Last night was, hands down, our best night of sleep on the trail so far! Perhaps because, for the first time in three nights, we camped on top of the hill instead of down in the valley. The air feels warmer up here, and it is not so chilly when we come out of the tent either.
Regardless, we wake up in a great mood, eager to hit the trail. If all goes well, we’ll make it to Twin Lakes this evening and buy ourselves some extra relaxation time. We are in the Mount Massive Wilderness Area, which is subtly beautiful but does not frequently afford us views of the surrounding mountains. We begin hiking downhill and soon encounter a northbound hiker.
It’s Bastille Day and tomorrow France plays Croatia in the World Cup Final. None of this matters to the Frenchman we meet this morning early on in our hike. He is doing the CDT and seems to care nothing for what’s going on in the outer world, which is appropriate for someone who is spending 4-5 months to hike a 2500+ mile trail.
The trail contours around Mount Massive. It’s a sunny Saturday in Colorado, and everybody is out hiking, biking, ATV-ing etc. Lots of peak baggers are here to notch both Mount Massive and Mount Elbert, the highest peak in Colorado. We cross many streams today, but none prove to be too difficult.
On the way down to the Mount Massive Trailhead, we are passed by an older gentleman, named Adrian. He inquires about our travels and thus begins one of those profound lengthy trail conversations that is truly remarkable for the conjunction in time. Adrian talks about his time hiking the Camino to Santiago de Compostela in Spain and how deeply moved he was by the welcoming people he met along the trail and the beautiful churches he visited. He is clearly deeply moved by his faith.
We ask why he is hiking here. He tells us he is from near Taos, New Mexico, and that he was just visiting his brother in Idaho. More importantly, he tells he just buried his 37 year old son in California only a month ago. It feels important that we are here at this moment talking to Adrian. He is moved to tears and seems to value the connection we have quickly made on the trail. Adios, Hermano, he says as he moves on.
As we approach the Mount Massive trailhead the traffic gets thicker. Most folks are here to summit Mt. Elbert, the highest peak in Colorado. As we pass by, we seem to get one of two kinds of looks from people as they see us trudging uphill with our backpacks: one is the “I do NOT understand what you are doing” look (as in, why are you subjecting yourself to this kind of torture … willingly?); the other look is one of envy, the glossy-eyed “Man, someday I want to do something like that” look. We realize we are a somewhat strange breed but when you find your people, they understand the why of it all.
We stop at the trailhead on the banks of Halfmoon Creek for a water refill and lunch. We lay out the tent tarp to dry in the hot sun, take off our shoes and socks and soak our feet in the cool flowing waters. All too soon, it’s time to press on.
As we make our way uphill into the forest at the beginning of Segment 11, we are passed by one couple and a solo hiker on the CT. It’s interesting to note the different paces that people hike at. The couple is moving swiftly; they have summited Mount Elbert from one side today and intend to do the other side tomorrow. They started at 10 miles per day, are now hiking at 15 miles per day and need to get up to 20 miles in order to finish by July 31. By contrast, the solo hiker seems to arrive late, sleep late and hike hard. He passes all us up and disappears in no time!
In the mid afternoon we crest the hill and begin to descend through gorgeous Aspen forest. There is something so magical about the way sunlight plays through Aspen leaves on a summer afternoon. Maybe, as Adrian put it earlier, this is the Holy Spirit at work.
The trail takes us past the Lily Ponds, where some beavers have clearly been hard at work. They have constructed one of the largest lodges either of us has ever seen right in the middle of the largest pond. There are freshly downed trees ask along the trail, and the access to the footbridge is almost flooded out. It would be fun to come back here at dusk to see them hard at work.
Soon enough, Twin Lakes comes into view far below. We are not sure where we will camp tonight so we start checking out possible options along the 1.7 mile spur trail from the CT down to the village, figuring we could always hike back up to one of them if necessary. This never happens.
Lucky for us, all the stars align in Twin Lakes Village, which is not much more than a food truck, a general store and two roadside inns. We stop into the Twin Lakes General Store and meet Bob, the new owner as of 2 days ago. He is friendly and offers us helpful advice. We buy a 6-pack and sit out front in the late afternoon observing the rhythm of life as it passes through this tiny mountain hamlet. It feels so good to put our feet up and know we are done hiking for the next 24 hour or so. Fritos, vegan jerky and cold beer…life is good!
Juli and Eden stroll up, clean from a shower and awaiting their laundry, and it’s good to see them. As the sun is going down, a lone road biker rides up and parks his bike in the rack next to our packs. He buys a PBR tall boy and sits down, and we begin to chat. Turns out Matthew works for the National Park Service in the Grand Canyon. The conversation flows easily as we discuss the many places he has biked and the beauty and challenge of working in the Grand Canyon. Some day soon we hope to hike there. Perhaps he’ll be able to help us out with a permit one day.
It’s almost dark as we say our goodbyes and set off to surreptitiously set up our tent across the road behind a stand of willow bushes. It’s technically not allowed, but it feels like part of the thru-hiker experience to bend the rules once in a while! So we are rogue camping on the night before Alison’s 47th birthday. Nobody said this girl isn’t adventurous!
As we are ready to sneak into our sleeping bags we see a rare sight for hikers—the stars are out, and we recognize a few familiar constellations. We are rarely in an open area or up this late these days, but tomorrow is a rest day and we have a birthday to celebrate!
Day 14 Stats
Starting Point: Twin Mounds saddle, 161.4
End Point: Twin Lakes trail junction, 175.6 + 1.2 to Twin Lakes Village
Segments: 10 & 11
Date on Trail: July 14, 2018