Date- October 2, 2019
Location- Side of trail
Elevation- 11,706 ft
Distance Traveled Today- 23.7 miles
Distance Traveled Total- 1,991.2 miles
Weather/Temp- clear, windy, 30s, 40s
Pain level- zero
Wildlife encounters- mule deer, coyote, peregrine falcon, ptarmigan
Days without shower- 2
Days without laundry- 13
Today didn’t go at all like planned. I was up in the freezing cold and hiking by 7:45 am. I wanted to do 36 miles today, but just couldn’t…
It was a clear day without a cloud in the sky. Be that as it may, the air was freezing and the wind was once again fierce and relentless. For the first 7 hours today, every water source was frozen (mostly on the surface).
Just a Stroll
I wouldn’t call the terrain challenging today. The climbs weren’t terrible, but the state of the trail made quick thoughtless travel quite difficult. The trail itself wasn’t hard to find, although it didn’t exist throughout some sections. It was mostly uneven, rutted, slanted, clumpy with grass, and rocky terrain. It was tough to get a steady stride going.
Despite those factors, they really weren’t the cause for slowing me down. It was the wind and cold. I can deal with the cold, but the wind tips me past a certain point. I finally realized (or at least admitted to myself) that I simply cannot hike quickly or efficiently in high freezing winds – especially for extended periods at high elevations.
Dressed for Warmth
It’s been too cold and windy for me to wear my shorts and t-shirt. I have to bundle up with the following items: my base layer top; a beanie or a balaclava (or both); and my long underwear or rain shell pants (or both). Sometimes I have a top mid-layer over the top base layer if the winds are really strong. I also have socks on my hands with hand warmers activated in them. That’s how I’ve had to start every morning since entering the San Juan’s. I wasn’t able to have that transcendent detachment moment like I did coming into Pagosa Springs. Hopefully, one day I can create those conditions within myself again – on command.
On the Other Hand
Any how, what I have discovered is that I cannot hike fast with all these layers on. I just can’t. For one, I don’t want to sweat profusely in those layers. Secondly, it gets way too hot if I move fast, then I have to take them off – instantly freezing as a result. If I don’t wear them at all, I still can’t go fast enough to not freeze in the ridiculously freezing winds. It’s a lose-lose situation for me.
The Inner Turmoil
Today was almost completely barren and wind exposed. Again… the miles just weren’t coming to me. At first it was incredibly frustrating, but then I came to terms with the reality of the situation. I couldn’t be frustrated with myself because I was just doing what I needed to do to stay comfortable and safe in the current conditions. I suppose I could be frustrated with the conditions, and I was for a little while, but that’s a waste of energy. There’s nothing I can do to affect them. All I can do is accept them… try to work through them (and with them)… as best I can.
My Other Mother
My first instinct (coming from the contender in me) is usually to fight or rail against whatever is hampering me. In some situations this is the best thing you can do – even when facing Mother Nature in certain trying circumstances. At other times, you have to realize when Mother Nature just isn’t going to be beaten. She has to be respected… as she teaches you to adapt and work with her. Today was one of those days! I couldn’t just charge through her obstacles. Instead, I had to work with them and adapt. I had to use her rocks, trees, berms, and other features of the landscape to give myself a break from her relentless freezing gusts. I did this whenever the opportunity arose, or when I needed to do so. As a result, the miles didn’t come fast or easy.
All in all it was a gorgeously boring day. I didn’t see another human being. The views were vast and beautiful. I came upon a grey and white coyote that was stalking something in a bush. When it noticed me, it took off sprinting up the mountainside. It stopped every ten yards to check out what I was doing for several seconds, then continued its retreat. It was a fine specimen of a coyote. The two loners I’ve seen this past week have had magnificent winter coats. They both looked regal – not the least bit mangy or scraggly.
I thought I might hike into the night and pursue my 36 mile goal, but didn’t have the motivation to do that in the end. As dusk settled across the mountains, the wind began to calm a bit. When I reached the top of a short climb (which put me sharply above any low points, basins, valleys, or creases in the land), I decided to stray off the trail and into some trees in search of a somewhat flat spot. I found yet another small rise with a flat spot surrounded by trees on its small crown, and thought it perfect.
I’m cowboy camped beneath a dark and glowing sky. For the first time, in what seems like weeks, the night is perfectly still. The wind has died completely and the forest is soothingly silent. It’s times like these I wish I could share the experience more vividly with you and everyone I know. A perfect evening… in perfect solitude… in perfect harmony with nature. Alone in the middle of nowhere. Exposed. Vulnerable. And without an ounce of anxiety, discomfort, or fear – only serendipity. I wish I could bottle up the multitude of ingredients that are converging simultaneously to create this experience, and give it to you — to have whenever you want. And whenever I want…
Getting to the Road
I still have 28 miles to the road tomorrow. No problem making it with time to hitch into Chama (without a doubt). From that road, I’ll be 3 miles from New Mexico. Also, I’ll be crossing the “2,000 miles hiked” mark tomorrow. I have to be honest; it doesn’t feel as special as it has in the past. I think that might be because I count every mile as “special” these days, and not just the big milestones. Yes, it is an accomplishment, but how many times do you have to celebrate it? I’m not out here for the miles – I’m out here for the smiles. Nevertheless, I still want as many of both as I can manage!
Even if it’s the First Time
It reminds me of an old story I heard when I was a kid. The message of that particular story has stuck with me. A rookie football player goes up to an old pro and asks him what he should do to celebrate when he reaches the end-zone and scores a touchdown. The old pro answers, “Act like you’ve been there before…”
You can read my current and past posts, and see my photos by clicking this link and going to Boundlessroamad.com