I’m back! After breaking my ankle in 2014 and having to get off trail after only 170 miles, I’ve been wanting to come back and finish the other 315 miles of Colorado Trail. So here I am, with 4 weeks off work to do it.

I flew into Durango yesterday. Having gotten off the trail near Leadville, I didn’t have a lower altitude option for getting back on trail so I figured I might as well fly right to the terminus in Durango and hike back towards Leadville.

I got in just after noon, hitched a ride to town with Marilyn and Jerry and their dog, Copper. They dropped me off at the outfitter to buy stove fuel, after which I walked over to the grocery store to pick up a couple things. Then a trail angel named Cindy came and got me and took me to her lovely house in town. I had just texted her last minute from my layover in Chicago and she was still kind enough to let me stay at her house for the night.

Getting ready for this trip had me scrambling to finish a bunch of things over the last week so I didn’t have time to message anyone whose info I had in Durango until late Friday, and they were all busy already. My backup plan was to stay at the campground a mile up the trail but I wanted to try one more person just in case.

Cindy and I went to the movies in the afternoon to see Indian Horse, which was a really good (but serious and depressing) movie about the Indian Residential Schools in Canada.

After the movies we picked up Texas tacos, including one for Cindy’s husband, Matt, who would be finishing his Colorado Trail thru hike and getting in that night. After eating, I set up my tent in the yard and rearranged a few things in my pack while she went to pick him up at the trailhead.

It was great to meet Matt and get some intel on the trail, but I couldn’t stay up too late since I was still on east coast time and had gotten up super early for my flight there.

I started waking up around 3am this morning but managed to mostly doze back off again until 5:30. I went in the house at 6 to have breakfast and chat with Cindy and Matt some more. Then I packed up and they took me to the trailhead. I started my hike just before 7:30.

The trail followed Junction Creek in San Juan National Forest up a canyon before crossing over a bridge and starting to switchback up to a view called Gudy’s Rest, named after Gudy Gaskill, “mother of the Colorado Trail.” I stopped for second breakfast and water.

It’s so dry out here, I noticed my hands and legs drying out just sitting around in town yesterday. And on the trail, my mouth is just constantly parched. I brought my water bladder so I can sip from the drinking tube frequently while hiking.

The trail climbed for a few more miles to a high point with a beautiful view. I had planned to stop there for lunch and it had the hoped for shade. It also had six mountain bikers hanging out but they made room for me to sit down. There have been a ton of mountain bikers and trail runners out so far, plus CT hikers coming in the opposite direction, almost finished their hikes.

I was making great time all day, despite the unusual altitude. The trail itself is just so much easier than anything I’m used to back in the northeast. It’s graded for stock so can’t ever be really steep, and the path is generally clear too, not rooty and rocky everywhere.

I made it to my planned campsite at another bridge over Junction Creek after 14.5 miles before 3pm. It was so early, I really wanted to keep going, but I’m trying to be smart and ease myself into the altitude. That’s why I stayed in town at 6500′ last night and why I wanted to stay at this site at 8500′ tonight. All the other camps start getting above 10k from there.

I’m trying to ease my lungs into the lessened oxygen here but let’s face it, I should ease the rest of my body into this hike as well. I haven’t backpacked since May and I haven’t hiked as much as I should have this summer. Even if I feel good today, I should take it easy.

Matt had warned me about the flies at this site, but I had some flies at lunch that weren’t too bad so I thought it would be okay. They were just swarming though, along with some giant stinging/biting thing. I set up my tent anyway to claim a spot then sat down and tried to read. The bugs just wouldn’t leave me alone so I decided to get in my tent, even though it was right in the sun. (By the way, the forecast for Durango is 90 and sunny all week so it’s hot even up here.) But it was really hard to get in the tent without letting the flies in too and the giant bug stung me as I tried to swat it away.

That was it for me. I packed up my tent again, grabbed another liter of water, and practically ran out of there. I knew there might be another campsite in a little over a mile so I was hoping that was the case, and that there were no bugs there.

I saw a couple of crappy campsites on the way, but when I sat down to test, the flies swarmed immediately, so I kept going. The campsite I was hoping for right before Flagler Fork did exist, and when I sat down again to test for bugs, they weren’t that bad. Turns out I hiked 15.7 miles today instead and am camped at 9000′. My high point for the day was around 9500′ and I climbed around 3700′.

I set up my tent again and got inside to read for a while. Thankfully I threw a book in my pack last minute so that helped pass the time before dinner. I’m reading “Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer and I love it so far.

Jenn and Owen planned to hike the PCT this year, but she broke her foot after a thousand miles so just came back to Vermont to heal. She had dehydrated all their meals for 7 months and gave me some for my trip since she wouldn’t be using them all now. Tonight I tried the hot dog stew which was really good.

I was cleaned up and in my tent again before 7. I’m hoping that I can kind of stay on east coast time to help me go to bed early and get up and hike early, but I’m going to need an earlier sunset to have a hope of falling asleep early. I’ll read for a little bit more while there’s still light.