Sunday, September 13, 2015

Colorado Trail Thru-Hike 2015: My Daily Journal

   Colorado Trail 500 Mile Adventure: My Daily Journal
 (Wo)men cannot discover new oceans unless (s)he has the courage to lose sight of the shore. - Andre Gide, French Philosopher
*Blogger's Note:  Please excuse the simple writing in this blog.  It is mainly unedited from my journal notes besides adding a few words so it makes sense to the reader, getting rid of short-hand, and excluding a few personal notes. I apologize for the excessive use of words such as "of course" and "finally".  A few later additions are in red.
Day 1 (August 2, 2015): 2:30-7:50, 10-11 miles

After finishing packing and attempting to find a dog-friendly restaurant for brunch with Steve, Sandi, and Sage (and Pacer), I finally started at Indian Creek (for non-dog hikers, the start is Waterton Canyon) at 2:30pm. I ended up taking the long way and crossed in to a no dog zone anyway.  At the start it was cloudy with rumbles of thunder, but luckily all we got was a few drops of rain.  It probably cooled things down for us, though the humidity was high. Between that and the high grass I felt like I was back on the East coast.

I got excited as we neared the Colorado Trail just after Waterton Canyon. Then I slipped on loose rock and fell down the hill on my head, as gravity pulled at my pack making me top heavy. Next, we turned on a wide path to get on the CT and there was a herd of Big Horn Sheep (hence the reason for the dog re-route).  Thankfully we were able to bushwhack around (after testing out my bear spray).  We hiked until about 7:50, I think 10-11 miles.  It’s a little scary up here, but glad I have Pacer!
As usual, I got a little choked up when I said bye to Steve.  I think part of it is that I know I’m doing something big, something a little scary, something a little hard and pushing my limits, and something amazing.  The first step is the hardest, but I did it and for that reason I am quite proud of myself.

Day 2: 7:30-6:45, ~23 miles
I’m glad tomorrow is a new day.  We started hiking around 7:30am.  Five minutes later we encountered a large solo Big Horn Sheep on the trail. Luckily, it ran off when we turned away.
As the South Platte River starting Segment 2, I needed to fill up on the green water and fell in.
The majority of the next few hours was uneventful.  We saw lots of burned area and some cool rock/boulder formations. At mile 26.8 we encountered some trail magic of H2O which we really needed since I was out (there was no water source since the green river). I took more than my share of one gallon and Karma already paid me back.

Around 3:45 it started to lightly rain.  Before I knew it Pacer and I were under a tree and I was grabbing for my rain gear as fast as I could.  Cracks of thunder were right above us.  I took off Pacer's collar (and metal name tag) just in case.  It was terrifying.

15 minutes later, it was sun and blue skies once more.  1 more hour and it was thundering and raining again.  Though it wasn't as bad, I made quite a mess setting up the tent, which is still sagging.  While pouring water in my Jetboil, I leaked water into the tent creating a nice puddle.  So now Pacer and I are wet and dirty inside the tent. And I just popped a giant blister on my right big toe.

We are somewhere around mile 34.

Day 3: 8-7:15ish, ~ 23 miles

We are exhausted!

Things were still soggy when we woke, leading to an 8:00am start.  Even at 9:00 am the nearby rifle range was in full swing.

So far today has been the prettiest and while my shoulders still ache it's been more bearable.  I guess I'm getting over the "why in the F am I doing this?" stage, though nice weather helps.  23 miles for the day.

Pacer taking a much needed water break on day 3 after hiking up an old logging road.
Pacer near the beginning of the 6 mile meadow.

We are at the start of Segment 5 (I thought about stopping at 55 at the top of the 6 mile meadow, but I figured if we went down the hill it would be warmer.  I failed to realize this also meant less sun and cooler temps in the AM.)

I hope Sandi and Sage are enjoying France!

We are sleeping by a creek so it's kind of like home!

Woke up cold.  So much for my 22 degree sleeping bag!

Day 4: 8:15-6, 20 miles

Very pretty hike to Kenosha Pass, but mostly in the sun, to Pacer's delight. (Sarcasm)
O, then she attacked a guy on our rest break.  I felt so bad!  She lost her off leash privileges.

Start of day 3.

Couldn't find water at Kenosha Campground but luckily made it to a creek before dying of thirst.
Kenosha Pass!

Hiked just over 20 today and finished before 6- enough time to clean up in the creek!

The mosquitoes here suck.  I thought I left them in Ohio~

And to Pacer's defense, the mini squirrels here are really annoying.

Shoulders still hurt.  I think my pack is a little too big.

Hoping to get an early start tomorrow.  Lots of climbing in the AM and 23 miles to 100.

A bit lonely tonight.

Day 5 & 6

I forgot a spoon.  That pretty much sums up days 5 & 6.

Day 5: "The opposite of love is indifference" -Lumineers

The day started with a beautiful climb up Georgia Pass, probably my favorite part thus far.  In the afternoon, we had another 11,000+ ft climb before descending in Breckinridge/Frisco.  When I got to mile 100 I saw power lines and called a friend.  I was disappointed when she was not more excited to hear from me and wished I could talk to Sandi.
Top of Georgia Pass

Because mile 100 had a trickling creek and the  1camp spot was already taken, I decided we'd do the 4 more miles to Gold Hill trailhead.  In my head, there was camping there.  I should have known better, especially after seeing the rows of houses.  To keep it short, we camped at 8:45 at the edge of a logging field and did 27-28 miles.

Day 6: Having hiked so late the day before, we didn't get going until about 9:00am.  A few hours later we were at 12,000+.  I was pretty tired so it took awhile.  When we were most of the way down, I texted Steve since he would be meeting us at 118.8.  He still hadn't left work (he had to help last minute with an interview, originally he had the day I not more important?). Since I had extra time I decided to take a creek bath and even shaved my legs!

Looking down at Copper Mountain.

Not long after that it started to rain so I put on my rain gear and Pacer and I hiked to Copper Mountain Resort.  Steve didn't get there until 6.  By the time I repacked it was 6:45.  I figured I could get to the next camping spot my 8:15 (there was no camping allowed, or possible, within a few mile radius of the resort), only I made a run turn(s) up a bunch of switchbacks, had to go all the way back down, and arrived at mile 122.4 at 9:15pm.
Lesson:  Sometimes when slow down and pay attention, you'll get to where you're going faster.

On the bright side, a mantra from Cheryl Strayed kept me going.  It had nearly made me cry as I read it in Daughters of Distance while waiting for Steve.  In her PCT hike, she said she decided she was safe, strong, and brave.  I decided that for myself too.

About 17 CT miles 1.5-2 for my wrong turn.

Day 7 (Saturday, August 8th): 8:45-7:15, Mile 142 (20.2 + extra mile)

Today was almost really good.  We didn't start until 8:45 but that was okay and we were moving well up the pass.  I have to look up Janet's Cabin when I get home (check).  It was just under treeline, you have to hike to get there, and it was beautiful- would definitely make for a great romantic weekend (until I found out you just rent bunk space and you could be with 16 strangers).

Just before Janet's Cabin.
Searle Pass, Elk Ridge, and Kokomo Pass were stunning!  I LOVED hiking through it, but the best part was actually going down into a field of wildflowers.  I naturally smiled so big I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. It's views like that that make you know Heaven is real.

Not too bad for balancing my camera on a cairn.

Heaven on earth...if only my camera could show the vibrant colors!
The way down brought my worries back.

Pacer started to slow and stop.  (We also added a mile to backtrack for my knife- just found it in my pack.)  When I put her booties on she did a little better but it still exhausted and I feel terrible.  If I had reception I'd call Steve to pick her up.  Tomorrow we will have and easy day and hopefully she can recover some.  I'll keep praying I find an answer and she feels better.  I don't want to hike without my baby but I don't want to hurt her either.

-We passed coking ovens on our way to Tennessee Pass.  I saw them but I don't know what they are.  I guess something with the railroad.  I should probably look it up if I put this in my blog.
*According to Wikepedia, coking ovens were used to turn coal, common in CO at the time, into coke, a fuel for the trains.

Lots more going through my head but it is time for sleep.

Day 8: 15.8(ish) Miles

We left camp around 8:15 this morning.  I called Steve about an hour later, asking if he could pick her up. I hated the thought of not having her but I was worried about how tired she was.  I tried to let it go and come up with some game plans, but I couldn't let it slide. 

Today's passes were beautiful (Holy Cross Wilderness), but we both struggled up the climbs.

Porcupine Lake

Just as we were reaching the last 11,400 ft climb, Steve yelled "Pacer!"  He came!

Together, we came up with a real game plan on the way down.  He wanted Pacer to stay with me and let me know if we needed and extra week he would find a way to get me food.  When we go to Timberline Trailhead he also did the math for me- we only need to do 16-17 miles a day to finish on the 29th. If we need the extra week that it okay, but I rather finish in 4 and see Sandi and Sage when they get back.  I probably need to nix out the 14ers too, but I can always do Huron with Sandi or Steve in September.*

I am certain I want to go back to school to get my masters in counseling (just not sure between wilderness therapy and somatic) and open up my own practice when I am done.

Alright, it's time to end- mosquitoes are attacking.  (We still lucked out as our camp spot had a great view of Turquoise lake)

"Short" day with 15.8ish miles.  Hopefully the extra rest will give us a boost tomorrow!

Day 9: 8:15-5:45, CT Mile 176

I'm starting to feel like a real thru-hiker.  I still don't completely know what I'm doing, but I'm getting there.

The other women I talked to today (I've met more women thru-hikers than men) have thru-hiked in many other places- AT, PCT, John Muir Trail, Sierra Nevadas, etc.  Will I get to do that? 

The seasoned hiker and the woman with 3 dogs are both staying in Twin Lakes tomorrow- planning extra rest days at hotels/lodges sounds wonderful.

We started around 8:15 today.  Pacer did great the first 6-7 miles and then slowed down again.  Not sure if the boots helped or not. I never used the boots again.  They ended up rubbing the sides of her paws.  Her pads held up great the rest of the hike.

A pretty day but not super exciting through Mt. Massive wilderness and pass Mt. Elbert to mile 176 at Twin Lakes.  Tomorrow we get to start going back up!  We won't get to Hope Pass until the afternoon so hopefully the weather holds.

Our camping spot above Twin Lakes.
I was hoping to have something more insightful to say at this point, but I don't.  Maybe next week!

Day 10: 7:30-5:30, 19.5 miles (CT 195.5)

Okay, now I think Pacer and I are really getting a hang of this thru-hike thing.  The big news today is she seems to be back to normal- being a butthead and trying to lead up Hope Pass, especially when she heard a marmot. 

The whole day was mostly overcast.  We were both happy to start climbing again after 6 flat, sandy miles around Twin Lakes.  As we went up Hope Pass, we hoped and prayed the sky would hold- it did for the most part.  Just a little bit of thunder and rain.

Halfway around Twin Lakes

The place to be 100 years ago!

Quick pic on Hope Pass before diving down!

We're around mile 195.5 and near Mt. Huron which I will kindly say "see ya soon" to when we pass.  Tomorrow we just have one 12,000+ft pass, but in a day or two we have a few back to back.  C'mon sunny skies!

Isn't it amazing how one can fit all she need in a backpack?  I'm not saying I want to be homeless, it's just interesting considering the size of so many houses.

Day 11:  7:30-7:30, CT ~214

Long day, so to make it short:
  • Got confused on the new CT/CD (Continental Divide) route and did about 3 extra miles.  So much for being on my book chapter on intuition.
  • Lake Ann pass was the hardest yet.
  • Not a fan of dirt bikes on mountain trails at 11,000+- noise pollution!, dust, mud, ruining trails.
  • Pacer was a trooper.
  • Did take new CT re-route at roughly mile 211
  • Hit 200+ miles today!
  • Can't wait to shower on Saturday (though we are trying to push it a bit to see Steve on Friday)
  • Maybe people want big houses because they miss wide open spaces (and don't remember what that really means).

Day 12: 8-6:15, Miles- No Idea

What a day!  Once Pacer and I climbed up and a few miles out of our campground, our day was filled with beauty.

Before Cottonwood Pass, we were in a valley surrounded by mountain walls.  Once we climbed out of the trailhead, we were on a side ridge of a mountain for miles.  Then we reached our first 12,000+ ft pass, then another, then another.  However, it's hard to tell when you have no idea where you are.  We are still on the re-routed part of the CT/CD and my book doesn't cover it.  I hope we still get to do the tunnel tomorrow.
(I think we were on or near Tin Cup Pass)

For most of the day we were blessed and the dark clouds always moved in the opposite direction.  On the 2nd climb my mantra was "one step closer to a shower".  On the 3rd it was "we are safe and protected".  The last climb did Pacer and I in. We went over the climb and the trail still went along the inside ridge and I started to hear thunder in different directions, so we found the only flat spot on the side of the trail (somewhere near 12,000 and totally exposed) and set up.  About 30 minutes later it started to rain.  Currently its pouring and still thundering.  I set up a protective white light surrounding our tent (I know we have angels watching over us).  Supergirl, Pacer's new trail name, is sleeping at my feet.

- I know I'm not in a race, but I miss my confidence markers!

Day 13 (Friday, August 14): 7:30-6:15, CT 252ish

I was freezing most of the night but at least it warmed up quickly when the sun came over the mountains. 

After we made it over the rocky ridge we went down a gazillion (I may have made that word up) switchbacks, which means after we filled up on water we went back up a gazillion switchbacks.  Back up at 12,000 ft, I thought I recognized something.  I asked some mountain bikers pushing their bikes up- yes! that was the Alpine Tunnel!  I knew where we were! (Sandi and Sage and taken Pacer up for a hike there a few weeks prior.)

Both pictures were taken on our previous trip.

Things got cloudy again in the afternoon.  We literally took a tea break before climbing our next 12,000 (and finished cleaning out the jar of almond butter).  When we finally made it over we still heard thunder looming in the background.  At 6:15 we finally decided to pitch the tent.  I had really wanted to make it to Monarch Crest to see Steve (he had a work event in Glenwood Springs), but between our detour and the weather we weren't in luck.  It's raining and thundering again now, though not as bad as last night.

Passed the halfway mark today!

Day 14: Mile 251.5ish-260ish (7:15-12:30)

Today I get to brag about how blessed I am and my bf but first, let me start at the beginning.

I woke up cold again but at least that led to an early start at 7:15.  Our climb to 12,500+ today was short, but it was within 2 miles and I was exhausted between lack of sleep from the cold, hiking more 12,000 ft passes than I care to count, and general lack of air.  I am tired!

High point for the day

As we were hiking down Monarch Ski Resort, out of water and my quads hating the downhill, we missed a turn!  We had been so close to our resupply at Monarch Crest Store!  This led us to wandering around US 50 and not running into our lodge of the store.  I had just decided to start waving people down when a Forerunner pulled up.  Somehow, Steve had found us (after driving around for awhile too). A Higher power was definitely helping guide us.  I was so happy I almost cried when I saw him.

Excited for a shower and bed!

We drove to the lodge and Steve checked us in.  I showered (!) though my razor broke while Steve did my laundry!  Then we drove to MCS for my resupply and bought a few snacks for Pacer and I.  After realizing it was 5+ miles back to the trailhead from the lodge, Steve even arranged for me to get a ride back in the AM!(Steve had to head back for work)

Part of me feels a bit guilty for skipping part of the trail, but I'm pretty sure I made up the miles and as Steve said, getting lost is expected.  Hopefully this is it though.  Anyway, I'm blessed to have Steve.

Now just to relax, eat, and sleep the rest of the evening!  We are on track to finish in two weeks.  I'm hoping to get a few big days in before hitting the San Juans in case we need to take extra breaks for afternoon storms.  I really want to be back in Boulder when Sandi and Sage get back!

Day 15 (Sunday, August 16th): 10:30-5:45ish, CT Mile 260-273ish (16-17 miles)

Pacer and I had a wonderful time doing nothing last night.  We even had a decent dinner- Pacer had chicken with grilled veggies + half a baked potato while I had a pecan salad, half a baked potato, and pita bread (that is not a normal part of my diet, but only gave me a few small stomach issues).  Then I just about finished the banana chips.  I probably should have went to sleep earlier but I was staring at the bright lights of the TV.

Pacer soaking in the last bit of comfort...sshh! don't tell her dad!
This morning we tried to soak in the last bit of comfort before getting a ride back to MCS.  My original goal for the day was 10 miles until I realized CT West is 4 miles longer than CT East.  When we reached 10 and the dark storm clouds that had been chasing us since noon seemed to have drifted off, we went for the next goal of 14.  We hit 14 at 4:30 and the weather was perfect.  It seemed to good to waste so we went another hour.  By then it was overcast and we got a little drizzle as I set up camp.

Reuniting with the regular CT route

I think I saw more CT confidence markers today than I did in all of the West section!

-The word "fearless" is great, but I don't believe it, at least from my point of view. I'm sure other writers could twist the word around so it makes sense. 

For me, however, the key is not to be fearless.  I have not reached the level where that is even possible for me.  The key for me is to not live inside my fear.

Fear challenges me and keep me from doing stupid things.  When I acknowledge my fear but choose to do something anyway, like hike the CT, that is when I grow. 

Day 16: 8-5:15, CT 273-292.4

Today was a bit of an off day, but at least Mother Nature is on our side.  It was storming this morning but by the time I decided to unzip my sleeping bag it had stopped.

The day turned out to be mostly overcast and then Pacer and I were both a bit tired.  I'm looking forward to a bit more time at 9,000 tomorrow. 

I'm pretty sure my collar bone is permanently indented from my pack.

All afternoon we heard rumblings of thunder (and airplanes) but for the most part we just got sprinkled on.  The trail was still a lot of dirt bike trail and while pretty, nothing to write home about.  We were also thrown off hiking north today.  The at the end (with thunder getting closer) we "ascended to a highpoint" at 11, 700, dropped 300 ft, then summited Mt. Baldy at 11,600-makes no sense!  When it started to rain I "almost" ran down, but again, we never directly got hit by the storm. 

Quickly heading down Mt. Baldy
Hoping for a big day tomorrow to put us in a good place to hike San Louis Peak on Thursday!

-Woodpeckers here are different than in Ohio- no red. 

-Pace ate something gross from the campfire.

Day 17: 7:30-6:45, CT 292.5-316.4 (+3/4)

-Sunny, breezy day
-Saw people again
-2 fun size snickers at mile 302 - feeling guilty for being vegan but then felt like I should have taken 5 to get in more calories.
-No water at 312 (where I dropped my data book and had to back track for)  but managed to get some at 315
-Cows nearby.  Lots of crickets- felt like Moses parting the sea
-Old trailer too camp spot but found flat ground nearby
-Spilled soup on my sleeping bag, Pacer helped clean up
-Almost to the San Juans!

Enjoying a rare flat stretch

Long stretch of fields, but the mountains are getting closer!
Day 18: 7:30-5:15, CT 316-337.5

What a perfect day! (Well, after we left the campsite with the scary cows that kept talking.)

Cochetopa Creek
I honestly didn't see one cloud in the sky.  Plus, since the trail was so gradual (I had been working myself up for the steep stuff) we covered 21 miles in less than 10 hours, even with three 10-15 minute breaks. 

Sleeping beauty taking a quick nap during a snack break.
Our campsite today totally makes up for yesterday.  As I write I'm watching the sun disappear behind the mountain, with Pacer's head in my lap.

What I'm having difficulty with is:  Even out here, its hard to focus on the present.  I'm always thinking about the next checkpoint, food break, or where we will end up for the day.  Then, especially because my legs have been tired, I worry about the next climb or rain coming in.  Neither are things to really worry about- I can take my time, we are ahead of schedule and if it rains I have rain gear and my tent. SURRENDER

And it just dropped 10 degrees...(the sun disappeared behind the mountain).

Day 19: 7:15-6:45, CT 337.5-353.5

Whew!  Another long and wonderful day...besides freezing at night and waking up to frost on the ground.  Because we were able to cover so much ground yesterday, we were just a little over a mile from the saddle of San Luis Mountain.  Once we reached the saddle, we ditched our packs and went 1.35 up to the summit.  I thought we'd get the top to ourselves, but two very nice women beat us there.  I finally got some nice shots of me and Pacer!  I think that was probably one of the easier parts of our day.

From then on, with packs on, we bounced around in the 11 and 12s always going up and down a few hundred feet.  Finally, we topped out at 12,700 and now we are on a mesa, still at 12,000 (it would've been another 3 miles until we dropped to 11 and I was getting tired).  I added and additional pair of socks to my sleepwear as well as my rain jacket.  We are also next to a small cliff in the mesa to block the wind if it starts up.

Evening's highpoint

Mood went a little south this afternoon when Pacer wouldn't listen and I saw clouds.  It's funny, my biggest worry is often a cloud!  Well, it's really the storms that could come with them.  I kept reminding myself that I have rain gear and I know what to do if the sky does darken.  I have a little added concern now that we are cutting it close with food, but I know we'll be fine even if we only have light snacks Monday morning.  I also kept repeating Cheryl Strayed's mantra "We are strong. We are brave.  We are safe." (have to say it for Pace too).  That seemed to help. 

I'm exhausted so hopefully a good night's rest will pick me back up for tomorrow's adventure!

 Day 20:  7:45-7:15, CT352.5-376.6ish

  • Pacer chased a chipmunk up my leg
  • Wild horses on mesa
  • Got snowed on (not much)
  • Sheep (as in sheep in the mountains with very protective sheep dogs and shepherds)
  • Dark clouds near CT highpoints.  Asked for a sign-sun came out to the right and rainbow to the left
  • Passed Carson City, old mining town

Still on the mesa, working our way down.

Wild horses...amazing sight.

I would have gotten a picture of the sheep closer, but the dogs scared me a bit.

Pacer at the CT high point!

Day 21: 8:15-6:45ish, CT 375ish-39something (trail intersection signs missing- missed planned camping spot somewhere)

Tough day.  Only time at 11,000 was when we woke up.  Lots of up and down, all at 12,000 and topping out at 12,900+.  Hail/rain, beautiful views.  Pacer ran off chasing marmots.  Excited to get to Molas Lake tomorrow.  Less than 100 to go!  Will be done this time next Sat.

Pacer had no problem running at 12,900.

Pacer is never one to pass up a chance to play in the snow.

Following the cairns

Day 22 (Sunday, August 23rd): 8:00-   , CT 394ish-409+

Currently taking a light afternoon break.  It got dark pretty quickly in the canyon, but at least we are at 9,000!

Anyway, after waking up huddled in a ball in the middle of my sleeping bag (idk how I could breathe), a slightly restless night with Pacer barking and trying to stay warm,  and some ice falling inside my tent, we had a nice sunny morning and figured out where we were when the CT left the CDT.  After that we had an extremely steep but extremely pretty descent from 12,600 to 9,000 (we'll eventually get just under 9 before climbing back up to 10,000 in a few miles to Molas).

Good morning Pacer, good morning sun!

She was not happy posing for this one.

However, for now we are at 9,000ft because we didn't feel like hiking in the rain or a thunderstorm today.  So far (I think it's been about an hour) I had a snack, made some tea, and re-read the last chapter of Harry Potter.  I hope it passes soon because I want to get to our resupply at shower at 409!

Dumbledore has an interesting line in the final chapter "To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure".  I like that- but my mind isn't that well organized yet.

Written on Day 23:  To finish up Sunday-  So it never rained that bad, it just rained for over 2 hours.  Around the time I started getting antsy, we heard hooves.  I thought it was more horses.  It ended up being two HUGE moose walking right past our tent to the pond. 

At 2:15 it was still raining but I figured I'd better get going as I was starting to worry Molas Camp Store would close with our food inside.  When we got outside our tent there ended up being a ton (by ton I mean 5 or 6) of people out watching the moose.  I wasn't use to seeing a whole lot of people at that point.

After another half hour or so it cleared up and it was a gorgeous evening.  I was pretty excited to get to the railroad tracks, Animas River (no signs of contamination), and the switchbacks.  The switchbacks were my first experience with the CT when Sandi took me there 3 years ago. 

Animas River crossing

Pacer at a view point on the switchback.
We got to MCS a little after 6.  It was still open AND I got to shower ($5 for 4 minutes- I even had tome to spare)!  Then there was an hiker's box (where hikers left things they didn't need) so Pacer and I even got some extra trail mix and Zen Wasabi Mix! We had to hike back out to camp, so the spot was pretty sh**y, but we were too hungry to care.

I also found a note in my resupply from Sandi that include the last lines of my poem ( and reminding me that my Aunt Barb and Uncle Ronny were watching over me.  It made my evening.

Day 24: 8-4:45, CT 409-425.5

Today was a pretty cool day (cool as in neat). It started to warm up quickly once we got going.  At Little Molas Lake, I saw the quick movement of an animal.  We kept walking, and staring back at me was a bobcat (at least I'm pretty sure as I never saw one before).  Thankfully, Pacer didn't see it!  (No pic as I was worried Pace would see it.)

The rest of the hike up to Rolling Mountain did not disappoint.  We basically hike the circumference of a exposed mountain range (yes, I realize that is not the correct terminology), full of red rocks, wildflowers, and streams.  The other side is very different, but just as neat- a partially shaded forest complete with waterfalls, a bit fairytaleish.  We are actually camped by a waterfall.  However, 2 people are currently ruining it (the serenity) and setting up a tent 30 ft away.

Heading up to Rolling Mountain Pass

Attempting to use the-self timer, forgot to pull down my shorts as I had been attempting to even out tan lines.

Day 24:  8-4:30, CT 425.5-441

Another early (slowing down since we'll beat Steve to Durango) and good day.  Didn't wake up cold and everything was dry so that was a plus.  Had some sun early but the rest of the day was overcast with thunder rumbling in the background.  For the most part we just had a few sprinkles besides some hail right by the pass (11,9??).  To the right of the pass looked dark, but the left where the top was looked lighter.  We had been going "pole, pole" but at that point I looked at Pacer and said "change of plans" and we booked it up the final switchback.  Too bad the weather wasn't better or we could've went to the top of Blackhawk Mtn.

Morning from our campsite

Blackhawk Pass
Just a few more days until we see Steve and then Sandi and Sage!

I don't think it will be too strange going back to normal life.  It'll definitely be nice to have a warm bed, shower, and fresh food (kale!) everyday (oh how we take those things for granted!).  I'll have to look for a new job right away but I'm not too worried about it anymore.  I'll find something soon and it will be a new adventure until grad school (I'm pretty sure I'll be accepted) next August.

[This is silly, but I hope I don't put all my weight back on- maybe 10lb.  Since I haven't really looked in the mirror, besides my GOTR "I am healthy, confident, and joyful" compact, I don't know exactly what I look like, but I know it's a bit too skinny.  However, I still feel healthy, strong, and beautiful. Pacer def. needs to put some weight back on too!] I gained most of it back, but I still feel healthy, strong , and beautiful.  It's a shame that even out in the wild for 3 weeks, I still couldn't get out of my head society's ideal view that thin equals pretty, or "better" in my mind.  Still, while I don't think an eating disorder truly ever leaves a person, "feeling" your strength in sport and in the wilderness is one of the best possible medicines.

Morning of Day 26

We are taking our time this morning as there is no rush.  We are somewhere around mile 460 with only 24 miles to go in 2 days (and things are still damp).  I just finished reading "The Devil's Arithmetic", a favorite of mine as a young girl.  I am slowly drinking my cold coffee that I attempted to sweeten with a chocolate cherry gel from Sandi & Sage.  Back to yesterday...

Day 25: 8:15-5:45, CT 441-460ish

It rained overnight so I expected to wake up to sun and blue skies. It ended up still being a bit overcast, but it was dry.  After breakfast, we took off towards mile 459 + .6 off trail, the first place we'd be able to find water that day  and right before the final 12,000 ft climb. 

A little after 10 it started to rain.  At 10:15 we found some cover underneath trees and had our first (and really only) break.  I saw some lightness in the sky and was optimistic, but it was still raining so I took of my puff jacket and replaced it with my base layer and rain jacket. I made the mistake of deciding to forgo my rain pants.

It ended up being that the rain didn't stop.  Sometimes we were partially sheltered in the trees and other times we were on the windy ridge mingling with the clouds.  My guess is that it was in the low 50s-40s. 

At 12:30 we took partial shelter under more trees.  As quickly as I could, I put on my rain pants, re-added my puff jacket under my rain jacket, put hand-warmers in my rain "resistant" mittens (they were supposed to be water-proof), and took out a cliff bar.  This was the peak/climax of my trip- I was doing what I was afraid of (hiking in the cold rain, conditions most likely to influence hypothermia).  I even smiled to myself, filled with pride.

Even when the rain stopped we were in the fog, or cloud, and it didn't warm up.  Closer to 4, we did get a glimpse of the sun and were in the middle of the parting clouds.  We missed the unmarked side trail to our planned camping spot but met another woman hiking up.  We let her pass as we gained the ridge (she had started hiking at 3).  As some 12,000 ft up, I watched her tiny figure and umbrella reach the high point after climbing the switchbacks.  It was still cloudy and the wind had picked up again.  I decided I didn't want to do that, so Supergirl and I made our way down the mountain side into the trees.  The tent, Pacer, and some of my clothes were still damp but I was happy to get into some dryer clothes and take in warm food.  I managed to stay warm in my sleeping bag, curled up in my base layer and fleece. 
Despite being tired, sleep was still hard to come by on my deflated sleeping pad with thunder in the background.  A light rain is still trickling on our tent.

Day 26: 12:00-5:30, CT 460ish-471

After writing this morning, Pacer and I decided to stay in the tent as it continued to rain and the clouds were hanging low.  I ended up doing things slowly- braiding my hair, examining a bruise on my back, and brushing Pacer.  I finally took some time to meditate too, mainly my own version of the Loving Kindness Meditation.  Finally, I decided to crawl back in my sleeping bag and Pacer cuddled next to me.  We simply laid there as the rain went tap, tap, tap on our tent.  I wondered if everyone else had the chance to be so lucky, simply to be still and listen to nature with a loved one, maybe or maybe not with a dog, or with the peace of their own spirit.

At 11:15 the sun decided to peak out of the clouds.  I decided to eat a snack and then start packing up.  At 12, we started making our way up the side of the mountain we had bonzied down yesterday.  We reached the high point at 12,300 then the 2nd high point at 12,200 (last time at 12,000). 

It started sprinkling again.  As we made our way down, it started to rain harder and harder.  I threw on my rain jacket but skipped the pants- I just wanted to get down to tree line and I figured we'd be sleeping in the 8s so I could just sleep in my underwear if needed.

Sky clearing over Kennebec Pass
It took another mile and 1/2 of so, but the sky finally cleared to a beautiful, vibrant blue.  It grew warmer as we made our way down.  Of course, I wanted to sleep at mile 471 as the book said it was an "excellent dry campsite".  That means I finished the day by climbing 450 ft in a mile (I could have stayed at 470, but the camp bombers/ mountain bikers from the waterfall were there- they seem like very nice people- and mainly I wanted to verify "excellent" for myself). I do have to admit, for our last night this is a pretty great spot.  After climbing the ridge, we are at a point that juts out of the mountain with a great view (think Lion King).  Since we are in the (high) 8s, I'm still sitting outside on a log writing this, even with the sun behind the mountain. (Pacer is in the tent laying on my sleeping bag.)

I believe Supergirl started to develop a bit of an ego as she took her place as Queen on top of the rock.

At our "excellent dry campsite" for our very last night on the CT.
Last night. Wow.  Almost 4 weeks already.  Well, I guess it's just our final night on the trail, unless Stevecan make it here by tomorrow night.  Otherwise, we are camping at a nearby campground.

Anyway, some final thoughts tomorrow!

Day 27- The Finish!: 8:30-2:20/4:00ish, CT 471-484 + 3-4

Morning from our campsite

Wow.  I just looked in the mirror for basically the first time in 4 weeks (the mirror at Monarch Lodge wasn't very big) and I barely recognize myself.  I am a little underweight but I am gorgeous :) And oh yea...we finished!

We woke up to a beautiful morning at our "excellent dry campsite" then took our time climbing up the ridge among the yellow and purple wildflowers to 9,500.  Then I started to notice big piles of green poop...of course, we had to encounter cows on the trail one more time.  I love cows.  I am glad they are able to roam free. But they are huge and scare the heck out of me. (Pacer and I have recently been running the North Boulder trails which have cows all over, so I'm now getting used to them.) Luckily, Pacer's high pitched bark got the moving a bit.

This little guy blended in quite well.
At mile 177 we finally found a good spot for a break after the poop trail with a nice overlook on some rocks.  I tried to relax and close and close my eyes but my pillow, aka Pacer, kept moving either to lick me or eat a fly (she might be part frog).

We kept descending from there on mountain bike trail, letting it sink in that we were almost done.  At mile 482 we reached the bridge over junction creek where I had hike to with Sandi a few year's back.  Pacer took a long dip in- it was quite a bit warmer than we were used to back down at 7,000-6,000ish ft.  We split a cliff bar and made our way to the trailhead.

Soon enough, we saw "the sign" marking the end of our journey.  I pictured myself kneeling down to pet an excited Supergirl and saying "we did it!".  She had other plans. As soon as we go to the lot, she ran into the middle of it, either after another dog or thinking Steve might be there, with me yelling at her to come back.  Eventually I got her to come to me and had a woman take our pic. Then I called Steve to see what his plans were.  He said he'd be in Durango by 8:30! Woohoo! That meant instead of hiking back to a campground we could hike into Durango 3-4 miles down the road. 

End of one adventure, beginning of the next.

I think Pacer had a harder time getting used to the cars, then traffic, than I did.  Not long after reaching Main St. (and passing Zuke's!) we came across 4 motels.  I'm not sure I made the right choice.  It's a bit pricey for what it is, but I reminded myself that it was done, paid for, and nothing to worry about.  It had all I needed (mainly a shower).  Before I showered I went back to the fresh fruit stand down the street and bought a peach and an apple, then Subway for a drink.  THEN, I finally washed of all the dirt and dead skin I had accumulated over the past 2 weeks (I didn't get it all off in my 4 minute shower last Sunday). 

Now I'm sitting with Pacer (shh! Steve can't know she's in the bed) texting family and friends (I wish I could text Sandi) watching Tiny Houses on HGTV (last episode had a builder from Durango), and waiting for Steve to come.  What a change from last night!

I think I'm still processing it's over.  I mean I know it's over, but still realizing what that really means.  It's a little sad.  It always is when something big comes to an end.  I'm pretty happy thought too.  We did something new, it was hard, and it was incredible.  It left me with a new appreciation for all we had left behind.  I believe this CT adventure has better prepared me for the next adventure of the world of people.  Part of my 500 mile journey was like going back home, inside of Mother Nature, where I came from.  I needed that reconnection, in a slower way than what I'm used to (hence the last week).  I also learned that I, on the extreme end of introversion, need to feel the love of other people, people who inhabit a light and godliness that even the most beautiful wildflowers, strongest trees, and golden sunsets do not possess. 

I have been so incredibly blesses to have had the opportunity to complete this hike with my dog (God spelled backwards), always with a "ray" of sunlight on us, keeping us safe as we went.


In the 30 or so hours after completing the CT, I am fully immersed, but feeling quite awkward and separate, in normal society. 

I've already experienced over-priced motel rooms (though the shower was greatly appreciated!) and food, cigarette smoke, dining partners getting ignored over cell phones, and drives going too fast and swearing down the road despite the background of majestic mountains.  After seeing Steve, he quickly updated me on the big news I missed in the world- reporters getting shot, another child rapist, wild fires around the country.

This is what I wanted to come back to? 

As Steve watches a violent but typical movie on Roku I have to walk away and end up dawdling on Facebook.

How important is it really to know the news of the world (unless there is a way to help) ?  And I appreciate being connected to my distant friends and seeing pics of Sandi and Sage, but what about my other 900 "friends"? I am grateful to be sitting here in a warm house on a comfy couch under a blanket with good food in my tummy and not setting up a tent worrying about a bear trying to steal my food, but what price am I really paying for it? I can't tell if Pacer seems happy or not.

I know I'm being a bit of a Negative Nancy right now and that most of the world and its' people are good. I know human connection is what makes the world go round and if I really want to have a positive impact I need to make my place in it.  I'm sure within a week everything will feel normal again.  Now thought I hope I can view things with a distant eye, to see things with a new perspective and not get caught up in the normal hum of traffic.

Most of all, it's comforting to know that I can always go to my other home in the wilderness.  Maybe not for 4 weeks straight, but for an hour, a day, or a few days when lucky.  The mountains will always remind me to keep my dreams high while the trees keep me rooted to my inner-self and the heart of nature.


Sandi, Pacer, and I climbed Mt. Huron on September 10th.

***Please Note:  Adventure is not about money.  It is about taking a risk, having courage, and finding the strength to say "yes" when it call you.  While I was quite lucky to not have to worry about paying rent, I still took quite a leap of faith.  I saved up what I could in Ohio working 25-30 hrs weeks at GOTR and adding side jobs when I could.  My savings were enough about 4 months.  My big expenses for the trip was buying new gear as I had close to no backpacking experience, but I bought mostly sale items and borrowed a few things.  I didn't but any "luxury" items during that time, avoiding stores that would tempt me most. Food ended up being around $200, maybe less, much less than I normally spend on a month.  Then I just trusted I could find a job when I finished, even if it wasn't what I wanted at first.  If you really want to do something, you can find a way to do it.  Most people will make excuses, especially those with more than modest amounts of money.  Don't let money (whether you have a lot or a little) or negative voices hold you back.  Believe in yourself and your adventure. 
If you have any questions about thru-hiking, please do not hesitate to contact me!
A few notes about gear from my pre-blog:
- The Jet Boil I "borrowed" from Steve was awesome!  However, I should have bought the smallest propane tanks, as they could have lasted a week.
-REI Lyra bag- definitely did not live up to the 22 degree rating.  On a side note, I should've bought a new sleeping pad.
-Mountain Hardwear Nitrous Hooded Down- I like the jacket, but it's not very warm.  Good for 30-40 degree hiking.  After the CT I took it up Longs Peak- definitely did not keep me warm even with a MH shell over it.  Also, does not stuff into it's pocket very well.
-Sierra Design Flashlight 1 Tent- Worked well for the most part and my hiking pole length I used for hiking ended up being a perfect fit for my tent set-up.  However, a pop-up would have been nice when I needed to put it up fast or for camping on harder ground.  For the Flashlight, all 8 stakes need to be firmly in the ground.
-Lowe Alpine backpack was too big, and a bit heavy (probably why I got it so cheap).
-Salomon Speedcross were great on the rocky terrain.
-Ruffwear Palasides Pack- My only complaint is that the straps were difficult to adjust.  Otherwise, the pack worked out great for Pacer, and it was nice to be able to easily take of the saddle bags on breaks.

1 comment:

  1. Loved this! Very inspiring and an amazing accomplishment!