Suddenly, you’re nowhere to be found I turn around and everything has changed Looking for a way to work it out I’m trying to find some peace to navigate
The oak tree where I met you And the writing on the statue I still remember every word you said I’m not a soldier but I’m fighting Can you hear me through the silence? I won’t give up ’cause there will be a day We’ll meet again
“We’ll Meet Again“ by TheFatRat & Laura Brehm
For those who don’t know, I started the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) at the Canadian border back in 2021 with the intent of hiking the entire trail. However, around the halfway point I decided to end the hike for several different reasons. There was a short period right after I got off trail when I questioned whether I would like to go back to finish at some point, but it wasn’t long until I started to have the desire to go back and finish. After that, each time I heard the song We’ll Meet Again by TheFatRat & Laura Brehm, it made me dream of getting back on the CDT to finish the trail at some point.
Late last year into early this year I really debated getting back on trail this year. I wasn’t very happy with my job, so I wouldn’t mind quitting that to finish up the CDT. However, I really wanted to get back into fine art printing, and I was in a pretty good spot to give that another try. In addition, I was considering pursuing a long distance relationship, and if that happened and eventually became serious, it would possibly provide a good opportunity to finish the CDT while I uprooted life to pursue that relationship. I eventually made the decision to pursue fine art printing and to try to start building some roots in northwest Arkansas (NWA), and see if life presented another opportunity down the road to try to finish the CDT.
Life presented that opportunity much faster than I was expecting. On the morning of April 20 we had a meeting at work and found out the studio we work in would be getting shut down on July 31 and all the employees would be getting laid off. I was probably the only person in the room who actually had some relief and excitement wash over me. I really wanted out of my job at this point, and this would be a great opportunity to try to finish the CDT. My ideal time for getting back on the CDT is early August, so the timing of the layoff would be perfect for that. I would be getting some severance out of it, which, combined with some PTO time I would get paid for, would help cover some expenses while on trail. After a falling out with a coworker, I nearly quit my job in early March, but my supervisor talked me out of it, and had she not, I would have missed this opportunity. Had I established a serious relationship through dating (locally) earlier this year, I would probably be much more hesitant to hop back on the CDT. It was pretty crazy thinking through all this in that moment.
However, there were some drawbacks to consider. By getting on trail in early August (about a month ahead of the typical CDT southbound thru hiking schedule), the hope would be to try to beat some of the colder weather through Colorado and northern New Mexico (I’m really not a fan of cold weather). This would also allow me some time to take it easy initially, which I would need. However, I would likely have to deal more with the monsoon season and thunderstorms, and thunderstorms are one of my biggest fears while backpacking. It would also put me ahead of most people hiking south on the trail for most of, if not the entire, hike. So it would be quite likely I didn’t end up with any sort of consistent hiking group or tramily. I was really looking forward to doing trail magic again this fall on the CDT/CT, but that wouldn’t be happening if I got back on the CDT. Getting back on the CDT would also not be ideal for my fine art printing. It’s not good for my printer to sit for an extended period of time. I just recently got into a gallery here in NWA. I have a couple opportunities this fall that I would have to change logistics for. I wasn’t a fan of stepping away from my art for 2-3 months just as I felt like I was getting some traction. And, of course, there was what happens after I finish, which is when the stress and anxiety of big life decisions and not having a job would likely really hit me.
With that said, though, I feel like I can deal with all the drawbacks/issues, and I probably won’t get a much better opportunity to try to finish the CDT, so I have booked my plane ticket to Denver and in early August “Lightning” (my trail name from my 2021 hike) and the CDT will meet again for a thru hike. I’ll be sharing more through blogs and social media as I get ready over the next couple months, so stay tuned if you want to follow along.
When I tell people I take pictures of fire hydrants, or they see my photographs of fire hydrants, I occasionally get asked how I got into that. After a comment from a friend recently, I had a realization that, while I have told many people my story behind getting into photographing fire hydrants, I have never posted this story anywhere. It’s time to fix that. Haha.
I have always been interested in fire fighting and fire trucks. The tiny town I lived in until I was 14 (Basin, WY) would sound a siren when there was a fire to alert the volunteer firefighters. I remember going outside when the siren would sound to see if I could get a glimpse of the fire trucks headed to the fire. Fire trucks were always the highlight of parades (along with the candy). At some point, probably around middle-school age, my parents got a scanner that I could listen to. My senior year of high school I had the opportunity to take an EMT-B course as one of my electives. As part of that course I got to hang out at the fire department and go on ride-alongs in the ambulance. I absolutely loved spending time at the fire department.
After graduating high school I considered going into fire fighting, but in the end I decided to pursue studying meteorology at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, OK. At some point during high school I ended up with a portable scanner and took this to college with me. During my freshman year of college I received my first camera as a Christmas gift. It wasn’t long before I found my passion for photography, and then found a fun way to merge photography and fire fighting: fire chasing. Think storm chasing, but with fires. Haha. If I had my scanner on and heard a call go out for a fire in Norman, and I was free and thought it would be a good fire to go to, I would hop in my car and drive to the fire in hopes of getting some photos of the firefighters fighting the fire.
While there were a few fires that allowed me to get some cool pictures, there were a lot of instances when I came away with nothing. On July 25, 2011 I drove out to a fire and by the time I got there the fire was already out. It was a bit of a drive to get to the fire, so I was looking around trying to figure out some sort of picture I could get to make the trip worthwhile. I got the picture below, thinking it was really cool having the hydrant in use with the fire engine in the background. While it seemed like just another picture at the time, some sort of switch flipped in my mind after that picture and I got the idea that fire hydrants might be a fun subject to photograph, and thus my interest in fire hydrant photography was born.
Lots of people do landscape photography, so I see fire hydrants as a way to provide something unique and set myself apart. I love going on fire hydrant road trips where I pick a few towns to go explore to see if I can find some cool fire hydrant pictures. It has taken me to places I probably never would have visited if it weren’t for the fire hydrant photography. Whenever I’m somewhere new I’m always on the lookout for some fire hydrants to photograph. Between differences in hydrants and their backgrounds, each hydrant is unique, although not every hydrant provides a photo I’m interested in, which makes the road trips kind of like a treasure hunt. I often wonder what is going through peoples’ minds when they see me out photographing fire hydrants. Haha.
Anyway, if you were curious about why I take pictures of fire hydrants, there you have it. If you happen to have any suggestions on fire hydrants I should photograph, I would love to hear from you, and I might very well give it a try if I’m in the area.
Before I get to the hike itself, let me give a little background on exactly how I ended up on this hike to begin with. At some point leading up to my 2021 CDT hike I came across Thru-r. Thru-r was created by a thru hiker (“Cheer”) who at that time had completed the PCT (she has since completed the CDT, and is hiking the AT this year) and wanted a way to extend the community found on trail into “normal life.” Leading up to my CDT hike, Thru-r was a great way to hear stories and advice from people who had completed thru hikes, and after my CDT hike it has been a great way to keep in touch with fellow thru hikers.
In late 2022, Cheer announced she was going to organize a group hike of the Trans-Catalina Trail (TCT) for Thru-r members. Normally my two backpacking trips for the year would be in the Rockies (one with my brother and one solo), and participating in the TCT hike would mean cutting my solo Rocky Mountain backpacking trip, but the TCT hike seemed like it would be a lot of fun, so I went ahead and signed up for it. And thus how I ended up on Catalina Island on Apr. 1 to hike the TCT with a group of 9 other people. It was my first hike in California, and my first time (excluding the CDT) backpacking with anybody other than my brother.
On the last night of the trip, we all sat around a campfire and one conversation we had was about our rose (highlight), thorn (worst moment/struggle), and bud (what we were looking forward to post-trip) from the trip. (Thanks Nomen for starting this convo!) As I have spent some time processing this trip, that feels like a good way to cover the trip in this post, so I’ll use that same format for this blog to talk about the hike.
Cacti: On two different occasions I ended up getting some cactus spines in me (first time in my leg and the second time in both feet).
Nose: The weather was a bit on the cool side during the trip (generally in the 50s the whole time), and my nose tends to run when I’m outside in those temperatures. This trip was no exception. I had a runny nose the majority of the time I was out there, and by the end of the trip my nose was raw from blowing it/wiping it so many times.
Budget: I knew going into the hike that I would likely end up quite a bit over budget for the trip (I underestimated what it would cost), so I tried to save some money where I could, which meant I skipped eating some restaurant meals along the trail. It was a bit depressing to be eating a trail meal knowing I could be eating a restaurant meal.
Personal time vs social time: As an introvert, being social takes a lot out of me. The bigger the group, the harder it is. This trip was no exception. I really wanted to connect with and get to know the people on the trip, and I really enjoyed hiking and having a conversation with one or two other people. But when the whole group got together, I typically didn’t contribute much to the conversation. It was a bit of a struggle for me to try and find the balance between being social and getting in some alone time. I was always a bit worried when I was seeking some alone time that it would come across the wrong way to the group.
CDT Decision: While I still say that getting off the CDT around the halfway mark was the right decision at the time, being around other thru hikers often makes me struggle with that decision. On the one had, during this trip, there was praise for people knowing when it’s time to call it quits and get off trail. However, on the other hand, there was conversation about not quitting on a bad day and needing mental toughness and grit to finish a thru hike. These sorts of conversations always get me to wondering whether I made the right call to get off trail or I just didn’t have the mental toughness and grit to keep going when it got tough.
Campgrounds: Every night of the trip we camped in campgrounds with potable water and bathrooms. It was so nice to not have to filter water, to not have to dig cat holes, and to have toilet paper available to blow my nose.
Blackjack the cat: On the second day of the trip we stopped for a little while at the airport on the island (which has a restaurant). I love cats, and as I was walking up to the patio, Blackjack (the resident cat) walked up and let me pet her. There were a couple other times while we were there I got to pet her as well. This was one of the places where I skipped a restaurant meal and had a trail meal instead, which was hard, but while it was depressing to miss out on a breakfast burrito, it was a big morale boost to get some kitty loves.
Weather: With how crazy the weather had been in California leading up to the trip, I was a bit worried about what the weather would be like during the trip. Outside of one really windy day and being a bit on the cool side when not hiking, the weather turned out fantastic and was great for taking pictures. All the rain before our trip had also greened up the vegetation and I’m sure contributed to the abundant wildflowers.
Scenery: Just about the entire trail was really scenic. There were very few stretches where there wasn’t some sort of awesome view. The vegetation was green and there were wildflowers everywhere, which I don’t think is typical. I felt like I was stopping to take pictures all the time (thankfully I had time for it). Where I typically go hiking, there is often some hiking to be done before getting to the really scenic parts, but this trail was very scenic from start to finish.
People: Without the people, this still would have been a cool hike, but the group I hiked with made it an even more memorable experience. Conversations while hiking, at camp, and around the campfire. Knowing what each other had been through on thru hikes. Jokes/conversations that only thru hikers will get. Struggling through difficult climbs together. Playing bocce ball and Apples to Apples. It was a very eclectic group of people, but an amazing group of humans who all had a love of hiking/backpacking that bonded us. It was a “tramily” (trail family) right from the start. It has always been a struggle for me to find friends and social groups where I feel like I belong and fit in, but, for the most part, I felt like I fit into this group right from the start.
Documentation: Having so many people along for the hike resulted in a lot of documentation through pictures and videos. Some people were taking more videos, some people focused on pictures of people and moments, and myself focused more on the artistic shots. We set up a google photo album after the trip was over, and it has been awesome looking through everyone’s pictures and videos, and being able to download those to keep as momentos from the trip.
Friendships: I’m pretty bummed I don’t live close to anybody who was on the hike, but I’m hopeful that friendships made during the trip will last and that I’ll be able to cross paths with some of them again, whether that be while hiking, doing trail magic, traveling through, etc. I’m awful at keeping in touch, but hopefully I can stay somewhat in touch with everybody going forward. This is one way that social media is helpful!
Local Thru Hikers: I found out that one of the hikers from the group (“Excel”) hiked with a couple people from Fayetteville on the PCT. I know of at least two other thru hikers in the local area, so I would like to see if I can get everybody together, and just maybe start a little NWA “tramily.”
Before I get to the exciting stuff, let me cover some brief history for those who aren’t aware. Back in 2019, when I was living in Oklahoma City, I started making fine art prints of my photography and tried selling these at art shows and gallery exhibitions. I really enjoyed it, but it didn’t go well at all as far as selling prints. It ended up being a big money sink. Thankfully I had a job at the time that could support that. COVID didn’t help, as that shut down most art shows for 2020. In late 2020 I made the decision to do a “life reset” (quit my job, sell my house, and hike the CDT) in 2021, and as part of that I gave up making fine art prints, with the goal to get back into it at some point.
Now to the exciting (and scary) part: I have reached that point! Over the last few weeks I have been working on getting an LLC set up again, getting the needed equipment and supplies, and getting prints made. While I’m really excited, it’s also a bit scary since it didn’t go well the first time. Also, the job I have now doesn’t pay near as well as my last job, so I don’t have the money to dump into it like I had before, unless I want to eat into savings. Although print sales didn’t go well during the first attempt, there were a lot of lessons learned and knowledge gained, which has been super helpful in getting going this time, and which I’m using to make some adjustments this time around. Here are a few of the things I’ll be doing differently:
Using a smaller printer. This was much cheaper and takes up much less space compared to the huge printer I had previously, while still being a great printer. This means I won’t be able to make the large size prints I could previously, but that’s not a big deal for me at this point.
Buying pre-cut mats. My mat cutter was another piece of equipment that took up a lot of space, and mat cutting often caused me a lot of frustration, so I’m foregoing cutting my own mats for now and trying out buying mats that are pre-cut. This also means I don’t have to store large sheets of foam board and mat board, which saves even more space.
Reducing edition counts. Previously, for my medium size limited editions, the edition size was 50. Going forward it will be 5. For most images I’ll still offer smaller open edition prints that don’t have a limit on prints made.
Focusing on galleries and businesses instead of art shows. While I love traveling to and participating in art shows, between entry fees, hotels, gas, etc., they get really expensive. It is also a huge pain from a tax/business perspective doing out of state shows. So for the time being my goal is to keep it simple starting out and try to get into a couple galleries in NWA, and hopefully be able to rotate some pieces through a few local businesses (I already have a couple of these lined up). I also have an online shop set up, although it’s still a bit of a work in progress.
Finding opportunities where I can use prints to give back to places, causes, and organizations that are somehow tied to my photography. I already have a couple cool opportunities lined up for this. More details on this to come later.
Overall, the prints themselves won’t change a whole lot, other than using a different printer to make them. I’m sticking with the same sizes and presentation style I used previously, at least for now. More information about my prints and purchasing prints can be found on my Print Info page and Purchasing Info page.
During the month of March I will have a few prints on display and available for purchase at Brick Lane Books in Rogers, AR. I’m super excited to be able to show some of my work in the local book store I use to get some new books to read. I will be hanging out in the store for the Art on the Bricks event on Mar 9, so if you’ll be out checking out some art, be sure to stop by and say hello.
If you would like to stay up to date on future news, events, etc., subscribe to this blog and follow me on Facebook and/or Instagram. For now I’m going to use this blog for longer form posts/announcements instead of using a newsletter list. I don’t anticipate posting on the blog much, but it will be nice to have if I do need to make a longer post/announcement. I look forward to sharing round two of this adventure with y’all!
P.S.: If you have any recommendations for businesses in NWA to approach about displaying my art, let me know!
On September 3, 2022 I started a backpacking trip into the Weminuche Wilderness, starting at Rio Grande Reservoir and hiking to the south and southwest of the reservoir. The map below shows the route I took. Continue reading for a daily summary of the trip.
I made it to the trailhead at Thirtymile Campground around 3:00 PM. It had looked pretty stormy for the last couple hours driving to the trailhead, but it looked better once I reached the trailhead. The county/forest road getting to the trailhead was rough, and I had to take it easy in a few spots, but I made it there in my sedan without any problems.
I started up the Squaw Creek trail. Right off the bat I ran into some raspberry bushes and had me a few fresh raspberries. I love finding fresh berries along the trail! I had a bit of a scare shortly after that when I pulled out my camera and my battery was much lower than it should have been. When I was preparing for the trip I noticed that the battery was low after I was sure I had charged it, but I charged it again. Now it was low again. I was really hoping it was a bad battery and not something with the camera. I had a spare battery if it was a bad battery. About a mile or so into the trail I ran into “Pseudo Sloth”. I hiked around her for a brief period during my Continental Divide Trail (CDT) hike last year. It was pretty wild to run into her on the trail. She said the trail up to the Squaw Lake turnoff was “cruisy” (aka good for fast hiking), which indeed it was, and I made it to the turnoff for Squaw Lake around 5:30 PM. I was able to get across Squaw Creek without getting my feet wet, which I was very thankful for. I took a quick break after crossing the creek and then continued on towards Squaw Lake.
I got to the lake around 6:30 PM. It was a strenuous hike up to the lake, and I was quite glad when I finally reached it. It didn’t help that it was getting more and more stormy as I went on, so I was pushing harder than normal to get to the lake before I got stormed on. Shortly before getting there it started to sprinkle and right after arriving it started to rain moderately, with some small ice pellets mixed in. I took shelter under a tree, and thankfully it passed quickly. I spent a few minutes walking around trying to find a camping spot. There were 4 other tents already set up, so I was trying to find a spot that wasn’t too close to one of them. Once I found a spot I got camp set up and then made dinner. While I was eating dinner I chatted with a couple of the people camped there. By the time I finished dinner it was nearly dark. I got camp chores finished up in the dark and called it a day.
I was up around 6:30 AM and on trail around 7:45 AM. My camera battery was dead, so I put my spare battery in and hoped that would last the rest of the trip (and thankfully it did). I started the day going from ~11,600 ft to ~12,700 ft, with a pretty steep climb right off the bat. The difficult climb was paid off with some cool views, including down to Squaw Lake. About 30 minutes after starting I got a message from my dad through my Garmin inReach Mini that my home alarm system had gone off, but apparently the police hadn’t seen any issues since he didn’t get a call back. So between the climb, stopping for pictures, and working through the alarm system situation, it was slow going early on. I somehow managed to get cell service just long enough to see that everything appeared to be ok and get the alarm system reset, so that was a relief.
Near the top of the climb I reached a junction with the CDT and continued down that trail. I ran into a couple deer near the top of the climb. The views hiking up to and along the ridge were great, but I was glad to finally have some downhill when I got to the top of the climb. There was a lot of hiking through overgrown brush shortly before I took a break around 10:00 AM. I wasn’t feeling great during the break. I didn’t feel like eating much and had a bit of a headache, but I ate a bit of granola and drank some water. I was hoping to refill water during the break, but unfortunately the creek bed where I stopped was dry. After the break the trail went around a peak/ridge and had some cool views down into the Squaw Creek valley. Thankfully the next creek I came to had some water, so I stopped there and refilled.
At Squaw Pass I got onto the Cimarrona Trail and then had a long climb up to a saddle. I went pretty slow. Shortly after going over the saddle I ran into a couple backpackers going the opposite way. The trail was pretty overgrown in spots on the other side of the saddle. Thankfully the brush was dry. I stopped for lunch next to a creek just before the junction with the Hossick Trail. It wasn’t a great place to stop for lunch, but it was nice being next to the creek (although I didn’t end up getting any water from it).
I got to the Hossick Trail junction quickly after lunch and turned up that trail, after which was a really hard climb from ~11,500 ft to ~12,400 ft. I went very slow. Haha. It was steep, overgrown in lots of spots, and rocky. Thankfully there were some cool views along the way and at the top of the climb to reward me for the work. It’s definitely not a good choice if you’re afraid of heights though, as there is a short section at the top with a very big drop off on either side. I had originally planned to go to Hossick Lake, but when I got to the junction and realized more climbing would be involved, I decided to skip it and head down to the Weminuche Valley to set up camp. I was already pretty worn out.
I underestimated that decent. The trail went from ~11,800 ft to ~8,500 ft. in ~5 miles. By the time I got to the bottom I was so exhausted, and my feet, legs, and hips were all hurting. I was pretty sure I had a blister on one heel. When I reached the Shaw Creek Trail I continued on it and camped next to Milk Creek. I had hiked about 14 miles. I reached camp around 5:00 PM. The way I felt by the time I reached camp rivaled how bad I felt after some of my worst CDT days. I don’t ever remember feeling that bad after a day of hiking outside of the CDT. It was definitely a rough day.
I got my tent set up, made dinner, and then finished getting camp set up. I washed my feet and then looked at other options for routes for the next day. The next day was supposed to have another really big climb right away, and I really didn’t feel like doing that. Thankfully there was a shortcut and much easier route I could take, so I decided to do that even though it involved backtracking about a mile or so.
I spent the rest of the evening doing camp chores, reading, and typing up notes for the day. Not sure if it was the altitude, dehydration, it was harder than I expected, or a combination of all those, but this day definitely kicked my butt. Thankfully the brush wasn’t wet, though, else there would have been lots of “hiker washes”, which would have made it even worse.
On day 3 I was up around 6:45 AM. There was a squirrel right above my tent that decided to be my alarm clock. I can’t remember if I was awake before that or not, but I was a definitely awake afterwards. After getting going I made the mile or so hike back to the junction with the Weminuche Trail and took that trail toward Divide Lakes. I was feeling better in the morning, but was really glad I had decided to take the easier route. The Weminuche Trail seemed like the most heavily used trail I took during the trip. It’s apparently a popular trail for horses/mules, so there were some spots where the trail was in rough shape, but it ended up being a neat stretch of trail. The Elk Park area was neat, and there were a bunch of sunflower looking flowers (but much smaller) along a good portion of the trail.
I stopped at E. Fork Weminuche Creek around 11:00 AM for a snack break and to fill up with water. There just so happened to be some raspberries there as well, so I helped myself to a few of those. I made it to Los Pinos River around 12:30 PM. I had planned to do lunch there, but there wasn’t much shade, so I started up the Pine River Trail and stopped at the first creek that crossed the trail, around 1:00 PM.
The hike up Los Pinos River was pretty easy, and was great for making some miles. I got to the junction with the Rincon La Osa trail around 2:45 PM. Right after getting on the Rincon La Osa trail I came to a Y in the trail and took a path that went to a camp, so I had to backtrack a bit. The climb up the Rincon La Osa trail was difficult, but not as hard as the climbs on the previous day. I ran into a couple more deer on that trail. I found a good camp spot around 3:45 PM at ~11,000 ft and decided to call it a day. I had hiked about 13 miles. I was way ahead of schedule due to my change in plans and it was also starting to look stormy off to the east.
After dinner it started to look like some rain might be headed my way. I went ahead and got my feet washed and started to hear thunder around 7:00 PM. All evening it looked like it might rain. The sunset ended up being really cool with the sun lighting up the rain from the thunderstorms. It was definitely one of the more impressive sunsets I remember seeing from any of my backpacking trips. It started raining just as it was getting dark. I was glad it waited until then. It rained on and off for a bit, but didn’t rain a whole lot.
There was lots of hunting activity on this day, whether that was hunters, a train of mules, hunting camps, etc. If I remember correctly I met three people going the opposite way on trail, all before Divide Lakes. I generally felt better, although my pack was really hurting my right hip, so I unbuckled the pack several times throughout the day to try and help that. I was really glad I had done the easier route.
I was up around 7:00 AM on this day. Between the rain on the outside and condensation on the inside my tent was soaked. I tried to dry the inside up a bit using my towel. There was some frost on the tent at the foot of the tent. I hit the trail around 8:00 AM. Thankfully the vegetation along the trail wasn’t wet, which was surprising. Shortly after starting I again came to a Y in the trail, and once again the trail I chose went to a camp spot, so I had to back track again. I seemed to have a knack for choosing the wrong trail on this trip.
The hike up through Rincon La Osa was really cool. I stopped several times for pictures while hiking up the open valley. I passed next to a hunting camp with some llamas while hiking through the valley. I didn’t see any of the hunters around. There was a bit of a strenuous climb to get out of the valley, but not too bad. After reaching the top I went down into the East Ute Creek valley. It was a bit difficult to find the trail at the top. Shortly after finding the trail it turned into a fairly steep loose gravel trail with a pretty good drop off to one side. Had I slipped on the loose gravel and fell the wrong way, I would have tumbled down a steep embankment about 20-30 feet. It made me very nervous and I took it quite slow. I was quite relieved to make it past that part of the trail. I took a break shortly after that.
After that the trail was relatively flat and good for making some miles for most of the valley, although difficult to see in some spots. It seemed like the least traveled trail of my entire trip. Towards the bottom of the valley the trail steepened and was a bit more difficult with rocks and trees. I put my sandals on to cross East Ute Creek as I couldn’t see any way to rock hop across that. I was able to rock hop across West Ute Creek.
After crossing West Ute Creek there appeared to be a trail that cut NW over to the West Ute Trail. However, I lost that trail after a bit, and there didn’t appear to be a trail where the USGS map showed the trail would be. After wandering around for a bit I eventually found the trail, lower in the valley than the USGS map indicated it would be. That was a bit frustrating but I was glad to be back on the trail. The hike up the West Ute trail was exposed nearly the entire way.
Shortly before lunch I ran into a couple men hiking the opposite way. They were both decked out in camo and everything about them screamed hunters. However, when I asked them if they were hunting, they said no and one of them said his friend wanted to see the area. I’m not sure if they were being smart with me, if they were up there illegally, or they were truly just out hiking, but their outfit was definitely outside the norm of hiking outfits. It was a really odd encounter. Shortly after that I stopped around 1:00 PM at a shady spot for lunch, which was the first shady spot on the trail since getting on the West Ute Trail. I laid my tent and footprint out in the sun to dry them out.
It started looking stormy after lunch. I started hearing thunder around 2:00 PM. I made it to West Ute Lake around 2:45 PM. For some reason it hadn’t dawned on me until reaching the lake that that wasn’t the lake I wanted to be at. My plan had always been to go to Twin Lakes, not West Ute Lake, but for some reason my mind had latched onto West Ute Lake on this day. I wasn’t a big fan of the camping at that lake, and it was still fairly early, so I decided to hike the 4 miles to Twin Lakes and hope I didn’t get stormed on. At a creek crossing about a mile from Twin Lakes I noticed some bear prints in the mud, and shortly after that saw a moose.
I arrived at Twin Lakes around 4:30 PM. My feet were pretty sore, particularly my left foot. I had hiked about 15 miles. There was a storm fairly close with some thunder. It took me a few minutes to decide on a camp spot, and then I hurried as best I could to get the tent set up. According to my map there was an outlet stream from the lake close to my camp, but that wasn’t the case so I went to the lake to get some water. Filling up my water bag in a lake is difficult, so that was frustrating, especially since I was in a hurry. Once I got some water in the bag I noticed there was a definite yellow/green tint to the water. After getting water I finished setting up camp and then ate dinner. Thankfully the storm that was close wasn’t moving towards me.
While dinner was hydrating I washed my feet. I had a couple CDT hikers go by after dinner. I spent some time with my map and compass making sure I could remember how to use them. Thankfully I still remembered. Haha. Late in the evening another really heavy thunderstorm got going. I was so glad I wasn’t under that one. It made for another really cool sunset. I was stoked about having two awesome sunsets in a row. Shortly after sunset the wind picked up and it started to rain lightly, but that was short lived.
I was up around 6:45 AM. I had slept awful. There wasn’t a good place to secure my bear bag with my food, so I had it sitting next to my tent, which had me a bit paranoid. I could also hear animals wandering around outside throughout much of the night. I normally don’t sleep well while backpacking, but this was a really bad night.
I got on trail around 7:45 AM. There were a few elk on a hillside in the distance as I was leaving. Just a bit down the trail I ran into a creek that wasn’t on my map, which would have been much better than the water out of the lake. Oh well. Haha. I stopped to clean my socks from the previous day since they were pretty dirty. I didn’t fill up with water, which I figured I might regret later. The hiking from Twin Lakes to Ute Lake to Rincon La Osa was really cool. It was one of my favorite segments of the entire hike. It was slow going due to climbing and stopping for lots of pictures. Just before getting to Rincon La Osa I chose the wrong trail once again at a Y. It was really cool hiking around the rim of Rincon La Osa after having hiked up that valley the previous day. As I was nearing the end of the rim of Rincon La Osa I noticed a spring next to the trail. I had been rationing water so I was really thankful to find that water source. I drank the water I had and then refilled.
After Rincon La Osa I came to the same junction I had reached the previous day but continued on the CDT this time. There was one last big climb. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Thank goodness for switchbacks. I took a snack break at the top of the climb. On the decent down towards Los Pinos River there was a cool view of The Window and Rio Grande Pyramid. There were also a couple cool waterfalls. I stopped for lunch just before meeting the Pine River Trail, around 12:45 PM. I was really hoping there was water in the ditch next to the trail, but it was dry. Thankfully I still had a bit of water for lunch, and there was a creek a bit down trail I could stop at to refill.
It was already looking stormy when I stopped for lunch. Shortly after getting started again after lunch there were some sprinkles. The trail was nice and good for making some miles. I stopped at Weminuche Creek to refill water. I started to hear thunder around 2:00 PM. On the way down I met some people taking some horses/mules in. The lower part of the trail was really cool. I made it to the trailhead just before 3:30 PM.
Despite changing my plans and going to the wrong lake, I was quite happy with how the trip turned out. I think I got quite lucky with weather and not getting stormed on while hiking. There was a lot of exposed hiking on this route, and not much hiking in the forest, although there is so much beetle kill that even in the forest there isn’t a whole lot of shade. I wasn’t much of a fan of the East Ute Creek and West Ute Creek valleys, but other than that I enjoyed the route. With as much hunting activity as I saw, I would recommend wearing some bright colors if you’re hiking this time of year. It definitely made me a bit nervous not having some bright colors on. If I exclude the hunters and all the people camped at Squaw Lake, I didn’t come across many people at all. That was nice, but it makes it a bit lonely as well. I always enjoy conversation with other hikers. It was a bit of a difficult hike, but definitely worth it!
Today marks one year since I made one of the harder decisions of my life: quitting my CDT hike around the halfway mark, after 72 days and roughly 1,500 miles. I had been struggling a lot since around the Colorado border, and thus had decided at my last town stop to take an alternate route in the next segment that would hopefully be easier. However, I would miss the highest point on the CDT, and it would separate me from the people I had been hiking around consistently (aka trail family, or tramily). Since it had taken me nearly a month and a half after starting to finally feel like I had a tramily, I was pretty bummed about splitting up with them and not knowing if/when we would meet back up. The day before quitting I hadn’t seen any other CDT hikers on trail and I tripped and fell hard just before getting to camp. The morning of I had a difficult climb, and I really struggled on the climbs. After the climb, there was an exposed ridge walk with wind chills likely around freezing (I had seen ice on the trail near the top of the climb). I was pretty miserable that whole morning. I stopped for lunch at a place where I could either continue on the CDT or get off trail and hike into Winter Park, CO. One of the popular mottos on trail is “Don’t quit on a bad day,” but after eating and mulling it over for a bit, I figured if I kept going I wouldn’t be enjoying it much and would be miserable pretty often, so I decided that I had had enough and hiked into Winter Park.
Although I still sometimes second guess that decision, a lot of good things have happened in the year since that decision. I got to keep my streak of running in the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon/Half-Marathon alive (I’m now at 10 consecutive years). About a month after quitting I got to go do trail magic on the CDT in New Mexico and catch up with the tramily. I got a job in NW Arkansas and got a house bought. I have been able to meet up with a couple friends from the CDT in NW Arkansas. When I was in Wyoming earlier this summer I was able to meet up with and do some trail magic for some CDT hikers I had met through an online thru hiking community (Thru-r). I have adopted a section of the Ozark Highlands Trail, and am the secretary on the board of directors for the Ozark Highlands Trail Association. I have found an animal shelter I can volunteer at and enjoy some kitty time. I have got involved with a running group and really enjoy trail running with them each week.
And yet, I feel like I’m right back where I was a year ago: different paths ahead of me, pondering what my next move is.
Do I get back into attempting to sell prints of my photography? If so, when? If I get back into it in the next few months, it will likely mean pulling a few thousand dollars out of money I have set aside for retirement. Do I wait until I have more photos from around NW Arkansas? Where do I sell? Can I even find a gallery to exhibit in? Do I set up an online store? What do I do differently this time to improve my chance of success? Can I sell enough prints to keep the printer busy enough to not have issues with clogged nozzles? I could go on and on with questions.
When/how am I going to get back to the CDT to finish the southern half? The HVAC system in my house is old and needs to be replaced soon. That will likely cost around $15,000. As it currently stands, it will be late 2024 before I have the money saved up for that (and that’s with putting 20% of my take home pay into savings). Which means, at least from a financial perspective (unless I pull money from retirement funds), it will be at least 2025 before I can make it back. And that’s assuming no other large expenses pop up during that time.
What do I do about my job situation? My current job is far from fulfilling. However, I think it’s going to be near impossible to find a job that is fulfilling and also pays as well or better (and has as good of benefits) as my current job. If I get back into selling my photography, my current job might be beneficial in that I can hopefully use the photo studios to get some good product photographs of my prints (after having a couple of the photographers teach me how to do it). So do I try to “tough it out” another 3-4 years at my current job until I have the money to finish my CDT hike? Do I take a chance on another job that pays more but may still be low on the fulfillment meter? Do I get a more fulfilling job that pays less, but then be even more stressed about my budget?
It just so happens that on this one year anniversary of quitting my CDT hike I’m back out in the Colorado mountains on a solo backpacking trip, which should give me plenty of opportunity to think through all this. Haha. I hope not to spend too much time thinking about all this though. Hopefully I can spend most of the time being present and enjoying being out in nature. Maybe in another year I’ll be able to look back and see more good and progress that has happened and have some new life decisions to ponder.
Back on July 3 my brother and I started a four day backpacking trip in the Wind River Range that took us from the Green River Lakes trailhead over Porcupine Pass, to Heart Lake, to Summit Lake, and then back to the trailhead. This will be a quick rundown of my experience.
Day 1: Green River Lakes TH to Dodge Creek
The drive into the trailhead was slow and rough. The last 15 miles or so to the trailhead was a rough dirt road. Having a more off-road type vehicle would have been preferable, but it was doable in a sedan. We were in a Chevrolet Impala and were typically going at most 20mph, so the dirt road portion alone took about an hour.
We arrived at the TH around 10:30 AM. With it being a holiday weekend, I was worried about finding a place to park at the TH, but thankfully there were still several spots available. We registered at the TH and then got to hiking. We took the Lakeside Trail around the west side of the lower lake. There were some good views across the lake in a few spots, and we ran into a few day hikers along that trail. Shortly after getting on the Porcupine Trail we ran into some day hikers on their way out who warned us of a creek crossing and water flowing on the trail. When we got to the crossing we hiked upstream a bit to try and find a dry crossing, but after no luck we headed back to where the trail crossed and put on our creek crossing shoes. The next half mile or so of trail after the crossing was essentially a flowing creek. We stopped shortly after the crossing for lunch and then hiked in our crossing shoes until we reached dry trail at the bottom of the switchbacks.
Shortly before the turnoff to Twin Lakes and Shirley Lake we ran into some backpackers who had stayed at Shirley Lake and highly recommended it. They would be the last people we would see until late on day 3. We continued on up Porcupine Trail. Instead of crossing Porcupine Creek at the next crossing, we followed a faint trail and then did some bushwhacking to meet up with the trail after it crossed back over Porcupine Creek again. It saved us having to change into our crossing shoes again.
The trail up Porcupine Creek after this was often covered in water and/or muddy, particularly in the meadow areas. Once we got into the meadow areas there were some neat views of the west side of the canyon and some great areas for camping. These were the first good scenic views since leaving the lower Green River Lake. I knew going over Porcupine Pass might be sketchy due to snow cover, so when we reached the last crossing of Porcupine Creek I told my brother that if we were going to turn around that was the point to do it so we could make the most the next three days. We decided to continue on. That last crossing of Porcupine Creek was a difficult crossing. It was around knee deep and fairly swift. I was thankful for my trekking poles. We eventually got to the point where we could tell there was snow over the trail switchbacks going up to the pass. However, it looked possible to cross the snow down low where it wasn’t as steep and then climb directly up to the pass where there was no snow cover, so that is what we decided to do.
Once we got close to the top of the pass, it got really steep with lots of loose rock and gravel. We had to be really careful about our steps. Progress became painstakingly slow and it was quite stressful. At that point, though, I felt like it was safer to continue on to the pass instead of trying to go back down. Just below the pass we were finally able to start using the trail. We made it to the top of the pass just before 6:30 PM. It would still have been an exhausting climb with the trail, but it would have been much less stressful. I wouldn’t recommend going up or down the north side of the pass if the trail isn’t available. Lighting for pictures wasn’t great at that point, it was a bit windy, and it was getting late and I wanted to make it down a couple of miles, so we didn’t spend any time at the top of the pass and started our hike down. I was afraid the south side was going to be the same as the north side, but much to my relief it was much better. I believe we reached the crossing of Dale Creek around 7:45 PM and decided to camp just before the crossing. It was a long, tough day.
I was hiking in trail runners, and due to the wet trail conditions, my socks and shoes were still bit damp when we got to camp. Since we were in a bit of a rush to get dinner and chores done, I didn’t take off my shoes and socks, so by the time I got into the tent for bed my feet were quite cold. A bit after getting into my sleeping bag I started getting pain in my toes, which I don’t remember happening before, so I probably let my feet get a bit colder than I should have.
Day 2: Dale Creek to Heart Lake
We started the second day crossing Dale Creek and then had about a mile of downhill hiking before reaching the New Fork River. I had been worried about crossing the New Fork River due to the ongoing snow melt but the crossing wasn’t too bad. The hike up Palmer Canyon was one of the more scenic stretches of the entire trip. There was lots of stopping for pictures in that stretch. We saw a couple deer in the canyon as well. The climb up and out of the canyon was difficult, but thankfully there was a good trail. We started running into some snow patches near the top of the climb.
As we approached Palmer lake a bald eagle took off from a tree. We stopped at the lake for lunch. It was fairly breezy so we found a spot in some trees to try to get out of the sun and wind. After we finished lunch we continued down the trail to the Heart Lake Trail. We turned down that trail and then stopped at Dean Lake so my brother could do some fishing. He caught several small brook trout in that lake. After that we continued on to Heart Lake. We found a good camping spot at Heart Lake around 4:30 and got camp set up. Heart Lake wasn’t particularly scenic, but it was sheltered and had a great spot to camp, so that was nice. My brother tried some fishing (he wasn’t able to catch anything) and I was able to get some reading in. Overall it was a fairly uneventful day with some great scenery.
Day 3: Heart Lake to Green River
To start out we headed toward Gottfried Lake. Once there we turned onto the Pine Creek Canyon Trail towards Borum Lake. Borum Lake was a beautiful lake, although it looked like it would be difficult to find a camp spot that met regulations. We stopped at the outlet to get some water and then hiked a bit farther before stopping so my brother could try some fishing. He wasn’t able to catch anything out of that lake. It was a beautiful spot to take a break though. After spending some time at Borum Lake we continued on to Summit Lake. We reached Summit Lake around 11:45 AM. Summit Lake was a really cool spot. It didn’t have much to offer for shelter, but it was a really a scenic place. My brother went to do some fishing while I spent some time taking pictures. My brother caught at least one decent size cutthroat.
We ate lunch at Summit Lake and then got back on trail around 1:00 PM to head down to the Green River. There were a lot of snow patches and lots of wet/muddy trail on the way down. When we reached our first crossing of Trail Creek my brother realized he had lost one of his creek crossing shoes between there and Summit Lake. He decided to go back and try to find it, so I hung out at the crossing until he got back around 40 minutes later with the shoe. We kept our crossing shoes on since we had to cross the creek a second time just down trail. My brother slipped at that second crossing and dropped one of his hiking boots in the creek. Thankfully he was able to grab it before it went downstream. There was a snow patch on either side of the second crossing, and it wasn’t particularly pleasant walking though the snow in sandals with wet feet after the crossing. I quickly got to a spot where I could sit on a rock and get my feet dry and into my socks and hiking shoes.
After all that we continued on down the trail. The crossing of Trail Creek just above the switchbacks was a little nerve racking. It was about knee deep and moving somewhat swiftly. Not really difficult, but it was one of those crossings where if you fell in it probably wasn’t going to end well. We both made it across and continued on. There were some fantastic views on the way down to the Green River. Shortly after reaching the Green River we saw the first people since early afternoon on Day 1. My goal was to make it to Beaver Park, so we skipped a camp spot in Three Forks Park. We also skipped a camp spot right before Beaver Park. Beaver Park ended up being littered with blow downs and there weren’t any good camping spots, so we continued on. We ended up hiking another 45 minutes or so past Beaver Park before we found a camp spot that wasn’t right next to the river (about 6.5 miles from the trailhead). It wasn’t far enough from the trail per regulations, but at that point my brother and I were both tired and hungry, and it was getting late, so we set up camp there and hurried and got dinner ready. By the time we finished getting camp set up and chores done it was dark.
Day 4: Green River to Green River Lakes TH
Day 4 got off to an early start. We had planned on getting up at 6:30 AM so we could get out in time to meet some CDT hikers at Elkhart Park TH, but we were both awake at 6:00 AM, so we went ahead and got up and hit the trail around 7. Both of my heels had got rubbed raw the prior day, so I got those taped up before hitting the trail. Unfortunately we didn’t see any wildlife along the river. There were several people camped along the river. We stopped at the upper Green River Lake so my brother could do some fishing. He caught a decent size Rainbow Trout out of that lake. After that we continued on down the trail. At the north end of the upper lake we crossed paths with a moose. Thankfully it didn’t seem to mind us, and it allowed for a really cool photo opportunity. At one point along the lower lake my brother made a few casts but didn’t catch any fish. We made it back to the TH around 10:30, which was much more sparse than when we had arrived.
Outside of the stressful climb up Porcupine Pass this was a great trip. A few of my key takeaways:
I would definitely recommend doing Porcupine Pass after the snow has melted off the trail.
There was lots of wet/muddy trail, but that wouldn’t be an issue later in the season after the snowmelt has finished.
Be ready for lots of creek crossings that will get your feet wet, although there may be some that you could cross later in the season without getting your feet wet.
It ended up being a good combination of lower elevation canyon hiking combined with higher elevation alpine type hiking.
It’s hard for me to believe it was only about 6 months ago when I called it quits on my Continental Divide Trail (CDT) adventure. It feels like it has been so much longer than that. A lot has happened in the last 6 months, and since I have been so quiet on here and social media, I figured I would take some time to update those of you who follow me with some of the happenings of the last 6 months. It has been a rollercoaster!
After I got off trail early in September I went to live with my parents in NE Oklahoma. When I announced my plans to hike the CDT and then move out west, they had decided to start looking to move closer to my brother in SE Kansas. Ironically, they ended up moving just a couple weeks after I got off trail. I’m sure some would see that as unfortunate timing, but it was great to be able to help them out with the move after all the help they had given me on trail.
In early October I ran the OKC Memorial Half Marathon. One of the things I was bummed about when I made the decision to hike the CDT was that I would miss that event and break my streak (which at that point was 8 consecutive years), so I was really excited to be able to participate in that. I ended up running my second fastest time (which was completely unexpected) and I got to visit with some friends and coworkers while I was in town, so that was a great weekend. After that I headed out to New Mexico for a few days to do some trail magic on the CDT. That was a blast. It was great seeing many of the people I had hiked around, and I met a lot of new people as well.
After that it was back to real life and trying to find a job. I had decided to try finding one in northwest Arkansas (NWA) first instead of out west. Thankfully it didn’t take long to get one lined up. At the beginning of November I found out I had the job, and after that it was time to find a house. I didn’t start the job until after Thanksgiving, so I had nearly a month to get a house lined up, but it ended up taking much longer than that. At the beginning of February, three months after I had started looking, and after two months of living in a hotel, I finally closed on a house. I spent a couple weeks getting some work done (mainly painting; huge thanks to my mom for helping out) before getting all my stuff moved in, and then have spent the last couple weeks getting everything put up, organized, etc.
Thankfully things slowed down some this past week and I was able to relax a bit and actually enjoy having the house. There are still a lot of projects to do around the house, but nothing at this point I’m in a big rush to get done. Yesterday I signed up to maintain a section of trail next to Lake Fort Smith. It’s not the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT), but it’s right next to it, and I’m hoping I can eventually take over a segment of the OHT. I also got signed up for some volunteer training at an animal shelter type place, and I’m hoping to start getting involved with a couple running clubs. So after ripping up roots last year, it feels like I’m to the point of trying to get some roots growing in a new place.
As far as photography goes, I got the camera out a few times over the last 6 months, mainly for some shots of fall colors and snow. The snow pictures are still up on my website in my Fresh Off The Card gallery if you want to check those out. Hopefully pretty soon I’ll be getting it out on some trails around here. I have been able to get together here in NWA with a couple people I met on the CDT, one of which I shuttled for his OHT hike. It was fantastic seeing them, and hopefully I can get involved with more of that type of stuff on the OHT. While I won’t be doing any sort of thru hike this year, I’m hoping to get out on a couple multi day trips in the Rockies and get back to NM in the fall to do some more trail magic. Fingers crossed it all works out, and hopefully you’ll start seeing some trail pictures from around here soon!
Romance: I knew it was a long shot, and I didn’t have very high hopes, but there was a very small glimmer of hope that maybe I would find some romance and a future partner on the trail. It didn’t happen. Had it happened, I probably would still be going as that would have been a big incentive not to quit. Haha. Not a big disappointment since I didn’t have high expectations to begin with, but still a bit of a bummer.
Trail Magic: I hate bringing this up because I don’t want to sound like I’m entitled to trail magic or that I’m ungrateful for the help I got. I am so thankful for all the help and trail magic I received. From a trail magic perspective, I knew there were much better trails to do than the CDT, so once again I didn’t have real high expectations. However, it was frustrating hearing stories from other hikers about awesome trail magic they had been a part of, not having received anything like that myself. From another perspective, the hike was great for getting ideas for future trail magic I could do for hikers, and I was recently able to drive over to NM for a few days and give some trail magic, which was a blast.
Friendships: Similar to trail magic, I knew this wasn’t the trail to be doing if I wanted a really social experience along the trail. However, I had hoped that I could find a trail family (“tramily”) along the trail and within that tramily make some great friends along the way. Despite the high number of people on the CDT this year, it still ended up being a very lonely experience on trail for me up until the last couple weeks. It definitely made me cherish those couple weeks I had hiking with the group, but I wish I could have had more time with them. Not having more time with them down the trail was one of the biggest bummers for me when I decided to quit.
Quitter/Failure: This didn’t hit me right away, but after I had a bit to process calling it quits, I realized this was another thing to add to my list of things that haven’t gone my way, that I have quit, or that I have failed at (along with storm chasing, fire fighting, selling fine art prints, etc.). I was really hoping prior to starting the trail that this was something I could finish and put on the success checklist. Despite being a great accomplishment, it didn’t help with the struggle of wondering if I’m not trying hard enough, if I quit too early when things get hard, or if I just haven’t found “my thing” yet.
Road Walking: There are a couple different aspects to this. First, the large amount of road walking. I had heard it was a lot of road walking, but it surprised me how much there actually was. Most of it was on backcountry forest roads and not highways, which was good, but it was still a lot of roads. Second, the highway walks were awful on my feet. The highway walks were generally great for keeping a fast pace, but some of the worst blisters I got were after walking on a long highway stretch.
Job Opportunities/Future Location: When I started the trail, my plan after finishing was to find a job and move close to the CDT, preferably somewhere in Montana or Wyoming. I had hoped that hiking the trail would give me some leads on job opportunities. That didn’t happen, but it did give me an idea on the trail towns that would be at the top of my list to live in, which was nice. Ironically, though, by the time I had quit the CDT, I had decided that NW Arkansas was actually at the top of the list of where I would like to end up. If that didn’t work out, I would start looking into jobs in my top trail towns.
Anaconda Pintler Wilderness: Outside of my friend Kate, this was an area that I didn’t hear much about before trail, but it ended up being one of my favorite stretches of trail. I would love to go back there again sometime and take some time to really enjoy it and take it in.
Towns Days: I had thought before trail that town stops would be a nice relaxing break from the hiking. They were a nice break from hiking, but there was often a big chore list to do, so I’m not sure I would say they were particularly relaxing, especially if it was in town one day and out the next. I still loved town days though.
Recovery: The first couple weeks after quitting were pretty rough physically. I must have hurt my left shoulder more than I realized in the fall right before quitting, because after getting home it was sore for a few days. My legs felt awful when I went running. There were a few days when my lower back was quite sore. I found it quite ironic that I never took any pain medication while on trail, but took some a few times for the back pain after I was home. Thankfully after a couple weeks I started to feel a lot better.
Do I Regret Quitting?: After giving it some thought for a month and a half, do I now regret calling it quits early? I still feel like it was the right choice. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t second guess myself. I often wonder if listening to music on the hard climbs would have made a difference. Someone in our group mentioned this early on in Colorado, but for some reason it never crossed my mind to put in my earbuds and listen to some music during the big climbs. Should I have thought more of all the people cheering me on and sending me encouragement? Seeing the pictures from the San Juans with the fall colors has been a bit depressing. That was one of the things I was looking forward to the most. Some of the hikers in the group I was around were part of a fairly large group in southern Colorado, and had I kept going, I may have ended up in that group, which likely would have been a lot of fun.
On the other hand, I’m really happy I got to participate in the Oklahoma City Memorial Half Marathon. That is always one of my favorite days of the year, and I’m glad I was able to keep my streak in tact (now at 9 consecutive years). I’m also really happy I got the opportunity to do some trail magic on the CDT this year. As I mentioned earlier, that was a blast. Seeing the pictures of the snow and cold weather the last 2-3 weeks has made me pretty glad I’m off the trail as well.
Most of all I keep thinking about how hard it’s going to make it to finish out the trail. If I finish it out, I would like to do it a bit earlier in the year so I’m not having to deal with winter weather, but that would put me in a time where there wouldn’t be many (or even any) other CDT hikers on the trail around me. I would be starting from scratch again with getting my hiker legs (although starting with a fresh body may not be a bad thing). Finally, at this point I would really like to get a job, buy a house, and start getting plugged into and settled into a community instead of continuing to put life on “hold” and having a temporary job and living situation for almost a year. I think the chances of me finishing the trail are pretty small at this point, but we’ll see how things unfold. Maybe we’ll meet again at some point.
So there you have it: a very long response to the question “How did your hike go?”. I’m sure there is still a lot I’m leaving out. Haha.
This three part blog series is my attempt to answer the question “How did your CDT hike go?”. If you missed part one (overview of the MT & ID portion), you can check that out here. As you can tell from the title, this is an overview of the WY and CO portion.
I was super excited to get into Wyoming. It is my birth state, the state where I spent most of my childhood, and it was nice to finally be finished with the MT/ID portion. Ironically, I think this is where things started to unravel on me though. Yellowstone ended up being really easy hiking, but I didn’t find it particularly scenic/interesting. Shortly after that I had a really frustrating town stop in Dubois (the town wasn’t bad, just didn’t go well). Then it was into the Wind River Range (“the Winds”), which was supposed to be one of the main highlights of the entire hike. In the northern part of the Winds I had one of the hardest days physically, and definitely one of my low points mentally/emotionally: the climb over Knapsack Col, where I broke both trekking poles and put a good gash in my shin. In the southern part the smoke returned, so the views were diminished. I rushed through the beautiful Cirque of the Towers area to get over a couple passes before rain moved in. Then a big climb on a cold and rainy morning, followed by awful blowdowns, made for an absolutely miserable day. So while there were some absolutely amazing views and scenery in the Winds, that stretch got heavily tainted by the abundance of miserable moments. Based on how much I struggled with the big climbs in the Winds, I knew I might be in trouble in Colorado and I really started to worry about making it through Colorado.
Lander, WY was a place of big changes in my hike. The first one was with the trail itself. I was going from big mountains into relatively flat desert. This desert section had really worried me since the start of my hike. The second change was that it finally worked out so that I was hiking with a group after leaving town. In the 50+ days up to that point I had done very little hiking with other people. I had run into lots of different southbound hikers up to that point (mainly in towns), but had never been able to consistently stick around the same people for any considerable length of time. I thought it felt a lot like what speed dating must feel like. If the national parks (where camping is regulated) are excluded, up until Lander I believe I only had 3 nights outside of town (out of around 30) where I camped with other hikers. It had been quite lonely, and I was really glad to have some company leaving Lander.
After Lander is the stretch known as “the Basin”, which is the relatively flat desert area I referenced in the previous paragraph. I got lucky and went through the Basin with great weather. It wasn’t near as bad as I had thought it might be (due mostly to the cooler weather I had), but it was still quite boring and monotonous, and I was really glad to have some company going through there to help break up the monotony. I managed to get in 40 miles during a day in the Basin, but it involved hiking the last 1.5 miles or so cross country (no trail) in the dark (with a headlamp), which was miserable and I highly discourage. Haha.
Unfortunately for me most of the group I was hiking with left Rawlins, WY about a half day ahead of me, but they were making a brief stop in a town that I would be skipping, so I knew I had a chance at catching them. I hiked the first couple days out of Rawlins really hard to try to catch up to them. I managed to link back up with a few of them on the third day, which was great, but my legs were completely exhausted. The stretch between Rawlins and Steamboat Springs, CO is when I really started to have serious thoughts about quitting, I think mainly due to exhaustion, as well as being miserable and/or “bored” through much of Wyoming.
After getting into Steamboat, getting some rest, and having what is likely my favorite memory from trail (staying at an Airbnb with several other hikers), I decided to keep on going. If I had been by myself, I think there is a high likelihood I would have called it quits in Steamboat. Despite feeling so exhausted getting into Steamboat and not taking a zero, I actually felt pretty good leaving town. Our group got spread out a bit between Steamboat and Grand Lake, CO, but I was still able to stick around a couple of the people in that stretch. There was a really big climb on the third day out of Steamboat that I really struggled with, but it helped a lot having someone with me to help motivate me to keep going. The next day had another big climb that again was a big struggle. There was a portion of the climb with blowdowns across the trail that were really difficult to get around, which made for miserable hiking and put me in an awful mood. After getting to Grand Lake I decided I would be taking an alternate route that would skip the highest point on the CDT and save me some miles and elevation gain/loss. The big climbs had been kicking my butt, and at this point I just wanted to get through Colorado. I could do a “14er” another time with a daypack if I really wanted to check that off my list.
Although the hike out of Grand Lake was beautiful, it was a bit depressing as well since I knew the group I had been hiking with was going to be split up for a bit. Three of the hikers were getting off trail for a couple days to meet with friends. I was the only one I knew of planning on taking the alternate route, which would likely put me a couple days ahead of every one else. The first day out of Grand Lake was the first day in quite some time in which I didn’t see another CDT hiker and camped alone. Hiking with a group had a lot to do with me pushing on the last couple segments, so I was quite bummed to be without the group. Just before camp I tripped and fell hard, which didn’t help anything. The next day had a big climb up above 12,000 ft. Between the big climb, the cold temperature, the wind, and the exposed hiking, I was really miserable that morning. By lunchtime I was already fairly worn out and demoralized, and I had a decision to make: two more big climbs (with a big descent between them) for the day, or call it quits and head into Winter Park, CO. After eating I decided to call it quits. After that morning, there wasn’t much of me that was looking forward to the rest of Colorado and New Mexico. So on the afternoon of Sep. 5 I hiked my final few miles out to Winter Park.
In part 3, I’ll cover some individual topics about the hike in general, so be watching for that in the next few days.