I’m still thinking about the trail throughout the day. When I asked my friend Sparkle, who completed the trail with her dog Jude in 2014 and was my original inspiration to walk the Colorado Trail, when this would stop, she just laughed.
“I still think of it pretty much every day,” she said.
I’ve bought some books about other long trails, the Appalachian, Continental Divide and Pacific Crest trails, specifically, and I hope to at least be able to do some sections next year. Maybe part of the AT in spring, then do all the CDT in Colorado that I haven’t done yet. We’ll see.
In the meantime, some thoughts:
New gear is great. But I was bemused to learn that sometimes old standbys remained my best bet, especially my 25-year-old North Face base layer shirt, which has held up better than any new base layer I’ve bought since, and my trusty 10-year-old lightweight Columbia pants with zip-off legs. (Of course, someone at North Face must have figured out years ago that they make less money when they make highly durable goods, so none of the shirts I’ve bought in the intervening years lasted more than a couple of years, max. Bummer.)
Essential “non-essential” gear. I had a snotty attitude about certain pieces of gear before setting out, particularly trekking poles, which I was pretty sure I’d only ever seen being used by suburban hausfraus out for a three-mile day hike wearing too much perfume. But on Sparkle’s insistence, I borrowed a pair of Leki poles (from a former suburban hausfrau, as it turns out: me mum, though thankfully she’s not a perfumer) and I would never, ever thru-hike without them again.
Poles allowed me to use my upper body to a small degree when climbing and eased the impact of going downhill and stepping off rocks. I was also pretty sure that I’d toss my battered 12-year-old Mountain Hardwear rock gaiters — extra weight, you know — but I consider gaiters indispensable on the trail. Every time I saw a hiker parked by the side of the trail unlacing his or her shoes to dump out a rock or stick, I was grateful.
Durango was depressing because all the sudden I was dumped off the trail into this city with no obvious gathering place for hikers (like, say, the Raven’s Rest in Lake City). I didn’t know about the tradition of a free beer at Carver Brewing Co., but even that wouldn’t have lasted long enough for me.
Shortly before going on the trail, I read David Gessner’s excellent book, All the Wild That Remains, a mashup of bios about Edward Abbey and Wallace Stegner and Gessner’s own thoughts about the natural world of the West (read my review here). I love this advice from the book: “Walk alone in the desert for ten days or go live on a barrier island for a while or even camp in the backcountry with bears. Not because you are going to film it or make a YouTube video about it but because of the experience itself.” When my iPhone drowned in a deluge on Segment 21, I actually became even more in tune with the trail. In addition, while part of me desperately wishes it could simply push “play” and run the whole adventure like a movie in my mind, I think much of the poetry of the experience is that it is ephemeral. The trail is a lesson in non-attachment, before, during, and after.
Some product endorsements:
I will say again that wearing Hoka One One shoes on the trail was perfect for me. I foolishly started with a pair that already had 400+ miles on them, but switched them out at Breckenridge. Early generations of these shoes fell apart way too quickly, but after nearly 400 miles from Breck-Durango, mine had suffered some minor external tearing on the uppers, and that’s it. Padding … ahhhhhh…..
While buying the new pair of Hokas at Vertical Runner in Breck, the young woman who helped me recommended Swiftwick socks. I’ve always thought socks are pretty much socks, though some wear out faster than others. I’m here to say that Swiftwick socks are amazing. They are durable, lightweight, and they wick better than any socks I’ve ever run or hiked in.
Also a shout out to my REI Quarter Dome 1 tent and my Therma-Rest Z-Lite pad, which rescued me from the hideous disaster of the Klymit Static V pad I dumped in Breck. Hated that thing.
Product endorsements over. I did not receive any compensation for these plugs.
Almost everyone I met on the trail was happy to be there, even knowing that adversity and discomfort was part of the experience. I learned not to dwell on what was going wrong (blisters, weird swelling, rain, didn’t pack enough food, etc.) but also to allow myself to feel cranky, knowing it would all pass. I never met “Carl,” the gloomy Eeyore guy on the CT 2015 Thru-hike Facebook page, but damn, why bother hiking if all you can do is complain? And then there was the man I thought of as “Gun Guy,” who burst onto the FB
page to let everybody know not to be afraid of the pistol he would be packin’. I didn’t meet him, but I met others who did, and basically, he did the same thing on the trail, barging into camp waving his gun around (although now he was claiming that “my wife made me bring it along, for bears” — maybe he got the hint that nobody was impressed?) To me, if you start down the trail in an attitude of fear, you probably aren’t going to have much fun.I loved being out of touch, not knowing what was going on in the world. And I learned that I really am a loner — except when I’m not. I loved meeting hikers in town, and threemonths later, I feel bereft of that community. I also quite literally find myself skipping showers for a couple of days in a feeble effort to recreate something, anything, from the trail. But itchy scalps and blackened fingernails don’t do the trick.
I miss it. But that, too, is part of the experience.