Total Miles: 1584.4
If cursing were an Olympic sport, we could have medaled. I wish I could say that rejoining the CDT meant that the blowdown of yesterday evening would be nothing but a painful memory, but to no one’s surprise and everyone’s chagrin, the forest around the first bend of trail looked like the same nuclear devastation.
Frustrated but focused. That kind of sums up the mindset of dealing with the problem of blowdown. As progress slows to a pace that even “glacial” doesn’t quite capture, it’s natural to instinctively rush the choreography required to pick your way around, over, under, and through such a maze in an effort not to lose time. The paradox is that it’s precisely the instinct that needs to be suppressed, offsetting the significantly higher risk of injury with an equally heightened attention to slowing down and finding the least ridiculous (read: safest) path through the obstacle course.
With piles upon piles of forest laid low, we managed just shy of a mile and a half in the first two hours of the morning. Our hopes were pinned on knowing that our time in the Winds was rapidly vanishing and that only a few miles farther, we’d find ourselves transitioning down from the forested slopes of the mountains and onto the rolling open spaces at the northern edge of the Great Divide Basin.
Even reaching the border between forest and sage land yielded no reprieve from the utter destruction that the Labor Day storm had inflicted. When the trail angel from Pinedale who had returned us to the trail had mentioned that hurricane force gusts even in town had pulled siding off of homes, the mental picture seemed almost too surreal to imagine until we were staring the damage to the wilderness directly in the face yesterday evening and today.
Stretches of a few hundred feet of trail would be clear or littered with small twigs—enough to almost entirely camouflage the trail bed—only to be followed by a literal wall of fallen timber that had buried the trail and all of its surroundings. When we finally managed to identify an alternate route that would take us down out of the forest completely and onto a network of dirt roads through treeless open country, even then we hadn’t fully escaped. Lying next to us was the top half of a tree pointing skyward. It’s bottom half? With no trunks in sight, it was anyone’s guess.
Free at last from the frustration and painstakingly slow pace, we finally emerged from the claustrophobic forest no longer to be traumatized by trees and into wide open rolling grass and sage lands. The contrast against what we’d been toiling through since yesterday evening was stark. It took a few cautious strides to remind ourselves what it felt like to walk freely once again.
Behind us, the range that had stolen our hearts drifted ever smaller into our rear view mirror, the speed with which they sank into the distance serving only to amplify the sadness of saying goodbye to them. Instead of a dramatic set of granite towers to admire, we’d settle for the reddening glow of sunset across our new home on the plains.