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.

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