The “30 mile day girls”.

Day 23, 7/30
Miles: 30.7
Mileage: 301.2 – 331.9

I sit up in bed and quickly eat my breakfast- a pop tart and a coffee packet- then try to resist the urge to lay back down and cuddle into the warmth of my sleeping bag. It’s still dark outside, and it’s cold. There’s dew, or maybe raindrops, on the rainfly which makes it even harder to get up because that means it’s wet outside too.

“We need to get up”, I say.

“I know”, Squat replies.

Then we both keep sitting there like zombies for another few minutes, fighting the part of us that wants to lay back down and go back to sleep. Finally we do get up and start stuffing things into various bags, and then into our backpacks. Jody and Mikey wake when we are making a bunch of noise, and they get up to start a fire for us. How cool is that? They’re not even hiking out this early, but they get out of bed to start a fire so WE can get warmed up. What amazing trail friends.

We’re on the trail walking just after 6:30, our earliest day second to Mt. Elbert day. We’re gonna need the extra time- we’re walking 30 miles today. Luckily the first half of the day is basically flat, and the second half only has a gradual gain of about 2,500 ft. over the course of 15 miles. Our new friend Bibbs decided to join us on our long day as well, but she was out at 6. Two Piece follows behind us shortly, and we all catch up to each other a couple miles down the road.

We’ve heard rumor of a trail angel at mile 12 of segment 18. Rumor has it that he has snacks and drinks and sometimes even hot dogs for hikers, and he sits in his spot all day waiting for us to show up, so he can serve us. We all walk down the trail talking about what food we hope he has or if he’s even real, and these thoughts propel me down the trail even faster.

As we near mile 12, I am deep in thought just walking fast and thinking, not really paying attention to the trail. Suddenly I crest a small hill and before me lies a huge, giant basin of some sort, spreading for miles in all directions. It is absolutely gorgeous. I’m awe-struck, just standing there for a minute staring at this incredible scene. Brown grass spreads across this giant basin, trees intermittently stick up into the air, and behind all of it is a 180 degree view of mountain after mountain after mountain, abruptly ending the flat expanse of grass and land in front of me. I have to stop and take pictures every like, 20 steps or something, so Squat and Bibbs gain some distance on me. One of the best parts about this whole view is that I can see a van and some sort of shiny trailer thing, probably about two miles away. There’s my trail angel, I think to myself, and I pick up speed again.

We reach Apple at 10:30. We’ve walked 13 miles in 4 hours. Those last 13 miles were so easy and cruiser, and I’m so stoked to be almost half way done with the day by 10:30am.

I walk up, shake Apple’s hand, and he immediately offers me a seat followed by “what kind of drink would you like- coke, orange soda, or Gatorade?” I take the orange, throw my pack off, and relax into a chair. It feels so good to even sit in a real chair and drink something refreshing other than water.

We all spend the next hour stuffing our faces with so many cookies and chips, and I also eat my Amy’s burrito. Eventually everyone else trickles in- Two Piece, Brian, Ian and Jessica, and a girl we just met, Critter. We sit around in a circle talking and eating and enjoying the sun, having a hell of a time. Noon suddenly rolls around and Squat, Bibbs and I decide we can’t waste any more time so we say thank you to Apple and head off to finish the last 17 miles.

It’s really not that hard for a while. I feel good as we make our way up a gradual hill then back down the other side, with gorgeous views of green meadows and more hills in front of us. We walk and walk and walk, chit chatting about gear and food and guys and other trail talk, which helps the miles pass by easier. The clouds start to roll in and get dark, but we’re not too high up so we just ignore them and the deep rumbling sounds they are starting to make.

At about mile 22, my feet start to get sore. By mile 25, my feet really hurt. We decide to stop for a quick dinner break before we finish off the last 5 miles of our 30 mile day. When I stand up to start walking again it’s rather painful- my feet just kind of feel like one giant bruise. I push myself on, walking at a much slower pace than the first half of the day. Brian catches up to us and tells us he plans to go 28.7 miles to the end of segment 19. When we tell him we’re going 30, and he’s a fool for stopping 1.3 miles before us, he joins in.

The four of us probably look rather pathetic, hobbling down the trail in a line, not really saying much at this point as our energy is diminished. The uphills seem much more “up” than they probably actually are. We walk up and down and up and down, over and over again, over rolling hills through a long, giant meadow. As I slowly walk up each small hill I tell myself that I’m going to see the parking lot, which is the end of the segment, from the top of this next hill. I get to the top and see more rolling hills. This happens about 7 or 8 times, and each time my body slowly starts to give up. Finally I turn a sharp, unexpected corner and there it is! I give a quick shout to Brian who’s just ahead of me, to let him know I’m just as excited as he is about this sight. A few minutes later the two girls show up and we all take a minute to sit on a rock and rest our pained feet.

“My legs and feet want to know why I’m doing this to them”, Squat comments.

It’s nearing 7:00, so we don’t sit long before continuing on to finish the last 1.3 miles of our day. I swear this is the longest 1.3 miles I’ve ever walked. We’re all four literally hobbling and limping, and if I don’t pay close attention to the trail I swerve sideways and then trip on something. I must look drunk, I think to myself.

Although it seems like the day is never gonna end, finally it does end, and we pass through a gate which marks our 30th mile of the day. It’s just after 7:30, which means we walked for 13 hours today. 13 hours is a very long time to walk with a 30lb pack on, and walking for 13 hours seemed like close to eternity, but we did it. I’m proud my myself, I’m proud of us. I’m glad we decided to walk one 30 mile day, yet I don’t want to do another anytime soon.

There are cows everywhere, mooing, chewing grass and meandering around in the meadow. We walk about another half mile before finding a flat spot up on a little rocky ridge to post up for the night. Brian has to shoe the cows away off of the ridge so we can set up our tents. They’re probably wondering why these strange people are taking over their home, but we don’t care. At this point I don’t even really care if I accidentally set up my tent in a pile of cow shit- I’m just straight up exhausted and all I care about is laying down.

Brian boils some water and gives us each a chai tea bag, and some powdered vanilla milk, which is AMAZING. More trail magic. It tastes like a straight up chai tea latte- a complete luxury on the trail. He takes a picture of us three girls, we decide to call ourselves the “30 mile girls”, at least for the night. We quickly eat our dinner, I eat a snickers bar, we get our beds set up and brush our teeth. At last, finally, I crawl into bed, take two Tylenol PM, and wait for them to take me away into dream land, my favorite land of all.

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The laziest of lazy hiker days.

Day 22, 7/29
Miles: 12.3
Mileage: 288.9 – 301.2

Sections 18 and 19 are the flattest two sections on the trail- commonly referred to by Squat and I as pancake day- and on our bucket list for this trip is to hike a 30 mile day. This morning we’re camped midway through section 17. What better day to hike a 30 mile day then pancake day? We wake early in the morning, prepared to walk a very long day. But it’s raining, everything is wet, and as soon as I get out of my sleeping bag it’s gonna be cold and miserable. I don’t want to get out of my favorite burrito of warmth and comfort. We hit snooze and go back to sleep. Next time we wake up Jody and Mikey are also awake, and we talk between our two tents as they try to convince us to spend one more day hiking with them, which in turn means only a 12 mile day. The logic makes sense- why hike a 30 mile day on section 17 and 18 when section 18 and 19 are the two flattest? Plus, we’ve heard rumor of a trail angel towards the end of segment 18 which means possible trail angel goodness halfway through our long day, if we wait until tomorrow. It doesn’t take much to convince us.

Only 12 miles today! Compared to our 16-23 mile days as of late, 12 miles seems like a walk in the park. Back to sleep we go until like, I don’t know, 8:30? We don’t look at the time. Because we don’t need to! Such a lazy day today will be.

When we wake for the third time, we bundle up in our warm, somewhat damp clothes and head out into the land of outside our tent where Jody and Mikey have a fire going already. We are in complete heaven, and really getting completely spoiled to have a fire in the morning. When does this even happen? Never. Never is when it usually happens.

I spend the morning standing in front of the fire, laying out my wet clothes in front of the fire, hanging our rain fly in front of the fire, eating snacks in front of the fire, and even burning my foot on the rocks in front of the fire. Such an amazing morning. Finally, at around 10 or 10:30 or so, we decide to hit the road and it’s already sprinkling out, much to our dismay. Normally the clouds gradually start to roll in around 11, and by 1 or 2 it’s raining- but not this morning. This morning we woke up to clouds and it’s raining at 10. What are you doing to us, Colorado?

We walk only 3.5 miles or so, chit chatting down the trail until we hit a water source where the guys want to filter. Squat and I take a seat by a tree by the creek and I start to snack a bit. Awe hell, I know we’ve only gone a couple miles but we only have 9 miles left… Might as well eat lunch here right? We pull out our burritos and our hot sauce and our cheese and start mounding down. Amy’s burritos for lunch were definitely the best decision we’ve made on this trip so far. Such a luxury! So freaking delicious.

At mile 11 for the day we hit the….dun dun dunnn…. The 300 mile mark! Mikey and I gather some rocks and write “300” in the middle of the trail and we all take turns taking pictures with the rocks, then we take pictures posing as rock stars with the rocks, and we sing and shout at the rocks that spell out the amount of miles our feet have taken us. 300 miles! Officially my longest backpacking trip and longest amount of miles I’ve ever walked consecutively. Life is good. I’m happy now, and I basically frolic the rest of the way down the trail to our camp spot.

We’re setting up camp at 3:30 or 4 or so, the guys make a fire, and we all hang out and talk and enjoy nature and the fire and each other’s company for a while. Two Piece shows up, who we’ve hung out with off and on since Twin Lakes, then not too long later a new girl- Bibbs- shows up and she’s really cool. I make Mac n cheese and eat it all in about 4 minutes and I’m still starving. I dump out my whole food bag and look at everything I’ve got, wondering if I can afford to eat any of it tonight. I’m so tempted to eat tomorrow’s ration of food, but I know how foolish that would be. I decide on a twix bar, gobble that down and, surprise, I’m still hungry. My stomach feels like a never ending empty pit. I’m thinking about food non-stop. Food. I love you.

The evening passes by with laughs and conversation and stories around the campfire, everyone having a jolly ol’ time. Today was such a lazy day to me- starting so late then just moseying our way down the trail, only walking 12 miles and getting into camp so early. Today was such a lazy day yet so much fun and enjoyable, well worth putting our 30 mile day off for. I reflect back on the last hours and I’m so glad we got to hang out with the guys another day, enjoy two camp fires, rest up and play all day except for a short 5 hour walk, and live a different type of backpacking lifestyle- the leisurely kind.

Tomorrow resumes our up early, walk all day schedule, and we’re hitting it off with a bang. My first 30 mile day is to come.

Rain, rain, go away.

Day 21, 7/28
Miles: 22.1 +1 for water
Mileage: 266.8 – 288.9

We met some guys last night who’d walked over and offered us to occupy their fire while they went out to look for deer and elk. They were on a pre-hunting trip, scouting out the lands for high population areas. Horses were tied up in the trees, a Ford F350 stood in front of a giant horse trailer taking up an excess of space that could have been occupied by green luscious grass and bushes and bugs. We accepted their offer and stood around the fire for a good hour, then ventured over to the horses, fed them grass and pet them. Squat went snooping around in their cooler wishing we could eat more food. We’ve been thinking about food so much the last few days. The guys got back in the evening and we all stood around the fire discussing hunting and hiking, asking questions about the two subjects that were so foreign to the other party.

We are walking by 8, an hour later than we had hoped. Always. An hour into our walk we run into the two guys again, up on a ridge, where they had 4-wheeled up to and we had walked up to. They were laying down on the side of the hill, camo on, looking into small telescopes at the hills directly across from us. We walked off the trial to talk for a few, they offered to show us some buck. It was actually pretty cool, looking through this tiny lens at a hill across the way. We saw groups of bucks sitting together in the grass, lounging and napping in the morning sun. So many of them! Why aren’t they over here? Why do they have to be so far away?

We’d decided to make this a fairly long day- almost 23 miles. The first miles actually pass slow. We walk up a hill and down the other side, up another and down some more. I’ve learned how much the Colorado Trail loves to make you walk directly up one slope only to bring you right back down then right back up again. Over and over. Sometimes I wonder why they don’t just even out the trail. But that wouldn’t be any fun now would it?

5 or 6 miles in we run into Dan, our trail dad, who’d started a while before us this morning. We pass him up and pretty soon I find my rhythm, and I walk all the way to our lunch spot at a creek close to mile 12. We’re now on our third day of Amy’s burritos for lunch, and I’m seriously in love. The CDT thru hiker, Scarecrow, who gave us this idea is truly brilliant and I’m so thankful for his advice as I destroy a bean and rice and cheese burrito with chips and hot sauce. I eat so much food, and I love every bite. There are some squirrels scheming to steal our food and we have to shoe them away constantly as three of them come at us from three different directions all at once. Smart little monsters!

As soon as we leave from lunch the rain starts falling. I put my rain coat on, but leave the pants off, and start walking up, up, up, through a large field of green grass. All of a sudden there are cows next to us, mooing as we walk up the trail. We stop and laugh and stare at them and talk to them. I can’t quit thinking how funny it is that I’m walking beside a bunch of cows on the Colorado Trail. We turn the corner and there’s more cows, then another corner and short hill later there’s MORE cows. So many cows! Now we’re in a big giant wide open field and there’s 50 cows or so mooing around in the field staring at us blankly. A few of them are only a few feet off the trail and they just stop and stare as we walk by, rolling grass around in their mouth, looking so stupid and blank as if their brains fried and are thinking absolutely nothing.

We make it to Sargent’s Mesa, a flat, open plateau at the end of segment 16, and now the rain starts to come down hard. Then the rain turns to hail. We’re walking on the side of the path which has turned into a steady stream of flowing water, hail pelting my legs, and it actually hurts. It’s stinging my legs! We decide that it’s kinda fun but also kinda miserable, walking in this pounding rain and hail. All our shits getting so wet. I have a pack cover and rain jacket on but at this point the rain is flowing down between my back and backpack, and the water is beginning to penetrate through my “waterproof” layers.

We walk through the rain the rest of the evening, although it does let up just a bit. It’s now a steady drizzle, fog is floating around everywhere making everything look dreary and boring. We can no longer see the surrounding hills, and we’re just marching through a little tunnel of trees. The last 5 miles kind of suck, being cold and wet to the bone, my shoes and socks sloshing with each step, water dripping off my hood and pack and running down my legs.

At last, I smell the familiar, inviting smell of a campfire. Campfire! Yes! I’m thinking. I immediately guess that it’s our friends Jody and Mikey, cause of course they always make a good campfire. I round the corner 30 seconds later and there’s Jody! We love reunions. We hug and catch up on the last few days, Squat shows up and I’m huddled around the fire.

It’s still raining pretty heavily but the fire really saved my life. I’m able to warm my feet just a little, and actually enjoy eating my food under a wet sky. We talk and hang out and eat and stand by the fire until finally I can hardly take the rain any longer, and I retreat back to the tent. Squat and I talk for a while about random, strange, funny things to talk about at night. I think one of us may have drifted off mid-sentence, because I don’t remember the conversation ending, and I don’t remember falling asleep. Everything’s so wet outside and I’m curled up in a warm, cozy bundle of goose down drifting off to sleep in the comfort of my back country home. Sweet, sweet sleep.

Wild flowers by the million.

Day 20, 7/27
Mileage: 14.3
Miles: 252.5 – 266.8

The hostel owner overbooked the place by one bed last night, so Simone and I offered to share a twin bed in exchange for a free ride to the trail in the morning. We didn’t really care about the bed, were both small and can sleep small, and we’re happy about saving 14 bucks- 7 bucks a piece.

I wake in the night only a few times, one arm and a half a leg hanging off the bed. It was actually quite comfortable. By morning I realize I slept great, besides being slightly cold under just a thin little blanket, and now I’m even more happy about saving the money. I pack up my things, bring my stuff downstairs, and the older gentlemen of the hostel are already slaving away in the kitchen making pancakes for everyone. We’d planned to share a mountain house blueberry granola for breakfast, but hey I’ll take the pancakes. And the coffee. COFFEE. That’s actually one if my favorite parts about town stops- drinking real coffee, and lots of it.

I fill up on food, finish gathering my things, John the hostel owner arrives to shuttle us to the trail, we say our goodbyes.

I can tell my pack is much heavier with 5 1/2 days of food loaded into the thing. Add that to my heavy stomach from all the food I gorged on over the last two days, and that makes for a one slower me. It doesn’t take long to get into a rhythm, particularly because we’re on an old dirt road for the first three miles which is relatively flat and super easy to walk on.

The elevation profile in our book shows an almost 9-mile ascent up to 11,900 ft., starting relatively flat and gradually getting steeper as the miles pass by. The first part is easy and super quick.

Official announcement- Simone will hereby be referred to as Squat, her new official trail name. I, Bri, will hereby be referred to as Yard Sale, my new official trail name. -End of announcement.

We reach the end of the road, three miles in, in about an hour, and that’s when we realize we only have 6 miles left to the top of the climb.

“Easy peezy lemon squeezy!” Squat sings. Followed by my song “caaaake waaaalk juuunior!”

“What is cake walk junior?” She asks, looking at me bewildered.

“It’s like a cake walk, but easier.” I reply.

We sign the trail registry, where we find many of our friends’ signatures in the several days leading up to now, and a little note from our friend Zenny! We love trail notes. So fun.

At this point I decide to walk ahead and not stop until the top. The trail starts out still relatively flat, with occasional grades, and it winds it’s way through the forest, then through a meadow, back into the forest, and through another meadow. These meadows aren’t just any old meadow- they are filled with hundreds and thousands of wild flowers. I’m in awe. There are blue flowers and pink flowers, red, yellow, and purple flowers. So many bright beautiful colors are interspersed in the midst of bright green grass and foliage. I take pictures at each meadow, stopping to admire the gorgeous wonderland that I’m in.

I was a bit intimidated by the climb this morning, considering it is almost 9 miles long, but it turns out to be almost a piece of cake- or, a cake walk junior. The last half mile is the only steep part. At the top of the pass I can see a wooden sign. It looks so close to me, that sign that marks my destination. I push myself up the last part of the ascent, passing a few others on the way. I look behind me and there’s a man shortly below me pushing his bike up this last steep climb. How is he doing that? I wonder. He’s walking faster than me, all while pushing his bike up along side him. I don’t let him catch me- my competitive nature comes into play even when others don’t realize it’s there.

The top is absolutely stunning, with mountain views on all sides. In front of me is a mountainous scene that very much reminds me of a view on the JMT, heading up to Mather Pass. Two hills to the left and the right of me leave a gap in between each other, almost like a window, and inside that window is an expanse of mountain peak after mountain peak stretching into the distance, each looking majestic and elegant as they stand tall and firm. Behind me is another unique view of rolling hills and mountains presenting themselves here and there, green grass and trees fill the scene. To my left is a small path shooting straight up one of the peaks near me, inviting one to add another 1-2,000 ft. Elevation gain to one’s journey, for more majestic and awe-striking views at the top.

I don’t take that invitation, instead I pace around at the top, snapping a million pictures with my phone and my camera, tossing some chips into my mouth, drinking water to rejuvenate my body. I pace around and around in circles glancing down below on occasion, hoping for a sign of Squat. It takes her about 40 minutes from the time I arrive to crest the top. I’m shivering at this point, although it’s my own fault as I didn’t want to dig into my bag for more clothes. We snap some pictures of each other and then continue on our way quickly, as the dark clouds are starting to make their noon appearance.

The path takes us down then back up a ridge for a while, more incredible views fill the landscape around me. I walk with my trekking poles in one hand, phone in the other, and I take a picture around each corner as a new majestic view unfolds before me. I love today, I think to myself. I couldn’t wipe the smile off of my face even if I tried. I have what I like to call a “hiker high”, similar to a “runners high”, but not. My chest is pounding, endorphins are firing, my smile spreads from ear to ear, and I laugh for no reason. I AM SO HAPPY! I keep thinking to myself, over and over again. Life is good, life is good.

We stop for lunch when we get back into the trees. I’m excited about today’s lunch- a CDT thru hiker told us to try Amy’s burritos, so we bough them for lunch for the next several days. A bean and rice burrito, chips, bites out of a block of Dubliner cheese. We eat quick then keep walking. The trail takes us back up above tree line for another mile, so I kick it into high gear and walk fast through an expanse of grass and a few occasional burnt down trees. It looks like every single dead tree in the area has been struck by lightening… What a comforting thought, I think, as I walk up at 11,800 ft., metal in hands, thunder rumbling above me.

I walk, walk, walk, all the way down to the trailhead, the rest of the 4 miles. It doesn’t take long to get there- it’s only 2:30 when I arrive. I’m tired though, even though I only walked for about 6 hours. My pack was heavy, my body weighted from all the food and relaxed from two days off in town. I’m glad we only had a 14 mile day today- A day to get back into hiking mode before more 20 mile days to come.

We spend the afternoon and evening relaxing in the tent, taking a nap, eating, writing, and reading. We are spoiled, getting into camp at 2:30, with so much time to relax. The day passes quickly, though, and by nightfall we drift off to sleep, cozy and comfortable, bundled up in a warm sleeping bag that feels like home.

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