Lost Creek Wilderness Shakedown Hike!

A Change of Plans

For the past few months, this post was to be titled “Four Pass Loop Shakedown Hike!” But as many of us know by now, the snowpack this year in the central Rockies and California changed a lot of plans for outdoor adventurers. Given the risk, we decided to do my shakedown hike in a classic Colorado shoulder season destination: Lost Creek Wilderness. I hiked this loop before in 2020 when preparing for my first Colorado Trail thru-hike attempt. A lot has changed in my pack and my life since then, so I was excited to test out my new gear and my new mental strategies!

Shaking Down the Neurodivergent Brain

If you haven’t read my introduction blog yet, here’s all you need to know for this blog: I am neurodivergent. I was diagnosed with ADHD in 2021 and ASD in 2022. Since I received these diagnoses, I have learned so much about myself and why I experience backpacking the way I do. As a result, I have modified quite a few things in my pack to accommodate my particular sensory and regulatory needs, as well as adopted some coping strategies to help regulate myself when I become overstimulated. This year’s shakedown hike was the perfect opportunity to test out these modifications and see if they do the trick!

This hike was not a perfect shakedown hike, however. Some things will change between this hike and my Colorado Trail hike starting in late July. First, since my husband Isac joined me on this trip, my pack was not exactly set up how it will be for my CT hike. We shared a tent and were able to split some items between us that I will carry on my own for the CT. 

Isac and I at a lovely overlook on day two of the shakedown hike

Also, the mental game is different between hiking alone and hiking with your soulmate. While technically not alone on the Colorado Trail, difficulty navigating social interactions is a classic autistic trait and one I also experience. It feels extremely hard to meet new people, and while that pressure is less on trail, it never goes away completely. Being alone can be hard sometimes. That said, I have been working on coping skills in this department with my therapist and am excited to implement those skills during my thru-hike. Now, let’s recap the shakedown!

Struggling up the last climb of the hike

The Shakeups and the Shakedowns

We arrived at the Goose Creek Trailhead on a Saturday morning around 6:30 a.m. and got the last parking spot. The wind was chilly, but the spirits were high. I was excited to backpack again for the first time since September! The first few miles along the Hankins Pass Trail were packed with stream crossings; I think I counted nine in the first mile alone. Then the climbing began in earnest, and I quickly realized I was not in as good of shape as I thought I was. Exercise intolerance has always been an issue for me and one I will be discussing with a cardiologist in a couple of days – more on that later. 

While struggling so hard, I started to get frustrated with myself. Why can’t I hike faster? Will it always be like this? I hate the feeling of people waiting on me! I figured once I ate lunch, I would feel better, but it didn’t help as much as I’d hoped. Then I thought once we got to the high point (around 11,550’ via the Lake Park Trail), I would feel better, but once I realized I was moving less than one mile per hour, I started feeling very depressed. Isac tried his best to make me feel better, but I was too far gone to hear his encouragement.

I did a couple of things to make myself feel good enough to continue: I listened to an interesting podcast and watched a favorite silly show once we got to camp. But that evening, I continued to struggle. The base layers I always sleep in felt tight, like a snake was constricting me. I could hear the mosquitos buzzing around the outside of the tent. The water from the nearby stream sounded deafening. When my nervous system becomes overstimulated, and I get dysregulated, all of my senses are heightened. I quickly realized there would need to be a few more gear changes to accommodate these discomforts before I was as prepared as I could be for the Colorado Trail. 

The view from the tent in the morning

New Day, New Mind

I didn’t feel better until the next morning. Despite not sleeping well and waking up to condensation on our quilts and tent, I was somehow full of energy and positivity. It was a new day! We packed up quickly and headed out to try and find a sunny spot where we could have breakfast and dry our wet gear.

At this point, we were entering my favorite part of this loop, where huge boulders loom over the McCurdy Park Trail and aspens shiver in the breeze. It truly is a spectacular section of hiking (and mostly flat/downhill), and I was feeling great. With this new positive mindset, once we did hit some harder climbs, I was able to embrace my slowness and accept my body as it was at that moment. I was even able to joke around a bit with myself about it.

Gorgeous overlook on the McCurdy Park Trail

The end of the loop along the Goose Creek Trail was sunny and hot. We finished with enough time to get home before dark, and I began to process the hike and the emotions I experienced during it. Luckily, I have therapy on Mondays, so I was able to unpack the emotional side of the trip the day after we got back. After struggling so hard, I was left feeling scared and nervous about my CT hike. If I struggled this much mentally and physically on such a short hike, how was I supposed to handle almost 500 miles?? I hiked more than that in one go before, but what if that was a fluke and I can’t do it again?

A pretty peak through the trees toward the end of our hike. You can almost see the heat in this picture.

Time to Unpack

That therapy session was a pivotal moment for me. My therapist introduced me to the concept of the fixed mindset vs. the growth mindset. When he mentioned neuroplasticity, I wanted to roll my eyes; I had been told for a long time that I could simply MAKE my brain be different if I tried hard enough, and I thought that concept was ridiculous and borderline insulting to say to a neurodiverse person. But as he explained further and cited the research of psychologist Carol Dweck, it began to click for me.

This research showed that students who received compliments such as “you’re so smart” were less likely to accept challenges for fear of losing that “smart” label. Students who were praised for their perseverance when facing a difficult task were much more likely to seek out more challenges. So how does this translate to backpacking?

Backpacking with a Growth Mindset

Since I’ve taken on these adventurous endeavors, I’ve received many compliments: “Wow, you’re so strong!” “So brave!” “So badass!” I’ve always struggled with accepting compliments like these. They are subjective. Am I really strong, brave, or badass? Who’s to say?! But when I receive compliments such as “That must have been hard, and you did that!” those compliments are objectively true! I did accomplish something difficult; I did accept a challenge and push through the adversity that came with it!

If I operate with a growth mindset on my upcoming thru-hike, I’m not concerning myself with keeping those labels of strong, brave, and badass. With a growth mindset, I fully embrace the challenge, regardless of what the outcome might be. I just have to try my best and not let the fear of appearing weak keep me from reaching my fullest potential. 

In Lost Creek Wilderness May 2022

Final Thoughts

In the end, this shakedown hike wasn’t really about testing gear, although I did realize I need to make some changes for when I do inevitably get overstimulated. Moreso, this hike helped me notice some big potential mental challenges I may face on my thru-hike of the Colorado Trail. I was able to bring those concerns to my therapist, who, in turn, gave me incredible insight that completely changed my perspective.

I have one session left before I begin my hike, and we decided to make it backpacking-themed and will do a “mental pack shakedown.” We will unpack my mental pack, analyze all of my gear, and repack the most important items while leaving some less helpful items out. Maybe I will even notice an outdated piece of gear that can be upgraded. Or be introduced to a new gear item that will revolutionize my backpacking mental game? Subscribe to follow along on my journey!

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Comments 3

  • Bunny : Jul 27th

    I just read your post about backpacking with a neurodivergent brain. Then this one. You are inspiring in so many ways. Thank you for sharing. I can’t wait to hear anout your CT experience.

    • Mackenzie Fresquez : Jul 28th

      Thank you so much for reading it means the world to me!! I’m working on my next blog now, just finished the first 103 miles of the CT!


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