Double zero’s make the world spin ’round.

Day 18 and 19, 7/25 and 7/26
Miles: Zero

Double zero in Salida. Wake up, eat continental breakfast, walk a mile to hostel to book another night. Call mom and dad, talk on phone, check up on Facebook, Instagram, blogs. Walk around town with hiker friends and Dan who’s our trail dad, check out shops, eat pizza and drink beer at the local brewery/pizza shop. Stuff our faces, stomach is about to explode, walk back to hostel and crash on the couch. People walking in and out with food, beer, groceries, talking loudly and happily, laughing and smiling. Loving life one hiker day at a time, never wanting it to end, trail towns rock my world. Lunch made me so full I hardly need dinner, but instead I stuff the biggest ice cream sandwich you’ll ever see in my mouth. Food, food, food, reading, talking, hanging, relaxing. Everyone is best friends, loving life and loving the adventure. Bed time in a real bed, bunks stacked on bunks, so many beds in one room. Catching up on blogs, scrolling through phone, lights are out and finally it’s time to sleep.

Up at 8am, Dan/trail dad buys us breakfast on the riverfront. Waffles, hash browns, sausage, coffee, stomach stuffed to the brim again. Hanging out at hostel, fun times with fun people, relaxing outside, relaxing on couches. People, people, people, bright, shining, smiling faces. Walking around town again, finding the perfect hiker necklace, spending so much money on food, stuffing so much food into stomach. Back to Safeway for more groceries, back to deli for fresh veggie sandwich. 20 people smashed into hostel living room, talking talking talking some more, looking at maps, comparing gear, telling stories, hiker life is so perfect. Back to restaurant for beers and sweet potato fries, get dared to jump in muddy river. Taking off shoes and jumping in river, everyone staring while eating their dinner. Back to ice cream shop, more sugar, more food, back to hostel, more friends, more laughs. Crowding back into living room, guitar playing songs, voices are loud, laughs are often, everyone eating, everyone loving life.

Finally it’s bed time, it’s been such a good two days. Salida has welcomed me and made me feel home. Town days are amazing, they pull together the trip, yet if it wasn’t for the trail, the towns wouldn’t be so cool. Goodnight, goodnight, may everyone sleep well. No bugs, no animals, a real bed, a real pillow. Life is amazing, I’ve never been so happy, hiking is addicting, I never want it to end. The hiker community is the best, a tight group of friends, everyone loves everyone, all want to help all. Life is too good to be true, now it’s back to the trail tomorrow after a full nights rest, goodnight, sleep tight, in the morning we all shall hike.

Half way point, 20 miles, and 9 fajitas.

Day 17, 7/24
Miles: 20.4
Mileage: 232.1 – 252.5

Since we successfully walked a 23 mile day, Simone is all the sudden into big miles. Which is cool with me, because oddly enough I like walking.

“What if we just walk the 20 miles all the way into Salida tomorrow?” She says before going to bed. Originally we planned to walk 15 miles, then finish the last 5 bright and early in the morning on Friday.

“Sounds good to me, I’m up for 20 mile days whenever.” I reply, then off to dream land we go.

In the morning we begin our ritual with our new favorite part of waking up: taking a powdered coffee shot and eating a pop tart. I manage to spill the remnants of my Starbucks via packet onto my sleeping bag, which I then try to wipe off, which then spreads and soaks into my bag. Awesome, now I have coffee smells and coffee stains all over my sleeping bag, and it’s sticky. Why do I even like coffee?!

We’re walking at 8, immediately shooting steep up the trail. Some portions of the trail are green and lush, moist with lots of vegetation. This part of the trail is brown and dusty- deserty, in a way. We walk up the dusty old path, killing the first ascent as if it was a stroll up the street. My legs are feeling great, they are feeling stronger almost by the day. A 2-mile steep ascent suddenly seems easy, and rather than feeling burdened by a climb, I now look at them as a fairly easy challenge, commonly referred to as a “short little climb”. Today’s elevation profile is different than usual- It has a lot more flat than normal, less downhill, and the uphills consist of 3 or 4 shorter, smaller climbs, rather than one or two big climbs.

“It’s a piece of cake kind of day” I sing as I walk fast down the trail. I’ve noticed I’ve been singing a lot of things lately that normally, before this trail, I would just speak… Am I turning crazy? Possibly. I also sing about walking 20 miles, and the Colorado Trail, and how we’re almost half way on the Colorado Trail. Singing, apparently, is getting me through this hike.

It’s a beautiful, sunny day. I love the mornings in Colorado. The sky is blue every morning, the birds are out singing their songs along with me. The trees are green, the trail is frequently brown and dusty. I’ve realized that the Colorado Trail is a good mixture of desert and lush forest all at the same time- one minute you’re walking through an Aspen forest, beautiful white tree trunks shooting up everywhere with their green leaves hanging down, and green plant life sprouting from the forest floor. The next minute you’re walking through an open dry field, brown grass and dry bushes filling the landscape with nothingness. The land is beautiful in it’s own way, much different than I’m used to, but I absolutely love Colorado.

The trail is an easy walk today although the total elevation gain for the day will still add up to over 4,000 ft. We cruise, making it to 10 miles, our half way point for the day, at around noon. We eat lunch at a stream in the middle of an Aspen forest with our friend Dan who we’ve nominated as our trail dad. Here we learn that Aspen are all one organism- the trees are not individual, they all share the exact same roots- and in this manner an Aspen forest is born and continues to grow and grow and never stop multiplying. Fun fact of the day!

Only one miles past lunch we cross the half way point of the Colorado Trail! HALF WAY! YA! I wait for Simone there, we take pictures and a video, scream and shout for a few seconds, then keep walking because what else is there to do at the half way point? The last 10 miles is easy and I walk without stopping until nearly the end. I finally rest by an old forest service road to wait for Simone, and 20 minutes later she shows up with two guys who she’s made friends with somewhere along the way. I’m antsy to walk at this point, so I try to charge ahead again but instead we all end up walking in a single file line down the trail for the next mile or so. I’m in the back. I have to admit, I don’t like being in the back very much. My legs want to move fast, they are itching to cruise, but those in front if me apparently are in chill mode so I plod slowly behind the others shortening my steps so I can keep with the slow pace. The guys stop to fill water and find a camp spot for the night, we stop for a brief moment to say goodbye, and here our friend Zenny catches up with us. Zenny! This guy is awesome. We’d met him before at the Leadville hostel where he was nursing an injury, and we didn’t know if we’d see him again. Zenny has long dreadlocks, he’s a bit of a hippy, so chill and totally Zen about hiking and about life in general- hence the name. The three of us walk the last .9 miles while visiting and laughing and hiking FAST, finally!

Big trucks and vans are passing these three hikers with their thumbs out, for about 10 minutes all these giant vehicles with plenty of room drive right by. Finally, the tiniest little car on the road pulls over to pick us up. In the front seat is a dad and his son on a road trip from Ohio, in the trunk is clothes and food and gear, and in the backseat is a giant cooler. How the hell are we supposed to fit?

“We’ll make it fit, just start shoving stuff into the trunk”, the man says.

The poor kid up front gets the giant cooler on his lap, and here we are, three hikers with giant backpacks on our laps, smashed and squished into the backseat, unable to see thing because all of our gear is smashed in there with us. It was quite a comfortable, fun ride, given the circumstances. We get dropped off in front of the Simple Lodge and Hostel, which reads “NO vacancy” in the window.

What do three hikers do now, with no room or bed to splatter our stuff everywhere, and nothing to do in a tiny hiker town? Well duh, they walk to the nearest bar. People at bars seem to love hikers, and instantly we have several dudes crowding around us asking questions about our trip and wanting to hang out. One guy, RJ, buys us all a shot which I gladly take just as I’ve finished off my
beer. It doesn’t take long for a tiny little girl, up at 9,000 feet, who’s been on the trail losing weight for several weeks now, to start feeling the alcohol. One beer, one shot, and one giant fish-bowl-sized margarita later, I’m kinda drunk.

I eat 9 fajitas at a Mexican restaurant, to the servers dismay and confusion. It’s getting late- 10:30pm- for us hikers, so we stumble to the nearest hotel and pay way too high a price, but we don’t care.

To sleep at last, comfy and cozy and tired and drunk, in a real bed under a real roof, with real showers and other real nice luxeries. To sleep at last, in Salida, the coolest hiker town there is.

20140726-222007-80407494.jpg

20140726-222007-80407868.jpg

20140726-222006-80406616.jpg

20140726-222008-80408363.jpg

23 miles and free stuff.

Day 16, 7/23
Miles: 22.8
Mileage: 209.3 – 232.1

I never remember hitting snooze a million times, but it always happens. Luckily we only hit it about 10 times this morning instead of 100, and I sit up in bed at 6:30, all of the sudden frantic to wake up and pack up and be on the trail.

“We’re late we have to get up!” I scream at Simone who then sits up to tell me she’s been saying that for the last half hour. Hmm, I don’t remember any of that.

I eat a pop tart- delicious. And then I prepare myself for what’s about to come- it’s the morning that I’m going to dump a Starbucks via down my throat. Simone watches me, thinking I’m nuts, as I open the package and dump the entire thing into the back of my mouth. I try to swallow but nothing happens, then I take some swigs of water and finally a clump goes down. I take more swigs of water, and the rest of the little clumps go down my throat.

“Yumm! That wasn’t so bad at all!” I announce. “Kinda like an espresso shot!”

Now all of the sudden It’s a great idea and Simone wants to try it too. She takes the powdered espresso shot, washes it down with water, and is also surprised and excited that it’s much better than expected. This is going to be our new morning ritual, we decide. Five minutes later I’m all sorts of chipper and happy, pumped about the day, blabbing on and on about a bunch of nonsense that anyone still tired first thing in the morning wouldn’t care about.

Last night while we were hungry, eating more than our ration of food for the day and looking at the map, I got a twinkle in my eye and looked at Simone and said “how do you feel about a 20 mile day tomorrow?”

As soon as we realized there was a general store and a restaurant at the Mt. Princeton hot springs, that was a game-changer and a 15 mile day suddenly turned into a 23 mile day. So that is what we are doing this morning after taking our powdered espresso shots- walking 20 miles to the hot springs so we can eat.

From the moment we wake up to the moment we are walking on the trail it only takes us 48 minutes to get ready. Not too bad! I’m rather excited about this, as it normally takes a miracle to get me out of camp in less than an hour. Up we go, up our first and biggest climb of the day- a 3.5 mile, almost 3,000ft. Elevation gain climb. Not too far in I see a familiar backpack ahead, and when she turns around I realize it’s none other than our friend Peggy! We met Peggy on our very first day, and we spent the first 5 days flip-flopping with each other until we hitched into Fairplay and she continued on. We didn’t know if we’d see her again, especially because she planned to take the collegiate west route and we decided to take the east. But here we are! And here she is! We spend 5 minutes or so catching up and having a brief reunion, but we can’t take too long of a break, so Simone and I continue on up the hill.

I am happy today. I’m excited to be walking a 20 mile day, I feel good, energized, and there’s no where else I’d rather be. I spend my time walking up the hill thinking about how much I love to push my body. I think about how different people are given different skill sets, and one of mine apparently is to push my body and ignore pain. Not just ignore pain, in fact, but actually ENJOY it. I am itching to run an ultra. I want to get back from this trip and run a 50k, and if that goes well, I want to run a 50 miler. I don’t want to do it for the achievement or for the glory, but rather to FEEL something I’ve never felt before. Something that I’ve read about in so many books, and craved to find within myself so many times. There is something about feeling pain pulsating through your body- aching, throbbing, dying to slow down or stop or collapse on the ground because your energy I depleted. I think it takes a special kind of person to enjoy challenges like that, and as I walk today I am thankful that I’m one of them.

I reach the top of the climb at 9:15am- 15 minutes before the time I estimated we’d arrive. Simone shows up only 5 minutes later. She has been listening to her iPod today and apparently it’s making her faster because I only had to wait 5 minutes! Hell yes! We’re just below 12,000 feet and the trees are still clustered up here, the view is minimal. I think about the tree line in Oregon- somewhere down around 6,000-7,000 ft. What a difference! Here we are up at 11,900 feet- higher than any point in Oregon- and the trees are still just hanging out up here, just living and breathing and acting like everything is normal up at this freakishly high elevation.

We make it down quick and begin walking a 3 mile flat section which winds it’s way barely up then barely down and around a lake, very close to a highway. Beautiful log homes are spotted along the lake and buried in the hills. I decide this would be an amazing place for a vacation home. Just as we are beginning our last little two mile climb of the day I hear a deep, loud rumble from behind and I look up to see a huge, dark cloud looming above me, slowly making it’s way towards me like a lion prowling on it’s prey, waiting for the perfect time to attack.

“Where did this cloud come from!! 10 minutes ago it was 100% sunny!” I exclaim.

We are walking fast away from the cloud, just on the outside of it, and for a while we stay just a few steps ahead. Soon we start our 2 mile climb up to 10,200 ft, and the switchbacks give way for the storm to catch us. First it starts raining, then it hails. We’re walking uphill…. I know we aren’t going above tree line but still…. There’s something about walking up at high elevations with metal in our packs, metal sticks in our hands, walking directly under a dark cloud that could shoot out a bolt of electricity at any moment that makes me feel so…. Vulnerable. We continue walking but stop several times to reassess the situation. Finally, with deep, shaking rumbles coming from directly above us, we decide to put a pause to our hike for now- to stop for lunch under the relative safety of tree cover.

We sit there for 40 minutes or so, I munch on chips and beef jerky, update my blog and post on Facebook. We sit in the rain, let it dump onto our head and back from under the comfort of a rain jacket. Finally I’m getting antsy and tired of sitting still in one place for too long. My legs should be walking! I was made for walking, not for sitting! We decide to keep going and make a run for it, and we haven’t heard thunder for a couple minutes now so it should be fine, right?

Now I’m moving at lightening speed. Okay, so maybe I’m not actually moving at lightening speed, cause if I was, I wouldn’t be afraid of the lightening? I think that’s how that works. Either way, I’m moving fast. We crest the top of the ridge in no time, but still have 2 1/2 miles of ridge walking to do before we head back down. I tell Simone I’m gonna move and not stop until we’re at lower elevation. Off I go, plodding into the woods and through the trees at full speed. This section of trail is totally cruiser and I’m just walkin’ walkin’ walkin’ up the tiny ups and down the tiny downs but mostly it’s flat so I’m almost running. All the sudden I hear a CRASH! BOOM! CRASH! And some rustling in the trees to my left. I look over, startled, and there in the trees not too far off is an elk! My first elk! I stop. He stops. We get a good look at each other for a few seconds- frozen in place- then he tears off through the forest, his giant antlers crashing against the trees as if he forgot they stick out three feet from his side. Well that was awesome, I think, then I start walking again and life goes on.

The thunder is still above me terrorizing me on occasion, but I’m just on the outskirts of it now and I know I’ll be safe. I still continue walking a good clip, now set in a rhythm of my feet and my hiking poles and my breath all working together, simultaneously, pushing me onward down the trail. I’m still wearing my rain jacket although it hasn’t rained in about a half hour, but I want to get down into better trees before I stop. I don’t want to break my rhythm, and I don’t want to be above 10,000 feet while there is still a storm threatening me from above. It’s a sauna inside my jacket. Steam and heat is building up, I can feel it, so I open my pit vents and zip open my jacket and keep walking and sweating and walking and sweating.

I finally reach the downhill section where I finally stop and finally take my jacket off and finally get a drink of water. I’m so thirsty. So, so thirsty. My mouth is dry, my saliva is cottony, my throat is parched. I drink and drink and drink a whole liter almost, then Simone shows up and we keep walking down the path together. I tell her about the sauna inside my jacket and the steam that evaporated up into the air when I took it off. After a short downhill segment, we attach onto a dirt road and walk the road until we hit a young life camp. The kids are having a blast, riding go-carts. We walk in and fill our water bottles, ask them if we can take a turn on the go-carts. They say no. Damn, we tried.

I walk along the side of the highway, which is the Colorado Trail for a short while, down two more miles to the resort. Cars are driving by from both directions, honking on occasion. I get to the hot springs at 4:30. We hiked 20.2 miles in 9 hours, which we feel pretty good about for our longest day yet. I buy an ice cream sandwich from the little store- I’m completely obsessed with ice cream sandwiches when I have access to them on the trail- we walk down to the pool area and manage to get a free shower. We don’t even care about the hot springs at this point- It’s 18 bucks to swim in a swimming pool that is heated naturally and smells like minerals. Awesome? The shower is more awesome. I wash my clothes in the shower as well, use shampoo and conditioner and I even get the luxury of using silky lotion on my unshaven legs. I throw my wet clothes back on, happy that I no longer smell like a dirty, sweaty old rag, and we head to the restaurant for some real food.

I’m really treating myself tonight. I order a margarita. I order a salad, and a burger. The couple next to us have a loaf of bread with honey butter that looks absolutely fluffily delicious, and we’re talking about their bread apparently too loudly, so when the waitress walks away the couple offers it to us.

“If you’re reeeeally seeeeriously not gonna eat that….. We’ll take it!” I say to them kind of happily but also with uncertainty.

“We’re shameless.” Simone adds in.

I eat my whole salad, my entire burger, and I finish off 2/3 of a whole loaf of fresh, warm, soft bread with the best honey butter I’ve ever placed in my mouth. Finally, after eating two large dinner portions worth of food, I feel full and satisfied so we ask for our check and pull out our money.

“By the way, the couple next to you covered your tab tonight.” Says the waitress.

My jaw drops, my hands go to my mouth, and I scream “THEY DID NOT!” All at the same time.

Simone yells “WHAAAAT?!” In a freakishly loud and astonished voice, and her jaw is also wide open in shock.

Someone we didn’t even talk to, don’t even know, didn’t even make friends with, just paid for our 50 dollar tab. WHAT?! We are happy and excited and shocked and in awe all at the same time, and it takes about an hour to sink in. The waitress wishes us farewell as we walk out of the restaurant, and walk away from the hot springs, not having paid for either of the two things we came for. How is this real?

I recall a blog entry I read recently, by Carrot Quinn, who is on her second thru hike of the PCT right now. She said it how it is:

“People are so nice to us! I really don’t understand why we deserve it- walking and sleeping on the ground, that’s all we do.”

I think about this so often, after all these amazingly nice things people have done for us as hikers. People see someone walking down the street with a backpack on, and they instantly want to be your friend. They want to know where you’re from, what you’re doing, and congratulate you ahead of time. They want to give you a ride, buy you a beer, offer a bed on their couch, or buy your meal. Seriously, all we do is walk and stink and sleep on the ground. Why are we so special?

We walk the last 2.8 miles to the end of the segment, pitch the tent just as it’s getting dark. For walking 23 miles and spending 3 hours at the hot springs, we feel great and energetic.

“What an incredibly amazing day. Days like today, people like those we met today, really restore my faith in humanity”, I sleepily say to Simone.

If you ever feel like humanity is turning bad, and you need your faith restored, hit the trail for a month. I promise you everything will change. Oh the trail, I love the trail.

A day dreaming kind of day.

Day 15, 7/22
Miles: 12.1
Mileage: 197.2 – 209.3

We sleep in again, really late, but we don’t care. We aren’t walking until close to 10, which is like, extremely extremely late for hiker standards, but we really don’t care. Today we only have to go 12.4 miles if that’s all we want to do, since last night we did the big climb to shorten today’s day. We COULD go 18+ miles if we are feeling good and the miles pass quickly, but we will let the day decide that.

We share a mountain house blueberry granola breakfast, and I drink a breakfast essentials with a Starbucks via in it. Deliciously chocolatey… I recall Jabba, one of the CDT thru hikers we met at Twin Lakes, telling me there’s no need for water with a Starbucks via- you just dump it down your throat. I told him I would try it… I think maybe I’ll try it tomorrow. But for today I’m gonna drink my coffee the tasty way.

The trail shoots up almost immediately, marking the beginning of a 3 mile climb we need to conquer this morning. I don’t stop. I decide to make it to the top before I take any type of break, so I just shoot on up the thing, not even stopping for water.

I’m doing a lot of thinking on the trail today. Sometimes I think about nothing, sometimes my mind races and skips around and I think about 30 things all at once, but never think about a full topic for long enough to find a conclusion, sometimes I think deeply about one or two topics. Today is the latter. Today my mind wanders on about what I might want my life to look like when this trip is over and into the future. I think about building a tiny home on wheels so I can take my home wherever I want to go. I think about possibly buying a new car soon and when I might have the money for it. I think about my options for moving this winter, and how to best prepare and save up for the PCT. I think about boys.

Eventually my brain takes me to even deeper topics- God, religion, and spirituality. I think about what I believe. I think about what I don’t believe. I think about the fact that I actually believe a little bit of everything, how I’m open to so many different ideas. I like living that way- just being open. Open to opportunities, open to different lifestyles, open to new ideas I have yet to explore. Trips like this really teach a person to open up, I think. Meeting so many different people who live their lives in such drastically different manners, hearing about so many ideas I’ve never really stopped to consider, observing the lifestyles of those I meet along the way, who I never would have crossed paths with if it wasn’t for trips like this.

I stand and look at the mountains all around me, and I think about them too. They are so big, bulky, overpowering, daunting. They stand in mighty glory, rising above all else. They can withstand the wind, the rain, the lightening, the stands of time. But the mountains can only conquer through apathy. They can’t decide to move, and do so. They can only sit, and look big, and pretend to be too much for us little humans. And you know what? Here I am, this little tiny human being, and I’m walking up all these mountains that tower over me, threatening that I’m not enough. They try to make me think I can’t do it, like I’m not strong enough, yet here I am. I DO have the power to wake up, tell myself I am going to go tackle one of those big scary things, and do it. I DO have the courage to put one step in front of the other, slowly and surely making my way to the very top of the mountains, until I can look down and scream at all I’ve overcome. And that, is pretty awesome. The mountains are awesome too, but not nearly as daunting as one would think they are. Us humans are pretty legit.

I think about all these things and more, until I am suddenly at the top
of the climb and I return to the present, here on the trail. I take my pack off, take a swig of water, check my cell coverage, text my mom about training hikes she should go on for our upcoming Wonderland Trail hike, take a selfie, and walk up the side of the hill to the top of the ridge for a better view. Simone shows up and yells for me from below, so I walk back down and we decide to take a lunch break already since the rest of the day is mostly downhill.

The next 9-something miles pass very slowly. They aren’t hard per se, it just seems like it takes an eternity to get to the end. My left knee is starting to give me some trouble. It never hurts on the uphill, doesn’t usually hurt on the downhill, but the flats and almost-flats really get to it. I walk carefully, finding a way to walk so that it doesn’t really hurt, but then every once in a while a step sends a shooting pain through it, and I cringe, then the pain is gone. I am mad at myself for sending home my KT tape so soon. I wasn’t having any pain at the time so I sent it home in Breckenridge, to save the weight. Now I’ll need to buy some in Salida on Friday. I hope that it doesn’t get worse until then, and I hope that Salida even has it. Oh well, I think, this is nothing I can’t handle. I spend the rest of the walk carefully placing my foot down as not to jolt it, yet trying to walk a good pace and not think about it too much at the same time.

It’s 3:15 when we finally get to the end of segment 12. Before I look at the time I guess that it’s 4:30, and I’m pleasantly surprised to find out I have much more time to relax than I had thought. We decide not to make the climb tonight, since that would put us into camp late and we’re already tired. Today was only 12.4 miles, but it seemed longer for some reason. Probably just because we started so late. Tomorrow, I think to myself, we have got to be on the trail by 7 or 7:30. I’m sick of this sleeping in crap, yet I love it so much.

The rest of the afternoon passes easily as we wash up in the river, eat a mountain house dinner, and relax. Only an hour after we eat our dinners I’m hungry again, so I open up my food bag and eat most of my bag of white-cheddar cheez-its. I’m hoping they’ll have snacks at the hot springs we’re stopping at on Thursday, otherwise I’ll be hungry on Thursday and Friday. I’ve noticed my hunger has kicked up a notch, so I make a mental note that I need to buy more snacks and treats and yummy things to eat after dinner and between meals, for our next 6-day stretch, which is coming up after Salida on Friday.

It’s a beautiful night with no signs of a storm. The weather has been incredible the last few days. How luck we are. I lay in the tent, rain fly off, watching the sky above me move ever so slowly, and the trees sway back in forth in the warm breeze. I am content.

20140723-130349-47029971.jpg

Pop tarts for breakfast. Who am I?

Day 14, 7/21
Miles: 18.7 (1 to CT, 3.5 alternate route, 14.2 on CT)
Mileage: 183.0 – 197.2 (plus alt. route)

Last night was a late night for us, going to bed just before midnight, so we allow ourselves to sleep in just a little bit. We wake around 7, I eat a pop tart in my sleeping bag. Last year, on the JMT, our friends Andy and Caitlin ate pop tarts for breakfast and I swore I would never do it. I’m too health conscious for that, said I. But here I am, eating pop tarts in my sleeping bag. Who am I becoming? Who still eats pop tarts for breakfast these days, anyways?

We’re walking by 8:30 and we say one last goodbye to Kenny and Chris, our new friends from last night. We run back into the Colorado Trail 4.5 miles into our day, and decide we’ll walk another 7.8, to the end of segment 11, then eat lunch. The miles pass easily, not too steep, not too difficult of a trail. It’s only 1:50 when we arrive at our lunch stop. The Mosquitos are bad here. Real, REAL bad. So bad, that I put my rain gear on so they can’t get to my legs and arms. That helps some, but then my face and hands and feet and ankles are still exposed, and they are still driving me up a wall. I then decide to take my pack cover and put it over my head, eating my lunch from within the realm of a little blue bag. That kinda helps, but then I can’t see anything except for blue, and I can’t talk to Simone or breathe very well, so I eventually retreat back to the outside world. We probably would have taken a longer lunch but damn these mosquitos, they are way too persistent. I quit flailing my arms around for 1/2 second and 15 land on me all at once. We pack up and hit the road as quickly as we possibly can, hoping these awful bugs won’t be so bad when we start walking.

In the parking lot next to where we just ate we find a crew of Colorado Trail Foundation workers. They give me some chocolate and Simone some bug spray, we visit and tell them thank you, they tell us good luck, and we’re on our way. Our last section of trail for tonight consists of a 4.8 mile climb up almost 3,000 ft., then a 1.6 mile descent into a valley where we will camp.

The climb isn’t so bad. It’s well graded, not terribly steep, definitely not as bad as some of the climbs we’ve already had. I am feeling good, considering we have already walked 12.3 miles today, and I slowly but surely make my way up the slope. Everything is great, I’m great, except that I’m almost out of water. And it’s hot. It wasn’t too warm earlier today but at some point the sun came out and decided to bake everything with it’s mighty oven powers, and now it’s really hot out. Somehow we didn’t think about filtering water at lunch time, probably because we were thinking we only have 6.4 miles left to walk, and we both only have about 2/3 of a liter. Only about 30 minutes in I take a big swig because I’m so incredibly thirsty and my mouth is so incredibly dry, and now I only have 1/3 of a liter. Great, I think. 1/3 of a liter of water left, still probably 3 or more miles of climbing, and it’s hot. Its rough all of the sudden, walking up this hill in the baking sun, knowing that I have to save my last gulps of water for some time up the trail, once I’ve finished or almost finished the climb. I check in with Simone a few times and she feels the same way. She’s deathly thirsty, she says. I’m actually a little bit worried now, so I decide to walk, walk, walk, until I reach a water source so I can filter water for the both of us. Finally after eternity passes, I hit a tiny little trickle of water running down the hill and across the trail. There is hardly enough water to filter, but I manage, and I’m thankful we have my new filter. My old sawyer mini never would have been able to suck the drops up that this little trickle is supplying. We gulp and drink and chug almost a whole liter of water before continuing. I love water!

We arrive at camp at 6:15. Not too bad for sleeping in and then walking 18.7 miles, we decide. Today was our longest mileage day yet, and we had a pretty decent sized climb at the end of our day to top things off. We are both tired, but I realize that I actually feel really good for walking that many miles. We head down to the river for our usual routine of washing up in the water, washing clothes, and filtering, then we get to enjoy our first freeze dried meal of the trip- beef stroganoff with noodles. So damn delicious.

Life is so good, I think to myself, as I watch the sun fade behind the mountains that tower over us. The clouds turn to a shade of gold, then a shade of pink, and eventually the sky darkens and I tuck myself into my sleeping bag, thankful for everything today brought, and hopeful for everything tomorrow will become.

A zero in Leadville and back to Twin Lakes

Day 13, 7/20
Miles: 0

The Leadville Hostel is the type of place that instantly feels like home. It has Christmas lights wrapped around an arch to welcome you onto the property, tables and chairs and benches are set up in the yard and on the front porch, a giant peace sign is lit up out front. You walk in the front door and the living room is cozy and nice, with comfy couches to choose from, a flat screen tv, chairs, blankets, and inviting decor. The kitchen is open for all to use, a coffee pot is always ready for a fresh brew, and the dining area has a large table for family style meals. Downstairs, another comfortable living room area has wrap around couches, another flat screen tv, books, and anything else you might need to relax. Behind the couch you will find a pool table open for anyone to play.

We immediately love this hostel and want to stay for longer than just one night. We take care of business first- laundry, shower, unpack/organize backpack. I don’t have cell service, but the hostel offers free wifi, so I communicate with my family through iMessage, update blogs, and check email and Facebook. We spend the rest of the afternoon socializing with the others in the house, and enjoying the company of fellow CT thru hikers and new friends.

Simone and I ride the bikes provided by the hostel down to a burger joint, I stuff my face with a bacon guacamole burger and fries. Back at home we curl up on the couch for a few to visit a bit more, and eventually tuck ourselves into bed. A real bed. Such a luxury.

I wake, so comfortable and relaxed in this soft bed inside this dark, warm room. I check the time, it’s 9:30. I slept in! Thank God! It feels so good to sleep in and have no responsibilities. To not have to force myself out of a sleeping bag into the cold morning air, take time and energy to pack up camp, then take even more time and energy to walk all day long. Today we have nothing to do. And it feels soo good.

Simone let’s me know she’s a wake by whispering across the room “Bri, I’m hungry”, and that’s that. We decide not to stay another night at the hostel even though we are dying to, so we strip our beds and pack our packs, leaving them by the pool table, then head down to a diner with another CT thru hiker. I order blueberry pancakes, hash browns and bacon. The pancakes are LITERALLY the size of the plate, no joke. I manage to eat a little less then half, which is awesome cause now I have lunch ready for me.

We decide to leave the hostel at 4 to hitch back to Twin Lakes. We figure we can walk a few miles to get a head start for the morning. We say goodbye, saddened to leave this place that already feels like home. The hostel mom let’s us make a sign out of a pizza box that says “Twin Lakes pleeeease :)”.

So here we are walking down the street towards the end of downtown, where we are going to hitch from, when we hear some guy yelling behind us. We turn around and he’s waving us over to his car. Okay?

“I saw your sign! I’m going to Aspen!” The man yells.

Hell yeah, we didn’t even have to hitch! Thank God for pizza boxes! We hop in and it turns out the nice people in the car all work together and they are driving to Aspen for a photo shoot. We spend the car ride quoting Dumb and Dumber- It’s only fitting, seeing that they are driving to Aspen, and they picked up hitch hikers.

Back at Twin Lakes we eat some more food from the store- a hot pocket and an ice cream sandwich, to be exact- then we head out to the road for a 2 mile road walk. After looking at the map we figured out an easier route around the lakes, which will get us back to the trail about 3 miles sooner, and will avoid the 2 mile, non-maintained trail we used to get down into Twin Lakes yesterday. Within 3 minutes a man pulls over in a truck and offers us a ride, which we gladly take, and before we know it we are at our destination for the night without having to walk at all.

We sent up camp, discussing how amazing of a day it was. The perfect zero, we decide. Sleeping in, eating delicious food, relaxing, hanging out with new friends. What could be better? Two men are camped close by, and we end up visiting and eventually they invite us over to their campsite to warm up by the fire. As it turns out, these awesome guys bought a one-way plane ticket to the tip of South America, and they hiked, bused, and hitched their way back to the US over the course of 8 months. These guys are really cool. We spend the rest of the evening picking their brains about the crazy adventures they’ve been on, laughing, swapping stories, and enjoying their company. Before we know it it’s 11:30, which is insanely late for us hikers, so we say goodnight, march back to our tent, and drift off to dreamland almost instantly.

Summiting Mt. Elbert for sunrise

Day 12, 7/19
Miles: 5.9 on CT, 14.9 total
Mileage: 169.3 – 175.2

Before going to bed we meet two guys road tripping through Colorado who are also trying to hike Mt. Elbert in the morning. We talk about our plans and somewhere in the conversation, one of us comes up with the idea to hike it during the night, and be on top for sunrise. This plan seems brilliant to me, as I was on top of Mt. Whitney for sunrise last year. We set our alarm for 1am and call it a night.

I don’t fall asleep easily, one because I am trying to go to bed at 7, and two because it is still light out and noisy, being camped by a trailhead. Eventually I do drift off, and 5 minutes later, or maybe 3 hours later, we rise in the night to a dark sky and bright stars beaming through the trees. We put all of our layers on and pack things up quickly, then the guys come to join us and we are off, hiking into the woods at 1:55am.

Simone and I leave our packs by the Mt. Elbert trail junction, and I take the lid off of her pack to use it as a giant fanny pack of sorts, along with my puffy coat and rain coat tied around my waste. I’m rocking some trail style, for sure.

We walk up, up, up this steep, dark trail, only able to see 20 feet in front of us. We visit with the guys and time passes quickly, and so does the elevation. Eventually we hit tree line and we can see the city lights of Leadville below us. The stars are out, the moon is shining how it does, providing us with a beautifully dim light to walk by. Eventually I turn my headlamp off and let my eyes adjust to the natural lighting, just light enough to show me where the path leads.

The trail is steep. Very steep. One step at a time we make our way up towards the top of this giant mount of rock we somehow find elation in climbing on. We stop several times to look up and squint our eyes, wondering if we can see the outline of the top, or if the mountain is just playing tricks on us. It’s cool in the middle of the night, but the temperature is right enough where I only need to be wearing my hiking shirt and rain jacket, for now. I feel amazing. I’m in some kind of ecstasy, climbing up this hill, and I turn around occasionally to yell off into the sky, hearing my voice echo back from below. We can now see little bright dots of headlamps below us, a few of them slowly making their way towards us in some sort of an assembly line in the night.

Just as the sky is beginning to give it’s first previews of color, we crest the top and stand on top of Mt, Elbert, at 5:15am. I yell again and we high five and jump for joy, and I hug Simone as she sheds a little tear. She says she’s not sure if it’s from relief of being done with the climb, or if it’s from joy of standing up this high, over 14,000 feet for her first time. Probably both.

We get the summit to ourselves, just the four of us, and we pace around in circles trying to take in as many moments of the view as possible, taking mental pictures and real pictures over and over again. As the sun slowly rises, the scenery below me is changing each minute. I get to watch the skyline turn to a shade of pink and then orange. I get to see the mountains turn from a dark grey to a tinted red/orange/pink. The sun starts to shed more light, and therefore give us a better picture of the lakes dotted below and the hundreds of snow-spotted peaks unfolding into the distance. To the west, the clouds turn bright pink as they hang directly above the mountain tops, making for an elegant, picturesque scene.

My heart is full. These are the moments I live my life for, I think to myself. I would go through every bit of pain, sorrow, heartache or heartbreak that life brings (and sometimes the trail brings), just to rest in moments like these. I remember being on the summit of Mt. Whitney last year, at the end of an incredible 24 day journey with mom, feeling the same kind of peaceful elation and freedom I feel now. I remember knowing that this is what I was made to do. Some kind of deep contentment, a full spirit, a joyful heart. Moments like these, where I work my ass off, put in the time, the effort, and then stand on top of the mountain that I just conquered (real mountain or the mountain of the day), they put everything back into perspective for me. Everything back into it’s rightful place. I am perfectly content. I need nothing more.

We stay on the summit until after 7am, walking around, snapping more pictures, visiting with the growing number of people who are arriving on top. It’s hard to leave, but finally we do. Down we walk, down the steep slippery path that we scrambled up. Now, though, rather than a peaceful, quiet early morning accent, there is a steady line of people walking one after the next up this giant hill. It looks like a line in Disneyland, except everyone is sweating more.

“Thank GOD we are not coming up right now!” Simone and I discuss, as we pass what seems like a hundred or more day hikers still lined up the mountain. All the way down people are asking us over and over again “how far do I have left” and “what time did you start to be coming down so soon”, or my favorite question “did you make it to the top already?” I want to respond by saying “already? I’ve been walking since 2am. And yes, I made it to the top, I wouldn’t be coming down if I didn’t”. Instead I smile and nod, thankful that I am not a part of this zoo-train. We make it down to our packs at 9-ish, or something. We sit, take our layers off, eat, rest. 4.7 miles to Twin Lakes, and we are done for the day.

It is only noon when we arrive in Twin Lakes. The first thing my eyes see is a sign that reads “BBQ. PORK. BRISKET.” Omg! Food! We throw our packs down and order a giant, BBQ sandwich stuffed with three kinds of meat and everything my heart desires. Two CDT thru-hikers are relaxing in front of the general store and we relax with them, talking, swapping stories and picking their brains about thru-hiking. We grab our resupply and sort through it, putting a lot of it back into the box for others to take from. We talk and laugh and eat into the afternoon until we manage to catch a ride back into
Leadville, where we will get a bed for the night at the Leadville hostel. Back to Leadville, for the second time.

To be continued: The Leadville hostel, the coolest hostel there ever was, and a Nero day.

20140720-145952-53992219.jpg

20140720-145951-53991464.jpg

20140720-145952-53992572.jpg