Tag Archives: America

coloRADo trail report 

Starting in Durango we climbed, climbed, and continued climbing until it seemed we were passing through a gateway into the sky. Pine forest, yet untouched by the Western Pine Beetle, was lush and crept up the mountains around us interspersed with aspens just verging on the fall turn. Sweating up the Highline trail and across the Sliderock Traverse, all of this fell away – revealing row upon row of peaks scraping the sky. Finally we had arrived – at least at the first above tree line track of the Colorado Trail. There would be more as we began our northbound journey thru the San Juan mountains and onwards towards Denver…

The Colorado Trail Foundation likes to claim their trail as the most beautiful of the 11 National Scenic Trails. It’s hard to argue with them… You’ll find expansive pine forest, massive aspen groves on fire with fall color, beautiful trail towns full of friendly locals and delicious local beer, exquisitely maintained trail and miles & miles of views. Of course, it is the high Rockies, so you may also encounter thunderstorms, snow at any time, subarctic temperatures, and looooong exposed miles of trail. But like many adventures, the risk often heightens the reward.

I traversed the volunteer built 478 mile trail northbound with my friend Atrain and Ekho the dog in September of this year. Atrain, Ekho and I met in 2015 on the PCT, and had hiked for a few weeks together. After he and Ekho moved to Portland OR, Harpo and I kept in touch. In the planning stages of my hike, Atrain mentioned that he was looking for some late summer adventures as he drove cross country moving back to Atlanta. A plan was born…

New vegan trail snack by Harpo-mane – freeze dried strawberries with Dang original toasted coconut chips. Tasty!

LOGISTICS

We shared planning duties for the hike, tho to be honest logistics were pretty easy compared to some other hikes Harpo & I have done. There was some spread sheets covering mail drops, mileage, and shared gear – but not too much nerding out. Our resupply strategy was partial mail drops supplemented with whatever we could find in town. U could easily resupply 90% in town, no problem, and mail yourself a few boxes if you wanted to avoid longer hitches. Harpo and I had a bunch of homemade dehydrated meals left after leaving the CDT early in 2016, so Atrain and I chose to use as many of those as possible hence more boxes. Thankfully Harpo was willing to mail our resupply – being busy with the full time job thing – and hooked up the super surprise vegan snacks too!

The Colorado Foundation provides an excellent guidebook for the trail, which includes complete listings of trail towns, resupply options, and hitching distances (we found a used copy at a gear store in PDX for $5). National Geographic publishes a 3 part map series which is unnecessary (the trail is super well signed) but nice if you like alternates, blue blazing, and seeing context. We used the maps, along with the Guthook app for iOS, which provides info about water sources, lists trail miles, and uses GPS to help with wayfinding. PMags also offers a great overview and valuable observations in his “End to End” free downloadable guide. I also use the Gaia app for iOS, which offer offline available topo maps and GPS functionality. The trail is easy to follow, but it’s also nice to bushwhack for a couple hours and get off the beaten path…

Surprisingly wild flowers were everywhere – even in late September, probably the result of abundant summer rains.

Trail Conditions

From the first step to the last, the CT is meticulously maintained. Many sections rival Yosemite, not just in beauty, but in the sheer attention and time trail crews have invested in creating an exceptional trail experience. Wayfinding was easy as signs were well placed both NOBO & SOBO, and there was nary a blowdown to be found. Given, we hiked the trail at the end of the season (September 3 – October 5) so crews had all summer to clean it up, and we didn’t really deal with extensive snow.

One difference from the AT & PCT tho; be ready for mountain bikers. I also love a good shred, so it didn’t bum me out – tho there was a good couple of hours one day dodging dudes on a tour with poor trail etiquette, and a Saturday when we ran into and annual charity ride (and literally hundreds of bikes). On the whole everyone who shreds there seems to know the deal, is super polite and happy to share the trail.

(For u novice MTBrs out there, please use bell, voice or whistle well BEFORE u would like to pass. Don’t sneak up! Also, let hikers know how many are behind you on trail so we don’t keep getting surprised and can find a good spot to pull off for larger groups. Technically hikers have the right of way & yr supposed to dismount & walk or wait, but hikers know that’s bs & nobody wants to stop a good shred – so communicate & everybody wins😘)

In September we dodged the majority of the monsoon season, so we only had to hide in a ditch dodging lighting once. Score! Reports from SOBO hikers indicated that was not their experience. And we did catch a little early season snow coming out of Brekenridge – about 3 feet up top, which was enough to provide 5 hours of shin shredding post holing up Georgia Pass. Ekho, who is mostly husky, was LOVING it – especially after the sun set and the full moon started making monsters in the shadows.

I will say – it was not summer up there. The trail elevation averages 10,300 feet, with a high point of 13,271 and many passes over 12,000. NBD but prepare yourself appropriately, especially if hiking thru the monsoon season in August when u might wind up wet & cold everyday. We definitely got wet on several occasions, and our weather experience was mild compared to many SOBO reports.

Campsites were easy to find, often had spectacular views, and because of the plentiful summer rain many campfires were had.

Pre hike vibez in Durango, another great trail town (great co-op & gear store, breweries, cool downtown). It’s a little spendy, but I could have stayed for a weeks exploring the hundreds of miles of trail in and around town…

Trail Towns

It’s impossible to pick one when they’re all so awesome! Most had great resupply option, many had hostels, and people were totally down for the cause. In particular we had a great time in Silverton (great hostel, brewery & pizza), Lake City (long hitch but excellent hostel & full grocery), Salida (another long hitch, heard the hostel was good but stayed in a cheap hotel, great river swimming, good natural foods store), and especially Leadville (excellent hostel, short hitch, friendliest locals, brewery, grocery). Brekenridge was a little bobo for my taste. Twin Lakes would have been hard for a vegan to full resupply (we got a package) but the restaurant had an awesome black bean burger.

Epic views every day – and impressive variety of terrain. Just when you’re feeling too stressed about a long but beautiful exposed section, you’ll duck into some lush pine forest & find some of the coldest, clearest mountain streams ever.

Overview
I loved this trail. I want to go back and snowshoe it right now, then mountain bike it in the summer.  I liked it so much I somehow convinced Harpo it would be a great idea to move to Leadville – and that’s where you’ll find us now. I think it’s logistically simple enough to make a great first thru, but rigorous and beautiful enough to challenge and amaze even saltiest dirtbag. So go forth & HIKE!!!

Harpo’s CDT Journal #10


August 12

24 miles
A Beautiful Day. Finally! 
Today is a joy. We relish several hearty breaks, make good miles, and traverse easy but gorgeous terrain of frosty meadows, aspen groves, epic lakes and aqua green rivers. 
It’s a popular area with troves of trail runners, day hikers, canoers, and some 7-day section hikers on a similar route as ours. 
The green river lives up to its name and we only wish we had extra food so we could camp early along it’s shore. 
At the end of the day we turn up the Knapsack Col alternate. Recommended by all NOBO’s this 13 mile alternate replaces as many miles of the CDT. We camp a mile in, saving the climb and “big reveal” of the landscape for tomorrow. 


August 13

17.5 miles
There are so many hearty, kind, adventurous Wyomingians out here. We meet several couples who we leapfrog with throughout the day. Social time feels great. I miss people. 
But most importantly the views and features along the alternate drop jaws. 100% awesome. 
Bouldering becomes the new normal as we scramble up and down mountain cols, skirting glaciers and skipping over glacial melt. The new way of traversing Takes more time, strength and energy tho, and we finish a 12.5 mile section at 5:30 totally depleted having already eaten all our snacks for the day. 
Normally we’d simply eat more to perk up but we are on rations now (having taken a low mile day early in this stretch and adding -23mi- when we had to bail from the high route. 
I’m very stressed out about this. I’ve never run out of food hiking. I feel so far from our goal – landers, Wyoming. We still have 77+ miles to go and with less energy we go slower still. I feel like a jerk because this is one of the most breath taking places I’ve ever EVER beheld. And all I can think about is getting to town. 
We could bail a few places, hiking 11 miles down a side trail to a popular trail head or campground but we’d have to come back the same way which at this point sounds like a drag. 
I’m so tired. But stubbornly press forward. Mile after gorgeous difficult mile. 


August 14

27 miles
A Good Day. After yesterday’s rigors today feels a bit easier. We wake early, discipline our selves to time our food breaks every 2-3 hours. Miles go more quickly along so many gorgeous lakes. 
At one we pre wash our bodies and clothes. Anticipating the 36 mile hitch to town in a few days. 
We ran out of coffee yesterday but run into a weathered, handsome gentle soul who becomes our Coffee Angel having packed in too much instant folgers. Groucho pulls a bag out of his collection of slightly used ziplocks and we feel hyped in anticipation of our afternoon coffee break ritual. 

In the evening we almost jog across a 4 mile stretch of flat, high, open meadow. Chatting merrily I spy a weird looking dead log by the side of the trail (never mind that there are no trees up here.). As we approach I again wonder why dead logs often look like dead animals. Another two steps and almost imperceptibly the log twitches. Oh crap. “Back up back up back up back up” I stammer as I realize it’s a Badger!! I love badgers but from afar. They have strong jaws and teeth and for their size can be very intimidating if you startle it. This one is pressed as flat in the brush as possible, like a cat stalking prey. I take a great tho shaky video which I will post to YouTube. 
We continue till dark, finding refuge under a large tree. 

August 15

20 miles
At 3:30am it begins to rain on us. We work swiftly to set up the tarp together. Some things we are really good at now. Like truckers hitch knots. Our gear is just a tiny damp but dry by morning. 
I’m a broken record that cannot stop pining for town. But today holds a lot of beautiful, treacherous and rigorous distraction in our Cirque de Towers alternate. A 21 mile path thru 3 steep, Rocky Mountain passes, among jagged peaks and pristine lakes. 
A few photos:


Though my mind drifts toward town and my very light food bag, the challenge keeps me very much in the present. Isn’t that what we all aspire to? To be “here”? Not to be with wandering stress, distracted thoughts, worries about the future or regrets about the past. Just to be here now… It’s a gift if only I can accept it. Today I realize that often it takes fear – jumping into the unknown or placing one’s self in precarious and difficult situations – to snap someone back to the present. I’m thankful for this difficult lesson – . In today’s case presented via thunder, rain and hail at 2 mountain passes, steep traverses down narrow, worn down switchbacks, with recent evidence of rockslides, and inclines so steep that my toned calf muscles burn and burn and burn some more. 
We can’t locate the trail several times today. It doesn’t worry me any more, as much as annoy me. It’s much slower to walk thru open terrain than on a solid trail. And I want. No I NEED to make miles today. I have to get to town. 
At night we stop by a river. We’re heading to bed earlier on this journey. Not as much from fatigue, it’s just easier to find a flat, soft, sheltered spot in the light. On pct and AT we were spoiled. all guidebooks show where you can find slightly (or very) impacted sites and shelters along the trail.  So hiking at night, it was easier to have faith we’d come upon a decent site by reviewing the data. On this hike we only have our eyes and topo maps to guide us to a safe slumber. 


August 16

31 miles
Today’s rations are light and we know it. Unless we run into campers we can beg for food we will be totally out by nightfall. We have 31 miles to the road where we can hitch to town. Okay. Ready. Get set. Go. 
6:00: We are up and at it. 

7:20: I find raspberries and pick a dozen to add to our oats! 

7:30: morning break. 

8:00: We rejoin the CDT. 

8:15: hike up a hill. 

9:00: intermittent huckleberry foraging whilst ascending our steepest climb for the day. 

10:00: Break at creek for water, a Luna bar, and to wash my shirt and hat. I smell. 

10:15: resume walking (downhill!!)

12:30: water break. Coffee. Last protein powder. Begin to enter the desert of the Great Basin area. Hot sun! 

1:30: blessed clouds greet us. We love them. Miles go faster. 

3:15 dinner break of a cup of rice, nutritional yeast and olive oil. 

3:35: hike up last long hill of day. 

4:00: trail retellings of mice and men (Groucho) and ghost busters (Harpo)

5:30: we recount our Hungary hike along the Blue Trail town by town. Campsite by campsite. (We miss you Huck!)

6:00: coffee break at top of the hill with last dribbles of snacks: a cherry jolly ranger (me) and 2 squares of chocolate (Groucho)

7:00: 7 miles to go! We start trail running on the downhills

7:45: pass a huge herd of prong horned antelope 

8:11: reach road! Start hitching. 

8:14: official sunset

8:30: stop hitching. 

9:00: Camp along the road in grove of aspens. Share miso packet. 

10:00: sleep. (I realize ironically that today is the first in this whole hike we haven’t spoken too or seen another living soul.)

August 17

4am: wake with grumbling belly

7:15am: start hitching

8:15am: a wonderful couple headed to North Carolina drops off another SOBO at the trail head and offers us a ride to Landers!!!!! We are saved!!!!!!!!! 

groucho gets a prewash from Chief (the dog) during our hitch

Harpo’s CDT Journal #9


August 9

15 miles
We sleep in. Delicious sleep. 
There is an active but 80% “contained” fire on the east side of this mountain, so our hike today is a reroute along dirt roads on the west side. 
We meet a Man from Texas on a wagon with his son and 4 horses. Two of the horses are carriage ponies from NYC pulling the wagon. He tells us story upon story of being lost, killing elk, and being attacked by a grizzly he and his buddies had to take down with 7 gunshots and then call fish and wildlife for a CSI style investigation. Grizzlies, like humans, are a protected species. 


On a long break under a bridge we rinse clothes and review maps, deciding which of the half dozen routes to do thru Northern Wind river range. There are many alternates and side trails to discover if we have enough food. 
The afternoon carries some challenging way-finding up to Sheridan pass. Exhausted, we decide to sleep here… it’s too beautiful to move along. 



August 10

30 miles
A day of reckoning. Are we brave enough to attempt the cdt wind river range high route? A little dotted line on our map indicating less than distinct trail. We’re told it’s like combining katahdin with mahoosic notch in some areas. Both the toughest parts of the Appalachian Trail. Hum. 
The morning moves fast but I feel lonely. And by 3:30 we’re at the turn off for the alternate, squinting at the sky. Are those fluffy playful clouds or storm clouds? Map notes say to ensure a clear forecast before attempting the high route. We’ve seen clouds the last few days but no rain. We don’t know the forecast but a cautious couple on an ATV say they think it’s supposed to be warmer this week. 
After dinner at Lake of the Woods we decide to go for it. The first 10 miles are along an ATV road but gains 3000 feet elevation. This will be the rest of our day. Then tomorrow we’ll have 14 miles up and along the high route before 4-5 miles descending and rejoining the CDT.
Feeling excited we set off and are making good time but the last few miles are killer on the jeep road and we get to the pass right at sunset. 
We look at the map. now we’re supposed to bushwhack off trail for 1.2 miles, toward some lakes and find another footpath that will connect us to the base of Shale Mountain. 
For this task we use a paper map and the compass on our phones and the Gaia app which will use the phone GPS to draw our route in case we want to go back. 
As we start down the last leg of the jeep road I realize we already missed the “turn” for the bushwhack section. We can either backtrack, or just start from here. I pull out my tools, okay let’s go. 
The bush whack would take us straight up and then down the other side of the mountain on our left. We decide on a round about course following a topo line for awhile and judging our way down the hill based on what we see. We avoid the super steep areas and head for wider spaced topo lines on the map. This works for awhile… until the sun sets. 
Around dark we reach a place where the alpine meadow transitions to a tallus field where we maneuver around huge boulders. We attempt to descend slowly and carefully toward the tree line we can barely see below. Eventually we begin to feel mossy dirt under our shoes and see sparse scraggly trees here and there. In the dark, with just Groucho’s night vision and my headlamp guiding us, we maneuver to soft tho slopey duft under the protection of several trees. We are adjacent to a glacier and sleeping close to 11,000 feet. 
We eat snacks and pack away all our food in our opsaks. Grateful for the odor barrier ziplocks since we have no trees tall enough for a bear hang. 

August 11

22 miles
At 4:44 I awake to rain?! Oh wait no… Actually it’s snow. What?!

We scramble and throw our tarp over us batwing style and are warm and dry but worried what for this mean for the high route?
We talk and hit snooze on the alarm, waiting until light to check the scene out. The popcorn snow stops, but as the light seeps grows we behold a persistent cloud cover blanketing the sky. Menacing dark clouds hang just beyond our beloved high route. Shale mountain shrouded in mist. 
We make a difficult choice to forego the adventurous high route and (ugh) retreat 11.8 miles back to the regular CDT and resume south from there. 
We encounter more light snow, hail and rain off and on all day. Also scattered sun and wind. By noon we are back on trail and though I feel relieved believing we made the right and safe choice, I dread the days ahead now we are squarely in the middle of this section and I have a sneaking suspicion we are low on food. We review the maps and look at our remaining food, realizing yes… we will have to ration food… having added approximately 24 miles to this already-long leg of the journey 

Harpo’s CDT Journal #8

August 5

13.5 miles

The morning goes like this: pack up, walk on paved road to bridge bay store, charge devices, drink coffee, get a camp permit for tonight on the thoroughfare trail, go to the bathroom a dozen times (town food? Too much coffee? the free beer yesterday? Too much bison poop in my water?) hitch to Fishing Bridge for resupply (mostly ramen, bars and oats), hitch to nine mile trailhead with a super great family from Wisconsin!) all these chores take about 5 hours. Generally speaking, 5 hours is enough time for basic resupply. Throw in Internet, correspondence and laundry – a good town day can last 8-24 hours. But none of these spots offer wifi. And we decided not to invest in laundry at this time. So we’re out pretty quickly. 
The amazing thoroughfare trail runs along the east side of majestic Yellowstone lake for about 20 miles. Today we knock out 13 miles finding wild strawberries, raspberries and huckleberries, bear scat. And huge dog prints? Or Wolf prints?
Groucho and I engage in good, challenging, invigorating conversation and hours pass quickly till we arrive at our spacious lakeshore site. It sleeps 12 but we now know that the Park’s policy is first come first served and they make no attempt to share sites among multiple parties. So we are wonderfully alone except for the chirping chipmunks. 


August 6

24 miles

The thorofare trail runs remarkably easily, breezily and beautifully along the east side of Yellowstone NP. Reportedly this area is the most remote in the lower 48, with no road access for 40 miles in any direction. 
We follow a long river valley, stopping for breaks and seeing huge Pelican claws in the sandy river shore. 
I’ve begun reading again on trail. I enjoy reading stories about women and make an effort to download books with the free library “overdrive” app. This week is finally “wild” by Cheryl stayed. Surprised but I love it. Don’t know why the patriarchy tries to smash her so hard. Brave and interesting writer. 
Reading makes me feel creative and enjoy my blogging more. Groucho and I discuss how we might be ready to process/communicate more outside our blog about the thru hiking experience. Today we discuss these possibilities at length. 


August 7

24 miles

A tragedy befalls us. I’ve lost my beloved Jean Luc aka Patrick Stewart. Tho he was just a .6 oz, golden, anodized aluminum poo trowel he was treasured by all in the Wrong Way Gang. I know Future Dad particularly will be sad to learn of his disappearance. 

*a moment of silence*

so yeah. It’s lonely out here. Groucho wakes on the wrong side of the bed. We indulged in a series of intimate conversations yesterday about families, relationships, friendships, personal histories and he is emotionally depleted. 
I walk alone all morning, looking for animal prints in the sand with the same expectation I used to attend to my email inbox. Hello squirrel, hello hawk, hello chipmunk and bear and dear buddies. The only human prints today are Groucho’s wavy vibram soles. I feel far away from everyone. 
No matter. Im in no shape to accept company. It’s been 12 days since we were in Ennis and indulged in soap. The musk under my arms has transformed from salty to sour. I have a weird scab between my eyes, and tiny ones up and down my calves like topo lines – caused by bush whacking thru the brushy sage. My Fingernails collect dirt and grime no matter how short I cut them. My feet look like a cracked desert landscape. 
 And today I accidentally stowed my spoon in my trash bag instead of my snack bag. It may have touched a packed out poo napkin so I spent most of my morning break hosing it down with hand sani and water. 
Groucho wants me to tell you that his poo is more regal than my plebeian poo. This is penance for accidentally spraying his Taboo-tees with the water while cleaning off my poo spoon. Groucho’s magnetic, majestic patriotic poo p. (This from a man hiking in socks and sandals. )
In the mid morning we rejoin the CDT and run into 8 consecutive northbounders and 3 consecutive thunderstorms. Our gear stays *mostly* dry but the trail alternates from slippy to squishy to shitty (literally from horse manure and figuratively as the horse shoes tear up the ground.)
We make camp at 8pm under two big trees, just as the clouds break and the sun spills over the plateau to dry our gear. 


Aug 8

19 miles
Crazy day. We fight hard, first thing in the morning, about style differences. It’s pretty trivial but dramatic. 
Groucho speeds off and I follow reluctantly wondering many things: does he want to hike alone? Do I? Can we? Do I want to bail and head to my high school reunion this weekend? Do I want to “finish” this hike? What does it even mean to “finish”? Isn’t this trail, this line thru the rocks, this process, this idea just another trap/job/shackle/competition if my whole validity is based on some narrow concept of finishing created by who knows… God?? Am I trapped in some patriarchical religion invented by an unknown leader? I thought I was supposed to be discovering neo-transcendental America. I thought I was supposed to be discovering myself. 
Or do I just really need a day off?  
As I huff up the hill my anger ebbs, then renews. We always stop after the first hour or two for breakfast and three hours later still no Groucho. “He must be really mad.” I eat oats sorrowfully alone and skip hot coffee cause he has the stove (I carry the fuel).  
I scan the ground looking for vibram soles but only see the Brooks and the Altras belonging to Dirt Wolf and Cheese Snake who are just ahead. Huh…
An hour later I see two weekenders and ask if they crossed paths with Groucho. They don’t think so. “Unless he is from Nebraska?!” One inquires. Uh… no. 
So now I wonder if I somehow am ahead. No tracks. No sightings. But it doesn’t make sense. where the heck is he!? Did he take the wrong route or step off trail to poo?  
We are lost all day from each other, but we both have maps. And we both know we are going to pick up resupply box at Brooks Lake Lodge.  
I now assume I am ahead but how far? Should I wait? What if he is ahead and waiting makes me fall behind? There’s no way to know for sure. So I keep myself found, and go to the lodge. At least if I don’t see him by nightfall there will be a phone and people there to help. 
I feel almost bad going inside the Lodge. It’s super beautiful and clean and smells good. All things I am and do not. They are so super sweet. It’s amazing they offer to hold boxes. I can’t afford to stay the night (it’s over $300 says my guidebook) but they let me use their phone to call my mom, and when my resupply arrives by UPS they let me unpack it on a picnic table. 
About an hour and a half later Groucho rolls up. I’m so relieved to see him. We discern that early in the morning he pulled just off trail for coffee as usual and I walked right by, we were both too quiet to notice the other. He waited and then retreated 2 miles to make sure I hadn’t hurt myself at the ford. Adding 4 miles to his day. We extend compassion and harmony to each other but it’s also tough. We are about to go into a 7 day section without going into town. Do we need a break first? Are we about to emotionally collapse?
We decide no and push on walking an easy 5 miles to a friendly Wyoming campsite in the foothills of the Winds where we enjoy a small campfire in a fire ring and sleep under a huge tree. 

Harpo’s CDT Journal #7

August 1

8 miles
Something about being in Yellowstone is making us very mad. Accessibility to nature is needed and desired to permit the masses to connect with wonders. But utter accessibility also means cars, roads, giftshops crammed with tchotchkes, and a wilderness experience designed primarily to keep everyone safely in line. In line to see the hot springs. In line on the popular 3 mile loop trails, in line buying hot dogs and ice cream. And within lined parking lot campsites that can host upwards of 600+ people. We sorrow at the disneyfication of the park that makes the natural world seem unnatural. Less wild. 


Simultaneously the park is remarkably inaccessible as soon as you step off the pavement. Even for weathered hikers like us. The back country rangers here seem green, unable to tell us first hand knowledge of our route or sites. 
Also no one will give us a hitch to our trail head. Tourists rarely feel comfortable, or their cars are filled. And there isn’t any public transportation in Yellowstone. How’s that for access?
It’s confusing because as much as I critique all of this, I am a part of it. I participate in the patriarchy. The raping of resources for processed food and manufactured goods. The consumption of synthetic fibers and plastic bottles and fleece and the stuffed animal bison I want to purchase for $9.99. 
 Despite being vegan (which research suggests saves 600-1100 gallons of water a day compared to a meat eater.) Despite giving up my apartment and house and living for 5 months a year outside, limiting my ability to purchase and consume excess. Despite rarely buying clothes or electronics. Despite finding ways to live more simply on less than 15 grand a year. I can’t escape my participation in the US hierarchical capitalist patriarchy. Mainstream media, wifi, social media, technology, packaged food and buereaucratic permitting systems pull me back into that life as often as I attempt to escape it. Despite my dislike of the system there are so many ways I accidentally and unthinkingly accept it. And isn’t acceptance the same as support?
So today is a major disappointment. We escape the bad wifi and relative lack of tasty town food around 2:30pm which should get us to our permitted campsite (in 10 or so miles) around 7pm. Perfect. One mile in I sit down while we treat water. It’s blazing in the heat of the day. I look at the map and add the mileage markers… We still have 18 miles to go. WHAT?!
We feel seriously bummed. We have no idea how the ranger so thoroughly misunderstood us. Not only is 19 miles NOT a rest day, but in this heat with full packs there’s no way can we arrive to camp before 10pm. Unacceptable. 
We decide to bail out. We walk 5 trail miles to a junction with the road and a beautiful creek with a roadside rest area. After swimming discretely in front of picnicking tourists – whose mouths hang wide as they openly stare – we try to get a hitch to a trail head 9 miles east. From there we can walk Just 3 more miles to get to our permitted site. Technically replacing trail miles with a ride is “yellow blazing” and frowned upon by purists. But technically we’re not on the CDT anyway, haters. My hike. My rules. 
We hitch for an hour and tho a stream of cars pass us no one even slows down. Discouraged we return to the comfort of the picnic area and attempt to eat our way out of the crisis. The plan works. We strike up a conversation with an adventurous couple from PA (WE ❤ PA!!!) and they offer us a ride!!! Saved! As they finish their picnic I look at our itinerary and attempt to calculate our mileage for tomorrow. Except I can’t because we don’t have the complete map. Thankfully our new friends do and we photo the 20 mile section we need. 
Sadly none of the maps list where the camp site is for tomorrow. We’ll just have to hope that it’s at 20-23 miles where it’s supposed to be. 


August 2

26.5 miles
Day of the Bison!! Also the day we begin to suspect the ranger is messing with us. Our route today is 3 miles more than we requested but also climbs over 5000 feet elevation. And has a long dry stretch. All things we wish we had known. 
No matter. We fall in love with Speciman ridge. The day is full of views, bison and prong horned antelope dancing across the fields. 
By late afternoon we descend off the ridge into the Lower Lamar valley. We ford the creek than eat dinner near a beautiful lone bison who followed us across the creek in a lumbering gentle giant fashion. They are magnificent animals. 
Our campsite isn’t at mile 20-23 like we expect. By mile 25 it’s dark and we have no idea how close but we might be several miles off still. We give up guiltily stealth camp near an occupied camp. 


August 3

14 miles
Today is a day off! Well kind of. We expect an easy 8-mile walk based On the itinerary. But of course, again, we should do our own math because we end up walking over 14 to get to our campsite. WHY CANT I JUST HAVE A REGULAR DAY OFF? 
We wake at 4:45 to rain and decide to pack up and walk on before light so as not to be found stealth camping. 1.5 miles later we come across our designated site and peacefully have breakfast. Then start the official hike to our next campsite. On the way Groucho trips and bends a toenail back, I meet an extremely friendly, bug-eating bird that follows me trying to land on my umbrella AND we meet 4 friendly STOGs (swaying towers of gear) from Pennsylvania here to play catch and release with the fish. 
Regardless we arrive at camp by 2pm, rinse our clothes and selves in the river, make first dinner, eat first dessert, take a nap, eat again, make a fire and roast vegan marshmallows courtesy of our friend Bug, and go to sleep early. It’s really cool to have time to relax on trail rather than waiting for town to chill out. 


August 4

17 miles
We sleep in because it is so cold at cold creek. There is frost in the grass. 
And we begin the day with two river fords right in a row. My feet are painfully cold before 8:30 am. Then a rather nice and super easy 16 miles to the road. Along the pelican creek we meet a couple from Netherlands and a parade of 16 animals, 4 tourists from Arkansas, and their chef, wrangler and guide. 
Sean- A young fellow from PA – gives us a hitch and a beer! our first booze in 34 days. Our rule for clarity, efficiency and budget is no booze unless it is offered spontaneously as a gift. 
Bridge Bay offers a ranger station, enormous campground, marina and modest camp store. All services seem staffed by retirees who have bought RVs and are touring the country. It’s pretty nice here but not gonna make it my forever home. 

Harpo’s CDT Journal #4

July 19

Zero!!

We weren’t planning on taking a full day off so soon but I Feel ok about it because “half mile”, the famous PCT data collector, is in the hotel and HE’S Taking a double zero. 
We focus on our Big Sky routing today. First at the Fire Tower Coffee shop where we upload online maps. Gaia is an awesome $20 phone app. it comes with a global topo map with common paved roads, dirt roads and trails. The map is viewable online and you can download any sections you want for offline use. There’s another app called PDF MAPS which is free, but you have to search their database for maps you want and sometimes pay for them if they are proprietary (i.e. National geographic Etc). Like Guthook, the apps can use the gps in our phone to show us within a few meters where we are on these maps. We decide to use Gaia for help on our side trip. 
At the Base Camp Outfitter with Tim’s help  we spread maps everywhere and choose the three pictured above.

Then we eat amazing pizza at Bridge Pizza. 

Finally at the Library we print more detailed maps that other hikers (the Onion and Brian) have published of their routes thru this area. Prints are 10 cents at the library and an hour of Internet is free.

We run into Eric and Olivia, bike packers who are on the Great Divide cycle route, which is very popular but mostly follows fire and jeep roads so we only see folks at resupply stops. Eric did the documentary “Do more with less” about the PCT. the next 2 years, he and Olivia will travel 18000 miles by bicycle! They leave for India in a few weeks and are documenting their trip at ridingwild.org

We head to Real Food which lives up to its promise with fruit, vegan snacks and a killer bulk section including powdered hummus (which I will literally start adding to every meal until I run out). 
Back at the hotel, we lay out our maps comparing routes, choose a trajectory that works best for us (highlighting it in pink) and trimming off the unnecessary sections.

As we are booze free (for now!), we enjoy a nightcap of sparkling water and coconut milk Ice cream. 
July 20

15 miles
Ron, who we met on trail a few days ago, arrives in Helena and offers us a ride to the trail head before he heads home to Portland. He’s paying back all all the hitches he’s got over the years. What a swell fellow. We hope to see him in Portland!

At the trailhead we eat some fresh food we packed out then hit the trail. it’s impeccably well maintained and we easily hike 15 miles before dark. However a longish section up a forest road sports “private property” signs on every turn. We look/walk for an hour, and finally find a flat patch at the crest of a hill. Obviously not within a private property boundary but maybe next to their driveway?! Not our finest moment but dusk is upon us and we must needs sleep. 

July 21 

27 miles
Today is tough. The trail, still impeccably maintained, continues but is slightly dull. Mostly tree tunnel and a lot of half dead forest due to pine beetle. My mood mimics the melancholy of the forest. Now that we’ve chosen to do the alternate I feel anxious to get there. Get somewhere. GET ANYWHERE. 
The afternoon sun blazes thru our dusty path. We meet hikers who tell of a lake but the marshy reality thwarts our dreams of a cool swim. 
Again, it takes us a half hour to find a campsite but when we do – we find a little cozy “hole” (as Huck calls them) nestled between trees with a breathtaking Montana sunset. 


July 22

24 miles
I’m bummed. Groucho is bummed. We’re all bummed. It’s another blazing, meh day with an 18 mile waterless stretch. 
Finding camomile in a dusty patch of trail brings a sweet relief to my nerves and hiker stench. I stash a sprig in my shirt pocket to dry out.


Around 6 we track down a campground on the map – they offer well water and PICNIC TABLES. we sit. Then I really want to stay. Groucho pushes me onward. Not harder than I want to be pushed -today- but I do often feel he wants to always go just a little further… a little faster… Than I. 
We find a high forestry knoll to bed down beside a country road. We can hear the occasional boozy drivers and a random gunshot (it’s Friday night in Montana!) but they can’t see us up on the hill. 

July 23

30 miles
Today Groucho summarizes “the scenery was unremarkable, but the drama was high.”
We start with a 7 mile road walk. A bummer because pavement can bruise/wear out the feet. But miles can go faster as well. 
Then up up up 3.5 miles to our junction. THE JUNCTION. our split from the CDT and on to the Harpo and Groucho edition of the Big Sky Route. 
Okay so if I’m honest I’ll say I am amped up. I’m worried. Worried the trail junction doesn’t show up on Guthook data -so maybe we’ll miss it. Worried the mile calculations will be off and we won’t have enough food to get to Whitehall. Worried the trail will all be Blowdowns and bush whacking. Worried there won’t be water. 
With all these worries, it’s obvious I’m not worried about any of these things but rather, I’m just anxious because we’re attempting something new. And I’m assigning that anxiety to anything I can get my hands on. 
So up up up the hill we go and I ask Groucho a navigation question about if we’re coming to the trail junction, which he doesn’t seem to acknowledge. And with that, my anxiety rushes out like a kettle just come to boil “hey GROUCHO. Are you going to answer my QUESTION OR NOT” 
Super bitch move. 
Then Groucho SHOUTS back (so I can hear him presumably) the answer to my question, explaining he answered before but I didn’t hear. 
So “GREAT,” I fume to myself as he marches away. “We’re already off to a great start with this new route thing where I can’t even ask questions.”
And I stop to pee and Groucho leaves my sight. And then I come upon a junction. No Groucho. Ugh! Not this again. I think this might be THE junction because it’s at the right mileage marker but it’s not matching the map topography. Ugh. So I make my best choice and fly up the hill. Tears in my eyes, intermittently furious and also thinking maybe I just need a snack. 
You see, besides the stress of new routes and maps and tools, we are also burning 3000-4000 calories a day but I stupidly only packed 1800 Cal/day for this leg. Hiker hunger kicks in around day 20 and today – on day 21 – my baby fat reserves are almost gone. This panic might just be legitimate hunger. 
Ok so it turns out there is an error in the data set and the REAL junction is another 1.5 miles up the hill. When I arrive Groucho seems happy enough. But I have FEELINGS. I try to repress them and focus on food but then some bad communication happens and for 30 minutes we stop to discuss impressions, assumptions, blame, communication, hunger, fear, routes, empathy, protocols and defensiveness. We both feel like real adult champions, tho completely emotionally depleted. 

we finally set off the beaten CDT path and onto the Nez Perce route. 
I needn’t have worried. this trail is easy and wide and follows a creek. After 5 miles we intersect with a dusty road populated both with ATVS and REAL COWBOYS!!!
We reach delmoe lake by 5pm and wash, do laundry, eat dinner and rest for a half hour. Then we hike onward, away from the lake. 


As evening approaches more and more ATVS drive by us, blowing dust in my face and hot air up my recently cleaned skirt. 
Here, the desert-like terrain reminds me of So Cal. Cactus and prickly seed pod plants and scrubby pines and sage brush galore. 


Finally, frustrated with the dust kicked up by by weekend warriors, we walk along some adjacent abandoned railroad tracks. The boards are rotting and sage brush is thigh high in places but the romance of it thrills me. We approach a humble railroad trestle over a stream. No problem. We got this. The 12 year olds in Stand By Me handled it and so can I. Though the boards are strong and true, they groan with my first few steps. A few minutes later I begin to notice how train ties are not always evenly spaced and also not spaced for a easy human stride. I adjust. My steps grow short and precise. No problem. But then in the spaces between the wooden ties I spy glimmers of the river below. VERY FAR BELOW . My heart starts to race. My body, I’ve found, is immensely intelligent. Give it a crazy challenge and it figures out what to do, where to step, how to balance, but that tricky MIND is so dumb and gets in the way. Half way across the trestle my mind becomes convinced I will step into one of the gaps between the boards. This is inprobable but even if I DID I would trip but almost certainly not fall thru the cracks to the gully below. I know this, my feelings know this. But my MIND is so dumb. Groucho passes me on the right. I am afraid to lookup and see how many boards are left so I tell him to tell me I’m close. He says Very Close. I repeat: very close. I discover if I look 3 boards ahead I feel safer than looking at the board just below because the vertigo or whatever I’m experiencing is heightened by the light and movement of the water below. I focus three boards ahead and each step say aloud “Very Close.” Very Close. Tears shine in my eye sockets and I hold my hands aloft like a toddler. I am in a middle of a crisis. I know if i stop to look around it will get worse so I just repeat “very close. Very close. very close.” Finally. finally. I make it. 
“I am never doing that again.”
2 hours later we camp next to the tracks away from the ATVS but the glow of I90 in sight. We hiked 30 miles today!! Tomorrow’s a town day and the Tobacco Root Mountains are in sight…

Harpo’s CDT Journal #3


July 16
14 miles 
Yes! A townfood Bfast of mixed baby greens, avocado, also peaches & bananas! 
Then, Free wifi outside library by the awesome town park where they allow free camping. And today there is a flea market (and tomorrow a fiddle-fest.) Lincoln is one cool little town. 
Near the park we start hitching and within minutes two charming locals swoop us up. Tammy and Craig recently retired to their cabin here, and give us a ride 15 miles up to the pass even though it is 30 miles out of their way round trip. What sweethearts!
We hike 13 miles with much discussion about route finding and the patriarchy of internet trolls judging what real thru hiking is. What is thru hiking about when it’s choose your own adventure? Duration? Miles? Pleasure? The destination? The militant satisfaction of following a particular government-ordained route without variation (no thanks).
I’m on a deadline for this hike because of a family obligation in mid-oct. realistically, I can’t finish the whole route in 3.5 months. To do so would mean hiking 30 miles every day and no days off. So I have 4 choices: 1) traditional CDT routing thru Idaho and Wyoming and end somewhere in Colorado. 2) make my own route thru southern Montana to Yellowstone skipping the Idaho section, thereby “saving” 250 miles and a few weeks so I can maybe finish closer to the CO/NM border; 3) screw the idea of a continuous footpath and hike select sections along the trail until early October; 4) try to fly back after the engagement and finish in the approaching cold winter breezes. Groucho wants to hike with me and I with him, but he’s still committed to a continuous foot path of some kind. We spend a long time weighing options until we develop bickering emotional headaches attempting to stare into an unknown future. 


These conversations also make me realize I am homesick… but in a new way. Not for particular friends or family… I’ve been connecting with people when I need to and the Interwebs and wifi make that a lot easier, (especially now that my network extends from Finland to Guatemala to Virginia to Washington to Spain to Colorado to Austria to Hungary to Alaska to California to New Jersey and Oregon.)
Instead I realize I’m homesick for a sense of steadiness. For a mooring of place in this space-time continuum. It might be time to settle down for a minute. A theme that will pervade my thoughts these coming days and weeks. 
At dusk, we descend to flesher pass where a trail angel – Marc -cached water earlier in the week. There’s more than a gallon left so we top off with 1/2 liter each. 1/4 mile from the pass we find a trail head with a privy, a PICNIC TABLE and a flat spot to sleep. 


July 17

28 miles
A difficult morning. Still coming down from townfood-induced sugar high – and needing to dig multiple cat holes because of bad greasy food invading my gut – my emotions and systems are all outta whack. Also we are trying out hiking with treking poles again because of the steep descents, weak ankles, slippery fords and handiness of an extra leverage point when setting up our tarp. But this morning Groucho takes a dramatic fall/face plant tripping with his pole and though he appears uninjured, he fumes all morning. 
Thankfully the terrain is smooth and flowing, and though it’s long distances between water sources, the hours and miles pass quickly. 
We meet two rad section hikers Mango and Ron whom we will leapfrog with most of the day. It’s sunny, but cool at high elevation and in the trees. 


We climb a big hill and run into an older gentleman from Marysville with his pup. I am disarmed by his sparkling grey eyes and clear desire to connect with us, however briefly. He carries a pistol in his belt, water on his back and bearspray in his hand. 
We crest the climb, faced with a route choice, take the new CDT route over the mountain and see views at the observation tower, or take an old ATV road to a water source and bypass the peak. We opt for water and find it 30 minutes later with jeeps and motorbikes blazing by us on the dusty descent. The water hides in a lush gulch and bursts from the hillside cold and clear. We fill up our bottles. Why is water so heavy?!
10 minutes later we hit the CDT again and continue winding ever-southward and now… Upward. Our big climb for the day up up up to 8400 feet – black mountain. I’m tired and my calves burn, even with my new treking pole assistant “tripod.” We haven’t had a day off hiking since we began two weeks ago. Our shortest day was a 13 miler and my body lets me know as I trudge up the hill. We reach a tick infested grassy meadow where the trail disappears but we know we must continue up the ridge ahead. As we do dark clouds blow in from the East hanging on the side of the mountain in front of us. Then wind, then low thunder in the distance. 
“so Groucho, what if we get to the top of this treeless ridge and it starts lightning on us?” 
“We can descend to those trees in the East and throw up the tarp”


As we reach the steepest part of the climb the cloud speeds overhead. suddenly the thunder increases. We look at maps and realize our route would continue another mile uphill to the crest that lies before us. We can’t do that in this weather. We cut into the nearest set of living trees, off trail, and as it starts raining we throw up the tarp and crawl underneath. It’s 6:30pm. We sit and eat our hydrated dinners, pick tics off each other like apes, and chat as the thunder grows closer. Then heavy rain and hail pelt the cubanfiber above us. And we hi five. We are dry and electrocution-free. 
30 minutes later, two dry hikers emerge with a folded tarp, full bellies, and 2 hours of light left. The sky even looks blue ahead of us.  


We climb the ridge, then descend into a living, green, tree-filled saddle. So nice and sheltered here but still 1.5 hours of light! We press on, the sky – to the south ahead of us- so blue and clear. 
A half hour later we begin an ascent and look at the deadfall around us. Half the trees rotted, cracked, fallen, and mossy, probably infested with Western pine beetles. They usually invade sick and weak trees but – word on the trail – climate change and extreme high/low temps here have weakened all the trees and the mass infestation transforms the landscape … green hills turning ever to grey. It’s sad and dead and dry out here, especially on this ascent. The lack of leaves and thinning forest gives me a view to the SW where, *oh crap* dark clouds blaze toward us. 
We start looking for another sheltered place to bear down, but as thunder rumbles ever closer we see only dead and dead and dead trees. We make a run for it. A mile up steep switchbacks as lighting begins to glimmer to the near horizon. As we crest the hill the wind whips and thunder threatens. We’re at 8400 feet but there are some tall living trees around us. We feel unsettled but hopeful as we descend and begin to see larger patches of green. Finally Groucho spies a grip of trees where all the dead comrades already lie on the ground or at least against sturdier companions. We pitch our tarp and while lighting continues in the distance the storm moves away and we enjoy a dry night. 


July 18

22 ish miles to MacDonald Pass/Helena
We wake with 26 miles to go until we reach the pass which leads to Helena. Town Day. It’s a bit soon since we just left Lincoln but my cheapie rain coat failed last week and with all these storms I need a new one. Also we’re 80% commited to try the super cutoff route and hope Base Camp Outfitter in Helena will have maps we need. 
Our only water this morning is a spring in the middle of a cow pasture pouring into a cow trough. Thankfully it looks pretty clean but we definitely treat this one. 


Then we take a Ley map alternate that roams dirt forest roads. It cuts 4 miles off our day and meanders thru pretty pastures filled with black cows. We run into a real life cowboy rounding up cattle with his beautiful young pup. One bull has a lame leg and the cowboy emerges from the truck with a shotgun. We recoil in horror until he pulls the trigger. A dart hits the cow in the flank. It’s an antibiotic shot that will cure the hoof rot. 


The path is wide and clear but sunny so we don our sunbrellas. Instant cooling shade. 
We intersect the CDT at Mullen Pass. I find a penny on the trail and slip it into my pocket with a wish for good vibes the rest of the day. Then 8 miles to town, half uphill. It’s blazing hot and my face sports a sunburn despite my hat. My recently laundered shirt drenches in salty sweat and my calves/ankles/feet begin to protest. My mind wills them along “bed, hummus, shower, bed, hummus, shower”. 
As we near the crest of the climb, clouds swoop once again, another thunderstorm with lighting as we reach a bald. The white and brown cows here seem unimpressed, so I try to be too. With a little rain and hail following us, we race the last 3 miles down to the road. We arrive at a behemoth 4-lane highway with no shoulder on the hitching side and cars traveling 60 mph. Just as I despair, a car pulls out of the building at the trailhead and a window rolls down. The amazingly timed dude is headed to Helena and will give us a ride. The lucky penny is working!
Helena’s residents are rightfully proud of their mountain bike trails, their breweries, the Base Camp Outfitter, the Fire Tower coffee shop, and most of all The Bridge Pizza Joint. 
We spend an hour at the outfitter talking to Tim about our desired route and figuring out which maps best serve us. The man spills a fountain of knowledge. 

Then good groceries from Real Food a legit natural grocery and sleep at Budget Inn for $60 including tax.