Day 9 – 11.7mi
It’s a sleepless night, and I realize that I’m not chill enough to wait more than a week to be reunited with my passport. Today, I am going to get it in my hands, somehow.
It starts in the dark, as usual. I camped through the thunderstorms on the flanks of Mt Massive, and I pass the junction for the trail to the top of the fourteener less than a mile in. I cross five headlamped parties getting their early start to climb it.
The clouds are cleared so the sunrise is red and piercing – not like the gradual greys of yesterday’s fog. Starting with the stars, I can also see the lights of scattered civilization, through the trees, in the valley below.
The few creek crossings this morning are the wildest yet. Not that they were dangerous, but they were quite difficult if you didn’t want to get your feet wet – deep and just wide enough that a jump feels risky. Slipping on logs in the dark, I end up with one set of cold wet toes. The sound of rushing water in the blackness somehow makes it seem more alive.
Then past another trailhead for another fourteener, Mt Elbert. I think I spy the peak from the trees on my approach. And pass more groups heading for the heights, while I beeline below the treeline. As much as I can, with a sore shoulder.
A few aching miles later, I descend to Twin Lakes, getting a good view of the absolutely massive collegiate peaks just across the water. Everything seems so big in this country, the sheer volume of rock encased in those grandiose shapes. Everything is out of reach.
Quick dry of my tent in the sun, and it takes me less than five minutes to hitch a ride up to Leadville. I am nervous about being all vulnerable with my thumb out (I’ve only hitched two times before, and not in this country), but a really nice guy who is out scouting for mountain goats picks me up and it is cool to learn more about the wildlife, big nature, and hunting in this unreal country.
From Leadville, a bus back to Frisco, and it takes two minutes to walk to the motel and pick up my precious document. I’m glad I decided to make the journey, for my own piece of mind.
Then, bus back down to Leadville two hours later. (Thank God for you, free buses). It’s cool to see Kokomo Pass from a different perspective, having been up on it two days ago.
I have half a mind to try and get back to Twin Lakes and camp, but it’s pouring and I’m tired and just need to collapse somewhere. I end up at a hostel in Leadville and know I’ve made the right choice to zero here tomorrow – hopefully I’ll get the rest I need to battle the decision fatigue on wether to take Collegiate East or West.
I can’t see a clear way through on that one yet, and for some reason it seems very consequential – as if there were a wrong choice. But we see, after sleep.
Day 10 – 0mi
First zero, and I’m so glad it is. I don’t get up to much, just some errands around Leadville, and mostly just relish in the fact that I don’t have to put my pack on. And, I don’t have to worry any of the usual worries. Which is nice.
Last night, I dreamed of Cottonwood Pass, and I wake up with conviction. Collegiate West is the decision. I feel relief at finally choosing, after having the choice loom over me the past few days.
From Twin Lakes, the trail splits off into two alternates, east and west, through the collegiate peaks. The east route stays lower in elevation and mostly below treeline, while the west takes on some of the higher, more remote, more exposed, but very beautiful ridges and passes. My entertainment of taking the east route these past few days has been fueled I think from fear and fatigue. Fear of the difficulty, the exposure, the fearmongering online. But I know I can do it, I know it will be worth it. I just need a bit of rest to be ready for it.
And a bit of planning, for peace of mind. I break down the ~85 mile stretch into chunks bracketed by sheltered areas, for protected camping. I project a modest daily mileage, given the climbs and the mystery of Mother Nature, and tell myself it’s okay to take it a bit slower than I’ve been taking it recently if that’s what I need to feel comfortable.
Because honestly, the worst part of this hike so far has been the anxiety. It would be nice to have less of that in the future – not to mention that it also makes it hard to eat.
One of my bunk mates in the hostel is a really friendly CT hiker, and we exchange numbers. They get back on trail today, and I hope I chance upon them again.
In the afternoon, another Canadian hiker I’d briefly met on day two walked in to the hostel, and we spend a good while catching up and just chatting. Before I know it, it is later in the afternoon, and I go to grab my laundry and sort out my mess of smelly things.
I have two new bunk mates tonight, including another SOBOer. Everyone’s going to get pizza together later, and I’m on the fence, but I opt to stay in, since I missed the afternoon nap I was anticipating and want some quiet time.
I reflect on how I am in conversation with people, versus how I am alone. I think about how clumsy I feel with words and body language, trying to relate but not feeling like I’m revealing my true self. Automatic responses emanate from my mouth before I can determine their truth – falling into patterns that I don’t think I identify with. It’s confusing being a person, sometimes, finding yourself grating between the individual and the collective.
I try to be excited for the experiences to come, and not dwell on what could go wrong. This next stretch is going to be a treat, and I hope I can treat it as such.
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