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