So I’m at the local laundromat the morning after we return. I’m watching our sleeping bags and fleece jackets and all-too-familiar t-shirts and still-stinky socks tossed in a circle as they spin dry. It’s quiet save for the whir of the machines and I’m quiet save for heap of memories and ideas from our month of backpacking, trying to be processed. They tumble around, like the laundry in the drier. I can’t pin them down, but I recognize them as they go by. That moment of inspiration, that lesson learned hard, that grand idea, that swell of victory. Somehow, before they dry out and are put away, I’ve got to grab them, jot them down, share them. The adventure deserves that.
So here they are, in disarray and disorganization, looking very trite and small in comparison to the reality I experienced. But when you fill up a pack, strap it to your back, and hike five hundred miles through the mountains you should probably say something about it.
The Colorado Trail is 486 miles long, stretching from the middle of Colorado (Denver) to the far left corner (Durango). It winds its way across eight mountain ranges, regularly changing in elevation, anywhere between 5,500 and 13, 271 feet. Two summers ago, after watching a movie about a through hike in the Appalachian Trail (A Walk in the Woods), my husband and I decided it would be a fun thing to through-hike something. The Colorado Trail’s smaller mileage was appealing, and being natives of Colorado made this trek a bucket list, maybe-someday dream of ours. Our current lifestyle and jobs made it a possible option this summer, and we weren’t sure when (if) we’d ever have the chance to take off into the wilderness for a month so we decided to do it. We started July 1st, averaged about eighteen miles a day, made four resupply stops in the towns along the trail, and on July 30th we crossed the “finish line”, with great jubilation and ravenous appetites. Our packs were heavier than we wanted, it rained more than we expected, and our feet our still recovering but it was an incredible adventure that we never once regretted making.
Clearly. It started and ended with stunning beauty and every mile along the way was worth seeing. “This is so pretty!” was our most frequent phrase used.
With one another (what is a more bonding experience with your spouse than sharing the same challenges, victories, and tent space for thirty days?), with the others on the trail (there is a unique connection you immediately form with people on the same exact journey as yourself), and with the people who helped us along the way (parents, friends, and all the trail angels that brought us cold drinks, hot food, and the comfort of familiar faces).
The resupply stops
We’ve driven to all the towns we stayed in, but there is a new familiarity and attachment that comes when you come in without a car. (And when you are excited about every single food option.)
The simplicity of the trail lifestyle
It is a welcomed relief to busy souls when you have nothing to think of but food, sleep, shelter, and putting one foot in front of the next.
What I Learned
I will hitchhike for funnel cake.
There’s something incredibly vulnerable about watching people look at your thumb and then visibly judge whether or not you are suitable for their car and generosity. I never want to be in this position again, but if it’s the only way to a funnel cake factory on day 26 of a five hundred mile hike, ok fine — I guess I will.
Laundromats are actually ok
I’ve spent my life avoiding them, feeling rather sketched out by all the laundromat scenes in movies. But turns out they are ok, efficient, and almost rather soothing as you are forced to do nothing but watch your clothes spin.
Hostels are kind of fun
I mean, I wouldn’t choose one as a vacation spot, but it a place of connection with other wanderers that you would never experience otherwise.
Put every item you have away in the same place every time
This happens naturally when you’re wearing your possessions, but it is a practice worth integrating into daily life.
Physically smiling can change your attitude
After the fourth or fifth day of rain I got tired of feeling depressed by the rain. So when the first drops of the day began to fall I chose to smile, a real smile. And then it didn’t seem so bad. That being said…
Never underestimate the power a little sunshine has to brighten spirits.
Three weeks of nearly constant thunderstorms is defeating. But those rare moments when the sun actually came out were what kept us going.
Exerting yourself to the point where all you can think about is breathing is good for your soul.
I never particularly looked forward to gaining a thousand or two feet, the climbs that went straight up weren’t what I loved best, but I came away from them feeling like my entire body and soul was refreshed. Physical difficulty affects the entirety of a person.
There are more genuinely kind people in this world than I thought.
The people who stopped to give us a ride, the family members that drove all over the state to help us, the people who set up gatorade stations in the middle of nowhere, the campers who offered us fresh grapes, the strangers who congratulated us as we were finishing, the friend-of-friends who offered us hot showers and made us hot coffee, the neighbors who welcomed us home with fresh flowers and fresh sheets…It was like we were war heroes, but all we were doing was hiking for fun. There are so many kind souls, and I am now inspired to become one of them.
The chefs at Mountain House for all the fine dining (especially those freeze-dried eggs that looked and tasted like styrofoam.)
REI for allowing us to spend as much time in your stores debating our gear purchases as we did on the trail using it.
Amazon for selling Swedish Fish and Peach Rings in five pound quantities.
The never ending rain for ensuring we never dried all the way out, nor lost that endearing musty-moldy scent.
The dozens of outhouses along the way for providing me an escape from cat holes and awkward squats (and all those outhouse customers who came before me who either need to learn how to use less toilet paper or get help for their compulsive TP stealing habits.)
Every single bear in the Rocky Mountains for never once showing your face but providing us with the motivation to spend every single evening hoisting our food into trees and keeping us awake wondering if it was ok.
Gru for giving us an accent to mimic when things got boring.
My waterproof jacket for not keeping my phone dry and providing me with a good reason to use my upgrade. (Hello, iPhone 7!)
Zip-a-dee-doo-dah and my friends at Splash Mountain for our constantly sung theme song. (My oh my, what a wonderful day!)
All the food in the world for adding content to my daydreams.
Lightening for making me doubly thankful that I’m still alive.
Hot showers, soft beds, clean clothes, a roof to shield us from the rain, iced drinks, flushing toilets that can be accessed whenever you need, and all the other simple things that are making life so very sweet these first days home. Life is a grand adventure, made up of small simple things and I’m abundantly grateful to be alive for it.