This post was written in my sleeping bag at the end of a long day. Please excuse any errors.
Salida is cute and artsy and I’m half in love with it just because it’s not the CDT. My hitch drops me at the hostel and I do my chores. They have a scale and I weigh myself. I’m down 11 pounds already- my entire buffer of extra weight that I worked so hard to put on is gone. So out I go and I eat and eat and eat.
I’m on dinner when I get a message from Tennesteve. He’s in town and saw my stuff at the hostel. I’m so excited for a friend! He’s sick of the snow too and has decided to take time off. He’s going to go work for a few weeks. I wonder if I should flip. There’s not a good way to hike this trail if you don’t like snow and it’s frustrating. I can go to Wyoming and hike north, but there will be too much snow in the winds for me to do my dream route through there. I can hike south from Southern Wyoming, but I’ll be right back in the snow. Or I can take time off. Or I can quit, which sounds mighty appealing in the moment. My friend Rich recommends that I check out Gunnison while I’m in the area. I book a ticket for the evening. By lunch time, I feel sick to my stomach and dizzy. And exhausted, but that’s pretty normal for a thruhiker. I get on the bus. It goes through Monarch Pass which is cloaked in snow and the thought of getting off the bus makes me want to throw up. Or maybe that’s whatever’s suddenly wrong with me. I reach for a handy trash can and spend the rest of the ride doubled over it. I don’t feel better the next day. I walk to get coffee and I’m so dizzy on the walk back that I have to sit down on benches multiple times. This isn’t good. I spend some time googling Giardia symptoms. My hand sanitizer exploded leaving Chama and I might have mixed up clean and dirty water bottles at some point. It’s possible I’ve picked something up. But the next day, I feel much better. I take the bus to Crested Butte and walk around. Suddenly, I want to hike. And I am so, so angry at the CDT. Angry for the way it makes me doubt myself and doesn’t give me a moment’s break. Angry that I can’t hike it the way I want. And so I decide. I’m going to keep going north. But I’m going to do it my way. Low routes. Bail outs. Sticking to the CDT as much as possible, but nothing dangerous. I’ll take the lower Colorado Trail to Twin Lakes. And from there? I’ll figure it out as I go. I hitch and hike and hitch again to get back halfway up Marshal pass. Got to have those continuous footprints! From here, I’ve figured out a route to the Colorado Trail that avoids the snowy mess of Monarch Pass. I take dirt roads to a little trail that connects to more dirt roads through fields of cows and goats and llamas. I make it to national forest and that magical free camping before dark, but every spot along the road is taken by car campers and it’s steep on one side and a raging river on the other. I finally find a spot by a family that don’t mind my company. In the morning, I find the CT. It’s hot and dusty, but the trail feels like the PCT, winding along a ridge through Aspen groves. The trail is so beautifully maintained. And there are day hikers! And mountain bikers! For the first time in a long time, I hike alone but I don’t feel lonely. I feel sick and tired again the next morning. I guess this is my new normal for a little while. I hike fast and reach the road to Buena Vista by 10am. I’m sitting down at the trailhead trying to decide what to do about the snowy 12,000ft pass I have next when a man with three overly friendly dogs comes up. We have the normal chat- what am I doing etc. And when I mention I’m supposed to be on the CDT he gets a puzzled look on his face. Do I know Thunder and Snow? Yes! It turns out he’s friends with them. We chat a little about how awesome they are and then we go our separate ways. I decide to roadwalk around the pass. What’s the point of making your own alternate around the snow if you head right back into it? I’ve been walking for maybe 45 minutes when Thunder and Snow’s friend drives past. Do I want a ride to town? I hadn’t planned on Buena Vista, but he catches me just as I’m starting to get hangry, so I say yes. Soon, I’m sitting in a little cafe, failing to get the wifi to work. But at least I have a burger and can charge my phone! I swing by the gear store to buy a little more food- I’m so hungry. I ask the guy behind the counter if he’s heard any trail conditions. He looks at me like I’m insane and tells me last year had way less snow and he had friends bailing off the trail all over the place. Right then. Time to go see how bad it is! My new friend drops me back where he picked me up and I continue my roadwalk. I might be taking strange paths, but I have my continuous footprints, damn it! More people stop and ask if I need a ride to town. I just smile and tell them I’m fine. I wake up in the middle of the night nauseous. The wind howls and I toss and turn. Just before dawn I have to dash from my sleeping bag for an emergency cathole. Two seconds later, I throw up. Lightheaded and dizzy, I lie back down feeling sorry for myself. But it’s not long before I feel a little stronger. As the morning progresses, I feel better and better. I climb up for my first pass of the day at almost 12,000ft. There’s a few snow patches, but nothing I can’t handle. The trail throws me back to the valley floor and then I climb back up. Maybe it’s whatever’s been making me sick, or the endorphins from climbing, but I feel fantastic. I know my blog this summer has been a lot of whining about how hard the trail is for me (It’s so hard you guys… So hard!) But I still have these moments of euphoria that make thruhiking so fantastic. I hike along, having my own private dance party to my music, cruising on the downhills. I camp just a mile before Twin Lakes. In the morning, I head around Twin Lakes to the general store. Despite being able to see buildings on the other side, it’s a long six miles to circumnavigate. I find Frank there waiting for new shoes. We sit and drink coffee and eat badly microwaved breakfast burritos as other hikers roll in. As much fun as it is to hang out, I feel itchy after a while, and a little sick from beer and caffeine. I head out alone to camp high on the side of Mt. Elbert. I wake up as a man with skis treks past my tent to climb Elbert. I’m already glad I’ve decided to climb it some other time. I could see what looked like one continuous snowfield as I walked around twin lakes. I climb around the side of Elbert, then drop down and climb up the side of Mt. Massive. I’m just dropping down on the other side when I see a familiar face. It’s Wild Land, slack packing south! He asks about my route choices and then “You’re not feeling guilty about not always being on the CDT are you?” He tells me about hikers walking train tracks rather than the trail- anything other than another snowy pass. I’d heard through the hiker grapevine in Twin Lakes about other hikers getting off trail both temporarily and permanently for the snow. Seems like it’s getting to everyone. I say goodbye and I climb up and up. I’m not paying close attention to my maps and gps since I’m on the well marked Colorado Trail, so when I start seeing snow patches, I assume I’m at my 11,800 ft pass for the day. I eat it, thankfully not falling far, but the trail just gets snowier and snowier as I drop down. I see a high, snowy mountain in front of me and finally find my position on Guthooks. That was only an 11,000ft pass? The snow level has consistently been around 11,500 so this is a shock. I do not want to go 800 ft higher. There’s a road that leads straight to Leadville and I take it. It will give me more options to walk around the 12,000ft passes on the next section anyway. I camp away from water, but still in mosquito hell. The mosquitoes buzz in my ear all night and find their way under my headnet. By morning, I’m ready to be in town again. I hike fast; my magic roadwalking speed is back. I’m on the outskirts of town, heading to try and find somewhere to stay when Amy pulls over. The side of her car is covered in national park stickers and she’s wearing a 14ers shirt. Do I want a ride downtown? I hop in. She asks where to drop me. I say maybe the hostel? But I’m not sure if there’s room.. There’s a big race in town tomorrow. She asks if I want to stay at her place. The random kindess of strangers has blown me away on this section. From people who shuttle me into town and back again, to those who open their homes to me. One of the advantages to hiking a trail without too many established trail angels is that when people do things like this for you, without knowing who you are or what you are doing, it feels so much more genuine than the PCT trail angels who churn out kindness to so many people. Even when the trail beats you up, there are always people who will help you back onto your feet.