Winter is Coming

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We strapped on our bear spray and headed into what would soon become the Bob Marshall wilderness. It was perfect hiking weather but I struggled with all the added weight on my back. We ran into a couple other thru hikers and joined them for lunch before parting ways. As we walked into the afternoon the pleasant overcast skies were turning darker until it seemed to almost be night. We knew the sky was going to open up any minute and pour something terrible. With a flash of lightning, rain began to pour in droves. The wind blew stronger and if felt like this could turn into a hurricane.

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We were drenched as the sky got lighter and opened up to a huge rainbow spreading across the sky and touching down in the meadow below. We made it to a dry water source before finding some flat space and trying to get warm. I was surprised when it wasn't freezing the next morning. We packed up and as I was struggling with a stubborn stake, a huge cow let out a scream from about 20 feet away. I jumped, always thinking it'll be a bear. The cow was unhappy with us but went on his way. We both had about half a liter left and weren't quite sure when we'd see water again. All day it threatened to rain on us, sprinkling but turning into sunshine. We stuck to a ridgeline most of the day but heard there may be some water just off the ridge. It had been hours since we had any water so we dropped our packs and plowed down the ridge.

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As we got further and further from the trail our hopes began to dwindle. Every creek bed was long dry. We would have to push on without water. Luckily it was overcast and the wind chill was keeping us moving. In total, we went 17 miles on that half liter. When we got to the next spring we were skeptical and very thirsty but beautiful, cold water was sprinkling right out of the ground. We drank straight from the spring and pounded water to make up for the dehydrating day. We made it to a water cache and I hid in the bathroom trying to get out of the icy wind. We couldn't stay forever though so we kept hiking for another hour before realizing we were off trail. Instead of back tracking, I thought we should bushwack through to get back on the trail. It was a pleasant bushwack, if such a thing is possible, and we made it back to the trail just a little behind. We set up camp there for the night out of the wind. It was cold that next morning and we struggled to get moving. The trail came in and out and seemed to go in every direction which made navigation difficult. I was still wearing all of my clothes when we ran into a group that was out for the weekend and stopped to chat for a bit.

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They had extra bacon that we scarfed down and went on our way. We walked past Lewis and Clark pass, where they had gotten through the Rockies and took a break. The temperature was dropping drastically and we were engulfed in clouds. As it began to rain, we knew there would be snow coming soon. We were headed up to above 8,000 ft. And I knew that it would become a much more dangerous situation if we had kept climbing. We found a lower route and plowed down in the rain. Stopping briefly let the cold sink in through your layers so we made sure to keep moving. After hours of freezing rain, we made it to a town were we exploded into a cafe for some warmth. It took us a while to warm up and dry out before we checked the weather and saw that this was only the beginning. We decided to take a route that kept us lower while the storm came through for the next few days after that.

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We got out early the next morning and had a great few hours of walking before finding a nice spot to take a break. As I checked the map, I realized we were not moving in the right direction. Demoralized, we realized we had been walking for 3 hours in the wrong direction. We sat there, wondering what to do, when a truck drove by. I ran out onto the road and must have looked crazy as I flagged down the car. He took us back to where we had started a few hours before and we tried again to make some progress on the day. Over the next few days we road walked through rural Montana and watched the clouds hang over the mountains. Every morning there was a new blanket of snow on the ridge and we felt lucky not to be there. We made it to east glacier Park and prepared ourselves for the last week and Glacier national park. Mile marker 2949

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Why Was I Doing This To Myself?

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We had a delicious breakfast the next morning before heading back out in the smoke. It was getting really old being on the side of the road but we had no choice, we had to keep moving. It was a hot day with little shoulder so when we saw a store open along the road, we went in to grab a beer. Once the guys at the liquor store heard about our trip, they poured tequila shots for everybody and recommended their trademark 'sloshies.' Basically a slurpie with alcohol. Our metabolism was running so fast that we were instantly intoxicated and started making our way down the trail. After a bit of confusion and getting lost, Midge picked us up. She had passed us on the road three days in a row and had offered us a place to stay in Jackson if we needed it. She had pizzas waiting in the car and took us back to her amazing house where we shared stories and ate our fill. I was exhausted and fell asleep as soon as she gave me a pillow.

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The next morning she was already waiting with breakfast and coffee which was amazing. After we ate she offered to drive me about an hour to pick up a couple packages that I wouldn't be able to get because of the fires. We successfully got my stuff and headed back onto the road. Before camp we stopped at a grocery store and downed a couple pints of ice cream before realizing our mistake and waddling down the road into the forest. We found a couple deer beds next to the bike path and set up for the night. The next morning we got moving early and headed uphill to Teton pass. It was a hell of a climb but the views were pretty amazing from the top. Then it was a huge downhill to the border of Idaho where we crossed out of Wyoming for the last time on trail. We got to a town and grabbed lunch before heading on to another town just down the way. As it got darker we couldn't find a place to camp so we knocked on a church door and asked if we could set up in their yard. They obliged and even offered us showers if we needed it. We were too tired to take them up on it and fell asleep before the sun went completely behind the mountains.

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We grabbed coffee at a gas station before heading down the road. After over a week of road walking we were looking for any way to make it more enjoyable. We decided to hitch hike up to Helena where a good friend of mine from the AT lives and borrow her bikes to make up the rest of the road miles. The first few hours on the bikes were great. We were moving fast and making good time. After those few hours our muscles began to hurt from not being used and it got extremely harder to peddle my bike. After about 50 miles I checked my bike and realized my back tire was completely flat and had been for the last few hours. We knocked on a nearby farm house and were met with some pretty amazing people who helped us as we tried everything to get the tire to fill with air again. After 45 minutes of tinkering with the pump and an air compressor we figured it out and the tire was like new. I was amazed with how fast I could go and how much easier it was. But after five miles it was completely flat again. I rode another twelve miles on the flat before we got to a town where we would have to wait till morning to get it fixed. The town was small and we searched everywhere for the right tube with no luck. We had to hitch a ride 30 minutes away to the next big town to get it fixed which took up most of our morning. We didn't get back to the spot we left at until after one but we moved on anyways, hoping to do some decent miles. About four miles out of town we hit a gravel road and began walking our road bikes that could not handle the unmaintained road. A car passed and we asked how long it would be until the road turned paved again. 18 miles she said. We couldn't possibly walk our bikes 18 miles before dark that day and we still needed to make it another 60 miles after that. She offered us a ride to the paved section and we took it, thinking it was the only option we had.

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We got to the road and began riding again. We paralleled the Madison river where a bunch of people were slowly floating down in tubes. I wanted to be them so bad as I miserably peddled my bike and sweat dripped from every pore. After about ten miles on the road we took a break. I was wondering to myself, why am I doing this? I wanted to connect my footpath but I was making myself miserable. I tried to think of the last time I had enjoyed myself on this trail. It had been a long, long time. We had been rushing for weeks and problem after problem kept hitting us in the face. I decided that it wasn't worth it to me to make it back to where we got off the road. I wanted to enjoy the last few weeks that I had on this trail and I didn't want to rush through it anymore. So when we got to the next town, we hitch hiked with the bikes back up to Helena and took a day off to rest our butts and arms from the ride. Mile marker 2687

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The Winds and The Road

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After my first bout with giardia and a long five days off trail, we headed into the Wind River range. Still not feeling 100% when we got our hitch back out to the trail,  I felt worried that I wouldn't be able to do the mileage I needed to not run out of food. When we got dropped off and we're touching the trail again, a wave of excitement rushed over me and it felt right to be back out there. We hiked for a few hours before a huge dark cloud caught up with us and began pouring the biggest and hardest rain we'd experienced yet. It soaked through everything and lasted much longer than we would have liked. Luckily it ended and we dried out before making it to camp that evening. It felt so right and yet so foreign to be back on trail after so much time off. I fell asleep happy that I had made it back without missing anything. We got up in the dark the next morning and started moving as we could barely see. Little by little the sky brightened up and after an hour we had clear views. It was a chilly morning with a bunch of clouds blanketing the sky so we kept moving fast to stay warm. By our first break we had only gone six miles. Which did not bode well for our 31 mile a day average. We climbed up a river valley as the trees began to change into rocks and the elevation increased. A cloud caught up with us and let down some light sprinkles that worried us about the downpour the day before. Suddenly the trail disappeared and we grew frustrated with the constant route finding. We got to a bowl with massive walls surrounding us and knew we would have to climb up somewhere. With no trail, we picked an area we thought would be the safest and headed up. As we began to climb, thunder roared behind us and was moving closer. Sprinkles began to rain down on us and, as we looked behind, we saw a wall of rain closing in on us and nearing the pass.

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The thunder was on top of us. I panicked as I tried to speed up. My heart was racing and I was out of breathe but we had to move quickly. Each crack of lighting made us shudder. The wind blew stronger, pushing the clouds towards us. We made it to the pass and we're met with a massive boulder field about half a mile long. As we hopped from rock to rock, trying to move fast and not get hurt at the same time, the wind began to die down. Luckily the thunder got trapped by the peaks on the other side of the pass and no longer threatened to kill us. We took a deep breathe and slowed our pace. We climbed down the rocky slope cautiously, beginning to realize that our goals for this section were unrealistic and we would soon run out of food. We made it down to a lake for lunch where we began to hatch up a new plan. We felt extremely discouraged and slightly pathetic at not meeting our goal but we were beat. We hung around too long, not wanting to see what the trail would throw at us next. We finally left and found the views were spectacular and the trail, when it existed, was pleasant with a nice downhill trend. We ran into a group on a commercial backpacking trip and stopped to chat for a bit. Our spirits rose and our egos were thoroughly stroked as they gawked in amazement at how far we'd come. And it was true, we had come so far already. It's hard days like this that make us forget what we've already accomplished. We ran into a bunch more groups that afternoon and felt excited that we were finally in an area that people wanted to go. One group had come out on a spur of the moment trip to do the Cirque of the Towers trail, an alternate from the CDT. We had also planned to do this route after hearing it was a must. Unfortunately the group hadn't prepared very well and didn't have any maps. Beaute and I generally stay within sight of each other, so I gave them my maps and told them where they were before they headed off in the wrong direction.

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Thunder began to boom again, ending our dreams of doing the alternate. There were three high passes of rock scrambles to get over and no where to go at the chance of thunder. So we decided it was too dangerous and stayed on the official route. It rained on us for hours after that but we felt very lucky as we heard the thunder rip the sky apart behind us. As the evening grew darker, it turned colder than it had been in a long time. We moved faster to stay warm and eventually found a nice spot to set up for the night. Right as we got our tents out it began to rain again as we jumped in our shelters for the night, trying to stay warm. To make matters worse, I could barely stomach two bites of my dinner before feeling nauseous and calling it quits. We slept in longer than usual the next morning even though we had a long day. We got moving and hoped for the best. It was an absolutely beautiful morning as the sun peeked through the clouds just enough to keep us warm. We had small moments of showers but they never lasted long and we dried out quickly. We ran into a horse caravan who first asked us if we were frightened to be out here and then mentioned that our parents must be rich to support us for six months. Two things you should never say to a pair of fiercely independent women in the backcountry. We made sure they knew that we were self supporting our trip and that not too much scared us anymore. A few hours later, as we hiked on, a seriously foul smell whacked us in the face. Something was dead and it was nearby. We were starting to gag when we saw a sign hanging high up in a tree. A horse had been put down by the lake and they were warning about bear activity. We moved a little quicker to escape the rotting carcass and eventually could no longer smell it. We took lunch early when it looked like a storm would roll through and rain us out. We both ate a rare hot lunch but were soon sprinting into the forest to dig an extremely urgent cat hole. We took a short nap but were both still feeling terrible as we pushed on north. It took a few hours before we finally got into the swing of things and started moving faster again. We were chasing the clock to try and get up and over a pass before dark but we weren't moving nearly as fast as we needed to be. A pair of southbounders came up the trail and showed us a route that they had taken to go around the pass and stay low. We jumped on the alternate and made it a fair distance before my hip started cramping up every few minutes. I was doubled over in pain so we got to a water source and set up camp for the night.

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It was another freezing morning as we packed up with all of our layers on. It took a while for the sun to finally hit us over the high mountain tops but once it did our whole bodies felt toasty. We ran into a bunch of people that day including another thru hiker we hadn't seen since town and a bunch of southbounders, one of which I had met on the PCT and saw on the AT. It was awesome to think we had run into each other randomly on all the big three. It took much longer than we would have liked but we made it to a trailhead parking lot and started walking down to town to get some food. After a little over an hour, a car came by and asked us if we needed a ride. We needed to walk in to town to connect our footsteps because we would be taking an alternate out of town but our hunger took over and we decided we'd get back to the road the next morning. After gorging on Mexican food, we found a hidden spot outside of town and set up camp. We got up early the next morning to try to hitch back to where we were at on the road but no one would pick us up. We waited longer than we had ever waited for a hitch on this trail and were about to give up was when a truck stopped and let us in. With a voice that had clearly breathed in more cigarette smoke than fresh air for 60 years, he explained to us that recently two men, who were on the run for beating a few women to death, had hitch hiked nearby. After murdering the driver, they took the van up into the mountains on the same road we were on and hid out with a bunch of weapons for a few days before they ran out of food and began to starve. It suddenly all made sense that no one was willing to pick us up. He got us to our destination and gave us both a Gatorade before being on his way. We moved quickly on the road and it felt nice not to have our packs on. We had hid them in a bunch of bushes in town and would pick them up on our way back. We got back around lunch time and went to grab some food and sort out some logistics. We ended up staying there all night and crashing in a church that is left open for hikers to stay at. We got up the next morning and took our time, drinking hot coffee and chatting, before hitting the road. It was still very cold when we left and I wanted to go back to the warm refuge of the church. Eventually, the road warmed up and we made it to a cafe for lunch. We filled up before hitting the road again but we didn't make it far before finding a shady spot and taking a nap on the side of the highway. We made it another eleven dragging miles on the road. The pavement was crushing our joints and feet and it became really hard to keep going. We made it to an RV Park and C-store that was about to close so we filled up on water and sat around to rest our aching legs. The owner told us of a dirt road that paralleled the highway for six or seven miles and had lots of good camping areas. We made it about five more miles on the dirt road before finding a flat spot and going to sleep.

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It was below 30 degrees that next morning and I struggled to get out of my sleeping bag with all my layers on. We got back to the road but the wind was whipping at my face and hands, freezing them. In the distance we saw a sign for a cafe and I began to dream of the hot coffee that would surely warm me up. As we grew closer, a large closed sign dashed our dreams and we got back on the road again. After a few more hours, lots of roadkill, and getting to pet a bunch of horses, we saw a gas station in the distance and talked about everything we were going to get there. We were hesitant until we saw two big open signs and the lights on. Relieved, I tried the door. It was locked, there was no one inside. Slightly heartbroken we posted up outside, eating our stale trail food and hoping something was coming up. As we sat there I got a bunch of alerts on my phone saying Yellowstone was on fire and much of the roads were beginning to close. It would mean a few more days of road walking for us and missing Yellowstone altogether. Bummed, we hiked on down the road and hoped it would reopen before we had to decide on an alternate route. We took a short nap in the shade and jumped back on the road. A few people stopped to ask us if we needed a ride which we reluctantly declined. They had seen us on the road for a couple days now and wondered what the hell we were doing. We often thought the same thing. As evening approached we saw a sign for a restaurant but we didn't get our hopes up, it had to be closed too. And, sure enough, we saw a closed sign in the window when we walked up. As we were about to keep walking, a couple came out and said that the bar was still open, serving food. We ran in and grabbed a table, getting weird stares from all the people that had passed us on the road. While eating, we met a guy who was planning to hike the Te Araroa this winter and offered to let us crash at his place behind the bar. We talked trail and hung out before realizing he had bought us dinner and leaving the bar. As we walked out the sky was filled with smoke and small bits of ash rained down on us. It was no wonder everything was shutting down, the sky was on fire. We took showers and talked trail a bit more before tucking into bed in a warm house away from the smoke. Mile marker 2057

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Wyoming, Wild Horses, and the Double Marathon Day

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After an unplanned zero in one of the nicest trail towns, we hiked out in the heat of the day. Everything seemed to be going wrong that day but the tip of the iceberg came when the strap of Beaute's backpack snapped off, rendering it unusable. We got back in to town and took yet another unplanned zero, to give her time to fix it. She sewed it together with dental floss and reinforced the other straps just in case. The next day, we ran into a couple other thru hikers before all leaving town together. It was a long highway walk that dragged on for what seemed like forever. We saw a small side street and took a quick break, away from the cars flying by. A car pulled up to our break stop and a young man asked us if we wanted and sodas or water. It turned out he had hiked the PCT last year and was driving through looking for hikers. We stayed there for hours, swapping stories, filling up on goodies, and hiding out from the rain behind his car. After a few goodbyes, we hiked on a bit before finding a camp spot and setting up. We all sat and ate dinner together but were interrupted when it began to rain again.

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We all got moving early the next morning and had a long, hot, road walk that was neverending. We made it to a water source by lunch and tried to rehydrate and find bits of shade. The afternoon was hotter and we struggled to keep the pace up. We made it to a small reservoir, just as the sun was going down, and had a nice group dinner before retreating to our comfy tents. Heat lightning began soon after and it felt as though a swarm of paparazzi where outside our tents. Flashes of light went off constantly for most of the evening and has started again when we woke up. The thunder was loud in the morning and I wondered if we were in store for a storm. I climbed out of my tent to a gorgeous morning. We made it to our first water source, a sludge surrounded by cows, and took a long nap in the sun. We reluctantly got moving again but didn't make it far before finding an extremely rare patch of trees and taking another nap break.

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We made it to camp a bit later and set up for the night without our tents. The next morning we planned to wake up early and try to hike a double marathon day into town so we wanted to be able to pack up as quickly as possible. As we fell asleep that evening, four wild horses showed up and began drinking out of the pond next to us. I couldn't help but feel like this was a really special thing to experience. When my alarm went off the next morning, it was still completely dark out and felt very early. We were ready. We packed up quickly and got moving. The sky lightened up as we walked, eventually giving way to a gorgeous sunrise that we don't often get to see. By our first break, we had gone 17 miles and felt really good. It seemed very attainable to complete our goal that day. The wind was in our face all day, which slowed us down, but we powered through. Just before lunch, we began to feel the effects of all the miles. I dragged on, hoping my feet would keep moving.

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By lunch, we had gone 28.5 miles and we're completely beat. We found a spring and took a quick, much needed nap. As the heat of the day was hitting it's peak, a large blanket of clouds settled over the basin. It was nice to have a break from the relentless sun. We made it to 37.5 miles that evening and stopped for water. There was a nice campsite nearby and the urge to quit washed over me. We still had 15 miles to go and it was already 7 pm, meaning we wouldn't make it in until midnight. Our legs ached but we knew we would keep going. As the evening began to get dark, a large bird flew low overhead.

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Beaute made an owl hoot and it flew back at us, swooping low to check us out. I'm not sure I had ever seen an owl so close in the wild. The sun set, leaving us in the dark with nine miles still to do. We got out our lights and tried to keep our legs going. By the last three miles, I was in pain. Ever step was a struggle and my joints ached with each movement. It seemed as though it would never end. We finally finished the longest three miles of my life and were too exhausted to try and celebrate. We crawled into our tents and passed out. I woke up once that night in excruciating pain. My lower body hurt so much it took my breathe away. After a few deep breathes and trying to move around a bit, my exhaustion took over and I fell back asleep.

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The next morning was a lot less painful than I had expected and it was nice to get to sleep in for once. We only had two miles to the road which felt like nothing after our previous day. We started hitch hiking and we're passed by a cop car that stopped and reversed back to us, turning on his lights. Thinking we were about to get in trouble, we put on our best faces and hoped we could get put of it. He hopped out of the car and started moving stuff around for us to sit. So we climbed in to the cop car and he took us all the way in to town! Mile Marker 1773

Wild Wyoming

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We gorged ourselves on food and waddled out of town. We didn't make it far before our stomachs told us it was time to stop for the night. We slept in the next morning and slowly packed up camp. As I hiked, a beautiful moose came galloping in front of me. I reached for my camera and spooked her, but she came back within minutes. She stood tall in the forest, almost posing for me.

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For the next quarter mile, every time I looked back, she was there watching over me. We kept moving and ran into a trailhead parking lot with tons of tourists heading into Rocky Mountain National Park. A ranger told us of an alternate trail that would save us from walking along the highway. It turned out to be gorgeous and we thanked him as he pulled up at the next parking lot. We had lunch next to a creek as the sun dissapeared behind the clouds. It began to rain but we knew it wouldn't last long, so we kept eating. The sun came out very briefly again before we were hit with another storm and got moving. Thunder boomed as we climbed up to a pass and the rain came down harder. The rain turned to hail and we tried to take cover from the hard pellets of ice. By the time we got to the pass, the storm had passed and the sun was slowly drying us out.

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We saw the trail on the adjacent ridge and headed for it. After getting to a trail junction, we realized we had missed a turn and were almost a mile off trail. We grumbled as we turned around and headed back. The rest of the afternoon was nice and easy until we got to a steep Jeep road. My feet flew out from under me on the slick gravel and I fell backwards. My hip hit first and I could feel the crunch of my phone in my pocket. Next was my elbow slamming onto the side of the road, as my shoulder began to pop out of its socket. I rolled in the dirt thinking 'please no.' A million thoughts ran through my head. Was my thru hike over? Just like that? I stayed on the ground for a minute, mentally checking in. My shoulder was in a lot of pain but I don't think it had completely dislocated. Incredibly thankful, I stumbled up, brushed off the dirt, and kept moving. Everything ached but we made it a couple more miles before I could take some pain medication and fall asleep. I woke up still in a funk from the day before, so I told Beaute I was sleeping in when I heard her pack up around 6. The last thing I wanted to do at that moment was hike. I lounged around for three more hours before finally getting out of camp. Not long after, I realized I had lost my paper maps out of my backpack and would need to rely on my dwindling phone battery to have directions. There was no way I'd run into Beaute again that day. I passed a road and followed the trail marker to the other side. Wanting to save my battery, I held off checking the maps for a while. When I finally did, I realized I was off the trail that my GPS was telling me. I was confused because it had been marked but I trusted technology and turned around. The route took me along a jeep road before it dissapeared and turned into a cairns.

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It became incredibly steep and I was using my hands to keep me balanced as I climbed up the massive slope. I kept stopping to wonder if people actually went up this way, but I'd see another cairn in the distance and keep moving. I finally reached the ridge and got over to a fire lookout where I sat down for some lunch. The chipmunks were pesky and we're looking for any scraps you might drop. As I looked back at the ridge I had climbed up, Beaute came climbing up it. Very confused, we both took turns telling each other what happened. I had been on the right trail but my GPS had told me a different way that on other maps was referred to as "I don't know why anyone would go this way." She had come up from the trail but gone down the wrong ridge for about a mile and a half. We laughed at the ridiculousness of the trail and joined forces to stay on track. The rest of the day was nice, with only a few more climbs and a lot of ridge walking. By the end of the day, we ran into another hiker who informed us that there was no water for 6 miles. It was already 7pm but we needed water to make food. We tracked through, trying to make it as fast as we could. The night got darker and darker but our stubbornness kept our headlamps in our backpacks. We stumbled and fell and finally heard the sound of the creek running nearby. We found a couple flat spots and set up in the dark. We woke up early the next morning and made it 20.5 miles without stopping, taking our packs off, or sitting down. It was incredibly hot so as soon as we got to the road we hitch hiked down into town. We took two relaxing zeros and floated down the river before heading back to trail.

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We got back at the hottest part of the day and began the eleven mile highway walk. The sun beat down on us and about two hours in, I ran out of water. We made it another hour before stopping off the road by a lake and falling asleep for two more hours. We filled our bottles with the algae filled lake water and kept moving. We made it a decent amount of miles before finding some potable water at a campground and tucking into some trees. The rain hit just as we had finished setting up our tents. Usually we didn't get that lucky. The next morning was beautiful and we got moving down trail. We had to stop often for mountain bikers who were tearing up the trail in front of us. I was in a funk and wanted to do anything but keep walking, but my legs kept moving along. We made it to a spot by a lake and settled in for lunch and another long nap. When we woke up, the clouds were dark and it looked as though it would rain any minute. We packed up just in time for the large drops to smack against our rain jackets and headed further down the trail. Luckily it only rained briefly before the sun came out again. I couldn't pull my mind from my funk and I began dwelling on if I was really enjoying myself or if I was just out here to finish this. I felt terrible mentally, but my legs kept moving forward. Just as I thought things couldn't get worse, I kicked the side of the trail and felt my toe bend backwards as it had too many times before. A wave of nausea was sent up to my stomach and I hobbled to a patch of grass. I took some pain medication and duct taped my toe to its buddy before Beaute came along and sat down beside me. I told her about my funk and she told me I couldn't quit. Not every part was going to be enjoyable, that's why everyone isn't out here. We started hiking again. I'm not sure if it was the talk, the views, or the pain medication, but I was out of my funk. I felt strong and the views became striking as we walked along a range. One side was filled with smoke from a forest fire and the other had streaks of rain coming down. It made for an incredible sunset that we got to catch just before setting up camp for the night.

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My day had totally turned around, and it didn't hurt that we got an awesome campsite. My tent was lit up red by the sun the next morning. It was cold but we warmed up quick as we started hiking. The bugs were driving us absolutely crazy all day. If it wasn't the mosquitoes, that would swarm every time you stopped for a second, it was the flies, buzzing around your head and taking a chunk our of your skin if you let them linger too long. It was frustrating but the options were let it happen, or look like a crazy person and waste all your energy as you swing your arms and legs around. We were moving fast but were surprised to find we hadn't made it that far after our first break. It was a real bummer to have put in a bunch of effort for little reward. We took lunch near a river where a dog was lounging by his owners car. We loved pretending he was ours as we got him more water and played around with him. Just as we had finished eating, a cloud came over a nearby hill and it began to rain. Soon it was pouring and we ran down the road to get back to the trail. After 40 minutes, I was suspicious that we hadn't hit the trail again. I checked the GPS and we had gone about a mile down the wrong road as we ran through the rain. We tried to move fast getting back on track. We had a short reprieve from the first storm but another one was coming up behind quick. We ran for the blue skies up a steep ATV track but eventually the storm caught us, and we were soaked again. The trail soon turned into muddy slush that was impossible to walk on. We tried to keep moving at a snails pace as not to fall with every step. Under my umbrella, the mosquitoes still bit at my arms and neck. I took a couple deep breathes but it was hard to keep my frustration at bay. I wanted to scream at the hiking gods, "just please let us get out of Colorado!"

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The rain awarded us a brief moment of sun and we ran into a crew of guys section hiking. The informed us that the water situation up north was bad and that we'd have to carry a bunch of water. That really sucked for Beaute and I, who together only had a three liter capacity. It started to rain again as they pointed out the locations of water on the map. We hiked through the rain for a bit more, giving up on being dry for the day, when the sun came out again.

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We made it to the water source and called it quits for the day so we could rehydrate and start out with water in the morning. As we sat cooking dinner, we heard two game animals sparring in the distance. Unfortunately, we never found their location but drifted off to sleep with the powerful smack of antlers on our last night in Colorado. We woke up and filled up on water before heading out. We only had a few hours left in Colorado and I was sure we'd get lost before she let us leave. Just as I was about to check the map, we turned a corner and saw the big white sign; 'Wyoming State Line.' We threw off our packs and rejoiced in finally making it through the most brutal state I'd ever hiked through. We took pictures, ate snacks, and went about the daily massacre of mosquitoes and flies.

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When it got too unbearable, we left the border and began our first few miles in Wyoming. We ran in to a couple of forest service guys who had cleared the trail of blow downs for the next ten miles. We cringed at what everyone had to climb over before but felt very lucky by the timing. Wyoming was hot and pretty open, but I couldn't care less. We could finally move again and the trail was so well marked. It felt as though when I crossed that border, all my doubts about finishing were left behind. In the afternoon the trail dissapeared frequently, which made looking for cairns take longer. We made it a good distance before filling up our waters and diving into our tents to escape the bugs. As soon as I climbed out the next morning, I heard the buzzing and knew it would last all day. We spent the morning walking through frigid bogs where the sun hadn't hit yet. My toes burned, not having recovered fully from the San Juans. Every step was excruciating and I wanted to chop them all off to make it easier. Finally the sun came out and my feet returned to their normal aches and pains. It was nice hiking in the morning and we cover a lot of ground before lunch. As we sat down beside a rare water source, the flies began to perk up. A hundred of them swarmed our bodies and packs. At a certain point, you just let them crawl all over you, akin to roadkill being slowly devoured on the side of the street. I kept dwelling on the thoughts of biological warfare I had in my mind. Buying a large can of deet and dowsing all moving things within a few feet. We kept moving.

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The afternoon was incredibly hot and we couldn't escape the sun on the exposed ridge. When we did drop off into the forest, it became a tangled web of blowdowns. We felt like bulky ninjas as we climbed over, under, and sometimes through hundreds of dead trees. One false move and you'd rip your gear, or your flesh. Luckily, I'm very careful with my gear.

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It took us much longer than expected, but we made it through bloody, dusty, and wrapped in spider webs. It was back on the ridge from there, until we descended to a road where we had to chase off an angry pack of cows. We also met our first Wyomingite who rode up on his ATV with his lips permanently pursed around a large chunk of chew, except for the bit that had escaped and was smeared across his front teeth. He had never seen hikers there before, proving how rare thru hikers are out here. We slipped off the road to a culvert with water and set up amongst the rocky ground and thistle. We jumped back up on the road and had a nice morning walk. We moved fast and the air was still cool enough to keep us from sweating. We made it to our only water source for the day and found a small underpass we could eat lunch under to escape the warming sun. When we emerged, it had gotten immensely hotter and we slogged on down the road. A few hours later, my lower body ached more than it usually did and I couldn't think straight. The heat was killing all of my thoughts. We were sweating like crazy and didn't have enough water to keep going through the heat of the day. We searched everywhere for a small patch of shade but were unsuccessful. Just when I had given in to the terrible headache and burning skin, I saw concrete sticking out from the road. I ran to it and found a small gully that we could crawl into. The shade felt incredible and we laid out on the cold ground and fell asleep, trying to rest our aching muscles. An hour later the sun had lessened so we emerged from our cement oasis and got back on the road. It was overcast and had started to rain but the drops felt like running through the sprinklers on a hot summer day. We wasted away the afternoon, walking and talking, before hopping a fence and setting up camp for the night. Mile marker 1651

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The Saga of Incredible Town Stops

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After getting into town, our first order of business was to find food. We stopped in at a little cafe and had some amazing sandwiches. Our waiter, Jamis, seemed to be really cool and we enjoyed talking trail with him so I decided to take a risk and ask if we could camp in his backyard. He not only said yes, he then whipped out his car keys and told us we could take it if we needed to run errands. We ran to the store and resupplyed then headed back to his house. He had two massive Berniese mountain dogs who we fell in love with right away. We got to take showers with real shampoo and conditioner and towels! A luxury we don't often get. After our showers, we hung around in the backyard talking about our trip and getting to know each other. Jamis then ran to the store and returned with everything to make the best dinner. We had buffalo steaks, asparagus, and potatoes. It was one of the best home cooked meals I'd had in a long time. We talked into the night before Jamis offered us his own king size bed. We hesitated at first, not wanting to take advantage, but we gave in and crawled into the enormously comfortable bed while he bunker on the couch. After an amazing nights sleep, we packed our things, said our thank you's and goodbyes, and headed into town to do our errands. After lots of food and running around, we found ourselves at a coffee shop finishing up some last minute things. As I sat there, I heard a voice from behind say my name. I turned around to find Frizzle, who I had met on the PCT and subsequently forced her to change her trail name. She was just passing through the area and had stopped for a drink coincidentally at the same coffee shop. It blew my mind and gave me goosebumps to see her there. She gave us a ride back to the trail before heading on her way.

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We started hiking down the road when we were stopped by another car. A man asked if we needed a ride and chit chatted with us for a minute. He had been following along with some of the hikers we had been with before the San Juans and he was really excited to meet more people hiking the trail. We left him and headed onto the trail. Since we had left late, we hiked until it was almost dark before getting to a water source and getting into our tents. We woke up and got moving. We had a 3000ft. climb that morning but the wildflowers throughout were amazing! We finally made it to the top and took a break. The pizza I had packed out from town was amazing to have on trail. It felt like such a luxury but I was worried how long it would last. Leaving our break, we ran into tons of Colorado trail hikers who all seemed to want to stop and talk.

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We really enjoyed meeting with them but we started to realize how much time it was taking up by the seventh or eight stop. We reached a pass and ran into at least 20 mountain bikers, who all also wanted to stop and chat. Everyone was so nice and friendly, it was hard not to stop for a minute. On the way down from the pass, we had to keep jumping out of the way of more and more mountain bikers. We had never seen so many people on trail and looked at our watches to realize it was a Sunday. We popped out of the trees and saw a huge snow pile with about a hundred people skiing. It was a bit of a shock to see in mid July. We had made it to a ski resort and we couldn't help grabbing some food and a beer at the cafe. We reluctantly left and hiked a bit further on a bike path before finding a hidden spot to camp in between the highway and the path. I got all cozy and gobbled down the last slice of pizza before curling up with my book. Not long after, it got more difficult to breathe and I started sweating and shivering at the same time. I changed positions in my tent, hoping it would help but the nausea got worse. I knew what I had to do. I had to get this pizza out of me before it did more damage. I whipped out of my tent and ran as far as I could away, hoping not to wake Beaute with the unpleasant sounds of my food poisoning. After hanging out, doubled over, behind a tree for about an hour, I decided it was safe to venture back to my tent. My stomach was still in knots but exhaustion took over and I fell asleep.

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It was amazing to wake up the next morning and not feel the pangs of nausea hitting me. I now felt more educated on how long pizza would last unrefridgerated, stuffed in a backpack, and in direct sunlight all day. We packed up as weird states came from the people on the bike path. The bike path went through a town so we stopped at a coffee shop to grab a drink while we walked into the next town. In line, we began chatting with a woman who, after hearing about our adventure, insisted on buying us pastries. I couldn't say no as my eyes wandered over to the cinnamon rolls drenched in frosting. We thanked her and kept moving. We got in to the next down a bit later and went to resupply and run some errands. We ended up at a brewery for lunch as rain poured down outside. It was lucky to miss the thunderstorm of the day while replenishing our calories. From across the bar, I noticed a man had the same book that I was reading and I couldn't help but strike up a conversation about it. I was falling in love with this book and was excited to talk about it. Unfortunately, he had just picked it up after many recommendations and hadn't started reading yet. He noticed my copy was slightly worse for the wear and cut up into different parts. He asked us what we were doing and we ended up talking for quite a while. He mentioned he was getting ready to go coach a softball game and Beaute's ears perked up.

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She asked if he needed any alternates and he let us tag along to the game. She ran out for practice and was a machine. She didn't miss a ball. Everyone was clearly impressed and she became center field for the game. As the game started, someone threw me a glove and told me to play catcher. They clearly did not know that I was no where near as good as Beaute, had struggling eyesight, and had only ever played one year of softball about 16 years previously. I said there was no way but they would of had to forfeit without me so I strapped on a glove and scampered to home plate. I was going to look like an idiot but it felt good to be a part of it. I caught a few pitches, missed most, but was lucky to find the other team hit almost every ball. The pitcher had assured me that he would cover the plate if a play needed to be made but he must have forgot when a ball came hurtling towards me through the sky. As I audibly yelled "no, no, no" the ball got closer. I couldn't just stand there and not try to catch it so I ran towards the ball. I got close, but it bounced off the ground and hit me in the ear. After that was the horror of batting. I struck out my first time and apologized to everyone as I walked to the plate the second time. We had two on and two outs and I knew this wasn't good. I swung and felt the bat make contact with the ball, though I'm pretty sure my eyes were closed. I took off running and made it to first base, thrilled. My legs were shaking. On the next hit I made it home and was completely astounded as we surpassed their score. In the end, we lost, but had so much fun in the process. I hadn't humiliated myself as much as I expected and we had a blast getting to know the team. Our friend, Sheri, who we had met at lunch earlier, offered to put us up for the night in her Air BnB because it was unoccupied. It must have been one of the best showers I've ever taken. I realized how much of my tan had been just dirt clinging to my skin. She made us healthy smoothies in the morning, a real treat, before taking us back to the trail.

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We got moving but were sluggish and slow as we climbed out of town. The sights were amazing but I was in a funk. We got to a trail junction and suddenly the way we were supposed to go disappeared. We walked cross country, finding a faint trail every once in a while but mostly going off of our maps. When we realized that two miles had taken us an hour, we got discouraged. We sat down for a break and noticed some dark clouds on the ridge. We decided that if it started raining, we would set up our tents early and wait out the storm. The rain didn't come but I was totally on board when Beaute said we could just pretend. We got in our tents and we're surprised that large bouts of thunder were sounding all around us. It started to rain and it was nice to not have to pretend anymore. The night cleared up and we woke up to blue skies the next morning. The trail was still impossible to find and we were climbing the entire morning. I was frustrated by the lack of trail but we did have some incredible views. We finally made it up to a ridge where the trail traversed and we're surrounded by black clouds. Loud bangs of thunder started to sound off. We knew we couldn't stay on the ridge much longer but we were blocked from the way down by a wide snow cliff. We climbed to one side and found it impassible. We saw a way on the other side and we're discussing our options when we saw a massive bolt of lightning hit on the ridge, not far from us. We needed to move. We ran for the other side and found it extremely steep and covered in loose rock and snow.

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I was nervous but we had to make it through. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest and my breathe grew heavy. Clinging on as I went I traversed around the rocks and made it to the snow. I kicked hard to make steps but my feet were slipping out from under me. I had to look confident. Beaute was coming up behind me and I had to show her that it was no big deal. I got to a place in the snow pack where it was too steep to take another step forward without careening down the slope. I turned downward, sitting my butt in the snow, and digging my heels I'm as I began to slide. Beaute yelled out "be careful!" I could hear the panic in her voice so I stopped myself with my feet to show her it wasn't too fast. I made it down to the rocks and B-lined for the grass. We scrambled our way through bushes, bogs, and rocky slopes before making it down to a forest road. The road would take us back to the trail so we followed it, staying low from the thunder. It began to rain and got heavier and heavier. The thunder sounded like the whole sky was ripping apart and frequent flashes of light reminded us that we were not far. After almost an hour, the rain began to let up and the thunder moved on further down the valley. We road walked for the rest of the afternoon, making it back to the trail as it began to rain again and the sun went away. Luckily there was a warming hut at the pass and we made ourselves at home for the night. We got on the road early the next morning and we're stopped by a bunch of cars who were wondering what kind of adventure we were on. We were road walking to escape the exposed ridge walk with the massive amount of thunder we had seen and heard coming.

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After fifteen miles on the side of a highway, we were a little burned out on road walking. We walked by a bike rental place and decided it'd be fun to do the rest of the 35 miles on the highway on bikes. Boy, we're we wrong. They rented us cruiser bikes and recommended a bike path that would take us off the highway for the first 20 miles. At first it was a nice wide gravel path and we were excited to be moving so fast. After getting lost and realizing how difficult it is to ride a bike while wearing a backpack, it began to rain. We were soaked within minutes and then the trail turned into a mountain bike path. We had to walk our bikes most of the time through the dense mud and rocks as cruiser bikes are not mountain bikes. We were frustrated and wet so as soon as we could, we got off the trail and joined a dirt road. We flew through the rain and we're actually moving again when the road hit a dead end. I scrambled with the map to figure out how to get out. We had to back track to get to a road that would take us back to the highway. Totally demoralized, we turned around and road back. After turning onto the right road, I changed gears and suddenly my peddles locked up. The chain was caught and had stopped me dead in my tracks and almost sent me flying. Luckily, Beaute had been on a long distance bike trip and knew how to fix it. We struggled in the pouring rain to get it unhooked but finally did and kept moving. We got to the top of a hill and as we began to descend, my brakes went out. It's one of the most terrifying feelings I've ever experienced. Careening down the hill, I started trying to ride in the more rocky parts to slow myself down. I threw my feet into the ground to stop myself and had to walk my bike down the rest of the downhills. It stopped raining and we made it into a town where we decided to call it quits for the night. We stumbled into a restaurant, looking like a pair of wet dogs, and sporting a large mud strip up our backs and all over our faces. Someone must have felt bad for us because after we cleaned up in the bathroom, the waitress brought us two beers and said they were anonymously purchased for us. We dried out and ate a bunch of food before getting a few more free beers and a place to stay for the night.

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Red had been sitting at the bar and thought we were crazy to want to sleep outside so we obliged and took his guest room for the night. The next morning,  the three of us went to breakfast and he fixed our brakes before sending us off on the highway to finish our ride. Our muscles were sore from the different use but the ride was much better than the day before. We made it to town and we're ecstatic that we didn't have to ride anymore. We returned the bikes and we're pretty upset about the malfunctions but the owner gave us a bunch of expensive backpacking meals, which eased the pain. We then hitch hiked down for the night to see a concert at the iconic red rocks amphitheater. It was overwhelming to be around so many people but the venue was incredible and we danced the night away. We head back to the trail today at mile marker 1409

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Will The Real Mt. Elbert Please Stand Up

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We lazily left town and hiked a few miles in. We came upon a picnic table and trash can at the top of a ski lift and set up there for the night. We watched as smoked billowed into the sky from two nearby fires creating a magnificent sunset. The night was windy and by the morning it had only gotten worse. We traversed a ridge that morning and found it extremely difficult to stay upright. The wind pounced us from all angles, whipping the straps of our packs into our faces and legs. I couldn't feel my hands by the time the trail dropped off the ridge and got to lower ground. Off the ridge, we walked beside a bunch of alpine lakes that reminded me of the Sierra on the PCT.

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It was incredibly beautiful but I wasn't having the best morning, so I took it for granted. We ran into another trail crew who told us the weather looked great for the next few days. I desperately hoped they were right. After being in a bad mood all morning, I decided to slow down and start taking more pictures. My mood immediately changed and I could stop dwelling on the terrible, cold, wind that had plagued all morning. We went over our first pass and had lunch on the other side. The sun came out and warmed our bodies and my eyelids slowly gave in to a, much needed, 20 minute nap. I felt rejuvenated after waking up which was good because we had a huge climb ahead of us. Luckily the trail was an old railroad track that gradually climbed up the side of the mountains to the pass. We also got to read some historical signs about when the railroad ran back in the early 1900s. We made it to the pass and over another before heading down into a river valley.

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The views were expansive and it was good not to see so many dead trees from the beetle kill. The slopes were covered in dark green trees with small patches of snow popping out on occasion. We made it down to the river and set up camp just as the sun was setting. Birds chirped as I opened my eyes the next morning and the sun was slightly blinding. We packed up and started a 2000ft climb that seemed to go by in an instant. We walked up what seemed like hundreds of gradual switchbacks that got more and more windy with each turn. The view from the pass was striking and would be our first taste of what was to come that day. We would climb over high passes and drop down into valleys before climbing back up again. It was physically demanding but I didn't notice. We could see the trail for miles across the ridge, much like the PCT and never like the AT. It felt comforting to be able to see what was coming. I finally felt strong again and the excitement from that made me feel powerful. I bounded up the steep climbs and ran down the descents, feeling on top of the world. Finally I felt like I could finish this trail again. We ran into a women in her late sixties who was out for a day hike. When she heard of what we were doing she immediately started to dig in her backpack, saying she had something for us. Worried we would have to carry extra weight, we waited skeptically. She pulled a large bag of fresh, ripe, cherries out of her bag and tossed them to us. We were in heaven. Fresh fruit on trail was unheard of and suddenly those cherries were exactly what I had been wanting all day. We thanked her and started devouring them. As we hiked down, we shared them with the Colorado trail hikers and we all seemed to have the same reaction. "I think this is the best cherry I've ever had."

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As we got closer to a road, many more day hikers were out for short trips. Many of them yelled congratulations on making it this far and said they'd be rooting for us. As the day winded down, our knees began to ache again and we came off our cherry high. We ran into a southbound hiker who had no good things to say about the trail she had just came from and said we definitely shouldn't go up at night. So we found a nice spot in the river valley and set up camp early. As we did our nightly chores, a rumble was growing louder and louder from behind us. Suddenly, six ATVs showed up and a bunch of people piled out. They were looking for moose and had spotted some right in the valley in front of our tents. Totally clueless, we stumbled out to look at the small, adolescent, male moose. He ran and jumped all over, like he was playing a game. I took a bunch of pictures and as I zoomed in on one, to see him closer, I saw a group of deer had shown up. They were just out of view by the naked eye but they hung around the moose as he ate his fill of bushes and scampered away.

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The people then piled back in their ATVs and took off back down the road to look for more. We got back in our tents, but kept a watchful eye for more sightings before night set and we went to sleep. When I opened my eyes the next morning, I couldn't breathe. It felt as though someone was sitting on my chest and my incessant coughing couldn't budge them. I started to pack up, slowly, feeling very opposite to how I'd felt just the day before. The thought of having the toughest climbs so far, and being at high elevation, scared me. I wouldn't be able to breathe up there like this. We checked our map and chose a route that would keep us lower but would be a few more miles. The beginning of the day was filled with road walking but I didn't mind. I really enjoyed talking to Beaute and getting to know her better. As noon hit and the sun became relentless, things got a bit tougher. We were out of water for a while and I was being chased by a devil horse fly. Not to mention, the ATV road we were on was getting fairly steep and I would fall every chance I got. We finally got back to a trail and found the most amazing water source. Chugging as much as we could and then throwing ourselves in to beat the heat. After the water, we began our huge climb up to a pass. We trudged along as the breeze got cooler and cooler. We made it to the top and stopped to catch our breathe and take pictures. I mentioned that I wondered what was on the other side and went to check it out.

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Further down trail, I saw the real pass about another 300ft up. When we made it to the actual pass, the trail disappeared and we thought they might have been on to something when the map said the trail was "unmaintained." We found the direction we wanted to go and started busting down the steep slope through thick willows. Our arms and legs were getting ripped to shreds and every so often, a branch would come dangerously close to my eyes. I couldn't help thinking that it was my favorite part of the whole day.

our route down the pass!

our route down the pass!

We made it down to a river and climbed up the opposite slope where we found a trail. We ran into a couple and they confirmed that we had made it to the right place. We began to hike fast, knowing there was promise of hot food later. We got down to the highway at around 6:30 after roughly 30 miles, and started to hitchhike. We knew that the small town only had one restaurant and that it would probably be closing soon. Luckily, after a few cars, one pulled over and let us in. We told him about trying to get to the restaurant and he asked if we were hungry. We looked at each other as we blurted out "always!" He gave us some chips and guacamole and we devoured it as he drove us into town. We got to town just in time and we're met with the owner of the general store who said we had a $20 credit. Our friend, Chimichanga, who had gone ahead and few days before, had left us money to grab a couple beers and some ice cream. We stuffed ourselves at the restaurant and waited till dark to sneak across the road to a lake where we set up camp for the night. We got sucked back into the general store the next morning by hot coffee and chairs, getting back to the trail much later than expected. We had some road walking to do in the morning and had a wonderful time listening to music and chatting. We made it to the trailhead and began our climb up to the top of the second highest mountain in the lower 48. It was relentlessly uphill but I felt strong and bounded up the mountain. We passed a group of kids as one exclaimed "people actually do this for fun?" The air got thinner and thinner as we climbed and the elevation was starting to get to us. We passed another hiker who was coming down and get warned us about the loose, steep, rock path that the trail would eventually become. He asked if we had traction as he lifted up his foot to show off his microspikes. Unfortunately for him, microspikes are for ice and would do absolutely nothing on a bunch of gravel. We kept climbing. I started to get extremely lightheaded and couldn't focus on anything. Waves of nausea hit us as we reached the ridgeline.

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We turned and made our way to the summit, breathing hard and trying to adjust. We finally made it to the top where we sat down and had lunch after taking a bunch of summit photos. We even got to call a few friends and tell them where we were. As we sat there, Beaute noticed some figures on an adjacent ridge and remarked how funny it would be if that was the real Mt. Elbert. Knowing it couldn't be, I checked my GPS. As our location came up on the screen, my heart sunk. We were not on the summit of Mt Elbert, the second highest peak in the lower 48. We were just on a high point on the ridge. All we could do was laugh at ourselves and pack up to get to the top. The ridge was a narrow climb on a bunch of loose rocks and we were wary of the dark clouds being blown our way. We moved faster, trying to beat the inevitable storm. It took us three hours to make it five and a half miles with about 5000ft. of elevation gain. We made it to the real summit, took a picture and started heading down. As we did, the dark cloud engulfed the summit and blocked out the sun.

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The hike down was extremely steep and gravelly. One trip and you'd go careening off the 14,433ft. mountain. We took it slow as snow flurries began to fly past us. Every step was a risk, trying to trust my footing. The dark cloud blew overhead and the sun returned to make a beautiful evening. We made it back to the CDT and hiked a few miles further before finding a perfect camp spot next to the river. We made dinner and laughed about our day on the fake Mt Elbert before drifting off to sleep for the night. The next morning we woke up early and the promise of food pulled us into town quick. We head out again soon to complete the next section! Mile marker 1217

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I May Have Been Broken But I Will Rebuild

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I felt very low in town and was dreading going back to the trail. If we had five more days like the ones we had just gone through, I would have quit the trail and gone home. I was struggling to stay motivated about completing this trail that was making me miserable. Why was I spending time and money to do this? I reached out for some advice and was met with massive amounts of support from everyone I knew. The thing that really changed my attitude was when someone told me I was tougher than this trail, even though it may have slipped my mind. And he was right. Though the San Juans may have broken me, they made me stronger. And going through the difficult times makes the good times much more appreciated. I hitched out of town with my friends and we hit the trail again that evening. I was paranoid about rain clouds but there were none in sight and we hiked into the evening as the sun set behind the ridge.

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We goofed around and made silly trail jokes and suddenly, small tears began to drip down my cheeks. For the first time in the past week, I was crying because of how happy I was. This is what I'm supposed to be doing. I just forgot that for a day. We set up camp in a little nook hidden from the wind, talked about books, and drifted off to sleep. I woke up the next morning to the sun cooking the inside of my tent. I knew it was going to be a good day. We got moving earlier than normal and came around a ridge to find a group of people shouting at us from afar. Sometimes it sounded like "help!" And sometimes "hello." We hoped they were all right and tried to see what was going on as we hiked closer to them. Luckily, they were just an over excited church group who was exploring the mountains for a few days. We hiked down into valleys and then back up to saddles all morning. The up and downs were difficult but the scenery was amazing and the trail was well maintained. We ran into a trail crew and thanked them for their hard work in ensuring the trail is pleasant. After the trail crew, came the many Colorado trail hikers heading southbound. We took many pit stops to talk trail and ask about what was coming next. The afternoon was a long gradual descent into a river valley so we moved fast and got a lot of miles done. We also finally had a day with no rain! It felt like a miracle when the clouds didn't stack up and turn dark at their usual hour. After a long day, we gave in to our exhaustion and set up camp. I woke up in the middle of the night and saw the milky way striped across the dark sky. I snuggled back into my sleeping bag and fell asleep, content.

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We got a late start the next morning and enjoyed talking to the people we passed. They were from all walks of life. Older women section hiking the Colorado trail, a young dad and his sons on a fishing trip, a couple who had been everywhere in the US on horseback. Nice people were everywhere. We passed an older gentleman who said his name was Skeeter. He was out for a fishing trip and told us to hike up to his car and grab a beer or soda from the cooler in the trunk. It was already a hot morning so we relished the cold beverages and left him with a thank you note. A bit down trail, Beaute and I were walking next to a pack of cows that seemed to be leading us down the trail. Finally they turned off the trail and headed towards the forest, away from us. In an instant, a huge cloud of dust rose from the herd as they turned and stampede towards us. About 50 cows were headed our way, and fast! I froze but  Beaute pushed me off trail and into the closest group of trees. As we ran to hide, the cows veered off and began to run in the other direction down the trail. A young border collie was the culprit and her owner apologized for starting a stampede. We almost fell on the ground laughing so hard.

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It was a fabulously sunny day at low elevation, so we were happy to be hiking. We ran into some Colorado trail hikers who had hiked the Appalachian trail with a few of the guys that I had hiked with in New Zealand, further proving how small the hiking community is. We made it pretty far before finding a perfectly flat, pine needle floored campsite and calling it a day. I woke up early the next morning as the sun peaked over the ridge. I climbed out of my tent for a better view and grabbed my camera as I dashed back to the trail. After a few pictures, I tried to sneak back into camp without waking anyone else up. Unfortunately, that didn't work and we all began to pack up and get moving. The morning was spectacularly sunny and warm. Everyone seemed to be in a good mood. Water was unusually scarce for this section but we managed to get as much info from the CT hikers as we could.

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We ended up hiking for over 14 hours that day and we're completely drained by the time we got to camp, 32 miles later. We had the promise of town the next morning so our aching muscles could be soothed with thoughts of cheeseburgers. We woke up with the sun the next morning and Beaute and I chatted and dodged mountain bikes the whole way into town. Feeling incredibly more positive and motivated to get through this! Find your passion, do it every day. Mile marker 1099

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We Traded Snow for Monsoons

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After taking two weeks off, I finally flew back into Denver and made the long way back to the trail. As I drove, I took mental notes of how much snow was still on the mountains. Hoping it had melted enough to get through without mountaineering gear. I drove back to Pagosa Springs and met up with another hiker who I had hiked around for most of the PCT. We also grouped up with a former triple crowned who wanted to join us for the San Juans. We ran our errands and, of course, as we were done with the last thing, the sky above the pass turned dark and gray. We debated on going up anyways but decided the best thing to do would be to stay in town at a trail angels house for the night. They bought us lunch, cooked us dinner, and I got to spend the night on a water bed. The next morning we woke up early to get some miles in before the inevitable thunderstorm would roll in. We hiked out of the pass, huffing and puffing, straight uphill with heavy packs but finally enjoying some hiker company. Luckily, the snow was almost non existent. We joked about how happy we were to have taken some time off. The scenery was absolutely incredible but our bodies were having a tough time reacclimating to the trail. My head hurt and it was hard to breath as we kept ascending to higher and higher elevations. Every so often a wave of nausea would stop me in my tracks and I'd double over, sure I was going to puke. Going from sea level to 12,000ft in a day and a half was not agreeing with me. After the first episode, we decided to stop for a bit to have lunch at a gorgeous alpine lake nestled into the start of a huge river valley. We climbed some more as it started to rain off and on. One minute it was sunny, and then the next, the sky was shooting down little bits of hail that felt like rocks pelting your skin. We took another break on a sunny rock before our big climb of the day. We realized we only had a few miles before we were planning to camp, and took the opportunity to lounge a little longer. We packed up and started the climb just as the first bout out thunder clapped behind us. The three of us looked at each other and decided to go for it anyway. We were so close to the top and knew we could get down on the other side. We started moving faster and not talking. My fingers began to tingle and I worried that we had made a mistake. We summited the ridge and started to take some pictures of the expansive view as another clap of thunder sounded. Remembering what was going on, we threw our cameras in bags an began to jog down the ridge.

Steep scree slopes made it difficult to keep running without twisting an ankle. We saw our first bullet of lightning and counted the seconds until the crash came. It was close. We looked forward at the trail and realized we had another exposed hump to go over before our decent. I got to the top and couldn't help but pull my camera out as the others dissapeared over the hill. I got a few shots before the loudest clap of thunder hit just behind me. I ran down to the others and we made quick work to get down further. Finally in a safer area and figuring out the thunder was moving away, we slowed down and chatted as we descended. A small Pika ran down the trail ahead of us and it seemed like the danger was finally over. We got down to a pass and found a nice flat spot, after a porcupine claimed our first one. As we set up camp for the night, it began to sprinkle. Thinking there's no way it would last long, we were leisurely about getting into our shelters. In an instant, the sky opened up and poured for two hours, soaking everything and flooding the ground around our tents. The thunder boomed again roughly four miles away. I was so happy to be off the ridge, in my tent, eating dinner. It rained off and on all night, ensuring nothing would dry. We woke up to it still raining and stayed in our tents until it seemed to have let up. The usual morning sun was nowhere to be found and clouds hung low in the valleys. We took our time packing up all of our wet gear and hit the trail. It began to sprinkle again almost immediately and soon turned into heavy rain. Before we knew it, we were all soaked to the bone, trying to move fast to stay warm. My fingers were wet and began to lose feeling. I could no longer move them the way I needed to. We had now been hiking in the cold rain for two hours and there was no end in sight. In every direction the mountains were masked by clouds. I began to look for places to set up my tent even though it was only 10:30am. Just as I was about to call it quits for the day, I looked down and saw my shadow. Spinning around, I could see the sun trying to peak through and the rain petered out. The sun got stronger and we took a break to try to dry all of our wet gear. It was nice to have one moment of the day where things were dry.

We started moving again once the sun went away and it got colder. I pushed out ahead of the group but knew they'd catch me soon. I got to a spot where the trail dissapeared and checked the maps to see where we were headed. I heard the others behind me and knew I'd see them soon. I figured out we were a bit off trail and needed to ascend a bit back to the divide. When I turned around to tell the others, they were still quite a distance away and heading downhill. I tried to get their attention but they disappeared behind the trees and never responded to my call. Alone, I kept moving along the trail, hoping they'd figure it out and make it back. I waited for a while then kept moving to stay warm. I took one more break but they were nowhere to be seen. I thought about how I would have to take on the San juans alone and how we had been joking that morning about how easy it is to get separated. Luckily, a couple hours later, they came bounding down the trail after me, just as it began to rain. The three of us moved fast together but the rain and wind only got worse. We were soaked through again and it was getting colder. We were on an exposed ridge, crossing back and forth over snow banks as the rain wiped us sideways. We hid in some trees to check the maps and make a game plan. It would be two more miles until we could get down off the ridge so we put our heads down and went back out in the storm. At one point, the wind picked up and stole all of my breathe and sent a wave of panic through me. I started to run down the ridge. After ten steps I felt a pop in my knee and a shooting pain. I slowed back to a walk and stumbled, knowing I couldn't stop. I would get too cold. It took much longer than expected and I could no longer move my hands from their clasped position around my trekking pole. We got down to some trees and struggled to set up shelters before they got too wet on the inside. I climbed in my tent and immediately stripped off my wet clothes. I tried to light my stove but my fingers couldn't ignite the lighter. I tried everything to warm up my hands and finally got some hot water going. I put on dry clothes and tried to dry out the inside of my tent. I didn't feel warm again until I slid into my slightly damp sleeping bag and threw in the hot water bottle.

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The rain didn't let up for hours, until after the sun went down, and I was so glad we had stopped when we did. The former triple-crowner, Chimichanga, said he never remembered the weather being so bad when he hiked. It felt like we were truly embracing the brutality of this trail. The fog hung around until the morning and everything was still wet. We packed our soaked gear slowly and just as we were finishing up, a small glimmer of the sun poked through the fog. Suddenly the valley cleared and we were able to dry a couple things before getting moving. I had forgotten about the pop in my knee until I started moving that morning. I stopped to take some advice before stumbling down to my friends. The sun went away quickly but it hadn't started raining so we felt lucky. We traversed an area called the Knife edge that still had some snow crossings. They were very steep with a long rocky drop off but we all made it across without trouble. After a while, where we thought the weather might hold out, it began to sprinkle. Worrying that it would be like the day before, we looked at our maps and planned a route to get to lower elevation and cut back to the CDT when the weather got better. We saw a tent just before leaving the trail and recognized some friends we had met along the PCT. They had stayed in their shelter all morning and had only made it six miles the day before in the terrible storm. They were waiting it out and I envied them, warm and dry in their tent. I wasn't sure about the alternate and thought maybe their idea was better. The group shot me down so we kept moving down our alternate route. After crossing a river, we saw a large moose in the trees. For some reason I saw it as a good sign, and was happy we had gone down this way. When it wasn't raining, the bushes were soaking our clothes and the trail was a marshy bog. After a few miles on the alternate, the sun came out and we took the opportunity to dry out everything. Our packs exploded across the rocks, as if we were having a yard sale, and we basked in the suns warmth. As we hung out there, chatting and eating, a large dark cloud hovering over a wall of white was traveling up the valley. We frantically threw our gear in our packs and headed into the wall. It poured off and on as we made our way down the river. My knee was killing me as I tried to start hiking again. We were drenched with no hope of being dry again. Down and down we went as the night got colder. We spotted another moose, this time with a tiny baby, drinking out of a nearby stream and the rain stopped for a bit. Finally we made it down to a campground where we rushed to a pavilion and started stripping off our wet clothes. After warming up and drying off, we set up camp under the overhang and started to make dinner. The sun came out one more time that night before dropping behind the mountains. We prayed for a better day tomorrow, not knowing if we could handle a third day of being wet.

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I woke up to bright light filling my tent and was pleased to find blue skies when I peeked out. We packed up slowly and left the shelter that had saved us the night before. We started heading back to the CDT and had a long day of walking on ATV roads being passed by all the people on holiday for the 4th. My knee was getting more and more painful so I was taking ibuprofen around the clock. We hoped desperately that someone would offer us some food. We turned on to a trail and climbed up to a pass that connected us back to the CDT. Descending from the pass, my knee was making me nauseous. I couldn't wait to get to camp. We found a flat spot and started setting up as a huge wave of nausea hit me and I ran away from the others to throw up. I couldn't bend my knee anymore from the swelling. I took more pain mess and fell asleep, hoping I would wake up without pain. We woke up to a sunny morning and got moving early. I remember remarking how there wasn't a cloud in the sky. We climbed up to 13,000ft before breakfast and had a wonderfully dry morning. We were trying to make it into town for the fourth of July so we took little breaks and tried to move fast. My body felt like I had been beaten up but the promise of a hot shower and warm food kept me going. Just a couple hours out of town, a dark cloud swept over us and pelted marble sized hail down at us. It felt like being shot with a bee bee gun with no protection. We started to descend and the hail got smaller and wetter, drenching us in an instant. Then the wind came and froze our hand and faces. The hail turned into straight rain soon and we found ourselves slipping and sliding in the mud pit that was now the trail. We were trying to move fast to stay warm but the mud had other ideas. I was so frustrated and in so much pain, tears began to stream down my face. I fell, covering both legs and an arm in dense mud. I couldn't stop to clean up without freezing to death so we kept moving, hoping someone would give us a ride even though we were covered in mud and soaking wet. We got down to the road and I sprinted into the bathroom to change into dry layers and clean myself up a bit. No one was picking us up to get into town and we were freezing on the side of the road. Finally someone from the parking lot offered to drive us in. We got hot showers, warm food, and the most well deserved beer I've ever had. Mile marker 1000

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Pick Your Poison

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We got into Chama and reunited with a ton of other hikers who were waiting on snow gear or making plans to avoid the snow. Many were flipping up the trail and coming back for this section later. Others were getting equipped with crampons, ice axes, and snowshoes, and heading into the south San Juans. I had my ice axe and microspikes but was sure there would be no need for snowshoes. I began to get worried when everyone else started opening their snowshoes and packing them up. I began to doubt if I was ready for this, maybe I should take time off. But I routinely packed my bag and got in the car that would take us back to the trail. I still wasn't sure of my plans as we stood in the parking lot, sharing a leftover six pack with the group. But I threw on my heavy pack and walked out of town. The snow wasn't bad at first and we were able to stay on dry trail for the first few miles out of town. As we climbed higher, the snow sprang up in larger spreads, forcing us to go through it. I got to a dry patch and changed my socks, covering them in bread bags and then neoprene booties to stay warm but the damage was already done, my feet were freezing.

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We tried to stay out of snow as much as possible, sticking to ridges and weaving around the trail. I got separated from the group and reached a wall of snow that coiffed out. I went up and over the ridge but was faced with post holing through a snow covered, high, valley to get to the rest of the group. They were strapping on their snowshoes when I reached them. A wave of jealousy rushed over me as they fluttered across the snow as if they were weightless. I found it easier to follow their tracks, but still sank through constantly. As the sun began to set and the mushy snow began to get deeper, we pushed on, trying to reach a lake to camp for the night. We had split off in pairs and Cowboy Stripper and I were caught in a large snowfield as the sky went dark. Every step was a struggle. A whole leg would sink into the snow, the thin layer of ice at the top ripping through your flesh. Blood lined the holes already made by those before us. I couldn't feel my feet as they got stuck in the deep holes, often reappearing without my shoes or gaitors on. Sometimes my feet would get stuck and we'd have to dig them out. This was way more than I had expected and it made me feel panicked. I slid down to my waist and one foot became encased in ice. Nothing I did would make it budge. My breathe grew rapid and tears began to pour out of me as I struggled to break the ice. Cowboy Stripper ran back and dug me out, gripping my shoulders and telling me I was going to be fine. We kept moving but I still felt on the verge of bursting into tears are throwing up. We saw tents in the distance and the tears streamed down my face once more. My numb feet dragged me forward towards the possibility of warmth. I took one more step and felt my leg crunch underneath me. My lifeless foot had turned over on itself and came out of my shoe with a snap. I hobbled to the campsite and threw my things on the ground. I sat there, unable to do anything, shivering and crying, as the guys set up a shelter, got me a hot water bottle, and put me in my sleeping bag. I couldn't move, I couldn't feel anything below my ankles besides the burning pain from my crunched foot. I slowly warmed up but would not regain full feeling in my toes. I would later feel ashamed for relying so much on others, but at the time, I needed them more than anything.

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When we all fell asleep, one pair had not made it into camp yet. We were worried but knew they'd be okay if they were together. When we woke up, one of them had shown up in the night alone. He had never run into the other hikers. We waited, hoping she would show up before the snow got too slushy. She showed up much sooner than we expected so we packed our stuff and got moving. I tried to stay off the snow, still traumatized from the previous evening, but it was impossible. So I post holed down to their tracks and followed as they floated along. The day was warm and it made the post holing not so terrible. We were going up and down slopes, through forests. And across meadows. I seemed to be able to keep up with the others, sans snowshoes. As the day progressed, the snow got softer and it became more difficult to keep up. Falling and then crawling out of holes had become exhausting and my whole body hurt in a way it hasn't in a long time. The aching soreness was in every muscle. Luckily, my feet had refrigerator and I no longer felt the pain in my foot, though it would return when I warmed up at night. By 5pm, much earlier than usual, I pleaded with the others to call it quits for the day and start early the next morning. We found a spot to catch a beautiful sunrise and set up camp for the evening. We woke up in the dark to a cluster of alarms going off. Slowly, people began shuffling around, signaling that it was time to get started. We hiked on just as the sun was coming up and had an amazing morning.

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I couldn't help chuckle when the others would post hole without their snowshoes on. It was a lot more fun when we were all doing it. We got to a morning break spot and had some decisions to make. Take the high route, see lots of snow, and potentially be in avalanche danger. Or take the low route, have a tough time dropping down, and potentially get trapped by a raging river. Without snowshoes, I felt it was better to jump down to the low route and take my chances there. The boys all chose the high route but the other girl in the group, Cloud, decided to come with me. We said our warnings, hopes for safety, and goodbyes and went on our separate ways. We traveled down the valley, crossing ice bridges that threatened to crumble at any moment. Not many people had taken this route and we were definitely the first ones there since the last snow. We chose our own route most of the time and sometimes paid for it by post holing, or having to turn around. There were some sketchy areas but I felt confident in our abilities. Further down the river we traveled. I lost all signs that someone had been there before so we stopped to get our bearings. We decided to try to traverse down closer to the river, to avoid getting coiffed out by snow. I took one step forward and was suddenly armpit deep in the snow. We had been standing on a log covered in snow and I was lucky not to have been impaled by its branches. Cloud had the same experience immediately afterwards so we crawled out together, getting covered in snow. We had to turn around to find a way down and quickly found a small ravine. It ended at a 15ft wall of loose rocks, roots, and a waterfall shooting out from underneath the snow. We talked about it briefly before deciding to go for it and I stepped out over the edge. Clinging to the roots, I moved slowly down the wall, careful not to pull any loose rocks. I made it down and immediately post holed into the snow below. Looking around, I noticed we were on an island snow bank, surrounded by the crazy river and the wall we had just climbed down. The only option was to cross the river so we scouted out the safest spot and plunged into the icy water. Cloud went first and looked strong except for a minor faulter that sent a wave of panic through me and may have soaked her phone. We made it to the other side, safely, and high five, looking back at what we had just done. We found an old cow trail and jumped on it, following it down into a bigger valley.

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It opened up to a large canyon called three forks, because of the three Rivers that came together there. We had already gotten across one of them and the trail led us to a point where the other two had already connected. We got to it and prepared to cross. As I strapped my camera to the top of my pack, Cloud began to move across the river. A few feet from the shore, she stumbles under the strength of the current and falls in. When she catches herself, she's gasping for breath. The first thing I could think to do was plunge in after her. I side stepped into the water as she fell again. I was yelling encouraging things like, "you're okay," and "just breath," and "I'm right here," more for my benefit than hers. Finally she reaches out to grab my hand and is able to stand up. We move back to the shore and go looking for another place to cross. We bushwack up the valley checking for spots with less flow. Sticks and twigs ripping at our cold skin. We get up to where the two Rivers separate and we're able to cross them with much less difficulty. We got to the other side and dried out for a while before moving on. I checked the map to see if there were any more big crossings and I reassured her, and myself, that they can't be that bad. We continued down the trail and we're struck with incredible waterfalls, hundreds of feet high, pouring out from the canyon walls. It was breathtaking. We arrived at the next river and found it exploding with water. It looked like our only option was to crawl across a log dangling over the waves. I went first and could feel every muscle in my arms and legs straining to keep me balanced. I took a huge breathe as I reached the other side and climbed back into the snow. As we kept moving, the clouds started to darken and the famous Colorado afternoon thunderstorm started to roll in. I remember Cloud saying "after a day like today, getting caught in a thunderstorm wouldn't be too bad." Luckily, the clouds only lightly sprinkled up as we made our way to a reservoir and set up camp. The night was warm and the tips of my toes hurt as they regained some feeling. We slept in the next morning, relishing the warm sunlight hitting our tents. We packed up and started hiking. It was a great morning of climbing in and out of river valleys, and looking for shade from the hot sun. As we climbed higher, the snow became more prevalent, and the sky turned dark with the afternoon.

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I post holed behind Cloud, trying to match her footsteps, for a while before we saw tents around the bend. A few other hikers had set up early to try to stay dry during the storm. As we sat down with them and decided what to do, it began to rain. We set up our tents as fast as possible and got in just before it got too bad. The thunder and lightning rocked our tents and lit up the sky. Two hours later, we peeked out to snow covering the ground and our tents. We stayed tucked in for the night reading, fixing gear, and eating a bunch. When I woke up the next morning, it was still dark but I heard the rustling of the others. They were getting up to hit the snow while it was still icy. We slept in a bit longer and let the sun dry out our tents before following them up trail. We followed their footprints until they dissapeared resulting in a bunch of off trail excursions, usually uphill. The day was taking us way longer than expected and we trudged on through the snow. We were relying completely on our map and compass skills because her phone had gotten wet and mine had died. It became very difficult to navigate once we got under tree line. We found ourselves off trail again so I turned and decided to go straight up the mountain to get a better look at our surroundings. The slope was very steep and we kept climbing to get to flatter ground. I thought, on multiple occasions this day, that we should have taken out our I've axes but I was afraid my nerves would paralyze me if I thought I needed to self arrest. We got to a steep section of trail where an old landslide had taken out a chunk of the mountain side. Looking at it, it looked doable. We had already done much sketchier things that day. I lowered myself down from the snow bank by a few roots peeking out of the mud. Trying to take deep breathes, I dug my feet into the wall. Suddenly, my feet fell out from under me and I was hanging by my arms. Easily the weakest part of my body after two years of thru hiking. I dug my feet in again, trying to gain a hold but it was no use. I let my arms go and slid about 10 ft before the mud bunched up enough to stop me. I started making my way across the slide and got about halfway before I looked down. My stomach twisted and my heart stopped for a beat. I turned to Cloud and told her we needed to go back, this wasn't safe. She was on board so we made our way back to the snow bank and looked for other options. Besides turning around and hiking back, the only option was to go up. The daily thunderstorm was brewing and it hung around the peaks of the nearby mountains.

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It felt dangerous to be on the top of an exposed ridge but we could see the trail below and were sure we could get down to it in time. We traversed down the ridge, our adrenaline pumping, and slid 15 ft down an icy slope to get to flat ground that led to a ravine. I stomped my feet in and crossed the ravine to a small patch of dry land. When I turned around, Cloud was leg deep in a tree well and was unable to free herself. I steadily walked back towards her and started trying to get her out. First we stuck a trekking poles down by her leg to loosen some of the snow, but her foot was locked tight in the ice. She began to panic. I knew exactly how it felt to be trapped like that so I immediately threw my arms down the hole and began frantically digging her out. After a few tries, her foot came loose and she was able to slide out of the hole. Covered in snow, I turned around to get moving again but Cloud had gotten stuck again. This time the tree had wrapped itself around her snowshoe so I untangled her and we made it to the patch of land. Visibly shaken, we decided to find a nice area to camp and call it an early day. I walked on but Cloud was no longer behind me. I called her name with no answer so I called again. In a much further distance than she had been, I heard the word "fuck." I ran back through the snow to where I had last seen her but she was gone. She had slid about 30 ft down into the ravine and was coming to a stop near the bottom. From up above I could see dry land that would be easier for her to get to so I told her to go there and I'd meet her on the other side of the trees. I scrambled up some loose rocks and got into a trail. I was now about 60 ft up from her but I could see a path that might eventually meet up with the one I was on. We walked parallel to each other until we got into the trees. I immediately knew we had made a bad decision by splitting up so I called her name hoping she was close. After a few hair raising minutes, she came through the trees and I vowed not to get separated again. We slid down the mountain into a small river valley and filled up on water for the night. I was exhausted and my nerves were shot but we wanted to make it back to the trail before setting up camp. We found a trail and began to follow it but soon it became clear that it was an animal trail and no humans had been that way for a long time.

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For some reason, I had a feeling that this would lead us in the right direction. Cloud mocked me but followed my crazy feeling anyways. We came around a bend in the mountain and while I was looking at the map, trying to figure out what to do next, we heard the distant sound of cars. We looked up and could see the highway on the other side of the valley. We looked at each other and decided to head straight for it. We took a bearing with our compass and headed down the mountain via a small Creek of snowmelt. All my nerves and anxiety settled as I thought of the nice warm shower and bed I might enjoy that night. We began to joke about all the crazy things that had happened that day and that we probably should have died on multiple occasions. Little did we know, the day wasn't over. We got down to the valley and were stopped in our tracks by a raging river. We walked upstream, scanning for places to cross. We saw a fat log laying gently across the beast of a river and decided to try it. I climbed onto the log and tried to find some hand holds. The waves splashed against my legs as I dangled five feet above them. I tried to make a few moves but didn't feel safe so I climbed back over the stump and onto safe ground. We kept bushwacking upstream. I had checked the map and seen that the river separated further up and would, hopefully, be a better place to cross. We walked through blow downs of large trees for a while and I was beginning to think we would never make it across before dark. Just then, I saw the confluence of the two Rivers ahead and could see that it was tame enough to get across. I jumped in first and was surprised to find the water was only knee deep. I moved across quickly and waited for Cloud. As I waited, an otter swam by in a pool off the edge of the river. He spun around and played in the water for us. We took it as a sign that we were going to be okay. A hiker by the trail name of Otter died recently on trail, and we could feel his spirit keeping us safe. We headed up the river bank and slowly heard less of the river and more cars driving by. We hit asphalt and we're amazed that we had made it out alive, together, and in one piece. Mile marker 811

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Injuries, Hypothermia, and A Secret Forest Toilet

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After 5 wonderful days off, the trail welcomed me back with a 3,000 ft climb up to above 10,000 ft. There were patches of snow covering the vast meadows that sprang up in between forests. It was cold at such a high elevation, so I kept moving. I was trying to get down to a lower elevation before setting up camp but it began to get dark. The night was cold and I had to melt snow that evening for drinking water. I lazily got up the next morning once the sun hit my tent but I was moving slow and feeling unmotivated. I took a break at a water source and chatted with another hiker. He said he wasn't worried about finishing, he was only concerned with enjoying his time and seeing the area. I took a page from his book and decided to take a nap in the sun for the afternoon. When I woke up, I had to get moving fast to make up the miles for the day. Late in the day, I went to take a break when a large brown creature moved nearby. A huge porcupine waddled out and crossed the road I was walking on, stopping every so often to survey me. The next morning I walked out of the canyons and into a resort called Ghost Ranch. I stayed there while a thunderstorm passed overhead but hiked out that evening. I caught up to another hiker and began chatting with her. Her trail name is Speed Stick and she is hiking all three national scenic trails in a calendar year. Blown away, I asked her a bunch of questions and the night flew by as the two of us hiked uphill and set up camp. I heard her leave early the next morning and I climbed out of my tent to a fresh blanket of snow all over the ground. My tent was slightly frozen so I shoved it in my pack and hoped it would thaw.

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The snow clung to my socks and froze my toes as it melted. I kept getting lost that morning down different roads and kicking myself as I walked back to the trail. I came around a corner and saw a fellow hiker laying on the ground next to his tent. I asked him if he was all right and it was pretty clear that he was in a good deal of pain. He was immobile and running out of water but others had run to call for help. I plopped my stuff down, gave him my water, and waited until help arrived. He had thrown out his back trying to pick up his backpack. Three huge suburban Police cars pulled up and watched as I packed up his tent and gear and then helped him into one of the cars. The cops were hesitant to leave me and kept insisting I take an MRE with me just in case. I did accept some water but assured them I was totally fine on food. Minutes after they left me in the dust of the trail, a light rain began to fall and the sky grew dark. The trail popped out on an exposed ridge just as the thunder rolled in. I left the trail and climbed down to a more forested area to wait out the storm. I walked further and further into the trees. I crouched behind a large log and looked to my side, where I saw a perfectly usable toilet in the woods. It looked as though no one had been there in years and that, maybe, only a few humans knew about this secret spot. The thunder subsided so I climbed back up to the trail, never forgetting about the mystery toilet in the woods. The trail climbed higher and higher and I walked faster, trying to get down to a lower elevation before dark. I kept selfishly thinking that I wouldn't be caught up this high in bad weather if I had left before the cops showed up. Though I knew, there was no way I was leaving him in the state he was in. Snow covered the ground more and more as I ascended. The trail opened up into a meadow full of fresh snowmelt so I trapped through the calf high freezing water. Far on the other side of the meadow, I saw a plume of smoke rise from the trees. I quickened my pace as my toes burned with the icy cold. I daydreamed about  who would be over there and what I would say when I got there. Walking fast, I looked closer at the plume of smoke. There was no smoke. It was a dead tree, blowing in the wind. My eyesight had manifested a mirage of a nice warm fire to dry my socks and thaw my toes. Coming out of my thoughts, I realized I wasn't even on trail and slogged cross country to get back to it. Another storm had passed overhead but I kept climbing anyway. Finally, it got too dark and I gave into the night. I set up my tent and began to make dinner. My legs shook uncontrollably in my sleeping bag as I tried everything to get warm. I ate my dinner, thinking it would help, but I could not get warm. I did sit ups in my bag, trying to produce some body heat but my upper body began to shake and my heart began to beat faster and faster. I lay down and took deep breathes, trying to calm myself down. I weighed my options. I could hike and try to get further off the mountain but it would take me about 4.5 miles to get down and it was very dark. I could stay in my tent and try to reverse the hypothermia that was setting in but I kept thinking about being found in my tent the next morning, frozen to death. What would my mom think? I stopped shivering and began to feel slightly warm and lightheaded, the second phase of hypothermia. I panicked even more than I already was and began thinking back to my Wilderness first responder training and what I would do if I were a patient. I thought of all of the pieces of a hypo-wrap right as a warm water bottle popped into my brain. Of course! I fumbled to get my stove back out and lit it with some water. A little bit later I threw the hot water bottle in my bag and felt instantly warm. I fell asleep five minutes later, forgetting the terrible places my mind had just gone. I woke up the next morning completely exhausted and weak but alive. I slept in to gain a little strength back and let the sun warm my tent before packing up and heading down the mountain. It was a long day and my body felt the terrible weight of my backpack dragging me down. I walked into a campground later that day and ran into the same Police officer from a few days before who was amazed I had made it that far. I hiked on and set up my tent in a perfect spot to watch the sunset and cook my dinner.

The next morning, I ran into another hiker who had hurt his ankle while postholing. I gave him one of my trekking poles to help him walk out and kept moving down the trail. I was hot on the tails of some other hikers and I had a goal of catching them this day. I hiked late into the evening and got lots of reassurance from locals that I was close. Just before dark, I gave up and set up my tent. It would be my last evening in New Mexico and I was happy to spend it alone, watching the sun go down. I got moving fast and, before I knew it, I heard voices. I had run into the other hikers! We snowballed all the other hikers in the area and a huge group of us walked into Colorado together and got into town. Mile 811

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I Thought it was Warm in the Desert

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I left Pie Town late that afternoon after dilly dallying all day. It was a dirt road walk out of town but I popped in my tunes and enjoyed the solitude. Since I had left so late, I was still hiking when the sun began to set and finally disappeared behind the horizon. I grab out my headlamp when I could no longer see my feet. It blasted on and as I lifted my head, the light encircled a sign. It read 'CRAZY GUY, WARM SHOWERS'. I panicked, standing alone in the dark, on a dirt road. Where was this guy and why was his sign so ambiguous and creepy. I moved faster, spinning every so often to be sure that I wasn't being followed. I got to where I was going to camp and nearly leaped onto Sketchy(another hiker) as she went to find water. I slept well knowing there were other hikers around. I got up early the next day and hiked on ahead of the others who were just beginning to stir when I left. It was a pleasant morning filled with dancing down the dirt road that would connect us to the next section of trail. I was moving faster than I expected so when I checked my maps, I had gone a few miles past the water source I needed to stop at. I had to decide if it was worth walking back or if I could make it to the next water in twelve miles. I had a liter and a half left and decided I could make it work. It was a hot day with no shade and I was beginning to think I should have gone back when a man on a tractor came up the road. He hung out the window and asked if I needed any water. I thought I was seeing a mirage but replied "yes, desperately." He handed me a bottle of water and an orange and headed off on his way, but not before I could blurt out "you totally just made my day." I happily hiked on eating my orange.

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The trail popped out on the side of a highway so I turned down the road and found the little shoulder we were supposed to follow. The cars whizzed by but I was having a wonderful day and really enjoying the scenery that surrounded the area. I got to my destination of 35 miles around 5:30 pm but I was too bored to stop then and set up so I decided to try to make it to the next water source, a ranger station, 10 miles up. My brain tired on the beating sun and my calves ached but my feet kept moving, one if front of the other, until I reached the Ranger station. I had expected other hikers to be there but the place was closed and deserted. I wasn't sure if I could camp there so I found a spot hidden by some bushes and set up my tent. As I settled in and the sun went down, a pack of coyotes surrounded my tent about 100 ft away and began howling to each other. I slowly drifted to sleep listening to their songs. I woke up abruptly the next morning to a car door slamming. I thought for sure I had been found and was about to be scolded for camping in the area but no one bothered me as I packed up and snuck back out to the road. The hike into town was one of my least favorites as many people stopped their cars to hit on me and ask me if I needed rides. So frustrated, I called my mom and began to ignore the constant pests. I got into town and was heading to a buffet, when my friend Right On called. He was taking a zero day in the same town so I met him at the buffet and was very surprised to see about 15 other hikers there. I had caught the bubble and was a bit overwhelmed after not seeing other hikers for days. I was supposed to leave that evening but I was having too much fun with these new found friends so I stayed the night and hiked out with them early the next morning. It was completely different from hiking alone for so long and I relished in the company. We hiked to the top of Mt. Taylor at 11,000 and all 18 of us squeezed into the small summit campsite. We sat around a huge fire and had a bunch of laughs before crawling into our separate tents.

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I was freezing cold all night and kept waking up to the rustling of those surrounding me. I got up early and made it out before most of the others but was slowed down significantly when I saw that the whole northern slope of Mt. Taylor was covered in icy snow. I fell many times before making it down to a saddle where the snow seemed to end. Lots of others had caught up and we leap frogged down the mountain, stopping every so often to take off layers as we descended in elevation and the sun came out. We all grouped up at the first water source of the day, still not wanting to separate. After some time, we started leaving, one by one, to head to the next water source. I got to the spot first and began looking for the tire cow tank as the others slowly caught up. It was no where to be found. Tons of us were combing the forest in the area where it was marked but it was not there. Some people kept looking but I decided to go on, looking for the next source. A half a mile down the trail we came upon the tire tank and kicked ourselves for wasting an hour looking in the wrong spot. We had lunch and then hiked towards some ominous looking clouds. The temperature dropped and the wind started to whip. People began calling it a day about every mile but a few of us hiked on. In the end it was just me and another hiker, named Cowboy Stripper, who found a nice sheltered spot and tucked in for the night. The two of us got up the next morning and started moving fast. I had to get to the next town in 2 days. It was 55 miles away so I was planning to do a big day and Cowboy Stripper decided to come along for the long haul. The morning was spectacular, we had incredible views and the hiking was pleasant. We ran into a couple new hikers and had lunch with them before moving on. As we walked away from our lunch spot, the clouds began to darken and the wind picked up. We were walking straight into a storm and the raindrops began to splash across my face. We hiked faster, seeing the lighter clouds in the distance. We were soaked and cold but moving helped and after about an hour, the rain stopped. We got to our next water source and turned the valve that was supposed to turn on a pipe that let out water. No water came out. We tried everything but nothing produced any liquid. Giving up, we hiking on, hoping to find something else. The afternoon was filled with bad weather, light headedness, and frustration at the trail for taking us up and down unnecessarily. The lack of food and water was getting to me when we crossed a road and saw a cooler. It was filled with water and peanut butter crackers that we joyfully partook in.

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The temperature dropped further after our nice snack and the dark clouds came back overhead. Suddenly, it started to pour and we scrambled to set up our tents as fast as we could. Mine was thoroughly soaked inside and out by the time I got in but I stripped off all my wet clothes and tried to dry things out. Just as I was starting to get warm, the rain stopped. We cursed mother nature for her timing but went to sleep warm and dry. When I got up the next day, I looked around and realized we had set up in a field covered in cow pies. They were everywhere and all over my things so I stuffed it all in the outside of my pack and hiked on. I ate a bag of gummy bears for breakfast on the go and didn't stop until I was almost to the road I needed to make it to. I looked up and saw a car coming down the dirt road and got out of its way. As I threw out a friendly wave, I noticed the huge smile of my friend Logan, who I had met hiking in New Zealand and who was coming to pick me up from the trail. I was ecstatic, realizing that all this rushing was over and I could enjoy some quality time with a good friend. As I piled my stuff in the car, I realized I had not been in a vehicle since my incredibly bumpy ride that dropped me off at the border three short weeks before. He took me out to lunch and got me a shower before whisking me off to the airport. Truly an amazing human being to help me out so much on my journey. I'm headed home for a trailcation, four much needed days off to spend with friends and family. Mile 654.

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Everything in the Desert is Trying to Kill You

I stayed a day in Silver City before hitting the trail again the next day. It was a hot road walk out of town, where on three separate occasions, people stopped their cars to warn me of the bears in the forest up north. I thanked them for their concern but was much more worried about my shoes making it through the river than a bear attack. The road turned to dirt and then became a rough, steep, Jeep track and my shoes struggled to stay in place. They had no tread left and I spent most of the day falling down. After a steep climb, I came around the corner and was struck by a ton of huge rock formations, growing out of the ground for as far as the eye could see. I hiked a bit farther before setting up my tent and starting to make dinner. Just as I got settled in, a huge dark cloud blew overhead and a light rain started to fall. I thought of how perfect my timing was. It blew away quickly and I was astounded by the sunset it left, as the cloud creeped further north. I dug for my camera and took a million pictures before snuggling back into my tent and falling asleep.

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I jumped up the next morning and got moving. I was excited to finally get to the Gila River, one of the many places I had heard about before the trail. The trail climbed and climbed all morning and I was proud that no one had passed me yet. I began to worry when I popped out on a ridge that didn't seem to be dropping down to the river anytime soon. My heart fell as I checked the map and realized I had gone 4.5 miles off trail. I begrudgingly turned around and started to make my way back. I've never gotten off trail so far and I remember thinking that I would have rather been punched hard in the jaw than walk 9 off trail miles. But I made it back to the trail, three hours after I had made the wrong turn, and hiked down to the river. Once I got there, the trail dissapeared and it was in and out of the river about 50 times. The whole afternoon took much longer than I had expected and although I walked 30 miles that day, I had only advanced 21 trail miles. Frustrated, I gave up and set up my tent. Knowing the river was going to take a while, I got moving early. The air was cold and I winced as I took my first steps into the icy river. The current almost stole my broken shoe off my foot before I could tighten it down. I couldn't help but imagine how difficult it would be if I had only one shoe through this pokey, hot, desert. I made it out of the valley and to a store where my new shoes were. I had a whole new lease on life as I strapped them on and headed out on my way. I had heard about an alternate that took you down a slot canyon and then connected back to the Gila but I didn't have a map for it so I decided to wing it and hope for the best. I hiked a few miles out, realized I was lost so I turned around and hiked a mile back. Then realized I had not been lost, so I turned around and walked that same mile for the third time. I got to the canyon and made my way down to the river. I had way too much food and it was really weighing me down and hurting my joints. I got to a hot spring and decided to camp there for the night, soothing my aching joints. When I woke up the next morning, it was freezing. I got moving anyways but the movement did not warm me up and the sun hadn't hit the bottom of the canyon. Moral was extremely low. I was moving at a snails pace and all I could think about was how much I wanted to be out of this freezing canyon that was forcing me to climb in and out of the river. It was the worst morning I had on trail so far and I couldn't keep my mind from the pain of the cold. I was also dealing with some bad infections that all seemed to hurt worse on this particular day. One, on the bottom of my foot, felt like I was being stabbed with a knife every time I took a step. Another was having the skin ripped away every time the strap of my backpack moved. I caught up to another hiker named HOB and began to hike with him for a bit to keep my mind from the pain and frustration. He told me about how he and his wife of 42 years had been traveling the world their whole lives. They hiked the AT in 1974, the PCT in 1976, crossed the US on a tandem bike 7 different times, and countless other adventures. I felt inspired and completely forgot about all of the terrible things I was dwelling on beforehand. We had lunch together and kept hiking, in and out of the river, chatting as we went. We got to a sand bar and we're looking for the trail when a loud, clear, rattle rang out from the ground. I looked down and jumped back as I was almost on top of one of the biggest rattlesnakes I've ever seen. He slowly slithered away and HOB and I were grateful that we weren't moving any faster. After a lovely afternoon walk with my new friend, I had to say goodbye and head on alone. I hiked late into the evening, trying to make it to a campsite at the end of the Gila River. I came around a bend and looked up just as a black bear was exploring the trail, about 100 feet in front of me. He didn't notice me at first so I scrambled for my camera and got one picture before he looked up and scampered up the hill.

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I decided it was best to hike on a bit before setting up camp. By the time I set up, the sun was gone and an icy chill had settled into the canyon. The skin on my calves burned as my skin cracked from the cold dry air. I couldn't even touch them without wincing in pain. The next morning  I woke up early and put on every piece of clothing I had before moving on. It was cold and I kept losing the trail but I was still hanging on to the positivity that I had gotten from the day before. My legs still ached with every step but the rest of my body felt great. We jumped onto an old road and ridge walked for most of the day. I saw my first coyote and a pack of antelope but no other hikers. It's very interesting to go a day without uttering a word to another human, though I did yell some swear words at some fire ants and flies that wouldn't leave me alone. You know you smell bad when the flies leave the cow pies they're feasting on to follow you for a few miles. Even worse when they land close to your mouth... I made it 32 miles before calling it a day. The next day started with me walking a mile off trail, again, and having to turn around and get back on track. By this time I had run out of all of my good snacks and was down to a few granola bars and one dinner. I felt hungry all day but made it 28 miles before stopping for dinner. Realizing I had no more food, and 35 miles to the next stop, I woke up early to get into town. I wondered all day if my legs would make it that far or if they would give up and stop working. I was about 3 miles out of town when I got service and discovered that all the restaurants in town closed at 6pm. It was 5:45. I almost sat down and cried but I was running out of water and had to make it. I got into town an hour later and made it to a place called the toaster house, a free hostel for hikers that is chocked full of frozen pizzas and goodies. I've never been more thankful for a frozen pizza, even though I burned it beyond recognition. There was also other hikers! I struggled to make sentences after not talking for 2 days but they understood. This morning I got a huge breakfast at the local cafe and will head out on trail again soon, refreshed and full! Mile 423

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Roads, Cows, and Killer Wasps

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I spent the night in town, filling up on milkshakes, pizza, and beer then ventured out the next morning. We had a bit of a road walk out of town and then turned into a vast open desert. Our destination loomed at us from the other side. Finally, mountains. I popped in a podcast and got moving through the sand that seemed to have a billion tracks going every direction. Totally engrossed in the story that was unfolding in my ears, I didn't realize when I turned off trail and walked over a mile in the wrong direction. I paused, realizing I hadn't seen a trail marker in too long, swore at myself, and turned around to shame walk back to the trail. Once back on track, I made it to the base of the mountains and started the gradual hike up. As we climbed higher, and higher, the sun shrank lower in the sky, trying to duck behind the rolling hills. I tripped and looked down to see the number 100 formed from a few rocks in the middle of the trail. Wow, a hundred miles already. I couldn't help thinking in my head "great, one thirtieth of the way there." I came upon a windmill that would be our next water source, after 2 dry cow troughs, and decided to set up camp. My legs were tired from the extra mileage and there wasn't water for another ten miles. I didn't set up my tent, I hadn't set it up at all on this trip so far and figured it was unnecessary. I curled into my sleeping bag and closed my eyes. A few minutes later, I was swarming with ants. All over my face, gear, grown sheet, everywhere. I got up and set up my tent in the dark. As I was knocking in the last stake, I heard a rustle in the bushes and quickly turned around. There, about ten feet away was a tiny rabbit, silhouetted in the light from my headlamp. Instead of bolting in the other direction, he hesitantly hopped closer. All the way until he was at my feet, sniffing my socks. I stayed frozen and looked around to see if anyone else was experiencing this. When I looked back down, he was gone. The icy chill of the desert night was getting to me so I climbed back into my bag, now safely in my tent, and fell asleep quickly. It was a bitter cold night  and the creaking of the windmill in the wind sounded like distant screams. When I opened my eyes that morning, no part of me wanted to get out of my sleeping bag. I put on all my layers and ventured out anyways. I moved quickly to try to get warm and was thankful for the uphill climb that popped out to the other side of the ridge, where the sun would be. When I reached the high point, it took my breath away. I'm still not sure if it was the cold or that I hadn't seen so far in all directions yet. For a moment, you feel like you're on top of the world. I cruised downhill to an impromptu water cache where a few friends were taking lunch and decided to join them. One had decided to get off trail and maybe try his hand at the appalachian trail instead. They were both discussing thoughts about truly wanting to be here or if this was the answer to other problems. I couldn't help myself as I blurted out how much I wanted to be here and how I couldn't imagine being happier anywhere else. The pure joy exuded out of me. This is what I love, this is why I'm here. I hiked on after lunch and was about to get lost in my thoughts when a woman comes around the corner and yells "FINALLY, A WOMAN!" Totally taken aback I paused and fumbled out the words as she asked my name. This was Kinsley, easily the most enthusiastic woman I've ever met. Our five minute conversation was full and intense. She asked if I'd hiked before, did I have an online presence, what more could she do for hikers in the area, what was my favorite part? When she turned and left, I still sat there, slightly shocked by the whole encounter.  I kept moving. We climbed up to Jack's peak, the highest we had been so far, so I took my time and really enjoyed the pine forest that had sprung up. I got to a cloudy cistern and filled up on water. It would be 20 miles before I'd get to another source and I could feel the ten pounds of water weighing me down as I hiked on. I ran into a friend who was setting up camp. He said there was a bunch of flat space if I wanted to join but I felt good still so I kept moving. The sun was beginning to dip, marking the end of another long day. I came around a corner to find the most perfect camp spot, perched specifically for catching the sunset, and called it quits for the day.

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The sun vanished as I shoveled my dinner into my mouth and drifted off to sleep. Luckily the night wasn't as cold as the previous so it was easy to jump up and get moving early. About half an hour into my day, I tripped, ripping the webbing from my shoe. I couldn't stop thinking of the 75 miles I still had to go before I'd get to my new pair. I didn't take any breaks that morning until 15 miles in when we finally reached our next water source and I sat down to have lunch. When I ventured to fill up my bottles from the large cow trough, suddenly hundreds of giant wasps flew out from everywhere. I had never seen anything like it. A huge swarm of inch long wasps were guarding the water tank. To get anywhere close, without disturbing the insects, I had to invade the pack of already agitated cows. A huge Bull stood in the middle and was kicking up dust like he was about to charge me. All I could think of was the pack of cows from my last day in New Zealand.

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I filled up two liters, not enough for the 18 miles I still had to go before more water, but I wasn't hanging around any longer. The trail curved around until we were in an open canyon. Massive rock formations flanked me on either side and I felt very calm. I spent that time taking as many pictures as I could. The canyon spilled me out onto the highway and the maps said 13 miles on the shoulder into town. I had already hiked about 20 miles but I wouldn't have enough water to camp that night so I turned and started walking. The asphalt was hard on my already aching joints and the sun beat down on the back of my calves. Four hours later and I was still on the highway, just outside of town. I was out of water and I could feel the heat blisters rising on the backs of my legs. I kept moving. I finally made it to town, exhausted and hungry, so when a man asked what I was looking for, all I could blurt out was "food." Mile 161

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Embrace the Brutality

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A wave of panic washed over me as I looked around my room at all of the gear strewn about. I would be leaving in less than 12 hours and I still hadn't packed it all up. My stomach twisted. I wish I had more time. Slowly, I put things, one by one, into my pack. There must be something I had forgotten, it seemed too easy. I took a deep breathe and felt like I had travelled back in time to two years ago. I'm packing my bag, praying I have all of the right things, nervous for one of the toughest journeys I would embark on, the PCT. But I had accomplished that hike, and many more since, so why was I so nervous? I put my things by the door and tucked myself in to bed and fell asleep, not before a last minute kiss on the forehead from my mom. I woke up the next morning, waiting to feel my stomach tighten and my chest become heavy, but I felt nothing. There were no more nerves. This was it, and I was ready.

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Next thing I knew, I was in New Mexico waking up to catch my shuttle to the border. A few hikers gathered, some brand new, some very seasoned, all men. We packed into the car and started the incredibly bumpy drive. Four hours later we were standing at the southern monument, just on the other side of the Mexican border. I felt at home as I strapped on my pack and started walking north. The first day was very hot and my excitement outweighed my need for water and food. I made it to my first water cache and felt light-headed. I had forgotten what it was like to hike in a desert and that you can't falter for even a minute. I chugged a bunch of water and packed out more before moving on. About 18 miles in, I found a nice tree with some flat space and set up camp for the night. It was windy and I could have sworn a rattlesnake was going to try and cuddle with me as I slept, only waking up to bite me as I rolled over onto it. I woke up early, after little sleep, and got moving to beat the heat of the day. The trail markers were almost nonexistent and it took much longer than it should have to reach the first water cache of the day. My navigation needed some work. I hiked on and was trying to make it to a place with a bit of shade for lunch. There was no shade so I kept going until I felt woozy. I ran into another hiker who was on my shuttle and was startled to find that I was slurring my words. I sat down immediately and grabbed for my water and my umbrella. I took an early lunch there and felt much better. The water was still five miles away so we ventured on, hoping to camp by the next source. We got to the cow poop filled pond and met up with a few other hikers who had found some shade. Almost as soon as I sat down, a wind storm rolled through and made the spot almost unbearable, filling every orifice with sand. Reluctantly, I got up and started hiking again. There wasn't any water or camping for the next seven miles, so the four of us hiked 27 miles that day to the next cache. It was still windy, but we took refuge behind some large bushes and got ready for bed. It felt good to bust out a big day but my feet weren't used to the extra water we had to carry. I laid down, ready for a good night's sleep. A few hours later, I was suddenly awoken by a quick thud right to the center of my forehead. I sprang up, already shaking, trying to find my headlamp. When I did, there was nothing there. I searched everywhere for snakes, rabbits, and mice, but whatever it had been was long gone. I stayed awake for two more hours, still to panicked to sleep. As I lay there, headlamp at the ready, my eyes got heavy and I began to drift back to sleep. Not five minutes later, a drop of rain hit my hand and then another. I opened my eyes to a huge dark cloud, drowning out the stars directly above me. I sat up waiting to see if I was going to have to scramble to set my tent up in the dark. The wind was still blowing so I waited a few more sprinkles as the cloud passed and the stars reappeared. Utterly exhausted, I drifted off into a deep sleep that was only broken when the sun came out and shined in my eyes. I got up, packed, and headed north. It was a beautiful morning and I moved fast. The wind was blowing but it was a nice break from the relentless heat. A new challenge I faced that day, climbing through barbed wire fences. The first one took out a piece of my knee and the next did some serious damage to my foam pad. We had lunch at a water cache and fought the wind all afternoon. It seemed to be blowing straight at us, pushing us back, but we fought on. The afternoon only gave us dirty cow troughs to drink from and there was not one leaf of shade. The sun was sucking up all my energy, and a large blood blister had formed on one of my toes. After over 25 miles, I found a tree that blocked the wind and started making dinner. Before I knew it, I was dead asleep in my bag. I woke up in the middle of the night to the most spectacular starts. I laid there, appreciating the calmness of the night, and felt an overwhelming feeling that I was exactly where I needed to be. I drifted back into that deep sleep and didn't open my eyes again until I saw the sliver of the sun emerge on the horizon. It was still cold but I jumped out of my sleeping bag, grabbed my camera, and ran for the nearest high point. I slowed down significantly when I remembered that I was in rattlesnake country at prime hunting time. I sat perched on the rock and watched the beams spread out over the landscape until the entire sun had appeared. I ventured back to my things and shoved them in my pack. I was 15 miles from town and a milkshake was seriously calling my name. The morning was calm, not a single gust of wind came by, and the birds were still laying dormant from the night before. We walked by a large dead cow carcass, reminding us of how brutal the desert is and how easy it would be to meet the same fate. Although I hope someone would get my body before the bugs hollowed me out. I got to the last water cache before town and was surprised to find our first trail magic! Apple was there with sodas, pies, coffee, and water. From there, three of us ventured the rest of the way into town together. Mile 85

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