NoDay and I spend a freezing cold night in her truck – or, at least, I do; she, at least, has an inflatable pad, where I have a half-inch of ZLite between me and metal of the truck, and it’s about the same amount of metal between me and the cold night air. I learn the hard way why insulation is key, especially when you’re sleeping a couple of feet off the ground.
So while a pair of socks and a pair of underoos are frozen as stiff as my pride, my laundry outside fared a little better – not quite dry AND not quite frozen. We take time to let stuff dry in the growing sunlight, say goodbye to NoDay’s truck, and then we’re on our way.
It’s a half mile to 114, where Ghost suggested there was a motherload of Snickers that Crank hasn’t forgotten about. When we cross the road to the bucket, though, it’s full of trash – not a bar to be found. It’s a little upsetting, especially after the pit toilets at Marshall Pass Trailhead – seems like some folk don’t feel the need to pack out the trash that they make if there’s even the possibility someone else will do it for them. Privilege in a nutshell. But there are good people, too; there’s a cooler here for Jeff and Don with a note on top and apparently beers inside, and we cross paths with them as they approach the cooler and alcoholic victory.
The jeep-road trail beyond’s such a gentle up that even I feel it less than usual, and we’re making good time as we chat our way up the hill1. It’s nine miles from the road to the next water source, but mostly flattish down today, and I’m looking forward to seeing how many miles I can make.
We do three miles an hour nearly all the way to Cochetopa Pass Road, and I’m pretty proud of myself – I’m currently leading the way, and while I’m pretty confident it won’t last, I’ll take what I can get.
We’re bombarded by grasshoppers between Cochetopa Pass Road and Los Creek, their springs2 accenting our good-spirited debates on our favorite books. Los Creek is flowing, and we fill up and take the opportunity to filter/aquamira and eat some measure of lunch. The conversation turns to later times, when NoDay will be hiking the Arizona Trail and Crank’ll be off to Utah to kick ass at nursing and I’ll be… doing something. Probably just teaching again. It’s hard to think about when there’s still another 185 miles to go.
We’re up and at ’em again, and the land opens up into a stunning valley.
It’s strange to see all this flatness after so much uppy-downy. We’ve heard about a horse trailer with a radio in it in the area, and with all the open space around, it’s pretty hard to miss.
We unlatch the door – a nearly-weathertight seal – and poke our heads inside to the tune of NoDay’s concerns about hantavirus, flip through the register, see that this trailer’s saved a few hikers from some storms, though none recently. We don’t recognize any of the names in the book, and I start to get concerned about hanta myself, so we latch everything back up and ease on down the road.
The double track turns into a quadruple track, a veritable thruhiker superhighway, just before we hit Saguache Park Road, and the three of us get to walk beside-ish each other, for once. The trail rides along the proper road for over a mile – plod plod plod, all that stress building up in ankles knees hips shoulders; even if I don’t feel it so much at the moment, to hear tell it’s not gonna feel great later. We’ve been on roads all day, and I’m looking forward to a respite. We get a short one in the form of some Forest Service workers wishing us well – it’s always a pick-me-up to see humans, and humans who know what you’re doing, at that – and then more plodding, all the way to the end of Segment 18.
We turn off onto another Forest Service road, and Crank and NoDay decide to stretch their legs and set on out in front. Me, though, the plod plod plodding’s getting to me, and I slow down down down, and I’m really just happy to see them when they stop to let me catch up. It’s one thing to suffer alone; quite another to be talking
about away your pain with friends.
By the time we hit Van Tassel Gulch3, my everything is screaming at me. I’d heard that roadwalking was hard on the body before, and had tried to do a bit of trail-running before I set off on this whole adventure thing, but I don’t think I’ve been this sore the entire trip, deep ache in all my joints. We take our time getting water, partly because the gulch is under a lot of grass/brush and we don’t want to get wet4, what with the whole “it’s probably gonna freeze again tonight” thing, and partly because we’re all half/whole-limping around to do it. None of us wants to go much farther – we stand scouting for a minute before agreeing on viable places to inspect more closely.
But every site we think is a Maybe turns out to be an Absolutely Not, and while the pain in my joints is encroaching on my every thought, there’s nothing to be done but climb out, and hope there’s something close by.
Of course, the hill we climb is pretty steep, with little and less in terms of campsites on the way up, and so it’s *plod plod plod plod* “99 bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles of beeeeer…”. I get all the way down to 33 bottles, give or take5, before we hit the saddle – where there’s a beautiful, beautiful campspot at the top.
We’ve made twenty miles today, all of it roadwalking, which I hope to never have to do again. Or at least, for a while. My joints need a break.
We nestle in and see some Northbound CDT hikers pass by, also looking for a camp, but intending to go some miles further; I hope they find what they’re looking for. I make a point of eating potatoes tonight – my joints need some caloric love – before passing out harder than I’ve passed out the whole trip.
Start: 301.5 • End: 321.6 • Day: 20.1
Notable Accomplishments: Another 20-mile day • Now understand how much roadwalking sucks • Did not get hantavirus (probably)
 NoDay says hikers primarily talk about what goes into and what comes out of their bodies. This morning’s conversation is indicative enough of that, what with reminiscing of bratwurst and the implementation of the star system for cathole utilization – one for privacy, one for soil quality, one for view, one for… yeah, you get the drift.
 I caught one on accident. In my sportsbra. I knew it was gonna happen as soon as I saw them.
 The gate to the fenced-in spring that shares a name with Ichabod Crane’s erstwhile love is on the opposite side of the fencing from the trail, on the corner catacorner from where everyone’s clearly crawled under. We learned the hard way.
 Not one of us succeeds in this endeavor – each of us sacrifices a dry foot to the Gulch Gods. (Of course my shoe slips off a bank at the laST MINUTE.)
 It’s a little hard to keep count when your body’s not exactly happy you’re still counting.