A guest post by Ace
The last time this rookie wrote we hadn’t even started hiking in CO yet. And, here we are, just three days (less than 70 miles) from the New Mexico border. I have a lot more miles under my belt, but don’t worry, I’m still a rookie.
We have been hiking in Colorado since July 2. Hiking in CO has been a great way to spend the month of July. Here is my perspective because, well, who doesn’t love a David Letterman type top ten/eleven list? (#millenialsonlyknowFallon)
1.) The CO skies. Need I say more? They make the already magical views appear more magical.
2.) Busier trail = well maintained trail (for the most part). From Frisco (Copper Mountain) to just outside Lake City (nearly 300 miles) we were walking coincident with the Colorado Trail (CT). As a result, we encountered a lot more thru-hikers attempting to do that 500-mile traverse, and the trail was well maintained and pleasant. However, we were rudely awakened from our hiking slumber once the CDT parted ways with the CT. It’s not as consistently nice as the CT.
3.) Cooperative weather. With the exception of the 100-mile stretch between Salida and Lake City we were relatively fortunate with the clockwork cumuli. During that stretch it rained a lot. We just felt damp and clammy. The tarp was a frequent companion during lunch and dinner breaks and the new shoes I put on in Salida were wet (and subsequently smelly) right out of the gate. However, this self-proclaimed weather weenie survived.
Outside of that stretch most mornings started out cloudless until around 11am. Then the clouds would miraculously appear and the rumbling of thunder began (no, it was not my stomach). We typically dodged any rain until either dinner time or when we were setting up camp. The positive of all this is that Mt. Man and I have became better and more comfortable with our hammock and tarp setup in adverse conditions. When needed we would tag team our setups, helping each other out mostly because I couldn’t feel or use my fingers as my hands were too cold.
4.) Old friends are great friends. In Colorado Jeff and I had the great fortune of seeing several old friends.
First, we saw Casie and Martin (sadly, we didn’t get a good picture). Casie and I go all the way back to college. We met at Semester at Sea and that’s where many of our traveling adventures began. From Vietnam to Turkey to Ghana to Costa Rica, her and I have had many adventures including chasing a burglar down a beach. She is a fabulous photographer and if I could be her PR agent I would.
Casie and Martin were kind enough to plan a camping trip near Frisco where we took a zero day. They fed us yummy tacos and outfitted us with enough cookies to feed a classroom. Although it had been several years since we saw each other we picked up right where we left off and it made me appreciate the timelessness of old but good friends.
A few days later the trail crossed the Timberline Lake trailhead and lo and behold our dear friend Hoa was waiting for us. True to Hoa’s brand we had arranged a meetup time of 7am and she was there at least 45 minutes early. We love you and your brand, Hoa!
I met Hoa when I first moved to Seattle for grad school. She brought me into her close running community and it was during that time I actually enjoyed running. She was also the person I first became a “minister” for, having had the honor to marry her and her husband Mike. She was, and still is, the kindest, most dedicated runner I know. She is also just a wonderful person.
Hoa took us into Leadville so we could feel more connected with the Covid times, don our masks and eat yummy breakfast burritos and drink coffee. Afterwards, she joined us on the trail for a few miles. It was one of our favorite days hiking thus far.
Seeing both Casie and Hoa reminded me of the importance of good friends and their visits filled my cup at a time when I needed it.
5.) As my grandmother used to always say “your feet are the most important part of your body.” That statement couldn’t be more true for thru-hikers. The bunion I was fearful I was getting back in the first 94 miles never came to fruition. Thanks Justin!
However, now the issue is my heels bother me as does my right ankle. My heels can be sensitive when I lay down to sleep. They can also be sensitive when we walk down hills (sadly what goes up, must come down). They feel like they have blisters on them but there is nothing visible to the eye. It’s not bad enough to force me to stop walking and at times when trail is nice enough (nice grade, fewer rocks) I have found doing a slow jog down the trail actually doesn’t hurt.
My right ankle sometimes just gets shooting pains if I step the wrong way or encounter uneven, rocky trail. It’s not swollen so I’ll just keep walking.
6.) What goes up must come down. And, let me tell you, I much prefer going up. Sure, the ups can be relentless with mountain passes going on for days and at times the grade makes me feel like a sloth, my legs feel heavy, and my heart beats out of my chest but I would take those feelings any day over the humdrum of going downhill or road walking. The views and the exertion energize me. It’s during the humdrum times when earbuds come out and podcasts or music is played. Anyone out there have any good podcast recommendations?
7.) The San Juan Mountains are all that and a bag of chips. Jules, I can see why they make your list of favorite mountain ranges. I am just grateful we hiked them when there was no snow. Some of the side slope traverses or the knife’s edge would have been scary in snow which Mr. Repko has experienced firsthand.
8.) It’s hard to answer the question “what’s been the toughest thing so far or most unexpected?”
Most who know me wonder how I’m doing not shaving my legs everyday. I’m fine.
I’m also ok not showering everyday and the musty, stinky smell of my wind shirt, sleep shirt, hiking shirt and sleeping bag is oddly comforting. Ok, not really, but I’m becoming numb to my stench.
So far, the physicality of the trail has not been an issue either. My health is holding up and my fitness is keeping up which allows me to enjoy each day. For this I’m extremely grateful.
And, even though I still don’t like thunder, I’m more comfortable walking in rain and dealing with the cold. Coming into this that was always my biggest concern. How would I mentally keep it together during those adverse times and conditions. It turns out, when you’re in it, you just deal with it. And I’m dealing with it. Dealing with it = days upon days of wet shoes and socks. Let me tell you, I love putting on both during a cold morning. #not.
Others wonder how I can’t get bored. “It’s the same thing everyday.” The routine yet variant nature of the trail and trail life is suiting me just fine. The simplicity and routine of the trail is a kind of routine that I’d take any day over the routine I had back in Seattle. In Seattle, I’d get up, work out (if I was motivated), have coffee, go to work (which, let’s face it consists of a lot of emails, meetings and phone calls). If I was lucky I had a social outing. Otherwise, it was dinner, wine, TV and bed. On the trail, sure we get up at the same time each morning, break down camp, and have breaks/lunch/dinner around the same time each day. But we spend 12 hours hiking and every step is something new. I don’t even miss coffee on the trail though I could barely face the work day in Seattle without it.
9.) I’m starting to get a hiker appetite. Lynn, I anticipate gorging on an entire pizza by myself in the near future. Followed up by some fries, of course. I also have some killer gaiter tan lines.
10.) The most surprising thing about this trail is what I’m learning about myself.
News alert for those who know me (said oh so sarcastically): confident and being comfortable with who I am are two things I am not. Kind of embarrassing to admit since I am almost 46 years old for Pete’s sake!
First, I am embarrassed by how I respond to or cope in certain situations. I can sometimes be childish. I sometimes say stupid, snotty things or externally bitch and moan (it’s more like grunt and pout). Its in these moments I feel very developmentally delayed. I don’t think it helps that the company I am keeping handles things in a very different manner.
I am an emotional person and an external thinker surrounded by three very calm, rational internal thinkers. Their emotional expressions are few and far between and any outward expressions have been mine and mine alone, oftentimes met with no response.
This was a very hard adjustment for me to make and initially I felt bad about this difference, like there was something wrong with me. Why can’t I be more like them? Yes, at times I need to find better coping mechanisms, but when I falter, I can’t beat myself up and compare myself to others. I need to just be comfortable with who I am, flaws and all!
Also, from about Grand Lake to Twin Lakes (about 125 miles or so) I was feeling insecure about being a rookie and I was consumed with comparing myself to others and judging myself while at the same time insistent that others were judging me too.
I was struggling with being the least experienced among three experienced hikers. Sure, I can hike my ass off but just being able to hike doesn’t cut it. I need to be self-reliant even though I’m hiking in a group. Mt. Man, Beardoh and Sweet Pea are here to help but I need to carry my own weight too and not be afraid to ask for help when I need it or be compassionate with myself if I can’t do something or respond to something in the way that they do.
I also felt insecure because I exhibit some very rookie-ish behaviors (can I make up a word here)? By that I mean, gasp!, I carry some stuff my fellow pro thru-hikers won’t. However, I will gladly carry extra weight for my separate sleep pants and shirt. Just because I am on trail doesn’t mean I don’t need my “house dress.” And, yes, this is something I will probably do if/when I finish this thing. And, you know who cares about this? Absolutely no one.
Realizing I was having these emotions helped put things into perspective for me about what’s important, who I want to be and what I want my mental energy to be consumed by. Spoiler alert—it’s not this! And, after recognizing that post Twin Lakes I snapped out of it. All told, the farther we go, the more committed I am to finishing this thing.
Let’s be honest. I love the outdoors. I love this adventure. And, most of all I love that Mt. Man and I are doing this together. Being on the trail has stripped our relationship down to the basics and it is helping us become a stronger partnership.
And, you know what, even though I constantly compare myself to others, one thing I hope to gain from this experience is to own who I am and be comfortable with who I am. That confidence will influence the habits and best practices I adopt once I transition from being a rookie to a thru-hiker.