Grand Lake, CO to Rawlins, WY.
Family is a weird thing. Some people think they are born with a family, but it’s not really like that at all. Family is not about genes and legal documents, family just happens. It sneaks up when we least expect it to. Yes, I am genetically related to some I call family and I feel extremely lucky to have that, but I have many families. Some I am related to by genes, then there is my playa (burning man) family, an amazing family in Greenbelt, MD, and my hiker trash family. There is just a magic that happens when you find a thing you love …and maybe it is simply that other people love it too, I don’t know. But what I do know is that somehow when you find this thing it usually comes with a family.
Several other thru-hikers were in Grand Lake when we arrived and several more showed up before we left. Some of them I had met before and some I had not, but something about simply being thru-hikers gathered us together each evening for dinner. Our last night in town was the night before my forty-first birthday so I was feeling particularly sentimental about the whole scene. We were approaching the end of Colorado and I was sitting at a big table full of thru-hikers. The music started playing and two margaritas later I had that sad feeling about the trail ending and losing my family. I know, there are plenty of miles left after Grand Lake, but I just didn’t want it to end. And I know it doesn’t really end–there is always Facebook, more trails, and more hikers, but it was just one of those moments.
We headed out of town the morning of my birthday and took the old ridge route that met up with the divide near Bowen Pass. It was the most amazing view of the whole trail. The day came to a close with one last unexpected glissade, but for me it was the only way down a very long and very steep descent. I didn’t like it, but that’s just how it goes sometimes. We reached the bottom, set up camp, and toasted my birthday with some Jäger. It was a great day.
After descending the valley, hiking along the Illinois River, and too much road walking later we made our way to Steamboat Springs. Still trying to avoid the last of the snow we decided to take an alternate trail out of town that would meet up with the CDT after Lost Ranger Peak. We walked out of town to the Strawberry Park Hot Springs where we spent the afternoon soaking off the road walk. Then we took the Hot Springs Trail, passing by the largest tree I had seen in all of Colorado, to the Mad Creek/Swamp Park Trail. That big tree made my day. We climbed up out of the valley along a beautiful canyon until we reached a high meadow with tall grass, hip deep grass with a very narrow trail, and ticks. Neon’s eyes inflamed and the sneezing started. Luckily the trail kept climbing higher out of the grasses and we found dryer, rockier, earth for camping.
After a couple of days we met up with the CDT where we hiked out of Colorado and into Wyoming. I was so excited to cross the Wyoming border that I woke up before dawn. Maybe it was all in my head, but I swear it all felt new as soon as we crossed that border. Suddenly I loved the trail again and everything was beautiful. I loved Wyoming and I was ready to conquer this trail.
We made it to Riverside, our first Wyoming town. We got a campsite and headed straight to the Mangy Moose (a local bar). We both looked at each other and said with a smile, “We’re not in Colorado anymore.” Later that day two more thru-hikers got into town and we all gathered together at camp, for beer, for dinner, and again for breakfast. It’s funny this way, we all just gather together and then part ways, perhaps never seeing each other again, but somehow we’re all family.
We got a ride back to the trail and few miles later a thru-hiker called out, “the trail is over here.” Did I recognize this voice? I don’t think so. I hollered back, “but there’s no snow over here.” He gestured toward the trail and I hollered again, “this way will meet back up with the trail.” Another mile or so later we met up with the hiker. We hiked together for the rest of the day and camped together that night, parting ways in the morning.
We stayed on the divide, hiking over rocky ridges, hill over hill, full of sage and amazing wildflowers. The first miles of the day went slow on this terrain and then we descended to lower grasslands. I was in heaven looking far out across the landscape as far as what seemed like the edge of the universe. I can’t help it. I do love my mountains and the wet, lush, environments of the Pacific Northwest that nurtured my love of nature, but it seems I’ve gone native as a desert rat–I just love the arid landscape. The Sonoran desert has made me a convert and I’m completely at ease and happy in a wide open and dry landscape.
We hiked up, down, over, and across this amazing arid grassland. Our water sources were good, for awhile. Rivers, springs, and creeks. As we left Muddy Creek and headed toward Bridger Pass we found our water sources dry. Few cars travelled this road, but when a truck passed we waved out our empty water bottles and like magic they stopped and gave us water, cold water from their cooler in the back of their truck. Magic happens and even in the unlikeliest of places you find humanity at its best. There really is no reason for us to be out here. We just decided to walk. We weren’t given land in Oregon, making our way across the country. We just decided to go, and see, and walk because we can. And yet total strangers will stop and give us water when we need it.
After several days we made our way to Rawlins, Wyoming and got picked up by the nicest lady that said, “I don’t have anywhere to be–I can take you wherever you need to go.” It’s always like this getting to town–someone always picks us up and shuttles us to where we want to go. They smile as if we made their day, when truly they made ours. Having barely arrived into town, we met up briefly with other thru-hikers, just long enough to greet and wish each other well in passing. The next day, two other hikers arrived. Another meet and greet later and everyone parts ways to “hike their own hike.” This is one of my families. We don’t really know each other, but we are family, hiker trash family!