Day 94: Wild Bill Says Howdy

We woke up with the top of Lost Ranger still shaded from the sun. As we got dressed, the suns rays creeped into the valley. We headed towards the road, still shrouded by the beetle kill pines. This section of trail was covered in downed trees. We climbed our way down to the trailhead and walked a gravel road. A ranger pulled up beside us and asked us how the trail had been and we told them the Zikels had been gorgeous. Behind these rangers, a long line of cars proceeded.

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We walked around eight miles down the gravel road. Here Garbelly got signal and found out his sister had been in labor since midnight and family were on their way to the hospital. The trail had provided again. We would be able to be in town for the birth of Garbelly's niece or nephew! Just as we received this call, we see a white truck with a wooden back end. It was Delia and the one and Wild Bill Ducote. He whipped the truck into a pullout and got out hugging both of us. After the initial excitement of seeing a great friend in the middle of nowhere, we got in the truck and turned around. He offered us some leftover pizza from a place he had been to in Lander. It was unreal. It was covered in pesto, garlic and lots of cheese. We quickly wolfed it down as we turned onto a highway leading to Steamboat Springs.

We made it to Steamboat and did what we always do; ate a ton of food. We stopped into a BBQ restaurant (Critter's favorite place to search for veggie options) and ate pulled pork and fried zucchini. After this, we decided to head to the Yampa river, a popular lazy river running through town, and go for a swim. We found a nice eddy just below a rapids and hung out there watching inner tubers scream as the went down the small rapids, sometimes flipping into the water. Wild Bill was the tubers number one fan as he swam to get sandals floating down the river and push people out of eddys they were trapped inside and could not move. This swim was also a pretty nice bath and laundry time. We did not look completely like three homeless people bathing in a river, but not far from it either.

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After we got out, we drove down the Main Street looking for ice cream and a hotel. Along the way we saw a putt putt golf place and could not help but pull in the parking lot and play some golf. We were older than anyone else on the course by a decade or two. We played for an hour or so and even had a few hole in ones. When we finished playing, Garbelly and Wild Bill had tied with a score of 50 and Critter with 57.

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After this we looked for a room to stay. Every hotel in steamboat was completely booked up besides a room for $350. It was about $300 over our budget. We looked and found cheap hotels in the town of Craig 37 miles away. We decided since we had a car, this was our best bet. On the drive Garbelly called his parents and family to check on the status of his sister in labor.  No baby yet. He could barely keep in his excitement. Within hours he would become Uncle Garbelly!

Once we arrived, we found out that every hotel was booked there for a soccer tournament. Looking back, we definitely should have called and asked first. Finally out of pure luck, a local inn had one room left with a single bed. One hour later, Garbelly's sister had a baby and we all found out it was a baby girl!! Garbelly was beyond excited. A few years may have been shed.

What a day. Filled with best friends, swimming and a new niece. At midnight we finally fell asleep.  

Cheers!  

Garbelly & Critter

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Marion Ruth Mitchell

Day 93: Mt. Zirkel Wilderness & Lost Ranger Peak (1293-1322)

The skies were bright blue when we woke up with only a couple puffs of clouds. After the storms we experienced throughout the night, we were thankful for this. We followed the trail weaving through forests and meadows as we walked along the plateau. Views of the mountains, still streaked with snow behind us with the rocky cliffs of the Zirkels in front of us. Between it all was seemingly flat land saddling the dramatic mountainside.

As we came up and over a rolling hill, we stopped in our tracks at the sight of Elk in a field. Not one, not thirty, but upwards of a hundred elk grazed before us. We quietly walked passed trying to not disturbed them but also interested in observing them for as long as we could. As Garbelly inched closer, the wind blew our scent their way and they trotted off into the woods.

After winding up and down nicely graded trail with the occasional patch of snow, we arrived at a small stream. While only a few inches wide, it was carved deep into the grass suggesting its old age. As we filtered the icy water, we ate a small snack and decided to make it over Lost Ranger peak before any afternoon storms trapped us below the mountain.

The climb up to Lost Ranger was spectacular and an easy climb. Once we were at the top, a group of nearly twenty bighorn sheep wandered across the trail stopping to look at us before disappearing over the edge. We decided to eat lunch up there, not minding the sun due to the enjoyable breeze that had started up. In the distance we could see miles and miles of burn area. We knew there would be a lot of downed trees to climb over in the second half of our day.

We started our descent saying bye to the last Pikas we would surely see for awhile. The ground became boggy and soaked our feet. Every now and then we walked over mounds of snow sometimes over ten feet tall. After descending for awhile with water logged shoes, we passed by a lake occupied by swimmers and anglers. The sight of people near an alpine lake meant that the trees were most likely cut and we would not be climbing over many downed trees. After we passed through a trailhead parking lot, we found trail again that climbed up to a narrow ridge away from the road. With a perfect view of the Zirkels, we decided to pitch our tent and eat dinner with a view.

 

Cheers!

Garbelly & Critter

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Day 86: Into Grand Lake

Since the first day, we were consumed by the trail.  It stripped us of our off-trail identity, our comfort zones and routines. We entered a world where no one cares about what our day job is or what we studied in school. No one cares about what we wear, smell like, or how we talk. We become the trail, and the trail becomes our home and the other hikers are family. Don't get us wrong we don't forget about our families back home or that other world, but to survive we have to sacrifice our our minds, time, and energy to hiking. Seeing family becomes a distant dream, a goal.

When family comes to visit it is such an amazing gift, like an anchor back into who you are and what life was like and is like off-trail. It is this tiny window where you can share a bit of one world with a bit of the other. It is energizing and phenomenal, but when it is time to say goodbye...it feels like an unexpected blow to the heart. Sure, sure that sounds mellow dramatic, but it hurts in a way that we could never have expected nor that we can explain. The first few moments back on trail after walking away from family suck. For Critter they are tear ridden and for Garbelly they are very silent miles. It's not a longing to be off trail and surrounded by the familiar. It's not a regret nor a giving up. The feeling appears dressed as sadness, but could it be something else completely?

It might come down to time. Trail time is different than real life time. Our days are characterized by distance instead of the hands on a watch. Our time slows. However, when real life meets trail life. It feels as if time in general races to catch up. Time flies by leaving you alone again with the trail. Internally you feel like you are grabbing for the moment to stay just a little bit longer. This glimpse at time is shocking, a glimpse at the impermanence of every moment on trail and off trail. Suddenly we realize how quickly it is going by and how soon it will be all over.

Immediately, we are grateful for gravity which helps us cling to the dirt path we follow and the weight of our packs pressing us into that particular moment in earth's own time. It feels like being pinched out of a dream and back into reality. Leaving family is tough, but not seeing them at all may be just as tough. You just have to be ready for the sprinting of time through you're walking paced world.

Saying bye to Joe, Kate, and Milo was not easy. Their visit seemed to go by so quickly relative to how long it felt waiting for the day they arrived in Colorado. It is so amazing to be so supported, and it so amazing to share, even if it is just a tiny glimpse, our world out here. Aside from the stories and photos, to see in person the mountains and the trail, our packs and worn out shoes, how much sun our skin has gotten and how callused our feet have become. To meet a part of our trail family, in a way it makes it not just real for our family, but it makes it that much more real for us. In this surreal world, for a passing moment, we are utterly grounded and can step off of the trail and look on to our adventure from the outside.

We watched as Stella pulled away. We stood quietly and watched. Critter cried, of course, and Garbelly waved until he could not see the silver Airstream with the New York plates anymore. We were in limbo, somewhere between familiarity and our new life on trail. We raced back to trail and away from purgatory. Once on the path leading us North, we felt better, and thus we began to finish our miles into Grand Lake.

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Along the way, about four miles out of town, we met a fellow hiker, Lil Buddha, and falling in line with his trail name, the energy he emitted was enlightening. We hiked all the way to town with him learning about all the trails he has hiked, some insight on the International Appalachian Trail, a dream of ours to complete.

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Once in town, he headed towards the post office, and we headed towards the hostel at Shadowcliff to pick up our box. We found out it was a little less than mile away so we grabbed some ice cream for the walk. Shadowcliff consisted of beautiful log, multiple story cabins on the side of a cliff next to a flowing creek. We walked into the main building and office where we were greeted by the smiling face of Alanah, the granddaughter of the original founders of the lodge. She checked us in for the night and retrieved our resupply box. Then she showed us each our rooms, a men's dorm and a women's dorm.

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We sat our stuff down by empty beds we deemed fit, and then we met each other downstairs in the large common area where we spent the majority of the night. Large windows allowed for a perfect view of Grand Lake, the surrounding Rocky Mountain National Park, and a thunderstorm that blew in over it all. We lounged for most of the afternoon only to take a short pizza break but soon resuming position on the couch. Everyone had already headed to bed when we shut the lights off and marched ourselves up to bed. We said goodnight to each other and slipped into our dorm rooms.

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Day 82-83: Fourth of July at Lake Granby

We spent the morning with Charlie and Hannah grabbing coffee and breakfast at the Rise and Shine Bakery. Once they headed back to Berthound Pass to get back on trail, we headed to a coffeeshop to work on writing. Having a balance of fun and work is really healthy for us, and never once have we regretted writing about each day of our journey. The seemingly peaceful, downtime allows our bodies to rest while our minds work.

We were seated at an outside table when a wind picked up. Critter, having been worn out by the constant and brutal wind on the ridge for many miles, kept moving around the porch as if she was playing a game of musical chairs in order to get out of the wind. Garbelly remained in his seat and laughed. Lunch time rolled around, and with Joe, Kate, and Milo still an hour out of Winter Park, we decided to go eat, again. This time we found ourselves in a Chinese restaurant. We quickly made friends with our waiter as we shared our adventures with him each time he came to our table.

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It is always such a joy to share our stories with people who know about the world of thru-hiking, but the surprise on the faces of those who are not familiar with this world is by far the greatest. It is amazing, and it is so cool that we are able to share and educate people as we learn and grow along the trail. 

After lunch, we headed to a parking lot and waited for the sight of the silver Airstream with yellow accents. Then all of a sudden there she was. In the truck, we saw the excited faces of Critter's dad, Kate, and the wagging tail of Milo. They pulled into the parking lot and jumped out. Milo came running up to Critter letting loose a single bark then ran over to Garbelly with another single bark. We were as excited to see them as they were probably excited to get out of the truck.

When Joe, Critter's dad, found out about her hiking the trail he found an 1974 Airstream, fixed it up, traded in for a truck to pull it through the mountains, then drove out to see us from New York. They had made it, all the way from the shores of Lake Erie to the mountains of Colorado. We threw our packs into Stella, the Airstream, and headed towards Lake Granby.

Being new to RV culture and Colorado during the 4th of July, we failed to make a reservation a year in advance at one of the campgrounds. From our understanding every spot was booked and every campground full, but from all the research we completed trying to find an available spot, we learned about the "walk-ups", our last hope. We pulled up to the office of the Stillwater Campground on Lake Grandby, fingers crossed. The men stayed in the car while the ladies jumped out. Kate and Critter ran up to the campground hosts and asked if by any chance there was a spot of us for two nights. A man in a golf cart drove off to check on the last spot at the entire campground. We waited anxiously. He returned, waved us onward, and took us to an open spot. Success! Not only was it a spot but we had a view of the lake and we were a bit secluded from the bulk of the other RVs at the park. We set up camp and took the Airstream out of travel mode, and we entered relax mode. 

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The next morning we enjoyed bagels at our site before heading into Grand Lake to take care of our laundry and acquire fishing licenses.  While we were at the rather nice laundromat, a local shared with us some insight on where to fish. We loaded up in the truck and headed straight to the Colorado River. Once on the river, we began setting up our rods, for us it was our Tenkara and for Joe and Kate it was two four-piece rods. All of us put on dry flies and started to cast to promising looking runs. The hits came quick, but Joe and Kate had to switch their Smallmouth Bass and Winter Steelhead mindset to one of hungry, Mountain Trout. We tossed dries all day getting tons of hits on top water. Critter's catches increased in size as she went, starting out with some small, but colorful Brookies and ending with a good, healthy Rainbow Trout.

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Garbelly played around with small Brookies, even accidentally catapulting one into the grass behind him. Milo was on the fish immediately helping Garbelly locate it and return it to the water. We had spent a better part of the afternoon on the water before we realized we were all hungry. We headed back to the Airstream to nap, shower, and begin preparing different vegetables and fruits to start grilling.

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We enjoyed a large dinner and as it got dark walked down to the lake to see if we could spot fireworks. Sure enough, at ten o'clock we could see Grand Lake's firework show in the distance. The show went on and we sat quietly admiring the colors and shapes tucked into the mountains. 

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Happy 4th, and Happy Trails!  

Garbelly & Critter  

Day 78: 1064 to 1086

We woke up late this morning. The sun had completely engulfed our tent in a very bright light. This meant it was already past 7:30 AM. In no rush, we began packing our things and casually heading up the trail. The sun was just a speck today in a deep blue sky.

As we began up the rest of our climb, we met a man from Boulder who we had seen going Southbound the night before. We began talking to him and found out he was doing a section of the Colorado Trail to train for his thru hike of the same trail later in the year.

As we kept talking, we began passing people. Very stylish people with nice cameras and clean gear. We talked to the first guy who said he was a part of the Fjällräven Classic and that their were around two hundred people behind him. We found out that the Classic was a three day, 35 mile hike from Montezuma to Copper Mountain. People that signed up for this hike would be surrounded by Fjällräven employees and Leave No Trace ambassadors assuring that the large group of hikers left a minimal impact on the trail along the way.

We passed most of the hikers as we were going downhill and they were climbing up against us. We stopped for each group of hikers and let them pass us since people going uphill have the right-a-way on single track trails. As we stopped, we met a lot of great people and saw some of the event organizers we had met heading in to Breckenridge. Going from seeing one or two people a day to seeing over two hundred was actually not a tough transition. Everyone we passed wore a large smile and was having a blast being outside on such a beautiful day. We even learned how to say good morning in Swedish (god morgon).

Finally we made it to water and split off from our new friend from Boulder. As we filtered, a Colorado Trail mountain biker went through and we briefly told him about the trail conditions he would face on Peak 6 and the Kokomo Pass area. After snacking really hard (Garbelly ate a whole bag of Cheez-its), we headed towards Georgia Pass and began looking for a good place to eat lunch.

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We began hearing dogs howling all around us. Looking below to find what looked like a dog sled boarding area. We saw what seemed like seventy-five dogs under tarps and palettes. It was definitely a strange sight. We were not sure if it was legal or not to keep dogs in the conditions they were in, but we figured with as many hikers that pass by that it was not very hidden.

Just then Critter screamed and when Garbelly turned around, instead of being greeted by a large bloodthirsty heard of bears, he found a Charlie and Hannah. The Heavyweights had reunited once again! We immediately sat down by a creek and made lunch. Since Breckenridge, Garbelly began packing his trustworthy frying pan, so Critter made an extremely tasty cheese quesadilla for lunch. Just as we finished up lunch, dark clouds and a few rumbles rolled into view.

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We got out the maps and looked for a lower alternate to the 13,000 foot ridge walk we had for the rest of the day. We found the perfect trail that would parallel the CDT. As the trail ended, we would scramble up a couple thousand feet to the trail. As soon as we started walking, the winds picked up and we felt a few drops of rain. It had been a good decision.

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While most people think that our biggest threats out here are bear, mountain lions and banjo wielding locals, our biggest threat is being exposed in large storms. Yes, there is a large chance we could walk on a ridge line through storms unscathed. We would rather be cautious and not be the only positively charged objects on the top of a mountain. It pays to know the dangers of exposure. Even if it requires extra miles or skewing away from an original plan, it is always worth the extra time to stay safe.

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After getting back up to the ridge, the clouds and winds swirled around us, yet were calming down. We looked on the ridge and noticed five large mountain goats running along a cliff line. If only we could move that fast out here, we would make it to Canada in a few weeks.

After making it to the ridge line, we sped hiked the next few miles through a small hail storm to camp. This camp was not just any camp. Tucked partially behind a rock face, we fell asleep at 12,300 feet with a view overlooking a large red cinder cone mountain. As the sun set we ate our dinners and watched a distant storm.

Cheers to magical campspots!  

Garbelly & Critter  

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Day 72: Greenback on the Fly

When Garbelly woke up, everyone was packing up including Critter. For the first time on trail, she was the early riser. With the cold air outside our tent, we tried to do as much as we could from inside. However, cold meant no mosquitoes. Thor, Scrapbook, Charlie and Hannah headed up trail and we tagged along once we split a bagel and peanut butter, our first time packing out bagels so far. We followed a gradual climb up the Mt. Massive trail but decided to make miles we so passed by where the trail forked and headed up to the summit.

We steadily climbed all morning, running into a ton of Colorado Trail hikers and even Jeremy! For lunch, we joined Charlie and Hannah by a stream. Two large donkeys with two handlers came running down the trail followed by a man in a cowboy hat on a horse. Shocked we all sat there and watched them run by then head down the trail. It was not what we were expecting during our break.

After lunch, we finished a climb then headed through the Leadville Fish Hatchery, the oldest fish hatchery in the USA, and then down to a trailhead that led us into the Holy Cross Wilderness. The forest grew denser and more shaded from the sun. We climbed switchbacks up for a couple of miles to a saddle before descending back down to an alpine lake. Without a question, we grabbed the Tenkara rod tied on a small Parachute Adams, tied by our good friend Marty, and started to search for the best access to the water.

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The amber-colored but clear water was shielded by thick pines, but we were able to find a sharply angled rock just off the bank half under water. Standing on it was a balancing act but set us up perfectly to toss the line into the water. We watched as the fish were rising feeding on an evening hatch that popped off of the water. Garbelly had first cast and just as he saw a fish start to rise, he landed the Adams on top of the water and then BOOM! A Greenback Cutthroat hit the fly and Garbelly's setting of the hook put the fish perfectly on the rod. Stepping back while carefully balancing on the rock, he jumped to shore, handed the rod to Critter then ran down to land the fish. A perfect release, the cutthroat swam to freedom in the depths of the lake.

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Critter had the next cast so she stepped up onto the rock balancing on the balls of her feet and started to wait for the sight of a rising fish. Brook Trout started to move into the area around the rock. She roll-casted the line laying the leader and the fly on top of the water. A hungry Brookie started to make its move. The wind blew the lightweight rod slightly moving the fly but the Brookie chased after it eventually taking it, and Critter set the hook.

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We went back and forth taking turns sight fishing and with each turn we caught a fish. If it was not for the need to make a couple more miles, we would have stayed there all night. Reluctantly, we packed up the rod and started back up trail.

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We passed by another 10th Mountain Division Hut, this one called Uncle Buds Hut, and then worked our way into the woods to find a camp spot back on trail. Some of the only snow we encountered all day was right where we set up camp. It was an especially cold night so we enjoyed dinner from the warmth of our tents and then quickly went to bed. As we closed our eyes, both of us saw images of the fish hitting the fly. It is safe to say our dreams were pretty fishy that night. 

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Cheers! 

Garbelly and Critter