CDT: Great Basin

Descending down into Wyoming’s Great Basin, you get a feel for the contours of the land. It’s a giant bowl of desert ringed by mountains and makes for easy, flat walking.

The basin has no protection from storms, but what it lacks in shelter it makes up for in hordes of cows. There are also herds of wild horses roaming the landscape. Although I complain about it a lot, and it was rough in the middle of the day, it was overall a pretty neat section of trail. 

The trees disappear and are replaced by cows. Not a trade I’d generally prefer, but after constantly having wet and freezing feet for the past two weeks I’m willing to make a few concessions.

I cross Highway 287, where you can hitch into the town of Lander, and keep going an hour and a half to South Pass City. South Pass is a Wyoming state park, and consists of a few old restored 19th century buildings. In lieu of hitching into Lander hikers can send a box of food to South Pass, which is what I did. Another hiker was camped out in the grass next to the restrooms, which the historic site keeps open at all hours for hikers.

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Not a lot of people live in the basin. But this tiny town was pretty cool and super hiker friendly. Wyoming is awesome. 

Judge Judy (not his real trail name, but I’ve renamed him without his consent for being such a judgmental old man and it’s stuck) is harassing the woman running the place, and I push my way through this insanity to send my father a postcard. Then I bolt, because there’s no restaurant here and I want to get dinner in Atlantic City before the region’s sole restaurant closes.

Like the rest of the basin, the 4.5 mile walk to Atlantic City is flat, dry, and on deserted dirt roads. I sit at the bar with a bunch of locals in cowboy hats and inhale a massive burger and peach cobbler. It’s the kind of place where the bartender calls any youth under 65 “honey” and seems to spend much of her time chatting.

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The basin is pretty much like this for a week. 

I walk half a mile outside of town and camp by the road. I’d done 20 miles by 2pm, plus another 4.5 to the restaurant, but I’m not sore at all. I feel strong, but not as strong as the wind that hammers my tent all night and makes sleep neigh impossible.

The Atlantic City episcopalian reverend lets me spend the night on the couch in the community center, which is my first time sleeping off the floor in about seven weeks. I hadn’t taken a day off for five weeks, so it’s probably time to do so. There’s a kitchen and lots of supplies, and I cook dinner before falling asleep at 8pm. Bliss.

The basin is cool for the first couple of days, but then it gets ungodly hot in the day and makes me hate everything. I don’t see another human for 47 hours, and I can see why. It’s a dust bowl in the middle of nowhere, with cows and some of the most disgusting cow-defiled water sources imaginable.

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I scared away the cows at this spring and sat in a wooden enclosure while the midday heat fried what little remains of my sanity. Then the cows came back and started mooing at me. Whenever cows annoy me I just dream of getting a burger. 

Hikers do all kinds of crazy things in this section, like 62 miles in 24 hours, but the midday heat fries my mind and I do only 25 to 30 miles a day. I try night hiking but the howls of coyotes all around me are a little disconcerting, so I just follow my usual dawn to dusk walking schedule.

The night before arriving at Rawlins, 120 miles from the last highway, a strong wind makes me collapse my tent and sleep on top of it.

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No highway sign can tell me what to do!  A police car briefly turned on his siren when he passed me but didn’t do anything, so I kept going. Oftentimes the police in these tiny towns are older guys who are very hiker friendly, and getting a ride into town from the sheriff is not unheard of while hitching. 

In the morning I walk in the dawn light along the highway into Rawlins, and upon learning it’s an 8 mile round trip walk to the laundromat and campground just book a room. I spend about 23 hours in the Days Inn which has a hiker discount of $20 off.

The other hikers and I don’t really leave the hotel other than to get food. It’s amazing to have a room to myself and go down to pet Luna when I get the urge.

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My favorite southbounder! She’s already done the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails. I’ve been meeting so many awesome trail dogs, and I’m actually starting to like dogs. 

Sonic, who I met at REI in Columbus, has caught up with me. We hang out in the McDonald’s drinking pumpkin spice lattes and putting off leaving town. I’ve only met around 11 other southbounders since Canada, so meeting a new one is a pretty big deal. It turns out we went to Ohio State at the same time, and probably passed each other on campus walking to class. Small world. Or maybe not, considering there are almost 50k undergrads there.

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Thankfully I’ve downloaded audiobooks from the Columbus Public Library to my phone to keep me occupied in the basin. Right now I’m listening to Endurance, about the Shackleton antarctic expedition. It’s not really visible, but a herd of wild horses are running across the road. 

It’s 35 miles to the next water source (at the time I think it’s 30 miles, but soon learn the error of my ways). That’s pretty long, so I stock up on 5 liters and head out. I’d originally wanted to go all the way to Steamboat Springs in Colorado, which is about 150 miles away, but carrying five days of food plus all that water seemed masochistic. So I’ll stop in Encampment. There’s a small fire closure, so I’ll need to go into town to check on trail conditions anyways.

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