Friday, September 23, 2016

Colorado Trail Redux ~ Part II

In today's post, I answer some of the most common questions I get about our trip.
How far did you hike?
The official length of the Colorado Trail is 486.4 miles. But there is a keyhole in the middle, where you can choose one of two routes. We took the Collegiate West route, which is 5.1 miles longer than the East, making our official trail distance 489.5 miles. This does not include any extra off-trail or in-town miles.

Where does the CT begin and end?
The CT starts in Denver and ends in Durango (or vice-versa) and follows a roughly S-shaped route (you can see a map of it here).

How long did it take you to hike it?It took us 42 days, or exactly six weeks, to hike the trail.

How many miles did you average per day?
Averaged over the 42 days, we hiked 11.7 miles per day. If you don't count the two days on which we hiked no on-trail miles (one "zero" day, which was a complete rest day and one day on which we attempted to hike Mt. Elbert), we averaged 12.2 miles per day. We also had several "nearo" (i.e. near-zero) days, on which we hiked a anywhere from 2 1/2 to 9 miles on trail before or after going into town.

What is the greatest distance you hiked in a day?
Our biggest mileage day was 18.8 miles. It was supposed to be a 19-mile day, but I developed shin splints halfway through and was perfectly happy to skip those last two-tenths of a mile. We toyed with hiking a 20, but it never worked out.

What did you eat?
Ugh. Probably the worst part of the trip was the food. We decided to go stove-less to save weight (and no, cooking over a fire was not an option, because it's dirty, takes a lot of time, we didn't travel with a saw or axe, and there were fire restrictions—meaning no building fires outside of official Forest Service fire rings—throughout most if not all of our hiking area), and so we had cold reconstituted oatmeal for breakfast and cold reconstituted beans and rice, couscous, and ramen noodles for dinner. Everyone liked lunch—cheese, crackers, nut butter, instant hummus, and candy—the best. We also had various bars and trail mix for snacks. I chose the most nutritionally dense items I could find—putting freeze-dried fruit, chia seeds, protein powder, and milk powder in the oatmeal and freeze dried veggies in dinner, and avoiding sugar and other empty calories. My kids (and husband) dreamed of and talked about food—greasy, salty, sugary, junky food—nonstop, and bought and ate as much of the same as they could every time we went to town. I longed for salad and grilled cheese sandwiches.

How did you get this food?
We were very lucky to have our own personal Trail Angels, in the form of my parents, who met us at two campgrounds, in tricky resupply areas, and brought us not only our box of dried food, but also coolers full of cold drinks, fried chicken, homemade cookies, and other delights. They also met us at the end of the trail, with our car. Two of my aunts happened to be vacationing in another tricky resupply area and brought us our food box, took us out to lunch, and let us use their shower. The other three times, we hitchhiked into the nearest town and picked up our resupply box at the post office (and, no, people aren't any better at picking up hitchhikers when three of them are adorable, helpless children).

Did you all share one tent?
Yes we did. You can read more about our tent here. It was very, very cozy. The zippers started to fail about halfway through, C and Z accidentally put the center pole right though the nylon one day (I did a beautiful fix with nylon tape, if I don't say so myself). Otherwise, I think it held up well and did a really good job keeping out the weather (and we did not get struck by lightning that time we camped on top of a mesa and the lighting was coming down all around us).

How was the weather?
The day we started hiking it was 98 degrees F. By the last week, we woke up with 1/4 inch of ice in our water bottles every morning. We had several days of pretty steady rain in about the middle of the trip, and I was immensely grateful that it came at a time when most of our hiking was below tree line (the week before we had at least one major pass to climb every day and spent much of the time in the alpine zone; not only would rain have made this section more difficult and dangerous, it would have obscured the amazing vistas). In short, the weather was Colorado.

What was the best part of the trip?
The views. The wildflowers. Walking through the landscape and noticing the communities of trees and plants shift with changes in altitude, direction of slope, proximity to water. Seeing my kids take on responsibility and challenges and be independent. Watching my kids be silly and childish. Observing them getting along, telling stories, making jokes, inventing games, listing their dream foods. Snuggling together in the tent at night, reading Treasure Island, Tom Sawyer, and Huckleberry Finn. Noticing the way time slows down when we have nothing to do but place one foot in front of the other and nowhere to go but the next campsite.
What was the worst part of the trip?The hiking. No, not really the hiking, since that's what it was all about, but I'm not gonna lie to you, the hiking was really, really hard. I am a slow hiker to begin with, and I was sore, tired, and out of breath much of the time. Developing near-crippling shin splints halfway through. Being blamed for anything that didn't live up to anyone's expectations (but getting no credit for the fabulous stuff), since I was the instigator and planner of the whole trip. Not having enough time to simply sit and take in and enjoy the places we say. Not enough time to read or draw or write or cloud-collect, or daydream. Too many people. The mountains were crawling with them—backpackers, day hikers, trail runners, mountain bikers, hunters. Any sense of solitude that once existed in these so-called wildernesses is no more. Would you do it again?Yes. No. I don't know. Some days I thought "I am never backpacking again." Other days, I daydreamed about my next trail—finish the rest of the Colorado section of the Continental Divide Trail (the CT and CDT overlap for ~300 miles) with the whole family, hike the Arizona Trail all by myself. I don't think I'll go back and hike the CT again when I'm 62, but you never know...


  1. Great reading this, Andrea. I had so many of these questions as I followed along.

  2. This sounds totally amazing and hard and beautiful, Andrea! I'm so glad you all did this together. And I'm so glad you've written about it so I can enjoy it, too (while I drink a hot coffee and eat a sandwich)!

  3. Nothing else but the one foot in front of the other. I love that. Did your kids bring their phones? I have made a deal with my girls this summer to not use their phones at all. I cant wait.

    1. Hi Robin. I just discovered you message in my "awaiting moderation" folder. So sorry for the delay. None of the kids had phones at this time. Two brought iPods to take photos (one listened to music and occasionally played games, ahem, but the battery didn't last long). They used them in town to social-media-ize.


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