We leave before noon and enjoy a flat and well maintained trail around the lakes… Then the Colorado River. It’s Labor Day Sunday and motor boats are the prevailing mode of transportation.
On one trail I see (and finally get video of) a big black bear.
We hear there might be a store open near Monarch Lakes at Arapaho Lodge. Our dream is a single soda or beer. But much to our delight this family run lodge, bar and store is hiker friendly. It is hopping with a reunion and toddler birthday party but trail magic abounds from a round of beers bought by Ryan? to triscuits brought by an anonymous stranger, to free camping in the lawn offered by the owner Todd as we settled up our very, VERY reasonable bar tab.
I feel like part of a tight knit community talking to locals out enjoying their Labor Day weekend. And go to bed hearing the extremely drunk reunioners singing Rocky Mountain High by John Denver, proudly, at the top of their lungs.
Today it’s my turn to feel like crap. I got belly aches all day. There is some elevation gain, but nothing unreasonable. The day passes quickly with scores of day hikers out for Labor Day. Lots of them excited and incredulous asking about our backpacks and learning we are thru hikers.
At the end of the day we ascend to around 12,000 feet elevation and I start dragging hard core. I fall behind Groucho again and again. My belly aches and my body produces a hot box of death smell that adds to my nausea. I can see Winter Park, our next resupply, 4 miles west as the crow flies, but we still have 21 trail miles (and a 12 mile hitch.)
We sleep in a shrubby area that protects us a bit from wind.
I’ve never dropped acid myself, so I can only believe certain friends who tell me that today felt like a very bad trip. Almost throwing up, crying about 15 times, the sensation that the rocks are moving, a feeling like I can’t catch breath all causing me to dissolving into hysterical gasps and literal wailing/ugly cries. but eventually I learn tears are like super powers: providing endorphins, huge gulping bellows of air, a chance for my feet to stop and heart rate to slow, a clear sinus passage for better breathing (after blowing several snot rockets), and a moistening for my dry eyes, which have burned from sun and wind exposure. Also a firm resolve. I will not succumb to this. I WILL keep walking. I will get out of this. I will feel better. Pain is temporary.
Over several mountains. Climbing Over 5000 feet of elevation. Reaching higher than 13,000 feet several times. The day just doesn’t get easier.
In addition to altitude problems we are cross country following faint or non existent paths much of the day.
Tho the terrain is tough and I feel like crap… Well it’s just SUPER BEAUTIFUL up here. Also we enjoy a lengthy lunch break with Crunchmaster and Happy. Friends we’ve followed since the AT but haven’t seen in more than 3 years they are hiking this section NOBO. Crunch as a thru hiker and happy – his dad – as a short summer vacation following a knee replacement. Happy is so freaking nice and cool! Also he gives me pistachios so I love him forever.
Ok so then much later in the day we decide to take a Ley map “shortcut” ascending steeply to 13,000 and walking the literal ridge line. It’s… how can I put it… INCREDIBLY FREAKING DIFFICULT.
And up here it starts to snow. Snow?! It can happen anytime of year at this elevation but as we walk into fall the sense of an early winter is upon us.
It feels like the most effort I’ve ever expended to step after step and get back to trail. But I do it. And then we descend to the road. My tears dry up, my altitude sickness alleviates and we get a super fast hitch from two amazing vacationers from Arkansas. They are so merry and warm. And they ask if they can help us with any prayers. How cool is that?
People are good.
We get to town and enjoy a drink and shower and hotel. We sleep. Tomorrow is a day off.
We tune in… To Facebook, friends, weather forecasts, inspiring activism in North Dakota, and to our own needs and feelings.
People are starting to go off trail for the winter. Coming back next summer or a future year to finish. Others are shuttling ahead, skipping this section for now, trying to hit the 14,000 peaks and exposed sections of Colorado in the next week or so. If the weather holds, maybe they’ll come back to fill in this section later or just continue to the desert of New Mexico thru October. Tho the forecast for next week is snow above 9000 feet. That’s like the whole Colorado section of Trail.
And Groucho and I have consensus. It’s time to get off trail this season.
I love being here. In many respects, I love being anywhere but I’m tired of moving. I feel ready to sit for a minute. And reconnect, build, create and be a part of a geographically located community. I’m ready to digest and see if I can extend the lessons learned thru hiking to my everyday life: Operating in person. Not sweating the small stuff. Eating snacks when cranky. Tuning out of divisive capitalist-driven messaging. Tuning back into social justice, public spaces, communication, humans.
Sooooo… Here in Winter Park, CO is where Groucho and I will deviate from the set path of the thru hike. Instead we carve our own path forward, toward an idea of home.