Dubois, WY to Lima, MT

In this section, I finally started to see Southbound CDT hikers.  Yes!!  This meant first-hand information about the trail ahead!  I would ask them how the trail was through Yellowstone.  The responses were varied… Everything from “Yellowstone is amazing” to multiple hikers complaining about the trail being boring.

Wait.  Boring??

Yellowstone holds a special place in my heart.  In my mid-20s, it became my first experience in a national park.  On that trip, I spent 4 days exploring, and instantly fell in love with the waterfalls, animals, geysers, and mountains.  I understood that the CDT would follow a different route, and I wouldn’t see the waterfall or herds of bison.

…But, I knew that I would still love it.

Walking the CDT through Yellowstone was still a beautiful experience.  I soaked my sore feet in warm hot springs.  I got first car hitches that took me to a grill to get cheeseburgers.  I had easy days where I curled up in my tent watching Game of Thrones in the rain.  And I had long days where I crushed back-to-back 30 milers.

One day, I stumbled across a mama grizzly bear and her cub.  They ignored me, and continued wandering through the woods.  I was completely mesmerized, as I snapped photos, and slowly backed away.

I watched Lone Star geyser erupt, completely alone, as the sun set.  The next morning, I visited old faithful geyser, with about 200 other visitors.

We demolished the breakfast buffet, and walked by pristine lakes and bubbling geothermal pools.  Grizzly bear poop was everywhere, and we carried bear spray and hung our food.
And finally, we left the park, and walked into Idaho.  The next day, we hit Montana.

I have a lot of words for Yellowstone.

But…  Boring??

That doesn’t even cross my mind.

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Lander, WY to Dubois, WY

I used to ask Will which trail was his favorite of the Triple Crown.  He would answer without hesitation: CDT.

 

It is hard to pick a favorite trail.  Obviously, they all teach us different things and come into our lives at different points.  The AT taught me that I loved long-distance hiking.  The PCT taught me how to fall in love.  The CDT taught me how to suffer and keep pushing anyway. 🙂

 

I have a hard time picking a favorite. But, until recently, I would tell Will that the CDT wasn’t my favorite. It was too brutal for me.  I missed the easy cruising of the PCT, or the community of the AT.

 

And then I entered the Winds, and spent 6 incredible days saying “Seriously??  Are you kidding!?” and picking my jaw off the ground.  It was some of the best terrain that I’ve ever hiked across, and that’s against some tough competition.

 

I called Will from Dubois.

 

I told him that I finally understood.  I couldn’t pick a favorite trail, but I had just experienced one of the best weeks of my life.

 

Here are way too many pictures from the Winds.  These pictures don’t even begin to do it justice.
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Rawlins, WY to Lander, WY

I have daily homework on the CDT.  After dinner, I always curl up in my sleeping bag and study the maps and comments for the next section of trail. One night, I found an exciting surprise: the CDT would link up with the Oregon Trail for part of the day!  I would get to fulfill a childhood fantasy of hiking part of the Oregon trail.  Yes!!

It was a deeply touching experience to follow in the footsteps of the original American long-distance hikers.  I thought of my struggles:
1) It was so hot that my Cliff bars melted.
2) Not enough Verizon LTE.
3) Had to carry 15 miles of water.

And then I thought of the pioneers of the Oregon trail.  They had problems like this:
1) Death.
2) Lost an oxen.
3) Death.

My heart ached for them.  They were just normal people with big dreams and a desire for a better life.  Isn’t that what we all want? Suddenly my problems seemed silly and fleeting.

Being on the Oregon Trail really helped put my current struggles into prespective.  I couldn’t help but look around at the stunningly beautiful landscape and think “There are bodies buried here.  I am not allowed to complain about anything, ever.”

The basin was absolutely brutal.  It was probably the hardest hiking of the CDT, but at least this exposed, desert section only lasted 4 days.  It is finished.  And while, I found some beauty in the basin, I’m never doing it again.  It simply hurt too much.  Hiking flat jeep roads across a desert inferno isn’t my idea of fun.

Tomorrow, I leave Lander and enter the Wind River Mountain Range.  I’ve been listening to Will talk with wonder about the Winds for as long as I’ve known him.  It was listening to him talk about his love for this mountain range that actually made me fall in love with him years ago.

I’m excited to see the Winds through my own eyes, and see what they have to teach me.  After that, I enter Yellowstone, and then Idaho!  285 miles till Idaho?   Seriously??  How??!

Slow down, CDT!
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Twin Lakes, CO to Rawlins, WY

You can’t change reality, but you can change your mindset.  You can control your reaction, feelings and emotions.

When I realized that simple idea, it changed everything.

I got back where I left the trail at Twin Lakes after a week off in Denver.  I desperately wanted to hike with other people after spending so much time alone.  I met up with some friends, and was hopeful.  And then, my friends got off trail to go visit Denver.  I was alone again.

Nooooooo.

And then something shifted.   I mostly hiked and camped alone.. but suddenly, I wasn’t lonely.  I listened to music and podcasts.  I slept in, hiked late, and felt a primal connection to the Earth.  Something shifted in my mind.

And I started to love being alone.   I’m not sure what changed.   Maybe I simply stopped caring about it.

A few days ago, I crossed into Wyoming!!

Colorado was one of the hardest states that I’ve ever hiked across.  I was met with so many obstacles, but everyday was completely stunning, and rewarding.   One day, near Rocky Mountain National Park, I stood and watched 6 moose in a clearing.  They saw me, and went back to munching on grass.

I couldn’t believe my eyes at least once a day.  Sometimes, I literally teared up because the beauty was overwhelming.  I often thought: “Seriously?  This is my office??”

Cheers to Colorado.  There were times that I hated you.  There were times that I struggled.  There were times when I thought “This is too hard.  Why am I doing this?”

Colorado… You only broke me down to build me up.  Now, I understand.

You only wanted to make me stronger.
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CDT: Pagosa Springs, CO to Twin Lakes, CO

I sat in my hotel room in Pagosa Springs with my CDT maps spread across the bed. My eyes followed the thin, red line of the CDT. I heard rumors that the trail ahead would be easier and less sketchy, but I wanted to see what clues my maps would reveal to me. How bad did this look? Did I really want to be up there again in snow?  Sometimes, I could tell the trail would be safe, like sections where the trail followed a high plateau. But then my eyes would focus on sections where the trail followed next to a steep cliff. I tried to imagine what it would be like… Would it be dangerous again?

.

I asked myself:

.          Did you enjoy the CDT in the last section?

.

Almost immediately, my legs started to shake in fear. The answer was painfully clear.

.

I stopped looking at the maps. I already had my answer.. It was time to follow a lower, safer route through Colorado. I would be safer and much happier following the alternate trail at lower elevation.

It ended up being a really enjoyable section for me. But, it was so quiet out there. I only saw 2 CDT hikers, on trail, between Creede and Twin Lakes.   I tried to embrace the alone time. I don’t have to be surrounded by people for the entire trail. So I did my own thing, slept in, hiked late, and ran into plenty of moose along the way. I was safe, and I still had a continuous footpath.

I was happy.

I made it to Twin Lakes last Sunday, and Will came to pick me up. I decided to take a week off trail, so I could wait for my friends to catch up to me. It’s been nice to rest at home, and I have been eating so well this week!

I am excited about heading back to Twin Lakes soon, and hopefully, I will see more than 2 hikers in my next section.    🙂

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CDT: Chama, NM to Pagosa Springs, CO

I said a prayer on the day that I left Chama.  And I prayed every single day that I was on the divide.  I always thought that I was agnostic, but when you’re out there on the side of a steep, snowy mountain, the prayers flow out of you.

My stomach was in knots on the climb up from Chama.  For the last 3 years, I had listened to Will talk about his San Juans experience.  He entered the San Juans in May 2013, and he told me stories of post-holing in snow, only getting 10 mile days, and of freezing at night.

It sounded brutal.

But, of course, I wanted to give it a shot anyway.

I entered the San Juan mountains on June 7th in a record setting snow year for Colorado.  We found the snow to be patchy in places, but the sketchy traverses were frequently covered with snow.  In the morning, it was icy, and by 3pm, it was slushy stuff that crumpled under foot. I constantly prayed that my footing was solid. Everyday, I wore waterproof socks, microspikes, and I clung to my ice-axe like my life depended on it.

I slid off a snowy traverse at one point, and I ran into a tree that was 15 feet down.  It happened so fast.  I sat there, in the snow, for what seemed like forever.  I couldn’t stop shaking.  I looked below me and saw a steep slope that seemed to go on forever.  Going down was not an option.  When I finally calmed down,  I grabbed my ice-axe and kicked foot-holes so I could get back to the trail.  It took 3 hours for my hands to stop shaking.

The next day, I found myself following 2 guys on another steep snowfield.  It finally got so steep that I parked my butt on the trail and slid down when my landing looked safe enough.  It was one of those moments that was fun after you picked yourself up at the bottom and realized that you were safe.

The last few days have taught me a lot.  This was the real deal out here.  I wasn’t Superman.  I could really get hurt.

There are people who love this stuff.  My boyfriend, Will, is one of these people.  I could see him out here, heart pounding, wanting more.  But, I’m not one of those people.  I’m just a girl who wants to walk to Canada.  And I tried my best, but mountaineering isn’t really for me.

It was beautiful to hike the divide, but the conditions are currently too dangerous for me.

The good news is that there is a low elevation route for the next section.  I am excited to explore new parts of Colorado as I walk north through the Creede route.

And maybe I won’t have to pray so much in the next section.  😉

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CDT: Grants, NM to Chama, NM

Just a quick update to let everyone know that I made it to Colorado last night!!   Of course, the trail is already getting significantly harder.  Yesterday, I was lost in a maze of snow and blowdowns for most of the day.  I would check my GPS, get back on trail, and almost immediately get lost again. In the snow, there is no trail.  And trying to stay on trail is a pointless waste of time.  My friend, who left after me, and mostly navigates with maps arrived at camp before me.  I just looked at him when I rolled into camp at 9:15 and laughed.  Sometimes, maps are just better than GPS.   Or maybe I’m just completely hopeless.  🙂

I’m currently in Chama, NM and getting all geared up for the next section.  I have added snowshoes, an ice axe, water-proof socks, microspikes and warmer layers.   My pack is going to weigh a ton tomorrow, but I am excited to hike the snowy San Juans!  

I have a feeling that I am in for the hardest 2 weeks of my life.  I hope that I have what it takes.  


Sorry for the short update, but a girl needs her sleep!!

PS: Thanks to Will/Estero for spending the weekend in Taos with me.  Can’t wait to see you again soon!  ❤

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Miles

I wasn’t supposed to fall in love out here, but I couldn’t help myself.  I met him on the CDT on my first night out of Grants, NM. His trail name was Miles, and he loved hiking.  What was worse was that he had eyes that melted my heart.  

Damnit.  Not again.  No no noooo.

Help.


I first heard about the stray dog on my walk out of Grants.  Another hiker messaged me to say that a stray dog was found wandering around on trail following hikers.  My group made it about 20 miles that day and I had forgotten about the stray dog by the time we set up camp.

I forgot about it until a dog randomly wandered into our camp.  We scratched our heads, laughed, and gave him water.  He was covered in ticks and had no collar… most likely a stray vs runaway. I ate my dinner in my tent and stared at the dog through the bug netting.  I didn’t want him to become my problem.  This was MY cheese.  Go away, dog.  And if you even touch my tent, heaven help you.  That night, he curled up to sleep inches from my head.  I heard him quietly sighing all night.

The next day, my group woke up really early for a morning summit on Mt Taylor.  As I slid on my backpack, I saw the dog heading away from the trail.  Yes!!  I could sneak away.  This would be easy!

It didn’t work.  The dog magically beat me to the summit of Mt Taylor.   When I made it up there, he gave me this judging look like “Finally..  What took so long? Are you sure you’re a thruhiker?”

Crap. I looked at the dog and then 5,000 feet down at Grants.  Why did town have to be so far away?  It wasn’t even an option to go back now.  I tried to ignore him as much as I could, but the dog just kept following us anyway.  We talked about what to do with him.  Do we throw rocks at him?  Do we feed him our “extra” food and call an animal rescue group in 80 miles?  Will the dog even last that long?  I checked my map and tried to find closer towns, but we were in the middle of nowhere.  Was there even a “right” thing to do?  I had no answers, but I started rationing my food.. just in case.


I finally gave in and started feeding the dog my food.  I am weak.  I couldn’t abandon him to his slow death. He made it obvious that he would just keep following us to our next town.  And I didn’t want to look behind me and watch him starve to death.

I finally got phone reception on the side of a mountain.  The dog and I took a break in the shade while I called an animal rescue group.  The lady on the other end listened to my story and seemed honestly concerned.  But she told me that she was currently full.  She told me to call back when I made it to town.  I clung to hope that someone could help us.

I called back the animal rescue group when I was 3 hours from town.  There was no answer, so I left a message on voicemail.  I also tried animal control and the non-emergency police number.  They all went to voicemail and I left messages for them to call me back.  A mile from town, I started to worry… Nobody had called me back, and I absolutely couldn’t keep the dog in my hotel room.  I guessed that he wasn’t housebroken, and would pee and poop all over my hotel room, not to mention his tick infestation.  In one last ditch effort, Craiglist and the animal shelter in Grants were checked for missing dogs.  Nothing came back.

I briefly thought of keeping the dog on trail.  But it wasn’t the right thing for me to do.  The unofficial motto for the CDT is “Embrace the Brutality.”  I willingly signed up for this sufferfest and the dog did not. It simply wasn’t fair for him to walk to Canada with me. Plus I am hitting some serious Colorado snow in the next section, and it would be dangerous for Miles to join me.

I had to make a painful decision.  I looked at him, tears pooling in my eyes and told him that I loved him, that he was a good dog who deserved a family, and that we were out of options.  We walked by a few farms and I turned to him and said “No!”.  He looked confused until I said it again.  “NO NO NO”.  I walked away quickly.  The last time that I saw him, he was sitting under a sage bush.  It broke my heart, but I didn’t know what else to do.  And who knows…maybe animal control would have put him down anyway.  Maybe this actually was the best option for him, even if it ripped me apart to walk away.


Miles.. happy trails to my sweet boy..  it was a pleasure to hike with you.  And I am so sorry.


For everything.

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CDT: Silver City, NM to Grants, NM

The other day, I was hiking, and suddenly, the sky opened up and it started to hail.  I looked up and smiled.  The hail was a welcome relief from the constant sun and heat.  I quickly pulled out my umbrella and kept walking without missing a beat. 

I eventually caught up to my friend sitting under a tree.  He was talking to an older gentleman– maybe mid 60s, who was dressed in a clean khaki outfit. The older man introduced himself to me as “Doug the Hermit” and told me that he had a cabin tucked away close by.

What??  A hermit?  Really??  I had never met a hermit before, but somehow I envisioned black robes, and a long white beard.  Maybe someone who looked like Gandalf or Santa Claus?  Apparently, I was totally wrong!

Hanging out with Doug the Hermit

Doug told us that he was a Roman Catholic hermit and he had been living here, alone, for 18 years.  He had friends in “the real world” and leaves his cabin once a year to get supplies.  I kept asking him if he ever got lonely, and he would laugh and shake his head. He made it sound like he had plenty to occupy his time.. making meals, gardening, hiking, and praying.  We kept asking him questions about his life… and then I asked him if his cabin had wifi and he laughed at me.  Whoops, guess not.   🙂

My hiker friend and I had more miles to make, so we had to leave Doug.  That night, I camped at the Gila River with 4 other hikers.  And I kept thinking about Doug.  And the more I thought about him, the more impressed I was with his religious hermitage.  I have spent many nights camping, but what makes this whole adventure worth it is that I’ve shared these experiences with other people.  And I admit, for me, sharing these moments and trails with other hikers makes it so much easier too.  At times, my hiking experience is like a smelly slumber party with my best friends.

We have hiked across beautiful parts of New Mexico lately, and I can’t wait to see what Northern New Mexico has in store for us!  Enjoy the photos!

photo by JPEG 🙂

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CDT: Mexico to Silver City, NM

If I had one word to sum up the CDT’s first 150 miles:  Intense.

I started my hike on May 1st with 8 other hikers.  I am slightly embarrassed to admit that the first 100 miles of trail completely kicked my butt!  It was brutal hiking due to the constant sun exposure and heat.  Unlike the PCT, the CDT desert is a nearly shadeless landscape.  Everyday, I felt like an ant caught under a magnifying lens as I crawled to the next water source. It was painful, and I scolded myself for thinking negative thoughts. 

I reminded myself: “There’s beauty in everything. Sometimes you just have to look deeper.”  I tried to find beauty in the blooming cactus flowers, or the darting jack rabbits, but it was hard.  As much as I tried to enjoy it, the first 100 miles suffocated me.  It was beautiful, but I was too drained to fully enjoy it.

One day I literally sat in a water cache box for an hour because I was so hot, and it was the only shade in that area.  On the CDT, you are forced to make things work because you literally have no other option.  I sat in the box, drank lots of water, ate snacks, read the log book, and pushed on when I felt well again. 

I have since mailed unneeded items up the trail to reduce pack weight, and I bought a silver hiking sun-umbrella to combat the exposure.  I don’t do well in heat, and I’m going to carry that silly umbrella all the way to Canada!  

The trail, and my attitude are both improving quickly. In the last 50 miles, the trail has climbed into the trees again.  It feels amazing to be in a forest again!  I have been hiking with a big goofy grin on my face.  And constantly whispering “Thank You” to the trees.

I’m currently enjoying a stay at an Airbnb rental in Silver City, NM with a great group of fellow hikers.  I think we all needed this break to regroup for the next stretch of trail.

Here are my favorite photos of the last 150 miles.  Enjoy!!  

PS: I won’t have good wifi for the next sections, so don’t be alarmed if you don’t hear much from me until further north 🙂


 



 
There’s beauty all around us.  Sometimes we just forget how to search for it.

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