Rawlins, WY to Steamboat, CO

A washed out bridge, an abandoned trail, an awful lightning storm. Are Atlas and I in the Hunger Games? Made it to the WY/CO state-line! 4 states down, just Colorado to finish off! Finally, a cinnamon roll!

Day 1

Sage Creek Road to a little before Deep Jack Trailhead

10 miles

Now that the snow has finally mostly melted in the mountains i’m back to hike the next section of trail from Rawlins to Steamboat.

The logistics of being a section hiker (as opposed to a thru-hiker) are significant when it comes to how to get to/from each section. Luckily, and partially by design, the sections i have yet to do are reasonably easy to access from Salt Lake City, where i live. But the challenge remains that you have to leave your car somewhere and then get back to it again after hiking 100 or so miles through the mountains.

I am continually surprised by the kindness of friends and strangers alike when it comes to needing help along the way. This section was no exception. My friend, Trish Sullivan, offered to have me leave my car at her house in Steamboat Springs then drive me all the way to the trailhead up in Wyoming, a 3hr drive each direction owing to the winding dirt roads. Incredible! Thanks Trish.

It was somewhat ironic that it was Trish that took me on that car ride. We figured it had been 20 years to the month that we had first met. In fact if it weren’t for Trish, I may not even have been living in the US or hiking the CDT. We first met at a job fair in Brisbane, Australia back in 1999 when the US ski resorts were recruiting Aussies to work the ski season during the summer break from university. I interviewed with Aspen and Mammoth but it was the interview with Trish for Steamboat that peaked my interest. Steamboat with its cowboy-town feel was exactly where I wanted to spend a season skiing, working and making new friends. I hopped on a plane at the end of the semester and 20 years later here i am having made a career in the ski industry. Thanks for hiring me all those years ago, Trish! You sent my life in a totally different direction than the one I was headed for, one might say you started me down the road less traveled.

I woke at 4 a.m. on Sunday and drove 6 hours east to Steamboat Springs. Trish and I then drove a further 3 hours north to the ‘trailhead’. I say ‘trailhead’ because when Trish saw it she laughed out loud and said ‘the road less traveled, hey’. It was a dusty road in the middle of nowhere where the plains of the Great Divide Basin meet the north end of the Colorado Rocky Mountains.

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Technically i should have started this section at Rawlins, but the first 38 miles is a paved road walk without water and in overwhelming heat, so the decision to skip that was an easy one. The purists on the trail believe in connecting footsteps from Canada to Mexico, i have the utmost respect for those individuals, but i’m content to hike my trail skipping a few miles here and there on road walks in/out of towns, although i’ve hiked my fair share of those also.

Trish and I said farewell and Atlas and I were off into the Medicine Bow National Forest. As always, it was wonderful to be back on the trail. The trail got its laugh in at me early this trip, not 2 miles in and I was already way off trail. Ha. Oh CDT, i’ve missed your terrible signage and faintly worn trails! It did get me to some water and trees (shade) earlier than I otherwise would have enjoyed, so it wasn’t all bad.

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The first 5 or so miles afforded great views over the south end of the Great Divide Basin and then gradually the view shifted to the pine covered foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

We hiked until the last of the sun’s rays left the sky and setup camp.

Day 2

Before Deep Jack Trailhead to North Fork Encampment River

17 miles

We woke to a nice sunrise and were walking by 6:30. The day started with a climb up to a ridge-line around 11,000 ft. Atlas was pleased to find snow drifts along the way to cool him down, not only could he lay down in the snow and cool his belly off, but he could also drink the snow melt water. Happy dog.

We passed our first thru-hikers of the trip, Superclassy and her hiking partner. Atlas is always happy to meet his trail family and he’s usually quite the novelty given there’s not very many trail dogs hiking the CDT. I was really surprised to hear that Superclassy had made a continuous nobo hike to this point. This year Colorado had a big winter followed by a long wet spring and so by the time the nobo hikers made it through New Mexico to the Colorado border, the San Juan mountains was sitting at 300% ordinary snowpack and the mountains weren’t passable. Superclassy, and the dozen other thru-hikers I would pass in the next week, had persisted and found lower elevation routes through Colorado, but still battled long stretches of snow for much of it. How impressive is that! I can’t imagine.

I was surprised to see that by 11 a.m. a thunderstorm was already brewing. I had a few miles of ridge-line walking to do but took the opportunity to take some roads that skirted the ridge instead. Thunderstorms in the mountains are a real risk this time of year, and it’s best to be off ridge-lines before about noon.

As i wandered along an intense food craving hit me. For some reason the taste of a Winona’s cinnamon roll jumped into my stomach. Winona’s, in downtown Steamboat, makes great cinnamon rolls, or at least they did 16 years ago when I last lived there. It’s all i could think about for miles. I’m all for town-food cravings when i’m on the trail but not unless i’m within a couple days of the town. This was ridiculous, i was on day 2 of 7 or 8. Not fair stomach, not fair.

The trail dropped back down to around 10,000 ft and intersected with Highway 70, the Battle Pass Scenic Byway. We walked the highway for about a mile up to Battle Pass. I’m not sure of the whole story about how the pass got its name, but i believe there was a battle there between some fur trappers and native Indians in 1841.

There were a few nobo thru-hikers at the pass having no luck hitching into Encampment. I loaned them my phone to call some folks in Encampment they were hoping may give them a ride into town. Another storm was rolling in and so i bade them farewell and continued on my way.

The storm hit with full force and we spent the next hour or so walking through really heavy rain and a thunderstorm. I was excited to pass through the Huston Park Wilderness area boundary, another new wilderness place to explore, lucky me!

The storm and then rain passed and we found a great campsite by the North Fork Encampment River to setup home for the night.

Day 3

North Fork Encampment River to Colorado Border!

19 miles

We were up and walking by 6:30. It was a really beautiful morning that reminded me a lot of a morning I had walking through the San Pedro Wilderness area in New Mexico. The trail meandered through one meadow after the other and i watched as the rays slowly filled the landscape.

The only downer of the morning was that the trail was totally drenched from both the recent snow melt and yesterday’s deluge such that i spent the first half of the day with very wet feet.

After passing through the meadows the trail made way to cross-country cairns for about 8 miles and i played the game of spot the cairn to find my way. It became challenging in a few places because some of the cairns were covered in snow.

People ask me often whether it’s easy to follow the trail, to which i always laugh. Or maybe it’s a snicker? Snicker, it’s definitely a snicker. A snicker, but with affection and usually accompanied by “where the f%$k did it go this time, Atlas?”. With the advent of GPS and digital apps, it’s actually really easy to make your way along it; but there’s definitely many many times a day you walk around in circles trying to figure out where the trail went. It’s just that it’s so inconsistent; one hour you’ll be on a dirt road, the next an actual trail, then the next it’s cross country without any discernible tread by following along some cairns. Here’s my GPS capturing one such frustrating quest today:

CDT trail finding

A very cool thing about the ‘trail’ through this section is that it is so faintly worn that there were wildflowers growing everwhere where I tried to plant my feet. I hate stepping on wildflowers!

I got some great views of Hahns Peak today, a distinctive mountain near Steamboat Lake that I’d camped at about 15 years ago. Wow, how much has transpired since I spent that summer living in Steamboat! I spent a lot of the afternoon and indeed next few days reminiscing about my time in Steamboat and the direction life has taken me in since. I think it’s pretty great it’s brought me here to be on this CDT journey! Lucky me.

The longest water carry of this stretch, 11 miles, was coming up after a spot on the map marked Whiskey Creek. My plan was to fill up enough water to get Atlas and I through the rest of the day, night and first part of tomorrow. To my distress I got there and the creek was more like a giant marsh of boggy dirty water. Not having the luxury of an alternative water source, I got my dipping cup out (the bottom few inches of an old Aquafina bottle I’d cut up) and slowly, so slowly, filled one bottle after another with the yellowest colored water i’ve ever seen. Argh, some of the water i’ve had to drink on the CDT, seriously.

You can imagine my absolute delight then when I left the creek area and ran into a steady trickle of snowmelt water coming down the hill! I happily dumped out all of the yellow water I’d spent so long filling, and replaced it with this wonderfully cold, clear water.

The last few miles of the day got pretty exciting for I was closing in on the Wyoming/Colorado state-line! My thoughts cast back over all the beautiful places i’ve walked through during my time in Wyoming, the weird and curious landscapes of Yellowstone, the grandeur and incredible beauty of the Wind River Range and the vast openness of the Great Divide Basin. This was going to be quite the achievement!

Arriving at the state-line was really cool. Previous hikers had marked out a line across the trail with rocks and nailed a Colorado and Wyoming number plate to a nearby tree and a hung a sign that said Wyoming State Line. I was over-the-moon thrilled to be here. I let out a “woot woot” as i jumped across the pile of rocks. Atlas seemed to appreciate I was excited for some reason and was jumping up and down a bit too.

After taking some obligatory selfies at the tree I sat on a nearby tree stump and contemplated being here. Wow, was the only word i could muster up to keep saying to Atlas. So, I’ve walked across Montana, Idaho, New Mexico and now Wyoming. It was fun to think back at the other state line crossings.

Crossing from Montana into Idaho for the first time when I came out of the Anaconda Pintler Wilderness in July of 2016, it wasn’t so much a state-line as a road sign as i hitched into Darby for resupply. Then literally walking along the Montana/Idaho border for hundreds of miles from there right through to the Wyoming border.

When i passed the little orange handwritten sign in the dirt that signified i’d crossed into Wyoming from Montana/Idaho in August 2016 i was really overflowing with emotion.  I couldn’t quite believe that i’d actually walked across an entire state. When I set out from the Canadian border in June I really wasn’t actually certain if I’d make it 100 miles through Glacier National Park let alone the whole state of Montana.

New Mexico was different, it was a feeling of incredible relief when I crossed into it in October of 2016 because it meant i had escaped the cold snowy mountains of Colorado. They were some cold cold mountains in late September and I couldn’t get to the warmth of New Mexico quickly enough!

I guess I’d have to say that today, crossing into Colorado from Wyoming my overwhelming emotion is that of nostalgia. Nostalgia at having been intimate with this trail for so darn long now. It felt as if we were closing a chapter together, the CDT and I, and entering into a new one.

So, now I just have Colorado left to finish, and I’ve already hiked over 300 miles of it in 2016. I can taste the victory now, it’s close. But not that close, so i reminded myself that completing Wyoming in its own right was a massive achievement and I should stay with that thought for a while.

After a sufficient amount of time spent feeling happy for myself, I woke Atlas up and we were on our way again. He was really tired, so we found a place to camp about half a mile down the trail.

Day 4

Colorado State Line to Seedhouse Campground

22 miles

The first water source for the day was 8 miles from where we’d camped, so we hit the trail at 6:30 to avoid being on water rations when the heat kicked in. The first part of the day was really easy hiking, the trail followed an old double track along a rolling ridge-line that I think used to be part of the old ‘Wyoming Sheep Driveway’. This part of the west has some funny history with its sheep.

I guess there was a big feud between the Colorado cattle ranchers and the Wyoming sheepmen in the late 1800s and the Wyoming/Colorado state-line was named the ‘deadline’ and if any of the Wyoming sheep crossed into the Colorado pastures the ranchers would kill them. The story goes that in 1903 large herds of the sheep had drifted south of the ‘deadline’ and 300 sheepmen rode for more than 24 hours to get to them before the Colorado ranchers got there first. It resulted in one of the largest sheep stampedes the west has ever seen. The sheep made it back to their Wyoming pastures but hundreds of them died in the frenzy.

Things became a little more civilized and regulated after the advent of the National Forest Service in 1905. The ‘Wyoming Sheep Driveway’ was established to provide the sheepmen with easier access to the Colorado pastures within the forest and also to get the sheep to market in Steamboat Springs.

In my experience, the Wyoming cowboys seem to have a real ‘get the Federal government out of our lands’ mentality; maybe someone should tell them the story of the infamous stampede and remind them that the Fed is just being a good shepherd.

Sadly, the current administration has embarked on a mission to starve that poor shepherd. Not going to get political in this blog, trying really hard not to here, but i tell you what, there’s a very noticeable elimination of services in almost all of the great public lands i spend so much of my time in. It’s sad, short-sighted and I hope it’s short-lived. The protection and thoughtful management of public lands is, in my opinion, one of the greatest treasures this great country has, but it’s like those lands exist on a ship without a captain or crew right now. I digress…………….

I stopped for lunch under a tree by a stream in a flower filled meadow. I took my shoes and socks off and dried out my feet. It had been a really hot morning and so shade and the sound of water were going down nicely.  I was also cautiously watching the building cumulonimbus clouds, they were really billowing and starting to get dark at the bottom.

We hit the trail again right as a light shower passed overhead. A few minutes later there were some distant thunder grumbles. That persisted on and off for a few miles and I was happy that the trail was taking me down to the valley floor instead of up towards a ridge-line. I was cruising along in a pretty happy state of being ready to find a place to camp in a few miles and stay dry from whatever storm was starting to build. Boy was I in for a surprise, the CDT definitely had other plans for me this afternoon!

Imagine my surprise when i came down a hill to see a raging river below me and the remnants of a pretty large bridge. When i say remnants, there were some beams on either river bank but nothing in between. Um, WTF, CDT?!!! Seriously. Yes. Can you hear the CDT laughing at me again? Yes. I didn’t need to ask Atlas “where the f#$K did the trail go this time”?

One of my favorite things about hiking this trail is the daily plethora of unexpected situations you find yourself in. It’s just you and the situation, and you need to put on your big girl pants and figure it out.

I opened the CDT app and studied some comments that hikers had left in previous years. Incidentally that’s one of my other favorite things, the knowledge sharing that happens in that app; it’s such a great community to be part of. Anyway, so i studied some comments that indeed the bridge is out and there’s a re-route i could take if i backtracked a mile. There was also a comment that the water wasn’t too hard to ford and another that if you go downstream there’s a log-jam you can cross on. Fording at the bridge simply wasn’t an option, the water was deep and very fast moving owing to all the snow melt that’s still underway. I didn’t like the ideas of backtracking a whole mile, so Atlas and I were off to find a way to cross this thing.

“C’mon Atlas” i chimed, trying to keep things cheery, as we side-hilled and bushwhacked our way downstream to get a better look at the log jam. Atlas wasn’t fooled though when i stopped to put everything on the outside of my pack into the main compartment and took my GPS device out of the pack and secured it to my body. He’s a smart boy and he knew something was up.

We made our way to the log jam. The obvious log to cross on was wide and very sturdy, safe to cross for sure. Atlas was doing a bit of whining but still followed along after me as I crossed it. I got to the foot of the log and was greeted by its giant roots and a mess of other logs all piled up on top of each other. I’d need to down-climb through 12 feet of logs and then make my way across another less certain looking log. I didn’t like the idea of doing that with Atlas, especially the down-climbing section. You don’t want to get caught in water on the upstream side of a log jam! Hmmm, what next?

I stood there and studied things for a few minutes. I noticed that the log jam had forced the 1 powerful stream into 3 less powerful paths below the jam. It didn’t look too deep and it didn’t look too forceful… that was our ticket! Atlas followed me back across the log again, somehow buying my enthusiasm. We set across the first stream; it was fast moving but not too deep or powerful and so we made it across without hesitation. The second and third crossings didn’t look so accommodating unfortunately, argh, what now? We scouted out another log, a little less sturdy and definitely narrower than the first, but passable with a pretty high degree of certainty. Atlas sensing my anxiousness stayed right on my heels but out of my way, what a good boy! Before we knew it we’d made it across! Ha, take that CDT!

Sometimes i feel like i’m in the Hunger Games and the CDT is the evil administrator behind the whole thing throwing challenges in the way when things are going just a little too well. But Atlas and I prevailed, we beat the challenge! No cannons firing this round, CDT. Take that! Atlas jumped up and gave me a giant hug, he knew we’d just done something a little on the scary side and prevailed.

My smugness was short-lived as I studied the river bank i stood before trying to figure out how to make it back up to the ‘trail’. There were dense 10 foot high willow bushes literally everywhere i looked. I pushed and fought my way through, shouting expletives that even those sheepmen and ranchers from the 1890s would have been shocked to hear. I wasn’t happy. We emerged victorious but it didn’t feel that way, my legs were all scrapped up and my stamina gone. Time to find a camp site.  But there again, the CDT had another couple of challenges to send my way, it was just getting started.

The ‘trail’ disappeared completely into a mess of downed trees right as the thunder grumbles and light rain made way to a full on wild Colorado mountain storm. Wind, hail and thunder were coming at me from every direction as I fought my way through the abandoned mess of a trail. Evidently no one takes this route anymore and the detour gets all the traffic because it’s one of the shittiest miles i’ve ever had to battle through. I popped out at the other end on a road with a big sign cautioning people to take the road detour… why wasn’t that on the other end of this piece section of shit trail???! Seriously, why?

The storm mellowed a little, the hail made way to rain and the thunder eased up in its intensity. Everything was drenched and there really wasn’t anywhere to camp so i just kept walking. Then just as I thought the CDT had moved on to torture some other poor soul, a second storm moved in. This one was one of the most intense storms i’ve ever been in, right up there with that one i got stuck in below Hat Pass in the Wind River Range last summer, except this time i didn’t have the false security of my tent to protect me.

This thing was awful. Heavy rain then hail then heavy rain again, thunder and lightening just assaulting the valley all around me. I hate lightning, more than anything the CDT can throw my way, grizzly bears included, so i knew this was the finale of my Hunger Games challenge for the day. I found a perfect grove of young Aspen trees to hide in, much smaller than the nearby pine forests, and that’s where you want to be, so i was pretty happy. I threw my pack and poles 10 feet away to keep the metal away from me, something you should always do if you’re trapped in a storm. The next smart thing to do is sit on an insulted pad and assume lightning position. But Atlas and I had had enough, there’s only so much you can take mentally, so we kept the umbrella despite it having a little metal in it and huddled underneath it together in the wet grass. I wasn’t going to get our sleeping pads wet this close to night-fall.

The storm seemed to last forever, then everything went calm; the rain and wind stopped and the lightning and thunder show took a cease fire. Was it over? Could i get moving to find a place to camp yet? I had .4 mile of open meadow in front of me, not somewhere i wanted to be if the storm returned. Return it did, it wasn’t done, it was just the eye and the intermission was now over. Hail, heavy rain, crazy wind, lightning strikes i could see to the left then right then left again. Awful.

At some point it all calmed down and we emerged, we were exhausted and scared, but still in the game. It was time to find a place to pitch the tent and crawl inside. But the stretch of trail we were on was all leafy vegetation and it was all thoroughly soaked, pitching a tent on that stuff would have made for a very cold and humid night. Must, keep, searching. “Atlas, find us a camp”.

The miles just kept passing and the vegetation didn’t change. I knew we were coming up on a popular Colorado trailhead for the Zirkel Wilderness Area and there was a trailhead and campground there, so that became the new goal. We made it to the road and walked into the trailhead parking lot; there were no cars, but there were 2 things right in front of me that made me happier than i think any person has ever been: a dumpster and a privy (trailhead toilet for the Aussies). Yes, you heard me right.

The dumpster is hiker heaven because it means you can throw out all of your accumulated trash. It felt great to unload a whole bag full of stuff.

I opened the privy and it was toasty warm and dry inside, didn’t smell in the least, was lightning proof, and is absolutely the cleanest privy i’ve ever seen. It was also really spacious. Atlas and I went inside and shut the door, he fell asleep, i ate some food and spread out some of our stuff to dry out a little. As I sat there eating some food i made a serious plan to lock ourselves in and sleep inside it for the night. It was raining outside and another storm was moving in. There were no cars left in the parking lot. This privy was our sanctuary. If we were indeed in a Hunger Games challenge then this was heaven-sent from our sponsor.

In the end though i just couldn’t do it. We dried out everything, ate dinner and then setup the tent a few feet from the parking lot gravel. Ordinarily i have a rule that I won’t sleep within a couple of miles of a road or places people will be, but tonight i didn’t care, i just wanted to go to sleep. We crawled into our slightly less comfortable tent sanctuary. The thunder was booming again, but if they were Hunger Games cannons, they weren’t for Atlas and I, we’d survived.

Day 5

Seedhouse Campground to 6 miles north of Buffalo Pass

18 miles

I was up at 4 a.m. and we hit the trail at 5:30. There was a 12,000ft peak i needed to summit that was 11 miles away and I wanted to cross it before any storms had the chance to move in. I wasn’t going to participate in the Hunger Games today and somehow the CDT knew and conceded me that.

Atlas and I powered up through the valley, with just one 30 minute break and made it to the Summit by about 11:15. It was a long, long ascent and we were pretty beat when we got up there from the push, but after yesterday i didn’t want to chance getting there after noon.

The views of the Mt Zirkel Wilderness from Lone Ranger peak were fabulous. Classic Colorado. What a beautiful mountain range. I was above tree line now for another 5 miles and to be honest, I was totally freaked out from yesterday’s CDT lightning-show and so we didn’t stop for a break nor slow our pace to sight-see.

We walked and walked and walked until we could see the treeline then stopped for a nice long break. We were in about 16 hard miles and it felt good to lay on a rock and soak up the sun. Luckily, the clouds didn’t billow into the tall columns characteristic of cumulonimbus aka big scary storm clouds at all today. Of any days to have fine weather, today needed to be it, i felt very thankful the big storm hit yesterday when i was on the valley floor and not up here at 12,000ft.

We walked another couple of miles to get safely below tree line, just in case, and then called it a day. It was still pretty early and the sun was hot still. The mosquitoes were fierce and I didn’t have my Thermacell Radius so Atlas and I retreated to the tent. I put up my little hiking umbrella to deflect some of the heat and it did just the trick. That little umbrella comes in handy every trip in so many different ways.

Day 6

North of Buffalo Pass to Fishhook Lake

16 miles

Today was very cruisy walking. The first few hours we spent headed towards Buffalo Pass, a pass i’ve heard so much about over the years that i lived at Steamboat. In the winter it’s a popular backcountry recreation area and i recall many a local talking about their adventures up on “Buff Pass”.

I passed a few nobo hikers this morning. I stopped and had a pretty long chat to one of them just north of Buff Pass. Funny discussion actually, after some ‘how’z the snow that way’, ‘how are the blow downs this way’ talk, i blurted out, ‘I can’t wait to get to Steamboat and eat a cinnamon role’. He cracked up laughing and told me he’d been at Winona’s yesterday and i should go there because the cinnamon roles are really good. Then this gal he was hiking with caught up to us and said she’d had half of one for breakfast and it was really good. I couldn’t stop laughing. Seems like that particular cinnamon role is so good that the craving follows you both ways on the trail. Ha. Now i really wanted to get to Steamboat!

The wildflowers today were incredible. Whole fields of them everywhere I looked. Wow. The best part of the morning though was looking out across the range to the east. It’s the first time on the CDT that i’ve caught up to a section of trail i’ve already hiked. The Steamboat to Grand Lakes section I hiked in 2016 after skipping down there from the north end of the Wind River Range. It was so fun and rewarding looking out over the range remembering the hike.

The last half of the day I walked through rain, hail and thunderstorms. We were now well below tree line, and there were thousands of trees around, so i felt pretty good about just walking on through the storm. Although at one point the hail balls hit us so hard that Atlas let out a little yelp, so i pulled out the umbrella and we huddled under it until it passed.

The only challenge that came my way that afternoon was minor, the liners in my shoes bunched up under my foot for some odd reason. I think it’s because the shoes were totally drenched from the rain and the liners just lost their stiffness. In any event, it was super annoying but I didn’t want to stop to fix it in the rain so i just got used to it for a few miles.

We found an actual campsite to sleep at tonight by a pretty lake called Fishhook Lake. Atlas was beat and went straight to bed after i setup the tent. I sat by the lake for a while and thought about that cinnamon roll.

Day 7

Fishhook Lake to Dumont Lake and Steamboat!

5 miles

Cinnamon roll, cinnamon roll, cinnamon roll. That’s about the extend of my trail thoughts today. I was so close  now i could almost taste it.

Actually that’s not true, the wildflowers today were E P I C! I see a lot of wildflowers but today’s were so intense it took me forever to move 100 yards because i kept stopping to take photos.

I made it to the campground and trailhead at Rabbit Ears pass by about 8:30 and it was already brimming with families and campers hanging out at Dumont Lake.

As if she hadn’t already been saintly enough, Trish came to pick me up from the trailhead and hear all about my walk. It was great to see her again but she looked so clean and pretty that I stopped short of giving her a big hug; i literally reeked. My shirt had actually smelled so bad when i put it on this morning that i gagged a little. Not my favorite part of long-distance hiking! 4-5 days is fine, you just get a little smelly, but stay out longer than that and you cross a very definite line into the rancid smell territory.

Trish opened the back of her car and there was my little overnight bag with a change of clothes in it. I wasted no time ripping my shirt off and changing into a clean one, it smelled as good as some of the wildflowers i’d just passed. Ahhhhhhh, flip flops and a clean shirt. Life was really really good.

Trish and I chatted about the hike as we drove down from the pass into beautiful Steamboat Springs. Have i expressed how much love i have for this town? So many fantastic memories, and so happy that I get to come back here still and create new ones.

We were back at Trish’s place before i knew it and 2 very very amazing things were in my near future- a shower and that cinnamon roll!

The shower was great. It’s not surprising that dirt streams off me when i have my first post-trail shower, but what always takes me back a bit is how long it streams off for. I must have scrubbed with soap for 10 minutes before the water heading down the drain turned clear.

I emerged from that heavenly shower a new person, clean clothes, fragrant hair, soft skin and a big smile. Trish and her neighbor, Milena, were having a garage sale next door and I went over and hung out for a while. Man it felt nice to just sit and be lazy! It also was so great to see a little piece of the Steamboat community in action: neighbors sharing a garage sale; a constant stream of people stopping by, some on foot and some by car, and of course many with dogs; the kind of conversation that picks up from a place it can only have gotten to from decades of living in the same town and working for the same mountain. Oh Steamboat! I wanted to stay and watch the scene forever but that cinnamon roll now was aggressively taunting me, i had to go eat.

I called in a to-go order for a cinnamon roll and breakfast burrito and drove down to Winona’s. Town was very packed owing to the Saturday Farmer’s Market and a weekend rodeo of some sort. Atlas and I felt pretty great strolling down the main street looking like pretend locals. The little cafe was totally jamming, dogs were parked outside casually laying across the sidewalk expecting pats, their owners sat at tables eating brunch in their chacos and ball caps, the Grateful Dead was playing and waitresses hurried all about.  I approached the host and asked after my order. As she rung me out I told her i’d been day-dreaming about this cinnamon role for 6 days. She looked at me a little quizzically without comment. In a odd attempt to make my statement a little less weird, I told her i’d met some hikers 2 days ago that were still talking about their cinnamon roll. She gave me an even more strange look. This was one of those trail-life to real-life transitions that remind me I’ve been ‘away’.

One of the funniest trail-life to real-life transitions i’ve had was actually in this town in 2016. I was wandering around town with my backpack on and my bounce box in my hands, my bounce box you may remember was one of the scruffiest looking usps boxes you’ll ever meet. Another thru-hiker friend, Wiseman, was with me and had a similar set of shit hanging off him. We went into a restaurant on main street and sat down, but they refused to serve us, I guess we looked (and maybe smelled) like homeless people. Haha, so funny. Funny too because i’d sat at that same table a year or so earlier and picked up a $900 tab for a big group i’d taken to dinner there when i was in town for an industry event.

Anyway, so i got my cinnamon roll and burrito and Atlas and i headed down to the Yampa River. I found a big rock to sit on and took my first bite. It was so good. Really good. Everything I’d remembered. The inner-tubers floated by me while i slowly chewed and savored each bite.

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My stomach must have shrunk in the past week because I only made it half way through each of them. I was stuffed, couldn’t eat another bite. I woke Atlas from his sleep coma and we wandered around the Farmers Market for a while.

I wanted to thank Trish again for being so amazing so I met she, Mike and Malena at Creekside Cafe for lunch a little later. Evidently not late enough though because i was still stuffed to the brim. Normally i can eat like a horse when i get off trail. Very odd. I went a little light on food rations this trip, so i think my stomach must have shrunk. I did drink at least 5 glasses of lemonade though and it went down a treat. Actually now i’m thinking of it, maybe the 5 glasses of lemonade filled me up. Ha, yes that might have been it too!

Despite not eating much it was a really nice lunch. Melana was so cute and kept asking any number of questions that I tend to get from people that are new to my story. It’s funny how second nature trail life is to me now and so it’s really fun telling the stories and allowing it to fall into perspective.

We said our farewells and were on our way. Trish, i know you’re reading this, thank you one more time, it was so wonderful seeing you and having our 20 year reunion in a car ride to Wyoming and hanging out in Steamboat!

The drive back to Salt Lake City went by quickly and I started thinking about the next stretch of trail. I’ve got to go back to work for a couple of weeks first, but then I’m headed to fill in the stretch of trail from Tennessee Pass to Monarch Pass in central Colorado. It’s going to be a real gem given that it will take us through the Collegiate Peaks, some of the state’s highest peaks.

Until then… thanks for reading.

-Elevated.

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