Total Miles: 1521.2
Only a day and a half removed from when we stepped off the trail and into some rest in the town of Pinedale, yet returning this morning it felt like something subtle had changed. Fall, it seemed, had arrived almost overnight. The meadows were a touch more golden, the bushes surrounding lakes a brighter shade of autumn yellow, and the blustery cooler weather that had sprinkled raindrops in town had instead left the mountains with a layer of snow that looked like they had been dusted with confectioner’s sugar.
After our ride back up to the trailhead from a local trail angel named Alex, our goal was simply to hike the 14 miles of side trails littered with blowdown that would ultimately lead us back to the CDT. The brief front that had blown through yesterday was but a memory, its lasting impression being only the cooler temperatures, the kind that have you seeking out the sun rather than hiding from it. And although we passed several groups of hikers heading out of the wilderness from their weekend excursions, the deeper we went the more it felt like we had it all to ourselves.
Our time in Pinedale had also been incredibly well timed, not only because our day off had coincided with the one day of bad weather in the forecast, but because it was a chance to get some much needed rest. Having felt increasingly fatigued over the past week or more, I wasn't shocked to find that when I stepped on a scale at the local outfitter I'd already lost more than 15 pounds. Resting, eating and more eating were definitely on the agenda.
Pinedale itself is a prototypical small town of the mountain west. One main street runs the length of town, becoming a highway on either end and gridded extra wide cross streets, so common in the west, spread forth from the main street immediately into residential neighborhoods. On a clear day, a drive down that main street yields jaw dropping views of the length of the Wind River Range. Situated as it is on a sage brush plain at over 7,000 feet, it's also the kind of place you can picture being whipped by a merciless winter wind.
The closest thing to excitement on our visit—aside from all the joyous feasting—was that Ace was able to replace her broken trekking poles at the local outfitter and I slipped into a new shirt. Granted, it's merely a green version of exactly the same one I've been wearing for 3 months now, but in our world it felt like Christmas in September.
Perhaps the biggest change was that today would mark a return to the basics: our first night on the ground in our old familiar tent. With only 3 more days before the Winds abruptly disappear and yield to the treeless expanse of the Great Basin, our days of being able to hang our hammocks were numbered, at least temporarily.
Leaving the comfort of our hammocks may be sad after having called them home for 1500 miles, but it's not all bad news. Hammocking breeds independence, which is a good thing, but as the days grow ever shorter and colder, setting up a single shelter together rather than two as individuals feels like a sensible change.
It also remedies something that I'd only given voice to in the past few days—that along with the independence of the hammocks had come a small sense of feeling disconnected at day’s end. Rather than sharing a small space together to reflect on the day, we retreat to our respective quarters and think back on the experience of the day by ourselves. It's a small thing, to be sure, but at this point in the hike it feels as though the shared experience of the tent is something to be valued at the end of a long day together. At least, until Ace starts snoring in my ear...