August 1, 2010
Today’s Miles: 16.8
Beginning Elevation: 5,520 ft
Dinner Elevation: 6,120 ft
High Point: 7,520ft
I’ve finally simplified my life again… it’s just me and my backpack.
Yesterday I rode the Greyhound from Durango to Denver and arrived in downtown Denver at about 6pm. Some local friends that I know from working at the Grand Canyon came to meet me shortly thereafter, and we split a luxurious high-rise hotel room for the night.
The Chicago Cubs were in town and fans were everywhere. We had a nice dinner at The Tilted Kilt along the city sidewalk.
Denver seemed to be a much smaller and cleaner place than I’d expected. We walked the 16th Street Market. One of my favorite things about that area was the way the city had upright pianos placed in the middle of the street (Closed to traffic). Anyone and everyone would just walk up and play them. You’d be surprised at how many random people know how to play the piano, and at any given moment somebody always seemed to be taking a whirl at the keys.
Music floated up and down the avenue of this metropolitan-mountain-promenade.
It was a warm, ambient, final night of July.
I wake and fill my water containers, say goodbye to my friends, and leave the hotel room.
Having limited time this morning, breakfast consists of a McDonald’s “Big Breakfast” and a few sausage McMuffins. One of the McMuffins goes in my pocket for a snack later on the trail.
Purchasing a Metro-Lightrail ticket through an automated machine, I put in a twenty dollar bill for a $3.50 fare. It spits out sixteen Susan B Anthony coins as change.
Great! That’s just what I want to carry in my backpack for the next week…
I ride the train to the end of the line – southwest of downtown at Mineral Station. I cross a pedestrian walkway, and there at the other side a man sees me and says “Jamie?”
It’s “Trailguy,” a local hiker I’d arranged to meet. He’s kind enough to give me a ride to the trailhead at Waterton Canyon.
The ride takes about 10-15 minutes, and time passes quickly talking with Trailguy. He’s just returned from a backpacking trip in Denali National Park, but mostly he tells me about the Colorado Trail… about what I can expect in the first few days, and on up the trail in the weeks ahead.
It’s all simple, relevant, useful information – not just another hiker showing off about how well he knows the trail. He’s enthusiastic and genuinely pleased to be sending off another thru-hiker. I’ve been getting this same vibe from all the people involved in the Colorado Trail Foundation, and it’s very encouraging. They’re very proud of this trail and feel it doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
Here I stop for the obligatory “beginning” photo at the Waterton Canyon Trailhead. I’d been meaning to get to this trail for quite a few years now, and in that time I’d seen numerous shots like the one above, always thinking, “What’s up with that barbed wire?”
The South Platte is clearly a “managed” river.
The first couple miles of The Colorado Trail is actually on a gravel road in this designated Recreation Area. Today is Sunday, and the place is mobbed with mountain bikers.
Today is the last day that this section of the trail will be accessible for a long time. The whole area is scheduled to be restricted from public use tomorrow. A nearby dam needs some heavy work – it’s burdened with a case of silt congestion.
I meet two other backpackers among the day trippers – a man and his young son. They’re introduced as Moondancer and Captain Jack.
The name Moondancer is familiar… he hiked the Appalachian Trail in the late 1980’s, and has also finished the Pacific Crest Trail. His son (No older than 14) is especially eager to elaborate on their hiking exploits, and good conversation makes the hot, sunny road walk pass a lot easier.
It’s a warm afternoon. Salt from my sweat stings my eyes. The weather prompts me to throw the McMuffin into one of the last available trash cans… I must not be a thru-hiker yet!
It’s not long before the road walk ends, and I reach the Colorado Trail proper.
This fox passes without acknowledging me in the slightest way.
First thing I notice is the lush, green quality of the forest, unlike any other hiking I’ve done out west.
Loud thunder echoes off the hillsides.
I haven’t been on the trail for three hours yet, and the notorious Colorado Trail thunderstorms show themselves already!
The true storm is elsewhere, and I experience only a light, steady drizzle.
I feel great. Bulletproof. There’s something about backpacking in the rain that brings out that feeling… nothing to be heard but my feet on the trail, steady breathing, and the calming rhythm of wet drops bouncing off nylon.
It brings out those old peaceful memories of a life on the trail. I’m Duct Tape again.
I encounter a lone backpacker, huddled under a tree with his pack and rain cover on the ground.
He says he started hiking yesterday, and he’s thinking of turning back. He says he’s out of shape, in over his head, his pack is over fifty pounds, and so on. He says he’s going to go home and re-evaluate things, and try it again another time.
I say that if he keeps moving forward on the trail that it will all work itself out, and leave him standing under the tree alone in the rain.
For a while I think of how I should have been more encouraging, more of a friendly motivator, lending him some of the perspective of my joy to be here at the moment, savoring the wringer of the trail and simple challenge. I hope that Moondancer and Captain Jack catch up with him, and make his day a little brighter.
The miles go by at a surprising rate, and I manage to put in a 17 mile day despite a 12-noon start.
That doesn’t make much sense… my pack is full with six days of food and too much water. I guess it can be attributed to the low elevation (Last week’s Teton Crest hike was 9,000-10,000 feet), and simple first-day excitement.
I stop and set up camp just shy of the South Platte River crossing. I go on down to it to fill my water.
When I return, a steady rain has begun that lasts well into the night. Not feeling very much like cooking in the rain, it looks like a single Clif bar for dinner tonight.
I feel so comfortable, at home, and cozy in my tent now, writing this by light of headlamp. It’s so good to be thru-hiking again, and I’ve just been feeling as though I belong on this trail right now. The best part is that it’s all undiscovered before me, waiting to be steadily unveiled.
The wet conditions are like the first time I went backpacking alone. I felt on edge and unsure of what I was getting myself into, nineteen years old in a tent in the rain at Pocahontas Spring on the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania.
I fall asleep to steady pitter-patter of raindrops on my tent, happy as can be.