The Trail Provides
Day 1: 27 miles, ~6,000 ft elevation gain
I started at 7 am with Skylar and her pops for a few miles and then headed up and up and up on my way southbound to allow Red Stripe a town break and for us to try to sync up. I’ll come back to Steamboat in a few days and head NoBo with her to Canada!
I know that I’m fit and experienced, but I really haven’t researched this particular trail very much. Everyone has so much sun protection (long sleeves, pants, hoods). The trail is so much sunnier than I expected. The sun at this high elevation is depleting but I feel like I would get hot if I wore all those layers.
All morning I felt like I was going through my food too quickly. I felt like I had a foggy hangover tired feeling; a desperate need to detox from society and assimilate to trail pace and life. The transition and start is hard. Harder than I expected.
My leg muscles ached and felt like they were working hard. The 25 lb pack on my back and the nonstop climbing took its toll early on. I forgot about the hip bone pain and bruising from the hip belt. Maybe they just get used to it eventually? My feet felt hot in my darn tough socks and larger hiking shoes, but I know better than to mess with that shoe/sock system that works for wet or swollen feet from carrying a load. My feet have different requirements than they would if I were trail running or day hiking with a light load.
I started in an emotionally fragile and hesitant state. A few times I thought “I think I’ll just get off trail after this little segment.” My shoulders ached. The bugs swarmed me and ate me alive every time I took a 5 min pack off break (only twice before 2:00 pm).
I shed a few tears as I shed a bit of excess life burden on the first never ending 10 mile climb. Every time I sunk low (which happened more frequently and easily than I had anticipated) I would meet another hiker going NoBo. The, smiles, short friendly exchanges, introductions and seeing how weathered they were compared with my clean and “fresh” self on day one gave me a boost. Meeting a happy couple in their late 70s hiking together as the woman finishes her triple crown was so awe inspiring. Their names were T minus and Island Boy. Every time I was dragging that morning I’d either get a phone call, a text of encouragement or meet someone and it was enough to nudge me along and remain present. My confidence is pretty low as the aches and pains feel insurmountable and the sun and heat depleting and exhausting beyond belief.
When I want to quit I think about the advice I gave a hiker only a week or so ago that was also given to me on the AT. Don’t quit until you have hiked at least 5 consecutive days or 100 miles, whichever comes first. It is kind of the thru hiker rule about pushing through this initial pain and transition.
The afternoon terrain was beautiful but the chorus of thunder began around noon and never stopped. I dived a few storms (or perhaps just delayed getting caught in them), but I go pounded by cold rain turned to hail turned to sunny turned to rainy etc. The whole afternoon was wet and cold and thunderous.
I almost called it quits at mile 25 when I was in the loudest thunder I think I have ever heard, when 5 minutes later the sun came out and there was a rainbow. I pressed on to a dry camping area loaded down with water for the night and the big climb in the morning. I had sunshine for the last two miles. I got to camp and set up my tent and exactly 1 second after I got in my tent to cook it started raining and thundering again. I was so glad to be out of it.
I crashed hard at 9:30 pm.
Day 2: 22.5 miles
I woke up at 4:59 from birds and sunlight, packed up my wet tent and put on soaking wet socks and shoes and began climbing.
This is the last 12k-ER for the NoBos (who all seem so tired and worn down from Colorado!) but only the first for me. The climb was GORGEOUS and steep and the trail disappeared a lot. It got windy and cloudy along the ridge. On my way down I ran into an AT buddy Earl Grey Goose! How fun to see a familiar face on trail!
There have been so many blown down trees on this stretch of trail so far. It has challenged my hip injury (which I’ve been dealing with since March) as I have to step over them like hurdles. I also have to go under them limbo style sometimes when they are too high. It has been an obstacle course in many ways that has slowed my rhythm quite a bit.
I pressed on through more burn sections and took a longer lunch break to dry out my socks and shoes and tent some. Everything became covered in black soot at this creek stop because there is ash everywhere from a recent burn. The break ended up being a little over an hour. Everything was completely dry but I just wasn’t quite ready to tackle the afternoon.
Once I got going I had a rough time finding strength and energy. I kept stoping at creek crossings to splash my body with water and soak my feet as they felt too hot in my thick socks. The sun was blasting and in the burn areas there was just no reprieve. After a little while I began an 9 mile climb that felt truly never ending. I got lost twice on the climbs. The first one was a beep road that shot straight up and I missed the trail junction off to the side and kept going up and up and up the very rocky and steep keep road, only to have to backtrack and go down just to then go up The even steeper trail section.
The second time was also on an incredibly steep incline. There were so many fallen trees and the trail just disappeared so I headed straight up where I thought the trail would go only to discover I needed to go laterally for quite a while before the steep climb. Back tracking down over dense woods with many fallen trees on an incredibly steep mountainside was taxing and mentally discouraging to say the least.
The fallen trees all over the trail slowed me down massively this afternoon and I had hoped to hike about 5 more miles than I did. I ran out of steam (if o had any to begin with) and was in a pretty sluggish/negative head space. I just wanted it to be over. I felt like I was having some symptoms from the altitude (sleepy, foggy, bonky, slow, apathetic, and massive exhaustion).
I finally found a campsite about 1.5 miles down from the ridge and realized I completely forgot how to make my favorite trail dinner: beans and rice. I couldn’t remember how much water or what to do. I made it up and let it soak for a while but I ended up eating some undercooked brown rice before calling it a night at 9:45 pm.
“If you're lost and alone, or you're sinking like a stone
May your path be the sound of your feet upon the ground
Carry on” - Fun
Day 3: ? miles
I slept in until 5:20 and hit the trail at 5:51am. I descended gently with only a few very manageable down tree obstacles
for an easy 5.5 miles until the road. I am being forced to take a road shortcut/bypass because the trail east of the road is closed due to very bad burn damage. I’m not sure how long this road walk is, but it is a welcome reprieve from the high elevation and challenge of the trail. It feels so easy and manageable.
I have seen a consistent flow of NoBo thru hikers out here and a few blow past me on a mission but most of them are SO friendly and kind to me. Apparently there are two other Sprouts out here (and they hike together sometimes!) I think they are nearby so I’ll likely meet them. Each time I have human interaction and smile and connect even for only a few moments it snaps me out of my own head and is a mini restart to keep pushing. The saying “the trail provides” has truly been seen with the fact that I started SoBo and have been able to see and meet so many NoBos that I’ll likely see again once I head north out of Steamboat tomorrow.
Some of the hikers I’ve met bear the trail names: PDF, Nude Beach, Sleeping Bear, Fire Hazard, Sugar Mama, Symbiosis, Hobo Toe, Tapeworm, and Snowballs. The crowd is generally older, more couples and definitely more seasoned/experienced hikers than the AT. This trail is advanced and already testing me.
I have a few town errands I’ll need to take care of today. My sunscreen ran out so I definitely need to get some more of that as my thighs already burned. My body glide somehow disappeared and my feet are in need so I’ll try to find something for that. My SPOT tracker batteries are also dying so I’ll replace those.
Today will be a lot of road walking as I walk into Grand Lake (where I will eventually return to after reaching Canada for my flip to head Sobo to Mexico). Then I’ll hitch hike or take Greyhound to Steamboat Springs where I have some more road walking to complete there and then hit the trail up Rabbit Ear pass with Red Stripe hopefully tomorrow if things work out.
I woke up this morning llena de mocos: phlegm in my lunch’s, nose, sore throat etc. Just felt super under the weather. I forgot I should probably add a multivitamin to my resupply regimen so I get some Vitamin C out here. I met a guy on the AT who actually got scurvy from Vit C deficiency due to the trail diet.
My shoulders and feet ache but I’m mental in such a more stable place compared with yesterday. The altitude combined with exertion just about knocked me to the ground. I kept drinking water but I was peeing clear and forcefully constantly all day. It felt like I would have two sips of water then pee three times in the following hour. I think the water was not being absorbed properly and I was in need of electrolytes. I definitely didn’t eat as much as I had hoped but had zero appetite most of the day. I had a packet of Gatorade on standby but just never put forth the effort to empty it into my bottle and filter water in it. I was being lazy and l