Coming back from an injury isn’t easy, especially when you still have to hike over 1,300 miles to finish your trip. I had spent the last 2 1/2 weeks sitting on my sister’s couch with my left foot elevated. It needed time to heal from the infection and new diagnosis of gout that the doctor gave me. It was good to be home to see family, friends and the whole series of the Stanley Cup, but after hiking 20 miles a day for the last 6 weeks, it was hard to sit still.
Finally, after giving it some time to heal and a somewhat ‘thumbs up’ from my doctor to continue my journey, I started back on the trail on Tennessee Pass outside of Leadville, CO. I picked this spot because it was where I would be if I didn’t get hurt and most of my trail friends were still about a week behind, giving my body and foot time to get back in shape. I hit the trail again with my ginger foot and started out slow. Doing only 15 miles my first couple of days and constantly worrying about it as I walked. I didn’t want to screw it up again.
My first section was from Tennessee Pass to Frisco/Dillon, which would take me up some high passes, pounding the 2 weeks of sloth out of my body. The going wasn’t easy but I was happy to be back out. You do miss the views and daily walking and this section brought the views and some rain along with it. The daily occurrence of 3 pm rain clouds with frequent thunder was my new reality from the clearer days of New Mexico. The change of scenery and increasingly great ups and downs of elevation was enough to remind me that I was on a whole new section of trail.
After 3 days I arrived at the base of Copper Mountain Ski resort, a tourist town in the summer with mountain biking and bars. I slept that night behind the convenience store off of I-70 and listened to the cars and trucks drive by all night… I was back to being hiker trash.
The next day I opted to take the 14-mile bike route to Frisco and Dillon versus the up and over Breckenridge to give my foot an easing-in period. The walk down the bike path was nice and easy and just what I wanted. Once I arrived in Frisco I had to stop in at the local brewery to try their stout, which was tasty and satisfying after the past couple of days. I ended up staying in Summit County for a couple of days because my foot was hurting and I didn’t want to push it too hard, too soon.
After two days of rest I headed back on the trail, opting for the purple alternative route on my map that took me over Ptarmigan Peak and the subsequent high ridges for the remainder of the route to Berthoud Pass. Staying at or near 10,000 feet for the next couple of days was a great experience and provided me with the opportunity to play weatherman. You have to watch the weather as you hike because you don’t want to get caught up on a high ridge with lighting. It’s a game that I was playing with the mountains, watching clouds to see if they were going to play nice or were going to unleash rain and lightning on me.
One afternoon after coming down from a high ridge I found the Denver Water Jones Pass water station, which was right below the road I was to walk up for 4 miles to get to it’s pass. An open garage was a welcome site to get out of the rain for a little bit and as I huddled under it’s overhang, like a hiding animal, a worker came up to see what I was doing. I introduced myself and told him what I was doing and he acknowledged me with a smile, saying I was the first CDT hiker he’d seen this year. I was surprised, but not really, because I’m guessing not many hikers cower in garages on the trail. He invited me to stay in one of the many open rooms he had in the cabin, which was great because it had been raining all afternoon and a warm cabin with a nice bed was a welcome treat. We ate ham sandwhiches, applesauce chips for dinner (that tasted amazing), while watching Discovery channel’s new show “Naked and Afraid”.
After a nice night’s sleep I headed up Jones Pass and walked the horseshoe loop past Vasquez Peak and up Stanley Mountain. At the top of Stanley Mountain, which sits at 12,400 feet, the sky opened up. The rain started coming down in sheets and lightning was striking in the far distance. I really had nowhere to go. I know the smart thing to do would have probably been to head straight down the mountain. Instead, I kicked it into overdrive and hiked like hell to get to Berthoud Pass. I made the 7 miles in just over 2 hours, finally getting out of the hail and rain at the shelter on the pass. I know it was stupid to do but, I was playing the odds and this time the lightning decided to save me for another day.
It was the 4th of July on the day I reached Berthoud Pass. Seeing how it was only 5 pm, I decided to hitch down to Winter Park, assuming they would have a fireworks show. 4th of July just happens to be my most favorite holiday, so I didn’t want to pass up an opportunity to see some fireworks. I wasn’t disappointed to find out about a show happening in Fraser at the local ballpark. It was great to sit there watching fireworks with a local community, watching the families and kids running around enjoying the day.
After some rest, I started back up the trail on Berthoud Pass, going up to 12,000 feet and staying there for the next 3 days. I went up and over peaks such as Colorado Mines Peak, Mt Flora, Mt Eva, Parry Peak, James Peak and Rollins Pass. A particularly tricky section of trail between Parry and James Peak was a knife-edge traverse, with sheer cliffs on both sides. Of course with my luck, a heavy rain came down as I was traversing it. After that scary section I was welcomed with a talus field that was wet and treacherous for my enjoyment. After some time and careful footing, I made up to James Peak.
That night, as I sat just north of James Peak in my tent, a small fox came running up to my tent to see what I was having for dinner. It came to just within 5 feet of me and just sat there, staring at me, waiting for me to feed it. I didn’t. A fed animal is a dead animal in my book but I enjoyed its company, nonetheless.
After arriving at Devils Thumb, I headed down the High Lonesome Trail, passing Monarch Lake, which is absolutely gorgeous and should not be missed, if you are in the area. I arrived at the Big Rock Campground and met two CDT hikers that I had last seen at the Mexican border. We talked about the upcoming section heading to Grand Lake. We had all heard that the ‘official’ route was full of blow-downs and shore-walking that was treacherous and had been shunned by most who had hiked it before us. I opted for the 14-mile road walk into Grand Lake and was happy that I did. I camped next to the lake my last night before hitting the town and enjoyed a wonderful sunset over the water that me reminded why I’m back out on the trail and why I will keep going until the end.