The Colorado Trail: Day 25
It’s quite hard for me to know what to say anymore. How do you put words to an experience as profound as this? What is there to say when it comes to an end? I’ve written several times about the impossibility of what I’m trying to do within these pages, and the irony that I even attempt to simplify something so gargantuan into something as pithy as words, but here I am again for the 25th night in a row, trying to do just that—trying to reduce the enormity into something more tangible than it actually is. But every night it becomes harder and harder. How many times can I use the word “beautiful” before it loses it’s meaning? How many times can I lay here and wish for it to be possible to get onto the page?
Even if it is impossible however, I feel like the effort is still noble enough to be worth trying. And even if I fail at condensing some simulacrum of the experience itself onto the page, then at least I can say that I tried. But realize that as you read this that I’m under no dissolution that these letters and these words do justice to what has come to be one of the most important experiences of my life.
I never like admitting it when the day is done, but there are days out here that sometimes are harder than I’d like for you to know. A part of me wants for you to believe that I can be above the suffering and that every footstep along this trail is ecstasy, but yesterday was a hard day for me. I tried to hide it in my writing, but the fact is that it was rough. It was cold and it was rainy and it was wet, and my emotions were a mess compared to what I wanted for them to be. But I made it through the day still, and as I laid there in my tent writing my journal for the day, a part of me wished that the trail could be done. The thought of having a day and a half ahead of me still was daunting.
It rained throughout the night last night, and only started to dissipate around 3am. When I woke up my tent fly was wet, and the ground was soaked. I was still dry though, and after yesterday’s miles, I figured that I could at least treat myself a little bit by sleeping in. Add to this the fact that today was day two without having my morning tea, and I felt justified in allowing myself to turn back over after the sun rose up. Once I did finally decide to get out of my sleeping bag and emerge into the day, I was shocked to find that I’d managed to sleep in until almost 8am. That’s probably the latest that I’ve ever managed to sleep in during this trail.
I suspect that the lack of tea yesterday at least partly contributed to my gloomy mood, but today, after having a day to adjust to it and a long night’s sleep, I felt rather good after breaking camp and getting onto the trail. And even though there were clouds off in the distance, I found myself in love with the trail again during the early hours of today. I have reached a point now where I regularly just start singing—never full songs, but just little pieces of songs. Mostly I don’t see any hikers anymore since it’s so late in the season to be starting a SOBO thru hike of the Colorado Trail, but also, if someone catches me yelling the lyrics to an REM song, what in god’s name do I care?
The trail wandered and wound today, but continued on its steady downhill trajectory. I was quite shocked when I started seeing yucca and little prickly pear cactus. I haven’t seen them since Durango, but then again, today was literally the lowest elevation that I’ve seen since that first day of the trail. It’s strange coming back down here again.
About half way through the day I came across two hikes sat alongside the trail. As I approached I yelled, as I almost always do when I see hikers now (it’s a habit I picked up about 300 or 400 miles ago), “WHAT UP, HIKERS!?!?!” There’s something about that as a greeting that I rather like, and it’s sort of become my catch phrase at this point. The two of them both looked at me, and as I got closer I could see that they seemed to be stopped for lunch.
“Y’all thru hiking?” I asked as I drew closer, and one of them softly said that they were. “You goin’ to Durango?” I continued, my energy way too high for my own good, and the other of the two looked back at me and responded, “maybe.”
“What do you mean ‘maybe’? Either you is or you isn’t. There is no maybe!” At this point I had grown close enough that I could see the looks on their faces and I realized that they were never going to get to Durango. I don’t know their story, nor do I pretend to, but I could see from the look on their faces, that the trail was killing them. They were 34 miles into a journey that they expected would bring them 500 miles, but everything about them said that they were in misery. I also saw, now that I was close, that their gear was not the kind of gear that you’re going to carry for 500 miles. A good illustration of this was the fact that one of the two was cutting slices off a block of cheese with a knife that looked like it weighed about half my base weight. I didn’t say anything about the knife, but remarked that the cheese looked good, and that I might like a slice of that, but by that point I could see the look in his eyes. He wanted to kill someone. Even though I was out there in love with the trail, he wasn’t having any of it. The gravity of the situation he’d gotten himself and his girlfriend into was very obvious, and I didn’t need to be pushing him to reach out with a knife that big. So I told them both, as I walked on by that I wished for them the best and that I hoped that they find themselves during this journey. I wonder now, as I write this, where they are now. A big rain storm hit their part of the trail later in the day, and I can imagine that it didn’t make them any more happy with being out here.
Most of the day I spent by myself, but I’ve become quite comfortable alone out here, especially as I get to sing my songs as I bounce on down the trail towards Denver. Even when it started to rain for a bit this afternoon, I found myself enjoying the few miles that remain of the Colorado Trail, and as the rain cleared I came upon a deer who was kind enough to let me watch her for about five minutes as she chewed on shrubs and didn’t seem to mind my presence one bit.
Since it did rain, once the storm passed me a beautiful rainbow formed up ahead (there I go with that “beautiful” over-useage again). And an hour later, the sun started to set out behind me. I was sort of trying to rush to get to a spot where I could have access to water and set up camp so that I could get a head start on writing my journals for the night and possibly get to bed early, but as I kept looking back over my shoulder, it occurred to me that this will be my last night out on the trail. As I pushed a little farther and a little faster, the gravity of it all set in and I literally came to a stop. I looked back at the setting sun once more, and took off my bag. I had a liter of water—more than enough to cook with—and this being the last sunset, it made no sense to push past it. So I dropped bag, cooked dinner, and watched what was quite literally the most awe-inspiring sunset that I’ve seen on the Colorado Trail. It was one of the few occasions where I just sat there and took it all in. I wasn’t worried about miles or about getting to camp anymore. I wasn’t worried about anything. I was completely and fully engrossed in the moment. And as I ate rehydrated lasagna for the third night in a row, I realized how much I’m going to miss this place when it’s all said and done. But I no longer mourn the finite amount of time that I have left here in Colorado. I don’t even like saying that I’ve “come to terms” with it’s coming to an end. Rather, I’ve come to embrace it. I love that I was here, and in a strange way I love that it will end. I look forward to what will come next, and I'm just grateful that I got to be a part of it for this blink of an eye that has changed me so much.
Tomorrow morning I’ll wake with the sunrise and finish my final fifteen miles of trail that will lead to Waterton Canyon and the end of the Colorado Trail. I haven’t decided what happens next from there, but I’m toying with the idea of doing something that I literally have not done in years... I might actually get myself a hotel room in Denver and soak my feet in a bathtub. I have a few options of where I go from there, how I get back to Arizona, and how quickly I do it, but for the time being, I’m going to bask in this last night under the stars, enjoy the sound of a flowing river beside my tent, and dream that it never has to end.