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Colorado Trail: Days 23 - 29

Segment 22: 357.8 - 375.1 (17.3 miles)

Segment 23: 375.1 - 391.2 (16.1 miles)

Segment 24: 391.2 - 412.1 (21.0 miles)

Segment 25: 412.1 - 432.8 (20.7 miles)

Segment 26: 432.8 - 443.9 (11.1 miles)

Segment 27: 443.9 - 464.7 (20.8 miles)

Segment 28: 464.7 - 486.4 (21.7 miles)

Day 23 - July 21st

Daily miles: 19.1

Official distance covered on trail: 376.9

Segments witnessed: 22, 23

The beginning of today and the end of today may as well have been different days.

The morning was complicated and emotional. After grabbing breakfast in Creede, Katie drove me 40 minutes to the trailhead to get back on the CT, and I just felt this horrible pit in my stomach as we got nearer and nearer. I didn't realize just how much I was dreading resuming, and I couldn't really figure out why. Aside from being bitter about how things transpired last year, I'm not sure what was making me literally dread pulling into the parking lot. After deep reflection, I still don't really know.

Katie kindly let me procrastinate getting ready and comforted me when I burst into tears talking about this day last year, coming down the steep hill to the road, coming to this parking lot and finagling a ride to town. But eventually, I had to start, and I hit the trail around 9:30am.

The first 9 miles genuinely sucked. Even without the emotional turmoil brewing within me, the trail would have been brutal. It was so exposed, and it got above tree line really quickly, so there was nothing to shelter me from the sun. (This will be the case for all of tomorrow and some of the next day, so I guess I have to get used to it for now.) And, because the heavy snowfall this winter has caused a wet year, the bugs were as bad as Vermont on the AT. There also weren't many actual water sources today, and I had to fill up at mile 9 and buckle up for a 10 mile carry over the highest part of the whole trail, and because I had planned to camp at the high point, I had to make sure I had enough water to get me through today's hike, make dinner, and start tomorrow's hike. For all its shortcomings, at least this section went by quickly.

The next 7 miles were tougher than I'd anticipated, but also a pleasant surprise. Coming into this experience with no trail legs and limited altitude acclimation, I was pretty nervous about getting to the high point of the trail, which sits around 13,270 ft.  Normally by this point on the trail, I'd have had weeks to get used to long miles and high altitudes to make it less daunting, but this time around, it was kinda freaking me out. Looking at the trail map, I was hoping the trek up to the high point would be less exhausting on my legs and lungs, but the altitude definitely slowed me down.

However, this 7-mile stretch was beyond beautiful! I had to take very intentional photography breaks so I could get some pictures but also enjoy hiking in this scenery. I was getting some of my first views of the San Juans, which many people on the Colorado Trail say is the very best part of the whole trail.

I got to the high point at 5:00 and felt pretty good about doing almost 16 miles (at altitude! I need to specify this as often as possible because it makes it so much harder!) in under 8 hours, even with some breaks.

After sitting for a little bit and drinking some much-needed water, I decided to keep hiking. Even though I had been diligently checking the weather radar in the past few days and saw nothing alarming, I was a little scared of camping on such an exposed area. Plus, I'd had almost no human interactions since leaving Katie in the parking lot; all day, I'd passed a few people going the other way on the trail, but all the conversation was "Hey how's it going? Good! Have a good day!" And I wanted some company at camp. I figured hiking 3.3 miles was a better use of my time than sitting in the howling wind alone until it got dark in 3 hours.

This was definitely the move. I'm currently camping with two 60-some-year-old bikepackers named Brennan and John from Vermont, and they made wonderful dinner companions. It also vastly improved my mood to listen to these strangers ooh and ahh at my mileage completion, especially on my first day.

Also, if you would have told me that I wouldn't cry today other than that one time in the parking lot, I for sure wouldn't have believed you.

Day 24 - July 22nd

Daily miles: 20.1

Official distance covered on trail: 397.0

Segments witnessed: 23, 24

Despite my eyes being droopy all day yesterday and me pushing more miles than I'd anticipated, I had a terrible night's sleep last night. I don't think I slept more than 20 minutes until around 2:00. At one point, when I finally felt like I could sleep, I woke up to the sound of something howling pretty close to our campsite. Coyotes, surely, but it sounded a little too canine for my comfort, but I was too groggy to think too hard about it and was able to fall back asleep pretty quickly. To make up for the subpar sleeping situation, I had an amazing poop this morning! So... I'd call it a net neutral.

The first few miles were tough for me, physically and mentally. Some combination of not hydrating enough, not fueling myself enough, and not being fully adjusted to the altitude really did not set me up for a good morning. On the plus side, it was incredibly beautiful.

A lot of today's hiking was physically repetitive. Not like in the sense that I was continually putting one foot in front of the other, but it felt like I was walking uphill for awhile, then I would reach a point where it leveled out a bit, then I would walk through an even ridge, then I would descend into a new set of mountains, and then the process would repeat. At first, I found the repetitiveness somewhat annoying, but then I realized that each grueling uphill would lead me to a new and amazing vantage of the San Juans.

Pretty much all of Segment 23 was incredible to behold. If someone reading this only has time to do 18 miles of the CT, this segment is it. Definitely challenging hiking, and I found myself huffing and puffing a lot of the way, but it was the most breathtaking scenery!

Early on in the day, I noticed that I had been following behind some people by about a half hour. Every now and again, I could see them in the distance (when the trail was particularly winding in one direction, being above treeline, I could see pretty far ahead). I felt really good when I caught up to them about 10 miles in while they were taking a break by a lake. There were three of them, all somewhere in their 20s, and I could tell they'd been traveling together for awhile. It wasn't that they were actively rude or distant, but I knew pretty quickly that they weren't interested in making new trail friends this late in the game. And I get that. On the AT, if someone had come to our tramily somewhere in Vermont and tried to get in with us, it would have been really weird, because they hadn't been through the rest of the trail with us. This felt like my opportunity to make friends, and it clearly wasn't happening. I knew my solitude would continue. They were pretty much my only human contact between campsites.

The rest of the segment passed by with more lovely views, and I was in a pretty good mood going into Segment 24. As I was hiking the dusty road that connects the segments, I was stopped by a side-by-side tour. The trip leader delighted in asking me all kinds of questions about my daily mileage and how I get water, and the tour participants were clearly impressed, but I was disappointed that my song and dance didn't inspire them to give me any of the beverages they clearly had with them in their packed Yeti cooler. Two days in and aleady a zoo exhibit.

The beginning of Segment 24 was beautiful, but after a few hours, I was getting pretty tired of it. It wasn't that it ceased to be beautiful, but I was starting to get physically exhausted, and I couldn't find anywhere that made sense to camp. Especially in the alpine environment, I was expecting some designated campsites, given that trampling the fragile growth can kill it pretty quickly, and enough people travel this trail that it felt like there should have been spots. But apparently, the common practice here is to just make your own spot. I don't really like that, so before I figured that out, I hiked an hour longer than I had intended to, just in case I could find a real spot. I finally gave up on the ridge where the Colorado Trail and the Continental Divide Trail split off.

I love my tent for many reasons, but one thing that I don't love about it is that its angles can catch the wind like sails. I knew, being on top of a ridge with no trees, the wind would get pretty bad, and the sound of the tent flapping in the wind can be so loud that it wakes me up and keeps me awake at night. I decided to set up camp cowboy style - no tent, just a ground cover, sleeping pad, and sleeping bag. Definitely the colder option, especially at over 12,400 feet, but I have full trust in my quilt, so once the sun goes down, I think I'll just bury my whole body inside and hope for the best.

At around 7:00, just as I was preparing to sleep by myself on this ridge, two older men came hiking on by and decided to set up their tents nearby. In desperate loneliness, I approached them and literally asked them to hang out. Like I think the direct quote was, "Hey, not to be weird, but I haven't really had any human contact today, so... can I hang out with y'all?" If Garrett and Kale were at all weirded out by me, they did a marvelous job hiding it. In fact, on top of letting me spend time with them and converse with someone other than my own internal monologue, they offered to make me dinner and hot chocolate. I had already forced down some tortillas and spam, but the hot chocolate was perfect as the sun was going down.

Probably the worst part of our interactions is they told me that I was hearing WOLVES last night, not coyotes!! That freaked me out so badly. Like... I know what to do in case of a bear encounter, both black and grizzly. But if I wake up with 3 wolves sniffing around my sleeping bag, do I treat it like a black bear situation or a grizzly bear situation?

Anyway, now that the sun is down, my hands and nose are nice and cold, and I'm looking forward to burrowing in this quilt. Let's see how this goes...

Day 25 - July 23rd

Daily miles: 15.8

Official distance covered on trail: 412.8

Segments witnessed: 24, 25

Despite being utterly exhausted yesterday, I still didn't sleep well! Maybe it had to do with being literally freezing - feeling thankful that my quilt is so warm, but the wind often found its way into the head opening - maybe it was the residual fear every time I heard wolves howling in the (very, very far) distance, but either way, I did not sleep nearly enough.

I woke up (or finally allowed my face out of the shelter of my quilt, rather) to such a beautiful sunrise. It almost made up for the fact that my quilt, shoes, pack - everything in the vicinity - was covered in frost. I will say that for having frost on top of my quilt, the inside was still extremely warm. Putting my feet into those icy shoes, however, was... how do I say... less than pleasant.

I started hiking just as the sun came up, and it was immediately a tolerable temperature. The day started with a very minor uphill mile, followed by 9 steep down (with the occasional uphill thrown in). I expected those miles to fly, but a lot of the terrain was steeper and rockier than I had been anticipating, so I had to be super cautious to make sure I didn't slip. Some of the terrain was really beautiful, and I'm sorry that I didn't take any photos. Was trying not to eat it, you know? To try to describe those few miles... There was a rushing creek at the bottom of the canyon, and the trail goes from the top of the canyon to the bottom, and the rock formations were stunning and vast. After some time, I finally got back into the shelter of a tree line, which was a relief after two days of being so exposed! Unfortunately, the last 6 or so of those downhill miles were so boring, I ended up having to break out my "serotonin" Spotify playlist to pass the time and keep me sane!

I forced myself to take a long break at the bottom to collect water and have some lunch. I needed to fuel myself for the steep 5 mile incline. Well... what I thought was a 5 mile incline.

The climb would have been challenging in any condition. It was continually uphill with no reprieve. For many miles. In peak heat (started the ascent around noon). BUT THEN. I kept looking at the map to see how far I was from a certain water source, and no matter how much I kept hiking, the distance did not change past 0.4 miles. I had been warned but had also totally forgotten that this part of the trail is mislabeled. The climb was at least 6 miles (I know that extra mile might not sound like a lot, but I was so irritated at that extra time and energy that I couldn't mentally prepare for in advance), and to make matter's worse, I learned after the fact that a lot of people take the train from the railroad tracks at the bottom of the climb all the way into Silverton, which is where I was trying to get to. It's probably for the best that I was unaware of this shortcut, because even though I'm only out here for a little bit, I can't resist a good hitch.

At least it was fairly simple to get a hitch from the road into town. Silverton is an old mining town that has become super built up and touristy, but it's surrounded by the San Juans, so even the surplus of ATV-ers from Texas couldn't fully diminish its beauty. It was a weird experience, being in town by myself. Usually, I'm able to be hiker trash with other hiker trash. This time, I was alone. I took myself to dinner. I got myself a drink. I endured the relentless gawks and unabashed stares from out-of-towners who don't understand why my clothes are so dirty and clearly don't know that they're near a long distance hiking trail.

Had I been out for a longer time, I probably would have stayed in town overnight, but it didn't feel right taking full advantage of the town's accommodations after only 3 days, so after a few hours in town to refuel and restock on groceries, I got a hitch back to the trail. But honestly, a 16-mile day PLUS going into and out of town? That feels pretty solid.

I'm at a campsite less than a mile from the road where I hitched to Silverton. Could I keep going? Sure. But there's cell service here, and the ability to text Mitch and other friends is too good an opportunity for my socially-deprived brain to pass up. Also, my leftover chicken sandwich from the tavern is calling my name...

Day 26 - July 24th

Daily miles: 20.1

Official distance covered on trail: 432.9

Segments witnessed: 25, 26

I slept so well last night. Like... through the night well. I'm not sure if it was from being in the trees so not having as ferocious of wind, or having an opportunity to relieve my social needs, but I feel totally refreshed and ready to go.

When I was talking to Nora yesterday, she (who actually cares enough to do basic math, unlike me, apparently) told me that, at the rate I'm going, I only have to do 12 miles per day to finish on my planned end date and 15 to finish a day early. (My original plan was going from Friday to the following Saturday, and now it's looking like I'll finish by Thursday.) Maybe if I were out here with people that I knew and liked and wanted to spend extra time with, I'd slow down to 15 or even 12 miles, but when I have all day to be alone with my thoughts, the least I can do is do something with my body to pass the time, so today was another 20-mile day.

I don't think I'm doing a good enough job talking about how lonely I've been out here. That's been the most prevalent feeling so far. Every time I've talked about interacting with people, those have been my social interactions for the day, save for a brief exchange with a passing hiker in the other direction. Especially after how social and fun last year was with meeting new people and making a bunch of new friends, this year has been really challenging. Going into this experience expecting it to be like last year, it has been extremely difficult that it hasn't. Maybe if I'd known in advance that I'd be pretty alone this whole time, I'd be in a better headspace.

The other big difference and challenge has been the heat. Last year, I think it stormed at least once a day. At least it was overcast fairly often. I'm grateful that for the 42 miles of exposed alpine in the first few days, I never had any nerves about lightning, which was awesome. Big fan of not being afraid of the weather. However, this year has been so oppressively hot. There has been such minimal shade, even in the trees, and since we're constantly above 10,000 feet, the sun exposure has been crazy. No matter how much sun screen I've used, I know I'm burning everywhere, and the sun zaps so much energy between 10:30am and 4:30pm - and so many miles have to happen during those hours.

Today was broken into 4 5-mile increments. The first increment was to find and filter water. It was generally uninteresting, but the water break was super beautiful, and I enjoyed being in the valley and looking around at these huge walls around me on all sides.

The second increment was getting up the mountain pass. The hike was so vibrant! I feel like I don't really hear people talk about the wildflowers in the San Juans, and I'm sure this is later than they usually are at their peak, but WOW! They made me so happy! The pass itself was lovely, and there was a biker up there going the other direction. We were talking for a little bit, but the second he mentioned that there were about 10 backpackers that had descended on the other side only 10 or so minutes before I got up there, I cut my break short and sprinted down.

Going down the pass and finding water was the third increment. I was grateful for the long downhill, because it was starting to get really hot, and I kept pushing miles, even though I eventually found myself needing to fill up on water. A bunch of sources were spaced 0.5 to 1.5 miles apart, so it was easy to just tell myself "Ok, you can have water in another 20 minutes," and then just keep going. Actually, I was able to catch up to all of the backpackers the biker had mentioned! Six of them were a group of women who were doing a short trip. Two of them were a couple I had met briefly in Silverton, taking a nap during the heat of the day. And two of them were two men I'd seen on yesterday's incline, but I had been too exhausted to speak to them.

Greg and Brad became today's hiking buddies, even though I know once I leave camp tomorrow I won't see them again. Greg is in his 60s and Brad is in his 40s. Brad is a machine on uphills, but I beat everyone on downhills, and as hard as I am on myself about uphills, I'm generally pretty good. I hiked with Greg for most of the last increment of the day, and they let me camp with them and share their fire. Even though they're from Pennsylvania, and they're Penguins, Steelers, and Penn State fans, I found their company very pleasant.

For much of the evening, we've been hearing grumbles of thunder in the distance, but so far, no storms.

Day 27 - July 25th

Daily miles: 24.6

Official distance covered on trail: 457.5

Segments witnessed: 26, 27

Leaving camp today was weird because I wasn't sure what my day was going to look like. I knew the elevation change wasn't going to be as severe as it has been, but in exchange, there were 14.4 miles with no water. And they started around 8 miles into the day. That meant that I was either doing a normal mileage day and committing to carrying a ton of water for today's hike, tonight's camp, and part of tomorrow's hike, or I was committing to a longer day of hiking until I came across water. I opted for the latter.

The first 5 miles were the best part of the day. They were the most scenic (both during the hike and from the top of the pass), there was an abundance of water sources, and it wasn't obscenely hot yet! I got to Blackhawk Pass around 9:30am and took a long break to enjoy the views.

I realized that it was somewhat of a mistake to take such a long break because I was going to have to take a long break to filter water. My filter's been clogged for a bit, so it takes awhile to filter. 15 minutes per liter is simply absurd, but I don't have a choice right now. But I knew I would have to filter 2 liters and carry a couple unfiltered liters in my dirty water bag if I wanted the day to go well. For reference, I usually carry somewhere between 0.5 and 1.25 liters (depending on distance between carries and heat), so carrying 4 was a very heavy and uncomfortable carry.

Honestly, I don't even remember what most of today was like. I totally zoned out and was just pushing miles. It feels good that I can still push a 25-mile day if I need to, especially given that I wasn't really thinking about it. Maybe that's the trick. Maybe it's not that I have trail legs, but maybe trail brain? Just not thinking about what you're doing, just letting your body go on autopilot until you get where you need to go? That felt like what happened.

I remember taking a few breaks in the shade. I remember thinking "This is so hot. This isn't even that pretty. I'm so tired. I need to drink more water so I can carry less water on my back." And that's how I stayed so hydrated all day! The ever-unfortunate relationship between food and water: having a surplus is nice until you have to carry it all.

When I got to the beautiful wonderful water source with less than a mile to go until my camp spot, the people who were there were shocked that I had done so many miles. I think if this had been last year, enough people on trail would have been able to push those kinds of miles that I wouldn't have seemed so impressive. I think a lot of people are going to be starting August 1st instead of July 1st because of the heavy snow this year. But it always feels nice when people hype me up, even though I know it's nothing special.

I decided to camp at an overlook of Indian Ridge, which is what I'll be hiking near tomorrow. When I got there, I saw a bunch of folks who seemed to all know each other, and they were kind enough to let me join their dinnertime chats and games.

One of the guys, Hank, brought a game along that he invented called Fast Forword. Basically, you roll a die that tells you how many letters the words will have, then you pick out a letter tile, and then you roll another die that says what position that letter is in, and you have to come up with as many words as you can with those parameters. So if you roll 5, pick R, and roll 3, you have to come up with as many 5-letter words as you can that have R in the 3rd spot. Then your score is just the number of unique words. I think I solidified myself as the word master of the group with 8-I-5 with the words TANGIBLE and SENSIBLE. I love word games, and I loved this game, and Hank is sending me a prototype in the mail. I think this was the highlight of the night for me.

I have almost exactly 29 miles until Durango. I think the sensible thing to do is break them up into two easy days, but I'm awfully tempted to just go into town tomorrow, especially because the last 10 miles are so simple... I think my only deterrents are that it would be hard to get a hitch to town that late, and I don't want to spend yet another night in a town by myself, knowing nobody, especially when I'm already getting there early. But if this were a normal situation, I think I would just do it all tomorrow.

I also just realized that I have done 99.7 miles since starting 5 days ago. Even though it's not that round even 100, I feel good knowing that I can do approximately 100 miles in 5 days, even without trail legs, even without altitude acclimation.

Day 28 - July 26th

Daily miles: 19.1

Official distance traveled on trail: 476.6

Segments witnessed: 27, 28

I woke up around midnight feeling super restless and couldn't fall back asleep for several hours. No wolves this time. Just me wondering what today was going to look like. Do I do 15 miles or go all the way?

I was up and out pretty early. Not the first one to leave camp - that title evidently always belongs to Sunrise, who regularly is hiking by 5:00. I was out almost 2 hours later, but still the second one to leave camp out of 6 people.

The first climb of the day was genuinely fun and had some amazing views! Coming down from that summit, I wondered if I had just seen the last worthwhile views of the whole trail. (The answer was yes.) After descending to Taylor Lake, I took a long break to fill my water bladder as much as possible so I could justify hiking without any long stops.

I think that mindset of "I have nothing left to see and just have to get done" made the rest of the day difficult. There were no views but plenty of steep ups and downs in the heat. I listened to so much Taylor Swift to get through the miles; I'm not even a huge fan, but who doesn't have at least one of her albums downloaded on Spotify? It wasn't even a long day, but somehow, these 10 miles felt harder than the 14 from yesterday.

Also, my face has finally demonstrated how sun damaged it is. It almost looks like I have vitiligo, there is so much discoloration from peeling and burns. I even went out of my way to message Mitch from my inReach saying that, if he had plans to propose at the end of the trail (which I know he's not going to, but just in case), I was going to say no, because I couldn't have my face looking like that in photos. Not sure why it was such a fixation today; it doesn't really hurt, but it's making me feel so anxious.

I had intended to only do 15 miles, but again, I got to camp too early to be satisfied with being done with the miles, but also too late to justify pushing all the way. I decided to do a few more, just to pass the time, but also to make tomorrow even easier, as these miles would finish out the last climb of the trail. Now tomorrow can be alllll downhill, but in the best way. I had to take breaks every mile because I was so hot and needed to sit in the shade as often as possible. I wish I had thought to fill up on water at one of these breaks, but I really thought I had more...

When I got to the new intended campsite uphill from the trail, I was surprised to see Sunrise there, already relaxing on her Tyvek. We talked for a little bit, and as I went to drink some water, I realized that I only had a quarter of a liter - not nearly enough to be comfortable for tonight and all of tomorrow, since the guide doesn't list any fill-up spots for 7 miles. Fortunately for me, Sunrise had lugged up 3 liters and spared me half of one, which was so kind, and so frustrating for me because I had literally just talked to my mom earlier today about being smart about water. I usually am, I swear!! It didn't really matter in the end; there was a stream just a few feet down the trail and downhill from us, and I was able to fill up more. I'll be sure to mark this stream in a comment in the guide when I have service, because other people should know about it!

Hank (inventor of Fast Forword) and Spencer got to camp eventually, and they were super excited to have done a 20-mile day. The four of us crammed all our tents into what is likely meant to just hold two spots, but we figured it out. It was nice having people at camp to talk to and eat with, especially because I thought I would be alone tonight.

Tomorrow's the last day. Only 9.9 miles left.

Day 29 - July 27th

Daily miles: 9.9

Official distance covered on trail: 486.4

Segments witnessed: 28

Well, it finally rained. At 5:00, when we were all in our tents, and then it stopped after like 20 minutes. But it was definitely rain!

I started hiking around 6:25 just ready to get to the end. It didn't really feel like Katahdin day; I knew it wouldn't, because this isn't a complete journey. It's just hopping in at the end. But it didn't really feel like anything for most of it. Just an empty head on feet, doing 9.9 miles in barely over 3 hours (got to the trailhead at 9:27). This whole thing is so dumb, I can't even call it a 10 by 10...

A lot of people were on morning walks and would ask me, "Did you come from Denver?" I wasn't really sure what to say. "Well, kinda, I mean I started in Denver last year and then was supposed to get here last year but had to get off for emergency surgery so I'm back on now so it's not a thruhike but it's a section hike but I started in Denver but not this year." Felt a little too wordy for strangers. So I just said "I got on in Lake City," which felt dumb, too. It should have felt celebratory, but it didn't. It felt frustrating. I felt angry.

I started crying the second I saw the sign. I don't even think there were any happy tears in there. Just a bunch of self-pitying, frustrated tears, that I was finishing this way, alone.

Getting a hitch out was as easy as I've ever gotten. People were practically lining up to drive me to Durango at the end of their morning stroll, and I just took the first one that offered when I was ready to leave.

The real redemption arc of this story is that I found Sunrise in town, and she invited me to drinks with Hank and Spencer. So... I didn't have to have that free celebration beer on my own, after all.

Colorado Trail Superlatives

Best trail town: Salida

Worst trail town: Lake City

Easiest hitch: Silverton

Hardest hitch: Lake City (seriously hate that place)

Best chai: Salida

Worst chai: Leadville

Just in case anyone was wondering.


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