I’ve only used one vacation day in 2014. I have a couple on the horizon – but mostly, I’m saving them for July when I’ll combine the majority with a chunk of unpaid leave, close my computer, and walk away into the mountains. I finally have a chance to fulfill a dream that’s been years in the making: I’m going to thru-hike the Colorado Trail.
[Insert explosion of exclamation points here → !!!!!!!! ←]
[See all that green? That means MOUNTAINS.]
Starting just outside of Denver, I’ll backpack nearly 500 miles to Durango carrying only the essentials on my back. I’m going by myself. In a perfect world I’d bring Foxy, but the days are going to be long; most days I hope to hike close to 20 miles. Between the distance, the fact that her enthusiasm over squirrels and geese could only translate to skunks and porcupines, and her propensity to respond to “Come!” with the equivalent of a bold middle finger, it’s probably not the wisest choice.
I’ve spent the last year or so gathering my gear – pack, sleeping bag, stove, tent – and recently have started carrying it on my walks around town. I look like a homeless person. A homeless person with a Patagonia pro deal. But the hope is that come July, the weight won’t faze me in the slightest.
When I tell people that I’m doing this, and that I’m going alone, I’m usually met with one of two reactions:
1) That is awesome.
2) That is the worst, stupidest, most dangerous idea ever.
You are welcome to either of those opinions; either way, I’m doing it. Also, reaction 2 is wrong.
Here are some questions I’ve been asked – if you have more, feel free to shout them out.
Are you bringing a gun?
No. Why is this the question I’ve been asked most frequently? Annie with a gun would be way more dangerous than Annie without a gun, despite the musical. However, I will have bear spray, and that sucker sprays for 7 whole seconds. (Again, you are welcome to your opinion on this matter. Please trust that I’ve thought this through, that I’m not taking my safety lightly, and that I, more than anyone, want to come out on the other side of this in one piece.)
What will you eat?
Oatmeal for breakfast, homemade dehydrated meals for dinner. In between? The usual hiking foods: trail mix, jerky, heavy-duty crackers with peanut butter, and obviously, so many LÄRABARs.
Speaking of LÄRABAR, how did you get 5 weeks off of work?
Believe it or not, I asked for it and they gave it to me. I am so grateful to work for a company that practices what it preaches when it comes to work/life balance, and for managers who have been supportive of this idea from the beginning. In the meantime, I am working like a crazy person to get all of my July work done in advance (and there’s a lot).
How will you charge your cell phone?
Well first of all, I don’t plan on using it all that much. Part of the appeal of this trip is to disconnect from the technology that I’m so married to. But to make sure I’m not left in the lurch, I will be harnessing the abundant sunshine and using this.
Have you read Wild?
Yes. Such a fantastic book – if you haven’t read it, do. But I’ve wanted to backpack the Colorado Trail since long before I read Wild.
Who will take care of Foxy?
My dad, and then my mom. I can’t stand the thought of saying goodbye to her, so I’m putting it out of my head for as long as I can.
How long is this going to take you?
Most people complete the trail in 4-6 weeks. I have a total of 38 days, and plan on finishing in plenty of time – because when it comes to hiking, I’ve got an engine in me.
Are you afraid?
Of hiking that far? No. Of being alone during the day? No. Of being alone at night? A tiny bit. Of wild animals? Yes. Of lightning? Yes. Of having my period in the woods? More than anything.
Sometimes I can’t believe that I’m actually going to do this. Mostly, I just can’t wait to go. If you have backpacking experience and any advice – what to bring, what not to bring, how to not be afraid of the dark – I’d love to hear it.