Tribhu and I hiked out of Rawlins in the afternoon early August. Hot, dry and ready for miles. The initial route we followed was a roadwalk up and out of the town. The road went from smooth asphalt to rough gravel. We hiked until dark and pitched up a short walk from a reservoir. We had enough water til morning and this was supplemented by a small amount of rain during a thunderstorm. I held my cup to the bottom side of my tent flysheet while in bed and waited for it to slowly fill. It must look a little odd to drivers on this road (albeit a gravel road) seeing tents at the side, but we were not bothered by anyone and not many cars passed. The map had noted the area didn’t have much water and this would be the start of a long and unexpected day.
In the morning we walked over to the reservoir and Tribhu walked in away from the aquatic vegetation to get a little water. We soon discovered it was unpleasantly salty but after checking the map noted a place named ‘Deadman springs’ was a few miles further. You might in similar circumstances walking to find water, question why somebody would name a spring ‘Deadmans’. The answer became apparent on arriving. We found no water was here, but rather a dried out river bed. Dehydrated once again we walked on a short way to see a section of road tunnel off to the side with water in the bottom of the corrugated steel tube. Not being too picky about where water would come from at this point, we scraped it up with Tribhu’s water bag, filtered and drank. There wasn’t a lot of water to be had, and initially disturbing it kicked up a lot of dirt until the clean looking puddle turned mud bath. There was no point in clogging the filter so on we hiked. We came across a stream of clean flowing water at the roadside and loaded up. Five miles down the road we discovered our last batch of water was also incredibly saline. It made for a disappointing first swig and I poured mine back out on the floor. We kept hiking.
The sun rose high and we headed towards a sure water source on the map we knew should be good. I could almost have ran to the small narrow pool of water in relief. After filling up we eyed a road workers skip on a large gravel car park that would make good shade. We sat down around lunch with our backs to it, drank plenty and ate. A car pulled in belonging to a road worker and stopped for his lunch. But upon seeing us, seemed disturbed and moved off with haste. Quite honestly so would I. We were covered in dust, dirty, scraggly shirts, holes in shoes, presumed homeless or similar. We had a good laugh from it before moving off. Never do so many people look so homeless, but spend so much money to achieve something like a thru hike.
The next day after camping in pleasant forest we had a 16 mile descent to the next pass. This would be a quick town stop getting the basics. It did give time for a burger and beer, but for no more than an hour. Kirsten was there to pick us up and drop us off. She put in a lot of hard work over these months to Tribhu and every hiker she helped. Arriving back at the pass we moved up into the forest heading for Steamboat, Colorado. This was exciting. Rumour had it as soon as you pass into Colorado the trail system becomes immaculate. Perfect switchbacks, wide trail, great views. The reality was not quite this. It looked the same. It felt the same. But there was a cool Colorado vehicle registration plate at the state line. The trail here linked some forestry roads with single track. On our penultimate night we camped high in a small cluster of trees. We watched a thunderstorm cross the sky that came to settle over us. We questioned our precarious position on the mountain. Our dainty cluster of trees didn’t seem much protection. A larger cluster back down the way seemed better, but with rain beginning we decided to stay put. The lightening here was terrifying. The strikes weren’t frequent, but maybe every twenty minutes there would be a supersonic boom that would shake through my core. The silence that followed broken by only by the fresh rain as it splattered on the tent. You could feel the deadly energy building. In a house or car you feel secure, and in a normal person’s day you could just avoid going out into an electric storm. But here, it was not enjoyed but rather endured. It seemed to strike both above and below us, down at the cluster of trees we had considered the safer option. The next morning we climbed the last hundred or so meters to the summit to find another couple of hikers had camped on the summit in a much bolder position between small outcrops. ‘It wasn’t a great night really’ they informed us . Later that day we saw what we believed was a wildcat, shooting from a meadow to trees and vanishing. Arriving at the pass we waited for Kirsten. We actually overshot the pass and ended further down the road but hey, that’s life.
Late afternoon in the town we put an add on the thru hikers Facebook page asking if anybody knew of cheap accommodation in town, and it was responded to moments later from a house tucked up in the trees. Thru hikers had been stopping here all summer, they had plenty of spare bedrooms and a family feel to the place. It was a fun lodge and I loved the layout. If I ever build a house, it shall be to this kind of style. Tribhu and Kirsten had friends to meet in boulder the coming weekend and would set off in the morning to hike the next section. After discussions each day while hiking he also offered to get me a new sleeping bag. He was shocked and appalled by the fantastically cold one he resented I used. I gave him a couple hundred dollars and said I would be stopping at the hostel one night in Grand Lake when I go through. I had opted to stay at the cabin an extra day instead of hike. We guessed that by the end of his quick overnight to Boulder, he could drop it off there for me before he carries on. I thanked him and accepted in my mind I would be alone the rest of the hike. I was a long way ahead of any other hikers now. I don’t know if it was the warm sound of vinyl records, the comfortable seats or the large dinner table all the strangers would sit around together. But it felt good here. I wanted to repay the people who had opened their home to us, I felt a lot of thru hikers had stopped here over the summer and some probably had taken advantage of a free house. I descended into the town, filled several bags with food in the supermarket and came back up to cook them a meal. They insisted I didn’t cook alone. That evening we and a few of the neighbours had a true feast. They made me the offer of staying longer if I wanted, but I that had been the end of many a poor hiker’s trail, right here. One of the occupants had turned up earlier in the year after starting his hike, and also found it too enticing. Several months later he was busking in the town each day and smoking weed here every night.
I moved on in the morning. I discovered the worst place to hitch in the world is probably Steamboat, Colorado. Hikers have a saying: ‘shiny people in shiny cars’. Steamboat is quite a wealthy skiers town, and it’s usually (but not always) older cars that give rides to strangers. I feel too many people have watched too many scary movies to understand why someone is at the roadside. Eventually, maybe two hours later, a new car did stop, possibly one of the only cars that would. A fellow that would be working for the Continental Divide Trail Coalition. The group that promotes the trail, works to secure access where the trail didn’t officially exist and generally is a positive force for the wilderness. He gave me a lift to the pass and I was off. I had spent a lot of money and before leaving the town checked my balance found my credit card was at least £1000 down. I accepted I might not have the funds to make the end of the trail but wouldn’t be disappointed if I didn’t. I wouldn’t bust myself through this next section but I would enjoy each day to the full.