CT Days 17-18

Day 17 – 26.1mi (+1 = 27.1)

I’m so confident about managing my water situation today that when I leave camp, I actually dump a third of a liter before I start walking, which I never do. Later, I’d be wondering why.

The early morning is cold, and I spend it weaving through woods interspersed with wide open fields. I see my first few cows; they openly stare, warily.

A few miles in to the day, I turn off trail to cross a field and get water from a stock tank. I see it, glinting silver in the sunlight. But when I get there, my heart drops – dry. I investigate the spout, but it seems to have been dismantled. No water here. What do I do?

I could backtrack .7 miles to a muddy trickle, or I could keep going, 8 miles to the next stream. Since I hate retracing my steps so much, I decide to keep going, taking a risk. I have a liter though, and I don’t really drink that much water anyway. I can make it, right?

A short ways further along the dirt road through the trees, I come upon another cow, alone in a clearing. I’m not concerned – cows aren’t aggressive – and keep marching towards it, until I realize it’s a bull, with big horns. Unsure of what to do, or how to read the animal’s behaviour, I try to give it a wide berth, walking around the clearing through the trees. It moves slowly, plodding in my direction, shaking its head. Thankfully, I round the corner and we’re out of sight of each other soon enough.

Not a minute later, there’s another bull, in a bigger clearing. What is this?! He moos loudly at me, staring from under his heavy brow, before starting towards me. I hurry across the open space, but the road runs long and straight into the trees, and he’s still following me, into the woods. I run a little to get around the corner and out of sight. Cows, yes, but I had no idea I’d be running into bulls around here.

I was wondering if this section of road walking through cattle land would be boring compared to the collegiates. With the excitement of water scarcity and the bulls, I was clearly mistaken.

I get word from a some other hikers about a 1 mile round trip detour to a lake as a water source. I decide to take it, as I’m running low and not sure if the next creek is running – if not it would be way too long to the next source.

A steep descent, but the lake is beautiful, backed by a wall of talus. Almost makes me feel like I’m back up in the alpine. I would camp here if it were the right time of day. But still, it’s worth it – the calm water refreshes my soul a little.

The rest of the hot day is filled with ups and downs that never end, following a roller coaster of a tree-covered ridge. I have no patience today, and I’m the most physically and mentally exhausted I’ve ever been on this hike. I start questioning my ability to make it through this section in the time that I thought it would take. I wonder if I’m starting to get sick; my stomach doesn’t feel well. Every climb is agony, and I stop at every switchback gasping. Something’s wrong with me.

On a downhill, I unexpectedly run into the people I shared a campsite with last night. We walk for a short while together, and I learn that one of their friends, a known trail angel around here, is going to have some magic going at the highway trailhead this evening. That puts a spark in me, at least I have something to look forward to, something to move toward. Now I struggle, but with a little bit of hope for a reward at the end.

It’s day 17, and I finally cave and put my headphones in to listen to some music to get me through the afternoon. It helps somewhat. At least it reduces the number of times I check the map and see how much farther I have to go. I feed off the energy of the sound, hoping to channel it into efficient movement.

Finally, I’m spit out on another dirt road, out of the rocky roller coaster. The sunny road feels peaceful in comparison, And I sink in relief into the easy walking.

At the junction of the dirt road and the highway, I meet a nice lady who’s waiting for her ride into town. We bond over the love of solitude out here. She broke up with her hiking partner to drink in more of that. Funny, though we talk of being alone, I regret our fleeting meeting and wish we might see more of each other. I feel like we’d get along.

I tell her of the rumor of magic, and we make our way to the trailhead a short ways down the highway. It’s wonderful. A good handful of hikers ends up straggling in to drink sodas, eat candy and chips, and listen to Keith the trail angel tell stories. And he’s a great storyteller. We hear of his CT hike of ‘92, and how it entangles with the story of how he became a teacher in Gunnison.

I spend two hours in that parking lot, enjoying the company and trying to fill my stomach, even though it’s junk food and I can barely stomach it. When I finally leave at dusk to go find a place to sleep, my pack feels a little lighter, at least for a little while, and things don’t feel generally so crushing anymore.

A few more miles, and I pass by my campsite mates from last night setting up. They invite me in, and I decide to join, not wanting to walk anymore on this long day. I don’t like to get to camp this late usually. I’m grateful for their welcoming attitude.

I wish for a recovering sleep.

Day 18 – 30mi

It’s going to be a long day of exposure to the sun, but I don’t wake up early enough to do any dark-hiking, because I am so tired. Instead I rise with the sun, discarding my headlamp as soon as I start walking in the grey light.

It is the first really cold night I’ve had, and I’m glad for it. I enjoy climbing the gentle grade of the logging road, still wearing both my sweaters. The air tastes fresh. The super long roadwalk of the day is welcome to my tired feet and shoulders. Easy miles, easy progress. I try to relish it. This trail has been all ups and/or downs so far, with the exception of the Waterton canyon roadwalk at the start. And after I hiked the most miles with the most elevation gain I’ve ever done yesterday, it’s nice to have a chill day.

Walking the logging roads, passing by tiny cutblocks with big slash piles towering overhead, I feel a familiarity. The smell of fresh cut wood and the sight of all that red and yellow fiber takes me back to planting. On the road though, travelling swiftly, I am just a sightseer, a passerby.

Early in the morning I see a huge bull moose, beautiful and black. He hides behind a slash pile – my first big wildlife sighting out here.

Soon, the trio I’ve camped with for two nights in a row now catches up, and we walk together: Tambo, Pacer, SealMom. The landscape opens up, and we see the two-track disappear into the horizon across a broad, dry plain. It’s sunny but not yet hot; still I’m anxious to make it to the trees before noon.

There are quite a handful of us taking this dusty, hot road today. The people and the conversation make the miles go by quick.

Before I know it, I’m at Cochetopa creek, which I will follow for another 12 miles back into the mountains – the San Juans. Though the water is still ringed with cow poops, it is plentiful and flowing, which is more that can be said about the puddles and trickles of the last day or two.

And just in time too, as I feel myself wilting, squished to the ground like a bug under the hot sun. I take a long break at the creek, appreciating its sounds. I had been imagining the wind in the aspens of the last few miles was the sound of water.

To my utter surprise, I feel really good once I get moving again. Has it taken me until day 18 to find the flow? For a few hours I feel so light, singing as I follow the valley up, up.

I make it to the trailhead at Eddysville, and I find the trio hanging out. They’re going four more miles to water and a grassy spot to camp. I happily join, and that makes my first 30 mile day. I wouldn’t have done it without the company of these cool people.

We share the site with another hiker, and we all eat dinner together. Before I know it, it’s getting cold, and I put on all my clothes to get inside my sleeping bag.

It’s a really uplifting day, and I come to value all the people I spend time with and how they make the experience one to remember. Funny how one of the best days directly follows one of the worst days.

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

What Do You Think?