Colorado Trail Days 1-6: The Art of Staying Sane

I made it to Breckenridge! Sleep in a bed, clean clothes, and at least two showers await me here. Plus, my husband is coming to visit! He’s bringing me a couple of things I forgot to pack as well as my next resupply. It will be so nice to see him. I’ve been very homesick.

I can’t believe I’ve been gone almost a week already. There were several moments I didn’t think I’d make it this far. Living in the state I’m thru-hiking in has many perks, but it also makes it extremely tempting to get off trail sometimes. I could hitchhike home just about any day I want! Or have my husband or a friend come pick me up. It takes extra motivation those days to stay on trail. And I feel like it’s just going to get harder as the trail gets more challenging.

An old Denver, South Park, and Pacific rail line at Kenosha Pass

Anxiety on Trail

I have been struggling with anxiety more than I anticipated. It creeps in with strange and dramatic thoughts. Imagining every possible scenario and overanalyzing anything and everything. Then my chest gets tight and I get scared. I get this weird out-of-body feeling that is like imposter syndrome mixed with terror. What the hell am I doing here? All I have to survive is in this backpack, how am I meant to stay alive?! Irrational thoughts about safety swirl around indiscriminately in my head and all the logic in the world can’t stop them.  

I know what’s going on when this happens. I’ve read about it in college textbooks and Unmasking Autism by Devon Price, Ph.D. This is fight or flight, an ancient survival mechanism. My body is simply trying to protect me from a perceived threat to my life. But I am not in danger and nothing is wrong! It can be hard to get my brain to communicate that to my body, but I have a few tricks.

Sometimes simple focused breathing has helped me get a grip on reality. Most times, however, I need more powerful distraction mechanisms to pull my brain out of the anxious pit of despair. Usually listening to a favorite podcast will do the trick, but more times than I’d like I’ve had to use precious battery power to watch shows I’ve downloaded. Hopefully, now that the new life I am temporarily living is becoming more routine, I will require these tricks less and less often. 

Columbines on the trail up to Georgia Pass

A columbine spotted on the way up to Georgia Pass

Denver to Breckenridge

I started at Waterton Canyon around 5:30 AM. My husband drove us there and walked with me to the trail terminus sign for pictures. After a teary goodbye, I took off. Those first 6.5 or so miles flew by, walking the lovely flat and well-graded road I’d walked several times before. I got to my planned first campsite way early, around 2 PM. I felt a lot of anxiety about ending my day so early, so I kept going and kept going…until I accidentally hiked 20 miles on my first day!

A verdant Waterton Canyon

I found an amazing campsite but felt more anxious than I have in a long time. There wasn’t any cell phone service so I couldn’t call my husband, so I sat in my tent and talked to him as if he were there. It was surprisingly very soothing. So much so that my appetite, which had alluded me all day, suddenly returned! I was able to eat a meal and go to bed.

The next day my anxiety was incredibly intense. I had so many thoughts of quitting running through my head. I couldn’t seem to justify staying on trail no matter what logic I tried to bring into my internal conversation. Thankfully, just on the brink of a complete meltdown, I got service! I called my husband and he was so incredibly soothing. I felt so much better after our conversation, I accidentally hiked another 20 miles! I got rained and hailed on a little at the end of the day, but thankfully everything dried overnight and I got to pack up all dry gear the next morning.

On day three, I felt as calm and confident as ever. I was so ready to tackle anything that came my way! My positive energy wavered once I reached the meadow section- 6 miles of exposed gradual incline and enough biting insects to challenge my sanity.

The meadow in question

I pushed on to camp and there were already a couple of tents there. It wasn’t the best site, but I was too tired to go any farther. Gradually more people showed up and eventually there were 9 of us in total, but I just didn’t have enough mental energy to interact with anyone. Nobody there did or said anything remotely wrong, everyone was absolutely lovely! But I was spent in every way and went to bed feeling almost as anxious as the first night.

The fourth day ended up being an amazing reset. I had already booked a campsite at Kenosha Pass campground and only had about 14 miles to get there. With relatively easy trail, I arrive around 2:30 PM. I heard that the camp hosts had a little station set up for hikers so I went to check it out. Sure enough, there was a hiker box, water, and an outlet for charging! I did some chores at camp, charged my power bank a little, and relaxed for the rest of the day. I even got to chat with some other hikers, which was great since I now had the energy to do so!

My last full day before Breckenridge was incredible! We got our first real taste of some big mountains when we went over Georgia Pass. It was gorgeous, and my body took the toll of climbing up there beautifully.

Heading down the trail from Georgia Pass

I wanted to go as far as possible so I’d have fewer miles to get to Breckenridge, but by the time I was looking for camp there was a dark cloud looming overhead and I started to panic a little. I began climbing the last big hill that separated me from a nero and it felt like forever until I finally found a decent campsite. Of course, as soon as I got set up, the sky was a clear deep blue again. But I was thankful to not get rained on!

Now I am sitting in a cozy Airbnb with my husband relaxing next to me. I am showered, my clothes are laundered, I am resupplied, and have a belly full of beer and burger! Tomorrow I will slackpack a portion of the trail while my husband fishes at a favorite spot nearby. I will be sad to say goodbye to him again, but I am excited to keep on trekking, and thankful the rest of the trail (except Monarch Pass to Spring Creek Pass) will be broken into smaller chunks than this first one! 


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Comments 2

  • Dennis Jewitt : Jul 30th

    Well done. Great progress. Good luck for the ret of the trail

  • Hap : Jul 31st

    Go Mac Go! Enjoy the sunshine and wild flowers.


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