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Colorado Trail: Days 17 - 22

CW 5: 67.6 - 92.0 (24.4 miles)

Segment 15: 253.2 - 267.6 (14.4 miles)

Segment 16: 267.6 - 282.3 (14.7 miles)

Segment 17: 282.3 - 302.9 (20.6 miles)

Segment 18: 302.9 - 316.8 (13.9 miles)

Segment 19: 316.8 - 330.4 (13.6 miles)

Segment 20: 330.4 - 343.1 (12.7 miles)

Segment 21: 343.1 - 357.8 (14.7 miles)

Day 17 - July 17th

Daily miles: 15.6

Official distance covered on trail: 272.4

Segments witnessed: CW 5, 15, 16

I knew today was going to be hard, but I had no idea it was going to be SO hard.

A lot of people have been asking me about differences between this experience and the AT. One big one is that, on the AT, if I'd wanted to stop, it would have been a logistical nightmare to get back to Ohio; here, all I have to do is ask Mitch to drive me a few hours down the highway. Especially after he visits and drops me off at a trailhead, I could just hop back in the car and request to be taken back home. That makes it so challenging. For better and for worse, he's not able to visit next weekend. Better because I won't be so tempted to leave, but worse in every other way.

I got started around 10:20, so I knew it'd be a low mileage day, even though the terrain today was really relaxed. Mitch joined me for a mile before turning back to go home. It took every ounce of effort not to join him.

I hiked most of today with Flip Flop and Mojo, both of whom I met in Twin Lakes but haven't seen since. While this prevented me from pushing more miles - I'd like to be averaging 20 this week - it was really helpful for me to be around other friendly hikers.

We stopped for the evening at a really lovely campsite overlooking some mountains. Tomorrow I'll be trying for a bigger mileage day, which almost definitely means I'll spend a lot of time alone, but it's what has to be done.

I'm trying to decide if I want to do my resupply in Creede or Lake City. Creede is, from what I've heard, the better trail town, but to get to the highway, it's a detour of 3 miles each way, so that would add 6 miles to the trail. Lake City is 15 miles further, so almost a full day of hiking, but the highway to get there cuts across the trail. I think I'm going to do Lake City, but we'll see.

Day 18 - July 18th

Daily miles: 22.8

Official distance covered on trail: 295.2

Segments witnessed: 16, 17

Today fucking sucked, dude. Just didn't wanna do it.

The terrain wasn't even hard. But there were literally no views today, and it was hot and sunny all day. Was able to pick up water about 6 miles in and then there were no more sources until a few miles before camp, so I had to ration water all day.

Planned initially on doing a 25, but didn't want to dry camp again, so then I planned a 20 to camp next to a water source, but there were no good/safe-looking camp sites in that area, so I ended up doing almost 23. Compromise, I guess.

The first 6 miles, I was absolutely bombarded by spider webs, so that was just an annoying way to start the day. The next 14 were just not fun. It was so hot, there was no shade, the sun was absolutely beating until 3:00 (by which point I was almost done for the day anyway), and there were no visual rewards. I don't get hangry, but I get whatever the thirsty equivalent is, and I felt myself getting more and more dehydrated all day. There were several times I felt myself about to cry, and I had to consciously make myself keep it in so as to not waste moisture. Then I was just walking into a storm.

Somehow, the last unplanned miles were like.. fine. I think I was just motivated to find somewhere to set up camp and make dinner, and I was ok to do some extra mileage if that meant feeling safe. Or maybe I was just happy to be able to drink water again.

I got to one site and was just about to start setting up, then realized it wasn't yet 5:00 and I had too much time to be alone, so I decided to keep going until I saw other people so I could at least pass time by talking to someone else, which I haven't done basically all day. It didn't take too long to get to a campsite that other people were set up at, but I was definitely happy to be around Cowboy and Bill. Especially when the storms came later.

This is the first time on trail it's not just rained overnight, but really thunderstormed. We were camped on a ridge, but at least below tree line, but it was super intimidating to watch the lightning flash and hear the wind rage not too far from where we were. I knew I was safe, but especially at night when I'm alone in my tent, it's easy for me to freak out about what could (but likely won't) happen. Like... the wind could knock a tree or branch onto my tent and I could die or be injured. Lightning could strike exactly where my tent is set up. Lightning could hit a nearby tree and cause it to fall or catch fire and damage or destroy my tent. Like none of these things are going to happen, but it's so easy for me to go into all the what-ifs. And all the while, I consciously think to myself, "Am I going to actually do anything? Am I going to move my tent? Am I going to pack up and find somewhere that feels less threatening?... No. No I'm not." So I really should be better about letting myself let go of those fears and drifting to sleep before the storms subside at 11pm.

Day 19 - July 19th

Daily miles: 22.0

Official distance covered on trail: 317.2

Segments witnessed: 17, 18, 19

I let myself sleep in a little to make up for the late night. Still was out by 7:00. There were some tougher climbs before getting to the first water source, but nothing unbearable. This was good, because I was hoping to do a 25 mile day.

Got some of the absolute best trail magic about 6 miles in! Pooh and Jan, two sisters who hiked the CT 5 years ago, and some of their friends apparently set up at this spot every year for about a week, and man was I happy to catch them! I saw a few hikers I knew there, so I stayed for awhile to eat pancakes and catch up. And by "awhile" I mean over an hour. So that derailed my longer mileage plans a bit.

Most of today was like yesterday but easier terrain. No water, no shade, brutal sun, and boredom. Tried to get through that bit as quickly as possible.

One of the best parts of the day was walking with Natalie, One-Eye, and Cowboy through this gorgeous open mountainous ranch section toward the end of the day. Someone played some old country music through their phone speakers while we walked and talked. It was simple, but it put me in a much better mood than I'd been in most of the day.

Now, we're camped on a hill about a half mile from the beginning of Segment 19. My eyes are getting heavy as I listen to the bellowing of cows coming from somewhere on one side of the hill and the howling of coyotes from the other.

Day 20 - July 20th

Daily miles: 20.8

Official distance covered on trail: 338.0

Segments witnessed: 19, 20

Today's been a good one. Something about being back near consistent water? I could just feel how drastically improved my mood was from hearing the sound of flowing water all day. I'm not sure if that's a backpacker thing or an innate human thing, but that sound truly lifted my spirits in a way very little else could after these past few dry days.

Within the first 7 miles, we got to Cochetopa Creek, which was delightfully gushing and swift. We all took a long break to do practical things like filter water and less practical things like admiring the trout jumping out of the currents. I was hoping to see a moose here, but we at least got some buck deers.

The next 6 or so miles followed the creek from above. Again, hoped to see a moose, but they keep eluding me. But it was a gorgeous hike, filled with the babbling of rushing water and the whispering of blowing aspen leaves, the fluttering of birds and insects and chipmunks. The forest was alive and active in those miles.

Coming out of the trailhead where we breaked for lunch, the elevation map looked intimidating. Over the next 8 miles, we were going from just over 10,000 feet to almost 11,800 feet, so it was actually a super gradual climb. I got into a really good rhythm listening to country music; this is the second time I've listened to anything on trail. I was inspired by the actual cowboy I saw early in the climb. He was impressed by my 20 miles per day. I was impressed by his suede pants in the exposed sun.

I ended up pushing another couple miles further than we'd agreed upon. The climb was too good, and the campsites at the other spot were a little less than desirable (read: surrounded by dead trees). I'm so happy with the sites I found; they overlook the valley we came from on one side, and sits in the shadow of San Luis, a 14er, on the other, and it's by the best ever water source: Cochetopa Creek. I was joined by Cowboy, Cup o' Jimmy, Wildfire, and Lifeguard, and, as always, I loved the social dinner before turning in for bed.

It's the first day in awhile I've felt good basically all day. It's good to remember these days exist.

Day 21 - July 21st

Daily miles: 22.8

Official distance covered on trail: 357.8

Segments witnessed: 20, 21

Today was a much bigger day than anticipated. I really was planning on doing a 15 mile day, and then doing the remaining 5 into town tomorrow. But plans change.

Had a hard time getting out of my sleeping bag, it was so cold. I ended up getting up around 6:00 because I needed an early-ish start.

A big debate of mine over the past few days has been whether or not to do San Luis. It's only 1.5 miles off trail, but 14ers are so steep up and down, they take forever. Ultimately, I decided to do it; I figured I'd regret not doing it since it was so close.

The first 14er I did was with Mitch a little over a month after we moved to Denver. We figured, "eh, we're in the best hiking shape of our lives; let's go for it!" We did Mt. Evans, which entailed a 2.5 mile hike to the summit. It took us 2.5 hours because we had to stop every few minutes to catch our breaths. Evidently, being somewhat acclimated to our 5,000-ft elevation home didn't help us when we got out of the car at the trailhead above 11,000 ft. I've been a little weary of 14ers since, but it seems I'm much better acclimated to this altitude out here.

It took me a total of 2 hours to do San Luis: 1 hour to the summit, 20 minutes of admiring the scenery, and 40 minutes back down. It was for sure worth it! Best part of my day for sure.

Even without having done a 14er today, we did a crazy amount of elevation gain: over 4500 feet of ascent, not including the 1500 for San Luis. It was a lottt of climbing, and I struggled a lot. To make matters worse, I rolled my ankle so badly that I briefly thought I broke it, and I had to take a half hour break while I wrapped it and took some ibuprofen to reduce swelling. The next few miles after that were slow going and painful. I almost took the trail to get off at Creede, but by then my ankle was feeling much better. Still, it was a really challenging day to get through all the ascents and descents with a swollen and pained ankle. Mentally, I was not in my best place, and I cried a few times throughout the day. Fortunately, there were enough water sources to support this loss of moisture in my body.

When I got to the spot I was going to camp at, no one else was there, and it felt a little too exposed for my liking. I'd toyed with the idea for a few hours of pushing the extra 5.5 to get into town, and ultimately that's what I did. I'm glad I met Cowboy on the way so we could hitch together; I love hitchhiking, but doing it by myself after 7pm felt a little strange, so it was good to have a friend with me.

Now I get a full zero tomorrow instead of the nero I'd initially planned. Plus I get to see a lot of my friends in town!

Day 22 - July 22nd

Daily miles: 0.0

Official distance covered on trail: 357.8

Segments witnessed: none

Yeah, this zero has been good for my soul. My wallet? Maybe not. Lake City is an odd town. It's not really a trail town. Mostly vacationers, mostly from Texas, mostly ATV stuff, mostly fried food options.

Only have 130 miles to go. Giving myself a week. May even settle into a Hundred Mile Wilderness mentality and just push big miles to get done extra early. We'll see.

There's a free shuttle back to the trail at noon tomorrow, so I'll have an extra half day to chill. Then, it's just here to Durango. One resupply left between here and the end.


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