The trail has a good way of working things out. Leaving Salida I was headed into the driest section of the trail stretching about 50 miles or so. There were water sources but most were considered “seasonal” or “unreliable”. The driest section of the trail somehow became the wettest as well. For four days it stormed every night filling up each water source. I started each morning with a soaking wet tent on top of my pack and soggy socks. I slogged through mud puddles and forded streams that could usually be crossed on rocks. I was forced to quit hiking around 3pm due to “afternoon storms” rolling in for the night. It was frustrating to be handicapped by something I couldn’t control, but at the same time maybe it was for the best.
I heard a lot of talk about the “cow country” coming up. Most people seemed to be dreading it, but I honestly didn’t think much of it. To be honest the smell of cow poop is kind of comforting to me and the vast open farmland reminds me of home. For most of segments 18, 19, and 20 I followed farm, county, Jeep, or forest service roads. I really enjoyed this. Sure there weren’t beautiful wildflowers or high ridge overlooks. Something about the wide open Colorado farmland was so beautiful to me. It also made for nice easy walking!
The Collegiate East Route and the Collegiate West Route meet up just past the halfway point of the trail after splitting off shortly after Twin Lakes. I chose to do the east route. I heard how the west route was prettier, although more challenging. The Continental Divide Trail goes along the west route, so I wanted to save it for that trail some day. Unfortunately, the east route is somewhat disappointing. There are still some tough climbs, but when you reach the top there’s only trees. I also felt sick and weak most of the stretch between Twin Lakes and Salida. When I finally reached the point where the two routes connect there was a dramatic lead up to a wide open valley. I was going uphill for 15 miles from Monarch Pass (the highway crossing to get to Salida) up to the meeting point.
A few miles later I heard a couple of other hikers (who had taken the west route) complaint about the lack of views and dissatisfaction with what was in front of them. I however was stunned by the beauty compared to the 80 miles I had just walked through pines and aspens. It’s funny how people have different perspectives on certain things in life.
I feel like I have always been a positive person (for the most part), but being on trail really forces you one way or the other. When coming up to a climb it’s easy to look at where you have to go and struggle with yourself the whole way up. Once you’re at the top you look back at where you came from. I think that the same can be said for life. Sometimes you look ahead at how far you have to go. It seems impossible. At some point you will reach that peak and the perspective you had before will be completely shifted.