DAY 78: The Last Great Breakfast
We wake up at 7:30 (early for waking up in town) and head downstairs where we are greeted with pancakes, strawberries, watermelon, and bananas for breakfast. Have I mentioned how much I love Steamboat Springs?
Karen and Johan give us a ride back to the CDT at Rabbit Ears Pass and decide that they’re going to hike with us for the first bit of trail before turning around and heading back to the car (Karen is hitting the Pacific Crest Trail next year and is putting in serious work to prepare for it). On the way to the trail, we pick up JPEG is hitchhiking back up to the pass.
Karen and Johan make it 10 mi / 16 km with us before we stop and eat lunch. They’ve got that same distance to go back to the car which makes their casual day of hiking a 20 mi / 32 km day – not bad. JPEG has gotten ahead of us but he mentioned that there was rumored to be some trail magic being put on by Big Agnes around 17 mi / 27.3 km north of the trailhead we started at this morning.
Appa and I are skeptical, but hopeful.
Sure enough, when we make it to Buffalo Pass and Summit Lake Campground, there’s a sign instructing CDT hikers to seek out the large red tents at an otherwise poorly-described campsite. As Appa and I walk over, we run into JPEG, who is already leaving. He tells us that there’s some pretty good trail magic waiting for us and he’s not wrong.
Four Big Agnes employees are awaiting us in a fully-stocked trail magic oasis. There are tables and coolers filled with food and drink, there are chairs to sit in (an often overlooked luxury not frequently found on the trail), and there’s even a sewing machine for repairing gear. We planned on making some distance today, but we aren’t about to pass this up (despite having just spent two amazing days in Steamboat Springs.
We hang out for a while before Treeman, Apache, and Little Buddha roll up, grab some trail magic, and then leave. This prompts me and Appa to do the same as we’ve now spent the better part of our afternoon lounging around after having taken an unplanned day off in Steamboat Springs.
There’s a lake 3.5 mi / 5.6 km up the trail that we decide to camp at (because having readily available water at camp is generally preferable to not).
The area around the lake is swarming with mosquitoes, so we end up pitching camp around 1,000 ft / 300 m up an incline to save ourselves from having to eat dinner with loads of unwanted company.
If we put in a solid day’s hiking tomorrow, we should be able to cross the border and reach Encampment, Wyoming the following day (where I have a new pair of shoes and a resupply box waiting for me).
DAY 79: Second 30 of July
Filled with two nights in town and glorious the glorious trail magic of yesterday, we are moving my 6:15 today.
It was surprisingly warm last night which translated into an uncomfortable night’s sleep. The only reward is that my daily bowel movement is pre-baked and I manage to get it over with before leaving camp (it usually isn’t ready until after lunch and often becomes an annoying afternoon chore). That said, my privy (aka the hole I squat over) today is shared with hundreds of mosquitoes which is perhaps the closest you can get to hell on Earth.
Despite us being well into July and the lack of recent rain, the ground is still soaking wet from lingering snowmelt. It’s not long before my shoes and socks are completely soaked through. Wet feet is simply a fact of life on the CDT.
There are a couple of sayings (I guess you could say “saying” here – or maybe just “weird things”) that somehow have worked their way into the thru-hiker lexicon. One of them that crosses my mind on a near-daily basis, 10 by 10.
What is 10 by 10?
It’s 10 mi / 16 km before 10:00 in the morning. Why 10 by 10? Why not 11 by 11? Why not 12 by 12? I honestly don’t know. I don’t know where I first heard 10 by 10, I don’t know if all thru-hikers have this 10 by 10 mentality, and I don’t know if there’s really any point to the whole 10 by 10 thing (you do a lot of weird things to keep yourself entertained on the trail). All I know is that if you hit 10 by 10, you’re on pace for a solid day of hiking – and are in the running to hit the second goal, 20 by 2:00 PM (32 km), or even the elusive third goal, 30 by 5:00 PM (48 km).
Today, we hit the 10 by 10 mark and once we do, it’s time for the first break of the day.
Unfortunately, as things tend to go on the Continental Divide Trail, our day of continued greatness is short-lived.
Around 1:00 in the afternoon, clouds have begun forming in front of us, and by 1:30 these clouds have turned from fluffy white bunny rabbit tails to menacing dark thunderheads. I’m a bit ahead of Appa when we start a long and gradual downhill toward Seedhouse Campground. The trail turns onto a forest road that, surprisingly, has a little bit of traffic. I grow increasingly envious of everyone in their hard-topped vehicles as the light rain abruptly turns into a heavy downpour and then into a barrage of hail.
I have my rain jacket on, but it does little to protect me from the painful ice marbles being shot out of the sky. It’s enough to force me to take shelter under a tree and wait in hopes of this storm passing. Before long, I see Appa running up the road as he’s pelted by ice (it’s very entertaining). He joins me under the tree as the sky erupts in a clamor of thunder and lightning.
And things were going so well.
Eventually, the hail lets up, and as it does, some passing motorists spot us cowering.
The good news? This couple stops and gives us some beer (if you stop to talk to a thru-hiker, you’re basically obligated to hand over a beer as payment for their time). The bad news? They tell us that just ahead and behind the next grove of trees there’s a nice shelter that we could have been cowering beneath instead of this tree. I guess you can’t have it all.
Leaving the Seedhouse Campground, the CDT heads north following the North Fork of Elk Creek. We need to cross, but we find the bridge washed out. Instead of attempting to cross the river, we follow a forest road that appears (according to our maps) to eventually connect back up with the CDT (the CDT is nothing is not a choose-your-own-adventure trail).
Despite our temporary impediment due to the hail, we make 20 by 2:00.
The weather improves dramatically and it ends up being a beautiful afternoon and an even more pleasant evening.
We find Treeman and Apache at the end of the day and camp with them. They’ve been hiking together for a bit and they might be my favorite hiking duo (as in, the two of them together make quite the team). Treeman is from Germany and loves to tell people how horrible Hershey’s Chocolate is, while Apache is a thru-hiking beast from Florida who eats cold instant mashed potatoes like a savage. Legends.
We’re camped 7 mi / 11 km south of the Wyoming border which means that (so long as nothing dramatic happens during the night or tomorrow morning), we’ll have officially completed Colorado tomorrow.
Today’s distance? A solid 34.6 mi / 55.67 km. Our second 30 (i.e. thirty-mile day) of July – and the final of Colorado.
DAY 80: Fire and Ice (Arrive Encampment, WY)
I leave camp with Treeman – Apache and Appa are still in their tents, but I have no doubts that they’ll be catching up to me shortly.
Treeman gets ahead of me (I chalk it up to his being over 6 ft / 1.83 m and having that bonus stride power) and I eat a Clif bar for breakfast while walking. The goal today is the Wyoming town of Encampment which means that I aim to minimize time spent not hiking today – must…get…to…town.
Approaching the Wyoming border, I duck into the bushes to do something private (sometimes I feel as though my recounting of the CDT is more bathroom log than hiking log, but the fact is that bathroom use/breaks play an important role on the trail). When I emerge, I hike for another couple of minutes and hit the Wyoming border.
I wait for Appa (who I thought had agreed to meet me at the border) and suddenly, a wild Apache appears – from the north. He passed me while I was in the bushes (see? I told you bathroom breaks were important) and forgot his hat at the border. I tell him I’m going to wait for Appa (whom Apache says he hasn’t seen – I assume he was ahead of Appa before turning around so that means Appa is still behind us).
Apache turns around and heads back into Wyoming. BYE APACHE…
After what I can only describe as a respectable amount of time waiting, I decide that Appa has to be in front of me (either that or he died somewhere in the 7 mi / 11 km leading up to the Wyoming). Time to keep hiking.
This is one of the great things about hiking with people, but not necessarily hiking with people – you can leave them. I know two things: that Appa can take care of himself and that he’s not going to be upset if we end up separated. To me, these are the keys to a successful thru-hiking relationship. I’ve encountered numerous thru-hikers heading southbound (the wrong way) in search of their hiking partners who have failed to turn up at a designated meeting spot.
Spending your day trying to find your hiking partner is no fun.
If I know Appa is behind me and I don’t push for miles and he still doesn’t catch me by the end of the day, I might get the slightest bit worried. If I make it to the next town and I still haven’t heard anything, I might get a little worried. If another day or two passes and still nothing, then I might be actually worried. When would I call in the helicopter? Probably not until I’ve talked to other hikers who came into town after me and they report zero Appa sightings.
Will this be too late to save him? We will have to wait and see, I guess.
Heading north from the border the trail becomes difficult to follow as I navigate my way through a maze of blowdowns (that is, trees that have been blown down – either that or ripped from the ground by some large and angry beast dwelling in these woods).
I find the occasional “i”-looking mark carved into trees which I assume to be an old (or current?) trail marker. These trees are what I decide to follow. The map tells me that I’m going to be joining a forest road soon (which hopefully means no more blowdowns), but before I do I have to pass a large section of mud that leaves my shoes completely soaked.
I guess it wouldn’t be a complete day of hiking on the CDT without getting my feet wet. I reach the road and take another look at the map. The trail appears to do a useless climb up and over a hill while a near-parallel forest road seems to skirt around said climb and meet back up with the CDT on the other side. I will, obviously, be taking the road.
When I meet back up with the trail I find Apache and Treeman stopped for a break. They missed the shortcut and are surprised by how quickly I’ve caught up (it was a good shortcut). They’re talking about pushing through to Rawlins (the next town, after Encampment) without stopping to resupply; I have a resupply box (and new shoes) waiting for me in Encampment so I have little choice – I’m going to town today.
Apache takes off ahead of me and Treeman and I follow Treeman up the next climb.
About halfway up, Treeman misses a switchback and just goes walking off the trail into the bushes. I stop and watch him for a second, thinking maybe he’s got some business to take care of. Nope, he’s just oblivious to where the trail is; I yell out to him and get him back on track.
The trail through this section is largely unmarked and I end up following wooden posts (which I assume are marking the trail) up through a grassy and marshy climb. Oh, how I long for the days of the desert and dry feet. After the climb, the large sections of grassy and unmarked trail continue as I make my way out ahead of Treeman and to Highway 70 where I will (hope to) hitch to Encampment.
As I approach the highway I see two hikers sitting beside the parking lost privy at the trailhead.
I yell out to them and as soon as they see me, they immediately pack up their things and scramble to the road. Motherfuckers have been sitting here not hitchhiking? Now that I’m here they decide to get to the road? Not chill.
Listen, friends, I am all for “first to the road, first to get a ride”, but if you get to the road and then sit around not hitchhiking, you’re forfeiting your right to that first ride should someone else rock up. I haven’t met these two hikers yet and I walk out to meet them at the side of the highway. They introduce themselves as Hannah and Charlie. Since I believe two people hitchhiking have better odds than three people hitchhiking, I tell them that I’m going to go hide in the parking lot and politely request that should they get a ride, they ask if there’s room for a third.
After twenty minutes, a large pickup truck towing a long trailer stops. I poke my head out and get a wave from Charlie. Huzzah! I approach the rear of the car where I open the rear passenger door to find Charlie sitting in the middle and Hannah sitting behind the passenger seat. “Go around,” she says to me in what I can only describe as an incredibly pissed-off tone. Why they didn’t scoot over and instead make me walk around the enormous car, I do not know.
Most of the people you meet on a thru-hike will be kind and warm-hearted people, but there are always exceptions. Wanting to give people the benefit of the doubt, I think maybe my new and unfriendly acquaintance passed a painful poop this morning (or maybe in the parking lot?). That would certainly put a damper on my day. Whatever, I’m heading to town and nothing’s going to ruin the glory of the dinner awaiting me there.
The women who pick us up tell us that we’re better off getting dropped off in Riverside, the community just beyond Encampment (like walking distance just beyond) since there’s an RV park there that has a camping area for hikers. Riverside it is.
Walking to Lazy Acres Campground in Riverside I see JPEG hitchhiking back to the trail – still a half-day ahead, I see. I get a campsite and head across the street to the Bear Trap Cafe & Bar where I set up my secondary camp at a table near a power outlet. After a couple of hours (a not uncommon amount of time to spend lingering in a town’s bar or restaurant), I get a message from Appa who has made it to the road with Apache and Treeman (see? Appa’s fine). They are wondering if I can arrange a ride for them from town because they aren’t having any luck hitchhiking (I guess Apache and Treeman aren’t pushing through after all).
The campground tells me no to giving them a ride (despite them wanting to stay at the campground and offering to pay for a ride), but everything works out and eventually, they join me for dinner (where our server treats us terribly – I, without reason, blame Treeman).
Before heading to sleep, Appa and I do laundry and take advantage of the shower in the room Apache and Treeman have splurged on (good thing they didn’t push through to Rawlins).
It starts pouring rain just in time for bedtime. Yay.
DAY 81: New Friends (Leave Encampment, WY)
Appa and I wake up early to wet tents (but fortunately, the rain stopped during the night) and make our way back to the shelter of Treeman and Apache’s cabin for another shower before heading back to the trail.
I have a new pair of shoes waiting for me at the Encampment post office (or PO if you want to be cool about it), and we (Appa, Apache, Treeman, and I) walk the 1 mi / 1.6 km there from the campground (we would have hitched because walking through town is the worst, but this is a town of 450 and I’m fairly certain the time we’ll spend waiting for a ride exceeds the amount of time it will take to walk).
Luckily, it’s 1) not Sunday (US post offices are closed on Sunday), and 2) not a town so small that the post office keeps crazy hours (they’re open 8:30 AM–12:30 PM and 1:30–4 PM – because the one person who works there needs a lunch break).
Next to the post office is an antique store that doubles as a breakfast joint; when you’re in these small towns it’s best not to ask too many questions (you’ll often be disappointed).
Breakfast burritos it is.
My resupply from the post office leaves me with far too much food which simply translates into more sides for my breakfast of coffee and breakfast burritos (yes, burritos). Apache and Treeman leave to hitch back to the trail while Appa and I hang around a bit longer attempting to delay the inevitable (hiking).
Three other hikers whom we haven’t met enter our breakfast lair.
They appear to be friendly with a woman who enters with them and who we hear promise them a ride back up to the trail in the next hour. We must befriend these people. We make quick work of it (making friends with your fellow CDT hikers isn’t difficult) and Dirt, Critter, and Garbelly, our three newest CDT thru-hiker friends, join us for the end of our breakfast as Appa finishes downloading his audiobooks for the next section (I just listened to Ready Player One – very pleased with it).
We get a ride back to the trail with the woman who entered the restaurant with our new friends.
We’re not entirely sure how they met, but it’s not important – we’re back to the Trail of Continental Dividing and we’re ready to make the hiking (I think).
At the trailhead, I realize I have no water (after thousands of miles of hiking, I’m still not very good at it) and there’s not any for the next 11 mi / 18 km. My solution? I ask a nearby RV dweller for some. Fortunately, they oblige.
A dirt road leads us away from the highway (because shorter) as Appa and I dive into Critter and Garbelly’s blog, Trailing Thought, with them (you should check them out, they’re far more interesting than me – and they’re more timely with their updates).
Eventually, we split off from our new friends when they decide to take an alternate. The trail is, apparently, covered in blowdowns (fallen trees), but the alternate is longer. Appa and I go ahead on the trail (because shorter).
It turns out that the trail beta informing us of the tree-covered trail wasn’t wrong; but it did exaggerate – the blowdown maze isn’t that bad.
We cross a road and can see Garbelly and Critter approaching from a distance. Looks like we made the right decision (because thru-hiking is a race and now we’re winning); we don’t see them again today.
As daylight fades I inspect the map and am fairly certain that I’ve found a forest road and we can walk to shortcut the trail. We’ve taken enough shortcuts by this time that we’ve become comfortable with the practice and so even when the road turns out to be incredibly overgrown (and we are unsure of when we’re going to find water next), we’re confident in our decision.
A baby moose (a calf) greets us as we pass a collection of abandoned cabins and structures. The encroaching darkness, the overgrown state of the road, the dilapidated buildings, and a symphony of distant cow murmurs makes for a creepy setting. But our spirits improve as we find a small stream to ease our water woes.
The condition of the road slowly improves as we are finally walking on firm dirt again and have (hopefully) escaped stomping through overgrown grass and brush.
As we approach the second half of our shortcut – a road that we hope will lead us to Rawlins, Wyoming tomorrow (our next resupply stop) – we begin to see cows and pass small ponds, all of which smell suspiciously of cow shit.
With the road in sight (surprisingly, there’s some traffic on it), we find ourselves inside of an electrified fence with a gate that locked too tightly for us to get open (and that isn’t climb-over-able). We each slip very carefully under the electrified wires after passing our backpacks through ahead of us – never a dull moment on the CDT.
It’s now well into the part of the day commonly referred to as “night” and we start looking for camping. We walk the road until we cross a bridge over a small creek – home for the night. Our water is very much filled with cow poop and tastes horrible, but the beers we packed out of town make it more palatable (and a less effective hydration tool).
DAY 82: Water Sucks (Arrive Rawlins, WY)
Coyotes keep us up most of the night and it’s four in the morning when I hear the unmistakable sound of Appa lighting his stove and preparing his morning coffee.
This means I have approximately five minutes before I need to provide him with the responding signal – the sound of me deflating my sleeping pad – to let him know I’m awake and ready to enjoy hiking with him.
We’re hiking by five (relatively early for us) and I’m acutely aware of the blisters that have taken up residence on my heels. The hell? We’re over 1,500 mi / 2,400 km into this hike; I’m not supposed to be getting blisters. Maybe it’s the new shoes. I guess I did get them yesterday. Still, I would think that my foot skin is tough enough at this point that nothing, not even new shoes, can cause it to blister.
I’ve got 1.5 liters of poop-flavored water in my pack and, despite my best efforts, no amount of drink mix (neither Mio nor Tue Lemon) helps with the taste. I’m not feeling great – don’t know if it’s because of this water or if I’m coming down with something deadly.
Hiking in the early morning is nice. We should do this more often. The road is free of cars, we see some animals that aren’t cows, and I even get some cell reception (I don’t think that last bit has anything to do with the time of day, but it’s still nice for catching up with from friends in Europe).
Wes see two hikers behind us and suspect that it’s Apache and Treeman. I guess we’ll find out at the next water source (where, hopefully, the poop to water ratio is not too bad).
Our hopes of getting some water tasting water are dashed when we make it to the next water source.
The water here is basically scum and in addition to doing an excellent job clogging up my water filter, it tastes awful (but in a way unique from our morning’s water).
JPEG and Quicksilver show up to share in the water horribleness with us (our Apache/Treeman guess wasn’t accurate), and they set out hiking before we do. It’s never a good sign for your chances in the great race of thru-hiking when someone shows up somewhere after you and then leaves before you.
I guess we should keep hiking.
As we approach the town (city?) of Rawlins, the dirt road turns to asphalt which can mean only one thing – it’s time to hitch.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many cars on this road, but we still hold out our thumbs for each of the cars that pass (where are these people coming from is a mystery).
We’re denied by the first two cars, but then the third stops – an extra-large red pickup truck, very Wyoming. For a minute it seems like the driver isn’t going to give us a ride, but eventually, he tells us to jump in the bed. We’ll take it.
We wave goodbye to JPEG and Quicksilver (walking like a couple of chumps – ha!) as we head into town and are unloaded near the EconoLodge where our ride tells us that we’re cheating. We respectfully tell him what we think of his opinion and head inside to claim a room. There was a rumor circulating that this hotel offers a discount to CDT hikers. This rumor turns out to be false. Thanks, internet, you lying sack of shit.
But now that we have our room, it’s time to get to business. The first order of business? Order pizza. Second-order of business? Resupply. Third-order of business? Shower and laundry. Fourth order of business? Fall asleep watching Independence Day: Resurgence.
DAY 83: Zero Day 13 (Rawlins, WY)
It’s 7:30 when we wake up and we spend the first thirty min and lay in bed until 8 when I go downstairs to breakfast. One of the drawbacks to staying somewhere like an EconoLodge is that their continental breakfast isn’t the best (Comfort Inn, on the other hand, a step up).
We didn’t discuss it last night or this morning, but through some unspoken thru-hiking connection the Appa and I have developed over the past twelve weeks on the CDT, we both know that today is going to be a zero day. It needs not be said.
I go to the front desk and extend our stay.
We pop over to the grocery store to resupply on beer and snacks for the day. My day’s plan calls for my leaving the hotel room exactly zero times.
Oh, and I clipped my toenails today. I guess that was productive.
DAY 84: The Basin (Leave Rawlins, WY)
I elected not to get breakfast this morning at the Econolodge, but Appa tells me that it was quite the hiker party. Apparently, our new friends, Garbelly and Critter, were down there. Sad to have missed them.
We hit the market once more where I stock up on (and then immediately drink) a wide variety of beverages. When we leave the grocery store we find Garbelly and Critter chatting to two hikers we haven’t met yet, Liam and a girl from South Africa whose name I didn’t catch. New friends!
We hang out and chat for a bit before deciding that the time has come for us to embark upon the next section of the Wyoming portion of Continental Dividing, the Great Divide Basin.
We walk the road out of town and enter the Great Divide Basin, or simply the Basin, where we will be spending the next 120 mi / 193 km.
So what the hell is the Basin?
According to the internets, it’s a part of a high-altitude desert in Wyoming – the Red Desert. The Great Divide Basin is an area where none of the rainfall into any ocean, directly or indirectly. In simpler CDT-hiker terms it’s, a long, flat, boring, waterless stretch of trail in the middle of Wyoming.
There are a number of noteworthy spots on the Continental Divide Trail. The Gila in New Mexico, the San Juan Mountains in Colorado, and Glacier National Park in Montana, to name a few. Wyoming has the Great Divide Basin and the Wind River Range immediately north of the Basin.
The Basin appears to get a lot of hate from hikers for being waterless, flat, and boring, but I’m kind of excited for it. I think it’s going to be a lot like the time I rode a bicycle through the Outback across Australia.
We’ve got water in 10 mi / 16 km and then another 16 mi / 26 km after that. Doesn’t sound too terrible. And what’s wrong with flat? I like flat. Flat is good. Flat is friends.
Large black clouds just northeast of us catch our attention as we make note of how unusually humid it is. What is this? A thunderstorm? Colorado was supposedly over with.
Before long the little-bit-far-away black clouds become directly overhead black clouds and we’re back in full-on thunderstorm territory as lightning and rain envelop us. Cool. We hang out in a wash (the lowest point we can find in the otherwise featureless landscape) until the worst has passed and we can continue our jaunt deeper into the Basin.
And have I mentioned these large and mysterious piles of shit everywhere? At least I think they’re shit? Did all the cows just poop in the same spot or did someone come along and rake it all into a massive pile? There’s some weird stuff out here in Wyoming.
Our destination for the night is Bull Spring, one of the Basin’s named water sources.
The trail breaks off and does some weird (and unnecessary) squiggles parallel to the road it’s been following, so we do as the CDT has taught us and ignore the official trail – instead, sticking to the shorter, straighter road.
When we reach Bull Spring it appears that the storm has left us, but we set up our shelters just in case we’re wrong. The well’s solar pump isn’t working, but there’s enough residual water in a tank for us to fill up enough for dinner and the first stretch of hiking tomorrow.
It’s surprisingly warm and I sleep with my sleeping bag draped over me like a quilt.
Tomorrow’s the first full day of hiking in the Basin – should be exciting.
- Day 78 (July 15): 19.2 mi / 30.9 km (Leave Steamboat Springs, CO)
- Day 79 (July 16): 34.6 mi / 55.67 km
- Day 80 (July 17): 28.5 mi / 45.86 km (Arrive Encampment, WY)
- Day 81 (July 18): 26 mi / 41.83 km (Leave Encampment, WY)
- Day 82 (July 19): 24 mi / 38.62 km (Arrive Rawlins, WY)
- Day 83 (July 20): Zero Day 13 (Rawlins, WY)
- Day 84 (July 21): 27.3 mi / 43.94 km (Leave Rawlins, WY)
WEEK’S TOTAL: 159.6 mi / 256.85 km
CDT WEEK: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17
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