Dreaming is a good thing. “It is no coincidence that "aspiration" means both hope and the act of breathing." (Ted Chiang, The Great Silence). And so since last winter, I dreamt. One more thing. Well there was two: to get a 100 miler #20 under my belt and put it to rest - and give one more go to Colorado Trail FKT. That would be the last time I am backpacking alone, high miles, pushing my limits. Why? I already gave everybody and even myself a permission and a promise to stop, after the Collegiate Loop FKT happened. It went as smoothly as these things can, really. High note, remember? We're supposed to go on the high, yet by December, I had a burning idea. Why? Well, there was a number of reasons. First of all, I was getting myself in a really good shape after over 7 years of hiatus. That sort of makes you want to set goals. Then, last summer, the girl (Mikaela) who broke (completely smashed) my self-supported FKT, and at the end of the year that FKT took 4th place of the year award. Rightfully so. But not how it was described - "beating Olga's time by 4.5 days". In technicality, the numbers fit. In reality, it seems that nobody read (forget a blog report) my simple page's recount: I stopped to camp more often than not between 4 and 5 pm. I knitted. I earned that FKT simply by being the first one who applied while following the rules. Sort of like the last summer another gal (Marilyne) did East to West via Collegiate West, is the only one having done so, and the time was similar to mine - good, but not crazy. Now, don't you think I disrespected either one of those ladies. Definitely not Mikaela. She crashed the trail. This Triple Crown thru-hiker is absolutely amazing and driven. What was the thing I thought should have earned her that very same spot as an yearly FKT is the fact how close she came to man's record - only a mere 1 day away! That takes freaking suffering, focus and dedication! I should know. The time is really stout and is going to stay for a very long time. Legit.
But I digress. I went with no numbers in sight to aim back in 2018. Now, after her super FKT, there was a goal. I thrive on goals. I combined her result with that "other" lady's idea of taking the harder lesser traveled route - and picked the "most difficult" option: West to East (otherwise known as NoBo, from Durango to Denver), and taking the Collegiate West option in the middle. From the FKT website description (you can click at the top on "read more" to really get into how hard this particular route is for all attempted): West to East starts at higher elevation with more difficult terrain first 100 miles, with Collegiate West option, and is longer (83 vs. 78 miles) than the standard Collegiate East route, with a more vertical and overall higher elevation. Yet, despite fully knowing this is the hell of a route as is, I had an aim - I was planning to come as close as I can, and potentially may be even break by an hour, Mikaela's stellar record on "easier" standard route - while being completely UNSUPPORTED. Double the difficulty - no resupplies or trail angels or anything of help. Plus, I am NOT an "ultralight" backpacker. I have a free standing tent (4 lbs), a mummy sleeping bag, pad, and a framed backpack. Old school, extra 7-10 lbs of gear. 22 lbs of food. Plus, I am almost 52. Not 29, or 35...full blown older woman. I wanted to do it for us, people of the "former" generation, one more time. My swan song.Technically speaking, as my 2018 go, anything I would have done, even 20 days, would have established a new FKT on this route. That is NOT doing the justice to either Colorado Trail, FKT idea, or myself. I believed I can do better than just hike. Like in races, I am for "pin your bib, race your ass to the best", not go for the finish line. Doesn't have to work for everyone, but this is how I treat such things. Even with all the reality knowledge, I really, truly, firmly believed that, sans disaster, I can do sub-11 days. Yep, I was going after Mikaela's time, crazy insane difficult, but oh, so calling my name. 12 days was my personal very "achievable" goal. Sub-14 is what I had made an announcement for, as the last resort. There was no way I wanted it to go that long, though. Only if the weather would have been so dangerous that I'd have had sat out for hours for a number of days waiting it out, would I have been ok with 14 days. Other than that - big f*ing NO.
And the prep began. That was the most meticulous preparation in all the data/gear selection/food choices (calories per weight). I bought the Spot tracker - since CT is one of the 10 premier routes, it was a rule. I contacted people from the FKT team to clarify few minor regulations (like, no trash disposal at the containers, no people cheering, tracking live, Garmin data, photos...). I trained for my 100 miler, and from April, added backpack training. I agonized over every item I put into it, but at the end, it looked like that: I reduced "base weight" comparing to my previous backpacking adventures, yet 22 lbs of food and 1.7 L of water tipped it at 42 lbs.
Thursday, July 1st, Larry drove me to Durango. My younger son called while on the road - what a weird eerie connection we have. I took it as a good sign (he called the night before the 100, and if you're one of those who knows a thing or few, this is as crazy random shouldn't-be as it gets in my life). I didn't sleep more than a couple of hours, anxious. At 2:40 am the alarm went on, I stuffed a burrito in me with some coffee, and we got a short drive to a trailhead. Here we go. 5 minutes for photos, pressing various buttons, a kiss. Nothing more.
When my feet are moving, I think about whatever I need to think about and the farther I go, the more I space out. As the dawn drew closer, I began breathing calmer. I am doing my thing. There was something about seeing the first desperately awaited ray of dawn color the horizon ahead of me. It awakens a thankfulness, not only for the strength of my body, but for my life itself. I live for dawns, I forgo sleep on a regular basis to meet the dawn over horizon in the mountains, and I will never give it up. Sunrise is all about life, faith, hope, light. And being alone while seeing it magnifies my connection to Creator a million times. In fact, it is nearly the only time I realize it being such a huge part of me, otherwise rarely acknowledging (or even denying) it. I crossed the creek numerous times, climbing higher, all of 19 miles, and occasionally worrying about blinking red light on my Spot. It wasn't reading the location signal in this deep canyon surrounded by dense trees. I took a couple of shots at places that can't be anywhere else as proof, and got to the dirt road crossing right on predicted time. Jeez, I am a pure visionary, or know myself so well.
More climbing, in the open now, and Kennebec TH was exactly spot on time as well. Last water spot for, oh, over next 20 miles...Taylor lake and its outflow behind me as a little hail broke over my next climb to the high point of the day. The storm for me was short lived, and as I moved forward over 2 more high rollers, the dark clouds with thunder and sheets of rain built up behind the first peak - yet luckily I was ahead. I dodged this bullet, wow! That's why I started 40 minutes earlier than originally planned, weather studying helped. 1.7 L of water had to be nursed, as I eventually started my descend into hot lower elevation during the hot part of the day (after 2 pm). I was hoping for a couple of "seepers", but seepers they were: basically trickles over dirt, not even possible to get into the bottle, yet along drink without a filter (yes, that's right, I carry no filter). What that meant for me that instead of intended 41 miles, I had to haul ass to nearly 45 - next flowing creek. There was no way around it. Thankfully, I was moving along well, eating, the terrain got somewhat lesser crazy than first 26 miles, and I took little sips, getting a little parched in the process. I passed 3 families setting car-camps, and in desperation thought: oh, if only they "accidently" dropped a water bottle. Alas, integrity. I was doing an unsupported attempt. I could not accept anything BUT natural water sources. Another sip, sigh, walk. Took a 10 min break for my feet and shoulders, keep moving.
The wild flowers were blooming like crazy. The snow just melted a couple of weeks ago, and the slopes were making me dizzy with colors and smells. Strong, intoxicating smells, and fields of columbines, so deep in blue-purple, no camera shot could show it properly. I knew I should preserve the phone battery, but I had to take at least one photo. Gosh, how I wished I could slow down and take a picture of every variety of mountain flowers, from tall and gorgeous, to tiny, clinging to alpine rock, absolutely breathtaking, my favorites, so much divergency in color and shape...
There was a lot of climbing, right off the start. More than I remember, but I did this section in the dark and backwards - and was doing it in the dark yet again. I fought the thoughts of PTSD on being a "Cat Magnet" by not allowing myself to look around at all. Headlamp down, straight at my feet. I know they are out there, yet I made myself believe I do not look like pray: headlamp, waist lamp, and a blinking light on the shoulder, pack, poles, slow moving, breathing hard...Oh, yeah, about that. I am a pretty hard breather when I climb, but subjectively, I normally feel just fine. This morning? Breathing hard was working hard. Concerning, I thought. I remembered that it started on the section climbing from Taylor lake, and I attributed it to a steep 1 mile sharp ascend. Now, it was sort of rolling (by CT standards), not extremely high (11.5-ish?). Yet I felt way out of control on that breathing thing. I chucked it up to a heavy pack and pushing hard the pace, and waited for the sunrise. As always, it never fails. The sun. The life. The hope.
Another "roller", and the real climb up the pass, 3 miles to 12,200 at Rico-Silv. That was truly harsh, as I saw some cloud building up over the top. I thought I am hurrying to get over with it - I was, of course. Yet, still, too difficult to breathe, too many short stops. I don't do stops! I crested, saw some people coming up from another side, slid over a few short patches of snow easily passable, rolled over Engineer Mountain junction, and took my first break with feet in the water. I thought my whole next section to Molas pass was going to be downhill. I couldn't have been more wrong...the memory failed me, again.