The hardest part about starting wasn’t the 4am wake-up after an evening of burgers and cupcakes with friends, or the constant worrying about whether I’d forgotten anything, or the wondering what the next month, hell, day, was going to hold.
The hardest part was rounding a bend in the road and seeing the sign: Waterton Canyon Recreation Area, Colorado Trail.
I lost my shit. Swear my heart stopped. Choked back sobs and everything. I think M thought… I don’t know what she thought, other than that we both were probably glad I wasn’t driving. Would’ve had an accident, and then there’d’ve been no story at all to tell.
M took lots of silly pictures of me shifting my pack around, resettling water bottles and adjusting and readjusting my hipbelt, load lifters. Fidgeting. She gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek, promising to see me eight days later in Breckenridge. I went to the bathroom, came back, she was gone.
Just me and the trail.
Aaaand the hundreds of other bikers, runners, anglers, and dayhikers out enjoying their Saturday morning.
I took the obligatory (terrible) selfie with the sign before setting out in earnest.
It’s six miles back to where the trail narrows, where the fun really begins, and I spend that time getting passed by literally everyone around me, but also getting well-wishes for my trek from every third or fourth person. It nurses my spirits, and the view doesn’t hurt. Waterton Canyon’s prettier than I was led to believe.
I mean, it’s nothing close to what I’ve been led to understand a Durango or even Indian Creek start is, but it’s flat nice, winding back and forth, the canyon walls protecting me from most of the heat. I even find some wildlife in the form of a crazy-big caterpillar to gawk over, one that stares at me as it crawls away.
Six miles through the canyon, and then the first of my climbs.
It’s hard but easier than I think it will be, dodging mountain bikes on the way up switchbacks and reaching Lenny’s Rest before I know it. I notice the first unofficial trail register under the bench, put my initials in the waterlogged notebook but forget to put the date in my haste.
Bear Creek is the first water I need, and I meet Cat there, a thru who I’d first “met” on the Facebook forum. She introduces me to her pup Molly; we eat lunch together. Or, rather, she eats, and I poke around at some hummus and tortilla. I have no stomach for food. We fill up our bottles, meet a couple other folks – a thru and a section hiker – and I procrastinate a bit longer before starting the second climb.
It’s hot now, the build before a storm, and I’m moving slower than maybe I should be. More than once I wish I were back with Cat and Molly, wish I could afford to only do 8 miles a day, but I’ll already be pushing the season as it stands. So I keep walking.
The thunder rumbles; I see lightning to the west, but I’m up high, with nothing to be done about it. The trees are sparse, concerningly so, but I’m nearly to the end of today’s elevation gain. The lightning strikes a few miles off, and suddenly I’m racing down switchbacks, why the first day seriously UGH, the pitter patter of coming rain close on my heels.
I reach the first campsite, set up, but I only have enough water to cook with, and there are closer sites to the South Platte River. Half a mile later, the rain hasn’t come yet, but the nausea’s settled in, and I set up a second time at mile 16.6.
I eat even though I’m not hungry, lie down to sleep with a stomach that’s screaming at me. Unsure if it’s the heat or the exertion or the food from the night before, I get up and am glad I get time to dig a cathole before I fill it with sick. Thirsty now, I stumble the two tenths of a mile down to the river, waddle my way back up past confused weekend campers, and wait the obligatory time for the Aquamira to work before downing nearly a liter, and then going out to be sick again.
I worry that this is going to set the tone for the trek before I pass out.
Start: 0.0 • Finish: 16.6 • Day: 16.6
Notable Accomplishments: Didn’t Die • Heat Exhaustion/Overexertion • 16 miles on the first day!