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

CDT WY Section 4

Day 117: Upper Mormon Spring

I hiked out around 7:30 so as to make it to the Grubstake again when it opened for breakfast at 8. I missed a turn and ended up coming in by a completely different route that required ducking under some tall bushes, but it didn’t take any longer.

I arrived around 8:10, but it wasn’t open. A man showed up with some kegs and got the owner to open the door. But it was clear from his gruff perfunctory greeting, he wasn’t really open yet. I just sat at a picnic table out front getting caught up on my writing until the old woman from the night before showed up, and the delivery guy confirmed she was the server on whose presence opening up depended.

And she turned out to be really nice despite the late hour she had clearly stayed up until. I got some coffee and eventually one of the biggest breakfast burritos I’ve ever seen. It was packed with ham and cheese and hash browns and a variety of peppers with salsa verde on the side. And it didn’t even cost that much. Totally worth it. I finally hiked out again a little after 10 when my phone was nearly recharged, but not before downing one last cup of coffee and a can of root beer. I had a long walk across the open plain to confront on not a lot of sleep.

I wanted to get to the trail without backtracking through town, but the road that left to the southeast was a private road with no trespassing signs, so I went back to the other end of town and climbed out. That road met some kind of four lane dirt superhighway, which soon crossed the trail. But the official trail was not actually a trail. It was a series of markers along the plain with no track cut between them running parallel to the road for six miles. That is, basically the same route as the road but with added difficulty of poor footing. I tried it for maybe a hundred yards and then saw that it would be pointlessly annoying and went back to walking the road I’m sure the CDT used to follow before the useless diversion was added.

A couple of hours later, I crossed the Oregon Trail, just after which I turned off onto a road which the official trail joined and followed. After another couple of miles, it came to the edge of the gully through which flowed Rock Creek. It was the first easy access to shade I had had for hours (even though it was mostly cloudy and a fairly cool day), so I finally had good reason to stop for lunch. I took the side road down into the gully that brought me creekside after running off a small group of cows.

I spread out my ground cover on the grass between a tall willow bush and the creek and started preparing lunch. The cows soon reappeared on the opposite bank, seemingly unafraid as long as the creek was between us.

Within a mile or so of leaving that spot after lunch, the looming dark cloud finally caught up to me and started dropping on me, so I stopped to gear up for rain. It turned into a full on storm with serious lightning, but there is nowhere to hide on the open prairie, so I just kept hiking through it. The wind was blowing so hard that the raindrops were hitting as hard as hail. It kept raining enough to keep my Packa zipped up for another hour, even though the rain got pretty light. Even when it wasn’t really wet anymore, the wind was so intense I kept it on for the warmth.

Another cloud rolled in being another good bout of rain just as I saw Cliff and Lost’s tent on the horizon. I called out as I got close and Cliff poked his head out. They had stopped two miles before Atlantic City, skipped it entirely in a plan to do a thirty, stopped and pitched the tent when the thunderstorm rolled in, then committed to making up the miles by getting up early in the morning. I didn’t really believe they would since they had said they don’t like to get up early before, but I certainly didn’t end up getting up early enough the next morning to see them go by, so maybe they did.

I walked on in the rain and into the dark for another hour or so to get to Upper Mormon Spring. When I came to the place it was, I wandered off into the field towards it, but it got so pitted I had to back off and head toward the outskirts to find a clear flat spot to set up. It was dark enough to require my headlamp to do anything, but it was nice enough to stop raining for a few minutes while I got the tent up and everything inside. Another storm rolled in after I was inside and cooking supper in the vestibule.

I was up for another couple of hours, doing battle to get supper done and ready for bed without letting the horde of moths inside. They are very sly critters and even if you zip the flap shut except for enough space to slip your arm out, they will find their way through. They only got in a couple of times and I think I only killed two on accident.

It was nigh on eleven and pouring by the time I got to sleep. I noticed some water was getting in to my right where the wind was pushing the flap down and the inner tent stuck out from under the fly and tried to move things away from that corner, but I was mostly dry. I had to reposition my bear can under the other vestibule once where the wind was shaking water from the fly directly into my face. It was still pouring when I fell asleep.

Trail miles: 18.8

Distance to Rawlins: 94.7 miles

CDT WY Section 4

Days 115-116: Lander – Atlantic City

Day 115: Lander

So I woke up at 6 and went down to have breakfast in the breakfast room. I did not return to the room with Mama and Gail for hours. I did not want to be in a hurry about anything.

When I came up and got my boots on to walk to the Safeway next door to get my resupply, they insisted on going with me. Apparently, it’s really fun to walk around a grocery store?

So that’s where we went. Out the back and across the divider to the grocery store. I ended up only buying three bags worth of stuff, having the rest of what I needed in the room already. I also grabbed a lime mint coconut kombucha to drink immediately.

I started packing up my food in the hotel room and finally decided I wanted to take a zero. It had been a month since I had had a day entirely dedicated to not moving. This was good timing to make this decision as it was nearing check out time. Mama went to add another night to the room (thanks!) but Gail and she both kept packing. They were on a fixed schedule to return to Georgia and wouldn’t be staying. Which meant that I could have some considerable downtime, but downtime never feels down unless you’re alone. But it also meant finding my own way back to the trail.

Anyway, they didn’t have to leave town immediately, so they drove me to the used gear store to sell my bear spray, the new gear store for gaiters, back to the the hotel when I realized I didn’t bring the socks I meant to exchange, the pharmacy next door for some immodium when that continued problem delayed leaving the hotel again, back to the outfitter to pick up the gaiters and trade for some new socks, then to a coffee shop / bakery for a long, chill lunch. Finally, they took me back to the hotel and we parted ways in the room.

I didn’t do anything of import or leave the room for the next several hours. I just fully relaxed, like you can only do with a zero. I went out again around 8 to pick up some Chinese I ordered. I had to get utensils from the hotel because the restaurant gave me none. Anyway, I had the dinner combo, and I ate the egg roll and soup immediately, but the rice and pepper steak lasted me all night. I was too full to finish it right away.

Day 116: Atlantic City

I went to bed at 9:30, woke up at midnight, ate some more, took more Immodium, went back to sleep, woke up at 6, ate some more. I did eventually go down to the breakfast room for some yogurts, coffee, sweet roll to bring back to the room. I never did finish the rice.

I still had a lot of packing to do and cleaning up, so with one last shower to kick off the exit exercises, I didn’t actually leave my room until 11:20 or so, and I left without speaking to anyone because no one was at the front desk.

After a stop at a cycle shop for some hydration tablets, I spent the next three hours over lunch and coffee having the exact same lunch I had had the previous day at the exact same bakery. Once I had all my blog posts up, I swung by the other gear store for some more Nuun Immunity and Vitamins, then walked out to the far south edge of town.

As soon as I reached the end of the sidewalk and stuck out my thumb, I had a ride from Lee, but only as far as his house two miles shy of Rawlins Junction, where WY 28 (the road I was headed down) split off from the main US highway.

So I walked down the highway for most of an hour until I was past the junction and stuck out my thumb again. This time I had an hour and a half wait before Jan picked me up. She lived at South Pass City, so I just let her take me there. It cut off 4 miles of walking down boring dirt roads to get to that place anyway.

When we arrived, sitting outside the dance hall were Cliff and Lost and anther guy I didn’t know. Jan was nice enough to fetch me an unused canister of stove fuel, but it was only 6pm, so I wanted to do some hiking. It wouldn’t be much, but it would be better than a second zero. And it could be fun.

Cliff and Lost and I started out together, but I rapidly got far ahead. The first bit of trail was right though South Pass City and then up a creek, then up a steep hill to join a boring dirt road. And I continued on dirt roads, trying to make the correct turns, for 3 more miles. I didn’t always succeed in that, but found my way back eventually.

By 8, I had intentionally taken a different road, then dropped my bag at an intersection that seemed like a decent campsite just outside of Atlantic City. I walked down a slightly overgrown trail down a hill to the edge of Atlantic City and found my way to the Miner’s Grubstake and Dredge Saloon, which was open late.

They were technically done making food, but they still made me a ham and cheese sandwich must just for being a hiker. I had a couple of beers and then got caught up in all kinds of chat with the locals. Learned some things about the history of the bar and the town. But when I was trying to make my way to the door, I got caught in a discussion about kids going back to school which rapidly turned into the old woman who helped run the place (and who used to be a nurse practitioner) yelling KIDS SHOULD NOT BE VACCINATED at least four times without provocation.

Now I know that hiking into such rural places is bound to put me in contact with all the people who vehemently believe in some crazy stuff. But I did not expect to be held back from getting to bed by such a strident espousal of a desire to see millions of children die of preventable childhood diseases. I mean, this woman is old enough to remember the polio epidemic and also worked in medicine, so you wouldn’t think she would be so eager to go back to those days.

But anyway, I was eventually able to extricate myself from that situation and run the mile back up the hill to set up my tent and get to bed. I think it was after 11 but the time I got to sleep but before midnight.

Trail miles: 3.9 (and hitchhiked past another 4)

Distance to Rawlins: 113.1 miles