The 30 mile water carry turns into 35 miles because I misread the pretty vague instructions on the maps. But it’s fine, and my five liters get me through it.
Sonic catches up with me, and we take shelter from the heat under the first tree we’ve seen in almost a week. The road walk is kind of boring, but it’s flat, easy walking. I know Colorado will be neither of those, and that soon enough I’ll be wishing for heat, so I try to enjoy it while I can.
Getting to the first water source in a day or so is a glorious experience, especially when it’s cold and not infested by cow shit. I filter and immediately chug a liter, with the sun setting and the mountains of Colorado visible to the south.
Tomorrow we’ll climb up, up, and up out of the basin back into the peaks. But tonight we camp at the end of the road walk, as a surprising number of cars zoom past us on the gravel road. We’re in the middle of nowhere, why are there so many cars?!
We agree to set our alarms for 5:30am, concerned by how early it gets dark now, rather than wait for the sun to wake us. The desert is frigid in the pre dawn, and although my headlamp isn’t very powerful the sun starts to rise shortly after we set off on the sinuous, ever-rising route to Colorado.
We follow dirt roads up to a ridgeline, and I pull my phone out to check when we start the “super difficult” climb I’d heard so much about. Turns out we already did it… This trail can be tough in spots, and late season in Colorado can be rough, but so far the difficulty of the CDT is way over hyped.
It takes around 90 minutes to get a ride into Encampment, the last town stop in Wyoming, on a mountain highway with very little traffic.
When I connect to wifi I get messages from Baby, saying the fire closure is now 25 miles. She’s been on the phone with the forest service, and they have a 35 mile road walk to detour the closure but advise walking it ASAP. It should be good for a few days, but they expect the fire to only grow.
Got us a ride back to the trail, meet me at the bar. Sonic messages me. I’ve already paid the $10 to camp at the RV park, but it’s a hard hitch out and I want to get back to the trail ASAP.
“You kids like to smoke dope?!” the older woman asks excitedly when we get closer to the trailhead, after we’d told her stories about our trans-America hike thus far. She and her husband are super nice, but we don’t think it’d be a good idea to night hike drunk and stoned into a wildfire area during hunting season. So we politely decline.
“I’m pretty sure she’s the same one who gave us a ride back to the trail from Encampment,” another hiker later told me. “She told us ‘stop being such a pussy and take a hit’ when we told her we didn’t want any.”
My first night in Colorado I was unable to find a suitable campsite by dark. I started going into a bit of a mental downspiral, having to jump off the road whenever a car came by.
What am I doing out here? This is so stupid. What if there’s snow on the ground and I can’t keep hiking? What if I wake up to multiple feet of snow? What if I get hypothermia in the San Juans? What if I need cold weather gear but I can’t get it?
I realize all these thoughts are counter productive, but Colorado is going to be really tough. The weather can change in an instant, and is notoriously unpredictable. Late September in southern Colorado is a dicey prospect, but there are ways to deal with it. Low routes and cutoffs proliferate the worst of it all: the San Juans. There’s not much I can do other than hike on, pay attention to the weather reports, take low routes when appropriate, and try to enjoy it as much as possible. The latter is easier said than done, and I feel like I have a deadline hanging over me. But the worst part is I have no idea what that deadline is!
I catch up with Sonic and, as per usual, she’s having the exact same thoughts as me. “The San Juans are usually good through early October. Sobos have made it for years on similar timelines, we’ll just have to play it by ear,” she mumbles while eating her massive, hot breakfast at the café.
Hitching into our first Colorado town was easy, about 13 minutes for Sonic and I to get a ride at 8am. I pet the driver’s dog while we descended into Steamboat Springs, and I only wish the other Coloradans were as friendly as him. Our first stop, after the post office to pick up some new shoes and Colorado maps, was McDonald’s to get pumpkin spice lattes and eat a massive breakfast.
“Disgusting,” some woman muttered.
“At least we’re not eating at McDonald’s without walking 30 miles a day,” Sonic growled.
“Colorado is beautiful and I hate everyone in it,” I decided after we kept getting looks of disgust around town. I’ve never felt like hikertrash as much as I have in Colorado, being constantly judged by all the pretentious jerks from Denver.
We leave in the afternoon, and it takes almost 90 minutes and two hitches to get a ride back to the trail. The guy who picks us up doesn’t really believe us when we explain we’re walking 2800 miles from Canada to Mexico. This seems a pretty common reaction. The CDT is fairly obscure, and there are probably only around 140 thru hikers this year. Compared to 2-3k each on the PCT and AT.
There are menacing black clouds of death on the horizon when we start the 11 mile highway walk in the direction of Grand Lake, our next resupply stop. We hurriedly set up our tents in an unofficial camping just off the road, but the storm passes along without a drop of rain. The weather in Colorado is so bizarre.
Rather than thunder, we’re kept up by the angry squeals of a squirrel. We seem to have set up camp in his territory. “Wish I’d brought my bb gun,” is the last thing I hear from Sonic as I fall asleep.
My apprehension about the difficulty of late season Colorado is replaced by excitement. It could be a lot worse, and so far things seem to be going well!