DAY 71: Dog Attack (Arrive Grand Lake/Denver, CO)
I wake up early, 5:30, since today I'm trying to reach Grand Lake with enough sunlight left to hitchhike the 100 mi / 160 km to Denver – where I have a chest x-ray scheduled for tomorrow (and where I have a friend who I am hopefully staying with).
Ten minutes after packing up and starting to walk, I see a moose laying in the middle of the trail ahead of me. A quick “YIP!” and it jumps to its feet to awkwardly run off into the mountains (moose look pretty funny running around – so tall, but so dangerous). In other news, my phone's GPS has stopped functioning which is great because the morning's filled with unmarked junctions as the CDT repeatedly transitions from forest road to trail.
However, an encounter with a southbound CDT hiker who has flipped (that is, they were hiking north but then skipped ahead to somewhere to then hike south to where they departed the trail from originally) lets me know that I'm still heading the right way.
The trail takes me up a small climb before descending down to a lake where I see a trail runner. Must be a trailhead nearby.
It looks like I could have made it here via another route yesterday if I hadn't done we weird “don't be on the ridge during a storm” shortcut. Might have to try that one next time. I hit a parking lot filled with people fishing (the parking lot is lake-adjacent), walking dogs, and readying packs for the trail. I walk past them all and down the dirt road they drove in on (my GPS still isn't working but this landmark has given me confidence that I'm on the trail).
There is a car-filled campground further down the trail that I head through before getting off the road and back on a now overgrown trail. Another small climb and I'm traversing a blowdown-filled ridgeline as I watch clouds forming in the distance – do these afternoon storms know no end?!
I descend through the blowdowns to the eastern shore of Lake Granby as the trail enters Rocky Mountain National Park and heads north along the Colorado River before running into Shadow Mountain Lake.
Walking along the eastern shore of Shadow Mountain Lake, I notice that I'm matching pace with a small boat also heading north towards Grand Lake.
The boat disappears from my light of sight and into a small inlet – presumably to park and offer me a ride the rest of the way to Grand Lake (hey, if I get an offer to ride in a boat, I'm taking it). But before I can reach the boat, two large and unfriendly dogs appear on the trail just in front of me. They freeze and stare at me as I stop and look back, unsure of whether it's safe to approach.
“Come on through!” yells a bro walking up behind them, “they're fine, they won't bother you.”
“Ooo-kay,” I say as I hesitantly take a step closer toward the still angry-looking dogs. As soon as I take my second step, the dogs lose it and start aggressively barking as they both run straight at me. I have a momentary flash of, “oh shit, I'm going to have to stab a dog with my trekking pole,” as they both jump up on me, landing their front paws on my chest and knocking me backward as they continue barking.
“WOAH!” yells Mr. Bro, running up being them and grabbing their collars before any real damage is done. “Sorry, dude, they've never done that before,” he says.
“Well now you can never say that again because they have,” I respond as I back away. Señor Bro leads the dogs back they way they came and I wait for them to disappear before I start to walk again. I'm legitimately shaken from the experience.
As I pass the boat belonging to Mr. Off-leash Dogs, he and his friends call me down with promises of apologies, beer, and burritos. How do they know? My only weakness!
I feel a bit out-of-place being the only person there not completely yoked, covered in tats, or with enormous augmented breasts, but we get along. That is, until one of the dogs goes wild and starts barking and jumping at me again. Dude, seriously, not cool.
Taking a breakfast burrito for the road, I head off down the remaining 6 mi / 9.7 km to Grand Lake. Somehow, this last bit of trail manages to get me turned around a couple of times (maybe I should have skipped the whiskey shots at the boat), but after having the shit scared out of me by a deer (speaking of shit, I haven't pooped today), I manage to get my bearings and eventually start seeing day hikers. The trailhead is near.
Hitting the trailhead parking lot, there's a bit of road walking until reaching Grand Lake proper. However, I decide to skip the temptations of town and head straight to the highway where I will (hopefully) get my hitch into Denver. Walking through a cabin-filled residential area, I stop to ask a man at (what I assume is) his truck to make sure I can follow the road I'm on out to the highway. He tells me it is and then asks where I'm going.
I tell him Denver. He asks me if I want a ride – he's packing up his car to head there now.
Oh what a glorious day this has become.
Dennis, my new best friend, is extremely knowledgeable about practically everything we pass on the two-hour drive into Denver (either that, or he's an excellent bullshitter). When we finally arrive, he drops me at a Starbucks where I wait for my friend Andy (admit it, Andy, we're friends and you love me) to come to claim me.
A couple of hours later and I'm in the city living the big life at Cafe Brazil where we get beer and tacos. I don't think I really need to go back to the trail.
DAY 72: The Chest X-Ray (Zero Day 10)
Today isn't too exciting except for the part where I get blasted with radiation to make sure I don't have tuberculosis (spoiler: I don't). In case you haven't been following along or paying much attention (if this is the case, what are you doing here?), I have to get this chest x-ray done because I've spent more than three consecutive months in a country not yet free of the disease (Japan) in the past five years.
Besides having to take a second Uber to a second doctor's office to have the x-ray done (apparently the first one was just for me to check in at before going all the way across the city), my zero-day is filled with everything a zero-day should be filled with, i.e. Costco pizza, laying on the floor with a dog, and as little movement as possible. Oh, and I got a haircut across the street from the doctor's office. I also managed to get a bit of work done and buy (and ship) myself a new pair of shoes to Encampment, Wyoming (the first stop after crossing the border).
Tomorrow it's back to real life.
Before I go to sleep, I get a message from Moist and Appa (who are in Grand Lake). Apparently, Moist is getting off the trail and he's not going to be there when I make it back tomorrow (if I make it back tomorrow). I guess Moist really is dead this time.
DAY 73: Return to Grand Lake (Zero Day 11)
I take an Uber to the western side of the city and where I begin the most difficult part of any hitchhiking adventure – leaving a big city. Standing next to the on-ramp for I-70, it takes a couple of hours, but eventually, I get picked up by a group of sisters traveling west on a road trip.
The three of them are continuing west on I-70 and they drop me at the junction for Highway 40 which I'll take the rest of the way to Winter Park. I get picked up soon after with a guy who drops me in the small town of Empire just up the road. He's stopping for lunch and tells me that if I'm still hitchhiking when he's done, he'll pick me up again. I walk to the edge of town and get another ride almost immediately with a guy who's going to Fraser – just past Winter Park.
We arrive in Fraser and I repeat the process of walking to the edge of town. I get picked up by a guy who drops me about 15 mi / 24 km up the road in Granby – halfway to Grand Lake from Fraser. I get picked up by car number five heading up Highway 34 to Grand Lake and despite this man not going all the way to Grand Lake, he graciously goes out of his way to drive me there before heading to wherever it is he's going.
Solid day of hitchhiking.
I call Appa and meet him near the center of town. We're not too keen on paying for a hotel room tonight and it sounds like Appa's found himself a sweet stealth camping spot just outside of town. Since it wouldn't be very stealth if we set up our tents in the middle of the afternoon, we find a gazebo with a power outlet to hang out at and charge our devices. This is lucky for us because a storm rolls in and blasts Grand Lake with thunder, lightning, and buckets of rain.
We wait for the storm to pass and then head to our camp where we say some words for our dear and now departed Moist.
May we forever walk the trails of our hearts.
But on a happier note, I discovered tonight that orange becomes invisible when using a red light. At least it does on packages of Goldfish.
DAY 74: The Moose Herd (Leave Grand Lake, CO)
When I wake up, Appa is already gone. First Moist, now Appa? Everyone is abandoning me. What am I going to do? All of my gear is wet from dew. My world is crashing down around me. Why even continue? What's that? A message from Appa? Oh, he's just at breakfast. Cool.
I hit up the post office to pick up a resupply box with a new hoodie and some treats. Way too many treats. Definitely should have picked this up before doing my resupply. Now I have entirely too much food for the next section. I meet Appa for breakfast and we eat with Rocky, a CDT hiker from Israel. The restaurant has outlets, wi-fi, and friendly staff which basically makes it the perfect thru-hiker hangout. There is a high risk of being sucked into town for another day.
Fortunately(?), we manage to break free of town and get back on the trail. Having spent two days not hiking makes this extra difficult.
Leaving Grand Lake we have two options: the official CDT or the Rocky Mountain National Park Shortcut.
The shortcut is 4.2 mi / 6.76 km long and bypasses 22.1 mi / 35.57 km of the CDT. It also saves us from doing nearly 4,000 ft / 1,219 m of climbing. Basically, it saves us nearly a day of walking. That said, taking the shortcut also means bypassing a beautiful section of trail through the Rocky Mountains. We decide to let the weather decide. The verdict? We're taking the shortcut.
The forecast calls for storms and we're not about to climb up to over 12,000 ft / 3,658 m just to get caught in a thunderstorm. Waiting in town another day to see what the weather does tomorrow is also not an option. We'll come back here when we have more time to explore we tell ourselves. We always tell ourselves.
I find a shortcut on the shortcut that involves a bit of road walking but that saves another mile (1.6 km). The CDT is what you make it, friends.
Appa left town ahead of me and I took the shortcut behind him so I don't know if I got ahead or if he's still ahead somewhere. After I meet back up with the CDT I stop to collect water at a creek but there's no sign of Appa. Only signs of rain. Boo.
The trail slowly begins a 2,700 ft / 823 m climb into the Never Summer Wilderness and up to Bowen Pass (11,470 ft / 3,496 m). The clouds slowly begin to release their moisture and a light drizzle soon turns to pounding rain soon turns to stinging hail. I try waiting the hail out under a tree, but it doesn't look like it's going anywhere so I press on. It's too warm to hike in my rain jacket, so I choose to just get wet and be pelted with hail.
Still no sign of Appa.
When I get to the treeline the rain suddenly stops and much to my relief the clouds begin to part. I feel a great deal of urgency to get over the pass before the storm picks up again. But what's this? Directly in front of me, in the middle of the trail, is a herd of five moose. Five is enough to be a herd, right? I mean, how many moose can you really expect to be traveling together?
Since I'm not about to approach five full-grown moose, I decide to detour around them.
My detour sucks. It's through thick, wet brush that cuts my legs and leaves my shoes and socks soaked. But I guess it's better than doing battle with a moose (the former mayor of Grand Lake was literally killed by a moose). I make it back to the trail and over Bowen Pass just as the blue skies disappear above me.
In pursuit of Appa (who I now believe is ahead of me somewhere), I hike another 12.6 mi / 20.28 km before reaching Highway 125 and deciding to stop for the night because 1) it's getting dark, and 2) I'm at the base of a 3,000 ft / 915 m climb that I'm not psyched about starting in the dark.
Either Appa is really pushing or I somehow passed him somewhere. I guess I'll find out tomorrow. There isn't great camping near the highway and there isn't any water either. But it's starting to rain and I don't want to go any further so I find as suitable a campsite as I can and pitch my home for the night.
DAY 75: Sweden Calling
It rained all night last night which means that 1) I slept even worse than normal, and 2) all of my gear is wet when I pack it into my backpack (and by “all my gear” I mean my tent – packing a wet tent sucks). I put on a fresh pair of socks, but the irritating drizzle and dew-soaked grass make quick work of them. I don't know why I bother.
Climbing in the rain is not something I enjoy, but I'm not about to wait around at the highway in the rain all day. Maybe things will improve by the time I've climbed these 3,000 ft / 915 m? Part of the way I get a text from Appa and once I'm above treeline I can see him ahead of me on the ridge. He's a magician. It's a long climb to the top, and there's no water. I'm incredibly thirsty but my will to get over the peak before a storm erupts distracts me from my dehydration.
Eventually, I reach Parkview Lookout at the summit of Parkview Mountain. There's a shelter here, but I bypass in hopes of catching Appa. The trail down the other side isn't well-defined, but looking at the map I see that we just follow the ridgeline for 4 mi / 6.4 km so I dutifully follow.
The weather starts to clear and I pass two CDT hikers, Pit Stop and Driver, who have stopped to dry out their gear. I should probably do the same, but I'm still in pursuit of the Appa. They tell me that I'm not far behind and I continue hiking for another thirty minutes before I find the Appa at a water source. Apparently, I passed him somewhere last night, but he got an earlier start than me this morning. But all that matters now is that we're together again. If only Moist was here.
I've been searching for reception on top of all the peaks and ridgelines today because I received a message from someone in Steamboat Springs (our next resupply stop) promising some trail magic. I get a weak signal and manage to send a message. I tell our potential new best friend (who lives in Sweden but spends the summers in Colorado – but who is originally from the US, I think?) that Appa and I will hit Highway 14 tomorrow.
The official CDT does dangerous 9 mi / 14.5 km road walk down Highway 14 that Appa and I have no interest in doing. Sweden messages me back that her husband will be at the intersection of the CDT and Highway 14 tomorrow between 11:30 and 12:00. Excellent. Now we just have to make sure we actually get there in time.
We push on to make miles so that tomorrow we have a better chance of making good on our word to be at the road on time. I'm starting to get trench foot from a second straight day of hiking in wet socks, but with the promise of town tomorrow, I am able to ignore my, now quite painful, toes.
The weather improves for a bit, then gets shitty, and then looks like it's getting a bit better as the sun begins to set. The trail turns into a forest road that we follow until we reach the treeline start looking for a campsite. There aren't any water sources, but there are heaps of mosquitoes. We find a flat area and retreat to our tents as quickly as possible to escape the horrible swarms of insects.
DAY 76: The Ultimate Trail Magic (Arrive Steamboat Springs, CO)
We're up at five today and are happy that the rain stopped early enough last night for our gear to not be completely soaked today.
We make quick work of our first 10 mi / 16 km as the entire CDT today (out to the highway) is following forest roads. I'm a bit ahead of Appa and coming around a corner I'm surprised by an adult moose and calf. I quickly backtrack and wait for Appa to catch up. He bravely steps out to confront the pair and promptly starts laughing as he informs me that they're actually cows. I guess I'm just blinded by the promise of town today.
It's 10:30 when we make it to the road – a whole hour before we promised to be here. Waiting for our ride, we take advantage of the sun to dry out our gear.
As promised, we're picked up at 11:30 and have a lovely ride into town with our host, Johan. When we arrive at his house, we're shown to our bedrooms (we each have our own bedroom) and are instructed to clean ourselves and our clothing. What unfolds next is perhaps the greatest trail magic that has ever been bestowed upon me.
We're given bicycles which we use to ride to the other end of town where we do our resupply. Then, I stop by the Big Agnes headquarters where they expedite the repair of a tent pole I broke while it was frozen in New Mexico. When we return to our Steamboat home, our other host, Karen, has arrived and she proceeds to make us the greatest meal we've had on the trail.
Having just taken two zero days getting to and back from Denver, I am not (or at least, was not) ready to take another, but if our hosts insist, we just might be taking a zero tomorrow.
DAY 77: River Rafting (Zero Day 12)
I don't know why I tried to pretend like it was ever even up for debate, we're taking a zero today.
Today is even better than yesterday. We start out the day by sleeping in and waking up to an epic breakfast. Afterward, Karen drives us up the river heading through town and then drops me and Appa off with a couple of six packs and some inner tubes. Appa and I spend the next couple hours floating down the river back to Karen and Johan's home where we are treated to elk burgers, veggie burgers, and new friends in the form of their neighbors.
Then, we all head to a free concert in a nearby park. I wonder if Karen and Johan will just let us live here in this dream forever.
- Day 71 (July 8): 22.8 mi / 36.69 km (Arrive Grand Lake/Denver)
- Day 72 (July 9): Zero Day 10 (Denver, CO)
- Day 73 (July 10): Zero Day 11 (Grand Lake, CO)
- Day 74 (July 11): 26.8 mi / 43.12 km (Leave Grand Lake, CO)
- Day 75 (July 12): 22.8 mi / 36.69 km
- Day 76 (July 13): 17.2 mi / 27.68 km (Arrive Steamboat Springs, CO)
- Day 77 (July 14): Zero Day 12 (Steamboat Springs, CO)
WEEK'S TOTAL: 89.6 mi / 144.2 km