My 5 Biggest Regrets From My Colorado Trail Thru-Hike
I did a lot of things right on my Colorado Trail thru-hike. I finished the 486-mile trail with no major gear failures or lasting injuries and came away with wonderful memories I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
However, as my first thru-hike, there were plenty of things I didn’t know going into the trail that could have maximized the good times. Here are my biggest regrets from the Colorado Trail.
1. Mailing Resupplies
Having never spent more than two consecutive nights in the backcountry, the question “How am I going to get enough food to survive this” lived at the front of my mind for months leading up to my start date. I had researched as thoroughly as one could with limited knowledge about the Colorado Trail and thru-hiking in general, and had decided on the towns I wanted to stop in along the way.
Many of these towns were home to ski resorts — which, if my time in Colorado as a child had taught me anything, meant supplies would be more expensive than I was used to.
Thinking I was making the economically smart choice, I had the brilliant idea to buy most of my groceries in advance and mail them to a handful of towns, thus sidestepping the ski resort pricing. So smart, right? This ended up being the wrong choice for me for several reasons.
Purchasing the food ahead of time was great. I left the grocery store patting myself on the back for my financial ingenuity and stellar planning. Walking into the post office and realizing it cost almost as much to ship the heavy packages as it did to buy the food in them was a very unwelcome surprise.
Once I made it into the towns and saw my friends buying their resupplies, I realized I actually spent more money on mailing my food ahead. What little I saved in food costs was quickly eaten up by shipping fees.
With about 12 hours a day spent in silence and solitude, walking along a dirt path, I dedicated plenty of time to thinking about my purpose in life and my responsibility to the communities around me.
One of the most unique and wonderful aspects of the Colorado Trail is the vibrant town culture that greets every hiker. Each town provides its own community and atmosphere, and so many of the businesses and residents clearly make every effort to celebrate and accommodate thru-hikers.
I began to see resupplies as a way to give back to the economies of these towns that selflessly provide so much to us hikers. As a consumer, you get control over where your dollar goes. With all else being equal, wouldn’t you rather support the small, family run grocery store? I know I would, and couldn’t help feeling guilty every time I opened my package full of food from Kroger.
The Colorado Trail, in particular, has a lot of choices when it comes to resupply. A thru-hike is an ever-changing beast — and if you mail yourself boxes, you’re locking yourself into a specific town before you truly know your needs and circumstances at the time.
For instance, Lake City and Creede are two popular resupply towns located fairly close together. Different members of my tramily mailed boxes to each town, forcing our group to separate for a few days.
Particularly on your first thru-hike, your mileage and pace may be vastly different from what you were imagining. Additionally, you may have fallen in with a group of friends and want to stay with them. Don’t let your resupply strategy anchor you to a specific location; give yourself the ability to choose where and when you want to go into town.
Especially as a first-time thru-hiker, I should have heeded people’s warnings about tastes changing on trail. But, I was young, naive, and overconfident. I was so sure I had cracked the code to nutrition on a thru-hike. All I had to do was eat five protein bars (which I hate) every single day, along with a fiber supplement, multivitamin, and large, protein-heavy dinners.
That’s great in theory, but when you’ve spent all of your mental resilience making it from one campsite to the next, I found I had no willpower left to do other hard things, like eating food I wasn’t excited about.
There were times in town when all I wanted to do was dump my disgusting protein bars in the trash and buy a handful of candy bars from the store in town. Give yourself the freedom to have cravings and accept that your preferences may evolve. You’re already toughing it out physically; there’s no need to add your food to the list of things you have to overcome.
As a side note, please recommend your favorite protein bars. Clearly I have not been eating the right ones.
2. Eating Three Meals a Day
My rigidity with my mailed resupplies also contributed to my second-largest regret: Too many meals and not enough snacks. At home, I’m absolutely a “Three Square Meals Every Day” type of girl, and I tried to carry this mentality into the Colorado Trail.
However, I found that I physically could not eat enough at each meal to meet my caloric needs for the day. Routinely, I would be cranky in the mid-morning, fine after lunch, and cranky again just before dinner. Not once on the trail did I take a second to stop and think “Maybe these bad moods are tied to food, and I seem to feel a lot better every time I eat something.”
If I had drawn that connection, I would have made an effort to have more snacks on hand to supplement mealtimes. On hikes today, I lean heavily on Goldfish, Sour Straws, and peanut butter packets, which I find boosts my energy between meals and keeps bad moods at bay.
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3. Sending Home my Bug Spray
Perhaps it was luck, extremely rainy weather, or the low snow year in which I hiked, but my first two weeks on the Colorado Trail were almost entirely bug-free. About ten days in, drunk off of my own confidence and a few beers from Leadville’s Silver Dollar Saloon, I decided to send home my bug spray.
After the mosquitoes decided to make an appearance somewhere between Cottonwood Pass and Monarch Pass, I proceeded to spend the next stretch of trail to Salida begging friends for a few spritzes of their spray each night.
My takeaway from that experience is this: mosquitoes are cruel, want to see you suffer, and know how to time their attacks for the moments in which you are most vulnerable. Don’t give them the opportunity; plan for the possibility of bugs along the entire trail.
4. Feeling Daily Pace Anxiety
If you’ve read any of my other articles, I believe one personality trait of mine shines through in every situation: I am unbearably anxious and neurotic. Don’t worry — this deeply annoys me more than it probably does you.
This manifests while thru-hiking in a deep fear that I won’t “make it to camp on time” every single day. What does “on time” mean when you’re sleeping in random spots along the trail with no set schedule or permit or mandate? Great question. I also do not know.
Nevertheless, this feeling drives me out of my warm tent before dawn, encourages me to cut lunch breaks as short as possible, and prevents me from spending extra time to stop at overlooks, take breaks, or explore fun side trails.
I tried to somewhat confront this on the Colorado Trail; I took the seven-mile detour to summit Huron Peak, as well as the three-mile detour to the top of San Luis Peak. I made sure to stop at rivers at least twice a day to soak my feet and cool off (hence, the trail name “Double Dip”). However, I found myself genuinely stressed out a lot of the time about completing the miles I wanted to do that day before dark.
This often left me at camp, hours before sunset, trying to unwind from what felt like a tough day at work. As someone who embarked on this thru-hike partially to escape the stressors of my everyday life, this was a fairly disappointing feeling.
Forcing Myself to Slow Down
On my next thru-hike, I consciously found time every day to just sit down on trail and do nothing. I wanted to get myself used to the feeling of just killing time, instead of only stopping when I had a task to accomplish or a bladder that needed emptying.
It wasn’t meditation, per se, and I’m still unlikely to ever be accused of being “chill” or “relaxed,” but it was a good reminder that getting to camp doesn’t have to be stressful.
While some days may be hard, I need to keep telling myself that thru-hiking is not actually a job. No one is waiting for me at camp to provide feedback on my speed or efficiency during the day. Sometimes, it is okay to just relax.
5. Never Being Alone
I started my thru-hike alone, much to the concern of my parents (perhaps being a little high-strung runs in the Jackson family). I assumed, with the Colorado Trail being so popular — and me choosing a typical start date — that I would have no problem making friends.
And I was right! Just a few hours into the trail I met a hiker, Wildfire, dipping in the South Platte River. She and I would end up hiking the rest of the trail together, and we seemed to tack new friends onto our group every day until we felt like a comically large snowball of hikers barreling down the trail together.
Let me be clear: I would not trade the friendships I made on the Colorado Trail for anything. To this day, that group is full of some of the strongest, kindest, and funniest people I know and I am so grateful for the chance to exist in the same world with them.
That being said, I am an introvert at best and incredibly crabby at worst. By the time I reached Lake City, I was about ready to snap.
Finding Solitude While Juggling Friendships
I feared that, if I took a day or two to hike alone, I would never see my friends again. We’ve all experienced this on a thru-hike: you get a couple miles ahead of someone you’ve been seeing regularly for days, your schedules never quite line up again, and you’re left a year later trying to remember what their name was. I didn’t want my friends to forget me or leave me behind.
So, I stayed constantly surrounded by a large group of friends, made memories over goofy card games and inventive dinners, and built friendships that will last a lifetime. Does this really count as a regret if I wouldn’t change a thing about the experience?
Still, I could have benefited from an occasional day to myself. At a minimum, I could have benefited from knowing that it would be OK to take a day to myself. The trail is long, and if you want to reconnect with people you will probably be able to make that happen — especially if you talk to them about it!
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- Backpacking Safety for Solo Women: Understanding and Managing Risk in the Backcountry
- The Benefits of Solo Backpacking: 7 Reasons Hiking Alone Is Awesome
If anything, compiling my list of regrets from the Colorado Trail has made me appreciate the journey that much more. In the grand scheme of a thru-hike, five small regrets feel like nothing.
I often tell this to people who are looking to plan their own Colorado Trail thru-hike, and I stand by it now: this is a trail with fairly low consequences. The trail is well-marked, well-maintained, and well-traveled. Basic safety and common sense aside, there are very few choices you could make that I could see someone seriously regretting after finishing their hike.
Don’t linger too long on any minuscule regrets you have from the day — be present in the moment and do your best to soak in the incredible beauty that surrounds you.
Stay safe, stay silly, and keep reminding yourself that it is never that serious.
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- Ranking the Colorado Trail Segments: 100% Subjective, Completely True
- 11 Tips I Wish I’d Known Before Hiking the Colorado Trail
Featured image: Graphic design by Zack Goldmann. Photography via Katie Jackson
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