Total Miles: 1889.3
It’s hard to top hiking in the fall. The heat of summer is a thing of the past, replaced by crisp, cool nights and a kaleidoscope of colored foliage. The rustle of leaves a new sound effect to complement the bugling of elk.
But autumn is also a fickle season, where weather like we’ve enjoyed these past few weeks can easily transform into its more sinister self. Sunny and 60? Meet snowy and 30. The very early winter storm we endured a month ago was a fairly extreme example, but certainly not an unheard of one for the mountains of the Continental Divide. Each day that we draw nearer to lower elevations and the more desert-like climate of southern New Mexico is a day that the possibility of encountering more snow shrinks ever smaller.
Only two days ago, I wrote this post about how an early winter storm had caused one man’s story to cross the often fine line from adventure to tragedy. Enjoying a perfect fall evening at the site of that tragedy, I couldn’t help but appreciate the contrast. One place, two experiences that couldn’t be more different, in the extreme.
A morbid example, to be sure, but a connection nonetheless. And it’s that kind of connection that runs from thru-hikers of the past to thru-hikers of the present and future, unifying their experiences across time in a sort of genealogy. The footsteps we see in the dirt are the most tangible example. Each place I stop to admire or take note of, I wonder what the experience of the owner of those footprints was like at the same place. Was it brutally cold and windy, so much so that they didn’t dare stop to admire it at all? Were they hustling past, too busy to notice this one spot over so many others? Or did we appreciate it in exactly the same way?
Spending all of your days outside following a trail that has a habit of occasionally disappearing into nothingness, you grow adept at noticing the difference between ground that has been traveled on versus ground that has not. Here and there, it becomes obvious where a tent has been pitched by someone before you—perhaps only once, but noticeable still the same. And I wonder—were they there by choice, enjoying a beautiful sunset, or by necessity, fighting to stay warm and dry against the elements? Like Otter.
The trail is the connective tissue between the experiences—good and bad—of all who walk upon it, and it’s both the similarities and the differences of those varied experiences that stretch like a string from one generation of hikers to another. It is walking through history while becoming a part of that history. For as many steps that have come before, countless others will come after. All different, and yet all the same.