Colorado Trail, Day 41: We Did It!

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When we wake up this morning, the first thought that goes through my head is that this is the last day that we will walk the Colorado Trail. We are only 7.1 miles from the Junction Creek Trailhead, and, although we are excited to get there and to complete the Colorado Trail, neither of us wants this amazing adventure to end. It’s definitely a bittersweet feeling, and we linger in camp as we pack everything up for the last time, eat our last breakfast, set off on the trail on this last day. We wish our summers could last forever, but all good things come to an end sooner or later.

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We used our DeLorme InReach to text Rob last night and let him know our ETA at Junction Creek. We told him 11 o’clock which gives us plenty of time to savor these last few miles of trail. Unfortunately, we don’t get an kind of sunrise to speak of to send us on our way, but we are all smiles anyway as we set off just before 7 o’clock.

We are curious to see if we pass any campsites that seem better than the one we had last night. At least for starters, the trail is pretty dense with trees, and it doesn’t look like there were any other options in the first few miles beyond where we camped.

Before we know it, we have covered nearly three miles, and we arrive at Gudy’s Rest. Gudy Gaskill is known as “the mother of the Colorado Trail,” spending nearly twenty years seeking donations and volunteers to help finance and build this trail. She was the founder of the CT Foundation, and, although now since passed, she is memorialized with a bench in her honor that has a stunning view over the valley below. We feel like we’ve been hiking with her the whole time as a photo of her graces each chapter of the guidebook offering a tip for hiking each segment of the trail.

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We are on the trail early enough to have this spot alone on this Friday morning. We spend a few moments there to honor this woman whose dream and passion led to this incredible adventure, not only for the two of us, but for the hundreds who hike the CT each year. Yesterday morning, Aspen showed us how to use the self-timer on the iPhone (we had no idea there was one!), and we take a shot of ourselves together in this special place.

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We already feel the temperature rising, so we change into our shorts and continue on. We have just over four miles left to go, and the anticipation is almost too much to take. We can hear dayhikers chatting across the gulch from us, a sign of the many people we will be passing on our way to Junction Creek.

We drop 500 feet on long switchbacks as we make our way down to the bridge over the creek itself. We are surprised by how lush and green the forest is here. We both recall the entry into Durango on the narrow gauge train after backpacking in the Chicago Basin a few years back to be quite arid and scrubby, so all of the green foliage is definitely a pleasant surprise.

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There are two women with two beautiful Golden Retrievers down at the bridge. The dogs are having a good romp, running through the water and back and forth across the bridge. The women see our big packs and immediately congratulate us for finishing the trail. We are quick to say that we are not done yet. We don’t want our time on the trail to finish any sooner than it has to! They offer to take our photo on the bridge, and we hike on.

From this point on, we pass many dayhikers, some who seem to be aware of our long journey to get to this point and congratulate us while others pass by with a quick hello. A few ask us if we have rides into Durango. The kindness of the people in Colorado towards thru-hikers continues to amaze us to the very end!

There is a final trail junction where we could head to a parking lot one mile shy of the terminus, but we pass this by to head for the official “finish line.” We are almost below 7000 feet for the first time since we started this trail 41 days ago.

Before long, a bicycle with a familiar rider comes towards us. It’s Rob, and he is here to help us celebrate the end of this journey. He turns around and rides with us for the next quarter-mile, asking us details about our past two days on the trail since he and Amy left us.

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When we get to the very last footbridge, Rob bikes ahead. He takes Matt’s camera with him, so he can document our last few steps. When we see cars through the trees, we know we are there. Rob has strung up some orange tape between his bike and the Colorado trail sign, so we can go through a true “finish line.” We move in slow motion to make the moment last.

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Rob has brought some fresh peaches and some cold Modus Mandarina IPA beer from Ska Brewing to help celebrate. Matt has had a dream of finishing his very last bite of trail food right at the finish line just as he is handed a cold beer, so we reenact the moment. Rob is so kind to indulge all of our wishes. What a supportive friend!

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As we are celebrating, a young pair of thru-hikers comes up the trail asking, “Is this it? Is this it?” They have just finished the entire trail, too, but we have never seen either one of them. We ask when they started and are humbled when they tell us they have completed the entire trail in 21 days, almost half the time that we took!

The woman is originally from Germany but has lived in the US for three years, hiking every chance she can get. We learn that she hiked the PCT a few years back, so we don’t feel quite so bad that she nearly lapped us! Her dream finish is to dance to The Procalimers’ song, “(I Would walk) 500 Miles.” She has it loaded on her iPhone, so we have a little impromptu dance party to celebrate the moment.

It’s a strange feeling to load our packs into Rob’s truck and drive into Durango, but it’s time to begin the re-entry process. We grab some lunch at Bread for a picnic on the river and then head to Backcountry Experience, a superb outdoor gear store in Durango, to get some advice on Matt’s busted hiking pole.

From there we head to Rob and Amy’s place to shower and rest up before a dinner on the town at Fired. Of course, we stop in at Carver’s for dessert and the free pint of Colorado Trail Nut Brown Ale that they give to all thru-hikers completing the entire trail.

As we raise our glasses for a final toast, it’s impossible not to think of all the many people who supported us along the way and all the many friends we met along the trail. We are keenly aware that we did not walk alone.

With huge gratitude in our hearts we wish to thank our personal trail angels: Bob and Ann (Denver), Margaret and Larry (Denver), Chris and Stephanie (back home in Chicago), and Rob and Amy (Durango). We also want to thank all the folks who gave us rides to and from trail towns and eased our burden, as well as the local business owners who made our stays so pleasant in the trail towns we stopped in. To all the intrepid thru-hikers who shared the trail and shared their stories with us, it was a sincere pleasure to hike with you. And to our readers who followed our journey online (hi, Mom!), thank you for taking some time out of your day to read about our adventures and offer supportive comments. It was truly motivating to know you were supporting us from afar!

And finally, to my favorite companion and best friend, Matt, with whom I am graced to share the trail of life, what’s next?! The point of the journey, after all, is not to arrive. Hope to see you all down the trail!

Day 41 Stats

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Starting Point: Trailside camp, mile 477.9
End Point: Junction Creek Trailhead, southern terminus of the CT, mile 485 (490)!
Mileage: 7.1
Segment: 28
Date on Trail: August 10, 2018

34 thoughts on “Colorado Trail, Day 41: We Did It!

    1. Thank you so much for following along, Jennifer! It looks like you are quite the hiking photographer yourself! When we finally make it to the Shenandoah’s we will have to hit you up for your favorite trails and waterfalls. Cheers!

      1. When we left the Chicago burbs in the 90’s and moved to Colorado, we never looked back. We loved living in Colorado and if our kids hadn’t move to Arizona, we’d still be living somewhere in Colorado. That scenery never gets old, as I’m sure you’re well aware of 😊

  1. Wow! It’s been great fun to follow you every day. Terrific blog and terrific photos – definitely wonderful material for RNPS program – soon I hope.

    1. Thanks so much, Jamie! We are giving a program in October to the camera club that meets at the Morton Arboretum about hiking the Classic Hikes of the World. The program is still a work in progress at this point, but the Colorado Trail will definitely be featured in it. We hope we can give it at RNPS sometime in the future.

  2. Thank you both for documenting your CT hike in such well written and beautifully photographed posts! I now am even more determined to do the CT myself in the future.

    1. Thanks, Steve! If you have any desire to do the CT at all, make it happen. We promise you won’t regret it! And please feel free to shoot us any questions that you might have once you start planning your own thru-hike. We love talking travel and hiking! 🙂

    1. Thank you so very much for following along and commenting on our posts.

      The Colorado Trail is touted as being the most beautiful “long trail” in the world. That’s a pretty bold claim, but we hope we were able to provide some proof that it at least deserves to be in the running. Cheers! 🙂

      1. There is no doubt this is a wonderful trail. Your story-telling of the various mountainous areas and unique towns has been a real pleasure to view and read…I hoped each morning to see a new post. EXCELLENT blog, wonderful appreciation of the beauty of the trail, and joyous celebration of the natural world. I cannot wait to see your next walk. My wife and I are just wrapping up a trip to the Collegiate Peak and RNP areas…not trail walking like you but day trips into this beautiful area…your posts are an inspiration.

      2. That sounds fun! We hope that you enjoyed your time in both spots–they are some of the most beautiful of a state blessed with natural beauty! We can’t thank you enough for your kind words. We have only been back in Chicago for a few weeks now, but we are already itching to hit the trail again. We hope to have more for you soon. Happy trails!

  3. I have so enjoyed reading through your trip logs over the last few days. I am a teacher in Texas who also enjoys taking long summer trips, and I found your blog while searching for more information about the Colorado trail which I hope to do next. I hope your school years are off to great starts!

    1. Hi Andy! Thank you so much for your kind words. We hope that you get to do the Colorado Trail next summer. It is an incredible trail, but we should warn you that it might be hard to go back to school in the fall. We have been in a period of mourning since we have been back home, and all we want to do is get back out on the trail. Do you do a lot of backpacking? What have been some of your favorite summer adventures?

      1. I really do enjoy backpacking and camping at any point in the school year! Living in Texas, Oct-May is prime camping weather: Big Bend is amazing, the Hill Country has very good hiking, and the East Texas piney woods are also enjoyable. Last summer I did Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park in California. This summer I camped with my wife all over SW Colorado – mostly near Durango and Ouray – which is where I heard about the CT in the first place!

      2. We are jealous that you can camp and hike year-round! We went to Big Bend a few years ago for Spring Break and loved it. We hope to get back soon. Let us know if you have any questions when planning your CT hike!

  4. You guys fit so much in on your Big Bend trip!! We are going to Big Bend in April of 2019 and would love a copy of your Itinerary to bounce off of!! 🙂 Beautiful pics, I hope that we are in luck with the flowers blooming as well. Thanks for sharing!! 🙂

    1. Hi, Kelly! We loved Big Bend, but it is super far from Chicago. We almost spent as much time driving to get there as we did in the park, so we were definitely going to make the most of it. We had four full days and a few hours of daylight on Day 1 in the park. Here is a (very) rough itinerary:
      Day 1: arrived in late afternoon, Cottonwoods Campground, Mule Ears Viewpoint
      Day 2: Desert Mountain Overlook, Santa Elena Canyon hike, Cattail Falls Hike, camping at Rio Grande Village, Rio Grande Nature Trail
      Day 3: Lost Mine Trail, Chisos Basin Campground
      Day 4: Grapevine Hills hike at sunrise, start backpacking Chisos Basin Loop (3.5 miles into site TM1 near Emory Peak)
      Day 5: finish backpacking Chisos Basin Loop, backcountry car camping, Dagger Flats Auto Tour
      Day 6: early rise to drive out of the park
      And, of course, we squeezed in the birding whenever we could! Big Bend is a wonderful park, and I am sure that we will make our way back there some day. You will love it. Let us know if you have any more questions!

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