Grants to Cuba as Taylor Swift Songs

After the challenging section that was Pie Town to Grants, heading north on the trail to Cuba was a breath of fresh air. Not only was most of the section on actual trail, but the only paved road walking occurred for the first six miles out of town.

Quickly after leaving town, I peeled off onto the Mt. Taylor alternate. Mt. Taylor (or Tsoodził), is a dormant stratovolcano standing at 11,301 feet tall. As an avid Swiftie, I wanted to participate in the Taylor Taylor challenge. This is exactly what it sounds like: summit Mt. Taylor while listening to exclusively Taylor Swift.

However, I ended up listening to only Taylor Swift music all the way to Cuba. Can you blame me? She’s got a song for everything.

So, please enjoy the recounting of the five days between Grants and Cuba, with each day summed up by a lyric in a Taylor Swift song.

Grants to Cuba as Taylor Swift Songs

Day One: I Hate It Here

“and in my fantasies I rise above it

And way up there, I actually love it”

Mt. Taylor does not disappoint.

Grants tries its best to Vortex me, with the Mt. Taylor Coffee Co. offering free coffee to CDT hikers. Eventually, I tear myself away from town for a six mile walk to the Mt. Taylor trailhead.

I try my best to hitch the paved walk… but no takers for some reason?

My legs ache from back on a real trail with a real change in elevation, but I welcome anything that’s not a paved road. After a relaxing lunch near the day’s only water source, we push forward to the summit.

While not quite above treeline yet, this is absolutely the most alpine the trail has felt so far.

For perhaps the first time of the entire trail, I’m greeted with an expansive, sweeping view of where I’d walked from.

We stayed up here as the evening melted into a beautiful sunset. Plus, there was cell service.

After considering pushing a few more miles past the snow on the other side, we instead set up a cowboy camp right at the summit, enjoy the sunset, eat dinner, and fall into a deep sleep.

It was great to sign the summit register on the other side of the sign and see the names of friends only a day or two ahead.

Day Two: Happiness

Across our great divide

There is a glorious sunrise

Dappled with the flickers of light”

After a night full of stars, I’m relieved to wake and realize nothing froze overnight. Still, I lay in my quilt and wait for the sun to crest the horizon, and I don’t fully get up until I’m entirely bathed in warm sunlight.

Taken from snug inside my quilt, of course.

The first half mile on the other side of Mt. Taylor is covered in snow, and we spend longer than I care to admit postholing and sliding our way back down to the dirt trail.

Quickly, we leave Mt. Taylor in the rear view, and spend much of the day trekking along a forest service road. For the first time, I fully recognize how close I am to Colorado– an unfathomable and exciting thought.

After a long day up Mt. Taylor, everything is excited at the prospect of taking things easy, and we waste hours by the only two water sources of the day seeking shade and snacking.

This water source was a mile round-trip off from the trail. I wanted to be annoyed, but the water was too clean and the detour too beautiful.

Finally, we reach camp and set up for another night of cowboying. Life out here is pretty good.

Day Three: Willow

“Life was a willow and it bent right to your wind”

Have you ever heard of a “dry microburst”? Until today, I hadn’t. Microbursts are localized columns of sinking air within a thunderstorm, and can reach wind speeds of 100mph.

But, as of this morning, that information is not yet relevant.

A herd (group? bugle? school? murder?) of elk greeted us coming out of camp.

I spend much of the walk today reflecting on my time on the Colorado Trail. Today is Day 28, making this trip officially my longest backpacking trip ever.

28 days into the Colorado Trail in 2022.

The day is absolutely stunning, as we traverse a Mesa with jaw dropping views of Cabezon Peak, Cerro Cuate, and Cerro del Ojo Frio in the distance. This helps miles pass quickly, until we reach our water source for the day.

A long descent made easier by the consistently amazing view.

The Mesa offers another benefit: good cell service! Bus Driver takes advantage of this to do a quick check on the weather for the evening, only to find we are minutes away from being hit by a dry microburst.

The air around us certainly looks threatening, and the surrounding mesas and hills are blocked from view by what looks like heavy rain. On go the rain jackets, and we brace to get wet. But, the rain never comes.

Instead, over the next thirty minutes of hiking through torrents of heavy wind, we come to realize the “rain” around us is actually tons of dust and sand kicked up by massive bursts of wind.

We find a little outcropping behind a small hill, line up like ants, and eat dinner in the relative shelter from the wind.

We celebrated Skeeter’s birthday with gummy worms and a candle that we couldn’t light due to the wind.

Around sunset, the wind started to die down, and we settled in for another night under the stars.

Living by the ABCs: Always Be Cowboying

Apparently, another microburst came through just after midnight, but I slept right through it. We survived the CDT microburst of 2024.

Day Four: Hits Different

“Now the sun burns my heart and the sand hurts my feelings”

I don’t like sand. It’s coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere. What I do like, however, are beautiful views and trail magic.

Today brings me through twisting canyons and by massive hoodoos on a trail very reminiscent of Arches or Bryce Canyon National Parks.

Rumor has it, Camp Oasis lies 13 miles into the day, offering sodas, meals, and a port-a-potty to hikers. We don’t stop once all morning, eager for chairs with backs and hot food.

Forget about Canada… I could just stay here… forever…

The camp doesn’t disappoint, and the generosity and hospitality of the volunteers there is incredibly moving.

After a casual five hours spent at the trail magic, we walk in a conga line down trail an additional three miles to camp, throwing around riddles and jokes the whole way to pass the time.

Obviously, it’s another night of cowboy camping for us.

The best part of cowboy camping is you always get to see the stars and the sunset. The worst part? The sand.

Day Five: Clean

“I think I am finally clean”

Cuba beckons, and I am so excited for the shower and town food that awaits me. Over the previous four days, I’ve accumulated a level of grit, grime, and gunk over my entire body, pasted on between layers of dried sunscreen.

Easy miles in beautiful places!!

In the theme of this stretch, the miles are easy, cruisey, and gorgeous, and I alternate between climbing up a mesa, traversing across for miles, and descending gradually.

Of course, this beautiful desert section does come with the downside of limited water. We hike around 22 miles to our last water source of the section– which we have lovingly nicknamed “The Shit Pit”. I dodge some cows and use nearby buckets to hop over the pool of muddy water and cow shit surrounding the tank before grabbing the (surprisingly) clear, clean water.

Getting fit and covered in grit trekking over sunlit mesas to the shit pit.

After setting up my final cowboy camp of the section, I get a text from a friend in Cuba who is heading back home the next morning. Instead of another night in my smelly quilt, I head into town to say goodbye to her.

The shower is indescribable.

My Favorite Section So Far

All things considered– the heat, lack of water, sand, wind, and microbursts– this has to have been my favorite section on trail so far.

This section changed my mind about desert hiking.

Not only were the views beautiful, but these past five days have changed my mindset on hiking in the desert.

In the words of Taylor Swift, “I had the best day with you today”.

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