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.

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Feeling better FINALLY!

Day 11, 7/18
Mileage: 13.1
Miles: 156.2 – 169.3

I eat a blueberry nut KIND bar first thing when I wake up, and I’m pretty ecstatic about it because it’s the first meal in going on 4 days that hasn’t made me feel sick. And it tastes good. Finally! This is a really good sign, I think to myself.

We’re on the trail walking by 7:45, still later than we’d like but what can you do? Today’s gonna be an easy day, anyways. The path almost immediately shoots basically straight up. We’re huffing and puffing our way up the steep slope, one foot in front of the other up and over rocks and tree roots that form very uneven steps all the way up. And then I realize that I don’t need to take breaks! And I feel good! And my legs feel strong today! Thank God, I think this sickness is finally passing. I am so thrilled by this that I cheer myself on and celebrate by walking faster. In just a few short hours we make it to the top of our first climb of the day, and we both feel great. Back downhill to mile 6.2, where we were supposed to camp last night before we got overtaken by the terrible heavy-leg-tired-body illness, and then back up another 3 miles for our second climb of the day. It all passes so quickly and easily. I am thrilled.

“What if we actually have enough time to climb Mt. Massive today?” I ask Simone.

“Hmm… What if? Maybe we could?” She replies.

I do a quick calculation of mileage and time in my head and figure out that we’ll probably get to the junction to Massive around one, which would put us to camp around six, and that would put us at a little over 20 miles for the day. And a TON of elevation gain. Do-able. I get really excited by this possibility, and start walking even faster.

We stop for lunch around noon and take a nice, long break in the sun at the top of a saddle. I finish off the rest of my Cheetos, have some beef jerky, and try to eat a packet of tuna but I’m really full by this point and can only manage to stuff in half of it. Oh well, at least I’m eating! And food actually sounds good! I tell Simone of the food ideas I have been thinking of the last couple miles: all the different ways we could use tortillas- buy a package of romaine and an avocado, put tuna packet, romaine, avo, mayo and mustard all inside tortilla. Or, put our favorite rice dinner with avocado and cheese inside tortilla. Her eyes bulge and we both moan and groan with excitement for those food ideas that will happen in the near future.

The clouds are starting to roll in. Some of them have just a tint of grey. We pass the Mt. Massive trail junction just a little before 1:00 and I stop for a brief second, look at the sky, look at Simone, look back at the sky. She says no and I agree, and that is that. A few minutes later two men walk past us the other direction.

“Are you hiking Mt. Massive?” We ask.

“Yes, trying to”, they say. “We’re gonna keep a close eye on the clouds and turn back if we need to.”

We wish them luck and continue on, actually happy that we’re not doing what they are.

It’s only 2pm when we reach the Mt. Massive trailhead, our destination for the night. We are so incredibly excited to have the whole afternoon to do nothing. Nothing! Who even does that these days? Not hikers, usually. A whole afternoon of relaxing and washing off in the river, laying in the sun and reading. And eating. We are almost out of food… But we are so hungry. I talk over and over again about how happy I am that food sounds good and that I’m hungry, finally.

The river is gorgeous and clear and even deep in some parts- deep enough to get our whole bodies in! I jump in and splish-splash around for a few seconds, and then jump back out because I’m turning numb. It feel incredible. We sit by the river and warm back up, wash our clothes and soak our feet. We both feel so good today.

“This is the life!” I proclaim. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I think about how lucky we hikers are. Our “job” is to walk all day long, usually a 7-4 type of thing. We get to walk and get exercise, take pictures and see incredible views. Eat and eat and eat. Think and ponder, talk and laugh and enjoy good company. We get to breathe in fresh mountain air, and bathe in clear, ice-cold streams. And then settle down at the end of the night to the sound of water rushing close by, animals rustling in the bushes, or the rain pelting down on the tent. I am so lucky, I think again.

We spend the rest of the evening laying around, reading and writing, discussing our food and other hiker topics. We eat the rest of our chips that we were supposed to save for tomorrow. We dump Parmesan cheese down our throats. We finish off our beef jerky and a snickers bar. I’m suddenly STARVING today. Hiker hunger, perhaps?

We’re glad we decided not to climb Mt. Massive because by 3 the clouds are dark, and by 4:30 it is pouring rain. I hope those two guys make it down safely.

Tomorrow we will summit Mt. Elbert, Colorado’s highest peak (and the second highest peak in the lower 48 states, right under Mt. Whitney, which I summited last year), and arrive in Twin Lakes where we have a resupply waiting for us! So much food tomorrow- Reese’s peanut butter cups, chips, cookies, sour gummy ropes, BACON jerky, and other hiker delicacies.

What a day, I think, as I drift in and out of consciousness.

What a life.

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Kinda hiking, kinda not

Day 10, 7/17
Mileage: 10.1
Miles: 146.1 – 156.2

I wake in the night to water dripping on my face. Shit, I think. Why is the tent leaking? Rain has been pounding down on the tent, dumping buckets per second, for the last… God knows how long. What time even is it? I’m too tired and confused and worried about the leaky rain fly to look at the time, so I just cover myself in my sleeping bag and drift back away to a peaceful land where I don’t have to hike and be sick at the same time.

We wake and pack things up very very slowly. It takes me so long just to put my sleeping bag and sleeping pad away, and get out of the tent. It takes me so long to do those three things, that by the time I’m out of the tent Simone is completely packed up and ready. I ask her if she will go filter water while I put the tent away. This also takes an abnormally long amount of time, followed by shoving things into my pack and hesitating for a minute before taking off my down jacket. We’re finally walking at some late time of the morning. I decide not to look at the time because I know it’s ridiculously late. Hiker noon, as they say.

My stomach is gurgling and sending shooting pains throughout my abdomen. I have to stop several times to use the bushes. I feel so weak. So. Incredibly. Weak. What is wrong with me? As we meander our way up and over rocks on this path we are following to Durango, I wonder what happened to that girl who can hike faster than almost anyone. Where did my legs go? Where did my lungs go? And where, on earth, did my will-power go? They seem to have all disappeared. I am walking up this trail, slowly easing my way up with each heavy step, stomach hurting and legs feeling worthless. I want to cry. I read all these books about ultra runners, endurance athletes, long distance hikers, triathletes. My favorite quotes consist of words that press one to continue forward, to never give up, to seek the very limit of possibility, and then to push oneself farther. I have dreamt about running ultras myself. Of pushing myself to that limit, digging deep to find a new source of strength, then pressing through the boundaries.

Why on earth then do I feel like this today? Where is that inner voice telling me to go a little faster, a little farther? Several times I get a small dose of courage, and I try to power myself up the hill faster. That only lasts for a few seconds though, until my legs scream for oxygen and my lungs can’t gulp in enough air. I stop and hurl myself over my trekking poles gasping for breath. I hope, and pray, and wish that my strength will come back soon. I’ve somehow forgotten who that person was… Was that actually me? Did I set out on this trek to conquer all fears only to find that I am weak and powerless?

At some point during our walk, an older couple who we’ve visited with several times catches up to us, and they give me Imodium. Trail magic! Hopefully that will do the trick.

We reach the end of the segment at 2:30. We have only walked 10 miles. I do the math and can’t believe how it’s possible for me to walk that slow. Me, the person who is usually impatient with slow walkers, the person who averages 3-4 miles per hour on any given hike. I walked barely faster than 1 1/2 miles per hour today. Simone was also feeling weak today, and we look over the map wondering how we’re going to conquer the next few days. Today we are supposed to cover 6 more miles, but it’s all uphill from here and at the rate we’re walking that would put us to camp at 6 or 7. Neither of us want to walk until 6 or 7. We were exhausted this morning, we’re exhausted now, and we can’t imagine how we will feel after 4 more hours of trekking uphill. Tomorrow, we are supposed to summit Mt. Massive, Colorado’s second highest peak, in the morning. The day following, we are supposed to summit Mt. Elbert, Colorado’s highest mountain, before arriving at Twin Lakes. If we don’t get our mileage in tonight, all of those plans won’t follow accordingly. But 6 more miles tonight isn’t happening.

We mosey around the river by the trailhead, I plug in my solar charger, we sit on a log in the middle of the creek and soak our feet. We waste time until 3:30, and finally surrender to fact that we aren’t walking any farther today. Simone reminds me of a section of book she read to me on the drive over here. We discuss how we didn’t set off on this hike to prove to someone else that we can walk 500 miles, or to show off, or to look impressive. We set off on this hike to have a grand adventure, to become immersed in nature, to allow our thoughts, feelings, soul and spirit to grow and change as nature has it’s way. Plans change, and they always will. We set out on this journey knowing that it wouldn’t go according to plan, that life would push it’s way in and change our course. It’s going to be okay, we decide. Simone’s feet problems came and are now passing, and my illness will pass also. No matter what changes do occur in our plans, I know that we will still find exactly what we set out to discover. The trail provides. Nature provides.

We happily spend the rest of the afternoon playing in the water, washing clothes, reading, relaxing, resting. I take a nap in the sun, waking again at 5, and I comment on how good it feels to rest my body. We need the rest, and I believe that following our bodies needs is the best way to stay safe and happy on the trail. After all, nature isn’t in a hurry, why should we be?

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Hiking, Leadville, and hitching in the wrong direction.

Day 9, 7/16
Miles: 12.4 (plus a town stop)
Mileage: 133.7 – 146.1

We wake feeling good about the day, knowing we only have a 9 mile walk until our next town stop, Leadville! I’ve been excited about Leadville this whole trip. The town is Americas highest incorporated city- the two mile high city. It is famous for it’s elevation, and for it’s annual race called the Leadville 100. I’ve read about the race, and about those who have participated, in many of the ultra-running books that I’ve loved over the last several years. This town is famous in my eyes, and I can’t wait to see it first hand.

We get started around 7:45, and walk a pretty good speed without stopping almost the whole way. A man runs past us, twice, and eventually we find our he just ran the Leadville 50, and he’s training for the 100 coming up in a few weeks. 7 miles in I feel weak and drained so we stop real quick for an electrolyte break. Shortly thereafter we come upon a dirt road and the Colorado Trail sign points us in it’s direction. The road is perfectly level, smooth, and just barely uphill. Easy terrain to walk on.

“Wouldn’t it be nice if the last two miles was on this road? Highly unlikely though”, I comment to Simone.

It’s our lucky day, because sure enough our last two miles of walking stays on the easiest road to walk on ever, and we get to the trailhead within a half hour.

It takes 5 minutes to get a hitch, but the guy drops us off about 5 miles outside of town, where we get a second hitch to complete our journey almost right away. First order of business, lunch. The nice man drops us off downtown and we make our way to a pizza joint, where I’m ecstatic to order a Caesar salad. I’ve only been craving Caesar salad for the last two days, and it’s only consumed my every waking thought leading up to this moment. Of course I get a pizza too, because what type of hiker says no to pizza.

We chomp down on our salads and pizzas, noting that we probably look like starving pigs to everyone around. It’s hard to take a breath in between bites, it’s just sooo damn gooood. Taking a digestion intermission, we look at the map and plan out our next three days before arriving at Twin Lakes, our next stop. As it turns out, the best thing for us to do is to hitch back to the trail tonight and walk another 3.5 miles so tomorrow is only a 16 mile day. We’d better get moving then. I ask for a box for the rest of my pizza but don’t want to carry a giant pizza box around town. So, as any hungry and smart hiker would do, I manage to secure the pizza to the top of my pack. We walk across the whole down this way- just two dirty, smelly girls with backpacks and hiking poles and pizza boxes strapped to their packs. People think this is funny. Okay, I think this is funny.

At this point I start feeling real sick again. Maybe the pizza wasn’t the best idea. I have a hard time walking, and I sit several times throughout our trek across town, afraid that I will throw up. We make it to the laundromat, and thus begins a task that shouldn’t have taken us three hours. I sit in the chair for a long time. I get up occasionally, trying to get my clothes gathered or put the soap in the washer or get coins or whatever task is next, only to sit back down again a few seconds later. We do get to shower during the process which is a huge plus.

I tell Simone that I don’t know if I can walk another 3.5 miles like this. After discussing our options, we decide to go to Safeway for our next 3 days’ food supply and buy some cold and flu medicine. If that doesn’t make me feel better, we won’t walk till the morning. If it does, we’ll walk. I meander my way through the store, slow as a snail, and finally finish our last task. I take the medicine and pray it does wonders.

It once again only takes us 5 minutes to get a hitch back to the trail. The couple are smoking a joint in the car and tell us to pile in the dirty back seat. Hmm… This should be interesting, but I’m not gonna complain. It’s a ride. 15 minutes later Simone and I look around and wonder why we don’t recognize any of the scenery. 5 minutes after that we wonder why it is taking so long to get to the trailhead. As it turns out there are two highways going out if town, and we took the wrong highway. So we just hitch hiked 18 miles in the wrong direction… Awesome. Luckily for us, the couple also meant to take the other highway so the man turns around and heads back to Leadville. This is turning out to be a long day.

When we finally make it to the trailhead it is just starting to rain hard. I’m feeling a little bit better with the medicine kicked in. With rain gear attached, we speed walk through the forest trying to walk this 3.5 miles in an hour. The Leadville Hostel put out a bucket and some gallons of water for trail magic which is amazing because that means no filtering water for us tonight! Thanks Leadville Hostel. Just barely over an hour later we make it to camp and I immediately go relieve myself in the woods. This is not good. We set up camp and crawl into the tent, and within seconds it starts to hail. Perfect timing.

Thank goodness we don’t have to cook dinner or filter water or do any other chores tonight. I am drained. It’s 8:30pm and we have had a full day since 7am. 12.4 miles of walking, over an hour of driving, and 6 hours in the town of Leadville. I get cozied up inside my sleeping bag and slowly let myself drift off to the sound of rain dumping onto the rain fly.

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Two mountain passes and one angry storm.

Day 8, 7/15
Mileage: 16.7
Miles: 117.0 – 133.7

Our bodies are tired from the climb yesterday. The alarm rings early, first sounding at 4:20. It’s our attempt to get up and get started at a decent time knowing that we hit snooze 50 times before actually waking. It rings, and rings, and rings. Finally, still half asleep, Simone says “Bri turn that off for a while longer”, and in my half asleep state I don’t question it. I reset the alarm to go off again at 5:20. We hit snooze another 14 times or so before forcing ourselves out of our sleeping bags into the frigid, damp morning. Things get packed up, then we head to the river to filter a couple liters of water with my NEW filter that we are in love with. 34 seconds is the time it takes to filter one liter of water. 34 second compared to 15-20 minutes with my old one! It’s a joyful process, filling up these bottles with this new magical piece of plastic machinery.

According to the map we have a 13 mile accent today. I’m not sure if I’ve ever walked uphill for 13 miles straight before. I think back to the JMT last year and decide that 9 miles was my longest consecutive accent on that trip, up to the top of Muir Pass. Simone definitely has never walked 13 miles uphill. In fact, yesterday, an 8 mile accent, was her longest so far. This should be fun!

We make fairly good timing, taking a 10 minute break at 9:30 where we decide we’ve gone 5.2 miles. That puts us going about 2 1/2 mph uphill. Not too bad for a sick girl and a new-to-hiking girl, I think as we continue walking. Once we hit 11,000 feet, I start having trouble breathing and walking again, and the dizziness sets back in. Add to that nausea and diarrhea, and I’m in for a real treat. I stop to rest every minute or so, and eventually I need to sit down for another 10 minute break. I contemplate making myself throw up in the bushes so my stomach can settle down. Then I decide that’s probably a bad idea because I need all the water I can get. Okay, I’ll just stay nauseous. Onward we walk. Up, up, up until we finally reach tree line at 11,700 feet. Two nice gentlemen are resting in the sun and we sit down to join them. They are blabbering on and on about how many miles we have left, how many feet until the top of the pass, which pass is which, and how many passes we have to go over today. They are trying to inform us, but instead are just arguing between the two of them. The only information I get out of this whole dialogue is that the pass we see in the near distance is only the first of two passes for the day, and that we better hurry up and get over Kokomo pass before the storm sets in. Storm? I hadn’t thought about that yet, as the sky is still blue and beautiful. That does it for me, and I stand up to continue pushing myself up the hill.

About a half mile and half hour later we reach the top of the first pass- Searle Pass, at 12,043 feet. Wouldn’t it be nice if this was the top! But it’s not. The clouds are finally starting to roll in, and thunder cracks in the distance. It’s not close to us yet, though. On the other side of the pass we drop down into a bit if a valley, or more like a half bowl. We have a three mile walk before the next pass. The tree line is far below us, and we know that if it becomes absolutely necessary, we will head that way even though the path does not lead us down. The trail is carved around the side of the bowl, somewhere between the middle and the top, and we make our way up, down, around, over snow fields and across alpine streams. It is beautiful, with mountain views on all sides. We don’t stop to look. We only press forward. The longer we are in this bowl shaped land between two passes, the more clouds roll in and the darker they get. I feel sick, like throwing up or going to the bathroom, or both. My stomach gurgles off and on. My body tells me to slow down. I would love to take a lunch break in this beautiful alpine land, but there is no such thing as a break when you are racing against Mother Nature.

Each time we think we see the top, we crest the hill only to see another expanse of land stretched out in front of us, the trail making it’s way off into the distance, up another set of switchbacks, up the side of another hill. It seems as though we are in this space between two passes for hours, like it will never come to an end. We see two people up ahead of us, a couple from Michigan whom we met this morning. I keep my eye on the man in front of me, watching where he is going so I know where I will be soon. I turn back occasionally to see the clouds gathering more and more, and each time they appear darker. Almost to the top, we turn a sharp switch back and get a full view of the clouds that are moving in upon us. They are thick, heavy, eerie, and dark. “Those clouds are dark”, I say out loud, as if it wasn’t obvious for Simone to notice them herself.

Finally, exhausted and drained, we crest the top, a high point between the two passes called Elk Ridge, elevation 12,282 ft. We are following closely behind the woman from Michigan, who is also walking much faster than earlier today before the storm threatened with it’s mighty power. We walk three in a line, trotting down the hill as fast as our feet can take us, running more than we are walking. Kokomo pass is on the other side of the hill and after just a few minutes we reach the sign that states we are on the Colorado Trail and Continental Divide Trail at Kokomo Pass, elevation 12,023. I stop to take a quick picture of the sign, wondering why I’m stupid enough to stop when we are still above tree line. The thunder breaks right above us, and I expect to see our first bolt of lightening at any time now. We are running at a good clip, down towards the tree line which we can see in the near distance. We run and don’t slow down, jumping over rocks and roots, occasionally tripping and catching ourselves with the next step. As soon as we reach tree line there is the man from Michigan waiting for his wife in the safety of the trees. Simone and I decide to continue a bit farther into the trees before stopping to take a break. It isn’t until we stop running, and resume a normal walking pace, that I realize I am completely drained. I am so tired. My body is aching and throbbing all over, my stomach churning, my muscles begging me to rest. We didn’t stop for lunch today, so the only things I’ve ingested are an apple, a peanut butter packet, and electrolytes. Thank God for electrolytes, I probably would have collapsed if it wasn’t for them. It is raining now, and the thunder is rolling above us but we’re not so scared anymore, now that we’re in the trees. We put our rain gear on and I tell myself over and over again, only 3 miles left and it’s all downhill.

I speed down the mountain. I force myself to walk as fast as I can walk. I turn off the pain sensors that tell me to slow down or stop, and I accelerate down the hill, walking around 4 mph down a somewhat steep decline, over gravel and rocks and roots. It doesn’t take long to walk the 3 miles to our camp at the pace I have set, but I do stop and wait several times for Simone to catch up. Finally we cross the rushing creek and I know we are close. I see a camp site in the trees and I raise my poles to let Simone know we’ve made it.

We throw our things down. All we can do for the next 10 minutes is sit on a rock, not saying a word, sipping water and letting our bodies react to how they feel after today’s walk. I didn’t realize it was so early, but we reach camp around 2:30. We have walked 13 miles of intense elevation gain, over 2 mountain passes, and down a 4 mile descent. 16.7 miles in 7 hours. 16.7 miles in 7 hours, sick.

I can’t remember how hard yesterday was because of the fog I’m in, but I decide that I think today was harder, if only because of the 4 extra miles of climbing. After thinking about it for another few minutes, I come to the conclusion that I think today was my hardest backpacking day I’ve had yet. Not just on this trip, but period. I tell this new information to Simone and she agrees, and adds in that yesterday was almost as hard.

Today was tiring, exhausting, and painful. I wanted to puke the whole 13 miles up. I didn’t eat much of anything yet probably burned 5,000+ calories. My body aches, hungry for sleep and rest. I wanted to stop, to take breaks, to slow down, but the thunder storm decided my pace, and an uncomfortable pace it was. But you know what?

I loved every minute of it.

I would do it all over again.

Hiking our first 12,000 ft. Pass….sick.

Day 7, 7/14
Miles: 12.6
Mileage: 104.4 – 117.0
(Note that WE have not walked 117.0 miles, as we skipped segment 6- a 32.7 mile segment. For sake of ease I am referring to CT mileage, and we will be back to finish segment 6 at the end of the trail.)

I obviously assume that I’m going to sleep like a queen in the hostel,
But I don’t. I wake up over and over again, one moment dripping in sweat so I throw the blankets off, then the next moment shivering so I pull my blankets back up. I get up to go to the bathroom several times during the night. I have diarrhea. Oh no… There is hardly anything worse to have on the trail. It must be from the change of food, I think to myself. I gulp down water, get back into bed and try to sleep until the next time I’m awakened to repeat the cycle.

In the morning I’m really not feeling well. I drink more water, take vitamin I (ib profane), and shower. The breakfast looks amazing but all I can stomach is a little bit of yogurt, fresh fruit, and a sausage link. After breakfast and my vitamin I kicks in I start to feel a little better. I can do this, I tell myself. We walk to the post office where we will send home some items we no longer need, then to the bus stop. Shortly thereafter the bus drops us off at the trail, and we are off!

Today consists of 8 miles of uphill first thing. Up and over our first 12,000 ft pass, followed by a 4 mile descent to Copper Mountain ski resort. This is a bad day for a tough climb. I am weak, tired, and I keep getting dizzy. I have to stop about every 20 steps to lean over my hiking poles and close my eyes and take a deep breath. My legs feel like they have bricks attached, and the climb is slow going. We stop only an hour in to drink electrolytes, as I realize I am probably drained of vitamins and minerals and nutrients today. It helps some. The dizziness does not go away, though, and I decide it must be because of elevation. We finally make it to the top around 2pm and throw our packs off in celebration. We meet a few other thru hikers on the way up, and cross paths back and forth with a group of bikers who are lugging their mountain bikes up this giant, steep, rocky terrain. How are they doing that? Here I am sucking in air and stopping every 30 seconds, and these people are hauling themselves AND their bikes up the side of the mountain.

The clouds are slowly rolling in at the top, and it’s freezing, so we don’t stay long. I follow a guy named Nate down, and when we hit tree line again we stop in a little patch of grass to wait for Simone and eat lunch. I love meeting new people on the trail, I tell myself again. Everyone is instantly your best friend. People on the trail and in these little trail towns are friendly, chill, and they’ll go out of their way to help you. They want to know about your life. They want to give up their time and energy, and sometimes more, to make sure you are happy and having a good time. I love the hiker life. It is engrained in my heart forever.

The 4 mile descent is easy and passes quickly. We roll into Copper Mountain at a decent time, sent up camp, wash our clothes in the beautiful river set in a picturesque view underneath the mountains we just traveled. We bathe ourselves even though I can only touch the water for 5 seconds before it sends me into hypothermic shock. Our dinner is especially special tonight… in my hungry-hiker opinion. Garlic cheese pasta with REAL cheese added in, a Taco Bell hot sauce packet, and salt and pepper. A real treat on the trail… We discuss how amazing the food is and then realize that it would probably be really gross if we were not on the trail. I am feeling better, but not 100%. My legs are achy tonight and my body still feels hot, possibly feverish. I hope and pray it will pass quickly and will not get any worse. Tomorrow we have a 12 mile climb back up to 12,300 feet!

We organize our things, clean the pan, brush our teeth and finally crawl into bed at 7:30. I turn to Simone with a smile and say “ahhhh I love getting into my sleeping bag after a long, exhausting day.” She nods and ignores me, because I say that every single night. It’s true, though. I love you, Therm-a-rest and sleeping bag.

Fairplay to Breckenridge. Town stops for the win.

Day 6, 7/13
Mileage: 0

We wake up in heaven, aka a dirty, smoker motel room that has a bed and a shower, and try to sleep in but we can’t sleep past 7:30. Our hiker body clocks are already changing I guess. I decide I want to at least TRY to sleep more, so I lay there until 8:30 or so, just because I can. Finally we stir and pack up our things. Down the street at a little coffee/breakfast place I order a mocha, a blueberry bar, and a mango ginger tuna wrap. Yummm! Real food! We eat, I’m stuffed.

After checking out we make our way down Main Street until we get to the end of town where we stick our thumbs out. Hitching is so much fun, I think. It’s all part of the adventure. Within minutes a lady in a Subaru picks us up and takes us to Alma, half way between Fairplay and Breckenridge. It then only takes us a few more moments of standing on the street to get picked up again. Bear, a traveling artist, drives us to Breckenridge while giving us a small tour of which peaks are what, where the best lake is, the best towns, places to stay and eat, etc.. When she drops us off she gives us her business card and a sincere handshake and says “you have my number if you need anything. Don’t think that you don’t have a friend in Colorado now!” We almost cry. Everyone here is so incredibly nice I can hardly believe it. I love people!

Breckenridge is a busy, touristy little up-class ski town at an elevation of about 9,600 ft. As much as we’d love to explore, we have work to do. First it’s to the outdoor shop to check out new shoes and a new water filter. They don’t have the shoes Simone wants, and they don’t have the water filter I want. I make a call to another gear shop in Dillon, two towns away, and find my filter. This means another hour of sitting on the bus just to get a new water filter, but we despise that thing enough that it’s completely worth it. Next stop, the clinic for Simone’s feet. We sit for a good hour and a half until they finally take her in. Doc prescribes antibiotics, gives her some tape and some advice. We get out if the clinic and head straight for “Vertical Runner, Americas highest running store”. Cool. The dude there is knowledgable and helpful and he finds the right shoes for Simone and makes sure they fit and feel perfect. Brooks Cascadia’s… Of course. Everyone wears Brooks Cascadia’s on the trail.

Now that Simone’s feet are all squared away we hop on the bus and sit for over an hour as it drives us to the Dillon for my filter. At the outdoor shop we meet an awesome dude, Ben, who offers us a ride back to Breck when he gets off work. Sweet! A ride back to Breck leads to a stop at the Breckenridge Brewery for a salad and beers, and then, if that’s not enough, a ride to the grocery store for our next 3 days’ food supply, and finally a ride to our hostel for the night. Ben remakes in the store that he feels like we’re already great friends. It’s true. Probably cause everyone here are the coolest, most friendly people ever and why wouldn’t we want to be great friends with the locals? We say our goodbyes and head into the prettiest hostel I’ve been in.

It’s brand new and beautiful, everything is log- inside and out. There is fancy decor, comfy couches, a giant fireplace, and a hot tub out back. Not to mention FREE breakfast in the morning! The man at the counter tells us to “tell him that we saw a coupon online” and obviously we DID see that coupon online… So he upgrades us to a room with 4 beds instead of 6. Just as fate would have it, our room mates are a couple who are also hiking the Colorado Trail, and we are friends immediately.

The four of us sit on our beds and the floor, talking about gear and food and pack weight and mileage… Hiking the trail vegan, why are we out here, where are we from, what will we do in the future. Just normal hiker things. Time flies by and suddenly it’s 11:30. The room goes dark and we crawl into bed, thankful for friends, a warm bed, and getting back on the trail in the morning.