Day 68: June 30, 2019
Destination: Steamboat, then north, then Steamboat
Today’s Miles: 17.2
Start Location: Stealth Camp off Route 40
Trip Miles: 1120.3
I woke up to light rain tap tapping on the outside of my tent. It woke me up fast because I didn’t close my vestibule last night.
In my state of half-sleep, I lurched up wondering if rain had been coming in for hours. Nope - it was just a few drops. After 10 minutes, the rain stopped and I could hear the sound of birds. The ants were already out and about, executing orders from their genetically coded synapses. These ants looked particularly purposeful and militaristic, donning uniforms of red for their heads and black for their bodies - the Queen’s finest.
It had been warm last night, and was this morning. I could see a few mosquitos outside, so rather than climb all of the way out, I did what I often do on my hobo mornings and knelt in the doorway of my tent to pee outside. Yeah, I do that a lot.
I didn’t eat breakfast. I was really low on water with just two swigs left and had been rationing since last night. I needed those swigs to last me the 7+ miles to my chosen breakfast spot, The Egg and I. One of the benefits of camping on roads close to town is having cell phone signal to research where I want to eat! Hungry Cat priorities....
I packed up my gear and put on a light layer of my favorite not-proven-to-be-carcinogenic (as far as I can find) woodland man fragrance: 100% deet. It was time to walk.
Traffic was still kind of busy even though it was morning, but it carried more of the pleasant, and quiet, pauses in between. I was excited for a reason other than just making it to Steamboat and getting breakfast. I had been talking with my wife about taking a break from the trail to see her and make a trip to the beach with her and her family. I figured I could swing it given the road walking had saved me a lot of time getting through Colorado. My plan was to get rehydrated, eat some food, make plans to get off trail for a week or two, resupply and hike out of Steamboat towards Wyoming. Encampment is the first trail(ish) town in Wyoming and I have a box of food waiting there.
I hiked on, doing my usual scan for loose dogs as I walked by a few sparsely scattered houses. I put some headphones in to help pass the time, and listened to the soundtrack from the latest remake of A Star is Born - the one with GaGa and Cooper, or Brad, as I like to call him. Maybe I should call him The Brad, a name befitting of a man crush. Matt Damon might get jealous, as he is my original man crush. You want to chill at the lake for a weekend with Matt Damon, maybe knock back a few root beers and throw around script ideas. With The Brad, you want to find yourself trekking through the Peruvian Andes having just escaped an almost certain cannibalistic death from an undiscovered tribe in the Amazon... Anyway, I listened to this soundtrack.
There is a song on the album called “Maybe It’s Time” that I really like. It goes “Maybe it’s time to let the old ways die, maybe it’s time to let the old ways die. It takes a lot to change a man, hell it takes a lot to try, maybe it’s time to let the old ways die.” There are a lot of great lyrics in that song, and The Brad does a good job singing it. It stuck in my head this morning. Google it and you can hear it.
Town opened up into a four-lane mega road with a turn lane in the middle. The sidewalk appeared and disappeared, but there was a bike lane to walk in. I made it to The Egg and I, and to my glee it was right next to a Safeway grocery and an outfitter. I had a wonderful breakfast burrito, and knuckled down on my trail break planning. I did the math and knew I could make it to Rawlins, WY by the 7th. Rawlins is on the trail and has a Greyhound stop, so there is easy access to Denver. I conferred with my wife and booked my tickets. I would bus to Denver on the 8th to fly back to Atlanta, and then return on the 24th - sweet! I was really excited about this. Truth be told, I’d been having a lot of trouble getting my head straight about the hike lately. I was struggling with all of the road walking, and the fact that I was missing a lot of the trail in Colorado as a result. Because of the weather, hikers had scattered and I was feeling pretty isolated from others. I didn’t want to hike the stuff that felt stressful and dangerous to me because of the snow, and I was tired of post holing. As tough as the snow was, road walking had also been getting to my morale. I can find silver linings in just about anything, and I was still getting some nice views from the road, but man, the constant whirl of 18 wheelers zooming by, and having people come uncomfortably close with reckless driving (passing another car right beside me) was really getting to me. A break at home would help me get re-energized, and I could put Colorado behind me before going and return to a clean, Wyoming slate. The thought of seeing my wife and kitty, Lucy the Cat, made me happy.
All of those arrangements done and dusted, I ran over to Safeway to resupply for three days, and then over to the outfitter to grab a gas canister. They had the small ones, which was awesome! I made sure to hike out with five liters of water. It was 80+ degrees out and the sun was beating down on my baseball cap, Mike D style (if you don’t get that reference it’s ok). I walked into town (I was on the southern outskirts), and then stopped at the northern outskirts to get a Gatorade to chug. I ate a Zero bar while I drank the Gatorade. I wanted to make sure I didn’t get dehydrated.
I walked out up highway 129, headed north. A thunderstorm started up behind me. The lightning was pretty far back, but the rain started and continued for about 20 minutes. After that, for the first time, Colorado was kind of hot and humid. It reminded me a little of home.
I walked on along a painfully narrow and sloped shoulder. I had roughly 33 miles on this road until I made it to the forest road. I didn’t mind the rain, or the humidity and mosquitos when it stopped. I was struggling though. I could feel it like a giant weight on my back. It wasn’t my pack, and I had been carrying it for a while. I trudged on.
I walked on and passed some red wing blackbirds. “Blackbird singing in the dead of night, take these broken eyes and learn to fly, take these sunken eyes and learn to see....” as the old Beatles song goes. Then I passed a camel. Yes, an actual camel. It was standing in someone’s farm near their driveway chewing grass and staring at me, moving it’s jaw from side to side. What?! I felt like I was hallucinating, so I took a picture. I trudged on.
I say trudged because that’s what I was doing. I wasn’t feeling it, and the usual tricks of the trade (looking at scenery, listening to podcasts/music, running through the mental gratitude list, singing, eating) weren’t helping. I saw two people emerge from the bushes on the other side of the road. Now I was sure I was hallucinating. I really needed to drink more water! They had little backpacks on and were hiking rapidly along the road. I walked along and watched them, almost like they were weird invaders. I reminded myself of Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in that movie The Beach, when he is told that he must stay on this cliff away from their island hideaway home and watch some tourists to try and steal back a secret map to the island that he gave them. He goes kind of nuts and starts running around in the dark spying on them and them and some local drug lords. I felt a little like that, and crossed the road to follow these two, namely because they seemed to be walking some kind of path and I was slipping on mushy shoulder. Sure enough, there was a path. It was like I had a little trail to walk on. Was I imagining this because I had been on the road so long?
I looked up and the two hikers had disappeared. What?! I questioned my own sanity at this point, but I marched on. I crossed a creek on a bridge that was definitely a part of this “path.” So this was real! I kept walking and saw a trail sign: “Mad Creek Trailhead.” Hahahaha! Mad Creek! This was like some kind of sick dream. I saw the trailhead parking lot and pulled off.
I wasn’t feeling good. The weather had cleared up and I was on my way to finishing the second state in this journey - just 2.5 days from Wyoming! I couldn’t shake this feeling though - I didn’t want to be there. I was always told never to quit on a bad day. Trudging through snow and post holing - not a good time to quit. Other than road walking, which is pretty easy walking, nothing was wrong. At the same time, everything felt wrong. Mentally I had arrived at a new hiking low. I walked into the parking lot and used the restroom. I took off my pack and sat down. A lady lead a horse behind me along the trail into the parking lot, such that it scared me as it walked from behind me within a foot of my body. I wondered if she was leading it to water.... I hear that requires a certain level of prescriptiveness.
This all may seem sudden to you. I have tried all of the little tricks of the trade to deal with these feelings, but part of it too was a lack of acceptance on my part. The reality was staring me starkly in the face, and it was this: I didn’t like how much trail I had circumvented in Colorado due to the snow, and I wasn’t really having fun anymore. I didn’t want to accept this. Why??? Because I was on “an adventure of a lifetime.” Because I had a goal, and I always make my goals. Because I was going to be a triple crowner. Because “other people were counting on me.” Because other people were making sacrifices for me to be here. Because you’re reading my journal. Because I’m not supposed to begin sentences with “because.” It was time to “phone a friend.” I had no signal. I texted my wife and we used the Garmin to communicate back and forth for a bit. I told her I was on the verge of hitching a ride back to town. I told her my feelings about my hike, and how I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue, even with all of the cool stuff coming up - the Winds, Glacier. Sure, I wanted a thru-hike, but is that alone a reason to take months away from home if I’m not really enjoying myself? Just to say I thru-hiked? When I hiked the Appalachian Trail, I had lots of tough days. I never once thought about quitting though. Lately I had been thinking about it every day. All of this came crashing down on me in the parking lot of Mad Creek Trailhead. I felt awful, and confused. Even worse, when I thought about going home, I felt relieved. That was the worst.
“Maybe it’s time to let the old ways die, maybe it’s time to let the old ways die. It takes a lot to change your plans, hell, a train to change your mind. Maybe it’s time to let the old ways die.”
I’m a fairly goal-oriented person. Usually, when I decide to do something, I go balls to the wall to get it done. I do this in business, I do this in my personal life. This a a great attribute sometimes, and others a great detriment. My stubbornness often pushes me to places I didn’t intend to go, and I felt that happening here. What point is there to a thru-hike if, for whatever reason, I am not enjoying the journey anymore? I’d slogged through enough good days to know what I needed to do. I needed to let it go. Hell, this is why people section hike! Why I had so much trouble accepting this, I don’t know. To answer that would be to answer the question, why am I who I am? I did the only thing I could do at that point - I tried to accept my feelings as valid, and bummed a ride back to town. It was time to let my old ways die. No more pushing just to push. I have proven to myself that I can do that when I need to. I don’t need to here. Now it’s time to prove to myself that I’m smarter than my stubbornness. In that moment, my old ways died a sad, raspy death at Mad Creek Trailhead.
I felt kind of bad. I was stinky and gross and I approached a couple in the parking lot. I was too ashamed at the time to tell the truth, so I lied and told them I hiked out and my foot hurt, and asked if I could have a ride back to town. They looked at me like anyone would at first: “is this guy a deranged highway murderer?” I had lots of cool gear like an ice axe, so they quickly discerned that I was legit. Note to self: if I ever turn into a maniac, cool, relevant gear is a good disguise!
I felt bad about lying to them, but I wasn’t strong enough to tell the truth. My white lie got me a ride back to town, and some awkward conversation about the trail (e.g. how long will it take you to finish?...). I booked a room (actually found a decently cheap one last minute on Priceline) and walked with my head hung low, talking with my wife now that I had a signal. The relief I felt in knowing I would be going home was enough to tell me I was making the right choice. It didn’t mean I wasn’t feeling deflated though. When you let the old ways die, they don’t just go quickly. It takes some time. Also, on the way to the hotel, the ominous skies in front of me revealed a rare double rainbow. This gave me comfort as a sign from the universe that all was ok.
I got to the hotel and there was calamity in getting checked in because the system was down. The guy on duty was a character straight out of The Office - it was pretty awesome observing his awkward quirkiness in dealing with the situation. When I finally got into a room, I took care of canceling and booking tickets.
I thought about the Coldplay song “Fix You.” “When you try your best and you don’t succeed, when you get what you want but not what you need....” Maybe I was actually getting just what I needed. Maybe I needed to be broken like this so that I could put some of my stubbornness to rest. Maybe this would help bring my seemingly restless soul some peace. Time would tell, and time would heal.
I watched YouTube videos late into the night. Specifically, I caught up on a guy I’ve been following on the AT - Frozen. I’ve been enjoying watching his journey, and I reminisce fondly about my AT thru-hike when I do. And then I fell fast asleep.
In the morning I woke up and prepared to go. I walked to have breakfast again at The Egg and I, and then I walked to the Greyhound station. A bus would have me to Denver in 4 hours, and a redeye would have me back home by morning. Just like that, it was coming to an end. Truth be told, I have no regrets. I will have to mourn a little as part of acceptance and letting go, but I know I’m making the right call. I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity and support I have received, and for the trail I have walked to get where I am. I’ll never look back on that with regret, and I had some great times and great views along the way. At some point on this hike I had the realization that I am ready for the next chapter in terms of work, whatever that may bring. I didn’t really get there on the AT - it took the CDT to get me the rest of the way. I’m grateful for that too.
Trails are funny. More often than not, they don’t lead where I expect them to. They have their own course and their own timeline. I learned a lot about acceptance and adaptation in this hike, and I hope I can be strong enough to remember those lessons when I need them. To those of you who are considering hiking the CDT, I highly encourage you to do so! You’ll find some of the rawest beauty you can imagine, and be tested in ways you least expect. It’s a real and wild journey for sure!
I put on my pack one last time today as part of this journey. It was organized differently in preparation for checking it on the flight home. I don’t think the TSA would like me parading around with my ice axe. It felt funny wearing it, walking to the bus station in Steamboat. Part of getting through a thru-hike are the little routines - the way you set up camp, the way you pack your pack. It was weird to walk with my poles inside and things and nothing in the mesh back. Time to get used to something new.