Friday morning, I’m just settling into my to-do list and I get a call – it’s my new employer, wanting to know if I’m available to pick up some more work. Mama need to make dat skrilla, so yes, yes I am available. When I arrive, settle into the scope of the project, I fear I may have bitten off more than I can chew; the work’s certainly entertaining enough, but having picked it up in the middle of doing things it goes a lot more slowly than I would like. 14 hours later, I regret everything – it’s 2:30am, and I’ve got the Rockies Ruck tomorrow. And by tomorrow, I mean I need to be up in four hours. Hoo boy. Here we go.
I actually manage to feel pretty alright in the morning, though it does take a couple of rings of the alarm to shoo me out of bed. My brain feels less than functional, though, and since I have to pack my pack I end up consulting my online Gear List repeatedly to make sure I have everything. Spesh and I roll out the door to Golden, manage to make it on time, though I’m convinced we’re late – there are so many people here already! Many-much more than last year. But like last year, Spesh and I are volunteering, earning our keep, and meant to be meandering around to new people, so we make our way into the hall, which this year is full of vendors and PEOPLE and quiet chatting, even though it’s not yet 8am.
While I manage to escape my friends to talk to folks I’ve never seen before as I’m meant to, eventually I get sucked into the friend vortex, only to be ejected brusquely out, given that I’m not doing my job. Go on now, Zuul. Go on now hyah. I find a group sitting
without coffee and staring into space, lure them into conversation, find out they’re all thruhiking or sectioning the Colorado Trail this year. I’m chased off by the start of the festivities.
First it’s intros by the American Long Distance Hiking Association West’s President and Vice President, Allgood and Snorkel, then Teresa Martinez does a quick intro for the Continental Divide Trail Coalition, which is partnered with a brief video which tugs on my heartstrings just hard enough but ends just soon enough that I keep it together. Well. Wasn’t quite expecting the feels this early in the morning.
Then the vendors introduce themselves – Montbell, Deuter, Gossamer Gear, Backpacker’s Pantry, Granite Gear, Katabatic Gear, Pa’Lante Packs – and suddenly I find myself summoned to the front of the room for the gear panel with Dirtmonger and David Fanning, and while I can’t seem to find my words well enough for my liking, apparently I make people laugh. I’m surrounded just after it ends by more people than I expected, people with questions, and I’m happy to answer, though it seems that there’s not enough time, even with the break, to get to everyone.
The rest of the morning is a whirlwind, during which I don’t really sit down for talking to people, answering questions, taking brief breathers, sharing trail memories of trail and making new memories with old friends. I get a signed copy of David’s new book, Voices of the Colorado Trail, and I chuckle sheepishly at how terrified I was of the wind on my third day of thruhiking ever1. At least I’ve grown. Probably. I meet some other black and brown folk – one of whom grew up where my father lives now – and while I don’t get to talk to all of them, I do get leads on more black and brown hiking organizations to join and support. I KNEW they had to be around here somewhere.
Then it’s time for gear shakedowns, and I’m shooed to the front again where I take about an hour to talk to a CDT section hiker about her New Mexico gear. I’m talking to her specifically, but by the time I look up, I’ve attracted a group – a group that gets noticeably smaller when I start talking about using a backcountry bidet and a menstrual cup. Different strokes for different folks, I guess. But the shakedownee seems to get a lot out of it, and by the end, she’s started taking notes. Hooray! I’m useful!
I dart to and fro trying to stuff food in my face before the next speaker, Aria Zoner, who’s not only in the middle of proposing two more National Scenic Trails, but who’s also focused on nutrition in a way that I’ve never seen anyone be focused on nutrition.
I wonder what his proposal of eating a tree and eating the rainbow will do for me, but I do grab M&Ms at snacktime a short while later. Old habits die hard.
Afterwards, it’s time for the breakout sessions, where hikers talk about the trails they love with the people who want to love them; I’m fielding and forwarding questions about the PCT between myself and the few folks who’ve hiked that’ve gathered around, mostly for the benefit of one young lady who’s set to start the PCT April 30th. She’s so excited – and I’m so excited for her and also a bit feelsy; she’s got an amazing adventure ahead of her, and it makes me almost viscerally homesick to think about it.
Then, the keynote speaker: Jean Ella, who thruhiked the CDT in 1978. The trail was only proposed in 1976, and designated the year she hiked it. Eighty-one percent of the trail wasn’t a trail, and, at times, her pack was more than 75 pounds(!!!). She and her hiking partner put together a now-digitized slideshow of their trek – which was incredible – but she also spoke of this hike and her previous PCT hike and her just-after Pacific Northwest Trail hike and her numerous amazing adventures since then. I think I spend more time on the edge of my seat with my jaw hanging open than I do sitting prim and proper like a normal person. I want to be her when I grow up.
We howl and hoot and cheer for her when she’s done, and then it’s social hour, falling into conversation with entirely new people and laughing and joking and cheers-ing to a lovely, wonderful day. The organizers – all 30-odd people – head out for a celebratory meal, though Spesh and I ditch out early. I’m well and thoroughly exhausted – physically and mentally2. Still, I regret nothing – today’s been an excellent day, demonstrative of the community aspect of hiking that makes hiking even more meaningful to me. As I drift off, I hope everyone got as much out of it as I did.
 Aspens really do scream, though. It’s unsettling.
 I love doing this kind of work, but I’m an introvert at heart.