Total Miles: 1839.2
10 feet by 15 feet. Polished concrete floor. Corrugated aluminum walls. Dimly lit only by the harsh fluorescent lighting of the hall outside. Inside, all of our worldly belongings aside from those we carry on our backs sit quietly, slowly collecting a veneer of dust.
Freedom from those things is something many of us never have the chance to feel, and the simplicity of life that appears in their absence. There’s not a single thing in that room I miss, nor one that has consumed the thought of a single moment since we began this adventure.
Thru-hiking is about simplification, if nothing else, and yet this particular hike has at times felt robbed of that quality, owing to the logistical jujitsu of flip-flopping from one part of the trail to another several times. But the day we’ve been looking forward to is the day when all of that would come to an end: today.
After a wonderful stay with our friends Hoa and Mike, yesterday was the final headache—12 hours of driving, Lyft-ing, and busing back to the town of Chama, New Mexico. When local trail angel Lori and her family drove us up to Cumbres Pass this morning, it was not only the last ride we’ll need until the end of the hike, it marked the return of the simplicity that has been so elusive.
In front of us, one final state stands between us and the Mexico border. Between here and there, we’ll walk right through every resupply stop. All we need to do is point ourselves in one direction and put one foot in front of the other for one final month. No hurdles. Just hiking. It has a nice ring to it.
Cumbres Pass itself lies just three trail miles north of the Colorado-New Mexico border, so the highlight of the early morning was to make it official: Colorado was now behind us for good with only New Mexico before us.
The mountains were cloaked in green and gold, as aspens either donned their trademark golden leaves or looked down upon the piles of those they’d already shed. Beside their white trunks, deeply colored evergreens kept them company. Out they stretched, for miles.
Our final stop of the day was for our usual dinner break, which as luck would have it landed us at a remote campground complete with the luxury of a picnic table. The name of the campground—Lagunitas—had jarred a distant memory that I couldn’t quite place until the pieces finally aligned in my head. This was the place where tragedy had struck.
In November of 2015, CDT hiker Stephen “Otter” Olshansky was caught in an epic early winter snowstorm. After taking refuge in one of the campground privies, and making several attempts to escape his increasingly dire situation, Otter finally succumbed to the elements.
The full story of what Otter endured as well as the star-crossed attempts to locate and rescue him is chronicled in this article from Outside Magazine. As we sat quietly cooking dinner mere steps from where it had all unfolded, the sun still bathing the forest in a warm glow, it was hard to conceive that such an ordeal could have transpired in such a peaceful setting. The juxtaposition of beauty and tragedy a seemingly impossible paradox.
Perhaps the greatest irony of the story is that Otter was no rookie in the wrong place at the wrong time. An experienced veteran of the CDT, over many years, he had a wealth of knowledge specific to the trail and even of this particular area. And yet, even those advantages were not enough to save him. It was a harsh reminder of the indifference of nature to our survival and that bad things can still befall even the most experienced among us. The simple, cold, inescapable reality of life in the wilderness.