Monday, May 16, 2022

Day 93: Good morning, Wyoming!

July 22: Being camped at the edge of a meadow, it meant that there weren't a lot of trees to block the sunrise and therefore it got light much earlier than normal and therefore, I was up and hiking and on the trail at an early 5:45am! Perhaps my earliest start yet!

I followed the gravel roads, since I was still on gravel roads that detoured around the wildfire that closed the trail--now my 4th day on the fire detour--but also my last day since I expected to reconnect with the red-line CDT in a few hours. I was looking forward to getting back on the official route again. The detour, generally speaking, sucked pretty badly.

I was probably an hour into my hike when I came across a vehicle that had driven into a creek. While coming up to the scene, it looked to me like the 4-door sedan might have gotten stuck while trying to cross the creek, but the car was still idling. There, I met Chris who was getting some water among other tasks and apparently wasn't stuck at all. He had a rental car, though, and was traveling the countryside and seemed nice. But I still found it oddly unsettling that he had apparently parked his car in the creek then left it idling. I gotta imagine that the rental car company he got it from won't be too happy with his off-roading adventures when it comes time to return it.

When I came across this scene, I thought I had discovered a vehicle stuck in the creek. But no.... just a convenient place to park, I guess. *shrug*

I was glad to learn that he wasn't stuck, however, since I didn't feel like I had any obligation to help someone that didn't need any. Not that there was much I could do. I didn't get any cell phone signal out here. The only way I could get help would have been to hike out on foot. If he had been stuck, he could have done that himself. But, more than likely, if he waited long enough, someone in a car would have driven up and could either help by towing him out of the creek or driving somewhere with a signal and then they could call for help.

But I continued pushing onward, and the trail steadily climbed in altitude, eventually reconnecting with the red-line CDT. Hello, trail! I missed you so.... Although in the immediate future, nothing about the trail actually changed. The trail through this area continued to follow old, gravel roads. They were, however, much more rugged and less maintained than before, which also meant much less traffic. In fact, along this gravel road, I never saw any traffic at all.

The gravel road eventually did become a proper trail, however, and I was back in my element. A few miles later, I reached another exciting milestone: Wyoming! I finally arrived at the Wyoming border. Colorado, at long last, was behind me. Good riddens! I was so over Colorado at this point and all their stupid mountains! Wyoming, if rumors were true, would be flat and easy and oh-my-gosh, I so much wanted a little bit of flat and easy terrain!

The trail, where it crossed the border, was marked with a line of stones and the abbreviations WY on one side and CO on the other. There were also license plates of both states strung up at the border. I stopped to take some photos and relish the achievement. Two states down, three to go!

The line of rocks across the trail marks the Colorado-Wyoming border.

Then I continued onward, and a mile or two beyond the border, I reached yet another big milestone. For there, in the trail, spelled out with rocks was 1500. It was 1,500 miles from the Mexican border. At least along the official red-line CDT. At this point, absolutely nobody on the trail followed the main route the entire distance. Even if they wanted to, there was still the problem of trail closures such as the fire detour. But, in principle, I had reached the 1,500-mile mark. And roughly speaking, the CDT was approximately 3,000 miles long (again, depending on the specific route one takes), which means it was also--roughly speaking--about the halfway mark. At this point, both Canada and Mexico were approximately the same distance away.

So I did a little halfway marker dance, but soon continued onward.

1500 miles! Roughly speaking, the halfway mark of the trail! Woo-who!

The legendary flatness of Wyoming, so far, had been elusive. The trail wound through thick forests and rose and fell regularly. Basically, it looked like a continuation of Colorado. If the border hadn't been marked, it would have been easy to pass it and never even know it was there.

The trail eventually came out to a trailhead overlooking Hog Park Reservoir. I stopped to take a short snack break, during which a vehicle pulled up. Out of which came out a few adults and four kids. The kids, if I had to guess, ranged in ages from about 5 to 8. One of the adults asked me if I was hiking "that trail along the Continental Divide," I told him that I was. He said it was the first time in 20 years that he'd actually seen anyone hiking the trail and was immediately fascinated by it.

Once he broke the ice, though, the kids took over the interrogation. They wanted to know when I started, how long I had been hiking, what I ate along the way, where I was going after I left the trailhead and what I would do after I finished the trail. It was a very thorough interrogation! The kind that adults would never do because they'd feel too shy about asking too many questions or being too personal. Kids have no such hangups, though. The adults occasionally told them to, "Stop bothering the guy," but I assured them that I didn't mind. It was kind of cute. =)

Two of the kids wore cowboy boots and a cowboy hat and spoke with a bit of a drawl. I imagined them growing up to be the town sheriff, and were practicing their interrogation techniques on me.

The kids started giving me snacks as well: oranges, crackers, strawberries and more. I joked with one of the adults that didn't they ever teach their kids to "not feed the wildlife". =) Plus their grandmother offered to take my trash for me. I didn't have much since I had left civilization just yesterday, but I was happy to pass on what little I did have.

The trail doesn't go to Hog Park Reservoir, but it was certainly visible from this viewpoint!

Later in the afternoon, I was getting pretty tired and when I found a nice, grassy area among some trees, I decided to stop a bit early and set up camp. It was only 5:30pm and had only completed about 22 miles--still short of my 25 mile goal--but I was just too exhausted. I needed to stop.

I never dd see any other hikers all day. I knew Reality Check was somewhere ahead of me. Little Cave, Milkshake and Puffy probably weren't far away, although at this point I couldn't be sure if they were ahead of me or behind me. Probably behind me, but there was no way to be for certain. And if there were any other hikers within a day's walk of me, I had no idea who they were.

Having stopped early, it did allow me plenty of time to set up the bug netting that I had bought at Walmart back in Steamboat Springs. The bugs weren't bad--at least not yet--but I wanted to set it up and see how it worked in the field.

There was rain forecast for the night and by the time I stopped for camp, gray clouds had rolled in, so I set up my tarp on top of the bug net. I wasn't quite sure how I could nest the two together when I bought the bug net, but they seemed to fit surprisingly well. I imagined ways I could add attachment points directly to my tarp that would allow me to quickly and easily hang the bug net directly from my tarp. Ideas for a future time.... All-in-all, however, I really liked the setup. It was comfortable and seemed sturdy enough to keep mosquitoes away. The netting wasn't fine enough to keep out no-see-ums, but that was a problem for another trail. Perhaps I could make another net with a finer mesh for such situations? But that was a matter that I could worry about later as well.

Camped under my tarp, and trying out my new bug net. The bug netting isn't especially obvious in the photo, but you can see a seam for it behind my head and the fabric sloping down on the left side of the photo.

While cooking dinner, a lightning storm rolled in. That didn't worry me too much. I was camped downhill a bit, not on an exposed hillside, and nestled among lots of trees. It wasn't a bad campsite to be in during a thunderstorm, and I rather enjoyed listening to the thunder roll through the air It was still too light to really see any of the actual lightning, though. It was mostly just the thunder I heard.

At least until I was brushing my teeth when I saw a bright flash out of the corner of my eye and before I could even react, BOOM! CRACK! I'm not entirely sure precisely where the lightning struck, but it scared the crap out of me! Way too close for comfort! My ears were ringing a bit from the thunderous boom and I wondered if I should try to move camp. Looking ahead on the topo map, however, it didn't really look like there was anything much better than where I had already set up camp so I decided to ride it out and hope for the best.

I'm happy to report that that one lightning strike was the only one that gave me cause for concern. The lightning continued, however, and as the sky darkened, the flashes of light became increasingly more prominent. Flash! Boom! Flash! Boom! 

And it continued, hour after hour after hour, seemingly without end. It was really quite unusual. Although lightning storms had been fairly common in the Rocky Mountains, they almost never lasted more than an hour and often times as little as 15 minutes. This one, however, continued for hours.

After it got dark, the storm continued. I usually went to sleep by around 10:00pm, but I had trouble falling asleep with the constant booms and flashes of light. Not to mention the heavy rain that pounded my tarp the whole time. It was definitely a good thing I had my tarp up, though! I managed to stay entirely dry and comfortable.

It wasn't until 3:00am when the lightning storm finally ended. Three in the morning! That lightning storm lasted over 8 continuous hours! And, at long last, I finally fell into a deep slumber. My day was finally over.

That's Hahns Peak, the same peak I first saw yesterday. But now we're looking at it from the backside.

Just in case you weren't sure which side of the border you were on, they labeled it with these rocks.

Huge numbers of butterflies today!

Friday, May 13, 2022

Day 92: A rough, wet morning

July 21: Just a few minutes after midnight, I woke up. Not because I had been restless or a large, noisy vehicle drove by, but rather because it started raining. Often times, when rain starts, it's a gradual affair. A few drops here and there, increasing in intensity until it turns into a heavy downpour, but that didn't happen this time. It was from 0 to 60 in just a few seconds. And, not expecting rain, I hadn't set up a tarp. In mere seconds, everything in camp was wet.

I heard Little Cave in his tent nearby start cussing loudly. Although he was in a tent, he had not set up his rain fly so plenty of water was getting into his tent as well. I could see his headlamp turn on as he got out of his tent to quickly install the rain fly, cussing the whole time.

Not really being well situated for setting up a tarp, I decided to do the old trick of throwing it over me like a blanket instead. It seemed like the quickest, easiest way to get some rain protection. I was already wet, but if it took even a couple of minutes setting it up, I'd be completely sopping wet. It was the best of a bad situation, and I was in damage control mode.

And then I just laid there, waiting for the rain to stop. It had to stop eventually. The weather forecast actually called for clear skies in the morning. I could feel the heavy drops of rain impacting my tarp and the water slowly seeping through. Fortunately, it wasn't a particularly cold rain, but it wasn't exactly warm either. Also fortunately, all of my electronics, my journal and other easily-damaged items were safe and dry in Ziplocks bags. I'd be wet, and my clothes would be wet, but they could dry out eventually and no harm done.

My nest was clearly visible the next morning, surrounded by the tall grass that helped obscure me from the road passing by.

And I waited for the rain to stop. Eventually, I knew, it just had to stop! It continued on for another 40-45 minutes before finally tapering off, although tree snot continued to be a problem the rest of the morning.

Initially, my goal had been to get an early 6:00am start to my day's hike in an attempt to finish this stupid road walk and detour by the end of the day and reconnect with the red-line CDT, but the wet conditions around sunrise slowed me down a bit and I wasn't ready to get hiking until closer to 6:30am.

Little Cave was still in his tent when I left, but he was awake and talking and we discussed the surprise overnight rainstorm. He couldn't figure out why I didn't actually set up my tarp, saying that I just looked like a dead body under the tarp. It was the strangest thing he'd ever seen. "You looked like you were sleeping through it!"

Oh, I definitely knew what was happening, but I figured I'd have gotten even more wet actually taking the time to set up my tarp. Throwing it over me like a blanket was the lesser of two evils at that point. If only the rain had come in gradually!

So I started the day's hike, wearing wet clothing but at least it wasn't sopping wet. =)

A few miles down the road, I reached the small town of Clark. Well, calling it a town might be giving it more credit than is due, but it had a few buildings including one called the Clark Store where I could order a breakfast burrito (pretty good and huge--I was stuffed after finishing it!) and a Coke. I actually skipped eating breakfast in camp, wet and miserable, knowing that there was a store with hot food just a few miles further up the road. I was also able to get a wi-fi connection and check a few messages while sitting out in the sun trying to dry out.

The Clark Store--civilization!

Little Cave showed up while I was still drying out and did his own shopping, and shortly thereafter, I continued onward. This time I hiked for about three hours until reaching another small and undoubtedly unincorporated town near Hahns Peak. At the Hahns Peak Roadhouse, there was a small general store and a restaurant. I stopped at the general store for a cold Gatorade, but decided to skip the restaurant since I was still feeling pretty full from the breakfast burrito I ate earlier.

While sitting outside, drinking my Gatorade and checking email and messages again, Reality Check showed up. It had been weeks since I last seen her, so we started catching up a bit and watched a dark cloud sweeping in, and we judged the chances that it would include rain as pretty high. We watched it coming in, though, and I decided to delay my departure a bit and wait it out while I was near civilization.

Hahns Peak Roadhouse

I watched a troop of horses leave with a bunch of tourists riding them, which looked it could be fun if it wasn't for that rain cloud bearing down on us.

Then the rain finally reached us and Reality Check and I decided to head into the restaurant after all, more to escape the rain than because we wanted the food there. The food was just the price of admission. =)

I ordered an Italian grinder and water. While ordering, Little Cave also should up, happy to have largely missed the worst of the rain. It was really starting to pour buckets outside now--a heavy, drenching downpour that I was glad to have avoided.

While looking at Google Maps online, I noticed a small forest service road that seemed to cut off from Highway 129 which we had been hiking. I had told Google to show me walking directions back to the CDT which is where this small forest service road showed up. It shortened the route by less than a mile and included a climb over a ridge that the main highway avoided, but the part that most appealed to me was that it wasn't the busy, paved Highway 129. Looking at the satellite imagery, the road appeared to be gravel. A quiet gravel road beats the socks off a busy, paved road any day!

Other than what I saw on Google Maps, though, I had absolutely no information about the condition of the road or even if it was really passable. But still, I hated the Highway 129 road walk. I was willing to take the chance. Reality Check and Little Cave said that they planned to stick to the main alternate that all the other hikers were using and not take the chance on an unknown route.

If I was going to do this, I'd be doing it on my own.

Eating lunch (an Italian grinder) with Reality Check and Little Cave. Little Cave arrived a bit after we did so his food wasn't ready yet.

The rainstorm passed after about a half hour, and after finishing my meal and paying the bill, I headed out to try this new route.

The route was a little confusing at first, zigzagging along a few unpaved, unmarked gravel roads, and I passed through one small area that warned that the road was passing through private property and that under no circumstances was anyone supposed to leave the road, but I winded my way through and finally reached FSR 410, and it was an absolute pleasure to walk compared to the main highway!

The route climbed slowly and steadily to the top of a ridge along a quiet, gravel road. No vehicles passed by, and I took a short break near the top of the ridge at which point a few people on ATVs did pass me. Those were noisy and unpleasant, but once they were gone, I had the road to myself again the rest of the way down the ridge where it reconnected with Highway 129 once again.

I was so happy to get onto this forest service road and off the busy, paved highway! And so glad that Google Maps suggested the route to me, because otherwise I'd have never known about it! =)

All-in-all, I was quite happy with the detour of the detour. Much more pleasant than the main highway.

The last tenth of a mile before reconnecting with the main highway, I saw Reality Check cross the intersection. She looked down the road and saw me approaching, and stopped for a couple of minutes for me to catch up. I told her about the route and gave it two thumbs up. Much better than that road she followed. =)

We hiked together for a few miles, but she walked quite a bit faster than me and eventually left me in the dust. We arrived at the end of the paved road and continued onward along gravel roads, which was thankfully much improved over the paved portion since there was far less traffic now and gravel is just easier to walk on. This gravel road, however, unlike FSR 410, was relatively busy and every vehicle that drove by raised dust that we'd end up choking on. Fortunately, there weren't a lot of vehicles, but even one vehicle every 10 minutes or so was still much too busy for my taste.

Near sunset, I found myself near Big Red Park, still short of my hope to be back on the official CDT by the end of the day, but I had pulled off over 25 miles. Reality Check was somewhere ahead of me, and I wasn't sure what happened to Little Cave, but I suspected he was somewhere behind me. Milkshake and Puffy, who I expected I might run into today, I never did see.

So I set up camp by myself, at the edge of the meadow and settled in for the night. Allegedly, no rain was in the forest. I crossed my fingers and hoped that was really true. =)

This is Big Red Park, and I'd set up camp alongside the gravel road.

And now we'll go back to the morning's photos so you can see more of the photos from the day that I didn't use in the rest of the blog.

That's Hahns Peak up ahead.

The Hahns Peak Roadhouse also included this unexpected attraction: a cell phone museum!

I ran into Reality Check again at the end of my forest service road detour, and we hiked a few miles together.

Fortunately, the paved portion of the road finally came to an end.

Definitely in cattle country!

Also in logging country!

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Day 91: Errands and running around

July 20: I took my time waking up. I wasn't in any particular rush to get out of Steamboat Springs, and I was half-tempted to even take a zero day except for the fact that hotels in Steamboat Springs were so ridiculously expensive. I felt a bit lucky that I managed to score this one for a night for a mere $100 online, but that was not a deal I could snag a second night in a row.

But I was also in the habit of waking up well before 6:00am, and just because I was in town and civilization didn't mean I could change that in a single night, but I did sleep in until closer to 7:00am before heading down to the lobby to grab the complimentary continental breakfast which, I was happy to see, included the waffle maker! I'd missed these machines. Ever since COVID tore through the world, it seemed like those were no longer available--arguably the worst result of the pandemic. A world without waffles is a world not worth living in. *nodding*

I also tried calling the Leadville post office, which I'd been doing semi-regularly whenever I could but never getting through, but today was my lucky day and I finally got them to answer the phone! It took nearly three weeks, but better late than never, I supposed! I asked them to forward my package on to Rawlins, which I expected to reach in a week or so. They had a whole week to get it there before my arrival. I hoped it was enough time. *fingers crossed*

After packing everything up and loaded with waffles, I checked out and waddled down to the Walmart to resupply. There, I ran into Little Cave, a hiker I hadn't met before and we chatted for several minutes. I bought the usual assortment of food and supplies, but before hitting the checkout lanes, I wandered over to the camping section to see what was around and found a mosquito net that could be hung up like a tarp for $15 and grabbed that. For the nights when mosquitoes were bad, that could be a life-saver! It didn't have a bottom to it or zip up to close so it wouldn't keep out everything, and it looked like something I could install under my tarp if bugs were bad. Plus, it was relatively light and compact compared to other options. And for $15, even if it didn't work very well, at least I didn't sink a lot of money into it.

Resupplying at Walmart!

Walking further into town, I headed to the post office to mail some postcards where I ran into Milkshake and Puffy again, and mentioned waiting for them at Willow Creek Pass for the better part of an hour with trail magic but eventually left when they didn't show. What happened?! But apparently, Puffy just hadn't been feeling very well so they didn't go very far or fast that day.

Along with Milkshake and Puffy were a few people who I initially thought must have been trail angels helping them out. They were much too clean to have been hikers themselves and had cars as well, but they turned out to be Milkshakes parents and his sister who had driven out to visit for a few days. They had some left over pizza in a Ziplock bag that they offered me, and I was happy to finish it off for them. =)

Milkshake wanted to head out and look for, appropriately enough, an actual milkshake. Probably how he got his name, but I never actually asked about that. They invited me to join, but I decided to pass wanting to focus on a more proper meal for lunch before leaving town.

I continued onward into town. Steamboat Springs is a bit of a sprawling town, laid out along the main road leading through town. From my hotel near the south end of town to the last real restaurant I could find on Google Maps at the north end of town stretched nearly 5 miles. So even before leaving town, I got a solid 5 miles of walking in along my route.

I wanted to grab lunch on my way out of town, and searched Google Maps around the north end of the city for restaurants finally settling on Big House Burgers. There was an outdoor patio, which I asked to sit at, and I ordered lunch. Which, considering the name of the place was Big House Burgers, I figured I should order the burger. Not surprisingly, it also included fries. And then I ordered a Pepsi to round off the meal. After eating that, plus two refills of the Pepsi and another glass of water, I sat around reading my Kindle for the better part of an hour letting it digest. I was stuffed!

I stopped for lunch at Big House Burgers on my way out of town.

Eventually I paid my bill, picked up my way-too-heavy pack and lumbered out of town.

The trail out of town was along a road walk, and along a busy, paved road no less. Although I had invented my own way into town, the official detour around the wildfires that all the hikers were following had us walking out of town in this direction, so I wasn't the only person walking this route anymore.

Somewhat annoyingly, only a couple of miles out of town, I reached another construction zone. Were all the roads into and out of Steamboat Springs being repaved?! But this time it wasn't as much of an issue for me because it appeared that the paving crew had stopped for the day before I reached them. I did see a few abandoned construction vehicles parked off the side of the road, but no actual work being done nor was the road partially closed like the route into town that I followed.

Several miles out of town, I caught up with Little Cave, so we walked together a bit and chatted. Milkshake and Puffy we caught up with a couple of miles later. They didn't want to camp on the side of the road, however, and decided to try knocking on the door of a random house hoping to find someone who would let them camp in their yard at the very least and perhaps let them sleep indoors or even feed them dinner at the very best.

The road out of town was being repaved, just like the road into town!

Little Cave and I had no intention of knocking on random people's doors, though, so we passed them as they veered off the road down someone's driveway. Several minutes later, looking behind us, we saw the two continuing down the road. I guess they were turned down at that house, but it wasn't long before they veered off the road again down another driveway to give it another go.

Sunset was fast approaching, but the roads were mostly straight enough that we could see behind us for close to a mile and we never saw Milkshake or Puffy again. I joked with Little Cave that I hoped that meant they knocked on the door of a friendly person who let them stay rather than the door of a serial killer and that they'd never been seen again. Not alive, in any case. And it was, in fact, the last time I would ever see Milkshake or Puffy again. I'm still optimistic that they found a friendly house that allowed them to crash at their property.

As for Little Cave and I, we pushed onward. With less than an hour left until sunset, I kept my eyes open for any good stealth camp sites, but the pickings were slim. The road largely led by farms so there was plenty of land to camp on, but it was all very exposed and neither of us wanted to wake up with a gun in our faces and a rancher telling us to get off of his property in the middle of the night either.

About 12 miles down the road, we found an ice chest at a small intersection, which turned out to be full of cold drinks for the passing thru-hikers. Sweet! I popped open a Coke and was glad to drink it. Although the skies were overcast and ugly, it was still horribly hot and very humid. A cold drink felt wonderful!

Trail magic at Moon Hill Meadows!

I also noticed that across the street from the ice chest was a small rise, almost like a dike, with tall grass and a few trees on the top, and it looked like a potentially good stealth camp site. I scrambled up the hillside to check it out a bit closer and, indeed, it looked perfect!

I headed behind some trees that would obscure much of my camp, and laid out in the tall grass. The top of the hill was completely flat, a sure sign to me that it was an artificially created hill but for what reason I couldn't guess. When I laid down, the tall grass easily hid me from any passing traffic, and if I sat up, the trees largely hid me. I liked the site and set up camp.

Rain wasn't in the forecast so I decided to cowboy camp it, and Little Cave--who had fallen a bit behind me on the road at this point--soon joined me when he arrived and I waved him up. There was plenty of space for the both of us.

While he was setting up camp, I walked over to the ice chest and grabbed another drink. It must have been freshly stocked just today since there was still plenty of ice to keep the drinks cold. A bag on the side was left for empty cans as well, so I didn't have to carry the cans out later.

By the time it got dark, Little Cave and I would turn off our headlamps whenever we heard or saw a vehicle approaching. They couldn't really see us through the trees and grass, but they'd definitely be able to see any lights if they were on at the time and we didn't want to draw attention to ourselves. We wanted it to look like we were never there.....

I was really fascinated by this sign. If you notice, there's not actually a name for a single business in this marketplace, just a description of what each business does. Kitchen design, pizza, take out, dining, pet supplies, title company, architecture, cinema, pub, salon, sub shop, home interiors and.... "Strings Pavilion" parking. Does the parking lot have a name, but nothing else does?! It was weird....

Not sure what Amelia Earhart has to do with Steamboat Springs, but they do have a statue of her!

Bubbling hot springs!

Don't think you were allowed to swim in the river, though. That was temporarily off limits.

I really like how they put real wagon wheels on this painted mural of a wagon. Cute!

Where was I possibly going to find a place to camp along this road?!

The trail magic... was most excellent!