Sonic and I rise at our usual 5:30am. It’s been getting colder at night, usually in the 20s. But with all my layers (5 in total, plus my rain pants and two pairs of wool socks) I’m pretty warm, especially once I start walking. I keep my water filter close to my body at night and while walking in the frigid morning air. If my filter gets too cold then the expanding, freezing water crystals could destroy the sieve. Giardia roulette is not my idea of a good time, and I purify every milliliter of water I don’t get from the tap in town.
Not having had the opportunity to dry out my belongings the day before, I awake to almost all of my things frozen solid. My tent is a solid sheet that I have to shake in order to get it non-rigid, and I just shove it to the bottom of my backpack. I can take care of it later in Winter Park, the next town stop.
Town day! We’d originally been planning on doing the Grays Torres route, in which the official CDT goes over 14k feet, but the cold has been scaring us so we’ve opted to instead do the Silverthorne route. So we’ll only need about a day’s worth of food from town. If we’d known we’d be doing the low route we wouldn’t have bothered with hitching into Winter Park, but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
First we have to climb 3300 feet out of the sheltered valley to summit Mt. Flora. It’s cold and windy on the long, sinuous switchbacks scaling the peak. But it’s a clear day and I see a black bear bolt away on my way up, so life is good.
I don’t stop at the top, the intense cold and excitement of going into town propelling me forward. I just want off this f@#king mountain and to feel my fingers again.
Hitchhiking solo is not my favorite activity. I hate the uncertainty of it, never knowing how long it’s going to take. I passed Sonic on my way up the trail, and I have no idea where Dingo, Baby, and Pounds are so I’m on my own. Hitching can be fun with a partner, but… After an eternity that’s really only 30 minutes tops, really not bad for a hitch, I’m barreling down the highway to the semi-upscale ski resort.
“I’m fluent in Spanish, and if you speak Spanish from Spain then Latin American Spanish is almost impossible to understand,” the driver’s girlfriend tells me. They’re about my age. I just smile and nod. I neglect to mention that if you call the language Spanish in Spain then you’re going to get attacked by an angry mob of Catalonians or Basque (it’s castellano, NOT español), and that I had no problem conversing with the locals in my six months in South America.
They drop me off at the McDonald’s, where I get my pumpkin spice latte and wait for Sonic. We’d gotten separated near the peak, but she’s a big girl who knows what she’s doing and before long she joins me.
There’s a free bus to the nearby town of Fraser, which has a supermarket and thrift store. Sonic and I peruse the latter, trying on cold weather gear. The benefit of being in a ski town is that there are lots of good, practically new thermal long underwear options in the thrift store.
“It smells like…,” a shop worker fumes as she stares daggers at us, not voicing the mystery smell. “It’s smelled like that since this morning!” Uh oh, crazy shopkeeper alert to DEFCON 1.
This morning Sonic and I were drinking stream water and trying not to get blown off a mountain and we’ve only been in the store for 15 minutes, but the woman running the shop doesn’t seem like the type to let facts get in the way of her fun.
“Okay, we’re out of here. They think we’re psycho hobos,” Sonic murmurs to me. We grab our stuff, pay quickly, and bolt.
At the Wendy’s we lay out our tents, clothes, and sleeping bag on the lawn while we eat inside.
“I’ve been in your shoes before, and I know how hard it can be. Here’s some extra food,” the cashier tells me.
“That was so nice of her. But she doesn’t look like the hiking type,” I tell Sonic what transpired and hand her the extra burger.
“Yeah…oh. Wait. She probably thinks we’re hobos. Which, I mean…we’re both living in tents in the Rockies…so,” she trails off. I shrug. Free food is free food.
Pounds walks in, wearing his rice farmer hat he bought online from China and a shirt with the sides haphazardly cut off with a pocket knife to aid ventilation. Not helping our hobo look, but the friendly staff gives us a marker to help make a sign for hitching back to the trail.
It takes over an hour to get a ride, but finally we’re picked up by some dude in a jeep. He’d done the Appalachian Trail (AT) a couple years ago, and we do trail talk.
Although I love the CDT much more than I thought I would, I feel a little bummed that I don’t have the crazy stories you get from the PCT or AT. On the drive up Pounds and Sonic discuss a guy named Special Game Night Dinner, who killed a protected species of bird with a BB gun on the AT and ate it, and his girlfriend Fire Hugger, who was such a pyromaniac that she kept kindling in her bra. I mention all the self-professed witches I met on the PCT, and the host of other oddities. Like when some hiker rented a u-haul truck, filled the back with 18 fellow thru hikers, and drove to San Francisco for the weekend. They were pulled over by the police and each given a ticket for not wearing a seat belt (apparently hammocks strung up in the back to fit more people does not count in Cali). That didn’t stop them from continuing to San Fran and enjoying a baseball game. Instead, I just have tales of bear encounters, thunderstorms on exposed ridgelines, and getting five inches of snow while in my tent.
The dude drops us off back at Berthoud Pass, which has a warming hut set to 80 degrees. “It can go higher,” Pounds calls to us as he inspects the temperature gauge. “No!” Sonic and I call out in unified horror. After spending most of our time in temps ranging from 25 to 40F, this is almost too much.
It’s later than we’d anticipated, and we’re averse to heading out on a higher elevation exposed ridgeline in the dark. There’s a NO CAMPING sign behind the warming hut, which almost certainly means good campsites, so we hang out in the warming hut until dark. Then we make camp.
The wind that night is intense in tents, and I end up sleeping on top of mine after it collapses in a strong gust. This frightens a disoriented Pounds, who in the dark thinks I’m a policeman about to give us a citation for illegal camping. In the morning we hang out in the warming hut, and don’t leave until 8am.
The wind isn’t as strong as before, but is still pretty bad up top. We descend back to the valley, collect some water, and return up.
This time it’s really rough, and Sonic gets thrown against the rocks in the 60mph gusts. I have trouble staying upright at times, but I’d been through bad winds on the PCT and manage to hold my ground and make it back to the valley.
We take refuge behind an abandoned building next to a stream, shell shocked.
“I’m not going another fucking step, this is my home for the night,” Sonic says, and I don’t blame her.
She meets back up with me in Silverthorne at the Starbucks, where we have our 346th pumpkin spice lattes of the week. We’re in the Breckenridge area, and the posh customers stare at us.
“You’re not helping,” Sonic hisses when I just stare back at one glaring woman. It also doesn’t help when I strip to my waist outside the coffee shop, changing into warmer weather clothes.
Soon I’m off, trying to get over a high elevation section and into Leadville before a snowstorm hits.
On my way out of Silverthorne some guy asks me how far I’m going. “Mexico,” I call out. “You’re going north!” he responds. “Yeah, but I’m southbound,” I reply, not stopping. The trail meanders about, not always in a straight line directly from Canada to Mexico. You go around mountains, follow sinuous ridges, and take scenic detours. There are also a lot of people who just can’t comprehend that the distance between two towns on the highway is not the exact same distance on the trail. Usually I try not to mention what I’m doing (hiking 4.5 months) or where I’m going (Mexico) because I just get the same, stupid questions over and over again spiced up with lots of misguided judgment (you know there are tons of grizzlies here, right? Actually, there aren’t. you can’t get protein from plant products or peanut butter. We must’ve taken different biology classes. there are lots of dangerous people out here. Well, I see a human on average every three days so they certainly aren’t showing themselves to me! If anything, I’m the crazy person who lives in the woods; you must be rich to do this. It doesn’t cost a lot to walk all day and sleep in the woods). I usually prefer to just tell people I’m hiking in the Rockies for a bit this summer, because then I don’t get lectured by people who don’t know what they’re talking about.