January 14th – January 20th, 2020
Boulder, CO – Las Cruces, NM
I slept lightly with the constant sound of traffic in the distance, and occasional vehcle wizzing by my van. When I wake there are still several other vans parked along the same road, and I drive around town searching for any independent cafe. Eventually I stop to ask somewhere where they suggest and then follow their directions. I pay to park which I hate doing, but was tired of driving around town and just wanted to sit in a cafe for a bit. The cafe I had been directed to is very nice and bright with overpriced drinks and fancy snacks. It reminds me of Zephyr cafe in Squamish only a little more high end. Adventurers and students fill the table, and I have to join in with another woman. I use my time efficiently and am able to get a lot done. After awhile the woman at my table leaves and two others join me. I sit and work while listening to them complain about all the houses they have around the world. So many that they don’t even have time to spend in all the nice places they have acquired. I am absolutely disgusted listening to them, and can’t help but think that they are exactly the type of people making housing so unaffordable. They are the type of people who make it so I couldn’t afford to move out of my van if I wanted to. To them housing is a commodity and money is something to accumulate. They are miserable though, and caught up in the most vain pursuits so in a way I feel bad for them.
The day is sunny and to me feels warm, so I don’t spend too long in the cafe before hitting the trails with Frank. I decide to take Abbys advice and we head towards Royal Arch. It feels great to be hiking in the trees again, and the smell of the pines is wonderful. The trail is rather steep, with many rocky steps and patches of ice. I breathe heavy, and have a mild headache but manage to make decent time to the arch. It’s midday on a Tuesday and the trails are bustling with people getting in their steps. The arch is in the sun perched on the edge of the mountains overlooking a vast expanse of urban landscape and while we are not on a summit it has that feeling to it. Behind the arch I can see a couple of the flatirons, and another hiker offers to take a picture for us. I set up my camera and he gets a great shot of Frank and I together with the arch behind us. I hadn’t eaten yet and am suddenly very hungry, so we head back down to Truck to eat.
After having a salad for lunch I find myself tired and my headache much worse. The trail to the arch had risen several hundred meters, and probably wasn’t a good idea, especially considering I needed to be on point later that evening. We head south and park on the outskirts of Golden where I spend several hours trying to relax and hydrate before our interview. The interview had been scheduled for weeks, and I had only grown more and more nervous with each passing day. I was about to be interviewed by my absolute favourite podcast. The podcast that is the reason I listen to podcast to begin with. The podcast that had I not fallen in love with would probably never have felt inspired to start my own. Those who listen to this podcast might be able to figure out what I am talking about given my location, but for now I am not going to mention the name. For that I will wait until the episode is released, but let me assure you I was about as excited/nervous as one can get.
Finally the time comes and I head into Golden and record. The entire thing seemed to happen so fast, and we covered so many topics. Hiking with Frank, the many disasters I faced on the PCT, being a vegan on trail, and shitting myself many times. It was a really fun experience and the entire time I was in disbelief. It had been nearly 2 months since I wrote them asking to be on the show, and when they had said yes it blew my mind. The show opened with the host stating that I had reached out and while they get lots of emails from people wanting to be on the show mine had stood out. I was fangirling and was definitely not my usual calm self during the interview. I was wired up and had been nearly an hour late due to confusion which we also talk about on the show. It suiting that I would be late given how ridiculous the rest of my stories were. When the interview is complete I go back to my van and return to the outskirts of Golden where I can spend the night.
I hadn’t fallen asleep till almost 5am. On top of a headache I was wired from the recording. I was in disbelief it had actually happened, the conversation replaying over and over. It still feels surreal. I woke up 4 hours later still wired, the only van left in the lot. The sun was shining bright, and I needed to burn off some energy.
We headed a couple minutes up the road to a nearby hike. A sandwich board advised micro-spikes, so I made sure to pack mine and we started up the hill. The trail climbs up the shady side of a small mountain, and very soon after departing I stop to put on my spikes. The ice is thick and glassy, but my spikes grip firmly. Occasionally I hear Franks nails sliding on the ice, but we are tied together. Not because we are in any danger though, it was the rule (and there were several other cars in the parking lot). The trail climb at a nice grade through a grassy slope with sparse tress, scattered with rock outcroppings. The trail climbs up to a loop that circles around, but the summit was closed because of ‘valuable resources’. On the sunny side the trail is dry and we enjoy views down the the Denver area and into the mountains to the west. There is also a view of the Coors beer factory, and it’s huge. On the way down I am even more grateful to have spikes and after a coupe hours we are back at the van.
Frank lays out in the sun while I see to feeding myself. I had specifically parked the van to ensure when we returned we would have a free space next to the side door in the sun. My head is still pounding and I want to nap so I can ignore it. Instead of napping there I head towards Boulder and nap in the parking lot where Spirit will meet us for a sunset hike. I had a couple hours to wait and dozing off was a relief.
I met Spirit on the PCT in 2018. They were heading northbound, and I southbound and we met at a wild water pump where we both stay the night crossing paths. We hit it off and became friends and now here we are taking a walk together in Boulder, Colorado. The trail trail climbs ever so gently through a grassy fields towards the front range. There are cows grazing, but they don’t take much notice of us. We have views of the flat irons and then turn into the forest. We talk excitedly about thru-hiking and our love for the PCT. Time passes way too quickly and the light is fading fast. It feels so good to be walking and talking together, and we are the last to arrive back to the now dark trailhead. We met on the trail, but because of social media were able to stay in touch and see each other again. It’s times like this that are exactly why I stay on social media when I often think of turning it all off.
We said farewell and I head into town to pass some time on wifi chatting with friends before settling into bed on a side street. The pain in my head is telling me I should probably go hang out at a lower elevation, but it also makes me dread crossing over the mountains again. The sun here is so nice and the hikes seem endless.
I had a horrible time getting to sleep again. My mind racing, head aching, and hip hurting more than it had in awhile. I felt like I had been up all night, so I didn’t rush out of bed in the morning. In fact, I tried to sleep in a long as I could. We happened to be parked next to a bike path so I took Frank for a short walk. It was a sunny day, but I didn’t feel like doing much. I needed to unwind and heal but was beginning to think this might not be the place.
We headed into town and I not only found free parking but a cafe that was much less pretentious than the previous one we visited. I felt less poor here and comfortable enough to spent many hours sipping a Nitro brew and working on my computer. I posted week 6 of the blog and spend a lot of time chatting with friends. I decided I would leave Colorado and head south out of the cold, snow and elevation.
Surprisingly my headache had faded so I decided to take Frank for a hike up Mt.Salida, a small summit on the edge of town. Frank was having a great time, but it didn’t take long for not only my headache to return but the pain in my lungs. It was too late though, I was committed. I knew it wouldn’t kill me, and no matter the summit I enjoy the satisfaction of being on top. People here are kinda weird. They are either really nice, or total ass holes. One guy used his foot to push Franks head away from sniffing his dogs crotch. HIs dog didn’t care at all and I was so dumbfounded by his rude behaviour we just walked away. I didn’t exactly want to be starting fights when we were just trying to enjoy a nice walk. People ran past us uphill as I struggled to breath. We made the summit at sunset having taking much longer than expected and didn’t get back to Truck until dark.
I realized I had not eaten all day and was now ravenous. I plowed some snacks into me, and then headed into town for supplies. The grocery store was busy so I spent a couple hours in the lot using wifi before going inside. After we left town. The roads were quiet making it easy to pass through the urban sprawl to the western outskirts of Denver where we parked up in a ‘Park & Ride’ lot. The sign next to my van said ‘no camping’ but I really didn’t care and I wan’t the only one.
The night at the ‘park & ride’ had been pretty noisy which was no surprise given it’s next to a freeway, and with my hip/back acting up it’s unlikely I would have slept well anyways. It was worth it though to be through the city already, and we were now only a couple minutes drive from Red Rocks Park which we immediately headed over to. After spending time in Utah I was rather unimpressed with the scenery itself, but it was nice to start the day with a short hike. During our walk a woman passed us, and accidentally dropped her bank card while we were reading the info signs. I didn’t see her drop it but found it right after and hustled down the trail to return it to her. We immediately hit it off talking about different trails, and were we not leaving the area we would have had a place to stay in Denver. These little moments are some of the most enjoyable on the road and she offers to take a picture of Frank and I where the road went through a tunnel carved in to the stone.
After our short hike we went to check out the amphitheatre which made me want to see a show there. The elevation was definitely getting to me, and I watched in amazement as people ran up and down the seating. It was quite the scene and even if I could breathe I couldn’t imagine myself being such an exhibitionist. Just walking slowly I was so winded, that when I chugged some water I ended up vomiting in the bush. At this point I was definitely questioning my decision to take the scenic route out of Colorado, but there was somewhere I really wanted to pass on the way.
Leaving Red Rocks we get on the freeway and head west. The highway climbs up into the mountains and soon it is snowing. To me the freeway seems busy, but I imagine it actually gets a lot worse. The snow gets heavier and soon it is all over the road. Then without much warning traffic is stopped. We are shortly before the long tunnel at the pass and I have no idea what is going on. I noticed other people have turned their vehicles off so I do the same and then grab a snack. We sit there for about 30 minutes and then are able to continue on. After the 4 minutes it takes to pass through the tunnel I see the cause of the hold up. A 5 car pile up and I’m not surprised. The road is a mess and most people are driving WAY too fast for the conditions. I’ve found in general people in Colorado are a little heavy on the gas and far to impatient for such a beautiful place.
I drive slow and then pull into the town of Fresco again to fuel up before continuing a little further down the freeway to my turn. I exit the freeway towards Leadville and head south. The road being less travelled is even snowier and people are surely annoyed with my speed as we go over another pass. I don’t care though. The conditions are horrible and if they didn’t plan their day accordingly it’s not my problem. Some ass hole decides to pass me on a solid and people in both lanes have to brake for him. Immediately after there was a vehicle in the ditch and then a couple more only a few miles down the road. Conditions are seriously nasty and I am relieved when I finally get to town and can breathe for a little while.
I roll slowly down the main strip and then I see it, the Melanzana store. I am giddy with excitement. I was about to have my very own Melly and I couldn’t wait. A Melly is type of fleece pullover that is very popular with thru-hikers and adventures, BUT it can only be purchased in their single location where they are produced. You could pay a ridiculous markup to buy one off a scalper online but I am not into supporting those type of people or paying more than necessary. Stock is generally limited as they sell as fast as they can be made, but I have come on a lucky day and have many colours in all the sizes to choose from. The shop is a large open space, in the front a couple racks of fleeces and in the back a dozen women work away making more. They make a few other products but the grid-stop fleece is by far their most popular. I settle on a olive colour in a mens small and it is wonderfully soft. My other fleece is now a couple years old and full of holes from feisty campfires and doesn’t have a hood or amazingly large kangaroo pouch.
The snow had hidden the yellow curb where I was parked so I move down the street to a legal spot and relax for a little. The snow picks up and before long it feel like a full out blizzard. I can hardly see a block down the street and snow is piling up fast. Unsure what to do I head into a cafe to check the weather. The woman behind the counter is extremely nice and offers us a place to stay. It was supposed to get down to 0 Fahrenheit that night and I didn’t exactly what to stay in town. Getting to her place would require 4wd in this weather which I do not have and luckily after about an hour the weather clears slightly. By now it’s dark, but the road is quiet and we head south for another hour until I reach a lower elevation with less snow. I pull off onto BLM land and park by a couple other vehicle not wanting to risk getting stuck by going further from the entrance.
I hadn’t exactly slept well but was pleasantly surprised that when I did finally wake up it was a sunny day and I had a excellent view. I decide to enjoy a slow morning and spend some time playing with Frank in the sun. It was freezing out but the sun felt wonderful and I had unintentionally parked such that if I opened my back doors I could lay in bed with the sun on me.
I didn’t plan to have a huge day of driving, which was good because my hip began aching quickly. As we headed south the tall mountains on either side of us became further away as the valley widened. We passed several small, rustic old towns. The kind that if you blink you will miss. I often feel a pang of regret just passing through. These places have stories, and I want to hear them all. I swear if I got my way I would just ask questions, listened to stories and never actually get anywhere. Passing through one small town I saw a sign that read ‘great coffee’ and pulled u-turn to go try it out. We were in the town of Morrison, CO and even the post office was more aesthetic that usual. I spend some time chatting with the woman running the cafe. She called the area ‘sky desert’ and I couldn’t agree more. We were in the middle of a wide flat valley full of tiny shrubs and snow. The elevation was higher than my body enjoyed and a huge sky filled the space between towering mountain ranges.
South of Morrison we turned towards the mountains, and towards Great Sand Dune National Park. It felt like a long time travelling on that straight road before we finally reached the edge of the mountains. We took a short walk in the snowy forest before heading to the dunes. There were numbered posts along the trail and a booklet we could borrow with information for each post. As we walked the short loop I leaned about the history of settlement in the area and a bit about what people foraged. It’s incredible to imagine people coming over the mountain pass on foot and then being surprised with massive sand dunes. Apparently the tallest in North America. So tough and resilient people used to be. I wonder if they played in the dunes like we were about to.
I was hesitant to head up the dunes knowing it would be hard work, but my body did surprisingly well for the elevation. The excitement of such a unique and wonderful place made the steep sand a fun endeavour and before we knew it we were among the top of the dunes. We wandered further back for awhile and then looped around to one of the tallest dunes where most people had aimed for. I had dressed lightly expecting to work hard but the sunset was stunning. Realizing I had not brought a headlamp we ran down the dunes to save time. Frank thought this was a great game and wanted to jump all over me. Occasionally I would hit a frozen patch of sand and instead of sinking it I would have to speed up to avoid tumbling. This would cause me to squeal with excitement only encouraging Franks ruckus behaviour. We made if back to Truck just before complete darkness. Planning to park on the side of the road outside the park I choose to cook dinner in the parking lot. It was very cold by this point, but I was motivated to fry up the huge load of veggies I had been craving.
Leaving the park I saw a strange light in the sky and pulled over to watch. It was what I believe to be a UFO, a story which I tell in my first IGTV episode (long format video on Instagram). Frank was annoyed with sitting on the side of the road so when it clouded over we headed a bit further south and then settled into bed for the night.
For many nights now I have not slept well. The ache in my hip and back get worse as soon as I lay down and instead of relaxing it feels like my entire body is tightening up and quivering. This isn’t because of the cold though. It is cold out, but under the blankets we have been staying fairly warm, especially sleeping in my new fleece. After a long period of restlessness I had finally fallen asleep and when I woke I made instant coffee and got straight to driving. It was going to be a long day. It was finally time to get somewhere that my body could heal and that meant warm(ish) and full of oxygen. Aside from stopping for gas in Fort Garland we didn’t stop until San Luis, the oldest town in Colorado founded in 1863. There was plenty of snow on the ground, so we mostly hung out in the van admiring the old buildings and incredible modern murals. The architecture tugs at my heart strings, and I can feel the heat of summer. I don’t really want to leave. I want to find a old person who has always lived there and listen to stories all day, but I decided we weren’t camping until we were out of winter and so continued on.
Leaving Colorado the wide valleys lined with massive, rugged peaks became more gentle. Driving on local roads there was not sign welcoming us to New Mexico, but I knew from all the other markings. Our first stop in New Mexico was in the Rio Grande National Monument where we took a short walk. There had been a fresh dump of snow and anything else was more of an adventure that I really felt like so our stay was brief and we continued on.
Passing through the town of Taos I really wanted to stop but it was a busy day and my van felt huge among the narrow streets. Another time I figured, when I could enjoy the area without battling snow in the National Forests and maybe had a bit of money to spend on art items. It was an eclectic and I’m sure there are some very interesting people to meet. From Taos we followed the canyon of the Rio Grande south. It was a beautiful and winding road and I occasionally pulled over to let people pass. The road was lined with memorials, at least one each mile. It was more than I had ever see on a stretch of road, and not wanting to end up in the river myself I was happy to go a little slow.
Eventually we found ourselves on the freeway and hauled ass through Santa Fe and Albuquerque without stopping. I was determined to get away from the snow and it took almost that far to do it. I had considered stopping north of Santa Fe for another hike but when I tried to get wifi at the usual places it wasn’t available. Unfortunately fast food places that almost always have free wifi often don’t when they are on a reservation. It’s a pattern I have begun noticing and I don’t know what else to call it but racist.
It was a good thing we didn’t stop for another hike though as I was able to get a good chunk of our driving over with in one day. My hip and back had been acing for hours but I pushed through until Socorro, NM where we camped on the banks of the Rio Grande. The sites were loaded with garbage from locals and our had a cow skeleton I had to keep Frank distracted form but it felt great to be comfortable outside cooking. Finally I was able to fry up some of the pizza dough I had bought in Boulder and it was just the comfort food I needed after a long day.
It had been a quiet night, and while I slept well I didn’t really feel like getting up in the morning. After sleeping two hours more than planned and shot out of bed. We wouldn’t be hanging around camp today and I got us going and into town pretty quick. I spent some time on wifi downloading trail information and researching the route ahead. After I picked up some windshield washer fluid which I had discovered I needed during the snow storm in Colorado. Not a great time to run out of washer fluid, and it certainly made for some nervous driving.
Before leaving town I spotted a local cafe so I went in having not made coffee in camp. I was surprised to find it packed inside, and then learned it was the opening day. What luck! I got a ice coffee in my own mug and hit the road. By then it was already 11am, and I was glad we didn’t have far to go. Continuing south on interstate 25 we made quick time occasionally maxing out the speedometer while still feeling safe. An hour later I pulled into the town of ‘Truth or Consequence’ so see what the deal was with hot springs I had heard about. It turns out there are at least 10 in town and they are all developed as a part of spas or hotels. Considering that isn’t in my budget we got back on the road to the town of Hatch.
Hatch is chilli growing country and I had a hard time choosing which stand load up at. In the end I got a couple varieties of red chilis and roasted jalapeños from one and green chilis from another. They come in huge bags, and while I’m not necessarily a spicy chilli fan I figure it will be nice to share. I first heard of the Hatch valley when I visited Arizona a few years ago and ever since I’ve enjoyed salsa verde with hatch chilli whenever possible, so seeing Hatch on the map I couldn’t help but stop to purchase some local.
Leaving Hatch we took a minor highway south to short slot canyon hike. When we arrived there were several vehicles on the side of the road. It took me awhile but eventually I figured out we were supposed to climb over the locked gate to access the trail. I helped Frank through the barbed wire and was slightly uneasy with this maneuver being so close to the border in lands unfamiliar. There hadn’t been any signs but eventually I saw other people and breathed a sigh of relief.
The canyon was narrow and climbed ever so gently as it wound through steep walls of conglomerate. The rocks had a cool tone, not like the famous red sandstone canyons of Utah, and were only gently cemented. Something that wasn’t quite solid rock, but was very compact for sediment. Pebble rich layers alternated with coarse sandier layers and the odd small boulder poked out here and there. It’s the warmest day we have experienced since summer and the cool canyon was refreshing. It’s a nice change to feel warm, and to have fully oxygenated air.
After our hike we continued south to a area of BLM land just north of Las Cruces for the night. We arrive in time to enjoy a bit of sun, and then I play fetch with Frank while cooking dinner outside again. It feel so good to cook proper food again and I fry up the rest of the pizza dough along with some peppers and kale. After dinner I crack a beer, finally confident it wont combine with the elevation to make me feel like crap. The last few long driving days have left me unmotivated to write, and so tonight I have a bit of catching up to do. Tomorrow our journey will take on a slightly different form, and I’m excited to see where it leads.
Distance Travelled: 1343km