Date- September 29, 2019
Location- Pagosa Springs
Elevation- 7,320 ft
Distance Traveled Today- 21.6 miles
Distance Traveled Total- 1,949.9 miles
Weather/Temp- cloudy, windy, hail, 40s
Pain level- zero
Wildlife encounters- zero
Days without shower- 0
Days without laundry- 10
I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say last night was probably my roughest and longest night on trail. I’m not sure I even got an hour of sleep. I kept sliding down an embankment nonstop; the wind was deafening and relentless, with bouts of hail and rain pounding off the shelters throughout the night. As bad as it was, I was dry in the morning; for that I was thankful.
When morning finally did come, it was a sinister one. The wind seemed intensified and the clouds were nearly black. They weren’t a solid blanket, but were instead individual shapes drifting over the mountains.
The Trail Less Taken
We had two options: Take a bailout trail that hit a highway into Pagosa in less than ten miles; or take the normal trail over exposed mountain ridge-lines and reach the same highway in around 22 miles. The consensus was split. In the end, Toast and I wanted to stay on the trail and Jetpack was swayed to go with us. Townie and Animal were bailing out. I don’t know what Sharkbait and Leap Frog did because they were still asleep when we left.
Jetpack and Toast were soon ahead of me as we began tackling the first 1,400 ft climb. The sinister clouds blew all around us, but it didn’t rain. It did hail however, with very light snow flurries. That’s what the weather did all morning and afternoon. I don’t know how we got so lucky. The wind and hail were staples of the day. We could see the rain cells, but none of them gave us a direct hit.
I slogged up the initial 1,400 ft climb (bundled up like a marshmallow) while straining against the wind and cold. Jetpack and Toast were long gone by the time I reached the summit. However, something else happened when I got up there… For a moment, I stopped to watch the innumerable storm cells drifting across the landscape, each one carrying its own special brand of misery- inducing conditions. As I watched them, standing in the wind and cold, I felt a surreal sensation wash over me. I can’t explain it fully – but I felt a sense of incredulity, as well as invulnerability. Here I was, willingly placed in the middle of this mess, but somehow I knew I wasn’t going to take a direct hit from any of the storms. I just knew it. Strange as it may sound, I knew I was perfectly safe. Today was going to be a good day. As I stripped down into just my shorts and t-shirt on the top of the mountain, I was surprised to feel absolutely nothing. I was checked out of this reality; totally detached of mind and body from the current circumstances. I don’t know how else to convey what I was experiencing, other than that.
Adios San Juans
And just like that… I was soon strolling along in the gale force winds as if I was out for a summer evening walk. I strolled right up to the southern terminus of the Creede Cutoff about 8 miles from where we eventually camped. So in this fashion, I had completed the section of the San Juans that so many had missed, skipped, or been unable to do. Reaching this point was 75% of the reason I, and so many SOBOs like me, had killed ourselves with a breakneck pace since Canada. Ultimately, to be able to reach this point with connected footsteps and the vast majority of the official trail underneath them. The other 25% of the “why” was simply to get through Colorado in one piece without freezing to death, regardless of which route was taken. This was a significant and emotional moment for me. Certainly a high point of the journey, second and third only to crossing into New Mexico, and finishing in Mexico. I strolled on.
The strolling continued until I had around 7 miles left and found myself in some relative tree cover, out of the worst of the wind. At this point I decided it would be prudent to speed up and catch one of the girls in order to improve my hitchhiking chances at the road.
A very light and gentle hail fell for most of that fast 7 miles. With two miles to go, I caught Jetpack. We finished the last two miles together and secured a ride with a young woman named Leah (within 15 minutes of getting to the road). It was about a half hour drive into town. However, it passed quickly in good conversation, as well as Leah and I singing a duet of “In Spite of Ourselves,” by John Prine, when it came over the radio.
We ended up at a place called the SOCO Motel on the edge of town. Toast, Jetpack, and I split a room. Twigsy, Smiles, Animal Townie, Leap Frog, and Sharkbait are also here. We’ve survived the San Juans! Tomorrow will most likely be a zero day.
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