CDT Day 85 and 86 Durango

1 mile hiked!

It’s hard not to get caught up in the excitement of the CT thu-hikers in finishing the trail. I would love to feel accomplished and sit on a couch eating my weight in curry and chocolate, watching mindless tv and movies as a great reward for this great thing, but my hiking perspective has forever been skewed by these giant long distances I set myself to hike. Even more than setting them for myself, it’s associating with epic humans who think nothing of a 2600+ mile hike, and even string together 2 or 3 of them in one year, that makes less than 1000 miles seem kind of…unfinished. I’m still excited by the hike, Colorado is amazing, and surviving so long at altitude with so many climbs is pretty awesome (if I do say so myself).
However, there are so many more miles for me to hike I can’t relax too much!
After hiking the final mile, hitching into Durango, we enjoy almost 2 full glorious days eating and watching the Lorelais (Gilmore Girls), as well as the awesomeness of Coach Taylor, Matt Saracen and Tim Riggins (Friday Night Lights) on netflix. We also take lots of showers, do laundry, buy food, all the town chores necessary for getting us back on trail.
On the third day, we rose again…from the couch and into a car. Destination: Cuba, New Mexico. Back on the CDT!

CDT Day 84 CT Day 25

28.7 miles hiked, Camping @ 7162ft
Today starts with a climb to the top of our current hill, that opens up to a view of the valley below, and all the distant mountain tops. We hike along the edge of the top, briefly winding in through the trees then back out to the edge again. In and out. We are vortexed by phone service at the top and are joined by 4 other hikers needing to press little buttons and stare at tiny screens to feel connected to the world.
Things get a little more exciting as there is a long knifes edge in front of us. There are 3 big bumps today; 3 big Stegosaurus bumps like my spine. The first is across the loose rock on the skinny 30cm knife edge trail, the ground falling away fast on both sides.
Short sharp climbs then back down again.
After the dinosoaur hiking we walk steeply down to a lake below, where we stop to collect water and eat some lunch in the harsh sun. The water is full of floating algae, but is our first for a while so we filter it and add some electrolyte mix to mask the taste. Perfect.
The rest of the trail is down down down as we begin the descent to the lower altitude of Durango. It gets hotter and hotter as we head down. There is brief respite for about 10 minutes as the clouds open up on us, but then hooooot. The trail starts following a creek, where I stop a few times to dip my hat and buff in the cool water. Finally at the bottom and main part of the creek I strip off my shirt and dip it and my head in the beautifully cold stream. There are so many biting flies and now wasps around that one hiker has set up his tent net while waiting for his friends. There’s an army of flying villains waiting to attack him as soon as he emerges.
One final small climb and then no more climbing on the CT. It’s 4 to the top and we will camp shortly after, giving us less than 10 miles to finish in the morning. I surprise myself and make really good time on this climb. Aspens and pines intermingle giving a nice breath of shade as I hike past, the grade is breath-borrowing but not drastic. I’m at the top before I even know it. Then down again.
We stop where we think there is water, however it is filled with animal bones and cow poop so we decide to skip it and try our luck with one of the many small streams we cross all day on the trail. Except it appears all those streams finished before this final climb. We’ve enough water to camp, so really we are just after a flat spot to camp. There isn’t one.
I know we are close to the trailhead because more and more bike riders are appearing. The only campsite that is referred to in the notes in my phone app is taken up. Shite.
We resign ourselves to going all the way to the water, but once there we see all the tiny places taken up. Bah grr humpf. I have to take my headlamp out now as the light is fast fading. Grizzly’s doesn’t work so we are both hiking by my tiny light.
Finally at 9:20pm we pass the sign for the  start/end of this section of the Colorado Trail. We find a small place off to the side, set up the tent and fall asleep, mad at the trail for not having a campsite exactly where we wanted it. The nerve. Less than one tiny mile to the main trailhead and the road. I’m claiming it now  – The Colorado Trail is finito! Boom!

CDT Day 83 CT Day 24

23.4 miles hiked, camping @ 11293ft
This morning I decide to have a bougie breakfast to match our bougie campsite, so I actually heat water for my oatmeal instead of cold soaking it – oh the luxury! Probably due to the water heating and subsequent coffee drinking it’s a late-ish start at 730am.
 We pass by some rv campers at the lake .2 miles from our site and start our first uphill of the day. It’s about 4 miles to the top, then we drop down a little into a meadow before climbing up to 11988 ft over what I think is the last proper mountain pass on the CT – blackhawk pass. A little lunch at the top while we enjoy the views on either side before dropping down steeply into tall grass and wildflowers on the other side. This is all very beautiful until we realise we’ve entered biting-fly hell. There are flies everywhere, and they are mean bitey flies that leave giant welts and make you scratch like a meth addict. We hike fast and can’t stop. No more breaks today!
Zoom zoom.
We stop briefly a couple of times but it is horrible, so I grab whatever bars I can, fill my pockets with the snacks and resign myself to 5ish hours on the run.
Finally at camp around 6pm, the flies have faded away and we are able to eat dinner without twirling around like whirling dervishes.
Amazingly in the tent nice and early, having marched out a satisfying 23.3 miles. No need for extra miles as we have till Saturday to get to Durango. Two easy hiking days coming up then we’ve finished the CT!

CDT Day 82 CT Day 23

20.7 miles hiked, camping @11129ft
Staying in a town that prides itself in being ‘wild west’ and catering to the RV / ATV and ride-in-on-the-train-buy-an-icecream-and-leave tourists, we aren’t that hopeful for a decent brekkie. We look at a couple of menus, find nothing and try one last little cafe on the edge of town. “How can I help you folks?” the server / owner asks as we peruse the menu. “We have vegan options too”. Um whaaat? “You said the magic word!” “You had a vibe about you, I could just tell”. Um…ok. Unsure exactly what that means, but we take our seats as he promises us delicious breakfast burritos.
He doesn’t disappoint and hot tea and a breakfast burrito are the perfect start to the day!
Afterwards we wander to the small market where I buy a bottle of green juice, a banana and a beer to pack out for Grizzly for a birthday surprise. Beer on the trail, especially beer packed out by someone else, is pure gold on the trail.
We get a ride to the trailhead with the manager of the hostel, with Grizzly and another hiker from China named Green Machine sitting in the tray of the pick up. It’s sunny today and I carefully lather the sunscreen as we start hiking. There are a lot of day hikers around, lots of mountain bikes. We hike fast to pass people and get away from the traffic jams, stopping for a speedy lunch before the flies get too overbearing and we zoom off.
We enter a fairy tale land of steep streams, white rocky staircases and an abundance of wildlfowers. The creeks cascade over perfectly misaligned rocks, reaching high above us as we hike. The flowers, bursting from the red earth around us, are shoulder high and home to the incessant buzzing of flies and bees around us. The roar of the waterfall across the canyon disappears as we head up over the top. An amazing vantage point at the top would be the perfect place to camp, except there is no flat or cleared ground here, so we hike on.
Deer prance across the meadow in front of us, amd we get to the other side disappearing once again into the branches of the forest.
A fabulous flat bougie campsite is just before the end of the section we are hiking so we excitedly set up and make dinner while avoiding the mozzies as best possible. Green Machine sets up here too and we chat a little as our mini stoves roar under our pots.
I bring out Grizzly’s beer and he acts half surprised, although he saw the conspicuous paper bag in my hand when we left the store this morning. Birthday beer!
A deer wanders past camp to wish us goodnight, and we fade away into a lovely windless, noiseless night.

CDT Day 81 CT Day 22 Silverton

I wake after a deep hard sleep. I try to ignore the call of nature for as long as possible but give in and awkwardly crawl out of the small tent door and into a sunrise alpenglow wonderland. Best 2016 trail sunrise prize! I stare for a loong time until the reds and golds fade away off the mountain and the clear daylight takes over.
I pack and head off down the other side of the mountain. Gah so beautiful again today!
We come across a gorgeous meadow with something strange on the other side.
“What do you think that is? A person?” It’s standing very still. We continue hiking and get closer. “Is it just a rock?” Closer…it moves a little. “Is that a horse??” It’s a horse. In the middle of a meadow. In the middle of nowhere. We are very confused by this very still horse with no explanation, until we hike even further and see a big tent setup on the meadow’s edge. Ah!
We hike down down down through this magic part of the trail until finally we are in the little town of Silverton.
There are so many RVs, so many ATVs, so many people eating icecream and stopping in the middle of the footpath with 5 family members to chat about nothing while obliviously blocking the rest of the world from moving through.
We wait in the lobby of the hostel for the manager to arrive so we can check in, staring at our tiny screens and trying to get things to load so we can see what is happening in the world. She arrives, I hand over too much money for our little space for the night, we throw our packs in, search unsuccessfully for our boxes of food and head down the road to the post office to find them. The postal worker rolls her eyes and sighs. “She’s not supposed to do that. If she tells hikers you can post to her hostel, she should pick up the boxes”. We agree, especially as by lucky chance, we arrived at the post office just 10 minutes before they close.
Boxes of food and a shiny package from REI containing new shoes clutched in our dirty paws, we head back to the room, throw them inside with our packs, and head off in search of disatisfying food. One mediocre cheeseless pizza and half a beer later, I stumble back down the road as it becomes clear very quickly that I cannot hold any quantity of alcohol. Half a beer + altitude + hungry Snakebite = fast drunk. Embarrasing. Half! I have no words. Or actually I have many as I trot down the road in a beer-d haze.
Back at the room it’s time to de-stink with a shower, and we give our things to the hostel people to wash in their laundry. Then – nap time. Glorious nap time! Best nap of the trail – who knew the secret was just half a beer?
I wake sober and hungry and we go in search of some decent food. It’s Grizzly’s birthday tomorrow so hopefully something yum will appear! We have amazing luck with a restaurant on a side street away from the overly themed Western saloon rubbish. Delicious fresh veggie tacos, roasted beets, hand cut fries, amazing kale salad. This time I stick to lemonade, of which I drink about 3! Yuuuuum dinner!
With happy bellys we head back to the hostel on the now deserted street – most of the tourists come in on a steam train from Durango and the town clears out after the last train leaves. It’s like being in a theme park after it’s closed.
I curl up under the sheets (sheets!), pop my earplugs in and I’m off to the land of nod once again. Goodnight world!

CDT Day 80 CT Day 21

22 miles hiked, Camping @ 12818ft
Oooh it’s been a long night of 8 bodies tossing and turning. Everyone else is up so I finally give in and take off the sleeping bag, and run straight to the stove to make coffee. We are having a super bougie backpackers pantry oats & quinoa brekkie today too! Mmm hot food.
It’s a beautiful morning as we head up the mountain and the long switchbacks to the highest point on the CT! I chat to some marmots and deer along the way and look at beautiful views below. The climb isn’t too lung busting and I’m there before I know it. 13258ft! We don’t linger long as clouds are building, and we make it about halfway down the other steep side before having to put on rain gear.
We have a food break at the water stop, where 5 of us have traffic jammed, then onwards and upwards along the side of a mountain. There aren’t any trees up here (above treeline) and I love the way that makes the contours of the montains and valleys stand out. So dramatic with the varioud shades of green grass and bushes, the purple and white rocks jutting out. Grizzly spies a moose down eating the willow below! Then another! And another! One is huge! He’s pretty far away but the size of his antlers is stunning. Continuing up the climb I look up to the top of a ridge and see a deer perfectly silhouetted against the stormy clouds. Gah I wish I had a decent camera with me! Some things are just for my memories only.
There are so many climbs today. Up and over abother little saddle and the new world ahead on the other side looks like lots of orcas lying on top of the mountains. Little patches of snow curve around the tops making bodies, with melted circles that form eyes. I imagine whale songs as I hike. Or maybe I hear them as the air is thin and I’m a bit spaced out!
So many climbs. So many beautiful little worlds at each one that so few people get to see. I’m up in the actual ridge of the continental divide. It’s wonderfully quiet up here, the kind of place I imagine smarter people than I thinking the world’s greatest thoughts, writing books, penning songs. My mind wanders around in its little altitude daze and doesn’t land on anything in particular, other than to stop me every now and then just to stare and soak it in.
It’s beautiful but exhausting. Definitely one of my hardest days, whether from lack of sleep, altitude, the actual hard climbs or something else I don’t know but I am so ready for camp. My phone dies so I’m not sure how far I have to go. I think I’m on the last climb  – the campsite is supposed to be halfway up but when I’m nearly at the top it’s not there. “F*CK!” I yell at the world. I’m at that 2 year old tartrum-tired point and feel like crying, except I’m too tired to do that and the marmots have no extra tissues..I asked them. “Any spare food?” Nup. None of that either. Soooo sleeeepy.
Finally hooray! I’m at the top! And there is the little lake. And there is the little tent already set up. And there is the most beautiful view I’ve had at a campsite. I got it wrong and it was always at the top, not the middle. So high! So much altitude!
We are both shattered and starving. We boil water to share a backpacker’s pantry dinner, and while we wait the preposterously long time for it to rehydrate here at altitude, we make more water and eat some miso and some ramen. 3 dinners!!! Good thing we have town tomorrow and more food coming…we decide eating now is much better and we can stretch out what we have for tomorrow. Eating now and screwing ourselves out of calories later on is always the best choice…
Oh happy tummy! We lie in the tent and listen to Harry Potter on audiobook before fading away, with orcas swimming in the mountains around us. Oh sleep! Oh beautiful day!

CDT Day 79 CT Day 20 Yurt!

9 miles hiked, Camping at 11942 ft
I wake up early because my body is stupid and likes to wake up early in town. If I was on trail I could easily roll over and sleep another 2 hours, but because I don’t have to get up I can’t get back to sleep. Stupid Murphy and his laws.
I have a quick shower before the masses of people invade the bathroom, then trot down the road to get yummy coffee.
We pack and repack and charge and recharge all our things. A lovely older gentleman that I met while on my walk around town yesterday with Lindsay offered us a ride back to the trail, so we and Grizzly hang out in the sun in the yard while we wait for him.
The road is very very curvy and bendy and windy back to the pass with an amazing view back down to the valley. I spill out of the truck and wish I’d packed out some kind of ginger ale as my stomach lurches. I find a lovely rock to sit on and wait for the carsick head and belly ache to pass, then the 3 of us start our mini hike up the hill.
The skies darken with the promise of storms and we head on up as fast as we can. Not fast enough. The rain gets us and we pull out the magic tyvek to hide under while the hail hits. Thankfully it doesn’t last long and we march up and away over the hill.
9 miles done. That’s all. That’s our beautifully tiny number for the day, because at 9 miles we come to a yurt that is open for CT/CDT hikers to sleep in. Our first zero backed up by our first nero. BOOM! All the non-miles. All the resting. Yay for being bougie small-mile hikers 😀
The yurt has 4 bunks and 4 little cots that fold out, a propane tank powered oven and light, a bunch of folded chairs and a small table. It is nestled in some trees and looks out over a valley with a small stream running through the middle. It’s not luxurious, but it means no setting up a tent, no packing up a wet tent in the morning, and more hanging out with awesome people. Yay 😀
There are 5 hikers in the yurt when we get there- they were staying at the hostel last night as well. We chat and hang for a while until they hike out, wanting to get some more good miles in now that the rain has cleared. They are quickly replaced by 5 more who appear in time for dinner. We cook ramen on the stove and chat about books and travel and then I zone out as the subject moves to American football and other sports I have no clue or care about.
“Remember that sports of 19xx?”
“Of course! When all the sports happened?! The best sports ever!”
“No way! The best sports was when that sportsperson did that other sporty thing!”
All nod in agreement.
The cots come out and we decide that we have no need for our sleeping mats as we are on luxury beds tonight.
“Goodnight John-Boy” a voice echoes around the yurt.
“Goodnight!” we chorus back.
The temperature in the room drops fast. With 8 in the small space and the beds all tetris-ed to make us fit, it was pretty warm when we said goodnight. It didn’t last. I contemplate getting my sleeping mat out for warmth but decide it will be too noisy. Instead I stay cold and awake staring at the stars through the skylight. The stars are bright and I doze dreaming dreams about log fires.

CDT Day 78 CT Day 19 Lake City

Zero Miles Hiked!!!
I wake early and lay in bed as long as possible before getting up in search of coffee. I find it at the San Juan coffee house – yum coffee if you are ever in Lake City – and catch up on wifi things before heading back to the hostel with a birthday muffin in hand for Lindsay, a badass hiker staying at the hostel. Everyone has to have at least one little birthday surprise!
Our ride back to the pass is leaving earlier than we anticipated, so we decide to hang at the hostel for a while instead and get a ride later. We need a morning off as we are both exhausted. It doesn’t take long to decide that a morning off might not be enough, and we cave in and put our names on the bunk list for tonight  – we’ve been vortexed into a zero day! Our first zero day for the CT – 357 miles of hard hiking and we’ve earned it 😀
The rest of the day is a wonderful lazy day of eating, baking, eating the baked things, buying expensive food from the market across the road, sitting, going for a walk around the entire town, chatting about hiking and post-hiking futures and dreams, a failed attempt at a nap, eating some more.
It’s just what the doctor ordered. It’s an uncomfortably full house tonight as there are some extra people that are tenting in the yard and staying in their cars that are hanging in the hostel. Not quite the perfect quiet rest day I’d hoped for but good nonetheless.
The day passes way too quickly and it’s bedtime. My earplugs are doing a perfect job of keeping me nicely asleep, until the 6’10” guy in the bunk perpendicular to mine manages to stretch out his legs and kick me in the face. Oh joy. Oh hostels. I try to head to the couch to sleep but it’s already occupied. Bah!!! So much for a restful pillowed sleep! I curl up as small as I can and doze on and off in fear of giant feet for the rest of the night. Can’t win them all!

CDT Day 77 CT Day 18 Lake City

16.6 miles hiked, staying in Lake City
The vampires got me. The flying mosquito vampires have taken all my blood and my silly body hasn’t figured out it needs to produce more to keep me moving up here at altitude. Yesterday when we crossed over the pass we entered the San Juan mountains, which look to me like big sleeping giants curved around forming peaks and valleys, covered in a soft green fur. The trail is very skinny so looking back up at San Luis peak makes me dizzy and feel tiny tiny tiny.
We have 4 climbs today before we get into town. 2 big steep ones, 1 little steep one and 1 less steep but looooong one that heads over an exposed mesa.
I’m so very tired right now – sleeping at such high elevation is rough and I don’t think my body rested well. I feel as though I’ve just finished a massive set of lunges or squats. With just a couple of steps my legs are feeling burning and shakey. As always I just have to take it 1 step at a time – there’s only one way to get into town and get a rest!
It’s beautiful scenery and I’m going slowly. We stop at the top for a few minutes of each climb, at the bottom for a few minutes less. I don’t even know what I’m thinking about today – thinking takes too much energy.
3 climbs down before the clouds start congregating and inevitably exploding on us. There’s thunder but it luckily seems to be skirting either side of us. Finally we’ve finished all the climbing and all that’s left is the mesa. Big flat expanse of grass and scattered flowers, with giant storm clouds right in front of us. Zoom zoom as fast as I can go. I love the big wide open space here- it would be cool to camp on but the clouds are booming and town is calling! It’s sprinkling but nothing crazy and amazingly I make it to the bottom of the hill to the road where two other hikers are trying to hitch in as well. There’s not much traffic at all, until a giant car pulls over and beckons the four of us at the trailhead over. Just then it starts to pour. Absolutely buckets down. These amazing people in their giant car are angels! It turns out they are CT hikers who had to get off trail due to illness, so they and their giant dog are doing trail magic runs for a couple of days. Awesome people!
It’s beautiful scenery surrounding Lake City; the town is plonked in a valley with mountains all around. We find some bunks at the hostel which is filled with hikers, shower, don some strange loaner clothes, then wander down the end of the road to do laundry and buy our food resupply.
Yay for rest and awesome hiker people to hang with. I eat a can of soup and a pint of icecream and chat around the big table in the hostel with the other CT hikers. Yay for trail community! So many have been hiking right around us but we’ve never met – it’s amazing how you can hike the same pace as someone for weeks and not cross paths.
I say my prayers of thanks to the gods of earplugs and pass out fast. I will sleep haaaard tonight.

CDT Day 76 CT Day 17

24 miles hiked
Camping at 340.8 @ 12031 ft
After 2 alarms and 4 tries to get Grizzly to wake up, I give in and roll over for more glorious glorious sleep. Last night right before we shut our eyes we checked the maps and saw that San Luis peak was just off the trail today, a great chance to ‘bag a 14er’. However the trailhead is 12 miles away, and the peak 6 miles on from that so it meant we had to get up stupid stupid early in order to get up the mountain before the afternoon storms roll in. Great idea before going to sleep, stupid idea at 345am. I try to wake Grizzly, dash out of the tent for bladder emptying and decide its too dark for me to want to hike alone. Oh well, we do enough bloody climbing out here without the extra 14ers.
When I finally stir again there is actual sunlight on the tent! We are in a somewhat elevated campsite with only a few trees around us so we are treated to some warming sunshine first thing. Yay!
We follow a wide dirt road for quite a way, with rolling meadows around us. Around one corner we spy a coyote dashing across the valley. The climbing has begun and the sweat has begun pouring off us early. When we enter a grove of aspens the cool air is like a thousand lovely tiny fans blowing in our skin.
We chat to and leapfrog a few hikers along the way today – yay hikers! There is a wide creek crossing with no log to balance on or stones to hop across, so I take off my shoes and socks and walk on through. At the other side it’s a short steep climb up the bank, then we are following the creek all the way up the valley.
At a trailhead we have the luxury of pit toilets, then continue on following the creek through thick vegetation. We have just finished filtering more water, and are climbing along the trail when Grizzly calls out – Moose!!! A bull and a cow hiding in the trees by the water. So exciting! I’ve been hanging to see some moose for soooo long!!! We stand and stare at them for a while, and they stare back before resuming their grazing. As we are watching 3 nobos come along the trail and watch with us, and we belatedly realise it is buddy backpacker – a badass family that is hiking the CDT.
Onwards we climb – it’s 8 miles uphill with the trail getting skinner and bushier as we climb. I enter the “Snakebite death zone” – elevation above 12000ft. I get stumbly and weirdly shakey. I stop and eat a bar at Grizzly’s insistence. “There you go body” I think. “Now freakin chill out”. But body doesn’t listen.
I’m breathing deeply heading up the hill, and can’t get enough air. I start feeling claustrophobic with my headphones in so throw them off … possibly a mistake. Now I can hear my hagged breathing which seems to make it worse. My throat suddenly feels like someone is choking me and I start to head down that horrible rabbit hole of a panic attack. “You are fine” I breathe in “you are fine you are fine you are fine”. I try to do my meditation tricks – I observe the panic, acknowledge it, and dismiss it. Nup.
“You are fine you are fine you are fine”.
But I’m not. My mind spirals into all the dark dark corners it hoards for moments just like this, so I can tell myself all the reasons I’m not fine.  My whole body feels like a coffin – I need to strip myself of this strange bag of flesh that is suddenly too heavy and big and tight around me. “Don’t black out don’t black out”.
I’m at the top finally and shaking. I stumble forward and turn to start the descent. At some point I must have started crying because there is a huge mess of tears and snot pooling under my chin and falling to the ground in front of me.
It’s quieter on this side. Was it even noisy on the other or was it just in my head? It’s quiet and peaceful and I can feel the horrible tide turning away and my breath getting under control. The wind picks up and blows my sweat soaked shirt cold against my skin. For some reason all I can think about is a giant mug of my Mum’s pumpkin soup with fresh bread, eating it in front of her fireplace with dogs all around me and watching the eagles on tv. This just makes me cry harder. I’ve somehow tapped into a giant reservoir that was waiting for a panic attack over a mountain pass to explode. I cry for the soup I won’t taste again, the house that is not our house anymore and most of all for the hugs I will never feel.
The sun comes out and warms me. Somehow this is a small comfort and I think “there you go. The sun is your comfort now.”
We hike only a little further, collect water and look for a flat-ish space in this steep world. As I’m walking back to my pack with my full water bottle, I look up and am staring directly into the eyes of a deer. She’s only a few feet away and we’ve clearly both startled each other. I smile and feel a little warmer.
We set the tent up just in time to hide from a small burst of rain. I’m drained. Too tired to even eat. I bundle up and cross everything that I can get through the 4 passes we have to climb before getting into town tomorrow. Ah town. Pillows and hot water sound just about perfect.