We ride back to trail with hiker Corbett, and her local sister Sydney – a super cool school teacher in Lander. We talk of the upcoming Great Basin section, a 120 mile trek thru the flat, dry, hot, shadeless desert.
We hike out with Corbett and soon encounter a NOBO! Hobb, an elder, has been bouncing around, trying to finish the trail in major sections. His wife joined him for this wind river section. They together have completed the PCT and AT (3 times I think?!!)
In 3 miles we reach the historic landmark of South Pass City, a preserved gold mining town.
The non profit stewards let hikers walk thru the area, and hold our resupply boxes for free! As we unpack our box, Corbett says good bye, pulling my heartstrings. I’d been looking forward to a new hiking buddy, but she is faster than us, by far, and once she walks off, I know we won’t see her again on trail.
The terrain is gently rolling -or flat- but strenuous in its own way as suddenly we are forced to walk miles cross country with only an occasional far distant fiberglass trail marker to assure us. We dodge sagebrush and cacti, but sometimes it’s so thick we must scrape our shins to make passage.
Whereas on the AT I wondered if I would ever NOT have a mosquito bite again, on the CDT I wonder if I will ever have shins not covered in a latice of scabs.
The ground is also uneven, and after multiple ankle wobbles I study the maps at a break and realize that if we find a nearby country road we will end up where we need to go, saving a few miles and providing some precious zone out time. the mental attention needed for cross country travel demands significantly more energy.
Soon we reach the dirt road and a short time later an oasis…. The sweet water river where we eat dinner in shade. Then along comes Weather Dan. A hiker who lost his crew when he had to hang back in town treating his Giardia.
Dan is quiet but amiable and we hike off after dinner up another country road until the light fades and we realize there really isn’t shelter out here. We will sleep aside the dusty Trail/road among the dry grasses and with a sage bush as a foot rest.
Around 4am I wake to a startling sound. Thundering hooves approaching, passing. Too loud for antelopes or deer. A cattle stampede? Disoriented and wary I sit up and see nothing.
Then the herd circles back around to check us out again. And I am in a mystical universe as I behold a group of 6 wild horses. Their approach is much in the styling of Tolkein’s riders of Rohan. Graceful, curious, assertive, powerfully strong. “What news from the mark?!”
The head honcho neighs with blustering lips and a bobbing head. Asking something… Maybe just “What are you doing here?” His 5 companions peaceably standing in a row, silhouetted in the full moon light.
Then suddenly they are off again, hooves easing amicably around sage brush and dry grasses, in the darkness of the night.
I can barely return to sleep, alivened by the intricate choreography of meaning in their head gestures and their almost empathic forces communicating actively with each other and us. Obviously extremely intelligent beings – by any measure.
We wake an hour or so later with orange sun behind haze, starting early to beat a heat that’s soon to come, but hard to imagine in the crisp dawn air.
We pass sign after sign for Oregon trail and Seminoe Cutoff/California trail reminded of the western expansion and hopeful families treking thru this waterless plain for days and days with wagons and oxen and maybe a map sketched on a napkin. Hoping to find water, game, shade and cross the far mountains before winter.
In this stretch we regularly walk 15 miles between water sources, which we can always spot coming because of the uptick of birds, bugs, flies, grass and cows.
Otherwise our terrain is quiet except for wind thru sage brush and the occasional horned toad scuttling across our path.
And every so often we see a group of glorious prong horned antelope. Running. Running. Always running. A relief to see such vibrant life! “Don’t run!!” My heart cries against centuries of acclimation. “I don’t need to eat you I have ramen.”
Weather Dan gets ahead at some point in the afternoon and Groucho and I walk alone again. It’s comfortable though and I feel resigned to our solitude on this journey.
In the afternoon we walk up a hill and spy a cluster of 3 horses against a distant field. They watch us carefully but do not approach or retreat. A little while later we reach a trail junction encountering a huge pile of horse shit. Like a large accumulating pile, right at the crossroads.
What the hell? Then Groucho reminds me that Sydney spoke of communal horse poop piles as a common occurrence, especially at the edges of territory. Intelligent indeed.
Finally, on this the day of the horse, I spy a gleaming white skeleton of a horse just off trail. Pulled apart and picked clean by coyotes but still commanding respect.
We end the day just after sunset and sleep in the warmth of a mountain saddle.
I feel a familiar emotional vulnerability that comes on at onset of PMS. A strong desire to be on my own. Not forever. Just like a sabbatical. To make my own choices. Follow my own derive. I stubbornly don’t want to follow a path or walk behind another person. And yet I am terrified of breaking with what is expected of me. Still. After all this self actualization I still have to exercise complete mindfulness in my autonomy, my relationship and balance the rewards of perseverance with the satisfaction of impulsivity.
Do I want to keep hiking? In the heat of day this question pummels me every hour on the hour. I relentlessly check my phone. Not for service. (I haven’t had service since Glacier National Park.) Just clues. About terrain and mileage and water and where can I stop moving? Where might there be shade. And what will happen next? And what next? I am having difficulty being fully in this moment. Im afraid if I fully inhabit my discomfort, crankiness, the heat, the heavy pack, the dusty socks and new blisters that I may falter. If I really succumb to the present, how can I possibly choose to stay on trail?
most importantly I fear letting down Groucho. He who is determined, creative, strong. my partner in wanderlust and seeking and questing and asking. He, the most generous, intelligent, poetic, detailed, steadfast, hilarious. He, the most grumpy, sullen, quiet, introspective, gassy, existential and obsessive. He, my buddy on self actualizing. My travel companion spiritual co-explorer.
What does it mean for him if I stop hiking now and spend a little time alone? And what does it mean for me if I don’t? Historically Groucho and I spend several weeks/months apart each year. And it’s liberating and refreshing and rejuvenating for both of us. So I’m not worried about our ability to weather time apart. But I am worried about deserting Groucho’s thru hike.
This day passes like a liminal purgatory. Step after step in sand, and miles between water. For lunch we find a small grove of trees by a dry stream bed. The shade is delicious and I crawl under the scrubby branches into a tree cave. I never want to leave.
After another dozen or so miles, we find a blessed solar well the coldest, clearest, cleanest water pouring out of the sand into a barrel. We celebrate with a Fig Bar and move on as dusk approaches -determined to walk past dark and take advantage of the cool breezes. We tell movies to pass time. Me: Brokeback Mountain. Groucho: terminator 1,2,3
Again I feel the layers of time folding close together in these hills. The me that resides here in Wyoming pressing against the me’s on the precipice of choices I’ve made through all the decades of my life. Who I would’ve become had I made different choices at any point. What do my choices say about me? Am I a loner at heart? Always choosing to leave? Often choosing solitude or pain?
Speaking of pain: Probably a result of PMS – my tissues swell, including my brain, which presses against my skull popping the enormous latent cyst that is my pain body. Who am I? What am I doing here? Waaaaay out here. How can I be so strong hiking 25-30 miles a day and yet feel so emotionally weak?
The trail runs flat and mostly one direction toward the road until it dead ends along the freeway – where we tackle the slow scratchy trek of cross country travel into the hills. We could bail and hitch in several places down at the highway but something keeps us moving on the dry track to rawlins.
We sleep near a solar well. I’m comforted by the signs of humans: the road, the signs, the well, even the garbage. Tomorrow we’ll be in town. Will I hike on?
I wake with the excitement of a town day. I really need support and want to talk about the choice to keep hiking. But Groucho needs quiet time. Tho I understand his need for solitude, I feel frustrated beyond belief, fearing without the opportunity to talk, I will definitely get off trail. And I want to make this choice with Groucho in mind.
A few miles from town we break the ice and start having better conversations about things. Then we see a rattlesnake. And finally my cramps double me over just as we start the 3-mile road walk. I cry intermittently to relieve the waves of pain. I see a penny and pick it up wishing for the pain to end in the next 1 minute. Then, it does.
Town is uplifting. Everyone in Rawlins is so damn nice. It’s like a cheerful Twin Peaks. From the amazing(!!!) post office staff to the free 2 hours of library computer access to the hiker discount at the days inn and the super great Thai food and the chatty liquor store clerk. And several hiker boxes and trail registers! Also I get new shoes and maybe my feet will stop being so darn sore.
We heart rawlins.
At the motel bar we break our liquor fast. I need liquid relaxation. It’s Hanks birthday at the bar and it’s Wednesday so we enjoy $3 wells and wines amongst a slew of regulars.