Big Miles to Catch Red Stripe
Day 3 continued…
NoBo start, 27 miles:
Today was a very disjointed day. I started out with 6 miles of descent and then another 6 mile road walk into Grand Lake where I needed to hitch hike back 2 ish hours to Steamboat Springs, CO to find Red Stripe. The road walk was actually so welcome for my feet, legs, and even my mind. The terrain was so much more mellow and the comfort of being near civilization or towns was needed. Red Stripe had mentioned that the road walks were times when she could just relax and think and not have to focus on all the in the moment trail challenges that pop up. She was 100% right. I was able to plan my next resupply box and just think. The ease of the road just felt like a big sigh of relief and the miles flew by.
The hitch hiking part of the day was a total adventure. I hitched FOUR rides throughout the whole day. My first ride picked me up in Grand Lake and brought me to Granby (15 mins away). I was a little nervous at first, but the guy ended up being super friendly and his mom had just hosted CDT hikers for the 4th of July. He told me about the micro bursts around Grand Lake which explained all the blown down trees and the strange weather patterns in the area.
In Granby, a sewage waste truck pulled over and “Slim Shitty” proceeded to introduce himself to me and offered me a lift halfway to Steamboat Springs. I hopped in the “shit truck” and we were on our way. He was QUITE the character and basically runs the county in terms of port-a-pottys. I learned about how he met his future ex wife at the bar the night before and he told me about his two young children. “Don’t you dare tell anyone that Slim Shitty was so damn nice to you!” were his parting words as he left me at a grocery store on the edge of a town. I went in to buy some lunch and I ended up with olives, potato chips and a banana. The road was HOT. Like even 5 minutes standing out there was absolutely brutal. I wanted about 10 minutes before my third ride pulled over. Lo and behold it was a former AT thru hiker who was driving out from VA to a wedding. He is a professional poker player, who when talking about poker was all business and kept a straight poker face. But when he spoke about the AT he lit up. His memories, nostalgia, and emotions took over and it was like he was a different person. He dropped me off at Red Stripe’s hotel where Skylar picked up Red Stripe and I and took us back out of town so we could do the road walk into town we had partially skipped earlier. I still had 15 miles left, Red Stripe only 6 miles.
The road walk was HOT. It was about 90 degrees and I was at a relatively lower elevation of 8,500 ft. The sun was so intense and felt like it would fry me to a crisp immediately. Luckily I had sunscreen and used my buff to cover my neck and chest and provide a hood to give a little shade to the sides of my face. Most of the CDT thru hikers wear a sun hoodie shirt. It looks a little warm to me, but the sun protection must be worth it. At one point I felt like the shade from the partly cloudy skies was taunting me. The shade would be slightly to my left, to my right, or in front of me, but I was NEVER, not once in it. I actually felt some drops of sweat on my head and face. It’s so ridiculously dry out here that I never few sweat on my body, which is probably why it’s hard to remember electrolytes. I used my Gatorade powder today in one of my water bottles. The first few sips made my stomach queasy but an hour later I tried again and I felt fine and got the electrolytes down.
Red Stripe planned to keep hiking after the road walk and head back into the mountains, but I needed a shower, laundry and some rest after such a long day (and first few days on trail). Luckily, I was able to “slack pack” and I left a few of my heavier items with Skylar so I could move more quickly on the road. And I did. I hauled ass on the road and made really good time. Skylar has class in the evening so I needed to hitch hike for the 4th time that day to get into town from the trailhead. My 4th hitch was from an older man that was about to plan an 8 day backpacking trip with his friend and had tons of gear questions that I was able to expertly field.
Skylar and her family are absolute angels. She drove me SO much to all of my “starts” in this confusing flip flop AND welcomed me into her parent’s home. Their home was an absolute oasis. Skylar, the foodie that she is, prepared me delicious vegan food and it left me feeling completely spoiled as it is such a rare day that someone ELSE prepare and serve me delicious vegan homemade meals.
Day 4: 33 miles!
Yesterday’s road walk and intermittent jogging caused some blisters on my feet. I spent some of the morning tending to my blisters when Skylar’s dad offered me some pieces of wool to wrap around my toes or just place on top of the blisters as moleskin would likely slide off/make it worse. I taped one section of my foot and wrapped some toes in pieces of his wool and took some vitamin/supplements Skylar offered me as my head cold/allergy situation was really knocking me out. I was NOT feeling good. I had a sore throat (for a few days now) and the congestion in my head just made everything feel worse.
I hit trail at 7 am and was only 6 miles behind Red Stripe, but I was dragging. The heat and sun and distractions prevented me from getting into a groove for a while. I lost my sunglasses early on at one of my stops to change from cold clothes to warm and sunny clothes. UGH! I was three days away from the mere possibility of being able to pick up a pair of new sunglasses, and they are absolutely essential out here! The sun intensity combined with the altitude and dryness makes for extremely bright days and my eyes were already not happy with this allergy/cold thing I was fighting. They were watering all the time.
And then, the mosquitoes came out. Oh. My. God. These were the MOST aggressive and horrendous mosquitoes I’ve ever encountered. They were biting through all my clothes (regardless of if they had been sprayed with Permethrin or not) and had not a care one the world about my incense or bug spray. Going to the bathroom was just awful. They swarmed me like a cloud of flying torture bugs and bit me left and right. Combatting them all day was genuinely so fatiguing and mentally taxed me. At one point I was putting on sunscreen and the bugs were swarming me and I swatted the back of my knee and a giant biting fly had bitten me int he back of my knee. The area swelled up SO much and became so hot and red. The circumference was bigger than the size of a grapefruit and when I bent my knee it really hurt from all the fluid from the swelling and just being tender from a VERY nasty bite. The redness took over most of my calf. It was quite the sight and equally as uncomfortable.
When I stopped for “lunch” I immediately put on all my rain gear and my mosquito net, lit a few sticks of incense and was able to filter water and have a lunch break in some peace. I texted with Red Stripe some to see how far ahead she was and where she was thinking about stopping for the night. I had cell service and was able to call my eye Dr. in Austin to get the tracking info on my prescription sunglasses that were supposed to be shipped out a few weeks prior. It turns out they hadn’t shipped them so I was able to get them to overnight the sunglasses to Encampment, Wyoming so I would have a pair of sunglasses awaiting me (AND be able to see!) woohoo!
I took an antihistamine because I was just dragging all morning and needed to be able to breathe and move better. The antihistamine started working a few hours later and I felt like a new person. I had many emotional ups and downs throughout the day. I randomly burst into sobbing tears multiple times and then just like it started it would stop and I’d be taking pictures of the clouds again feeling on top of the world. I knew hormones were at play here as well, but it was hard in the low moments to want to keep going. It also felt hard to trust my feelings since they were such a rollercoaster throughout the whole day. It didn’t help that I was 4 days in, had hiked over 100 miles already, and wasn’t feeling good. What an aggressive start.
After leaving my lunch spot I hiked away for about half a mile when I realized I had left my poles at the creek! NOOOO!!! A storm was flirting and there was thunder and a few rain drops and that rainy breeze but I dropped my pack and ran back to get my poles. The storm took a different path and it never rained on me, but that extra out and back to get my poles was so unnecessary on an already very long day on trail.
Not long after that I took a fall (just tripped?) but it was enough to have me take my pack off and just sit for a moment to regroup. Yikes.
I definitely am not sure if I want to hike this whole trail. I spent a lot of hours thinking about how I have nothing to prove to anyone and I need to remember my “why’s” and if I feel like it’s not aligning well then I don’t need to put myself through hell every day just because I set out to thru hike and said I was going to do it. I don’t need to feel like a quitter, but maybe I can work out whatever I need to out here and call it when it feels time. Or maybe I’ll hit a groove and keep going. I certainly won’t quit without at least taking a zero day because sometimes a day of rest can bring about a ton of clarity.
Wow. I hit a second wind for sure. After the biggest climb of the day I was on a ridge above tree line and got to enjoy the most epic sunset with lightning off in the distance. It was so beautiful. Another hiker, Hat Trick, had been yo-yo-ing with me all afternoon and I’m so glad he also got to witness what I was seeing. The alpine lakes, layered mountain backdrop and absolutely majestic sunset made for such a perfect evening and gave me the energy I needed to keep forging ahead to try and catch up to Red Stripe. The descent off the ridge was fast and beautiful. But then I entered a flat region with grassy bogs just as it was starting to get pretty dark. I rolled up to the last water stop where Red Stripe texted she thought she had left her water filter and water bottle. I turned on my head lamp and looked and looked - up and down the creek and along the shores and could not find it.
I kept going and kept losing the trail in the bog and the headlamp I have is not ideal for way-finding. I also had some snow patches to navigate around or through and again, doing this stuff at night made it very challenging. My headlamp is bright enough to see on a well defined trail, but to look ahead and way-find in a tall grassy bog or snow field was almost impossible. I kept getting lost and it took me a while to get through this section. SOMEHOW, while I was off trail in a bog, I just HAPPENED to step RIGHT where Red Stripe’s water bottle and water filter were lying on the ground in the middle of this bog, well off the “trail.” I scooped it up and kept pushing. There was absolutely no way I could have stopped now if I had wanted to because the land all around me was marshy and I also didn’t have a great sense of where the trail was. I eventually found the trail after the marshes and was getting closer to where I knew Red Stripe was camping.
The lightning storm that was so beautiful and off in the distance at sunset was now getting closer to me and I could hear thunder associated with it. At one point, when I was like half a mile away I counted the seconds between the lightning and the thunder. 35 seconds. Is that childhood memory even scientifically sound? Does 35 seconds equate to 35 miles away? I hoped it was that far away because I figured it would give me time. Then I turned left and was headed straight towards the storm - like head on. I kept contemplating just setting up my tent but at this point I was only a quarter mile away from Red Stripe and I really just wanted to lay eyes on her tent! 9 seconds apart. Wow. This storm was HUGE and moving VERY fast.
I finally saw a headlamp pop on inside of a little green tent and I knew it was Red Stripe! We shouted some stuff to each other as I cruised towards her. YAY! I had made it! I set my stuff down and gave her her water bottle and filter telling her it was a freaking miracle I had found it! Just as I had arrived, so had the storm. It was like I brought it right with me. And like a micro-tornado I tried setting up my tent and it kept blowing over. Red Stripe kept laughing at the comedy of errors that ensued right before her eyes as I tried to set up my tent in the rain and crazy wind. I set up the rainfly inside out and had to flip it over which just made the inside of my tent even more wet. I had to put my pack in it to try to hold it down so it wouldn’t blow away on me. Everything was instantly wet and JUST when I finished setting everything up and took shelter from the crazy storm it stopped. Like completely stopped. It was such a short lived and violent storm, seemingly only to grace us with its presence for my arrival and set up. It was like 10:00 pm and I contemplated making dinner. I wasn’t hungry, but I knew it had been a long day and tomorrow would be the same so I made some pasta from Outdoor Herbivore and failed to read the instructions and completely messed up the dinner. I had to wait a solid 20 minutes before I could drink my soupy pasta water and fork out the penne. By the time I was eating I had an appetite, so I was glad I made something to eat.
What a day. What a last few days. I finally made it to Red Stripe and felt as if I had landed. The rest of the hike felt more manageable now with a partner and someone to laugh with.