A few weeks ago our amazing Japanese thru-hiking friend Yas came to visit. We first met Yas briefly on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) but we really got to know him while hiking hundreds of miles with him on the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). Here are some things you should know about Yas:
- he’s a human GPS… seriously, this guy is a navigational miracle who does it all old school with a map and compass
- he makes his own gear and is ultra/über/super lightweight
- he’s fast as heck but also slowed waaaaaay down to finish the CDT with us
Now he’s thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT) and is bombing it… he hiked from Georgia to West Virginia in just over a month. He’s a hiking celeb in Japan. His trail name on the CDT was “Rock Steady” and on the AT it’s “V8.” We bought him a 1/2 gallon of V8 to welcome him to our home!
Anyhow, we had an amazing weekend visiting with Yas. It was definitely surreal to see him doing all the usual thru-hiker things – carrying all he needed for months on end in 1 backpack, resupplying on junk food for the next stretch of trail, showering only once a week – while we were doing the “normal life” routine of working 9-5, living in a house and showering daily. Even though Dan & I are both really happy with our jobs, our house and our life, hearing about Yas’ experinces made us long for the trail…. oh trail fever!
But it was also fun being a tiny bit like Trail Angels and feeding Yas insane amounts of food, providing him with a shower & laundry, doing a whirlwind tour of DC, quizzing him about all his experiences and just generally soaking in all amazingness that is Yas…. until he had to head back to Harper’s Ferry 😦
P.S. We have to brag on Yas so much because he’s a little bit shy and absolutely modest about his many achievements!
We hope to host more friends hiking the AT in the future… if that’s you, please get in touch!
But for now, reminisce with us about our adventures with Yas here….
10/20 – 10/24 The section from Miembres to Deming gave us a taste of several extremes. We had a day of rain and snow around Hillsboro Peak, a few days later it was burning sunshine. The “trail” was a mix of unmaintained trail, easy dirt roads, overgrown old roads and bushwacking through cactus and prickly little plants whose burrs stabbed your feet. Most of the rivers we passed were dry but there were windmills or solar wells every 10 or 15 miles. Unfortunately much of the designated trail was on private land – which we didn’t realize until we came up to a fence and AFTER having crossed it, looked back to see a “No Trespassing” sign. Opps! The highlight for me was exploring an abandoned house that was stuffed with fascinating old stuff.
When we arrived in Deming we got a great newly remodeled room at The American Inn (formerly the hideously run-down Mirador Motel) and got straight to business: watching HGTV. I know that most people probably already know about Home and Garden TV, but as someone who rarely watches TV, I didn’t discover the channel until a few weeks ago. It soon became a main part of our town stops… I was hooked. It offers all the benefits of looking for a house or remodeling a room or landscaping a yard without any of the negatives – having to worry about time, money, effort, if you’ll be happy with the finished product, etc. An entire basement is transformed from a concrete box to an inviting apartment in just half an hour. For me, who constantly daydreams about decorating our condo, HGTV is quite addictive.
We climbed over, under and in between many barbed wire fences!
Still, we managed to pull ourselves away from the TV to do chores and have dinner with Keith, the Deming Trail Angel. We swapped stories and he informed us of the water situation for the next section – we only had 57 miles left till the Mexican border! Incredible!
But not quite as incredible as Dan’s fashion sense.
10/19 – We set off with Hawkeye and Kombucha and Mike on a “rainbow route” (Yas continued on the Gila River route). It was great chatting and walking with H&K since we hadn’t hiked with them in ages and it would be our last opportunity to hike with them since they were getting off trail for a few days to go to a friend’s wedding. That afternoon we randomly ran into Wrong Way in his jeep. It was a great reunion. That evening we were in for a treat, when Trail Angel Pete picked us up from the Miembres Ranger Station and hosted us at his lovely home. The journey there, flying along steep, winding dirt roads in his truck, was like being in a driving video game but we all made it! Pete moved to New Mexico a few years ago because of health problems and to be closer to his good friend Julie who runs a little store in San Lorenzo. It was great chatting with Pete as we ate the most flavorful little green apple from a tree in his front yard. Yum! New Mexico rocks – there’s Trail Angels in almost every town!
The next morning we had muy rico burritos at the store, resupplied, said goodbye to Hawkeye & Kombucha 😦 and then it was back to the trail.
9/6 – After a breakfast of peach pie, we set off to the Elbert trailhead in Claire’s car. We had decided to slackpack Elbert, the highest mountain in Colorado and the highest mountain on the Continential Divide in the lower 48. The trail started off as a nice climb through pine trees. We even saw Don’t Panic & Wing It, who slowed down to hike and chat with us for a while before powering on. Everything was great until we got above treeline.
Dan did eventually have to put his wind pants on!
At that point we entered the windtunnel of death. The wind was exhasting and freezing. The water in my camelback got icy and my nose was in danger of being blown off my face. The trail was steep, rocky, washed out and awful. Since it was Labor Day Monday hordes of people were out, death marching towards the top. When we found a shelterd spot for a break we did enjoy the view of distant Leadville and Twin Lakes below, but when I arrived at the top of the 14,440 foot peak, I took only a cursory look around before cuddling up next to half a dozen strangers who were jammed into the slight refuge a rock wall provided from the wind. We didn’t even have the energy to stand up against the wind for photos.
When at last we had slipped and scrambled back into the trees we were astonished at the powerful warmth the sun’s rays granted. At the bottom we picniced on more peach pie and some other snacks, then scoped out a campsite where we set up our tent and left our stuff. Then we drove back to Turquoise Lake, where we’d left off hiking yesterday, to hike the 12 miles back to our tent. (Yes, it may sound absurd but it’s all about doing a continuous hike from Canada to Mexico). That was also the sad hour where we bid farwell to Claire and Casey. That night we felt forlorn and dejected without C&C… it had been a phenominal two days.
Top of the Continental Divide!
9/5 – We awoke in a celebratory mood. First, it was our year anniversary for having completed our first thru-hike from Mexico to Canada along the Pacific Crest Trail. The overwhelming emotions of that day will not soon be forgotten. Second, we were to meet our good friend Claire in a few miles at Tennessee Pass. Dan met Claire while working at Georgetown University Outdoor Education Program in 2005. Claire was one of the student leaders (GOATS) who Dan worked closely with to plan lead rock climbing, kayaking and backpacking trips. Together Claire & Dan discovered ultra-running, first setting up a home-grown 50k and later competing together in their first race – the Laurel Highlands 70 miler. Fast-forward 5 years… Claire had moved to Colorado and we’d done some hopping around ourselves so it had been 3 years since we’d met up. Now we were eager to reconnect and also meet her boyfriend Casey.
Casey & Claire arrived at the pass at 8:30am and after a dose of shrieks and hugs, set to work cooking us a gourmet breakfast on their MSR whisperlight stove. They prepared us a feast of french toast, bacon, soysage and fruit salad. They’d even brought a bottle of champagne and orange juice for mimosas! Wow! As it turned out Casey had hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2006 (his trail name was Casey Jones) and so he knew just what a thru-hiker needs! In addition to the deluxe breakfast they had devised an elaborate plan to have Casey take our heavy loads in the car while Claire, Dan & I set off with day packs and hiked the 13 miles to Turquoise Lake, where we’d reconvene that afternoon. It was the perfect opportunity to slackpack (hike with just day packs) and catch up with Claire.
The miles on the trail flew by, in part because of conversation to catch up on the past 3 years and in part because Claire set the pace at just under a jog. Claire had brought homemade brownies and fresh fruit to supplement our picnic lunch and we enjoyed easy hiking under an endless banner of blue skies.
We reconvened with Casey at Turquoise Lake and then C&C brought another trick out of their bag – ingredients to make fresh guacamole on the shores of the cobalt waters. Then we drove into Leadville, where they’d booked us into the hostel for the night.
Leadville, Colorado is the highest incorporated city in the US at 10,152 feet. It was much more reminiscent of the old mining towns we’d gone through in Montana than the sleek and shiny cities we’d passed through in Colorado. It was a old boom mining town that now survives mainly on tourism and the perseverance of its rugged and working-class townsfolk. We walked around the town admiring the old architecture and the view of 14,000 foot peaks Elbert and Massive on the horizon. We then devoured a quality carmelized onion, spinach, Portobello mushroom, and roasted red pepper pizza from Mountain High Pies. The Leadville hostel was great – clean, cozy and kitschy with a family atmosphere and years worth of collecting contributing to its eclectic decor. We finished off the night with a game of spades where we discovered Casey’s quick wit and Claire’s club prowess. It had been a magical day but now we needed to rest: tomorrow we would climb the highest mountain in Colorado!
August 14th – We celebrated 2 months on the trail, having traveled about 1160 miles! We were also very thankful that travelling Trail Angel extraordinaire Naomi was picking us up when a Wyoming State Trooper stopped to “chat” with us as we waited by the highway. Hitchhiking is illegal in Wyoming and we’d heard a few stories about thru-hikers getting in trouble. But sure enough, right at 11am, Naomi pulled up in her PT cruiser (rental car) and we reunited with the rest of the group there too, and headed off to our next town, Lander.
Lander is where NOELS (National Outdoor Education Leadership School) is headquartered and had a more progressive/hip vibe to it than most of the previous towns we’d been to. We ate a scrumptous dinner outside at the Gannet Grill, where we met up with Wing It & Don’t Panic and Lost and Found. On the 15th we enjoyed ANOTHER zero day (love um!) and this day shall forever be remembered as the infamous Boston Cream Cake Challenge Day. Hopefully I can get the whole slew of photos/videos from RT, but let me just say it started with 3 enormous Boston Cream Cakes and 3 happy cake-loving contenders (RT, Joker & Heaps) and ended with some remaining globs of cake, a huge pile of chocolate frosting and 3 miserable comatose cake-hating hikers.
June 25th – With a shriek I jumped into the Sun River and was out again before the bone-chilling water turned me into a Popsicle. We were on our way to Benchmark, a small guest ranch where we’d be picking up food we’d mailed from Virginia. Poor Yas was feeling sick and so after dropping off our packs at a campsite I stayed with him while the others walked down the road to pick up the supplies. After waiting ages for the other to return, Tim & Dan finally arrived – in a huge pick-up truck.
Apparently they’d gotten 2 different hitches to & from Benchmark from men who turned out to be friends and now we’d been invited to their cabin. Tom Dooley, an octogenarian who referred to his 60 year old neighbors as “girls,” looked like a cross between a truck driver and Santa Claus. His log cabin was epic – covered with gigantic moose, elk and deer head, boasting a roaring campfire and plenty of beer and candy to go around. Dooley’s friend Barry (with dog Yogi) was also a gracious host. The other group of thru-hikers we’d be hop-scotching with (Rolling Thunder, Mike with a Y, Don’t Panic & Wing It) had also found their way to Dooley’s, thinking it was Benchmark.
This was trail magic at its best – spontaneous, unexpected, generous and filled with amazing conversations. The “girls” next door joined us around the campfire with their grandkids for s’mores and told us of their Scandinavian ancestors who had started homesteads in the Montana backcountry. Dooley was a wheat farmer from Great Falls who had done well but retained his working class roots. He was a true legend, the so-called “Mayor of Benchmark” and a first-rate CDT Trail Angel as well.
Day 107 7/11 – Back in Old Station! We stayed at the amazing Hiker Hideaway run by the Heitman’s. Unfortunately they were out of town for a PCT hiker’s wedding, but volunteers Frodo, Tadpole & Lightshine were keeping the show running brillian
tly. The place was amazing, we a huge garden featuring 2 large fire pits, multiple tents for hikers and even a gorgeous tree house.
And the next day Marty, our friend from Redding hosted us before driving us to Castella on Day 109. Since we’d already done the PCT section from Old Station to Castella in May, we were now jumping ahead 130 miles. At Castella we were interviewed by a local newspaper doing an article about PCT hikers and the post office there as we sorted out our resupply. Then we thanked Marty for her stupendous hospitality, bid her good-bye and headed up to the granite outcrops of Castle Crags. Like a stegosaurus’ spikes they rose and soon our forested path opened up, affording us brilliant views and oppressive heat. Amongst vibrant wildflowers and the sweet water of a spring we chatted with section hikers Colin & Pat and that evening as we read by firelight Frisbee stopped to chat before continuing on.
Day 102 More magic! We stayed with the Braaten’s in Belden, who have a whole little flat for hikers. The next day 103 7/7 we were enjoyed a delish b-fast complete with homemade muffins and met thru-hikers Buckwheat & Joel. Buckwheat’s been living in the Ukraine for 6 or so years now and Joel’s moving to Germany (where his wife is from) after completing the PCT. A Euro-Trash duo.
- The Belden Bridge
We were map-less and bogged down with sorting out logistics, laundry, etc when thru-hiker Cjell biked up to the Braaten’s in his multi-coloured neon shorts and redneck ‘tash. He immediately offered us his maps (“I never use ‘um!”) and told us Highlander’s folks were in town and we were welcome to join their BBQ. Hallelujah! To celebrate our new found fortunes we swam in the Feather River. We’d struck gold. Not in the mineral sense, but certainly in the hiker sense.*
We greeted Gingersnap & Highlander who’d been living the hiker high life as Highlander’s fam supported them in their McMansion RV. Seriously this RV was enormous! Mom grilled up unlimited burgers and that night we slept with full bellies.
*There are plenty who still do search for mineral gold in the Feather River
Day 99 We faced a major climb up to the Sierra Buttes but were rewarded with this view:
Day 101 Down to the Middle Fork of the Feather River for a swim, then back UP and UP
where we were thrilled to discover NEW Trail Angels near Buck’s Lake. Nancy & her family are rice & walnut farmers in the Central Valley. They were so friendly and hospitable… you’d never know they’d only been Trail Angeling for a few days! Ice Cap, a friendly young Swiss thru-hiker, was also there. We enjoyed a fantastic dinner, s’mores round the fire and great conversation.