Lighting Out for the Territories

Hi everyone, my name is Mike and I’m hiking the upper half of the CDT this year, heading south from the Canadian border. Last year I walked from the Mexican border to the Seedhouse Campground in northern Colorado. I shared the trail with some great folks including Lemonhope, Mishap, Gargoyle, Leftovers, and Slim. My own trail name is Sputnik. I’m excited to blog on TheTrek — I wouldn’t have gotten out there at all if it weren’t for the blogs and videos I discovered during the Covid years. I hope I can give back with useful and interesting updates!

Glacier and the Winds are going to be amazing. Last year, I lost the continuous footpath in two places: the section between Ghost Ranch and Chama due to fire, and then from I-70 to Grand Lake because of a bruised rib and giardia (uff). I hope to vacuum that country up at the end. I’ll start my walk in the last week of June.

I’ll share information on gear and training hikes over the next while, and I’m keen to answer any questions. For now, I’ll share three pictures from my trip last year.

Blue Jay in the Desert

Blue Jay taking pictures of plantsThe second day of the trail nearly did me in. Heat, blisters and a sandblasting wind through 27 miles. I was moving from dawn to dusk, at first happy and strong under Big Hatchet Peak. At the end stumbling and limping down the windswept Divide. Crouched under a mesquite bush by highway 9, my sleeping bag caught by the wind and filling with air, I fell into a miserable sleep. Limping stiffly away into an orange dawn, I was on the edge of feeling brutalized and trying to figure out how to put my head down and survive the next 12 hours without hating the trail or life.

I came across this lady, Blue Jay, peering down at the tough bushes around her feet. Hello, I said. Why, hello she replied in her friendly southern accent. I thought of Tree Trunks, one of my favorite characters from Adventure Time (hey, I had little kids a few years ago!). She was fascinated to discover right in that moment when she was missing the trees of her native Appalachia that she was still in a forest: it’s just that the trees are very, very small. She was lit up with the vision of walking like a giant gentle shepherdess among these “trees.” I caught her spell, and the next hours forgot about me and my pains. I remembered that we are here to dream.

On we went through the morning happily exchanging ideas. Later I got ahead, but she passed me in the evening. “Watch out for that limp,” she advised, practically. “It’ll mess with your hip.” I next saw her for dinner and a rich conversation in Silver City a week later. She’s section hiking the CDT across a few years. If I’m lucky, I’ll see her again this year!

Me, bedraggled in the Toaster House

Here I am in one of the Toaster House bedrooms, in Pie Town, New Mexico. I look kind of beat up. In reality, I’m pretty happy. It’s just that the Toaster House was very crowded when I arrived the night before, so I slept on the dusty lawn. I’ve just had some delicious pie and am about to start walking again fully supplied for the march to Grants. Peering at maps before the trip, the 120 mile section from Doc Campbell’s Post in the Gila to Pie Town scared the heck out of me. I couldn’t imagine carrying everything I need across such lonely distances. At that moment I was proud to have finished it.

Also, the “kid’s bedroom” look conveys something of the thru-hiker’s life. What am I really…a homeless man? A kid on an adventure? I’ve fallen into a crack in the sidewalk of the modern world. Instead of wondering if my code will work or if my boys know I love them, I’m calculating whether one jar of peanut butter is enough and feeling just as stressed about it as I did about those other things! Is that heal blister getting worse? I’m a different “thing” than I was. And there is no time to reflect on this. Get moving before the road out of town is broiling…

Ending a day in the Southern Sawatch

Sawatch Mountains at sunset

Colorado is so beautiful. Huge spines of high country, like whales moving nobly through a shifting sea of forest and lake. Their backs rising in the morning sun, leading me up into the snowy San Juans…into the obliteration of my fears and even thoughts, which cannot survive the crash of miles and days which scar and heal me in patterns I can’t yet understand.

I know it’s said too often, but there is something magical about those mountains. Deep in the Southern San Juans, free, mostly alone for days. I’ll never forget watching a huge elk sprint (or float?) across a mountainside above me, silent but somehow too fast to comprehend.

Those mountains didn’t show up that well in my photos. Strangely, this lack of imagery makes them richer in my imagination almost a year later.

Therefore, this picture is from further along (near the Alpine Tunnel northwest of Monarch Pass). The sun sets in wind and cloud as I hurry ahead to find a camp before full dark. I want to hike more often in the evening this year because of evenings like that one. It felt good to look at country and know that somehow it would provide sheltered places to sleep, maybe just a little higher. Three weeks into the mountains by this point, I’m certainly tired, however by some kind of magic I start every morning with a full tank that will power me across a vast expanse.

I was hoping to meet friends Gargoyle, Mishap and Leftovers at a lake on the benches left of center, but they were not there…

Well…that’s enough for now. Have a good week, everyone!

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