CDT part 10–The Great Divide Basin and my first 50-mile day

After the Wind River Range, the Continental Divide splits in two. And, the CDT route goes through the Great Divide Basin, the basin that sits in between the two Continental Divides in this part of Wyoming. Any water that happens to fall in this area has nowhere to flow. But since it’s surrounded by mountains, not very much rain falls in the Great Divide Basin. 

At least I had some precipitation before the Basin

So it’s hot and dry now, a welcome change from cold and snowy. I catch a ride from Lander back to the CDT in a pickup truck bed. It looks like the walking will be easy. The CDT is mostly dirt roads through the Basin. 

And it’s flat. Like, really flat. 

This is going to be really different than walking in the Winds.

I have a realization at that moment. One of the first nights on the CDT, I managed to lose this little piece of rubber that makes my pillow’s inflation valve a one-way valve. I’ve been using the pillow still, but I currently have to pull my tongue off the hole and close the valve really fast before too much air escapes. It’s not a perfect system. 

Several weeks ago I spoke with someone from Sea to Summit, the company that makes my pillow. They mailed a new one of those rubber pieces to me, no questions asked. I had them mail it to Rawlins, Wyoming. Rawlins is 120 miles from where I stand right now. My pillow will be much easier to inflate after this stretch. 

However, I had them mail it to Rawlins. And now it’s Wednesday, at 4 p.m, and I’m 120 miles from Rawlins. The post office is closed on Sunday. And when does it close on Saturday? I look it up. 

The post office in Rawlins closes at noon on Saturdays. 

So I can either go slowly through the Basin, get to Rawlins Sunday at some point, spend the night in town, and hit the post office on my way out the next day.

Or I can try to make it to Rawlins before the post office closes on Saturday. I make some quick calculations: 

20 miles today

+40 miles tomorrow

+40 miles Friday

+20 miles Saturday (before noon)

Equals 120 miles. 

So it’s possible. I’ll just see how things go I guess. 

The miles fly by. Next thing I know I’ve hiked over 15 miles and the sun is setting. I’m at the first water source, too. It’s a real creek, too, not just a cattle tank. I set up my tent in the middle of an open field–the best option other than sleeping in a small area under a bridge. 

I wake up at 11 pm to the sounds of intense wind. Sheepgoat, who set up his tent near mine, is outside reinserting tent stakes into the ground. I get out, find some rocks to place on my tent stakes, and go back into my tent. I hear Sheepgoat taking his tent down. 

“This wind is gonna destroy my tent!” he screams, “I’m going under the bridge.”

“Alright!” I respond, thinking maybe I should do the same. 

I get out of my tent and inspect the bridge. In the dark, it doesn’t look like I want to squeeze under there. Sheepgoat has taken the only other “good spot”–William had already selected a nice flat spot under that bridge. I look underneath. I feel claustrophobic just thinking about climbing in there. I’ll stick to my tent and the loud wind flapping any loose fabric. 

I fall asleep with an earbud playing a podcast in my ear. Occasionally I wake up throughout the night when an especially strong gust of wind knocks into my tent, but I get through the night without incident. And, I sleep surprisingly well. 

At sunrise I’m up. I still have hopes of making it to Rawlins before noon on Saturday. That’s only 57 hours from now and I have about 100 miles to go. 

The walking is still easy, mostly. I occasionally lose the faintly worn footpath and have to walk cross country to find the narrow tread again, though. I’m listening to a pretty good audiobook and I zone out. Next thing I know it’s 2 pm and I’ve made it to a water cache, where I had planned to stop for lunch and assess how far I’d go that day. 

William was there already. I ask him how far we’ve gone today, and I’m shocked at his response.

“We’ve gone 26 miles already,” he says.

“Holy shit this is fast walking out here.” I respond. “I can totally make it to Rawlins by noon!”

“…yeah, maybe. How much farther are you gonna go today?” he asks.

“I don’t know…”

“…50 miles!” I exclaim. 

I hadn’t really thought about how far I’d go today. But if I’ve already hiked halfway to 50, I might as well try. If I hike that much today, then tomorrow will be easier, and Saturday I’ll have an easy day getting into Rawlins before noon. 

I eat lunch and start walking again. 

The audiobook gets good. It’s a speculative fiction sci-fi story written by a leftist podcaster, Robert Evans. I love speculative fiction, especially if it’s written by a leftist. I get lost in the story. Now I’m getting to a cattle pond, the next water source. I’ve hiked 12 miles since the water cache. It’s evening. 

William catches up. Neither of us wants to drink this water. But, it’s another 10 miles to the next water source, a spring. I pre-filter the water by pouring it through a bandana, then filter it again with my actual water filter to purify it. After all that, the water is still a cloudy greenish-brown color. I add drink mix to it. I squirt some caffeinated drink mix in it, too. I don’t want to drink any more of this water than I have to, which means I’ll be hiking at least another 10 miles today. 

If I don’t make it I’ll be pretty thirsty tonight, but I won’t die. I’ll make it. 

I say goodbye to William and Sheepgoat. They’re going to camp somewhere nearby. I won’t see them again until Rawlins. Actually, I’ll never see Sheepgoat again, now that I think of it. 

I’m drinking that cloudy water, walking down a dirt road, and need a break from the audiobook. I see that I have cell service and call my mom. She answers. I tell her I’m on my way to hike my first 50 mile day so that I can make it to the post office by noon on Saturday. She says, “that’s crazy.” 

Yeah, it’s a little crazy I guess. All this for a piece of rubber. But it’s not just a piece of rubber. It’s making an otherwise boring section a little more interesting with a physical challenge. 

Now it’s dark and I’m hiking with a headlamp. I’m not done with the audiobook but feel a little sketched out by the darkness, so I’m going without entertainment in my ears. And really, the sounds of the desert are enough entertainment at this point. 

I make it to the spring. By this point I’ve hiked 48 miles, holy shit. But it’s not a spring. Well, it is, probably, but after a lot of bushwacking to find the source I settle on a deep pool of clear water to collect from. 

It’s very dark by now. I eat my dinner of instant mashed potatoes and a packet of tuna next to that pool of water. I fill up my 2.5 liters of water capacity and hike into the night. I’ll hike another 2 or so miles and find a place to camp. 

It starts to get really weird at around 11 pm. There are a set of green reflective eyes that seem to be following me. Every time I look over my left shoulder they’re right there, looking back at me. I wonder if whoever owns those eyes has better night vision than I do. I bet they do. 

Now there are more lights ahead. And, I think they’re moving towards me. I squint. They’re definitely moving toward me. Wait, are they?

Yes, now they’re getting closer. And the green eyes, they’re still there too. I look back at the lights ahead of me. Is that a road and a streetlight? Or is that a light on a house? There can’t be someone out here now, walking in the dark. 

But that light still is moving in my direction. Now it’s really close. But the green eyes over my shoulder have disappeared. Okay, that’s good. 

What is that light moving toward me?!

I gotta get in my tent. 

I start to examine the ground near the path I’m following more closely. I can’t camp here though, the ground is really lumpy with sagebrush everywhere. And those green eyes. I gotta put some distance between me and whoever was interested in me!

Another mile goes by. The lights up ahead have stopped moving toward me. They probably never actually were. The ground gets flat along the dirt road. I’m in a wash. If there’s a flood I’d get really wet if I camp here. 

But, the sky is clear. There are stars everywhere. And, the moon is coming out. It’s almost bright enough that I don’t have to use my headlamp to set up my tent. It’s not going to rain.

In 5 minutes I’m sitting in my tent, stretching and eating peanut M&Ms. I have successfully hiked 50 miles in a single day. I’ll make it to Rawlins by noon on Saturday. Then, I’ll be close to the Colorado Border. My next town stop after Rawlins will be Steamboat Springs. 

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. And I’m too tired to think about that right now. 

The next morning I’m sore, but not that sore. I guess I really am in good shape. 

The morning passes much like it did yesterday. I eat breakfast while walking. I drink coffee while walking. I just keep walking.

I get to a spring by late that morning and fill up my water bottles. I take a quick break, drink some water and eat a few spoonfuls of peanut butter. This water is surprisingly good. It’s coming right out of a pipe. I probably don’t have to filter it, but I will just in case. 

Pretty nice water for a desert basin!

I finish my audiobook. I’m sad that it’s over. Oh well, it was good. 

The day passes uneventfully. 

Most of the late morning and afternoon was spent on a 15 mile stretch of dirt road that went through nothing but sagebrush the entire time. The road was completely straight, too. Nothing changed for hours. It felt like I was in a sensory deprivation tank. 

Sensory deprivation hike

Eventually the point in the afternoon comes where the snacks I eat while walking don’t work anymore, so stop for lunch, and a nap. It’s very windy out here in this flat, open, basin. And since it’s so flat and open, there’s nowhere to get out the wind.

I find a clump of sagebrush that’s slightly taller with a small clearing on the leeward side. I plop down, take off my shoes and socks, and shovel chips into my mouth. Then, I eat several large chunks of summer sausage.

It’s time for a nap.

I lay down, bare feet propped up on my backpack, surrounded by sagebrush, partially shaded from the hot sun. 

This is nice. 

By the end of the day I’ve hiked 40 miles. I stop hiking for the day a little after dark, after another stunning sunset. 

Only 15 miles till Rawlins. 

I wake up early. It’s surprisingly very cold. Oh well, I have to make it to the post office now. Now that I’ve hiked so much in the past two day I’m not going to sleep in just because it’s cold now

I’m walking by sunrise, gloves, fleece, beanie, and rain pants on. It’s still cold with all my active layers on. I should’ve worn my puffy jacket, too. I should get warmer gloves for Colorado. 

But I’m not there yet. 

Yet. 

Soon though. Very soon.  

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