Colorado Trail

CT #16: Reunion

I love meeting hikers for whom the Colorado Trail is their first long-distance trip. It’s fun to hear their perspectives on the trail, to remember that I once knew intimately the same excitements and frustrations and worries. But, I’ve got to admit, I was thrilled to meet two fellow members of the Appalachian Trail Class of 2012 today.

I was filtering water at a water source, carefully out of the way of the horses, bicyclists, and even motorcyclists I’ve been seeing on trail, when Pace and Hungus walked right up.

I noticed not just the AT patch on Pace’s pack but the 2000-Miler rocker as well. There were lots of smiles and high-fives when we learned we were part of the same class.

Instantly, we found we had a shared vernacular and a shared yardstick to measure our experiences. What would the next water source be like? How like something you’d find in NY or PA would it be?

We spent a while playing the “do you know so-and-so” game, even though our hiking a month apart gave us disparate social groups. I knew I few March starters who’d slowed down, and they knew a few April-starting fast hikers. It was obvious that we all enjoyed talking about people and places that had been so important in our lives.

With a “Happy Trails!” I walked onward. But, they caught me a short while later, when they sought shelter from a thunderstorm in the overhang of a USFS pit toilet — and found me doing the same thing. AT habits die hard.

CT #15: Salida

In the way full-service towns do, Salida had grown in my mind from my first days on the trail to take on almost mythical proportions. Anything I could need or want, I’d find in Salida. And, now I’m finally here!

At the end of my 11.7-mile hike this morning, there was a long, open descent down to US-50. That’s when my mind decided to amuse itself by singing “Someone’s Gonna Bring Me to Salida” (to the tube of “Someone’s in the Kitchen with Dinah”), ending each verse with a appropriately-rhyming food I’d be able to eat in town.

At the bottom of the descent, I learned that the star of the song was a fellow Adirondack 46er and aspiring CT hiker, and we spent the whole ride to town sharing trail stories. It’s a small world.

Once I got to town, there were so many chores to do: packages to pick up and send, groceries to buy, laundry to wash, emails to send, phone calls to make, and food to eat. As the afternoon crept toward evening, it was time to load up the pack and get ready for the next section.

Here among other wanderers, this being constantly on the move feels somehow normal and expected, but I realize that it’s bizarre to avoid sleeping in the same place two nights in a row. It’s comically exciting to realize that, when I actually get to do that again, I’ll also have access to all of the amazing things I’ve found in Salida on a daily basis.

CT #14: Connectivity

During my Appalachian Trail thru-hike, I had a little pay-as-you-go flip phone, and I got no reception for weeks at a time. This was the experience of most hikers in 2012. There were a few hikers who carried Verizon smartphones, and the rest of us would sit around them at camp, asking for weather forecasts from the oracles.

These days, it’s a different world — even in the backcountry. For that matter, even when I was on the Camino, many pilgrims were able to update their friends and families on a daily basis, if they were walking the main pilgrimage route.

Now, just about all of us have smart phones. While those of us who are cautious supplement them with analog versions, they’re our maps, our compasses, our cameras, and our connections to those we love.

On day or weekend trips, I rarely take my phone off airplane mode. For those shorter experiences, I do my very best to be fully present. However, on longer hikes, I don’t adhere to this ideal.

Borrowing a phrase from Quiver, I often say of longer hikes that I’m “living in the woods for a while.” And, if this is my home, it would be bizarre to isolate myself from my loved ones while here.

I don’t want to finish a journey and try then to explain to my family its significance to me; it would be impossible to convey. Instead, when I’m alone in the woods, I’ll call them from a beautiful peak or quiet pond that I’ve been enjoying and do my best to describe what I’m seeing, hearing, and feeling.

These shared wilderness moments, even when I’m talking with someone thousands of miles away, have been and continue to be a special way of connecting.

And, they’re also a great way to make long roadwalks, such as the 5.7-miler between trailheads today, much more meaningful.

CT #13: Dryer Sheets

I’m at that point in this hike when dayhikers look and smell like a different species.

I saw a couple of day hikers from a distance today, and I found myself admiring their clean skin, soft hair, and cotton clothes. As they walked past, I was overwhelmed by the smells of dryer sheets, deodorant, mouthwash, and body lotion.

Somehow, on a thru-hike, one’s senses and stimulation thresholds seem to change dramatically. Eating the same foods for months on end means that anything different is quite the surprise. Hearing only natural noises makes a hiker completely unprepared for the sensory onslaught that is a large grocery store or Walmart. And, smelling dirt, trees, water, and grass — and distinctly human-smelling people — means that chance encounters with the dryer sheet subspecies are bizarre.

Being able to live part of my life with each subspecies makes me feel a bit amphibious.

CT #12: Logistics

There comes a time in every hike when its finiteness must be considered, its ending contemplated.

How can I get back to civilization from the woods of Maine? Which resupply box should my passport go in? Can I walk from Santiago to the airport?

On longer treks, this day of reckoning comes after months of walking. On relatively shorter ones, like the Colorado Trail, it must come just a few weeks into the journey.

So, with an ample supply of cell service, dehydrated mango slices, and scenery to stare off into, I sat beside the southern of the Twin Lakes this morning and figured out how exactly I might get back east.

By the end of the morning, I had an 11-step plan involving transportation by foot, thumb, bus, train, plane, and car. Trying to explain it is unwieldy, but I think it will work.

In the meantime, I’ve been surprised at how much day-to-day planning I need to do on this trail. Generally, my MO is to plan out my rough resupply schedule and then get from one maildrop to another by simply hiking until dinner time each day. Here, I find myself planning daily destinations long in advance, ensuring that I’m setting myself up for comparatively low and below-treeline nights.

Because of these logistics, today was a short day — and my first in the Collegiate East section of the trail. (I’m saving Collegiate West for my eventual CDT thru-hike.) It was also an unusual day, with so much arid terrain that I’d have sworn I was back on the PCT and then a good, long climb up to the shoulder of Waverly.

I’m tucked into my tent early, at a campsite above rushing Pine Creek. By my estimation, I have just 15 or 16 days left on trail. I’m looking forward to savoring them.