“What is tea but dirty water with a fancy name?” — The guy who writes all the CDT maps, Jonathon Ley, always has a few good lines in his notes about water sources or different routes. This one really resonated with me, especially as I scooped up water from a pond that smelled like the demolition zone of cows’ morning routines. Well, it wasn’t awful, but I knew there was some serious cow poo in there. Whatever, that’s what my filter is for.
I’ll back up to Steamboat. Staying at Pink’s place was amazing, and we even got to tube down the river one day (did I already write about this?). We really bro’ed out, as you can tell by the naked cooking party… While in Steamboat, I finalized some plans with some friends to meet up in West Yellowstone on August 8, which means I had to hoof it through Wyoming in order to make it up there on time. I am also stopping by Rimrock Ranch over towards Cody, so I have to make enough time to detour over that way through the Thorofare, southeast of the national park.
Basically, this all meant I had to do high mileage for the next long while. I’m up for that challenge, but unfortunately it also meant setting out on my own for a bit. My trail friends are probably capable of doing more miles than I can, but to save time, I wouldn’t be resting in towns, so I’ve ended up ahead of them. Hiking alone is a much much different experience, which I’ll get to.
I hitched out of Steamboat alone and eventually got a ride from a young couple headed to Red Rocks for a Portugal the Man concert (is that the band? I feel like they have some sort of punctuation in their name like Portugal. The Man… Some indie stuff that I’d probably like). I did 20 miles starting after noon and made it into the Zirkel Wilderness, Colorado’s last hurrah. It’s pretty pretty.
The next day was a large one. I was trying to make it to the border, but couldn’t night hike in the forest alone on account of imaginary serial killers and zombies. I camped three miles from the border and passed it in the morning. I smiled so hard when I made it. I gave a howl and fist pumped a few times and then looked around to see if anyone saw me… Nobody for miles.
In Wyoming, I walked through the rolling hills of the Medicine Bow National Forest and across some exposed ridges during some not so casual thunder. Oh well. Dropping down into some of the valleys, there was a ton of swampy trail, and I couldn’t avoid getting my feet soaked.
I made it to the road that night where I’d hitch into Encampment to pick up my new shoes and maps from the post office. There were no cars that drove by the right direction after 7pm… I slept at the trailhead and got a ride instantly in the morning from the first car that passed. The town was tiny. Pretty much a bar, a post office, and an antique store with AWESOME coffee. Best coffee on trail by far. The lady was so nice and let me charge all my electronics and spread my maps out everywhere. Her coffee was pour-over drip and she had freshly roasted beans from Mystic Monk Blend, a coffee roastery run by monks somewhere in Wyoming (I forget where, maybe Gillette). That cup of joe reminded me of the good ole days waking up on lazy Saturdays during sophomore year to the sound and smell of Antony making coffee. #clarkthree
I hitched a ride back out to the trail that same morning and made it 20 miles through the afternoon into the early evening. The next day was my biggest of the trail yet (and probably for a long time), 45 miles. I dropped down into what was basically desert (think no trees, sagebrush, rolling hills, dirt road, and lots of cows), so it was easy to do lots of miles very quickly, despite the heat.
I ended up carrying 4 liters of water about 34 miles from Muddy Creek into Rawlins, the next town, because the rest of the water sources were too alkaline and salty to drink from. Yikes.
Honestly, besides my sore feet and being bored every now and then, that big day went extremely well. I almost lost a little piece to my water filter in a swamp in the pitch dark, but I found it after some swearing and will power. The evening was quite nice. It cooled off and the stars came out. Then, around 10:15pm, the nearly full moon rose in the east. Moonrises are my favorite. Makes me feel like I’m in an animated movie… I played guitar as I walked and sang about random things like my foot pain or my armpits or my boogers. I also read as I walked. I only stubbed my toe once or twice!
I was pretty beat by 1am and fell asleep. My alarm was set for 5am since I had to make it to the post office in Rawlins by noon the next day. When it came time to wake up, I’ve never wanted to sleep more in my life. Hiking late really makes you appreciate your Zzz’s. For real. I decided to walk the rest of the way on the highway alternate, as the official, designated route was cross country, hard to follow and made for slow miles. The highway was boring, but made more interesting by two rattlesnakes. The first one I saw in the middle of the highway, so I went closer to check if it was squished or not. Nope. It was very alive and rattling and lifting its head up to warn me away. I’ve never seen a rattler up so close before. Well… a few miles closer to town, I was facetiming my mother while walking on the highway like a good son when I suddenly screamed “farts! Butts! Silly socks! Nuts in a cannoli!” (actually much much worse versions of those expletives). I hadn’t been paying attention to where I was walking and stepped within a foot or two of a green rattlesnake that coiled up like it was going to strike me. When I noticed, I immediately hopped and ran away whilst spewing the chain of curse words at my confused momma. That was probably one of the more life threatening events I’ve ever experienced… I was very close to town and in cell service, so if I got bit I would’ve survived, but still. Yikes. Snakes suck.
I made it to the post office on time and spent the night with Cloud and Handstand. A motel bed has never felt so good. I headed out in the morning with Handstand. We had another close encounter with a rattler. Jeezypeezy.
I was entering the Great Divide Basin and had 120 miles of walking through what was called the “Red Desert”. It was indeed very desert-like, but the water situation wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. It was never more than 15 miles between water sources, which is actually pretty darn good. Some of those were nasty cow water, but I was never scared of being dehydrated and too far from water. Instead, I just had a bunch of little issues like my toe joints swelling up and rubbing the tops of my shoes, or my water being super warm, or my snickers melting.
Anyways, I really enjoyed the basin even though I exhausted myself doing big miles to get to Lander (30, 40, 43, then 10 or so this morning). There is so much wildlife out here in Wyoming. I’ve seen four huge bull elk and a few cows within 50 yards, tons of deer, wild horses, rattlesnakes (ha), pronghorn/antelope (they run so fast!), two owls at night, and hundreds and hundreds of curious cows with a few bulls intermixed.
I also got to walk on the Oregon Trail yesterday which brought back fond memories of Pioneer Day with Mrs. Friddell in first grade.
As I said earlier, I’ve been traveling alone since Steamboat pretty much, but have camped and hiked with Handstand and Squirrel a few times. Hiking alone is both amazing and difficult. It’s freeing in the sense that you do whatever you want when you want, but challenging in that you have to set goals for yourself and push yourself when no one is there to support or encourage you. You don’t have anyone to talk to, but I still talk to the moon and the cows. I think more deeply about my future. I wonder why I am really doing this. Then I see ten antelope go running into the sunset, and I smile. I’m out here to walk, and that’s exactly what I’m doing. It’s not too complicated.
coming up: the wind River range, the lava mountain fire (I have to detour around it), the Thorofare, Rimrock Ranch, and a meeting with good friends