March 21 (7:10 – 9:15 / 12:30 – 16:50)
County Parkside – Cripple Creek / Cripple Creek to Dawson County Park (18 mi)
Total C2C miles: 20.5
Weather: Frost in morning, warming during day, sunny, cold at night – no wind
I wake early and pack my tent. I just want to hit the trail. Surprisingly, I’m not sore. I’m not tired.
I slept so well last night–not a single worry, just a straight-through sleep. And, maybe it’s the bright morning sun, but I’m not worried when I pack camp, either.
I’m not sore. I can’t believe it. I hiked over 12 miles yesterday, and I’m not sore. I thought for sure I’d need to take it easy today, make it to Cripple Creek to buy the supplies it looks like I’ll need, since I’m too early in the season to count on the trail-angel barbecues, and then maybe not make it much farther.
But the way I feel, I’m thinking I can make a good day.
My plan is to get to Cripple Creek for breakfast, stock up, and be back on the trail by noon. I think I can put in a full afternoon.
It’s so beautiful.
It frosted last night, and the branches of the willows have been dipped in white. They’re lace.
I was so snug in my tent, I didn’t even notice.
But during the morning, it’s still cold. I can see my breath. The tip of my nose hurts, and the trail crunches under my feet.
But before I even put the first mile behind me, I’m warm inside. The contrast between the coldness in the tip of my nose and my earlobes and the warmth inside, in my lungs and the space around my heart, is delicious.
I feel like I could walk like this forever. Even my pack feels a bit less awkward, like I’m getting used to the length of stride I need to take with it, like I know how much to pitch my body forward to carry it.
I think how funny it is that when we experience something pleasant how we want it to last forever. Like I really want this morning, this trail, to last forever.
But no sooner do I think that, than I start thinking about breakfast, like, where will I have it? What will I order?
I want coffee. I want pancakes. Or maybe waffles.
And I start to feel in a hurry to get to Cripple Creek.
The trail sort of disappears, and all I’m thinking about is destination. Destination, and a pot of coffee. And syrup, to pour on the waffles.
Then I notice that all the time I’ve been thinking this, the landscape has changed. The trail must have gained elevation, for I’ve left the willows behind, and now I’m entering into pine meadows, dotted with maples.
I can’t figure out why the maples have autumn colored- leaves. Then I realize it’s new growth and catkins. I hope the frost didn’t snip the buds.
The trail continues along the river until it veers northwest along a tributary, Cripple Creek, and soon, I’m in the town named after the creek.
I feel almost shocked to see people. I hear them before I see them, and I realize that, even though it’s been only a day since I’ve spoken to anyone, I’ve sort of forgotten how to process spoken language. The voices sound like water, like wind, like birdsong, and it takes a shift in perspective for me to realize that they are speaking words that carry meaning, and that I might be expected to reply.
They seem excited to see me–the first thruhiker of the season! I guess it’s a big deal down here that the trail runs through the town. Everyone who hikes the trail brings in revenue, so hikers are welcome. And thruhikers are celebrities.
They want to take selfies with me–the first hiker of the season.
I meet a young scout. He asks me my trailname.
“I don’t have one yet,” I tell him. You can’t give yourself a trailname. It has to be given to you by other hikers, and I haven’t hiked enough to have earned one.
“Can I give you one?” he asks me.
I guess it’s OK. I mean, this kid isn’t another thruhiker, but he’s a scout. He tells me his scout project this year is hiking all of the trail that goes through Cripple Creek. It’s about five miles–but for a little kid, that’s a lot.
“Sure,” I tell him. “Give me my trailname.”
“Firsty,” he says, “since you’re the first.”
In town, I stop by Whole Foods. I get breakfast at the breakfast bar: tofu scramble, steel-cut oats with honey, berries, and walnuts, seven-grain toast, and coffee with refills. I eat while my phone recharges. Then I wander through the store, picking up things, and putting them back on the shelf. I can’t decide what to buy.
At last I settle on dry mixes of hummus, bean dip, falafel. Wraps. Nori packs. And I can’t resist strawberries. Everything is light and will fit in my pack. I also buy a lunch for the trail, with enough for supper: dolmas, couscous salad, more falafels.
As I’m checking out, I get this sudden inspiration to pick up a deck of cards and a pocket-size sketch pad, so I’ll have something to do at camp before bed. I love solitaire, and I get this pleasant vision of me sitting on my sleeping bag, with a spread of cards before me. Shuffle, shuffle, flip. But they don’t have any at the store, so I walk through town to find a place that might have these. Finally, I see a toy store, and they have tiny decks of cards, with pictures of mice on the back. The face cards are little mice, too. They’re adorable, especially the Jack of Clubs, my favorite card. They have a tiny sketchpad and this really cool black pen and a 3B pencil.
I feel pretty happy as I head back to the trail.
I’m still full from my huge breakfast, so I hike for a few hours before I stop for lunch. The trail follows the river west, and I get the feeling of how everything flows to the sea, though it will be a good week of walking before I finally get there.
It’s so peaceful, and I’m glad that I’m Firsty the first, for there’s no one else on the trail, and I hear the water and the birds. I track the shifts in light, and that’s how I measure my day.
I get in the zone and forget to take pictures. I just walk. The trail feels good, my legs feel good, I’m even starting to feel comfortable with my pack.
As I reach Dawson County Park, where I’ve planned to camp tonight, I smell something amazing. Pretzels, coffee, and vanilla cupcakes!
There’s a vendor booth set up there, and Eric, this nice guy who gives hiker-discounts, is working it.
I have leftovers for supper, so I think about skipping buying anything. But at last, I settle for a cupcake, for desert.
I ask him if he’ll be there in the morning, and he will. So I have breakfast covered for tomorrow. Cushy trail life! What’s even better is that there’s a restroom–with actual plumbing, hot water, and a shower.
After I finish my cupcake, I head to a quiet section of the park. Sunset pours this lavender color over the sky, and I feel blessed. I am free. Everywhere I turn, I am cared for. I thought life on the trail would be hardship, and I’m sure I will have plenty of tough times, but for right now, I am walking down Easy Street, and loving it.