Peering at the upcoming topography, we could see that our lives were about to become much easier. Our days of constant ascent and descent were behind us and we were starting to feel like Canada was well within reach. Being at a lower elevation also means that wildlife becomes more of a concern. The dense forests of the CDT contain some of the most beautiful creatures in the world.
We hiked out of Grand Lake after dinner knowing we only had a few miles to hike before camp. Over those few miles I counted at least seven moose grazing in the valley, one of which could not have been more than twenty yards away from myself and the trail. In one of my earlier blogs I had mentioned not seeing any moose in my lifetime prior to this trail. Those numbers were about to increase exponentially over the next few weeks.
From here on out our miles sky rocketed along with the number of moose sightings. The trail was beginning to allow us to complete 25 miles a day on a daily basis. Unfortunately, in order to arrive in Glacier National Park before the snow begins to fall, it is necessary that we crank out these big miles pretty much the entire rest of the way. Even though the trail became a little more friendly, the views did not subside.
The day before arriving in Steamboat Springs, we reached the summit of our last real mountain in Colorado. Park View Mountain summit had a neat little shelter reminiscent of a shed on the peak. The summit is entirely exposed, so this could offer some shelter if caught up there in a storm. Luckily for us, we were up there prior to a thunderstorm that rolled in later that afternoon and we were able to actually spend some time up there and enjoy what the mountain had to offer. A group of very tame chipmunks roam the top of this mountain, as I am sure other hikers must have fed them in the past. They would come within inches of us and were eating the salt off of Egg Rolls' trekking poles. This was definitely a first for me.
Upon completion of our last real climbs in Colorado, we setup camp 29 miles out of Steamboat Springs... our last town in "The Centennial State." My walk to the highway that morning was one of the biggest confidence boosts I have had on trail, for I was able to complete 29 miles before 2:00pm. Through the San Juans we were barely able to make 15 miles on a full day of hiking, so this really put things into perspective making me realize I have plenty of time to finish and the ability to make big miles.
Exiting Steamboat, we knew we were only two days away from the biggest border crossing on the trail... at least in my opinion. I never know how I will react upon completion of an entire state. Will I scream? Will I cry? Will I do anything at all? Well, after cruising 25 miles to get to the border, all I could think about was how much food I was going to shove down my gullet. You think you may have some existential experience, but ultimately it is just another day of hiking.
At first, I will admit I was skeptical about Wyoming. The moment we entered Wyoming, you could tell the trail was far less maintained. There were sections of trail where you could not walk more than a couple hundred feet without running into a tree blown down on the trail. The topo showed easy terrain based on elevation gain, but the blow downs forced us to take our time. Even though we were still making big miles, it certainly could have been more without the obstacles. It turned out this was just our initiation period in Wyoming, because as the state continued it became increasingly beautiful.
In the blink of an eye, we went from thick pine forest to hot and dry, sagebrush ridden desert in The Great Basin. Pretty much the entire section was on dirt road, but everything was wide open and temperatures were reaching the low 90s. Despite the heat, flat road walking and a lack of water were enough incentive for most hikers to pull some really big days. Hikers were completing days of 55-65 miles into Rawlins. Bones and I were a little ahead of our friends, so we were lucky enough to only have to hike a 38 mile day, setting up an easy 16 into town. At least it would have been easy if it were not for the water situation. We ended our 38 mile day at a water source that had a disappointingly salty taste to it. So much so that we were worried the water was not suitable to drink and we wound up pouring our water out and going to bed thirsty. In the morning I found a murky pond and drank about a half liter of some of the most disgusting filtered water I have ever had. It was a miserable morning of thirsty hiking, but Rawlins was not far and we knew of a Thai Buffet that would solve all of our problems.
I am not just saying this because I have the hiker hunger and most food really satisfies me, but this buffet was legitimately one of my favorite places I have ever eaten. It was not the biggest selection of food, however what they did have was all absolutely delicious. So delicious that I had to return for round two. Not to mention it costs less than $10. With some time to spare (the guys were a day behind still), we spent the next two days in town being vegetables while eating as much as bodies would allow. After crushing a 54 mile day like iron men, the guys arrived in town and the crew was back together at last! Some logistical issues would soon cause us to have to break up for another short while.
As seen above, the trail really flattens out in The Basin. Miles were flying by, but the scorching heat made it undesirable to take a break anyhow. We were generally hiking until 8:00pm when the sun set and were rarely getting in less than 27 miles a day. Something we had been discussing since the beginning of the trail was attempting a really long day in Wyoming, so we could all set personal records. On July 24th, we all began hiking at our normal time, but we would not be getting to camp until much later than usual.
When I got out of my tent that morning, I honestly had no intention to hike 60 miles in less than a day. Although it was something I had really wanted to try, I did not think it was something I could do comfortably in the heat of The Basin. Bones was definitely going for it, but not until a little later in morning was anyone else. While taking a water break, both Bones and Prophet rolled up. Prophet told me that Bones made him break and even though he had already completed a 54, he was down to try the 60. I did not take a second to think about... I was in.
Admittedly, I was having my doubts early on in the day. Prophet and Bones were sailing along, making four miles an hour and I was doing my best to keep them in my sights. I kept telling myself if I could just push it until our planned 8:00pm dinner break (40.2 miles in) that I was going to make it. Following our lunch break, the guys started hiking a pace that was a little more comfortable, because we were ahead of schedule. I continued to struggle with the heat, but we could not have picked a better stretch to attempt water wise. There were ponds, creeks, springs and even two water caches along the way, so we were definitely not going thirsty. Shockingly, once we arrived at our dinner spot, I was still feeling rather energetic. We already had 2/3 of our hike done and even though we still had 20 miles left, the feat was really starting to feel attainable. There was only an hour left of daylight, so roughly 16 miles of our 60 was in the pitch dark (it was also a new moon). Being as the trail was on a road nearly the entire way, we were able to navigate without our headlamps. This certainly messed with my senses, not having an idea where I was going, but it was a fun experience nonetheless. Near the end of our hike, I switched over to zombie mode. My legs were numb, yet still moving and I felt at any moment I could fall asleep on my feet. Despite the exhaustion, we all kept pushing and were able to conquer our goal in twenty hours, finishing the hike around 2:30am with plans to stroll into town after a few hours of sleep.
Just as planned, we woke up around 6:00am, only a few hours after finishing our big day and we walked down the hill into Atlantic City. We were all stoked to arrive at the restaurant in town where we had originally planned to stay at all day and eat as much as our bodies would allow. Upon arrival, we were greeted with a sign that read, "So sorry we had to close, taking grandma to the train." Initially I could not tell if this was their humorous closed sign or if the place was really not opening that day. Barely a moment passed before we saw "grandma" walking out of the house next door with her suitcase in hand. Our hearts sunk, as this was the only place in town to eat (the town has a population of 37). We knew we had resupply boxes a few miles down the road at South Pass City, so we had to suck it up and push on down the road on a day where we had no desire to move whatsoever. No matter though, we made it to town fine and began preparing for the next section of trail through The Winds. Many previous thru-hikers expressed their love for this stretch causing great excitement for those of us who had no idea what we were in for.
Our first evening in The Winds offered some beautiful scenery, but this did not compare to what we would be walking through the next few days. However, the next morning we had the coolest moose experience I have ever encountered. We awoke to at least five moose surrounding our tents and an adolescent bull was sniffing Big John's tent. He just sat in there and talked to him until eventually they took off. It is always very surreal coming so close to such a massive creature. You have to be careful, but you also just want to get as close as possible. Even though we are all equipped with bear spray, fortunately none of us have run into any grizzlies (that could quickly change in Yellowstone).
Our second night, we found ourselves at Marms Lake. The scenery was majestic, but the mosquitos were unbearable. We all rapidly made dinner, then proceeded to hide from the bugs in our tents making it difficult to actually enjoy the beauty that surrounded us. Fortunately for us, the next day sent us to higher altitudes which means more wind and less bugs.
The bugs did remain a problem even at higher elevation, but they were not nearly as bad. We were even fortunate enough to find a campsite on a pass the third evening that was so windy we did not encounter a single fly. From here until we got to highway 28 and our hitch to Dubois, the trail was breathtaking.
The only downside to our trek through the alpine of The Winds was that it ended so abruptly. I am not sure I have ever traveled through anything so glorious in all of my adventures and as you can see below, there is nothing in the world like it. The stretch from South Pass to Dubois was 170 miles and is ultimately the longest stretch between towns for us on the entire trail. We can only carry so much food, so we really had to push our way through here in order to avoid going hungry (which happened anyway). I can safely say that aesthetically speaking this was my favorite section of trail and everyone made it to town safely despite the low food situation.
I am currently laying in bed at the Stagecoach Inn here in Dubois feeling rejuvenated after getting some real food in me and giving my body a chance to rest. We just got done mapping out the rest of the trail and it turns out we "only" have 970 miles remaining. We figure to be finished somewhere around September 10th, so things are going to start getting really exciting! I can not express to you guys enough how much I appreciate the love and support I receive on my endeavors... it truly is what motivates me. I can't wait to have you all there with me at the finish!