As I’m writing this, I’m lying in my tent on the Colorado Trail, listening to the sound of sparse raindrops on my tent fly.
For the last four miles, I’ve been hiking in a quiet forest. The bicyclists, the day-hikers, and the trail runners have all gone home. The only people left in the woods are backpackers, and there aren’t very many of us.Before coming out here, I knew that many more people found their way to the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail (and, for that matter, the high peaks of New Hampshire and New York) than to other trails. But, I don’t think I really had any idea what that would look like.
While I’ve seen scores of bicyclists — it seems I’m always jumping out of their way — and a handful of day-hikers and trail runners, backpackers are few and far between. On my first day out here, I saw a Denver-bound pair finishing up, as well as a solo hiker making camp. Today, it was afternoon before I saw another backpacker, but, when I did, we were both thrilled to know we were going the same direction.
It’s definitely not that I mind solitude; I sincerely enjoy it. And, goodness knows that I love time alone in the mountains! It’s just that, I suppose, I don’t usually expect to find solitude until well into a journey, once fewer hikers remain on trail and the ones who do have spread out. Here, just two days and nearly 40 miles into my trek, I’ve been surprised to find an empty trail.
Perhaps part of what makes it feel strange is that the path and tent sites are so well established. It feels as though a herd of hikers goes through here annually, but they’re nowhere in sight. I wonder whether some of worn look of the trail is due to the arid climate’s slow recovery.
In any case, near Little Scraggy Trailhead, I met Sarah, a NC native who chose the Colorado Trail as her first long trail and as her celebration for finishing her masters degree. Together, we puzzled over the naming/symbolic identification scheme of the water sources and then hiked on together for four miles or so.
It was obvious from our conversations — and the fact that we’re out here solo — that both Sarah and I are independent people. It was also apparent how happy we both were to have found another Durango-bound human.
After sharing a selfie and some mango slices at Tramway Creek, she stayed to soak her feet and I hiked on.
Walking alone under a rumbling gray sky, I couldn’t help thinking about our being social animals. Some of us seem perfectly content not to flock, bighorn sheep-style, but rather to exist more as mule deer do, aware that others are around but only actively engaging with small family units. Even so, to see another friendly human means safety and companionship, allowing us to let our guards down a bit.
On the other hand, solitude allows us to be more aware, to fully immerse ourselves in our surroundings.
As if on cue, I just heard the flapping wings of some very large bird over my campsite. No kidding.