Day 7 – August 19
Another morning, another tent damp inside and out with condensation. Rustling outside tells me that Scott is packing up early to get some distance on the next segment, but I stay put. I do some calculations. My friend (and trail angel), Jason, is meeting me tomorrow with my resupply. We will meet at CT mile 302.5, and I am currently avoiding dripping condensation inside my tent at mile 293. That is a mere 9.5 miles to complete by 11 am tomorrow. I snuggle in my quilt and remember my earliest training days, when I couldn’t imagine ever hiking 9 miles. Now it sounds like so little. I am a little worried I’ll get to camp super early and be bored, so I resolve to go back to sleep.
That resolve is short-lived. Once my stomach realizes I am awake, the nausea rears its ugly head again. It seems better than the last couple of days, though. I had been debating asking Jason to take me to an urgent care in Gunnison. If tomorrow morning is also better, I won’t worry about it.
A Slow Day
With this pre-determined date to meet my resupply, I have been forced to slow down. I believe it has done me some good. My altitude symptoms are slowly improving. My cough is lessened, I have more appetite now, and I am slowly regaining my ability to hike uphill without gasping. Nausea aside, I feel progress. I take the morning easy, weaving through the trees trying to soak in the hike. I reach the top of a ridge and have a little bit of cell signal, so I have a leisurely phone call with my husband while eating a snack.
Despite the leisurely pace, Segment 17 is a bit spikier than I expected. There are a couple of steep climbs, including my least favorite kind: no view at the top. There are also lots of dirt bikers. Much of the Colorado Trail is vehicle-free, but for these few segments in the middle, dirt bikes share the trail. Here, the trail is more eroded and – once again – full of loose rock. As a rule, the dirt bikers I’ve encountered were kind and followed trail etiquette. Today, unfortunately, that is not the case. Only one group acknowledges me – “Four more!”… “Last one!” The rest zip by and give me barely enough time to leap out of the way. I am grateful I can at least hear them coming. That, combined with the lack of views and rocky trail, leave me a little frustrated.
Just as my annoyance reaches its peak, I notice something marked on the trail in small sticks. My feet nearly speed right past, but I stop when I see the “300.” I have hiked 300 miles of the trail! That is well over halfway to my goal of finishing. I unexpectedly tear up and feel a real sense of accomplishment.
I emerge from the trees at Lujan Pass onto a wide and exposed dirt road. There is a campground with some RVs and a pick-up truck unloading. As I consult FarOut to find which way to turn, the pick-up driver shouts out, “It’s down this way.” He examines me. “Are you hiking the CT? I have some trail magic here for you! Just setting it up now.” He hiked the trail last year and remembers getting trail magic in this exact spot, and wanted to pay it forward.
I cannot believe it. I haven’t encountered spontaneous trail magic like this yet, either this year or in 2022. My friend brought me an absolute smorgasbord on trail last year, but our meeting was pre-planned. This is for all hikers and I just stumbled across it. I am immediately so grateful.
I sit on the tailgate and drink lots of Gatorade and eat more pizza than my stomach appreciates. Best of all, I indulge in my favorite treat: Reese’s peanut butter cups. I don’t hike with them because they melt too easily, but I happily eat as many as I can stand now. I feel a little guilty – I am getting a resupply and fed tomorrow. But my soul appreciates everything about this moment.
I easily kill over an hour. I consider setting up camp right here, but there’s no water and I am running low in this dry section. No other hikers have arrived, so I feel bad being the only one and don’t want this trail angel to feel awkward. I press on.
A mile or so from Lujan Pass, I encounter Lujan Creek. For the next few miles, there are lots of water options – rare in this stretch of trail. I start looking for camp. Unfortunately, I am hiking on quite a well-trafficked dirt road. I see lots of ATVs and folks driving to camp at Lujan Pass. All the campsites I encounter are right next to the road and clearly visible. Most of them are also full of cow patties, many quite fresh. After the terrifying solo camping experience three nights ago, I need to hold fast to my rule of not camping alone next to roads.
I slowly walk down the road, checking my options. There is a lovely green belt next to an aspen-bordered creek, but it is still somewhat exposed to the road. I feel the anxiety rising. It is mid-afternoon, so most hikers are not camping yet. I could set up and hope others join me…but there is no guarantee. The residual anxiety from the last solo camping is building up. I struggle with anxiety in my day-to-day life. That is partly why I am hiking. I want to be more comfortable being uncomfortable. I want my anxiety triggers to know the enormous things I can overcome.
I start to hike back up towards the RV campground, hoping to encounter hikers setting up camp who will let me join. I can camp alone, and have. But tonight, I just do not want to. Almost immediately, I run into a group of three hikers heading toward me. They are young and cheerful and full of energy. Their joy immediately cheers me, plus they seem thrilled to have me join them for camp. They get it – sometimes you want to be alone, but sometimes you don’t.
We return to the beautiful green belt with aspens and set up camp. This is how I meet Raindrop and Hannah (soon-to-be Marmot). Shortly after setting up, Jeff/PennJ arrives. What incredible luck to meet them all this day, as I ended up hiking with/camping with/spending time with all three of these wonderful hikers numerous times for the remainder of my trip.
Day 8 – August 20 (Zero!)
As with yesterday, I wake slowly to the sound of other campers packing up. Some are leaving early to make it through the next notoriously dry segment. Others are heading the mile to Highway 114 with hopes to hitch into Gunnison. I am left alone and once again have a purposefully slow morning.
The nausea returns again, but doesn’t feel any worse. I decide not to worry about it. It always passes and it hasn’t slowed me down.
I slowly pack up camp and hike the remaining mile to where Jason will pick me up. I am hours early, so I sit in the shade with snacks, reading on my Kindle app. Being frozen in place while others hike past you turns out to be a fun exercise. All morning, I meet hikers. Some I have met before, while others I meet for the first time. Several of those I meet I will encounter in future hiking days in meaningful ways.
Before I know it, a white camper van pulls up, and Jason jumps out. My ride has arrived!
Zero in a Winnebago
My zero can officially begin! Despite my apologies for my stinkiness, Jason hugs me and gathers me into the van. We drive just a quarter mile to a shaded hilltop campsite with a spur trail leading back to the CT. It is perfect.
I take the quickest but most impactful shower, do sink laundry that dries in the sun, organize my resupply, eat well, and relax.
Jason is a close friend from college, where he, his wife (Nora), and I were all in choir together. Despite going through bouts of low contact as life got busy over the years, we have always managed to stay connected. When I announced last year that I would be hiking the CT, Jason wasted no time offering his help – and help he did. He hiked a smorgasbord in to me last year and then hiked me out when I decided to leave trail. He and Nora put me up and fed me as I reeled from leaving trail.
And now he has driven even farther to meet me here. I am not sure what it is about these adventures, but it brings people out of the woodwork. My friend Alonit took me to lunch at Kenosha Pass in 2022 and painted me the most amazing artwork of my last day on trail. My friend Kim immediately wanted to hike with me and did for Segments 8-11. Matt drove me to the the beginning of Segment 1 with his toddler in the backseat – an enormous commitment round trip. Others messaged me through the Garmin at times that were the most impactful, even if they didn’t realize it.
I started hiking at a time I felt alienated and isolated, but community appeared the instant I committed to the journey. As hikers, our journeys push us but also inspire others. This zero with Jason reminds me of all this. I sleep feeling recharged and renewed.
Trail miles hiked: 8.6
1670 gain/ 2640 descent
Campsite elevation: 9976
19.3 miles into Segment 17
77.6 miles since Day 1
301.6 trail miles from Denver
Trail miles hiked: .9
45 gain/245 descent
Campsite elevation: ~9500
Camping off-trail near Segment 18
78.5 miles since Day 1
302.9 trail miles from Denver