Into the Woods: Day 3

Into the thick of it

Day 3 on the trail: life has begun to settle and routines are established. In this case, Day 3 on the Colorado Trail meant we had fine-tuned the “walk 5 miles before breakfast” train, and were packing the miles behind us. On this day, I made two packs of oatmeal and for the first time, was completely unsatisfied with this amount. I boiled another cup of water for some hot chocolate, and that did the trick.

Before this, hiker hunger had been a myth and Mary and I had been eating far less calories than we were burning. I hoped this might be changing.

Day 3 was one of those simple days where the majority of your time is simply walking. It was beautiful, of course, but there were no grand views or time above tree-line. We didn’t meet much people.

We walked 10 miles before we had any interactions with anyone, but around mile 10 we came across a stream that was serving both as a watering hole for thirsty hikers and a social gathering. Clouds were gathering, but we didn’t have much service so conversation quickly shifted to the weather, particularly focusing on the people with GPS Garmins that gave the forecasts. The forecast for today was rain at 12 – we had about an hour.

The Rain

Three minutes later we heard a roll of thunder but we felt secure in the trees, so we stopped and put on our rain jackets and pack covers, go to the bathroom in the trees (to avoid and continued walking. As it lightly rained the trail began to head straight up a long hill. Mary began powering up the hill, leaving me about 30 meters behind her. We were both grinding out the incline when suddenly, across the sky we both catch a glimpse of a bolt of lightning, followed by the loudest crack of thunder I have heard. Mary flew around, eyes wide to see my reaction.

Mary looks at me, sees I am terrified, and then says, “good thing I shit back there in the woods ’cause I would’ve shit my pants right then.” I laugh despite of my fear and we decide to head into the thick of the trees and hunker down for a few minutes to let the lightning pass. After sitting for a bit, a whole crew comes up the trail: the red-headed sisters, Zen, and Sharon, all people we vaguely knew and had been criss-crossing with. As we came out of the woods, we asked everyone if they had heard the thunder, and we all began laughing and sharing our stories. When the thunder hit, Sharon, who lives in the city said she, “thought I got shot”. Zen added in, “I was mid-shit when it hit”. We all cracked up at that and continued walking together for camaraderie and protection until our different break-times/ walking speeds broke us up.

The uphill

After a bit, the trail took a sharp turn uphill and for the first time on the trail we had to tackle a 4 mile uphill.

I. was. dying.

We’d hit 10,000 feet for the first time, we were 15 miles in, and my body was struggling with oxygen, willpower, and strength. The only thing we could do, though, was keep walking, and I would walk until I felt like I couldn’t walk anymore, and then I would take a break. It was raining hard during all this, and we were deep in the trees under the gloomy sky, which only added to the misery.

I had to stop a lot. Like: A LOT. At one point, we took a break, I walked as far as my willpower could take me, and then I stopped again, panting on the ground. I asked Mary how far we’d gone and she looks at her watch:

.1 mile.

My feet were killing me. My legs felt dead. My willpower was completely exhausted. To make it up the hill, I turned on the speaker, blasted some tunes, and forced my way through the burn-out and the pain and finally, after what felt like a never-ending climb, we crested the hill and began following the trail down.

Not far from the top of the hill we entered a grassy meadow. Zen caught up with us here and we chatted and walked to camp together in the “unusually straight meadow”. This was the first camp of the trip above 10,000 feet, and as we were setting up camp, we noticed some more ominous clouds coming over the horizon We scrambled to put up the tent, cook food and get all our gear where it needed to be. Within an hour the clouds turned into a full-on storm, and everyone at the small camp (Zen, Sharon, Snow King) found refuge in their tents, trapped there by the dark clouds and lightning storm.

As Mary and I lay there together in our little tent, we journaled a bit and then quickly fell off to sleep. Our first 19 mile day had passed, and our biggest climb yet.

437 miles left to go.


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