Special and I roll over at 7, actually get up at 7:30. We’re not trying to make it far, mostly because we’re not quite sure how far we’ll make it – I’ve decided to take the Collegiate West route, so today’s the day we do Hope Pass, the central climb in the Leadville 100. Such feats boggle my mind, and I’m keeping my expectations nebulous as we head downstairs for breakfast at the Inn.
We see Trevor drinking tea – he seems distant, lost in thought today, and he hesitates when he talks about heading home to a weekend before going back to work. He offers us the use of his Trails Illustrated maps for the next bit, and I’m happy to have such a nice mapset headed into one of the more challenging sections of the trail. He settles back into his strange meditation as we go to grab our things, and it’s hard to leave him looking like that: still, but restless. I want to shake up that stillness, want to have the words to settle him, but I don’t know that there are any. I feel a little helpless as I say goodbye.
We run into the General store for some last-minute odds and ends, and into Carrot Quinn, whose 2014 PCT blog I devoured in my preparations for what I thought would be my PCT hike. I play it cool, though I think it’s pretty rad to run into her on her Continental Divide Trail hike, and we chat about people we know and know of in common, folks a bit behind her on the trail and other folks coming to hike with me later in the trek. I’m confident she’ll catch us on our way up the pass.
Going back up the jeep road is a no-go – I think I knew that before I was even off it – and I decide instead to complete one continuous footpath from Denver to Durango, to take the Willis Gulch Trailhead over to Collegiate West proper. We don’t quite make it though; Special spots a different jeep road, a flat jeep road, that heads in the general direction we want to go, and we turn off the road a little early. The path was probably drier, but it’s sunny, and our feet aren’t like to take to long to dry from the enormous puddles and the creek crossing and the general sogginess.
By the time we actually reach the trail again, I’m worried about the lost miles. I comfort myself with the thought that maybe I’ll pick them back up at the end – but I thought maybe I’d get a ride up the jeep road, too.
The climb up to Hope is vicious, by my standards, going from 9,287 feet where we joined back up to 12,548 up there, somewhere, at the top. It’s slow going for me, and I can feel Special, with his 7000 miles and his seemingly-preternatural uphill pace, limiting himself behind me. That Carrot catches us, passes us, doesn’t seem to bother me so much as the incessant, disembodied push I feel from the man behind me.
I try to get him to go ahead of me, but he won’t, insists that it’s my hike, that I should lead. On the one hand, I respect that a hell of a lot; on the other hand, at this point, it’d make me feel better to suffer alone, as fucked as that sounds. I like having him around, but also, I like having his respect, and this climb is particularly degrading. Memories of the conversation1 from last night – the one where the average thruhiker does 20+ mile days with a nap in the afternoon every day, the one where anything else was presumed to be below the dignity of any thruhiker2 – decide to pile on, and the tension builds and builds until I’m sniffling and my breath’s shaking and I try not to waste water from my eyes, try to recite the Litany Against Fear in my head before it all falls apart and I have to pull off to the side and spill my tears just to focus on the trail in front of me.
Special’s a bit bewildered at the whole thing, at least initially, as I blubber my way through an explanation, through my frustration with myself, not only for feeling this way but also for crying about it. He admits to being concerned that this would happen, calls it both a boon and a burden, in this particular circumstance, to have him in particular as a significant other. Sure, his experiences, his advice helped to get me this far, but also, Scorpio-perfectionist me was clearly gonna make comparisons to him – me, with not even 200 miles under my belt to him, with nearly 40 times that. But I’m out here, I’m doing it, it’s my hike, so who cares if I’m slow? I’m still getting it done.
…I mean, I care that I’m slow, everyone else seems to care about not being slow, thus making it qualitatively bad, and I care that I feel bad, pushed to crying about the fact that I’m slow, but the tension’s broken and I can see a little more clearly; this man wants to be here, wants to support me in this. I gather myself and my things, keep walking.
We catch up to Carrot, who’s stopped for lunch, sit with her a while. She talks about the trail tread, about her four months out here, about her flip up to Canada because of the snows. It’s clear the Pacific Crest Trail’s her first love; she and Speshul talk shop about it for most of our meal while I listen, fill my face with salami and cheese. It seems easier to eat, somehow, when handed food ready to go. She started first, she finishes first, bids us adieu, says she’ll see us up the trail, though I know she won’t. She’ll probably finish her CDT hike before I finish the CT, and through my downheartedness I look forward to reading about it when I get home.
Three miles is a long ascent, made worse by the incline, but the views from under the on-off cloud cover are phenomenal.
Finally, we make it to the top, see the prayer flags someone’s left up there. It looks, seems, feels weird, out of context, for them to be up there, and I wonder who put them there and why.
I don’t spend long contemplating it, though, as the day’s getting on and we need to find a campspot.
So we head down, down, through my first on-trail talus field, tired ankles under threat from the shifting rocks with every carefully placed step. We pass the end of the guidebook segment, and go rolling along with the rocky landscape, too rocky and roll-y to make camp. When Special finds something, we jump on it, set up both my shelter and his, start cooking dinner under his tarp. Crankster comes along shortly after we finish, having started at noon and hauled ass to try to catch up to us; it’s not long after she heads off to find a campspot of her own when we meet Kramers, another CDT hiker. We have a nice chat, but I’m cursing myself out shortly after he leaves – I could have slept under the tarp, and I feel bad wondering how much farther he and Crankster had to walk.
I eat dinner, and the most magical part of my day is not that it’s almost over, but that I’ve actually eaten three meals today without complaining or getting nauseous. Before I sleep, I deal with the lost miles, counting them up and comparing them to the mileage we’re gaining by taking Collegiate West plus the mile I did into Twin Lakes; we’ll pretty much probably break even by the end, which makes me feel better about the whole thing. Thinking about Lake Ann Pass tomorrow takes me down a notch, though, which makes it harder to sleep than it should be.
Start: 175.2 • End: 193.8 • Day: 18.6 – 3.3 (our route) = 15.3
Notable Accomplishments: THREE MEALS WHAT • Chatted with an excellent writer • Possibly mothered a stench demon3
 It was mostly one person talking like this, but the others involved didn’t particularly nay-say them.
 Everything I know about thruhikers, even (especially) crazy awesome veteran ones, leads me to believe that there’s less pride among them than this would suggest, but feelings of inadequacy are vicious, and some folks do feel this way.
 To add a dash of insult to today, I developed a rather vicious-smelling case of the farts. They weren’t actually useful in helping me move things along in my digestive tract, but they were raunchy. Just wrong. Probably also contributed to my discomfort at having Special behind me. He says it doesn’t smell like giardia, though, so I’m hoping it’ll go away.