Colorado Trail, Day 26: A Magic Milestone

After our longest day on trail as backpackers yesterday, I was curious to see how we would rebound, especially since the hard day ended with a cold rain and us huddling in our tent for warmth. The alarm went off at 5 am per usual, and we bounded out of bed, seemingly no worse for the wear. Go figure.

As we emerged from the tent, we discovered clear skies and a pleasantly mild temperature for the early a.m. Everything was still drenched in rain/dew, especially the tent fly. The sunrise, always a cause for optimism, drew our attention to some backlit fireweed that was starting to glow in the dawn’s rays. You know it’s going to be a good day in our world when the cameras are clicking before we’ve even have our coffee!

We know we have a shorter day planned today, but still we get going early. We are glad that the rain is behind us…at least for now. The trail meanders through lush green forest highlighted by fireweed and various grasses growing in small clumps. All the petals are covered in rain drops, and our shoes get drenched from brushing against the wet vegetation.

Once we crest the peak of Sargents Mesa we start to descend once again across a broad, grassy meadow along a double track path. Flocks of pine siskins feeding in the grasses attract our attention. Then we notice several large ravens in the distance and a small group of mountain bluebirds playing around. In fact, today turns out to be the birdiest day on the CT for us since we left Twin Lakes. Later we see red finches, a western tanager, several northern flickers (red variety), and, once in camp, a green-tailed towhee and several Clark’s nutcrackers. I’m hoping this is a sign of a more to come as I appreciate the audiovisual distraction along the trail.

As we round a bend we see two male deer with velvet on their antlers moving off and then a ptarmigan and two bigger chicks nearby. We descend to Razor Creek and are relieved to find the water is still flowing clear. We took a chance by passing up on a mile-long detour to Baldy Lake praying that we would save time and, more importantly, energy by looking down trail.

The sun is warm and welcome. We spread out our tent and rain gear to dry while we refill our water bottles and grab a snack. A group of three German hikers joins us, and they, too, are relieved to find water. Philip, Tom and Vera are hiking most of the CT (skipping a few sections due to lack of time), and they have had three different filter systems fail on them, so they are stuck for the time being using purifying tablets which they say make the water taste like a swimming pool. Yuck!

Just then the tranquility of the morning is shattered by four motor bikers who rip up the trail and leave the smell of gasoline behind as they roar by. Philip shouts sarcastically, “I love the silence of nature!” Oh well, such is life on a shared section of multi-use trail.

As we hike along and reflect on 26 days of travel and yesterday’s difficult trail, I think about the psychological interplay between the hiker and the trail. Sometimes, it seems, you hike the trail, while other times the trail hikes you, if you see what I mean.

In other words, there are days or sections of trail where you feel in control of your game and feel like you are calling the shots. Then there are other days or sections where you simply give in to what the trail demands of you. The only other option is to quit or go back, and that, of course, is unacceptable! I guess it’s all about attitude and mustering the will to push on knowing it will get better. Luckily, today is no problem, and our legs are not as stiff or sore as I would have expected. I guess 25 prior days of trail conditioning pays off!

After a brief lunch stop, we press on with anticipation of two exciting events: mile 300 is quickly approaching, and just beyond, if the trail rumors hold true, is a bit of much-anticipated trail magic. But first, we charge up another heart rate hill. My thought is: you earn it to burn it, meaning you earn your lunch and break time, only to burn it off right away on a big heart-thumping hill like this one. But we know it’s the last big push of the day, and besides, there are plenty of wild raspberries to sweeten the deal.

We catch up with Scott and Kendra from Durango, whom we met earlier, right at the 300 mile mark. This is a big milestone for us as we have now walked longer on this single trail than any trail we have hiked before. We stop and snap a few pics to commemorate the moment. Thankfully, someone has already marked to the spot in pine cones, so we don’t have to make the number ourselves.

We descend several hundred feet down on a very pleasant trail and, as we emerge from an aspen forest onto a forest service road we see a sign that reads “You hungry? Let’s eat. Rest those weary feet!” courtesy of the Trail Angels.

We caught wind of this on Facebook back in Salida, and several happy northbound recipients have indicated that Jan and Poo, who both hiked the CT last year for the first time, have set up a tent and are dispensing “trail magic” to grateful hikers like us. We have heard of such generosity in the past but have never experienced it ourselves, so we are super excited to come across this oasis of kindness in the wilderness.

Jan and Poo, who are both retired, decided to come out to one of the least accessible areas of the CT and return the kindness they received from trail angels last year. So they’ve set up shop for the week here. When we arrive we find an open-air tent, a rug and several comfortable chairs to sit in.

They greet us and ask if we would like pancakes or hot dogs. They also have apples, potato chips and lemonade. In addition they’ve got plenty of fresh water so everyone can top up, which is especially helpful because this next section of trail is fairly dry. They even offer to take everyone’s trash and haul it back to town for us. It’s really amazing what they are providing to the hiking community, and it makes us want to do something as well to give back.

We sit around for nearly two hours relaxing and chatting with the three Germans, Scott and Kendra and our two gracious hosts. It’s so pleasant, especially after two successive evenings with rain, to sit outside and enjoy the Colorado sun. We don’t want to overstay our welcome, and we do want to get to camp before a possible thunderstorm comes, so we bid our hosts a sincere thank you for their kindness and generosity, and stroll off down the trail, bellies full, in search of camp.

Luckily we know that there is a campsite among the aspen trees a short mile and half down the road. We set up camp as the skies clear and enjoy some much-needed down time OUTSIDE of the tent, feeling content to have reached our “magic” milestone.

Day 26 Stats

Starting Point: Trailside campsite, mile 288.7
End Point: Trailside campsite, mile 301.8
Mileage: 13.1
Segment: 17
Date on Trail: July 26, 2018

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