We’d had a wonderful zero day in Lake City, Colorado but it was still a relief to be back on trail. The pines and high mountain air seemed like coming home after an interlude off trail. We had a hundred miles of the Continental Divide Trail ahead of us till Salida, Colorado, the stopover voted best trail town by last year’s hikers.
Our hike up from Spring Creek Pass took us past more snow and ice, but none of it blocked the trail, We topped 12,000 feet for most of the day. Camping near timberline the temperatures dropped below freezing again that night. After the incredible exertion of hiking the length of the San Juan Mountains, Nancy and I realized that we needed more than just one day off for our old muscles to really recover. We were bone tired and worn down by the several weeks of high mountain push.
The next morning was cold but we hiked with a difference, we went downhill for a long, long time. We followed a trickle until it became a stream and finally a small river. A few beaver dams became many and altered the course of the water as it meandered down the canyon. Lodges were built every 100 yards or so and the dams were huge and elaborate. You'd have to blow them up to remove them. It was fascinating.
The old dams were grown over in grasses and willows but the dried up ponds became meadows covered in forage. Beavers really alter their world.
Brooks left a bit early and we didn't see him again. He likes to hike on his own for days and then reappear when he’s ready for more camaraderie. Blister had left after only an afternoon in Lake City and it was now just Nancy, Eric and me. With the melting of the snow, the thru hikers start to scatter. They're a very independent breed and keeping them together is like trying to herd cats. It ain’t gonna happen.
Camped in an aspen grove, the dead calm of evening became suddenly alive with a howling wind that roared through the trees as we fell asleep. After twenty-seven miles, no amount of wind could keep me awake.
I slept like a log but woke up feeling worse than when I lay down the night before. We hiked nearly twenty miles the next day and I felt like I was gonna die any minute. I didn’t know if I was getting sick, in the early stages of giardia, or was just utterly exhausted by the cumulative effects of the San Juans and yesterday's marathon.
I took a nap in a meadow in the afternoon and got bitten by the first mosquitos of the year. I felt better for a while but just dragged myself into camp at 5pm, the earliest we had stopped so far. Nancy and Eric were wonderful, slowing down so as not to leave me too far behind. I felt awful making them wait. Eric thought it was elevation sickness and said I wasn’t used to the thick low elevation air. Yeah, right.
I hardly saw the scenery and took almost no pictures. I'd never felt so awful on a hike and hoped the long night's rest would help. I really despaired at feeling so weak. This was the worst day ever on trail for me.
The next day I felt worse and couldn't eat breakfast. I just crawled up trail for 2 hours thinking of nothing except how I was going to finish the next several days. The malaise had come on at mile fifty of a hundred mile stretch.
The longer rest of the night before had done nothing to help. By 8am I felt so awful I decided to take the flagyl I had in case of giardia.
Dragging myself up trail, I met Nancy and Eric for an early break. I just lay down in the trail and hoped I didn't have to get up again. When they hit trail, I stayed down for a bit longer, but when I got up it was like someone had given me back my legs, that quick. From 8am to 10am the flagyl had started to knock those little nasties down. Within 5 minutes I was right behind Nancy and surprised Eric when I met him for the next break.
That was my experience with giardia once before at the end of my PCT hike. I had been sick as a dog for several days and then experienced relief within just a few hours of taking flagyl. Thank you modern medicine and thank you Elaine, my wonderful nurse practitioner back home who sent me off loaded for bear. I promised myself that I would filter everything from then on, no matter how crystal clear and snow melty the water looked.
The rest of the day I took it slower than usual, but was not in pain at every step. Yippee, I was back!
We made it to the Hutchinson, Burnett cabin at Marshall pass that evening. Built in 1935 by two ranching families, there were 3 bunks and a wood stove. We fired it up and were toasty warm for a night of relative ease. A spring out back flowed behind a patch of purple irises. My dinner and the sweet water tasted like ambrosia.
The next morning was beautiful and I kicked butt on trail. I noticed the gorgeous scenery and the flowers for the first time in two days. We saw a small herd of elk and then an even larger one of 20 or more. That was our biggest animal spotting.
At the Monarch Crest store Eric's dad met us and gave us a lift into Salida where we'd be staying for a zero with Liv, a nurse and CDT hiker from 2011, who had moved to Salida after her hike. She was our Trail Angel in town and lived in an apartment right across the street from the park and band shell, and the Arkansas River.
Downstairs her landlord Julie makes fleece clothing at her shop, J2 Softwear, which was perfect, as I’d been needing a lightweight fleece sweater. She took my measurements and had it ready for pickup the next day. The old brick building was obviously historic.
We made it just in time for the FIBArk, (First in Boating the Arkansas) festival which began the day we reached town and went on for four days. Billed as America’s “oldest and boldest” whitewater festival, the place was jumping! There was music all evening and a huge food, arts and crafts fair. A foot race up the hill across the river from the downtown started the festivities.
The Arkansas' rapids run right through the center of town and I watched play boats jumping up and spinning, turning flips, and rafts going over and all manner of water excitement throughout the evening and the next day. You could hear the judges from the bridge. Started in 1949, the town really goes all out. It’s a beautiful river with the stage built on its banks so you look at the water while listening to music. The town is cute enough with all its brick buildings and beautifully kept up historic homes, that even without the FIBArk, we would have loved it, but we lucked out at coming in on just the right evening.
We were kept awake till the wee hours by the street noise and music next door, but it was all good.
The fun and river competitions continued all the next day and that evening I found myself rocking out to a great band that played a lot of Talking Heads music. I’m old and don’t know if I’ve ever even heard a Talking Heads song before, but I just danced along with the rest of the crowd and really liked the sound. Maybe the wilderness has warped my hearing, but after two months of no music, it was wonderful.
Salida is a beautiful old Western Town with lots of shops and businesses, but without a touristy feeling. Much bigger than Lake City, it still retains a genuineness and heart that made it a great place for our day off trail. Ornate brick and wooden Victorian homes and businesses fill the well kept up downtown neighborhoods and the city park on the banks of the Arkansas River is worth a long afternoon just laying in the grass.
We caught a ride back to the trail with the owner of the town’s hostel who was giving a lift to Ranger and Silver, two hikers from Florida who turned out to be good folk, and we all headed up trail from Monarch Pass together. As fun as Salida had been, the trail was still home this summer.
“The mountains are calling and I must go.” John Muir
If you would like to follow our daily journals, Google: Postholer.com/Shroomer, Postholer.com/Nancy or Postholer.com/Dirt Monger. An interactive map of the CDT on the bottom right of our journal pages will show you our current GPS Spot location. View it through Google earth and you can see where we’re camped for that night. You can follow Brooks Wilson’s trail journal at www.brooksmapped.blogspot.com