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I have slept in five cities in the last five nights. A hostel in Bishop, CA with a whole host of characters; with the best trail angel on the west coast, Alyson, In Reno, NV; with friends I met on the AT, Uncle Sauce and Cranberry Mischief, who welcomed us into their home in Salt Lake City, UT, well after midnight in the middle of the work week with almost no notice (lifesavers); with one of the first new friends I made on the PCT, Twirl, at her home in Denver, CO, and gave treats to her cat Juno; then at the Budget Inn in Durango, CO, where the man at the front desk was so friendly.
Tonight, I am sleeping by a babbling brook across a beautiful bridge that we did sunset yoga on, with Toes and Squeegie. This is the second first night on a long trail with these two in one season. The first night on the Pacific Crest Trail, June 27th, Squeegie was panicking because a zit popped on her face and there was a speck of blood and she had taken a Tylenol cold and sinus and was at elevation and she was sure she was going to die. Tonight, September 11th, she is panicking because she is camping at the highest elevation she’s ever been and she’s 100% sure she is going to develop symptoms of High Altitude Pulmonary or Cerebral Edema. As soon as I got in my tiny little tent and got cozy, I pulled a stake out accidentally and my tent collapsed.
It’s good to be home.
As we started the Colorado Trail today from Durango, I had a realization a few miles in. I am very excited for what this trail has in store for me, but I reflect on the first day of the AT, and the first day of the PCT which feels like both forever ago and last month, and notice how things have changed. It is still beautiful and wondrous, but it was an oddly rewarding feeling to realize that the novelty has faded somewhat, because this is just what I do.
My body is lean, and my feet are callused and strong. I know the things I need in my pack, and where to find water and shade. I can tell when my energy levels change, and trace it back to what food I have eaten and how much water I have drank. I am aware of my needs. I know which patterns of thought to avoid, and how to breathe when carrying my whole everything uphill. This is just what I do now. I hike long trails.
I use my creativity, adaptability, determination, and the help of my friends to climb mountains and descend into the valleys. I have all the time in the world to think, but I put something like effort into not thinking about anything that is not happening right here, and right now. I notice the tiny but jagged dragon, with red around his neck. A squirrel with the longest tail I have ever seen scolds me for kicking a pinecone out of the trail. It scolds me for a long time. The aspen trees are dusty, and we make handprints on our sunshirts. Some of the aspens look like they were dressing up as mummies. When the wind blows, the leaves make a specific sound and I decide that the aspen trees are the cheerleaders of the tree world. Beneath the green trees and around the white bark the rocky cliffs are red. I wonder if it is clay? I sweat more here than I did in the Sierra’s, but still way less than back home in Tennessee.
I am carrying enough food for probably six or seven days, but I only need enough for four. I did not pay for any of the food, it all came from friends or hiker boxes in the Sierra’s, where JMT hikers leave bounties. I do not even realize this is heavy, because the last day that I hiked I was carrying a two pound bear vault which is now waiting for me back at Twirl’s house in Denver.
Toes and I painted this narrative in our head where Pale Ale and Twirl got together and Pale Ale is like “Girl, I am getting rocked at work and the boys are in your time zone now.” She is holding the phone with her shoulder and using both hands to force her door shut as the undergrads of U-Dub try to make demands for her to give them things. Twirl cooks pizza and we talk about life and trail and things, then she tucks me in on her couch with an extra blanket and says “You know I can’t help but to be Trail mom.” Somewhere, Pale Ale is proud. I want to hike with them and hug them both.
I am cozy in my tent, with enough extra clothes to have two pillows made from layers stuffed in a Buff. I think about how this both is, and is not, ultralight. I’m using things for multiple purposes, sure, but do I even need these extra clothes at all? I have never been to Colorado before though, and do not know how cold fall will be in these mountains that are so high I can smell the top of the sky. I might need them all.
My goal is to journal my Colorado Trail thru hike every day just like this. My goal is to be as frugal as I can be. My goal is to remain present. But all of that starts with tonight, the first night on the Colorado Trail. Fist night, and I can already tell it is going to be some amazing sleep.