35 mile days.
My paper maps warn that this section of trail is covered in loose rocks and “can be frustrating.” Lo and behold, I find myself frustrated. Each and every foot placement takes active thought. If I take my eyes off my feet, even for a moment, I trip. Arghhh! What frustrates me even more is that I probably wouldn’t even think to be frustrated if I hadn’t read the map note that told me I would be.
And then there’s my pack. It feels heavy. There’s a new prickly pain shifting around my shoulders. I think in part because I’m carrying more water through this section, but also because my hip belt can’t cinch any tighter. Gotta eat more cookies. Or maybe just butter. When butter is the solution to my problems, I know I’m truly living.
And another thing: remember back in northern Montana when I said I liked the musk of my hat’s sweatband? Yeah. Not any more. The musk has taken a rancid turn. I’m convinced the sweatband is transforming into a cheese product of some variety. And def not the variety you’d want to sprinkle on anything.
In summary, there are less than glamorous things happening. It’s not the most enchanting few days of hiking. But on the second morning after Monarch Pass, I cross over a highway and get some perspective. There are strings of headlights creeping along the highway. I imagine they’re all headed to work this pre-dawn Tuesday morning. Work. Offices. Desks and desktop computers. I wonder what that’s like. A few months ago my friend Jen sent me a text: “Keep on trucking, you’re living the dream out there!”
Huh. I thought when I read it. Kasey, you ARE living your dream out here.
I can lose sight of that after eighty some odd days of routine. I think of Jen’s text as the headlights flow past and have a premonition of how searingly I will miss this when it’s over. Don’t miss the feast before it’s gone.
When I enter the La Garita Wilderness, the singular Colorado beauty I’ve come to expect resurfaces. Back into seas of rasta colored aspens (and beetle kill). I camp in the Cochetopa Creek canyon and set myself up for a 20 mile day to my next town exit at Spring Creek Pass. The morning that follows is one to remember. But rather than just say “I’m Double Happiness and I love hiking in the mornings,” I thought I’d get nitty-gritty, grape-nut granular with it. So here we go…
First things first: I sit up in my tent and *immediately* tear out of it because my insides demand *immediate* release. Sometimes, you can’t dig the cat hole fast enough. (I’ll learn to temper this daily panic by digging my cat hole the night before — a pro move I pick up from a CT hiker.) Hollow, I return to my tent and boil water for coffee and oatmeal. Meanwhile, the earliest, faintest hints of grey spread from the east and kick off their competition with the stars.
My headlamp is on for the first mile or so. Everywhere the light hits glitters with frost, because when you wake up early enough, the forest is a sparkle palace. The narrow tunnel of visibility from my headlamp gives me the impression of being in a small contained space, only wide enough for me to slip through. With a smidge more light, the tunnel illusion is shattered. I look to my left and BAM! Cold mountain faces lean over me from all sides. I have company.
My muscles feel fresh out of an ice bath this early. I windwill my arms to force blood into my fingertips. The climb helps me generate heat though and soon I pull off my gloves, clip them together and stuff them under my chest strap. I pull down my buff too. I’ve been breathing so hard into it the past 20 mins that I could wring it and drink from it. Not that I’d want to.
I turn my headlamp off. Just enough light to not need it and not fall on my face. Muscles warm now. Back on the horizon, a molton spectrum is pushing against the grey, and at some point, a point I always miss, the rest of the sky’s western majority flips from black to blue. I huff my way up the pass, racing to the seam of the sunrise. I stop once I hit it and look down at my body, now bathed in alpenglow. My hands, my jacket, the ground, everything flooded with copper. Swimming in alpenglow. This is my dream and I’m living it!! I crest the top of San Luis Pass and my breathing gets xtra choppy. Am I choking up from all the pretty or all the altitude? Who could say.
And that, is what I call a morning climb 🙌
The rest of the miles to Spring Creek Pass feel like a San Juan warm up. Oo baby it is rugged. After a few more passes, I cross the Snow Mesa — three flat miles across a 12,200+ plateau. All the empty, barren space looks v extraterrestrial.
The hitch to Lake City from Spring Creek Pass is quick n’ easy. For not the first time, my ride confessess that they picked me up because I was smiling. I call my hitching approach the Barn Dance Welcome! The most valuable charm I possess.
Lake City is a strange little town. The historical placards along the sidewalk inform me that it has a Donner Party-esque history. Wouldn’t be a thru hike without a brush with cannibalism! I check into my hostel (i.e. I pin my twenty dollar bill to a cork board) and go to the Cannibal Grill for a French dip sandwich and a bowl of red wine. As I eat, I scan the weather ahead. Tomorrow looks bad, significant rain event + thunder. I didn’t plan for a zero here, but I might have to? Back at the hostel I meet two solo CT hikers, Ivana and Monsoon, and a biker named Ray. We discuss the weather report and all feel the same tension — wanting to make progress (weather be damned), but also wanting to avoid frozen rain if possible (weather be respected).
Ultimately, we each decide to zero it up and wait it out. Hooray surprise rest day!
It’s well timed because I have visitors the next morning. My friends Dana and Will drive from Ridgway to see me in Lake City! Dana brings me blue nail polish and a face mask, only the essentials. Will gives a thoughtful compliment on my writing that I’ll always remember. They support my decision to stay indoors tonight and give me a pep talk for savoring the section ahead. By the time they leave, I am in the San Juan spirit like never before.
When the forecasted storm follows through that night, Monsoon, Ivana, Ray and I cannot and will not stop congratulating each other on our decision to stay. Oh to feel justified. We band together to cook a righteous feast with ALL THE VEGETABLES that evening. It turns into one of my warmest trail memz.
Back in Silverthorne, Long John’s friend Snap told me to “not let my hike get in the way of my hike.” I honestly had no idea what he meant by that. Went right over my head. But as my spontaneous hostel family and I laugh and tetris around each other in the kitchen and then settle down for our eclectic meal… I know exactly Snap meant.