This post was written in my sleeping bag at the end of a long day. Please excuse any errors.
I’m sitting in my hotel room in Encampment, looking out the window, when I see a familiar figure. Wild Land! I kidnap him, forcing him to split my hotel room. In the morning, we get breakfast and new hats for the long, hot, dry section ahead.
The hitch into town took me five minutes, but it’s a long wait and two rides before we’re back at the pass. We grab some trail magic soda and look at the sky. It’s close to noon. Thunderclouds loom. Low route it is then! We walk the highway to a dirt road, which becomes an actual Ley alternate, so we feel good about our bailout choices. We watch the clouds- I attract storms and Wild Land repels them, so it’s an exciting battle. They keep their distance, but Wild Land gives me the trail title of Fun Size the Storm Queen. We’re up early. The sky is already dark with clouds. Wild Land is a pilot, so he’s had hours of weather training and he tells me he thinks a cold front, which brings big, high intensity storms, is coming. A mile from where we camped, the trees end. There’s no lessening, just a sudden stop. I hug a tree goodbye and then we head out into the nothingness. There are no trees here, no shade, nowhere to hide. Just long rolling hills that drop into ravines, sometimes with muddy, alkaline water. Pronghorn antelope run from us, fluffy butts bouncing. Clouds race overhead, keeping us cool although we watch them carefully. We’re on the Great Divide Mountain Bike route again, and it is busy with bikers. We stop for lunch with some of the friendlier ones. One guy tells me we’re the most well adjusted CDT thru hikers he’s met and most just walk past him with a thousand mile stare. It’s a long, hot, flat afternoon, walking across the plains. A man stops and gives us water, then a man gives me a beer. It’s in a bottle and I can’t actually drink it, but it still makes me happy. Then the Sherrif stops. He gives us water and warns us about rattlesnakes. Wild Land does his little emergency personnel thing, and I drop my pack. When he’s ready to continue, I find that I can’t. We check out maps- best we can figure, we’ve done 33 miles by 6:30. I consider popping an ibuprofen and trying for 40, but we’re right by a reservoir, and even though the water is disgusting, it is a good camp spot. We think it’s ten miles to town in the morning, but it turns out to be 15. I have a half litre of good water and two litres of nasty alkaline water that I do not want to drink. We’re on trail by 5:30, sky red as the sun starts to hit storm clouds. I sip my half litre the whole way, making it last. I count down miles- at two miles I have a mouth full left. Wild Land isn’t doing much better. I run into town on empty. We find a little donut shop, run in, grab Gatorade from the cooler and chug before even paying for it. A lot of water, coffee and a Thai buffet later, I feel much better.