Of all the days on the trail, this day was one of the hardest, yet best. July 4th began beautifully at our camp on the edge of tree-line and alpine tundra, and we got up excited at the promise of a REAL LIFE BED at the end of the day.
The only thing we had to do was hike 21 miles.
By 7 a.m. we were on the trail. The first four miles were brutally downhill (if you’ve ever hiked, you know what “brutally downhill” means). The trail was rocky, steep, and unrelenting. The miles passed far too slowly.
Mary and I walked, and then we stopped at a river to refill water, and then we walked some more.
Around mile 8, the air was suddenly filled with the sound of a large number of dogs barking. It sounded like the apocalypse. Mary turned to me and said, “is this how we die?” After a second of pondering that, we continued walking.
The barking got closer and closer until we finally saw somewhere between 50-100 huskies running around in a giant fenced-in-pen. Some were chained up, some free to roam, and all were going crazy. The sight was eerie and it felt like we needed to get out of there fast: which we did.
Then began the long uphill
Along the uphill we met a guy named Andrew (later trail-named Boyscout). Andrew gave off very boy-scout vibes, and had an interesting backstory: he was born in Ecuador to missionary parents but now lives in Indiana. He was hiking the trail alone, but felt a bit lonely sometimes, so he decided to hike with us for a few hours.
The uphill – in between the small chats with Andrew – was brutal. I began to reach my mental breaking point, and so was Mary, so we didn’t make very good company. I was simply trying to make it through the day without crying.
A big mental breakdown started heading my way around the top of the big climb when we still had 9 miles to go. It started when I realized the date was July 4th, and the buses might not be running to Vail, where a family friend had offered us their house to stay in.
I’d been banking on that house for my sanity for the past two days.
As we started to make our way down the mountain I began to need breaks every 15-30 minutes. Walking felt impossible. I was tired, I wanted to cry, and I felt so burnt out.
After 45 minutes of feeling like this I finally just sat down – on the edge of tears – and said, “I need to take a nap”. I didn’t take a nap, but I did lay down, eat, and drink some water. I shed two very small tears and pulled myself together.
After 15 minutes I felt a bit relieved so Mary and I marched on while Andrew stayed behind for a longer break. Mary and I turned on the speaker – a sure sign we were feeling burnt out – and we walked. As fast as we could. As we approached a meadow and a stream I realized we had reached the 100 mile mark. And that’s when Mary shed her tears for the day.
Morale was low.
We stopped at the 100 mile mark stream and met a nice lady who lived nearby and we explained that we weren’t sure if the buses were running and if we could get to Vail. She was nice enough to offer to drive us if we met back up with her in time.
This boosted our spirits a bit and we got up for the last four miles to town, deciding we were going to get to Vail if it was the end of us. The last four miles were so painful and hard. Finally, after forever, we came down the last steep switch-back hill and saw a beautiful pond in a neighborhood. Immediately we both wanted to jump into it. Not knowing if the pond was private, we asked a mom who was there with her husband and kids if it would be okay if we jumped into this crystal clear blue lake. The mother was from Australia and super lovely and we talked about the trail with her. She said we could go in and if it was private we could just be her “guests”. The water was absolutely freezing, but amazing.
After the dip we felt a bit better and walked to the bus stop. The free buses were running from Breckinridge to Frisco so we hopped on a bus to Frisco. Arriving in town felt marvelous after the extremely difficult day, so we got some ice cream and then started looking for a place to eat some real food.
The Great Town of Frisco
The streets were packed with people and closed off to cars as the Fourth of July festivities commenced in Frisco. Mary and I walked down the street and began to talk to a man who was with his two children. We asked if he knew of a good place for chicken tenders, and told him a bit about the Colorado Trail, since our backpacks had raised some questions.
We were walking past an Italian restaurant when I asked, “is that place good?” and suddenly the guy walking with us says, “You know what? You guys have been busting your asses. Dinner is on me.” Then Mary and I watch him as he marches into the place and tells them that he is going to pay for everything. Mary and I were in shock. He came out and tells us, “have as many drinks as you want” and then walked away.
The staff of the restaurant were as shocked as us, but very amused and entertained. They sat us outside. This restaurant ended up being a very nice place with no meals less than $20 each. Mary ordered a glass of wine and we ordered an appetizer of truffle fries. Which we wolfed down. We wolfed down the free bread and olive oil too. After our first food, we ordered pasta which was homemade: both pasta and sauce. Our waiter was named Angel and was from Mexico and we had a great time chatting with him and laughing about the crazy situation that had just happened.
After dinner we knew we had to find our way to Vail, but didn’t have a solution as the buses weren’t running like we had planned. We tried every option – Uber and Lyft wouldn’t take us – and as Mary and I desperately called every taxi service Vail was looking farther and farther away. After about 30 minutes of desperation, we finally found a trail angel who took us all the way just for the price of gas.
That First Town Stay
Arriving to the house in Vail was an experience unlike any other experience I have had before. This house was a family friend’s who was extremely generous to offer it up to us, and when Mary and I arrived, it was perhaps one of the happiest and most relief-filled moments of my life. We walked 100 miles without showering, doing laundry, or sleeping in a real bed. So there was nothing like sitting in that house, showering while our laundry was whirring, using the wifi and relaxing. It was the most peaceful experience, and I have never felt such gratitude as that first night in town in a real bed.
On July 5th I woke up in a King Size bed as clean as I’d ever been, and I felt great. A town day will do wonders to you.
Mary and I decided we’d spend most of the day in Vail and we took a bus into town at 9 to walk around and find breakfast. We found a cute little French cafe and ate, then we went to a few shops (and by shops I mean grocery stores) and headed back to the house. At the house we packed up and I took my second bath in 12 hours, then we walked down to the bus stop that would take us to the big station, which would take us to Frisco.
Once in Vail we had to wait for our next bus to arrive so we headed down and ordered the biggest ice cream waffle cones with sprinkles on EVERYTHING! As soon as we sat down outside it started to rain so we headed to a little pavilion and met two lovely ladies who we chatted with. Our packs were big conversation starters and many people wondered why two girls were walking around with giant packs on their backs. As we chatted I told the two women I was studying Spanish in school and one of them immediately asked, “hablas español?”
I was so excited! Not too long ago I spent 3 months doing online school in Costa Rica and improving my Spanish, so I responded and we conversed a bit in Spanish.
The rain subsided and the ladies left, but we still had time to kill so Mary decided to wander around town while I stayed with the packs (I didn’t want to do ANY extra walking). Across the pavilion I noticed an older lady looking at me and after a bit she asked me, “hablas español?” We ended up chatting for twenty minutes and I found out she lives in Denver but grew up completely in Guatemala. She was 80 years old and her granddaughter was with her. I talked to them about the trail and learned the word for hot springs, and by the end of the chat she gave me a big hug and went on her way. I felt so blessed when she said, “que Dios the bendiga” – May God Bless You.
Mary came back and we headed back to the bus station. On the bus to Frisco a giant storm came raging over the mountain and it was pouring and lightning. When we arrived it was torrential. Mary and I headed to Walmart to stock up on snacks and then got on a bus back to the trailhead from the day before – although it felt like we’d been off the trail for ages.
Once on the trail Mary and I only walked four miles until we crossed a stream and found a nice place to camp. I was feeling a bit nauseous so I ate some pretzels and crawled into bed. The tent felt so cozy and nice and I cuddled up in my sleeping bag and went to bed.
July 6th was tough: it felt so good to be back on the trail, but it was a long day, starting at 5 a.m. and ending around 7. We woke up early to avoid thunderstorms and walked up the steepest miles yet. The steepness paid off though as we walked over the mountain range in between ski resorts.
This whole day was what one just calls a “walking day”. That’s pretty much all that happens: walking. We walked up a mountain, down a mountain, past Copper Mountain Ski Resort. We took a nap at 3 p.m.
In the morning we reunited with Zen and Boyscout, who we’d lost once in town, and we criss-crossed with them several times. Along the way we also met No Worries, a man in his 60s or 70s from Boulder who is dedicated to hiking. We met No Worries as we were filling up our water at a stream and immediately he brought a nice cheer to our day. He told us he got his trail name because most of the time his life has no worries, “except when I am above tree-line and there’s lightning: then I am all-worries”.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with trail culture, most people on long distance trails end up getting a trail name: a name that describes something they did or an aspect of who they are. It’s a fun trail tradition and most people go almost exclusively by their trail names, making it hard sometimes to know who is who when the real names come out.
After meeting no worries we walked about 7 more miles uphill. On the way up we met Goldfish and gave him our numbers so we could meet up in Leadville with him and Zen for some pizza. We continued upward and hit our second mountain pass for the day, and found ourselves with no option but to camp above tree-line in the alpine tundra. This wasn’t ideal as we were worried about thunderstorms, but we either had to go backward 3 miles (the worst feeling) or forward 3 miles, and we were reaching almost 24 for the day and too tired to move an inch. We found some bushes and tucked ourselves in for the night. Journaling that night, I had no energy and barely wrote anything.
Leadville the next day!
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