CDT WY Section 6 Uncategorized

Day 127: South of Green Mountain

With all the sound and light and the slightly canted tentsite, it was easy to wake up when everyone around was getting ready to leave. Sunday morning in an RV park: guaranteed mass exodus.

But I had been up until midnight. I didn’t want to get up yet. I couldn’t get back to sleep, so I ended up lying about in the tent chatting online for a couple of hours. Just long enough for the grocery store next door to open.

When I did finally leave the tent, I took my phone to the laundry to charge and then hit up the grocery for breakfast. Coffee, energy drink, choccy milk, Gatorade, two breakfast sandwiches and a burrito. I carried it all back to the laundry and ate it all (except the Gatorade which I saved for a couple of hours and slowly sipped for a few hours) while watching three consecutive episodes of Craig of the Creek on the TV in there. You have to pack all the pleasures of civilization in while you have the chance.

After a morning bathroom break, I spent an hour or so in my tent sewing up rips in my shirt and shorts (including that hole in my pocket I’ve been putting off fixing for several weeks since I acquired a replacement needle). Then it was time to pack up. Most of the campground had emptied out already. So I took my pack over to the one nearby picnic table that had direct sunlight to dry. That became my central packing point. I rolled out my mattress on it. Everything got moved there. And by the time I was packed up, everything was mostly dry just in time for the trees to steal the sunlight.

I finished packing shortly after the Bear Trap Cafe opened again. Time for one more big meal before hitting the trail. And their good wifi helped me get all my posts uploaded shortly after I finished my meal (of fish tacos, a Cuban sandwich, and tots).

As soon as I left, I walked to the end of the road to the highway and started walking toward Encampment sticking my thumb out at each passing truck. The highway went two miles through Encampment before heading up the 12 miles back to Battle Pass, and I preferred not having to walk all the way to the other side of town to get a hitch. I got pretty lucky despite the sparse traffic. A truck came up to me just as I had crossed the Encampment city limits. Lauren said she would give me a lift to the pass as soon as she went to pick up a bed for her friend’s disabled child. So I just offered to help her move and load the bed and she agreed.

So here’s all the details: I’m the second person this woman (who is my age) has ever given a lift to, she’s not going anywhere near the pass otherwise, her husband’s far away jumping fires, and she’s taken out this old former fire truck and never drives that gets horrible gas mileage just to move this bed for her friend’s child, and decides based entirely on my hat and mustache that she is willing to drive this truck miles out of her way for me. Honestly, helping her with the bed was the least I could do. So we find the house with the bed frame ready to go, and the brother of the guy who is giving it away helps us too by fetching out the box spring and mattress and wrangling an overly excited dog into the house. We Tetris all the bed parts into the bed of the truck and run a chain across it. And then, with all that in the back, she drives me to the pass. It’s like 2:30 pm when she leaves me.

At this point, I remember that I didn’t download any maps for the alternate trails around the Morgan Creek Fire closure. The trailhead has excellent 4G service (much better internet than anywhere in Riverside by far), so I end up hanging around for another hour at the trailhead just downloading what I need to continue. Luckily, I was able to multipurpose the wait thanks to the privy in the middle of the parking area, saving some time down the trail.

It was a little after 4 when I finally started hiking. The trail was similar to what it had been in the last hours of the previous day, rocky road into rocky trail through forest. Eventually, it become more of a dirt and mud and grass trail through boggy meadows crossed by multiple muddy streams. I crossed some on logs where I could tell the mud would be up to my ankle if they weren’t there.

After a mile of this, I found a nice rock in the shade to stop for supper. There was a nonstop cold wind that cooled my pot too quickly and made the pasta in my rice a little too gummy. It also made me shiver a bit. I was happy to get back on the trail.

No sooner had I than I spotted two hikers behind me. I assumed Jennifer and Deluxe. I used them as motivation to keep moving even when the trail got rocky, steep, and passed through blowdowns. The trail came over a series of rocky hilltops where it was easy to lose as the sun was setting, and then joined a ridgeline with a long view. It was dark enough I was ready to stop, and I found a perfect flat spot just off the trail. No sooner had I started unpacking than the pair came up behind me and passed. It was actually Cliff Richards and Lost Keys, finally caught up.

I had no idea what the other sobos around me had planned with regard to the closure, which started only a day’s walk from here. If they went a different way, they were likely to beat me to Steamboat, and then who knows who I would be hiking with. That’s motivation to get an early start right there.

Trail miles: 7.5

Distance to Steamboat Springs: ~93 miles

CDT WY Section 5

Day 126: Riverside

At 2am, I was lying awake and it started to rain. I pulled everything further under the vestibule, but it was a light rain and hardly even wet the ground.

I intentionally slept through the 4am alarm and started getting up and packing up with the 5am. I noticed right off that the top of my pack was wet and that I had left it on top of the water hose with the valve open. Since I had already put into my Nalgene a lot of the water from the creek I had carried up and filtered the previous night while blog writing, I decided to go ahead and make my breakfast shake before getting out of the tent, but when I went to top off the water, I noticed my water bag was a lot less full. So yeah, I had filtered all that water before bed and then just let most of it leak onto the ground overnight. So part of packing up included finding my way down to the creek in the dark and collecting some more water, this much more full of sediment than what I’d had the night before.

I got on the trail by 6:30, and there was a lot of hill climbing. The morning breeze felt really nice as the sun rose, but I felt my energy rapidly wane. I was struggling to pull myself up hill after hill for the last 30 minutes to my first snack break. I filtered another liter of the dirty water to drink immediately and tossed the rest of the dirty water on the ground on purpose. The next few miles felt a lot better without that extra water weight.

After coming over another hill, I spotted Jennifer and Deluxe coming onto the trail a half mile ahead of me. They had shortcutted around me, taking a road as they were oft wont to do. So I picked up the pace to try to catch them, and they must have really been moving out, because what followed was mostly uphill, beginning the steep climb up to Sierra Madre from the Deep Jack trailhead. I didn’t even see them again until I came to the next water source. I wanted an easy, clear collection from the next major source, so I passed them by. To keep up the momentum I’d had while chasing those two, I tossed the water in my bag and kept hiking another half hour up the hill.

Later, I took my second break to snack and filter water on a log beside the road the trail had joined. The duo passed me there a half hour later. I started climbing after them ten minutes after that, but it was a very steep bit of trail again, and I didn’t see them again until I caught them having lunch at the top of a big climb.

I passed them again and kept walking until my lunchtime, going up an alternate road to the top of a hill and finding a rock with some trees around to provide some protection from the intense wind coming over the hill. Halfway through my meal break, I saw Jennifer pass by on the same alternate. I didn’t catch either of them on the trail again that day.

A mile from that point, I came up to the summit of Bridger Peak, a windy pile of rocks with a radio tower that just barely exceeds 11000 feet in elevation, marking the first time in more than two weeks I had reached such heights.

From there it was mostly downhill and mostly uninteresting to the highway, which I reached about 4pm. By 4:45, the fifth or so vehicle gave me a ride in, driven by Dave with passenger Deryl. Deryl wasn’t shy, but Dave wanted to do most of the talking, and he had plenty to say about the area we drove through. They dropped me off in Riverside at the Lazy Acres RV Park.

I got myself a 12 dollar tent site, but left my pack on the porch of the office because it was about to rain and I didn’t want to set up in the rain. I went to the grocery store to get a few things. It was pouring rain the whole time I was in there. I dashed across the street, running between the raindrops to stay dry, and eventually found myself in the Bear Trap Cafe. Jennifer and Deluxe were there too so I joined them and ordered some pizza and beer. Very spicy pizza.

Those two hadn’t decided their lodging arrangements but they had zero interest in tenting while in town. So when we left, they were headed into Encampment leaving me alone in Riverside. I went back to the RV Park to set up my tent and start my laundry. My pack was completely soaked from the storm and some of the things inside were wet. I guess I should have taken it inside instead of trusting the porch roof.

Anyway, I set up my tent, ran back to the cafe for quarters, and started doing laundry. There was no 4G cell service in Riverside and the campground wifi was not strong enough to upload photos, so once I had my second load in the dryer, I went back to the cafe, which was still barely open for the last few straggling drinkers at the bar. I had started suffering from hiccups while laying out my bedding in my tent earlier and was very sleepy, so I ordered a root beer. And then another. And then they just brought me a pitcher. When I finished the whole thing, the last straggler was gone, making me the last, so I cashed out and left too. But I did get two posts uploaded.

When I got back, my second load was done drying, and it was the warm clothes, so I changed into it and went to bed. I kept working on blog until videos had finished uploading over slow campground wifi, basically midnight, then went to sleep.

Trail miles: 18.8

CDT WY Section 5

Day 125: Northernmost Fork Hatch Creek

I did not sleep in, as promised. I woke with the 6am alarm and was on the trail by 7:30.

Around 9, I had to take a break, but luckily there was a row of nice tall bushes just off the road. I took a break of an hour or so there in the shade with a very comfortable cool breeze. It was hard to motivate myself to get back in the sun and keep walking.

After a brief (0.2mi) detour missing an unmarked turn after going through a gate, I was off and on my way down some overgrown 2-tracks. I was starving and struggling for energy when it finally brought me to the bridge over North Fork Savery Creek. I plunked myself down in the shade of a bush and pulled some beautifully clear water out of the creek to start filtering.

I sat there in the shade with a nice breeze for an hour just eating and drinking and watching the chipmunks run back and forth across the bridge in a neverending game of tag. I made another drink and started another water bag filtering and laid down in the grass for a few minutes. I could totally have gone for a nap. I could totally have taken a dip in the deep pool just below the bridge.

Except that I had set a goal for myself to get out of the desert by day’s end. So when the podcast I was listening to ended, I stopped the second bag midfilter and started packing.

Just as I was about ready to go, Jennifer arrived and Deluxe right after, very excited about the water. As excited as I had been and still was. While they went down to the creek to dip bottles and bags, I went to dip my Buff and get water all over my shirt and head. Not as much water as taking a dip would have achieved, but I needed to get going to achieve my goal.

What followed was a steep climb straight out of the river canyon, walks along some barbed wire fences, passing through many gates, including two more than the trail went through, and eventual arrival at the very same highway I had left Rawlins on. The trail went down the side of this paved road for two miles or so, but it wasn’t so bad. Only five trucks went by in the hour or so it took to get to the next dirt road.

A couple of miles up that dirt road and the edge of the desert was in sight. Large patches of trees in the distance! Entering public lands again, the trail immediately left the road and climbed straight up a ridge. I could see tons of trees growing at the top of the hill. Trees that could give me shade to cook supper.

It was a brutal mile straight up the hill to the ridgeline and along it to where the trees were. I was feeling that it’s-been-too-long-since-lunch dragging sensation. But I dragged myself up there and found a nice rock in the shade of a patch of tall trees. And I spent a very nice hour cooking and eating supper with a nice breeze swirling. Ominous clouds came rolling through, but dissipated as I got packed up to hike out, putting the setting sun behind me as I continued up to the climax of the day.

Literal and figurative climax. It was a peak with 360 degree views letting me look back all the way over the basin, the rolling desert hills I had just hiked out of.

I walked along the ridge until it ended at what must have been one of those twisted bristlecone pines that’s been looking over that same landscape for thousands of years. Down I went to cross the road into the forest. Trees growing thickly around me for the first time in a week and a half. There was a clear trail through it climbing steeply up into the forested hills.

Then it opened up onto a hilltop, and I passed a bow hunter leaving the forest. The first elk hunter I’ve seen this year. The season has begun!

The forest got thicker and I had to turn on my headlamp to continue. It was nearly 8 when I spotted another headlamp attached to Jennifer’s voice. They had just set up camp up the hill from the creek. So I stopped and set up with them. They hadn’t passed me because they had taken the roadwalk alternate skipping the 360 degree peak.

The next day, we would all arrive in Encampment together.

Trail miles: 19.7

Distance to Encampment: 18.8 miles, mostly uphill

CDT WY Section 5

Day 124: Piped Spring

I slept in again after waking up because of how late I had gotten to bed. I was packing up in the 9 o’clock hour this time. I found the pond I had camped near and pulled a bag of water out of it. It wasn’t much and there was nowhere to hang it to filter, so I hiked out after 10 with an empty water bladder, a 3/4 full dirty reservoir, and a Nalgene full of breakfast smoothie.

It was all road walking for the first couple of hours, and mostly uphill to cross the divide at Bridger Pass. This was the strangest “pass” I’ve ever gone over, as it was more like the top of a hill in the middle of a wide valley than a low point in a ridgeline. I took a midday break just after this when I passed a row of tall bushes just off the road. I had a nice little break in the shade and could filter the water I had carried out of camp hanging it from a bush.

More roadwalking ensued. I reached the first bridge over Muddy Creek around 3, which was a good time for lunch given my late start. I kicked the cows out from under the bridge and took over. Firstly, I had already drank all the water from the morning, so I needed that creek water. In spite of the name, the creek was more silty than muddy, and it filtered clear without clogging my filter. An hour later, I was procrastinating getting started again when a couple of hikers came over the bridge above me yelling about how the water looked good. I decided to catch them up and find out if I knew them.

I packed up and chased them for nearly 2 miles, catching them when they stopped for a break at the next bridge over the creek. They were Jennifer and Deluxe. I had not met them before as they had been hiking behind me. I told them about my immediate shortcut plans and passed them by.

In another couple of miles, I crossed the last Muddy Creek bridge, then took a hard left off the trail and onto a well-worn cow track. This was straight-up trespass, but it was an opportunity to cut 3 miles off of the trail while also getting out of a boring roadwalk with lots of hill climbs.

The first little bit was tricky. Once I got around the hill the road had opted to climb, I had to jump across the river in its ravine, step over a cow fence at the one spot (in the river ravine) where it wasn’t barbed, jump back over the river to be able to easily follow it upstream to where I needed to leave it, jump back over it (the hardest trick because its ravine was some 7 feet deep here, so I needed to find a spot where I could climb down, jump over, and climb back out again all without getting my feet wet), then finally set out overland toward the draw I wanted to climb and the stream that flowed out of it.

The stream was easily spotted by a dense patch of tall bushes it ran beside. I saw them and decided it was supper time. I didn’t think it likely I’d find as shady a spot for some time. I was only half right about that. I took an hour on the ground hidden in the bushes to get through dinner, then hiked up the draw filtering the stream.

This was an easy cross-country jaunt. I could walk right next to the stream when the sagebrush got too thick, or I could take a direct route straight over the flatter, clearer sections. Sometimes, I could just follow cow tracks and not think. One place, the stream got shallow and wide enough to dunk my sleeves in. It was nearly 7, but it was still pretty warm out.

Eventually, I reached a bridge and another fence. This one had a metal gate. It was chained and locked shut, but I could pull it open enough to squeeze through and step over the chain.

And now I was on a nice, clear two-track road and would be until I had climbed out of the draw and crossed to the road the CDT followed again. It was easy, smooth sailing. Without it, I still would have saved some time over taking the official road, but with it, I could save a lot of time. And this road went through some of the best looking areas I’d seen in the basin. There were a couple of actual trees and a number of excellent camp sites if I had the gall to camp overnight on private land.

I should mention that every little bit of this detour involved cows. Constant cow encounters. But this last little bit was the only part with cows that actually came up behind me and got closer as I passed. Not stalking close, but maybe standing guard close? Every earlier and later encounter, they just scattered at my approach.

Anyway, it was pretty dark by the time I reached the main road and the CDT, about 8:20, so I stopped to put on my headlamp. I had another half mile to go to the piped spring, which I reached about 8:40. But not before meeting a late night porcupine up close.

I dropped my pack in a nice sheltered campsite and took my water bag into the spring enclosure to collect some of the best water anywhere in the basin. It could filter while I set up camp and while I slept. It wasn’t a cold night, so I left it hanging from the bush all night. I was in bed by 9:30 and off to sleep an hour later. No excuse for sleeping in until 8 the next morning.

Trail miles: 20.1 (only about 17 walked)

Distance to Encampment: 38.5 miles

CDT WY Section 5

Day 123: Emigrant Creek

I woke up far earlier than I wanted to. I tried to sleep in some even after the sun rose, even crawling out of my sleeping bag to try to get another hour’s nap on top of it, but the rising sun eventually made even that unbearably warm, so I gave up and started packing.

I noticed the outside of my tent had ants crawling on it, and so did my pack and everything. A lot of the packing up process was about brushing ants off of things. I had no idea I had set up so near an ant colony. It’s not one of those things you can tell in the dark.

I started hiking somewhere around 8:45. I encountered a big rattler a little after 11 climbing up to the edge of the rim. The road dropped steeply down the side of the rim into a lower valley, arriving at a very popular picnic pavilion. It was occupied by two fellow sobos, Side Quest and Safety Inspector, and a bikepacker I didn’t meet because I headed straight for the privy and spent an hour there and he was gone when I returned.

My sleepiness meant I wasn’t super motivated to hike, but neither were the other hikers. They intended to nap under the pavilion until late afternoon, then do big miles under cover of dark instead. Given how hot the days and cool the nights, it did seem likely big miles were far more likely at night, though they were hinting at doing something like 50 miles to finish out the basin all at one shot. I had much more modest goals, but I did sit under there with them chatting for a couple of hours over lunch. I hiked out again around 2.

After a bit more roadwalk, the trail joined a mostly unsigned cross-country section. I managed to stay the course for a mile or so, and then I dropped off the trail into a deep ravine for a break. The high wall of the ravine provided some afternoon shade. When I left the ravine, I found it hard to continue overland, so I dropped back into the ravine to cross the plain. I kept trying to set a course by comparing the landscape to the topo map, but I got confused between some landmarks and wound up near the highway instead. I gave up on staying in the easement and just walked down the highway a couple of miles until I reached the road that the trail joined after the cross-country section.

A few miles down this road, I came to a big pond full of wildlife. I needed the water, so I decided to have dinner there while it filtered. In addition to the cows, ducks, and beavers, I encountered a number of mosquitos. I stopped carrying DEET because I thought the season was over, but I got bit by a few of the late season stragglers while pulling water out of the pond.

It was just after sunset when I set off down the road again, intending to reach the next pond. The whole time I was walking into the setting sliver of moon until it set too, leaving me walking into the cold wind with the milky way shining on my left and the big dipper on my right. It was a few more hours, 6 miles, to the last good pond along the road, and I found a nice flat, dirt spot around 10, in bed by 11.

Trail miles: 19.1

Distance to Encampment: 58.6 miles

CDT WY Section 5

Day 122: Coal Mine Draw

I was up until the wee hours of the morning the night before just soaking in the tub, so I slept in as late as I could. I didn’t bother picking up the grab n go hotel breakfast. I just stayed in my room and finished the cake and the chips and whatnot I had left over from my Walmart shopping spree.

Maids came banging on my door at 11 and 12. Turns out the night clerk lady hadn’t recorded or told anyone about my request to checkout at 1pm even though she said she would. (She also had a habit of chilling in the lobby recliners instead of waiting behind the desk. Probably not the way you’re supposed to man a hotel desk.)

Anyway, I left my room finally a little after noon to run over to the grocery store next door and get some razors. I came back and shaved and packed and left my room by 1 as promised. But I didn’t have time to wax my mustache.

I didn’t leave the hotel right away. I spent a few minutes doing something blog related on the business center computer, then called the town bus service for a pickup to take me to the post office. The old man said fifteen minutes, but he was there in five. I was the only one besides him on the bus and didn’t even need a mask.

The post office was on the other end of town, a mile and a half away from the hotel. So I told the bus driver I intended to stay at this end for the rest of the day, and I did. I got my box from the post office and there was way too much food in it. I took nearly an hour on the bench in front to pack up as much of it as I could. Then I carried the trash up the street and stuffed it bit by bit into the tiny aperture of one of the city’s downtown area trash cans. (Note: Rawlins hardly feels like a Wyoming town. It’s as big as place like Yreka, a full service interstate town. But it does have a very cute pedestrian-friendly downtown district, with little covered picnic areas on the street corners and all kinds of shops and restaurants.)

I walked on past the Thai restaurant I had been looking forward to having lunch at because it was closed until the next day and carried the food I couldn’t pack up to the motel on the main drag where I knew there was a hiker box in the lobby. Then I came back down the next street over looking for a place to have a good meal and settled on a sports bar restaurant called Buck’s because I liked the eclectic music it was broadcasting into the sidewalk.

I sat at the bar, ordered a beer and a wild hamburger with egg sandwiches for buns and onion rings, and set about working on the blog. But that didn’t end up happening, as the pair sitting next to me at the bar were extremely chatty, so I gave up on working and decided to be social. Conrad and Aerin were trapped in Rawlins following a car breakdown during a cross-country road trip. It was a hoot chatting with them through dinner and I hope they see this post.

It was 5 in the afternoon by the time I finished lunch and I still had laundry and blogging to do. I walked to the nearest laundromat and did both of those things at once over the next couple of hours. I was also getting sleepy, so I bought a bunch of caffeine drinks across the street.

It was dark out when I finished, so I packed up and walked back towards the trail with my headlamp on. As much as I wanted to get some sushi at the Japanese restaurant next door, I needed to get out of town or I’d end up zeroing there. So I bought some drinks and a gas station sandwich, and started walking.

There were only two roads going to the other side of the railroad tracks. I tried to go over the closest one, but it was a long bridge that specifically banned pedestrian access, so I had to go all the way back through downtown to the road where the CDT officially crossed the tracks. It ended up being worth it though because there was a fun community art gallery in the pedestrian tunnel under the tracks.

From here, the trail just went down some neighborhood streets (where at one point a local in a truck asked if I needed water–I guess they’re used to hikers leaving at night) and onto a highway that passed under the interstate and ran off into the desert. The trail left this highway after a mile, taking a dirt road that seemed increasingly washed out that ran parallel to and above the highway. It was nearly midnight by the time I reached a spot I deemed far enough from the city to camp, but even there I could hear the trains going by over the hill. But the important thing is that, even though I just pitched my tent right next to the road, there wasn’t any traffic, and I slept well for what little remained of the night.

Trail miles: 4.2

Distance to Encampment: 77.7 miles

CDT WY Section 4

Day 121: Rawlins

It wasn’t nearly as cold on this morning and I got on the trail before 6:30 without ever losing feeling in my fingers. Unfortunately, it wasn’t just the morning that was hotter than the previous day.

So I had a good mile done before sunrise, even though I yet again missed a not obvious turn right off the bat and had to cut across country to regain the trail.

By the second mile, it was a pretty straight section of road at that same southeasterly angle I had spent the previous day at. 5 miles later, I crossed the pavement of county road 63 and joined a barely visible trail diverging from it at a slightly different southeasterly angle to before. I took a morning break within earshot of the road and all the traffic of it, but because the trail was at a diverging angle, I eventually got a solid half-mile away. This was when the trail started climbing the hilly rise toward the road.

Right before the road, the visible track disappeared. The whole trail all morning was on a 60 foot wide public easement, which meant losing the trail by too much was the same as trespassing. When the track disappeared, I had to look for cairns with markers (that usually broke or fell from the constant and intense desert wind) or just track my position relative to the trail via GPS.

After a brief stint walking alongside the highway, the trail left the road again to climb up onto the hills adjacent to the highway. I could have just walked the highway all the way into town, but not only is that against my principles but it is also dangerous. I went up the hill to the trackless cross country redline route.

Most of the markers up here have blown down. They really ought to make them out of something stiffer than fiberglass. Thick wooden posts properly buried. So I got off track a few times. About a mile into this stretch, I stopped for lunch on a small rock ledge. The wind was pummeling me. There was no level spot to set my bear can. After putting the chicken on the first tortilla, I temporarily let go of the bear can to clean my knife and it instantly tipped over and spilled the chicken in a bush. I rescued 80% of it and ate it anyway. And I managed not to lose any trash to the wind.

An hour after lunch, I reached Fish Pond Spring, a solar well the only water source between Bull Springs and Rawlins, built with hikers in mind. There was plenty of water and I needed it. I stopped for an hour to filter it. Even filtered, it tasted awful. Later, I would be mixing in everything I carried that claimed to contain vitamin C in attempt to mask the water’s taste.

The trail from the spring went straight up the side of a powerfully windswept hill that kept me in mind of Windy’s origin story hiking in England. On the other side of the hill, I passed a copse of trees that seemed intentionally planted as a wind barrier, though I can’t imagine how noisy camping there would be.

Just past here, I joined a road crossing someone’s ranch. I took one last break on a small rock a few miles in just past a small herd of cows. It was 6pm and I needed to energize for the last 6.5 miles into Rawlins, a big push, but I didn’t want to take the time to cook a full dinner.

Aside from one small cross country section near a quarry warehouse storage ground thing, it was flat roads all the way back to the highway, then another 3 miles on the side of the highway and its bypass into the Rawlins City Center. I passed the time with phone calls home and arrived at the Econo Lodge around 8:30. I checked in, dropped my stuff, and immediately went out to Walmart to grab a few things. Mainly Hot Pockets and root beer, since I had a microwave and fridge in the room. That would be dinner.

But also a small cake to celebrate having half the trail complete. Adding up what I hiked in New Mexico and the distance to the northern border, minus the section of Montana I skipped for the fires, I passed the halfway point somewhere in the desert 80 miles before.

And then I stayed up way too late…

Trail miles: 28.5

CDT WY Section 4

Day 120: Bull Springs

In spite of some early morning traffic, I woke up pretty well rested with the 5am alarm. It was cold, so it took some serious will power to start packing, and the process was frequently interrupted by my blowing on my fingers or tucking them between my legs until feeling returned to my fingertips. Despite the cold and the lack of wind all night, there was very little condensation in my tent. I hiked out around dawn, a bit after 6:30.

About a mile down the road, I turned onto the trail. Or, I thought I did, but there was another road that went off at a similar but divergent angle just a little further down, so I went cross country through the sage until I was on it. A couple of miles later, I came onto a road where Cliff and Lost’s tent was tucked next to some kind of metal equipment, possibly a spring enclosure. There was no sign they were awake or packing and I never saw them all day. A mile past that, I merged onto the road I would follow on a nearly straight course for the rest of the day.

It was a very interesting road. Sometimes it was rocky. Sometimes packed sand. Sometimes soft sand. Sometimes soft for long enough stretches that I walked a cow track parallel to it. Once it crossed water. Once it was a bowl of dry mud. Once it was a bowl of damp mud.

Sometimes it would angle slightly left before angling slightly right to return to its former course. Sometimes it angle right and then left. Sometimes it would zig then zag then zig again, as it did right before I stopped for lunch. But it would always go back to its original course as if that had never happened and continue nearly due southeast in a straight line.

Sometimes it would go up a gentle incline for a little while. Sometimes it would slowly descend. Mostly it was close enough to flat as to make no difference. It was a very Hat Rim kind of difficulty level.

It was never shady. It never provided any shelter from the wind. It passed by calf-high sagebrush by the hundred thousands. Sometimes it passed inch-high cactus plants. It occasionally passed near rocks big or tall enough to sit on.

All breaks were taken in direct sunlight with the wind blowing on by, usually on aforementioned rocks, once on the edge of an empty tire trough. It was a clear, cloudless day, hotter than the previous, though the wind helped. The unobstructed sun melted the fudge on my fudge-dipped coconut granola bars, which actually made them tastier. (Meanwhile, around the corner, fudge production had been suspended for what I can only assume was a multi-batch production run of itching powder.)

I did see animals. Visibility was quite high. There were elk, deer, and pronghorns on every distant ridgeline, along with the usual cadre of black cows dotting the landscape like moles slowly migrating across sickly green-brown skin. I saw one jackrabbit early in the morning and one seagull late in the afternoon flying parallel to the wind via an interesting sequence of stalls and banking swoops. The most exciting moment in the day came when a pair of walking birds noisily took flight from within the bushes right next me, making jump and exclaim involuntarily. Maybe prairie chickens?

Obviously I was lying when I called this an interesting road. What could be interesting about walking straight down a road for hours on end with no shade? It was like leaving Pie Town, but without the fruit magic. Maybe it was like Day 6 of this trip, but without the novelty or the occasional word with other humans. This kind of terrain isn’t necessarily ugly, but it is definitely monotonous. The best thing I could say about the Basin after this day was that it would only last another 90 miles.

One way to pass the time when the scenery never changes is to listen to podcasts. It’s worked fine for the new the last few days. Unfortunately, at lunch, my third and final set of headphones I brought for this section bit the dust. Three pairs broken in as many days. You’d think double redundancy would be enough for less than a week even with cheap Chinese gas station headphones. The first pair lasted all the way from West Yellowstone! Bad luck, I suppose.

So the rest of the day, I only had my thoughts to entertain me. And they often turned to my discomfort. Walking on flat ground is not good for the feet, and they got sore enough to call for an Aleve by day’s end. The heel I bruised in that fall coming down to Elkhart Park on Day 108 still aches sometimes when I walk and compensating for it makes the calf ache too. Some angry bumps have formed on my inner thigh that are very sensitive to abrasion, leading me to walk a little funny and constantly adjust my shorts in different ways. The usual pains on my hips and shoulders from my pack were less than usual as I was down to less than two days of food and my water dwindled throughout the day.

There was no water on trail for the last ten miles at least. I left in the morning with a full water bladder, and poured a liter at every break without ever leaving the trail to seek refills. There was only a half liter remaining for the last stop, and this had to carry me the last 4.5 miles. No problem. The trail was just as easy at the end of the day as at the beginning, and I kept up a solid 3mph walking pace right to the end, arriving at my final destination of Bull Springs.

I was never so happy to see a place. It was just a spring with a toppled and non-functioning solar pump and dirt built up around two culverts turned on end. Although enclosed by a fence, the cows knew how to get inside. And the herd did not bolt as I approached. They just calmly moved aside. I had to chase the one in the enclosure around until she jumped back over the fence. I set the broken fence rail back up in its place, though I’m sure they’ll knock it back down tomorrow.

I pulled some clear water out of one of the culverts (both had lids on to keep the cows out) and filtered it directly into my cook pot for dinner. I cooked right where I planned to pitch my tent, which I did while the rice was cooking.

A couple of hours and another filtered bag of water later, I was in my tent and ready for sleep, but the cows were right there with me, all around me. They didn’t care. They were fine sharing their space and their water with me if I wasn’t bothering them. And so we passed the night there together.

Trail miles: 27.6

Distance to Rawlins: 27.4 miles (one day away)

CDT WY Section 4

Day 119: Crooks Creek

Because the wind died at nightfall and it was a cool night in the desert, so I woke to water dripping on my face at the first alarm. I pulled out my towel to wipe the condensation off, but it had collected again by the third alarm. I wiped it again and slowly got up. I think I was back on trail by 7:30. My schedule was successfully shifting earlier.

Not much interesting to say about the terrain in the basin. Same old same old. A bit of a dry stretch, but not even as close to as dry as New Mexico. Wind levels were similar to New Mexico during the day. It was a clear day all day and slightly warmer but never uncomfortably hot.

I missed a turn just before my second morning break and didn’t catch it until 1.5 miles and a while herd of cows later. The easiest route back seemed to be to just go back the way I came, so there’s an extra 3 miles for nothing.

What followed was the biggest, longest climb of the day. There were actual trees all along it, but they disappeared near the top. At lunchtime, I saw one lone tree way up the hill and off-trail, and decided to spend the extra effort to eat in the shade. It ended up being a pretty nice spot in a tiny ravine below the tree. I actually got cold by the end of lunch from the wind being channeled up the ravine. And there were a number of curious ants on me and my stuff. Still worth it not to be sitting in the sun again.

I took off at an angle cross-country to meet the trail ahead rather than backtrack to where I left it, and right where I stepped back onto it was Lost Keys hiding under an umbrella. Turns out Cliff (whom she named James) had gotten sick the day before and they hadn’t pounded out the miles after all. He wasn’t there though, just his pack. I didn’t ask where he was.

I went ahead and hiked without stopping another five plus miles to the vicinity of Crooks Creek (namely, to Crooks Gap a half mile north of the trail). There was a clear running stream and a couple of large grassy campsites beside the road, so I started making dinner, filtering water, and setting up my tent. Turned out there was more traffic than I would have expected on this remote road, but whatever. I didn’t want to hike any further.

I climbed into my tent at 8 with a completely full water bag and enough water in my bottle for breakfast. There was some noisy traffic later after dark, but I was too sleepy to be bothered.

Trail miles: 18.3

Distance to Rawlins: 55.9 miles

CDT WY Section 4

Day 118: Crooks Mountain West

When my first alarm went off at 4am, there was a storm passing over. I went back to sleep It was still raining when my 5am alarm went off. I went back to sleep. When the 6am alarm went off, it seemed the rain had finally let up, though I was still very sleepy and just wanted to sleep in some more. The cow sounds and coyote-like whines around indicated the rest of the world was already up and going. I was clearly going to be the last to rise.

I forced myself to start packing, though I certainly wasn’t moving at speed. My down jacket saw soaking wet on one side and I had to mop up some water from my mattress, but most everything else was dry. Just about the time I had the tent halfway down, another storm cloud started opening up on me and my gear. I did my best to cover things up, including myself, but many things, especially my pack, ended up put up wet. I left my pack covered on the ground while I ran over to the spring to grab some water to hike out with and the rain had mostly already stopped by the time I got back, as if it wasn’t already too late.

I hiked out under an immensely heavy pack, partly from all the extra water I was carrying. I had my Packa on but unzipped, and it didn’t wind up raining again. Like Oklahoma, the wind came whipping down the plain all day, but it apparently took all the rain clouds with it.

A couple of hours later, I stopped for a morning break next to a trail rock formation, which I used to gravity filter the water I had grabbed. With there being zero trees around, it was my only option besides standing with an arm in the air for half an hour to get that water filtered. It was also the only source of shade.

I took advantage of the break and the clearing weather to set everything that was wet–the tent, the ground cloth, tge pack, the Packa, the down jacket–out in the sun to dry. This was very effective for lightening my load. I also lightened my load in other ways, though some readers wouldn’t like to hear details about the difficulty of holding open a doggie bag and stuffing toilet paper inside while the wind constantly whips by at 20 mph. Suffice it to say I don’t seem to be sick at all anymore. Stopping use of that protein powder seems to have resolved it.

It never got too hot all day, but other than that, the area I’m walking through feels quite a lot like a variation on southern New Mexico. A lot of the fauna is the same–cows, pronghorns, horned lizards–and the rolling hills with very few trees is familiar. I do see a lot more water than I saw down south and I think more birds too. I saw a blue heron the previous day at the creek where I ate lunch, and I saw a ton of quail around on this day.

Speaking of water, one of the only two people I saw this day was a woman sitting at an enclosed spring with a number of dogs right after I left from aforementioned 1.5 hour break spot. I didn’t approach her or talk to her, but a number of her dogs started to come for me.

I had lunch on a rock in a draw in direct sunlight. There was no shade to be found anywhere. Even less than in most of New Mexico.

I found a tiny bit of shade next to another dry creek cast by a scrubby creosote bush, so I took a break there.

I stopped at a well-stocked water cache for supper. There were big wooden chests full of water bottles. These made great seats, and decent wind blocks for my stove. I left with a full belly and a full water bag.

Hiking up the next section, I was accosted by a man in an ATV asking about the girl with the dogs from before (which is how I learned her sex). He had the strangest speech impediment and a dog that would not shut up, but he seemed worried about her, and I could give him no further information. I finally got out of that conversation, and he tokens the ATV around and went back the way he came.

As I hiked on, the wind that had been blowing all day very rapidly let up. Within a couple of hours, the prairie ease completely still.

I stopped just after sunset on top of a hill. There weren’t any good campsites around, so I was just looking for a spot where nothing was growing and the rocks were small enough not to pop my mattress or poke me in the back. There was enough residual light not to have to get out my headlamp until I was in the tent and making final preparations for sleep. I turned in for good a little after 10 and did not wake until my alarm.

Trail miles: 20.4

Distance to Rawlins: 74.3 miles