A full two weeks after completing the Colorado Trail, I’m ready to look back. It’s late Sunday afternoon and I have a rack of lamb butterflied and marinating. I’m having my ass handed to me in fantasy football by Henry, a high school senior. And the Cowboys and Patriots are playing a close game in the 4th quarter tied at 13 each. Tumbleweed told me I’d go through some emotions after we finished the trail. I guess he’s right.
Tumbleweed is none other than Robert Graham – a friend since high school where we ran Track and Cross Country together at Round Rock High School. He lives now in Grand Junction, Colorado running the recreational sports program at Mesa State. He was going to hike the CT this year with or without me, but he invited me to join him on the initial segments which start near Denver. This was early spring, April 2nd to be exact. The foothills of the Front Range presented us with ideal running conditions through deep, shady forests over soft dirt trails padded with pine needles. We estimate we ran as much as half the distance on the first CT section of 5 segments. The CT is organized in 5 sections of 5 segments each, except for the last section having 8 segments. The 2nd section was mostly under snow which limited our running opportunities. The 3rd section was the Sawatch Range which contains the Collegiate Peaks – so named because many of the peaks are named after universities like Princeton, Yale and Harvard – and was awesome for trail running.
I love trail running and those first outings were so epic that I kept showing up for subsequent hikes. I quickly changed my commitment from the first two hikes to joining Rob until we reached Copper. I didn’t think I could afford the time to continue beyond that, but then Karen told me to keep going. What a good wife. She knew I was enjoying myself. And of course, by the time I climbed the highest and second highest peaks in Colorado in the middle of the Collegiates – I was committed to finishing the whole enchilada. Completion required 6 months – from April 2nd to October 2nd. We hooked up on 13 weekends consisting of 25 days of hiking; we covered 486 miles and counting the three 14,000 foot peaks we climbed, nearly 100,000 vertical feet.
Previous to this summer, I was not a very experienced hiker or camper. Nothing like a little repetition. I bought a one man tent and can now set it up (and dismantle it) in the dark in a few minutes. I first went snow shoeing just this year in January. I now consider myself highly experienced at the sport. I even took my family snow shoeing in Breckenridge over spring break. Related to this I have become comfortable with trekking poles. With the right snow, I’ve learned the poles are sufficient without the snow shoes. But in deep snow, the poles are absolutely required for safety. They help to extract yourself after post-holing – which is when a leg sinks deeply into weak snow. This is common around buried trees. Still, I got to the point that I prefer to not carry trekking poles on long hikes. While they increase your balance and strength on snow, they become an annoying burden on long hikes. It helps though that all new models are now collapsible for portability. I am confident reading trail signs including trail blazes and can skip across streams without breaking stride. I even performed a yogi bear by hitching a ride and changed my shirt at the table of a restaurant – I’ve become true trail trash.
The one man tent, snow shoes and trekking poles were all new gear for me. I also bought a new sleeping bag near the end of the trail as the temperature was dropping and I wanted better light weight gear for back packing. Speaking of which, I bought a kick-ass back pack. That thing is like an RV if not a house. We back packed enough that I became very familiar with all its pockets and features. Probably my favorite gear was my head lamp which my brother-in-law gave me last Christmas. Those things are handy. I can’t say I liked any of the trail food. Even the pocket shots – while extremely convenient booze – taste pretty bad. I think the only trail/camping food that I was seriously pleased with would be the Starbucks Via Ready coffee. Those are a keeper.
I did discover some good eateries. I’m not going to re-list them all, I did a good job of reviewing and linking them in my blogs. A typical hike would burn several thousand calories, so food tended to taste pretty damned good at the end of the day. Still, some restaurants really were superb. As far as that goes, I enjoyed learning all the back roads and less-traveled highways. I discovered Colorado with a view from the top and it was a kick. Immediately after completing the trail I recall thinking just how much I love Colorado. Actually, and admittedly I might have been a bit manic if not delusional, but I was totally in love with my life at the end. Being able to do something like this is special and I’m extremely fortunate to have the health and the family support to be able to have done it. I know that. Life is good. With that said, the picture above is me at both a low point and a high point. Not counting some of the peaks we climbed, this is the highest official point of the CT – I believe at 13,200 feet. But I was suffering from dehydration and subsequent altitude sickness. I am laying down in this pic because I seriously could not stand anymore. There were many moments like that. This was not easy but I remember the challenges as much as the views, as much as the discovery of new towns and restaurants. I’m not coming close to properly describing what an experience this was, but oh well. The Cowboys just lost and it’s time to sear that lamb and roast a Sunday dinner.