• Brandon A. Kelone

The Colorado Trail: Day 16

I feel now like thru hiking is more like a journey into the self than it is a journey across two points of land. Superficially this trail will bring me from Durango to Denver, but I’m not walking this path just to get from one point to the other. There are faster and far more efficient ways to get from Durango to Denver than to walk. If it were about arriving in Denver I would have taken a plane or a bus. It’s about more than that. So we could assume that it’s not about the destination, but the journey. Thru hiking is about the adventure between the two points... I guess that to an extent that’s true, but as I was walking the trail this morning, it felt like the journey was almost as superficial as the destination. I'd never thought of it this way before, but that's how it felt today. 


I don’t come out here just for the experiences that take place between these two arbitrary points; I come out here to learn something about myself, and perhaps moreover to become something that I was not before the trail, and I have to accept the sad truth that this thing that I've become on trail will not be what I am after the trail. It only exists within the experience itself. I feel like out here on the trail I am something that is more true to what I’m supposed to be. The trail strips us of the constraints of society and social norms. There is no law out here—there is no norm. There is only the rhythmic stepping of feet. There is the cadence of my breath. There is my heartbeat. 


I have become comfortable with the pain. It’s not that the pain of hiking these long days ever goes away while I’m out here, but I become used to it. I become aware as new aches develop, but I become comfortable with them. For example, all throughout today it has been at the forefront of my attention that my shoes are no longer as new and fresh as they were sixteen days ago. My right foot in particular is beginning to develop pain on the smallest toe as the support of the shoe softens, and this is leading to a prominent blister. I don’t particularly care thought. I just walk on through it. As long as the pain is not a sign of something debilitating or a sever injury, I just walk through it. When the midday temperatures become hot and I am dripping with sweat, I just walk through it. When I reach the top of a mountain pass and the wind is blowing with fervor, causing my skin to goosebump, I just walk through it. I’m aware of all these discomfort, but I’m not troubled by them like I would be in the “real world” outside of the thru hike. 


When I was on the Pacific Crest Trail I made friends with a man from Israel named Ram. He told me (among so many other things) that he believes that we are all out on the trail for one very important reason. I thought that this was funny at first, because I believed that we all come to the trail for our own unique reasons, but he said that we’re all out here to learn to “deal with it.” It doesn’t matter what “it” is. On the trail we find these discomforts, or pains, or agonies, or worries, and it doesn’t matter what they are—we just deal with them. You’re out of water and won’t be at a water source for the next fifteen miles? What choice do you have but to deal with it? Your feet hurt? You deal with it. You’re hungry? You deal with it. This is a lesson that we learn on the trail again and again every day, and if we’re lucky, we manage to bring some of that lesson back home into the real world with us once it's done. The trail teaches us that no matter the struggle we face, we just deal with it. And to be real—the struggles of the real world feel so much smaller after the struggles of the trail. The trail makes us strong and resilient to the slings and arrows of everyday life. The trail makes us resilient. 


I probably understood these things to be true before coming out here to the Colorado Trail sixteen days ago, but until this week, I think that I had forgotten how true they are. I was drawn out here for so many reasons, but more than anything, I was drawn out here to become something that is more true to my core than who I am when I’m not on the trail. I also came here to take some pretty pictures though, and Lord knows that Colorado has given me plenty of opportunities in that regard too. 



I didn’t sleep as well last night as I wished I could have. I set my tent on a high elevation ridge, thinking that the evening and morning views would make up for the fact that I’d have to deal with cold temperatures and wind, and although the views were indeed beautiful, I underestimated how heavy the wind was going to whip my little tent around. When I got up there last night it wasn’t too bad, but soon after sunset the wind began to pick up and it continued through the night. I slept on and off, but after I started hiking this morning, it became apparent that I hadn’t gotten the sleep that I needed. This morning as I was trying to cook breakfast and make tea, the tent was literally laid down flat on top of me during the wind gusts. It was quite uncomfortable, and I’m sorry to say that even though the views up there were nice, they didn’t justify the challenges. This is a lesson that I’ve learned on trail before, but I guess that I had to learn them again out here in Colorado to remember why I need to be more strategic with my campsite selection. 


I broke camp from inside my tent--the only time I've had to do that on trail so far--and as a final step just collapsed my tent, paying special attention to not letting it blow away, and instead of folding it neatly like I normally do, I basically just balled it up, stuffed it into an outside pocket of my pack, and started hiking down into lower territory where the wind wasn’t so rough. Once there I repacked my bag, folded my tent, and started back to trail. 


Ultimately I have to say that today was the most physically demanding day that I’ve had on the trail so far. The miles weren’t the longest (I believe that today was the second longest day in terms of miles that Ive had so far on the CT), but the terrain was rugged and it was a day of ups and downs both physically and emotionally. This morning I just wasn’t feeling the trail that much. I suppose it may have been because yesterday was such a spectacular day that today couldn’t possibly have lived up to the standard, but I think that the lack of sleep contributed as well. In addition, I made a really dumb mistake this morning with water. You see, there was water every turn of the trail for the first three miles this morning, and I made the assumption that that would continue without ever actually checking my maps to confirm if it was indeed true. And I was enjoying not carrying water so much that I took for granted that when I needed it I’d be able to find it with ease. So when I finally developed a thirst and checked my maps, I was surprised to find that the next water source wouldn’t come for another seven miles. That meant that I’d end up having to cover fifteen miles without having a drink of water. It wasn’t the end of the world by any means, because in this high elevation I don’t sweat so much, but by the time I got to water finally, I was a bit dehydrated, and I suspect that the combination of lack of sleep and slight dehydration sort of put my day in a funk. 


Once I did get water it helped, but I was sort of troubled by the elevation profile of the trail. I started this morning at around 11,000 feet, then climbed up to around 12,550, then followed a ridge line for a bit before dropping down to 10,000 feet. I don’t like those long drops very much. They bother my knees a bit, and the ground can be loose at times, making the descent sort of a pain in the butt. The real pain in the butt however was the fact that after descending from 12,550ft down to 10,000ft, the trail then jolted straight back up to 12,500 again. So by the end of the day I had actually climbed more than 5,400 feet and descended just as much. It’s not that I don’t like climbing, but it was frustrating to drop all that elevation just to gain it again. 


To be honest however, I kind of liked the climb more than the descent. The only problem was that by the time I started the climb (almost exactly when I started the climb in fact), the afternoon monsoon storms started to form and drop rain. The rain was never heavy enough that I needed to dawn rain gear, but I did have to put my camera away for fear of it getting wet, and I ended up pulling out my umbrella to keep myself at least somewhat dry. Like had happened around the end of the first week of my hike, the rain would come and go and come and go again, and I’m pretty sure that I ended up taking out my umbrella at least ten times over the course of about four hours. The real struggle was that all of those times were during the climb of the latter part of the day, and when I have my umbrella out I can’t really use my hiking poles as efficiently as I’d like to. The one blessing within all of that rain however was that it cooled the temperatures in the lower elevation and made the start of the climb a lot less sweaty. 


My whole goal over the last two days has been to make enough miles during the day so that I could arrive at Lake Anne by the end of today, as I was told two weeks ago that Lake Anne was one of the prettier places on all of the Colorado Trail, and this morning when I checked my maps, that seemed quite manageable. It was about 27 miles away from where I camped last night, but I failed to take into consideration just how traitorous those miles would be. I’d like to note right now that I’m not complaining about the miles though—I came out here for a challenge, and the trail gave me exactly that today. I just underestimated the amount of work and how long it would take me to cover that distance today. I really expected that as long as I kept my breaks to a minimum that I’d be able to get here sooner. But I got it done nonetheless. It just took longer than I would have liked. 


Towards the end of that final climb of the day (the one from 10,000ft up to 12,500ft) the tree-line broke into alpine tundra and the views were absolutely astonishing! I almost feel like there is a God of the trail who rewards me based on the challenges that I face. On the easy days I rarely find any spectacular views, but on days like today when I face physical and emotional struggles along the way, the end of the day always gives me a gift of outstanding views. As the tree-line broke, the sun was just starting to shine through the dissipating monsoon clouds and heavy smoke from the wildfires in California, lighting the horizon with a beautiful orange and pink hue. I took as many pictures as I could justify while still keeping in mind that I needed to make miles in order to get to Lake Anne, but like all the pictures before today, they’re amazing from what I can see on my phone, but do no justice whatsoever to what it was actually like to be there. To really appreciate it you’d have to come out here for sixteen days, you’d have to feel the hunger, and the pain, and the thirst, and the cold, and the discomfort. Maybe then you could understand... And I hope you do feel these things. I really hope with all my heart that someone out there will read through these words that I scrawl at the end of every evening and feel inspired to come out and do it themselves. 


At the top of that climb up to Lake Anne Pass I was gifted with a view of the lake itself. It looked modest from way up on the mountain pass, but it was promising to have it in eyesight. It meant an end to a very long and arduous day. The descent down to her shores was rough and filled with boulders, but after everything else that I’d seen today, it passed with ease as I still stopped from time to time to try and get the beauty on film. 


I’d been promising myself all day that when I got to Lake Anne I’d strip down and go for a swim, no matter how cold the water was, and it was cold indeed. But I needed to be clean. I was past the point of smelling like a hiker, and my shirt was starting to become stiff with salt and sweat and grime. I needed to clean myself in the waters of a high mountain lake, and although I would have liked to arrive earlier when the sun was still shining down on the lake, I stripped down naked, and I stood there for a moment trying to coax myself into getting into the water. I promised myself that despite the pain of the ice cold water, it would be worth it, and it was. My body at first burned from the cold, but after a minute I had almost become used to it. I scrubbed the dirt and grime from my skin, and carefully emerged onto the rocky bank, clean and reborn from the waters. I dried off, redressed in my “town clothes” and then proceeded to clean my hiking clothes in the waters. I can only hope that they may be dry by the time day breaks tomorrow. 


For dinner I ate a meal that was big enough to feed a whole group of hikers, but I needed the calories. Even though I’d eaten throughout the day, I was ravenous from the climbing. I set my tent not far from the shore of Lake Anne, and I sit here now trying to put to page what was no doubt one of my most memorable days of the trail... how can I even say that though? Every day out here is like a dream. At times I long for it to end so that I can find rest, but at the same time I want for this to go on forever. 


I’m more than half way done with the Colorado Trail now, and although I look forward to sleeping in a warm bed and eating a regular diet and working out at my gym and seeing my friends and getting a warm shower every day, I will miss this experience... F***... I’m literally about to cry as I think about the prospect of this experience coming to an end. I don't want for it to end. I don’t want to go back to the real world. I only wish that as you read this you could understand what I felt tonight as I washed my socks in the ice cold waters of Lake Anne. I wish you could feel how it felt to satiate my hunger with a freeze dried meal. I wish you could have been here when the sunset and when the rain started to fall on my tent fly as I laid here tonight putting these words on the page. I wish that I could bring it all home with me. I wish that I could bottle it up and crack it open every day just to remember what it’s like to be so in touch with the earth and with myself and to feel this alive. 


But maybe that’s the beauty in this experience. It’s beautiful specifically because it can’t last forever. It’s beautiful because it’s so fleeting. But I know in my heart of hearts that even when this hike is over, there will be other trails, and I know that with almost absolute certitude, this time next year I’ll be on the CDT. 


Tomorrow will bring me to the end of this beautiful segment that they call the Western Collegiate Alternate. I have about 19 miles to get to the “city” of Twin Lakes where I mailed my next resupply box and where I've been told that there’s a food truck that I’m not allowed to miss. I’m not much for food truck food, but everyone on trail has been raving about this thing called the “CDT Burger” that I’d be left out if I didn’t try. So my plan for tomorrow is to get an early-ish start and bust out the miles to Twin Lakes. I am about 50/50 on whether or not I’m going to try and get a cabin and stay there for the night. The cost for a cabin is too expensive for me to justify, but if the timing works out and they have a bath (oh, god the prospect of soaking in a hot tub!), then I might bite the bullet and splurge on a room in addition to a burger. 


So I realize that this entry has become way too long... I guess it’s my longest of the trail so far. But today was inspiring, and I had a lot to say, so if you’ve made it this far, then I hope you found it worth reading. I’ve no doubt that I’ll have more to say tomorrow, but in the meantime I’m going to try and get some sleep and hope for a better night’s sleep that I found last night up on that mountain ridge. At least tonight it’s just the pattering of rain on my rainfly and not the sound of gale force winds trying to blow me off of a mountain. 


With all the love in the world, 


Wormwood