The Colorado Trail: Day 20
This trail is different to me than the trails that I’ve hiked before. Or maybe it’s that I’m different than I was when I was on those other paths... either way, there is something that isn’t the same. Before this trail I thru hiked. Now I feel like I am a thru hiker. There’s a difference there, and that difference is becoming more and more clear to me as I come closer and closer to the inevitable end of this far to short of a journey across Colorado.
Before this trail I was thru hiking. I was undertaking a journey with a defined beginning and a defined ending. I was trying to walk from one point to the next. I remember being on the AZT and reaching a point where I knew that I’d be able to make it to Utah. I also remember suffering through the desert on the trail and hating myself for ever having signed up to walk that trail. I hated that I had told all my friends and family that I was going out to hike from Mexico to Utah, because in doing so I was forcing myself to actually do it. I didn’t want to be out there. And it’s not that I hated the hike... that’s not what I’m trying to say at all. But I wasn’t *in* the experience like I am on this trail. I was trying to get *through* to the other side rather than actually trying to *be* within the hike itself.
In too many ways that’s how the PCT was as well. I was setting a goal to walk from Mexico to Canada, and unless I met that goal I was going to be a failure. I remember on that trail too when I had reached a point where I knew with fair certainty that I was going to be able to make it through, and I remember with complete clarity when I reached the Canadian border and the relief that washed over me. It was, in a very literal way, like having a weight lifted off my shoulders. I had done it. I no longer had to deal with the fear of failure.
That’s not how I feel out here on the Colorado Trail though. There was never a point in this journey when I asked myself whether or not I’d make it to the end. In fact, I never thought much of the end until now, and I only think about it now because I sort of have to. It’s coming too close to ignore anymore. But when I came out here I had a different attitude. I was looking at this trail more like how I looked at the TRT. I was considering this a vacation from work and from the rest of the world, and in a lot of ways, that’s exactly what this has been. But I’ve been significantly changed by this hike. This is the hike that turned me into a thru hiker.
I never set out to become a thru hiker. It happened by accident. I could have been so many other things in this life, but somehow or another I found myself here, curled up in a tent, typing away at a wireless keyboard (isn’t it awesome living in 2018 where this kind of thing is even possible?), and fully enveloped in the experience of thru hiking the Colorado Trail. It feels more like a lifestyle to me than a journey though. I feel like I’ve become this thing that I never was before. Yes I had thru hiked, but never before this trail was I a thru hiker. In the nearly 400 miles that are behind me now I have learned to yearn for the miles ahead. I no longer count them down and wish for the setting of the sun. Instead I’ve found myself hypnotized by the stepping of my feet and the rhythmic breathing that comes along with it. I suspect that taking the music out of my ears for the entirety of this hike has had a lot to do with the difference I feel. I’ve become very present with the experience of walking the trail, and I’m no longer looking for distractions to take me away from the present moment, even when the present moment is painful, uncomfortable, or exhausting. I’m here with my all. I’m enveloped within it with every step.
And I don’t want for it to end. Today is the first day that I feel a physical pain in knowing how close I am to the end. It’s weird describing it as a physical pain, but I don’t know how else to put it. It’s not like the pain in my feet after walking 25 miles, but it is a physical sensation. It’s something that I feel in my heart—literally. The best way that I can describe it is that it’s like the feeling of losing someone you love, whether through breakup or through death. I’ve dealt with both of these things in the years that I’ve lived, and they hurt. They hurt in a physical way, and that’s the same kind of feeling that I have writing this today and watching my feet grow closer and closer to Denver. For more than a week now I’ve felt like I’ve really come to belong out here, but every day that grows more and more true. It was around day 12 or 14 when I felt like something had shifted in me and I had become a part of this hike like I was not a part of the AZT, PCT, or TRT. But that didn’t mean that the change was complete. In fact, every day I feel more and more a part of the hike and more of me wants for it to go on. Every day I grow fonder of the trail, of the birds, the sound of the river that’s flowing next to my tent right now.
Here’s an example from today: storms were starting to roll in at around 3pm, and I realized that I no longer worry about the rain. It used to be that the rain was like the end of the world for me. I feared bad weather on the AZT and PCT probably as much as anything else that gave me trepidation. And maybe there was even a time or two early on this trail where I worried about the weather. Now I don’t feel that way though. I look at the weather objectively. Sometimes it rains... that’s just a fact of the trail. So when it did start raining today, I just dropped pack, put on my rain gear, and started back on the trail. It didn’t bother me. It was just like the rising of the sun. I don’t worry about it. It’s just a thing that happens.
So every day I continue to grow more and more into this experience, and now I have to deal with the fact that it’s going to come to an end far more quickly than I would like for it to. I want another month out here! I want it to go on. I want to turn around when I reach Denver and just walk back to Durango... But I can’t do that. Maybe there’s an irony in there somewhere, because when I hiked the PCT, I was longing for it to end and for the suffering to seise—but I had all the time in the world and no worldly obligations after the trail. Now I have a job that I have to get back to. I have a life that I have to get back to. I have rent to pay. I have a life to live, and all that I want is for the trail to go on forever.
There is a saving grace within all this though. It’s that I know that I’m coming back. It’s that when I get back home, the first thing that I’m going to do is start looking at mail drops for the CDT. The CDT was something that was sort of a pipe dream for me up until I came out here. I had dreamed about it, and I had toyed with the idea of it, and I even considered starting it this spring before life dictated that I stay in Sedona at least for another year. And when I came out here to Colorado, I knew that a lot of my reason for doing so was to answer the question of whether or not I really want to spend that much time out on the trail by myself that it would take to thru hike the CDT. The Colorado Trail gave me an answer to that question. It gave me the answer in the most clear and loud way that it possibly could. There is no longer any doubt, or fear, or anxiety, or uncertainty about whether or not I want to hike the CDT next year. With every fiber of my being the answer is yes!
So that gets me through the agony of thinking about this trail coming to an end. I’m blessed in that I do have something to go back to after this journey along the Colorado Trail is done. I have work and housing all set and ready to go just like I left it. And that will be what I need in order to prepare for next year. It will cost me some money to hike that trail, and although I already have some savings, now I have something to save towards. I’m no longer going to work and saving money just because; I’m doing it with a goal in mind. And unlike the PCT, I have a plan of exit for the CDT that should keep me from the struggles that I faced after the PCT. I dream too about hiking the AT in my near future, but it seems silly to even talk much about that when I have something as big as the CDT in between here and there. But I feel it in my bones that I’ll hike that one as well. Because I’m no longer just someone who has thru hiked. I’m no longer a hiker who is undertaking a thru hike. The Colorado Trail has turned me into a thru hik*er* and that makes all the difference in the world.
I sometimes wonder if people read that kind of stuff that I've just put on the page and just think, “Alright already... enough with the garbage; tell us about the trail.” I hope not, but maybe.
Last night was an unpleasant night. I went into Leadville thinking that I’d be able to get a room at a hostel, and was turned away because of the Leadville 100 ultra marathon that starts tomorrow morning at 4am. So I spent my afternoon in the laundry mat trying to get clean and trying to do some writing, but although it’s more comfortable writing in a laundry mat than it is trying to write this out in my tent, in terms of my thinking, I much prefer writing in my tent. Out here I have more clarity of mind.
At 9pm I left the laundry mat and walked the streets of Leadville with my headlamp up into the woods just outside of town. There were broken beer bottles near where I set my tent, but I put it where I could.
Through the night I could hear traffic and sounds from the city. It felt more like homelessness than thru hiking. I didn’t like it, and I didn’t sleep well. Then I woke early this morning so that I could have my tent broken down before the city woke up and people came around to discover my camp. I hobbled into the city, found a breakfast restaurant and ate pancakes and eggs, then walked over to Safeway for some last minute things before hitching a ride back to trial. The guy who picked me up next to the gas station was nice... in a way... but he also gave me the creeps. I feel bad saying that because he was nice enough to drive me to the trailhead, but I felt unsafe with him. I can’t really explain why...
But he dropped me at the trailhead and didn’t try to rape or kill me or anything like that, so I said thank you, got my backpack out of his van, and happily made my way to the trail. When I arrived there was another hiker there. I met him yesterday and his trail name is "GoLite." I met him beside that lake where I went swimming. He’s hiking the CDT in sections and he’s 70 years old! We had a really good conversation yesterday and I told him that I needed to run so that I could get into Leadville, but by the time I made it back to trail, he was at that parking lot and he’d laid out all his stuff to dry. He was in that same rain storm that I was in yesterday, so he used the opportunity of the good weather this morning to dry his stuff out. It was good seeing him again. I liked him a lot and we talked again for ten minutes or so before I went on my way. I hope that I get to see him again on the CDT next year. He inspires me to keep doing what I’m doing. I love seeing that you can be that age and still be kicking ass like that. I can’t tell you enough how much he inspires me.
From the trailhead, the CT gave me about 7 miles of fairly flat land with nothing to write home about. Then it went from 9,500ft elevation up to 12,500ft elevation (which is what it does all the way from Durango to Denver basically...). The start of the climb was a bit rough because it was so hot down in the valley floor, but once it broke timberline the trail was quite pleasant again. That’s also when weather started to roll in and right as I made it over a mountain pass I had to put on rain gear for about an hour, but then the rain cleared and I watched as a massive storm built behind me. I expected that it was going to move in my direction and that I’d be caught in the midst of it, but it never did. It just kind of lingered back there, giving me some absolutely wonderful views from up in that high elevation. The pictures just come out so much better when there is cloud coverage as opposed to the blue sky days. I love a clear day as much as anyone, but as I look back over my pictures of the trail, the best ones are always the ones with storm clouds.
As I descended my second mountain pass of the day I met a northbound thru hiker named “9-5” who actually lives in Arizona and had hiked both the PCT and AZT. It was cool getting to talk to him and he’s the first thru hiker who I expect that I’ll end up hanging out with after the trail. He expressed interest in maybe coming up to Sedona to get some miles together once we’re both off the CT.
I met another hiker about an hour later who had goals of hiking the entire CT, but this was his first long trail and it sounds like he got in a bit over his head without knowing it, so he is taking this time to section hike rather than thru hike. I liked his enthusiasm though. He said that he really wants to hike “the long ones.” I asked him which long ones and he said “all of them.” I hope that he does. I hope that he falls in love with the trail Ike I’ve fallen in love with the CT. I hope that the trail changes him and that he’s never the same again. I hope that he develops this insatiable thirst that can never be quenched. I hope he does.
It wasn’t long after meeting him (Shoot... I think his name was Josh... I forgot to write it down... I should know better) that I found a place to filter water and set up camp. I could have gone on longer tonight, but I’m tired from not getting enough sleep the last two nights. My plan was to get an early start tomorrow so that I could get into Breckinridge early, but now that’s changed a little bit. After the fiasco with trying to get a hostel bed in Leadville, I decided to go online and make sure that there is a opening for a hostel in Breckenridge (I’m close to the highway here, so I have cell service). The first one I checked is actually booked up (no surprise, I guess since it’s a Saturday), but luckily the Fireside Inn did have an opening, so I made a reservation there, but they don't have check in until 4pm. The hitch into Breckinridge is only about 16 miles from where I'm camped right now, so it doesn’t make sense for me to aim for an early start. Instead I’m going to do what I can to sleep in, hit the trail in the morning (there’s a mean climb during my first five miles tomorrow, and I can’t wait for it!), then hit Breckinridge in the afternoon, pick up my resupply box at the post office, and then get over to the hostel for some rest.
From Breckinridge it’s only 104 miles to Denver and the end of the Colorado trail. I’d like to be able to spread those miles out over a week, but I know my pace and I know that it won’t happen. So realistically I have five days left of the trail before this journey comes to an end. But all good things come to an end. That’s what makes them beautiful, and the Colorado Trail has been a perfect illustration of that for me. I’ll miss it out here, but I will return in the very near future.
For now however, I need to sign off and get some sleep.
Happy trails, and I’ll write again from Breckinridge.