August 26, 2010
Today’s Miles: 24.7
Total Miles: 353.2
Breakfast Elevation: 9,840 ft
Dinner Elevation: 9,900 ft
High Point: 10,400 ft
I wake before dawn at my campsite near Lujan Creek. There’s something to look forward to this morning – coffee! Yesterday I was given a small packet of instant Starbucks mix, and it’s been burning a hole in my pocket ever since.
And then there’s the Ibuprofen. On the day before yesterday, I was hobbling up and down the trail in pain, convinced that this hike was over. Then yesterday I resumed a regular regimen of “Vitamin I,” and put in over 20 miles.
The sound of my Pocket Rocket stove breaks the early morning silence, as the water for my coffee steams and comes to a boil. Caffeine and Ibuprofen will see me through this trip, or at least get me to Creede.
The early miles follow a dirt road that descends to Colorado Highway 114 – a paved road. I pass two deer and they’re not even startled. The morning is cold until the sun rises over the treetops.
The blacktop highway 114 is quiet, with zero traffic. It apparently leads quite a distance away to Gunnison.
After crossing the road, the trail leads through a series of open fields and meadows.
I turn a corner and come upon a rare delight – a cooler filled with soda pop! A local backpacker has left this cache of “trail magic” for Colorado Trail hikers. This could not have come at a better time or place for me. The guy who placed these coolers left a notebook to serve as a trail register.
I sit in this meadow under the morning sun, gloriously down a cold can of high fructose corn syrup, and read over the messages of other hikers that have done the same. The guy that placed these coolers and keeps them stocked stated that he chose this location because this was the place during his Colorado Trail thru-hike where he reached a psychological low… and we all know that long-distance hiking is a mental game.
Coffee and Ibuprofen and soda and a trail register and I’m flying. The iPod goes in my ears. It’s a rare clear sunny day, and I motor up the gentle grades through these fields.
Life is good.
For the first time I know that I’m going to finish this hike, this trail. Two days ago was the lowest of lows, ready to go home. Now here I am today loving life again. Call it manic, call it bipolar, call it an emotional roller-coaster… whatever. Call it hiking.
It was the first time in ten years that I’d given up on a trip. Three long-distance backpacks and one long bicycle tour in that time had come relatively easy. There was no question that I’d finish those, it was always a given. This time I wasn’t so sure. Two days ago I wasn’t so sure.
Now today I just know that I’ll finish, and carry that sense of accomplishment that comes immediately after coming through a rough time. I feel that this hike now means something a little different than the others, since it brought me to the verge of giving up.
The trail joins many roads and jeep tracks throughout this Segment 18. Segments 17 and 18 are notorious for these perceptively bland road-walks and lack of water sources.
I reach the crest of a hill and look away at the distant expanse before me. The trail ahead follows this jeep track as far as the eye can see. Welcome to western hiking.
I picked out this lone tree from a distance as a good place to take a break.
With these far off views, I half expect to see Ole and Meadow Bruiser ahead, or Gil/GQ flying up from behind.
This makes me think of Wyoming.
A few clouds gather, including this one that conspicuously looks like an atomic bomb!
The trail enters the woods for a brief time, following Forest Service Road 597 up and over a saddle.
There’s a brief, inconsequential rain at the top of the saddle.
Finally I gaze this evening into the long valley of Cochetopa Creek, and it feels as though I’m in the mountains again.
An invigorating wind creates waves through the grasses, adding to the low light evening setting. The sight of the voluminous, flowing Cochetopa Creek with its surrounding green is refreshing to say the least, especially at the end of a 20-mile day. I think every Colorado Trail hiker is relieved and delighted to set foot in this valley.
It becomes a game of walking in and out of the increasing evening shadow, as the sun dips above and below the varying height of an adjacent ridge. Sometimes I outrun the shadow, and sometimes I chase the daylight.
I find a good campsite near a bridge that crosses to the far side of the creek.
The step of the bridge itself serves as a great place to sit as I cook, enjoying my dinner near flowing water under the night sky.