Colorado's rude awakening: I had crossed the Wyoming border into Colorado. The trail offered another sharp contrast. Gone were the days of walking under the exposed sun and heat and waterless stretches of the Great Divide Basin. Suddenly, I found myself back in the mountains, and the trail wasted no time climbing to close to 12,000 feet. Clouds and thunderstorms formed and dissipated all day long. Temperatures were cooler. By evening, the sky had completely clouded over and rain could be seen falling in several locations. I set up a "bomb proof" shelter and prepared for showers throughout the night. After dinner, rain began sprinkling and popping off my tarp, and by the time I fell asleep, a steady rain was falling. I slept peacefully, knowing that I had a good shelter, and that I would stay warm and dry.
I woke up in the middle of the night and a thick fog had blanketed the mountain top on which I was sleeping. I was hoping to get an early start in the day to hike the final 20 miles to Steamboat Springs Colorado for resupply. It was too dark, and the thick mist made visibility impossible, and it was cold. I decided to go back to sleep until the sun came up. Eventually, it became lighter, I packed up my gear, ate a quick breakfast, and began walking in the cold, damp Colorado Rocky Mountains.
Within minutes, my pants, socks, and shoes were soaked as last night's rain collected on the grasses and plants along the trail and dumped their contents onto my feet and legs as I walked down the trail. At least it was not raining, just damp and misty. Very reminiscent of rainy days on the PCT in Oregon and Washington. Not long after, a cold, light rain began to fall. I had my pack cover on, rain jacket, and put on my gloves. It was clear this was going to be a day of close, internal monitoring and observation of my body's condition.
The rain continued all morning. As long as I continued to walk, I remained relatively warm. The rain grew stronger at times. During these moments, I stood under the shelter of hanging pine boughs if they could be found nearby. I could not wait too long. If I stood still for more than a few minutes, a cold chill would run down my spine. I had to keep moving.
There would be no breaks on this particular day. I was getting tired but still had several miles to get to the highway to attempt a hitch into town. My gloves had soaked through and my hands and fingers were now numb. The trail began to resemble a small stream as rain continued to fall and flow. It was useless hoping for my shoes and socks to dry out now. I just walked through the streams and puddles that formed on the trail, as it didn't matter where one stepped. It was wet everywhere. Suddenly, three elk rain across the trail several feet in front of me. They were draped in mist and were as big as cars. I wondered how they felt about the rain?
Just a few more miles now to the highway. I was contemplating calling it a day, setting up a shelter, getting in my warm sleeping bag, and waiting until the following day to hitch into town. Suddenly, a small break in the weather occurred. The rain stopped, the sun popped out for just a second. I picked up my pace as the highway was getting closer. I decided I would hitch for at least an hour if the weather would hold up. Eventually, I reached the highway, cold, wet, and exhausted. It was not raining at the moment, but skies remained gray and overcast. It appeared it could start pouring at any moment.
Along the highway, I noticed my hands were really numb at this point, and I had a hard time moving my fingers, let alone extend my thumb. After a half hour with no luck for a ride, I decided I had to change into warmer clothes, at least to lift my spirits. A warm hotel room was so close, but still so far ahead as no one was interested in picking up a damp hiker along the side of the highway. I had a couple hours left of daylight. If I couldn't get a hitch in the next hour, I would just set up a hobo camp nearby and try again the following day.
I immediately felt better with the warmer clothes on. You've got to have faith when it comes to hitching it seems. You've got to be in a good head space as well. I was confident I would get a ride, I just didn't know who. I saw a road construction vehicle approaching with it's orange light spinning on the roof. It seemed an unlikely hitch but decided to extend my thumb. Sure enough, the truck slowed down and pulled off the highway.
"Throw your stuff in the back!" The man yelled. "I'll give you a ride to Steamboat Springs! This is terrible weather to be hitching in!"
"Perfect!" I replied.
I was relieved to be out of the storm, and comforted by the thought of a warm, dry room for the night. When I finally reached the hotel, it was dark. I was surprised to see fellow thru hikers Manparty, Lush, and Captain sitting in the lobby. Little did I know, this was just the beginning of a another adventure, a story that will have to wait for another time. Such is the trail life...