So Long to Hiking Solo – Colorado Trail Thru-Hike, Part 8

I spent a week hiking solo after my return to the trail. I came back from my fall with a fresh attitude, determined to complete the trail.

By the time Sunday rolled around the six days of food that I started the week with was whittled down to just a few snacks. It was time to get into town. I made a beeline for Lake City, hiking as fast as I could around mountains, down steep slopes, and across six miles of mesa.

Wind was blowing hard in my face. It had to be at gusting to least 15-20 mph across Snow Mesa, the largest swath of alpine tundra in the continental U.S. Hiking into the wind made forward progress difficult, but the promise of a home-cooked, potluck meal at the weekly Hiker Feed spurred me on.

Just in Time

It was about 4:30 when I finally reached the trailhead, and I still needed to hitch several miles into town. Two other hikers were waiting and our frustration grew as car after car passed us by. Finally, an old van stopped.

A dog was barking fiercely inside but the owner told us not to worry. “Just say his name and he’ll be fine.” We did. He was.

We piled in and enjoyed the conversation as we rode into town. The couple in the van was amazingly helpful and dropped each of us smelly hikers exactly where we needed to be. They even took one on a grocery store run so he could head out of town again first thing in the morning.

When they dropped me at Raven’s Rest hostel, the place was deserted. I had heard from Gunslinger that she arrived earlier and had already headed out for the hiker feed. I found a bunk, completed my self-service check-in, and jumped on a loaner bike.

Thanksgiving Dinner

I didn’t take time to shower, and I’m sure I smelled like I had been hiking for a week (I had) when I stuck my head through the door of the crowded church hall. There was a line of what felt like 100 locals snaking around the room to a table laden with food.

“Is this the Hiker Feed?” I asked, suddenly feeling timid. “Of course,” several voices echoed. “Are you a thru-hiker?” one asked and I confirmed that yes, I was.

“Hiker!!” someone yelled, and a chorus of cheers rang out. What a welcome!

They ushered me to the front of the line, where I loaded up a plate. The theme for the week was Thanksgiving, and I wasn’t mad at it. I can gobble up turkey and dressing, veggies, casseroles, and pumpkin pie for days.

I found Gunslinger sitting at a table with a few other hikers I’d met previously. Lake City residents were scattered among hikers, giving us a chance to get to know each other.

Lake City Rocks

As we enjoyed the meal a resident told us about the Hiker Center, which we were in, and its hiker-friendly amenities. Thru-hikers could hang out all day during the week enjoying wifi, charging stations, coffee, and a well-stocked hiker box.  There was also a free, volunteer hiker shuttle to and from the trail around noon each day.

For a town with only 416 residents, Lake City really created a welcoming environment for hikers.

Gunslinger and I took a zero the next day and one of the volunteers at the hiker center ran us to the store and the laundry. Everything in this tiny town was walkable or a bike ride away, but the life was certainly welcome. It seemed everyone in town knew each other and if any hiker was having trouble, someone would step in to help.

Back on the Trail

After a relaxing and refreshing zero, Gunslinger and I were eager to hit the trail again with just one more trail town between us and Durango. We didn’t want to wait for the midday hiker shuttle, so we decided to try our luck hitching out of town at about 8 a.m.

Neither of us really believed it would be an easy hitch coming from such a small town, even though the locals promised it would be. What a pleasant surprise that we scored a ride in record time. (Actually, as soon as Gunslinger stuck out her thumb!)

We stepped onto the trail that morning with relief that neither of us was hiking solo anymore. We only had 128 miles to go – ok, that’s about one-quarter of the trail – but it felt like the home stretch. Our mood was celebratory and with a short day planned, we took our time and savored every minute.

No Rush

By now I had set a firm date with Andy to meet in Durango on a Friday, when he could take a long weekend. He and Forest would drive 7 hours from home to fetch me and Gunslinger at the southern terminus of the Colorado Trail when we finished.

Our schedule gave us 12 days to hike those 128 miles, an average of just 10-11 miles each day. Not only was I no longer hiking solo, but my buddy and I had plenty of time to enjoy one of the most beautiful stretches of the trail: the San Juan mountains.

Instead of rushing to make miles every day, we could adopt a more leisurely pace. If we were lucky, we might even squeeze in one last zero in the historic town of Silverton. Epic trail towns in Colorado are an integral part of the amazing trail experience, and it would be fun to explore that legendary mining town.

Goodbye to Hiking Solo

Coming out of Lake City, I realized that I had completed three-quarters of the Colorado Trail hiking alone. I never minded hiking solo before, but on this trek, it became a real challenge. I had been losing the mental game, indulging in constant self-flagellation whenever I had a bad day.

Now that I had a hiking partner, those thoughts never surfaced. Instead, we shared thoughts on the beauty of the trail, alerted each other to wildlife sightings, and encouraged each other.

The summer monsoons had finally arrived and storms were now a daily occurrence. When thunder and lightning threatened, we consulted each other and decided together when to stop or when to proceed.

We each hiked our own hikes while also appreciating having someone to share the experience. After weeks of struggles, I was feeling physically stronger. The health issues that plagued me earlier in the hike had resolved themselves, and my confidence returned.

Buoyed by the companionship of my hiking buddy, I could finally envision a triumphant finish…in less than two weeks!

I didn’t want to rush through these last days. After all, I might never pass this way again. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t also looking forward to the end of the Colorado Trail, completing what I set out to do a year before.

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