July 14 – Silver Prince Creek to North Creek – 24.8 miles, 3,629 feet up, 3,743 feet down
I missed writing about this day completely last evening which should tell you a little bit about it. Harder days tend to preclude writing. We got up from Silver Creek Camp and hiked a fairly mellow section that popped out on a road above Princeton Hot Springs. Immediately we met cars…we were at another 14er trailhead and it was the weekend. We had a long road walk down, initially dirt, and then pavement. I guess permission to build trail in this section has been harder to come by.
During the walk down we found a spiffy lantern disposed of on the side of the road. It looked well abandoned, and since our caboose has very little light, we decided to stash it in the woods for our return trip home. That thing will be put to good use this winter if it's still there in two weeks!
Surprise, surprise…we came down the road and popped out right at Princeton Hot Springs and a nice grocery store. The hot springs held little appeal – we were plenty hot already – but we went a little nuts at the grocery store. We bought three blocks of cheese (one for each ration), beef jerky, Doritoes and ice cream. We hung out on the front steps of the store for awhile before loading up our now much heavier packs.
Elaine and I both have opted to go the ultralight route, carrying packs from the company Granite Gear. They are fairly minimalist, and while they work great up to around 30 pounds, they hurt a bit when it gets more than that. They lack a solid back (saving weight). Of course, in ultra-light backpacking you rarely go above 30 pounds, so it works out fine. That said, we were creeping towards that number on this portion of the trip, and the strain of the pack was noticable. I coped by reminding myself of the 60 pound-plus packs I'd carried at NOLS. Suddenly the 30 pounds felt svelte. Mental strength and a positive mindset – it's your best weapon out here.
We headed through a nice rustic subdivision under the Chalk Cliffs (that I must say my parents would love) before reaching Chalk Creek, cooling off at the stream and heading straight uphill. We met a nice man – probably in his late 60's or early 70's – who gave us a great historical overview of the area. We found out he's done the Mount Washington Hill Climb seven times. This gentleman is great inspiration to stay active throughout life…as if I didn't have enough with Elaine!
We moved onward on the Colorado Trail. The first part of segment 14 was quite mundane, featuring low sage brush lands with lots of cows. It was probably my least favorite part of the trail up to this point, and since I didn't sleep all that great last night, I wasn't mentally as strong as usual. When you're in a sort of grumpy state of mind this thing gets a lot tougher. Not many options out here though, other snap out of it. There are miles to hike and hills to climb.
There were big clouds building up all day. As we headed up a significant climb and into pine forests it began to rain. Tossed on the rain gear and kept moving forward. I tried my ridiculously light Camp Magic Jacket and Pant combo, as I haven't been too thrilled with the breathability of my rain coat when moving at high speeds. It worked fairly well. Not completely waterproof, but more breathable, so probably in the end it balanced out moisture-wise. Rain gear is one of my least favorite things – rarely does it work that well. I find I'm either too hot or it simply doesn't do much to keep off rain. Perhaps I'll just start hiking in pure neoprene and call it good.
This day will be remembered as the roller coaster section of the Colorado Trail. It was a series of endless ups and downs. We'd climb a ridge of one of the 14ers and then bomb back down to a creek over and over and over again. Personally, I find this type of hiking much harder than a steady grade climb. It's a beat down.
We came to the bottom of a creek bed and saw a faded sign, taped to an aspen tree, announcing that we had now hiked halfway to Durango. It was comically unassuming. I've heard the Appalachian Trail has a massive monument announcing the halfway point. As trails go, the Colorado Trail is still a baby, and personally, I kind of like it that way.
There is something about hiking 242.5 miles that makes you feel good. Honestly, I didn't think I could do that. Or maybe, I never even considered it. I remember reading about Thomas Jefferson, and how he encouraged young men to walk instead of ride horses, believing it built physical strength and mental fortitude. How far we have regressed from Jefferson's time. Walking hundreds of miles is a foreign as going to the moon.
Perhaps I'll write a letter to Obama, imploring him that the right thing to do to get this country back on track is have our people walk. Instead of sending our kids to college and having them go $100,000 into debt for an education many of them don't even really want, have them walk. Hell, have the adults walk too. Let's get our people out of this stupor of technology. Let's get them walking, moving those bodies, using their minds to survive. Hell, let's start with Mr. Obama. I like the man, and he seems like a good president, but he also seems like he'd benefit greatly from a 500 mile walk.
Elaine and I have already discussed what we're going to give our kids on their graduation: there will be no new car or fancy phone. Nope, instead they're going to get a fully funded trip on Appalachian Trail (or PCT if they are so inclined). They'll get good pack, sleeping bag, a light tent for the bugs in Applachia and four months worth of food. Sound boring? Hell no. In addition to learning to eat, sleep and travel in the wild, they'll be more fit physically and mentally than any of their other graduating classmates. They'll have total freedom – they can stay out as long as they want, sleep where they want, far from home or parental control. The Appalachian Trail is a veritable freeway of thru-hikers. Instead of internet driven relationships where analysis of every word in a text message is given the deepest consideration to impress the opposite sex (or same for that matter – it's 2012 for crissake) – they'll actually have to show they can maintain a conversation, cook a good meal, provide shelter, and do the things that humanity has had to do for the previous millenia until the past forty years or so. Wanna get the girl? Cook her a good meal after a 25 mile day as a horizontal rain falls and 30 mph wind blows, all the while maintaining good humor and keeping her laughing. It'll be a hell of a graduation present.
Moving on. Ironically, despite now being on the downward half of the 480 mile thru-hike, the trail went straight uphill from the halfway point sign. And then down, and then back up, and so on, for hours. Near the end of the day we got passed by a group of British thru-bikers. They were very nice folks, and I admit I felt a twinge of jealousy when they mentioned they'd just roll into Salida tonight and get some Mexican food and a warm bed, especially as the skies grew seriously ominous and the rain started trickling down again.
We came to a place we had hoped to camp, but found it occupied by about 20 weekenders, so onward it was. We were quite tired, so when we found a little creek (thank you rain) and a large patch of aspens, we decided this would be our resting stop for the evening. Alas the grove was filled with cow patties, but at this point in time we didn't care. I was hurting pretty good tonight, so started dinner as Elaine grabbed water. Ate dinner and curled into the bags for a night of rest.
Another all over the place night – rain starting and stopping, blowing sometimes, coming down vertical at others. Lightning and thunder cracked a few miles away until about midnight, creating a relaxing yet stressful atmosphere at the same time.
The varying weather makes tarp use challenging. When the tarp is set up high, it's nice and airy, but horizontal rain gets in. When the tarp is set up low, condensation builds up, but we're protected from the elements. It's an imperfect set-up, or perhaps our skills are just imperfect.
That's what I'm discovering more and more. We as a society – and by extension Elaine and I – have come to rely on equipment more and more, and our brain less and less. There is always a way to figure this stuff out. A tarp seems less than ideal in bug country, but the solution is simple: set it up on a ridge with a breeze away from stagnant water. Our matresses are incredibly thin. As such we have to pick our sleeping place carefully – we find soft patches of moss or pine. It requires a little more thinking and planning, but it's worth it when you strap on a 25 pound (or less) pack versus a 50 pound pack. Thing is, we're still rookies at this game.
Oddly enough we have not seen bears on this trip. Through research I think I've figured out why. Bears are attracted to food. Elaine and I almost never camp at established sites. Indeed, we often don't even eat at our campsite, instead electing to eat dinner at 6 or so at a nice creek and then hiking a few miles away, slapping up the tarp and settling in for the night. Bears gravitate towards established campsites and known sources of food. By stealth camping, I think we can avoid issues.
I got up a few times over the course of the night to adjust the tarp, but other than that it was a restful night after probably the hardest day I've felt physically on the trail. Elaine crushed it though – her knee is all good – and she's ramping up for the southern half of the trip. Truth be told, it's sink or swim out here…I'd better too.