A million lady lump mountain passes.

Day 28, 8/4
Miles: 19.8 (+1 out of Cataract Lake)
Mileage: 380.3 – 400.1

I don’t sleep well. I wake in the night many times to the sound of rain pelting our tent, wind trying to blow us over, and thunder somewhere in the distance. It rains the whole night, hard, non stop. I don’t fall asleep until after midnight, then I wake up several times every hour. At 4am I check the clock then lie there awake looking for flashes of lightening. I’m fearful of the lightening tonight- we are camped above tree line for the first time, by a lake. When the alarm goes off at 5:45 it is still raining, and we dread getting out of bed. We hit snooze until at least 6:30 when we don’t hear the rain anymore, then we force ourselves to sit up to begin our morning routine.

It’s cold this morning. We’re above 12,000 ft., it has just stopped raining, and it is completely overcast. It must be somewhere close to freezing up here, making it nearly difficult for us to get out of our sleeping bags and pack up. Eventually we do, but we aren’t walking until 8:15. Our first order of business is to find a clean stream to filter water in. Last night our filter would hardly pump anything in the disgusting lake water, so we have no water leaving camp this morning. We come across a nice looking stream only about a mile into our walk, so we stop, but my filter is done for. The cartridge is filthy and on it’s last legs. We decide to only filter a liter each and try to walk our 19 miles on just that. It takes nearly a half hour to do so, and when we start walking again I look up at the sky and worry about what today might bring.

We are in the middle of a 33 mile stretch above 12,000 feet. Today we are planning on walking 19 miles, 17 of which are above tree line. Squat and I named today “lady lump day”, joking about all the small humps that the elevation profile shows. We have to walk up to nearly 13,000 ft., then down to nearly 12,000 ft. nine times today. 17 miles of continuous up and down and up and down before we finally make a long decent into trees at the end of the day. So far the weather does not look in our favor, but there’s no sign of storms quite yet so I walk fast, very fast down the trail. We stop one more time to change into rain gear and put my pack cover on in anticipation of what’s to come, then we decide not to stop until at least the end of the segment, close to 11 miles from here, depending on the weather.

I have to admit I’m kind if afraid as I walk up into the sky with clouds covering adjacent mountain peaks and looming just above me, some of them starting to turn a darkish grey. At first I’m pleading with the sky to be nice and not get any worse, then I’m singing a song that’s stuck in my head. For the first time in a long time I’m not cursing the clouds in my head or begging Mother Nature to let me off easy. Instead I keep singing, and my mood and fears lift. It’s a Christian song that I like, and I don’t remember all the words to it so I sing the chorus over and over again:

In the chaos of the storm
I have drifted far, far away.
But I call out your name
And you are just a breath, a breath away.
Then through the shadow, your light appears,
I know you’re with me, now it is clear
I can feel you, Jesus, all around.
Like sun on my skin, warm to the touch,
You surround me and I’m held by love,
I can feel you, Jesus, all around.

As I sing this song a smile spreads across my face and I don’t feel so scared anymore. In fact, I feel happy. Not only are my fears eased but I think I’ve started to walk even faster down the trail as I sing, and the climbs I’m walking up seem easier. For several hours I continue to walk down the trail singing this same song mostly in my head but occasionally out loud. Eventually I look up and see a few patches of blue in the sky- rather than getting worse the clouds are actually clearing. Another smile spreads across my face, and I even find a tear building up in my eye. I’m happy and thankful, glad to be here and glad to be safe and protected.

I make very good timing walking up and down all these humps, singing my song and being thankful that the sky is clearing. I’m walking fast, and by noon I’ve caught up to Bibbs who started an hour before us this morning. Just as I catch up to her we round a corner and go down a hill into a meadow that is FULL of sheep. There are sheep by the hundreds, probably thousands. They are all making their sheep noises and standing in the middle of the trail or chewing on grass in the field. We have to shoe some of them out of the way so we can keep walking. They all turn and look up to stare at us as we walk by, wondering why we are in the midst of their territory.

About a mile after the sheep facade we reach the end of the segment. Lunch time! I’m starving and my body is feeling tired- it’s definitely time for a well deserved break. We eat right by a small parking area where a couple is getting ready to leave on a 4 day loop. I spy a water jug in their car so Bibbs and I ask if we can have some as our filter isn’t working very well. They say yes, of course, then we spend some time visiting with them before ending our lunch break and heading off down the trail again.

As we make our way over a few more 1,000ft. lady lumps the clouds are finally looking worse. I’m still not too worried about it, and I stop to take some pictures of the Grenadere mountains in the distance. They have dark, dark clouds looming above them and all the sudden I realize the wind is blowing the clouds towards where we’re walking. Better keep moving.

The mountains to the right of us suddenly disappear under a dark, black cloud cover. The wind suddenly starts blowing harder. Mother Nature is unleashing. We run down the trail and try to get ahead of the black clouds that are quickly enveloping us, but there’s no use. We can’t walk fast enough, and within five minutes I’m in the middle of a dark cloud. I turn around to look at Squat and Bibbs behind me, we all stare at each other with fear in our eyes, unsure of what to do. There’s nothing we can do at this point, there’s no where we can run or hide. We have to keep walking through the wind and rain and thunder and just hope and pray we make it through. I walk faster than fast through the storm, scared out of my mind.

We make it to the other side where a sign points the Continental Divide trail downhill, and the Colorado Trail in the opposite direction, uphill. No! I yell back to Squat, letting her know that we have to go up the hill rather than down, and we all stare up towards the path and then the sky, wondering what the hell we’re gonna do. Thunder rumbles heavily from directly above us. We decide to hunker down in a small ravine by a creek until the worst of the clouds pass before we head back uphill.

At this point we know we’re only about a mile away from the high point before we start heading down. I want to just get there, to the top, so we can start walking down into the trees- into safety and comfort. We sit and wait, occasionally scared out of our mind by the mighty thunder shaking the ground from what seems like only about 50 feet above us. We wait for about 20 minutes, until we see a patch of blue beginning to spread across the horizon, in the direction we need to walk. That’s all it takes. We’re back on the trail in minutes heading up.

A sign finally points us downward. We cheer and yell with happiness and relief that we’re finally going down.

“We might not die after all!” Squat sings.

The scene from this view is absolutely amazing. We’re up above 12,000 feet, and we can see down into the canyon that takes us down to 9,000 feet. There are rocky mountain peaks rising into the sky on the left side of the canyon, and a green valley with two lakes dotted in the midst of the green grass on the right side of the canyon. Between these two drastically different scenes, a slit is cut down the center forming the canyon that we’re about to walk into. A rushing creek flows down next to the canyon walls, beginning just below us and flowing heavily down, down, down, to the bottom which looks like a tiny thin line from this vantage point. It’s extraordinary- it’s hard to take it all in at once.

We spend 10 minutes taking pictures and ooo’ing and awe’ing over the view, then we start our descent. It takes some time to walk down that far, but I thoroughly enjoy the whole trek. It’s beautiful- every corner has a new view, and the lower down we go, the higher the walls rise above us. I take pictures often, and stop to appreciate the canyon walls and the water trickling down, the rushing river and the green foliage throughout. Eventually we make it nearly to the bottom where we find a beautiful camp spot by the river with views of several peaks shooting into the sky close by.

We start a fire, our first fire that WE have made on the trail, eat our dinner, and enjoy the views and the sound of the rushing water until we decide it’s past our bedtime. We retreat back to our tent, our sweet little home, and pass out as soon as the Tylenol pm has made it’s move.

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CT High Point!

Day 27, 7/3
Miles: 14.2
Mileage: 366.1 – 380.3

I wake up freezing cold in the yurt. I think it might be colder in here than outside. Brian gets up and starts a fire in the wood stove- umm, yeah, luxury to the max. Thanks Brian. I put my warm clothes on in my sleeping bag and eat my breakfast before finally braving the cold and getting up. We pack up eventually, say goodbye to good ol’ yurty, and start walking. A half mile up the trail I realize I left my pack cover at the yurt. Shit. I throw my pack off and run back to get it. I’m totally making this mile count towards my mileage, I think to myself as I huff and puff my way up the hill to the yurt.

Today we’re ascending up to above 12,000 feet. Sounds do able, right? The difference between today and all the other days is that once we ascend up to 12,000 feet, we don’t come down for 33 miles. This means we’re walking above tree line, camping above tree line, and braving any storm that might come our way, above tree line.

At some point in the day we hit the high point of the Colorado Trail at an elevation of 13,271 feet. Squat and I take pictures and a video, including our favorite type of picture- jumping pics. The sky is beautiful and I’m feeling lucky that the weather is so good. We continue on, walking up and down and up and down about 1,000 feet each way, multiple times. We catch up to Bibbs and take a short lunch break together, but we continue on pretty quickly because we know our weather luck may not last and we still have a 13,000 ft. pass to walk over. At the bottom of the hill, just as we start walking up again, I catch Brian. We look at the map together, discussing possibilities of where we might camp, squat filters water, then we head up the hill towards our last tower of the day.

When I crest the top I realize my legs must be in really good shape. It didn’t seem that hard to me, and it went by fast, and considering that that was our 4th fairly difficult climb of the day, I feel pretty good. Squat and I eat our burritos at the top and I comment that “it’s not everyday you get to eat a burrito at 13,000 feet”. It’s true, and I feel rather fortunate. Bibbs is going farther than us today, so we hug and say goodbye, anticipating not seeing each other until Durango. She really has been an awesome hiking partner and a really fun friend to spend the last week with. We’ll miss her.

When we finish our lunch we head down the other side of the pass and a mile and a half later there’s Bibbs, sitting there in the grass. She’s staring at a lake below us, Cataract Lake, where Squat and I had decided to camp.

“It’s too pretty”, she says. “I can’t pass this up, I’m camping here tonight.

We all make our way down to set up camp by the lake. Of course we don’t actually follow the trail down to the lake because it seems faster to go straight down, so pretty soon I’m bushwhacking through giant brush that’s almost as tall as I am. Next thing I know the ground is soggy, and when I finally push my way through the bushes and step out into the field, I’m in a giant marshy area. There’s no way my feet are staying dry through this. With each step my feet sink about 6 inches into the muddy water. We squish and squash our way across the marshy field, slowly making our way around the lake until we get to dry ground.

“Awww shite. Looks like we have to cross the lake”, I say as we come upon the lake with no way around but through.

Into the lake we go. The three of us step into the water, shoes and clothes and all, and start walking across the lake in about 2 foot deep water. The mud is like quicksand in the bottom. It’s slimy and nasty and I sink into the mud close to a foot with each step. All the sudden I take a step and sink to my waste.

“Your pack, your pack!” Bibbs yells at me and tries to help me up, as I scramble in the mud trying to get out of the hole into which I’ve fallen. Miraculously my pack isn’t wet. That’s really all I care about. I’m wet and filthy up to my waste, but I’m laughing the rest of the way across the lake and up onto shore. We all decide that we’re glad we didn’t take the trail down. This way was so much more adventurous, right?

Squat and I set up camp and make dinner and I try to clean myself up a bit, and then the rain starts. It’s real windy by this lake, real, real windy. The wind is trying to blow us over. We retreat back into the confines and comfort of our home and try to fall asleep under the pelting rains and fierce winds. I’m a little nervous- we’re quite exposed and if lightening comes, then what? Oh well, nothin we can do now. What can you do? Sleep is my best option, I decide.

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A search for the missing Yurt.

Day 26, 8/2
Miles: 8.7 (+2 in wrong direction)
Mileage: 357.4 – 366.1

I’m woken up much to early for a town day, before 7am, by a loud voice talking in the living room. Grumbling, I stumble to the bathroom then back to bed, try to close my eyes again but all I hear is loud voices. Instead of sleeping I read emails, check Facebook and Instagram, look through my texts. After a while Bibbs, Squat and I walk next door to the coffee shop to use the wifi and get some breakfast. We sit there for a very long time talking and drinking coffee, enjoying the bliss of a relaxing morning. There’s music playing in this coffee shop, music that I like, and I realize how much I really miss hearing music on the trail. I close my eyes occasionally and let the sweet sound of tunes sink into my brain. I think about how good it makes me feel, how some of these songs touch me in a very deep place. I truly am in heaven right now, I think. Listening to this music, drinking a delicious coffee and eating a bagel, enjoying the company and conversation of two friends, sitting in this coffee shop that has good vibes and a fun atmosphere. I love town days.

We spend most of the day sitting, wasting time but not actually wasting time- it’s called rest- texting and talking on the phone, posting pictures and blogs. Several more of our friends show up a little after noon, we hang out and catch up on the last few days. Squat and I make our way to the small grocery store where everything is outrageously priced to buy our food for the next three days. We stop at the convenience store for snacks, Two Piece is there, and we decide to head over for ice cream. I order a double scoop of four different flavors, and the thing is HUGE. I mean it’s BIG. It’s four scoops, really. I don’t think I’m gonna be able to eat all of it because it’s like the size of my head, but I end up eating all but about five bites.

There’s word of a Yurt about 8 miles into the next segment, so Squat, Bibbs and I decide to take a nero instead of a zero, get to the yurt tonight, and have a shorter day tomorrow. We had planned to leave town around 3 but we’re having too good of a time, so it’s 4:30 when we start hitching. It takes longer than usual to find a hitch, but eventually a nice guy gives us a ride, and once again he’s not even going in that direction. People are so generous around here.

It’s 5:45 when we start walking. We have a little over 8 miles to walk and it is a gradual climb, so we estimate that we’ll get there between 9 and 9:15, right when it gets dark. 6 miles in we see a trailer out in the middle of a field, in the middle of no where. Well that’s strange, I think, who would be out here and what is a trailer doing in the middle of a random field? We start walking towards it to investigate, two dogs run towards us, and a man walks out who doesn’t look very friendly. We turn around and head back for the path. Next thing I know the man is walking towards us, and eventually catches up. I’m a little nervous at first but my fears diminish quickly. The man barely speaks english, but we find out he’s a sheep herder from Peru. He’s loud and talkative and eccentric, talking 90% in Spanish but occasionally using an English word. Through my broken Spanish and his broken English, we have quite a long conversation, then he points into the field behind us where we see hundreds and thousands of sheep. 2,500 sheep, to be exact. The man walks with us for a few minutes up the hill, then wants to take pictures. He wants to take a lot of pictures- selfies with all four of us, then a picture with each of us individually. He sincerely shakes our hands and happily says goodbye and best wishes, then heads into the field to heard his sheep.

I’m laughing up the hill thinking about that funny exchange, until we turn a corner and in front of us is a spectacular sunset. It’s amazing! The sky is still blueish, but the clouds are lit up a bright, golden/orange color. A silhouette of the mountains in the distance make for a picturesque scene. We walk off the trail higher up onto the hill and I take picture after picture, trying to capture each color of the sky as it changes by the moment. We all three are yelling with excitement, exclaiming how beautiful it is and how glad we are that we came out here tonight. The whole sky turns golden, followed by dark orange, and the clouds eventually start to get darker creating a beautiful contrast in colors.

Now though, we still have about 2 1/2 miles to walk, and the sun is behind the hills. It’s getting cold too. I’m still wearing my shorts but I don’t want to take the time to dig out my warmer clothes so I just throw on my rain jacket and walk fast. We’ll get there in about an hour, I can handle that. I put my headlamp on when it gets dark and start speeding down the jeep road.

45 minutes later or so, we start to question where we’re at. We’ve started to walk back uphill, and that isn’t showing on the elevation profile. We check the map again. We look in front of us, as far as our headlamps will allow, and as far as we know it continues uphill. This definitely can’t be right. We try to estimate how many miles we’ve walked… 9 maybe? The Colorado Trail should have left the jeep track and started on single track at mile 7.9, but we didn’t see a turn off. Were we paying close enough attention? We’re afraid to turn back if we haven’t gone far enough yet, but after looking at the map several times I decide that I’m 95% positive that we’ve gone too far, and I think we need to turn back.

It’s 9:20. We decide to walk until 9:45 and if we don’t find anything, we’ll throw our tents up wherever we are and find it in the morning, in daylight. Back the way we just came we go, back up the steep jeep track that we just walked down for no reason. Squat and Bibbs start to question where we’re headed after about 15 minutes of breathing heavily up this steep road, but I feel more and more certain that we’re getting close.

“We’re almost there, just a little bit farther”, I repeat several times as we walk.

I can tell that Bibbs isn’t certain like I am, and she’s about ready to give up and put her tent up right here and now. I make sure to sound extra enthusiastic and extra sure that I know where we’re at so that she doesn’t give up just yet. If Bibbs gives up, Squat will give up. If Squat gives up, I don’t have a choice. But I’m determined to find this yurt. I know it’s close, within a mile, I think.

Finally I see a stick up ahead- anyone who travels by trail knows that a stick is a very good sign- it usually means a trail marker. Another 50 feet and now I’m certain, this is it! We yell, we scream, we’re totally enthused. Finally we’re back on the trail! Now we know the yurt is less than a mile away. Now our only challenge is going to be finding it in the trees- we don’t know exactly how far into the trees it is, we don’t know if our headlamps will even shine far enough to show us.

We make our way very slowly down the trail. Half the time I light up my next couple steps with my headlamp, the other half of the time I shine it to my right into the trees, looking for the yurt. A half a mile of this and we’re starting to get discouraged. Well, shit. Are we even gonna find it? Have we gone all this way and walked all this distance in the dark for no reason?

Suddenly I see a pair of glowing eyes in the trees. I hate seeing glowing eyes- they freak me out. I yell for Squat to get close to me and I start banging my sticks together and talking really loud. Now the three of us are walking down the trail in the pitch dark, headlamps pointing back and forth between the trees and the trail, sticks banging together, yelling and talking loud about absolutely nothing, just to make ourselves feel better because we know there’s animals staring us down in the trees.

“Look! A light!” Bibbs yells.

I retreat a few steps back to where she saw it, and sure enough it looks like a headlamp! We yell towards the light. We hear a faint holler of a guys voice in the distance, up in the trees!

“YES! We found it!” We all scream.

We walk quickly up the hill through the grass and trees, occasionally yelling towards the light so the voice can guide us there. Finally we reach the yurt, and there’s Brian! We’re all so happy that we finally have made it that we can’t stop yelling and squealing with joy. As it turns out, Brian was asleep in the yurt and had given up on us showing up tonight, when he heard a loud voice- my voice- that he recognized. He got up and opened the door to listen, and sure enough when he knew it was us he went and got his headlamp.

Thank God for those two beady eyes in the trees, for if it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t have started making a bunch of noise, Brian wouldn’t have heard us, we wouldn’t have seen his headlamp, thus we may not have found the yurt. A truly awesome and miraculous series of events!

We stumble into the yurt and throw our things down. It’s 10:40. It’s much too late to eat dinner, so I quickly scarf down a beef stick, brush my teeth, rip out my sleeping bag, and crawl into bed. We all talk back and forth from our beds for the next 20 minutes or so, still too worked up to fall asleep right away. What a day! So many things have happened. I catch up on my blog then lie awake for a moment, thinking about how lucky we are to have found the yurt, and how good it feels to be falling asleep under a roof.

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Lake City

Day 25, 8/1
Miles: 10.8
Mileage: 346.6 – 357.4

We wake early, 5:30, and I sit up to eat a fruit and nut bar. Not as tasty as a pop tart but I don’t care! It’s town day! The plan is to make it to the trailhead by noon and catch the free shuttle at 12:30 provided by a trail angel. We’ve heard Lake City is the hardest hitch on the trail, so apparently this nice lady brings people to and from the hostel at noon everyday. Truly an angel!

Although I’m excited and antsy for town it still takes me a long time to get ready. I can tell my body is tired and is just asking me for a break, wondering why I’m feeding it crap then forcing it to walk miles and miles, up and down hills and mountains, day in and day out. Bibbs is out about 15 minutes before us, Squat and I walk out of camp at 7:18. Today shouldn’t be too hard- a 3 mile climb followed by some downhill, then a long walk across Snow Mesa which is relatively flat, followed by two miles down to the trailhead. 11 miles and we will be in town!

What will I eat? Pizza? No, a burger sounds better. Or maybe Mexican food? A salad. I should eat a salad. Alright, a burger and a salad it is. And some ice cream. I need to make a list of stuff we need to remember in town- buy fuel, clean stove, figure out how to back flush my filter, Squat needs a new toothbrush, more TP, we’re out of Starbucks via packets. Can’t forget the Starbucks via’s. I can’t wait to shower. I can’t wait for my clothes to not stink anymore. Oh and beer! How nice it will be to relax and drink a beer!

These are the thoughts that meander around in my brain as we walk. These are the thoughts that every hiker thinks on town days, really.

I see Bibbs up ahead, and I catch her at the top of the climb. More spectacular views, more trying to capture them on my camera. My phone goes dead in the middle of taking a panoramic picture… Damn! I have to stick with my camera for the rest of the day, and my camera kind of sucks. But oh well, I still get to SEE these views with my own eyes! Squat and I get to Snow Mesa, and she is walking in front of me, fast. We’re walking on a giant, giant plateau of grass, at about 12,400 feet. The only way I can tell I’m up this high is when I look to my left- I can see the cliffs of the plateau in the distance, dropping down into the valley. Behind me the Mesa abruptly ends at the mountains we just came off of. Otherwise as far as my eyes can see it’s just grass and small rolling hills stretching far and wide.

We walk across this expanse of grass at a ridiculously fast pace- probably 4+ mph, I guess. On a normal day Squat walks a steady pace, not too fast but not too slow, and sometimes she likes to meander her way down the trail at a comfortable pace for her, probably deep in thought or enjoying the landscape. Some days lately, though, out of her comes what I’ve decided to name “Squats turbo reserves”. I saw this yesterday, running from the storm, and now she’s doing it today, heading across the Mesa towards town. She’s moving FAST. I have to push myself to keep up. It’s kind of enjoyable though, and I walk behind her moving my legs as quickly as they’ll allow me to go.

We reach the trailhead at 11:15- 45 minutes faster than planned. We high-five and shout with joy, throw our packs off and visit with Peggy who’s also just arrived at the trailhead. When Bibbs makes it down we decide it may be faster to try to hitch rather than waiting an hour for the shuttle. Bibbs gets a ride from someone who can only fit one person, Simone and I get a ride a few minutes later from some day hikers coming down off the trail. They are SO nice. As it turns out, they are headed to Creede which is the opposite direction from Lake City- about 25 minutes in the opposite direction- but they insist on giving us a ride.

The nice couple drops us off at the hostel, we check in and find Brian there happy to see us arriving. We walk down the street and find a little diner, I order tacos which end up being somewhat small and disappointing for the price, but I do get filled up and it’s better than trail food so I really can’t complain too much.

The day passes by with normal town day activities: Meeting new people, eating more food, showering, walking down Main Street, checking out the sports store and grocery store, doing laundry, drinking beer, relaxing. We are a day ahead of everyone we hung out with in Salida. We miss our friends, but it ends up being a fun night with Bibbs and Brian, two worker guys who are taking their day off in town, and the townies.

There is a bar literally over the fence from the hostel, live music starts up at 8, and eventually I make my way one door over and join the worker guys by the fire. They buy my first beer and we sit and chat, yelling over the music, enjoying the warmth from the fire, the beautiful night, and a cold beer in my hand. I’m happy, so happy. The townies want to talk about my life and our trip, and I make a bunch of new friends per the usual. Finally 11 rolls around and I make my way back to the hostel, into my bed, all the while thinking about how lucky I am to be here, to be living this life and on this incredible adventure. I could not ask for more.

Four 12,000 ft. passes

Day 24, 7/31
Miles: 14.7
Mileage: 331.9 – 346.6

After yesterday’s long day, we’ve decided to let ourselves sleep in a bit today. We’re only walking 14 miles, so it shouldn’t take too long anyway. I wake up around 8 and leisurely start to put my stuff away, talking and moseying around, taking way too long to pack up. It’s 9:30 when we start walking. The sun is shining, the sky is blue and beautiful, the cows are out making noise and eating grass, the landscape is bright and alive.

Only a few minutes into our walk I notice the clouds are starting to build.

“The clouds are already getting thicker”, I comment to Squat and Bibbs.

We walk slowly up the trail, making our way through overgrown brush and grass, up a wet, muddy path where the creek has leaked onto the trail, making for occasional water flow down the center of the path. We have a lot of climbing to do today- one pass plus three more “up and overs”, as we call them, which are basically the same as passes, as they are all over 12,000 feet. As we continue to walk up, the clouds continue to build. It takes several hours to get to the first high point, at just over 12,000 feet, and when I crest the top I am suddenly fearful and hurried. The clouds on the other side are dark. Very, very dark. They loom just barely over the mountains next to us, threatening to strike at any time. The storms really shouldn’t be here yet, it’s not even noon.

Bibbs and I yell down to Squat for her to hurry up so we can get a move on it. When she makes it to the top she stops just long enough for us all to put our rain jackets and pack covers on, and we’re off. As I look for the trail ahead in the distance, I realize it doesn’t go down for a while and the thought scares me. We are up high, above tree line, and these mean, angry clouds are just above us, just barely hanging higher than the mountain peaks we are ascending and descending. The trail leads us around the edge of one ridge line just below and between two peaks. Squat is in front of me, Bibbs behind. All three of us run fast, very fast, down the steep, rocky terrain that looks like it’s not bringing us to safety anytime soon. I’m amazed at how fast Squat is running. I’ve never seen her legs move this fast, and for the first time I’m having a hard time keeping up with her. I’m happy about this actually- proud of her. It’s times like these, when you don’t have an option and are possibly even running for your life, that you realize the power of your own strength. You realize there’s nothing you CAN’T do if it really comes down to it.

The dark clouds above us are giving us their warnings, but we haven’t seen any lightening yet which is a relief. Still we press on, making our way around the rim of these mountains, still exposed and afraid of what could happen with one second of bad luck. I don’t know why I decide to do this, but I suddenly need to take a picture of the landscape. I stop and pull out my phone, take a pano, and the whole time I’m thinking, you are so stupid, why would you stop right now? But I do it anyways.

Finally, we are lowering down towards some clumps of trees, and we see some tents set up ahead of us. We find out it’s a young life camp- there are like 20 of them- and they direct us to a “good” camp site just up ahead. I feel safer here. There are a few trees around, providing some level of protection from the storm above me. We are not the tallest things around anymore. I plop down against a tree and start snacking.

“I never knew my body could move so fast”, Squat says.

Within 5 minutes it starts raining, and then hailing. We are just below our next pass- San Louis Pass- and we are not able keep walking until the storm clears up. Bibbs decides to set up her shelter and she kindly invites us inside, and gets out her sleeping bag. So here we are, three girls smashed into a one person shelter, all squished tightly together so we all fit under one sleeping bag. We sit. We wait. We laugh. We talk. I snap a picture. I share my Cheetos. We occasionally peak outside to check the weather. We wait some more. Almost two hours passes before I take a peak and for the first time I see a small patch of blue. Blue sky! That’s a very good sign! We stare at the sky for a few minutes longer and start to see a couple more small patches of blue peaking through the clouds which are slowly turning a shade of light grey or white, rather than dark blackish grey. We decide to make a run for it.

It’s 3pm at this point, and we haven’t even walked 10 miles. We have just over 5 miles left, but in those
5 miles we need to go up and over one 13,000ft. pass and two more 12,000ft. passes. We discuss the possibility of not even making it to our destination for the night. Where will we camp? Possibly above tree line, or, possibly we might have to walk straight down off of the trail, down into the trees if the weather gets bad again. We hope for the best and walk fast towards the top of San Luis Pass.

The weather clears up for us and we are so thankful. We do manage to make it over all three passes. It is hard going up a steep set of switchbacks or just directly up the slope for a mile or so, then walking steeply back down the other side, and finally steeply back up the next slope, three times. My body doesn’t like what I’m doing to it- I’m still not fully recovered from our 30 mile day yesterday, joints are still sore, and now I’m not giving it a break. I think about how much more I like having one solid steady climb up for miles and then back down for miles, rather than this up, down, up, down stuff- how much easier it is on my body.

The scenery throughout the whole day is absolutely breathtaking. I decide that it’s the most beautiful we’ve had on the trail yet. All I can see in all directions as far as my eyes will take me is mountain peaks by the hundreds. I wonder how many are 13’ers and how many are 14’ers. I learned from someone a while ago that Colorado has over 700 13,000 ft. peaks, and I think about this on days like today when I see so many of them at once. I stop many times on the way up the 13,000ft. pass to take pictures and pano’s with my phone and camera. I wish pictures would do justice, but they just don’t. No picture will ever capture what I’m seeing right now as I make my way high into the sky in the middle of Colorado’s mountains. I want to capture these moments forever, so I try, but I’m just not sure how good they really will be. Not good enough, that’s for sure.

We finally reach the creek where we will camp at around 6:30. Today was a very long day, for only a short mileage day. We’ve decided that the fear of thunder storms also zaps the energy out of you, and today is no exception at all. I review the series of events that today gave us- one long 8 mile climb over the first pass, getting stuck in the storm, hunkering down in Bibbs’ tent for two hours praying the storm will pass, walking over three more passes and high points, feeling the energy slowly drain from my body, and now here- at camp, eating mac n cheese and a snickers, falling into bed as soon as chores are done, allowing myself to drift off to sleepy land almost instantly. My body lies in this cozy cocoon of feathers, my mind floats around in another world, one in which it will find the energy and strength to get me up in the morn and deliver me to town.

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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.