This post was written in my sleeping bag at the end of a long day. Please excuse any errors.
Leaving Silverthorne does not go well. The bus radio says it’ll be 85-95 degrees today, with a 10% chance of thunderstorms. This, of course, means a hundred percent chance for Fun Size. Then I find out that, while I’m on the GDMBR, the road is busy. And that Spotify, essential for long road walks, has deleted everything I’ve downloaded. I pick up my bag awkwardly and reinjure my wrist, which I’d sprained back in April. I wrap it up and keep walking.
People tell me road walks are dangerous, and now I believe them. I’m not paying attention to where I’m stepping just a few miles out of town. I step off the asphalt and roll my left ankle hard. Down I go, onto my right knee, ripping my pants. My phone bounces out of my pocket to the ground, screen cracked. I bandaid my road rash, but there’s no soothing my pride. I’m far more upset about my awesome pants than my abused phone. I walk along the road, past river rafters and farmland. A baby thunderstorm rolls through, and I watch the lightening bounce off distant peaks. I can see a larger wave building behind. A few Tour Divide racers roll past and wave at me. “Good luck!” I call out. I climb up towards Ute pass. From here, I’ll connect dirt roads towards Fraser, where I can take more dirt roads and pick up the CDT to Grand Lake. I keep looking behind me at the gathering storm. This doesn’t look good. But there is nowhere to stop and nothing to do but keep walking. Finally, I find a little flat spot right before the pass. I’m so high, but I’m out of time. I throw up my tarp and abandon my ice ax and trekking pole lightening rods far away from me. My tarp is badly pitched, but there’s no time to fix it as lightning arcs across the sky. I count between flashes and thunder. 8…6…3….2…. And then the storm is on me, thunder rolling so fast I can’t tell where one strike ends and the next begins. This isn’t the Colorado thunderstorm I’m used to, with lots of rain and only lightning every few minutes. This is ferocious. The rain comes down so hard that my tarp sags against me. I crouch on my mat, ears covered from the relentless thunder and pray for it to end. Finally, I can count between strikes again. The rain comes down, but now it’s eight seconds between flashes and roar, then ten. Sore, exhausted and emotionally fried, I fix my tarp and hope that tomorrow will be better. In the morning, my ankle aches and my knee shoots pain. But my wrist is better. Good. Hiking with a sore wrist is strangely inconvenient, but I’m so used to foot pain I don’t even notice anymore. Its hot by 9am, and I stop for second breakfast. Sitting surrounded by food, I watch a small black bear walk across the road. I do nothing for a few seconds, just watching, then realize I might not be in the best position. “Hey bear!” I say, standing up. He hustle off, but right behind is the skinniest deer I’ve ever seen. “You’re going to get eaten!” I tell it, but it pays no attention. I have no desire to watch this, so I pack up. A little later, a Tour Divide racer stops to talk to me. I’ve seen plenty so far, but they mostly just wave and shout a greeting. He’s from New Zealand, has done some of the TA and is just as impressed by what I’m doing as I am by him. He tells me he’s in 12th place and I’m excited for him. He pedals off and I hike on into the heat. Thunderstorms build and so do my nerves. Each wave is more menacing than the last, but they all hit to the south of me. I camp at the end of national forest land, five miles from Fraser. I have service, so I look for a weather forecast. 40% chance of thunderstorms tomorrow. What does that mean in Fun Size thunderstorm math? 400%? I’m up at five and can’t sleep, so I start hiking. The sky is a brilliant red. A boy is selling coffee and donuts on the side of a dirt road for 50c. He can’t get much business- he’s so excited when I stop. I only have 5c or $20, but he quickly tries to give me it for free. I give him what I have and walk on, my mood lifted. Fraser is bigger than I expected, so, of course, I have to stop for breakfast. The waiter gives me pointed directions to the bathroom. I hike out on a bike path, then hit dirt roads east of Tabernash. Clouds build and build. And then, the thunder starts. It rolls so low and loud I can feel it in my teeth. I’m climbing, about to hit a ridge and I do not want to be up here. This is going to hit me. So I turn around and down I go. A woman drives past and asks if I’m ok. Kinda? She asks if I want a ride to town. I think about crouching in my tarp, terrified, the other night and say yes. She drops me at the bar in Tabernash. It’s closed, so I sit outside. The owner invites me in. Once I am inside, there is a couch, wifi, and pointed directions to the places in town I can shower. I guess the humidity is making me smell fantastic. The bartender makes me a Huckleberry vodka drink and waves off my card. It’s the second time in a week I’ve gotten free drinks in a bar. I normally never get drinks bought for me. The liquor gives me courage, and I head out as the next wave builds. I duck into the porch of another business just a half mile down the road, watch lightning kiss distant peaks, then beeline for the other side of the valley and treeline. I go back up. I’m faster this time-the air is cool, washed clean of the humidity. I dodge another storm wave in a crop of trees, then watch the next build as I climb. I wanted to hike late, but I am defeated. Next campsite, I tell myself. Next place you’ll feel safe. There’s a little beige truck parked in the next spot, but it’s a huge parking area, so I break all the rules of thruhiking by roads. Don’t camp on the road. Don’t camp by random trucks. Stranger danger. Of course, the best way to fight stranger danger is to be aggressively friendly, so I go ask if they mind me camping by them. Seth and Kaitlyn are agressively friendly right back at me. They’re living out of their truck, a lifestyle choice that I’m very much in favor of. They give me beer and chat to me, not even minding when the rain drives me back to my tarp. They make use of a pause in the storm to bring me dinner. It’s pasta with sausage and asparagus. I don’t even like asparagus, but at that moment, the vegetable is the best thing I’ve ever tasted. I lie awake at night, watching the lightning flicker like the reflection of a TV screen in a dark room.
I’m hiking by 5:30, trying to beat the storm. I pass a beautiful bull moose as I climb, hiking fast. I reach the CDT and it welcomes me back with open arms. By open arms, I mean blow downs, Marsh and faint trail, but I’m still home! No matter how much the CDT hurts me, I keep coming back to it. I meet some hikers I haven’t seen since Pie Town who flipped as I’m dropping down to Monarch lake. They tell me there’s a group a day ahead of me, but no one else. More exciting, they think Glimmer and Chris are still in Grand Lake. I keep hiking, through day hikers around the lake. It’s hot, but the clouds aren’t building the way they normally do. I get to the border of Rocky Mountain National Park, my first new park of the trip. I can’t camp in the park, so I decide to push through. It’s too early to stop. A mile into the park, I find a large pack of jerky. I grudgingly pick it up to pack it out. It’s really heavy. Then, a few miles down the trail, I find the jerky’s owner. Two guys, travelling with mules, had a bad day. A mule fell in the lake in one of the washed out spots I had to scramble around, and another spooked and lost all its gear. They ask me how far they are from town. They don’t have maps, but because of poor planning rather than mule disaster. I pull out my ley maps, make them take photos on their phone, then promise me they will find maps once they get to town. I leave RMNP, but there’s nowhere to camp in the two miles to town. Guess I’m doing a thirty today. I make town and it is overcrowded. Every hotel has a no vacancy sign. I’ve heard about a hostel, but I can’t find it and I have no wifi to look up an address. I’m so tired I can barely function. Finally, I find my most expensive hotel room of the trip so far. But it has good wifi and breakfast, so at least there is that!