Total Miles: 301.8
The sound was enough to wake me from a dead sleep. The confusion that followed was the kind that comes only when your brain, in its sleep-induced fog, strains to make sense of the unexpected. It was the sound of machinery, but it couldn’t be. Not way out here. Sure enough, as the world came more into focus it couldn’t be denied—coming down the nearby forest service road we had crossed not long before hanging our hammocks for the night was a procession of all-terrain vehicles. Ah, the sweet sound of multi-use public lands at midnight.
I suppose last night’s surprise was a fitting way to ring in the 4th of July, what with its loud sound of freedom, albeit without the matching visual spectacle of a fireworks display. It also made for a fairly bleary-eyed morning, which is an unfortunately familiar feeling to me even in the best of times. It’s rare that mornings and I are on speaking terms.
The morning miles were hard won, by any definition. Although there was a big climb in front of us, getting to the foot of it was proving far more time consuming than expected. Before starting the climb to Parkview Mountain in earnest, the trail traversed for miles through a drainage thick with blowdown. Working our way around, over, and sometimes through the confused jumble of downed trees slowed everything to a crawl.
With the gymnastics behind us, we broke through tree line on a steep ascent of Parkview Mountain that was about to get a whole lot steeper. The views were long, and the afternoon cycle of building clouds came mercifully early, providing some much needed shade for the ascent. The trail that had led us thus far, had now disappeared, replaced only by wooden posts spaced impossibly far apart without a speck of trail to connect them. It was time to improvise some switchbacks for the leg-crushing final thousand feet with the lookout hut on the summit taunting us from its perch high above.
The views from the top made it worth the lung-busting effort: a mix of azure blue sky and puffy white clouds stretched out over every mountain within viewing distance. The derelict shelter we sat beside for our mega lunch break was an echo of a time gone by. Not knowing it’s history, I wondered whether it once would have been home to a fire lookout and if so what it must have been like to live in such a small space all by oneself up here. The stars, sunrises and sunsets sure would have been stunning. Would they have made up for the isolation?
At last pulling ourselves from the summit, we started the equally long descent albeit on something that would have been a luxury on our ascent—actual trail, with real honest-to-goodness switchbacks. It’s as if the trail is constantly in the midst of an identity crisis.
Not a few hundred feet below the summit, we finally passed our first thru-hiker, Montucky (if you’re wondering what these weird trail names are all about, you’re probably not alone—some background in this post). Having started northbound from Mexico on April 20th, it was hard to walk away from the meeting and not wonder how things would have gone had we stuck to our original northbound plan starting just three days before Montucky, Covid be damned. It still feels like we made the right decision for us, but I was glad to hear that he’d had a wonderful amount of support from everyone he’d come into contact with so far.
The clouds continued to build, and the sky over the summit behind us grew dark as peals of distant thunder began to ring. Nothing threatening, just some background music for our long descent back into the forest until we reached the highway far below. Reaching the highway, the march of incoming rain drops had us pitch a tarp to huddle under, waiting for a storm that would never come.
The usual angry sky of the Colorado afternoon untangled itself little by little, until the chirping birds and sunny skies returned by the time we were in our hammocks. A leisurely day of mileage—with several more to come—which has made for a pleasant return to the trail.