Okay, I started my thru-hike around 9 in the morning, after Josh and I ate breakfast burritos at the Waterton Canyon trailhead. Josh is the friend who was nice enough to give me a ride to where the CT begins, in Littleton, a 30 minute drive from north Denver, where we live. After we ate the burritos he hiked up with me for a couple miles before turning around; he had stuff to do that day, all I had to do was walk.
I said goodbye to Josh and thanked him again for the ride.
“I’ve given many friends who haven’t come back rides out of town,” he said with a smile.
Just me now. I hike to Lenny’s Rest and stopped for my first break. Eight miles from the trailhead, the spot I often bike to from my house. Lenny’s Rest is a great lunch spot, to take a break before turning around to go home. I have a lot of food on me, enough to go 104 miles to Breckenridge. I sit down for a minute, eat a granola bar, drink some water, and go on.
I had some expired Hammer EFS gel mixed with water on the way up the canyon. It tasted like sugary mucus, so I opted to mix it with water rather than consume it straight out of the bottle. It had lived past its sell by date so I got for free from the bike shop. I don’t buy things like this.
I don’t know if it’s not sitting well with me or if I’m just excited about the prospect of thru-hiking the Colorado Trail, but I definitely had to stop at a couple of the toilets on the way up. Good thing those toilets are there for all the nervous CT hikers’ sake! I haven’t finished the whole EFS bottle yet, and I think I’ll save the rest for tomorrow.
I drop down from Lenny’s Rest into the trees. From here it is about 8 miles to the Platte River, the next reliable water after Waterton Canyon. I took two liters of water with me from the canyon, that should be enough as long as I don’t stop for lunch until I get to the Platte River. I’m excited to have my first lunch on the CT, I wonder how I’ll be feeling by that point, because right now I feel awesome.
My thoughts wander to nowhere in particular and I walk, knowing the beautiful Platte River awaits, where I can splash water on my face and relax in the shade. It’s hot today, probably close to 90 degrees. It’s a good thing I’m very comfortable in hot temperatures, because I’m getting close to the Platte, and after that is the infamous segment 2 of the Colorado Trail, known for being hot, dry, and exposed.
Segment 2 of the Colorado Trail starts at mile 16, my lunch spot. After I eat this salami and chips I will enter the Hayman Burn area, where 138,000 acres burned just southwest of Denver in 2002. CT thru-hikers seem to get psyched up about segment 2 for some reason, maybe it’s because it’s an 11 mile dry stretch that is almost always hot and is always exposed now that all the trees are gone. A common strategy for tackling segment 2 is to camp at the river and hike the dry stretch in the cool morning. But apparently I’m uncommon. It’s 2 o’clock and I’m finished with my lunch. I may have eaten a few too many chips and my stomach feels a little crazy, but it’s time to start hiking segment 2.
How I love this area. Coming up is an old quartz mine, really just a 10 foot hole with a bunch of quartzy rocks in it, but still really cool. I’ve hiked to this quartz mine several times for day hikes or bike rides. When I was bikepacking the Colorado Trail I met this guy who had driven to this area from Central Nebraska. He was looking for crystals. I bet he found a bunch because this area feels magical.
Burn areas are so cool, how they grow back starting with little plants, and give you epic views of a landscape previously covered in trees. There was this moment when the sun was cutting through some afternoon clouds that had been making the 10 mile exposed and completely dry stretch quite nice. I had in my mental viewfinder the silhouettes of a copse of dead trees with rays of light from the sun shooting down on them through the clouds.
I stood and stared for a while until the moment passed. I think I’m getting close to the fire station, where I can fill up on water.
I got to the fire station, not particularly parched but still glad to see evidence of cold, clean water. This is the only water source for close to 20 miles, so I filled up all my water bottles from their spigot. I stayed there for a bit, drinking water and investigating a cooler left out. The cooler was empty. I hiked on into the evening, through the Buffalo Creek section of the Colorado Trail.
It’s Deja Vu all over today, but this time it’s in slow motion. My friend Scot and I just biked the first three segments of the Colorado Trail last week on a 5 day bikepacking trip. I thought I would be able to make it to where we camped the first night of our bike trip, but by 7:15 I realized that I had drank too much afternoon coffee when I had that thought, and 30 miles was going to be enough walking for the day.
Now I’m eating peanut M&M’s but I lost count. I think I’m at 20 something. I have 10 ounces of the delicious chocolate and peanut treat that will be my dessert for the next 4 days until I make it the 106 miles to Breckenridge, my first resupply town. Each serving is 12 pieces, 220 calories. I get to eat about 2 ½ servings per day, a 500 calorie dessert every night. I started carrying M&M’s on the Pacific Crest Trail last year so that I would have chocolate that doesn’t turn into a melted mess brown goo in the heat, and I’m still not sick of these. I am very full from the rice and beans I had for dinner, but I also know if I don’t eat about 25 M&M’s I’ll wake up in the middle of the night hungry. I walked over 30 miles today with a heavy 4 ½ days worth of food, and I walked the last 5 miles with 4 liters of water–an extra 9 pounds.
Four liters of water is actually 8.8 pounds, since a liter weighs 2.2 pounds. While we’re counting, 2 pounds of food per day, plus the 9 pounds of backpacking gear that I carry. 26 pounds total, seems to be about the maximum amount of weight that I can carry (semi)comfortably on my back with the homemade ultralight backpack I use. No frame in this pack to transfer the weight to my hips, and no hipbelt, so all the weight is on my shoulders. But it’s light, and the size keeps me from carrying too much. I feel comfortable and fast.
The first time I backpacked the Colorado Trail I had a 70 liter backpack. Now I’m using a 30 liter pack. I haven’t gotten any smaller but I think I can walk farther.
Now, in 2020, I’m at an epic campsite on top of a mostly treeless ridge, nestled between some big rocks to block the wind, and darkness has come. I’m twice as far from the start as I was the first time around.
I stretch for 15 minutes in the dark. It’s so peaceful at the end of a long day when the sun has just passed below the horizon–the dark is fresh and you can still see since your eyes have been slowly adjusting to the diminishing light.
Downward dog stretches the calf muscles, into a hip flexor stretch, pigeon pose, then stretch the hamstrings, then the quads, stand up and get the hamstrings again, with a couple sun salutations, and my stretching routine is done. I chug a liter of electrolyte water. This is my nightly routine, refined over the years.
Coyotes are howling as I crawl into my tent. Time for sleep. And sleep I do.