23.8 miles hiked, stealth camping roadside at 8061ft
I’m up and out early, keen to wipe the yuckyness of yesterday’s encounters from my skin. It really was a cold night and there is silver frost hugging all the little blades of grass around me.
It’s road walking to start the day – I collect more water from the spigot and am off.
It doesn’t take long to warm up and I do the annoying stop-and-remove-layers dance. The trail veers off the track in into a proper trail following a stream through a canyon. It’s pretty crosses side to side of the stream which appears and disappears underground. A little stream off a pond is the next water and then up into a great high walk with nothing around. Big fields of blonde grass wave in the strong wind, and sparse trees with little bits of shade lure me off the trail regularly for moments of respite from the sun.
I spy some coloured splotches on the trail up ahead, which turn into humans as I get closer. They have clearly seen me and are waiting to say hello. They are an older trio out for the weekend to do some wolf watching! They come out each year for a few weekends as there is a wolf den in the hills around the area. We have a nice chat, she shows me some cool tracking charts which I photograph so I know what I am following. I love seeing animal tracks and trying to figure out the story of who is on the path in front of me. Every night it seems that the trail turns into an animal party and every morning I try and reconstruct the narrative from their tracks. Now I have something to help my inaccurate assumptions. I assure them I will keep my eyes peeled and email them if anything exciting happens!
The trail is now following roads for the rest of the day. It leaves the high open fields and winds in through some pine trees. Lots of podcasts (Rich Roll is my podcast of choice! I stockpiled his podcasts through the year so I can listen on the trail. Did the same thing on the PCT last year!) help pass the time and my mind wanders along with the stories and expands with new ideas and inspiration.
Some lovely national park service employees stop and offer me a litre of water which I gratefully accept. My next source is in a few miles and is actually a nice little stream that flows alongside the road, except that it has been trampled by a zillion cows and is full of poop and cow tracks. I manage to find a non-cowed place to refill from and put in a few more miles. The road is winding up and up in elevation, going around curves as the canyon narrows around the road, the ground turns from dust and pine needles to grass.
I round one corner and as I look straight ahead down the road I see a huge beautiful white shaggy beast walking through the trees. WOLF! A freaking WOLF! Amaaaaaazing!!! I try to walk quietly so I can see it better, but I am loud, and the wolf is fast. I hang around the area, camera in hand trying to capture a look. Although I know wolves aren’t really a threat to humans, I don’t want to seem like a predator so don’t hang around too long. How bloody cool. The people that were actually out to look for the wolves had no luck, and here I am on a much busier road, in a seemingly less likely place and I manage to see one. So lucky. So excited 🙂
I find a little stealthy spot with as much wind protection as I can, and get ready for sleep. I hear a clambering on the hill above me then hear the yell of an elk! I’m pretty sure it’s an elk. It has the same other-worldly quality as a bugling elk (but not bugling). I feel bad as I imagine he/ she is calling out to his/ her friends. Maybe she’s lost? Poor elk. Maybe she’ll find them in the night.