Today would be the toughest day of the journey. It would also be one of revelations with appropriate introspective reflection. It began with a search of an important item, my spork, a small metal eating utensil that had been playing hide and seek with me at various instances over the past week. Over time I’ve found “homes” for the different items in my pack. I can quickly locate this or that. But the damn spork is metal, doesn’t fold and is pokey, so it has never found a nook to hang out in. I finally gave up and decided to just pack up and of course that is when I found it lying by the tree.
I was off and back across Browns Creek, down the trail proper, heading east toward the interstate called the Colorado Trail before 7:00. Immediately, my steps seemed arrhythmic and my brain seemed foggy. I had been looking forward to a good day on trail, perhaps in an hour or so things would settle into the cadence I was accustomed to.
Halfway down the valley I began to come across loose patties of cow shit. Now I was constantly hop scotching and sidestepping greasiness of which I didn’t desire to have embedded in the soles of my shoes. Not long after, a day hiker came westbound. His effort and the early warmth of the day were evident as beads of perspiration dotted his face. “Have you seen the cows?” he nearly bellows. “Do you have any issues with that?” Issues? What kind of issues? That their poo is all over the trail? That they are using the stream from where I must draw water as their personal bathroom? That the federal government issues grazing permits on public land? That they might suddenly get the notion that they are in Pamplona? I think again, and then decide that I don’t really have any issues with them.
Perspiration Man tells me that he had to do a bit of a dance with one of them to get beyond her and on up the trail. “How many of them are there?” I ask.
“They’re everywhere!” he quickly retorts, not answering my question. I inwardly grin and he says they are a quarter or half mile ahead.
The evidence of them grows and it makes me wonder why these beasts defecate in the form that they do. For days I have seen evidence of elk and deer and for the most part they form neat, organized piles of pellets with an occasional looser movement. But these cows, these utter bovine, (pun intended), create, well, I’m sure you’ve all seen it or images of it. It spreads, it pools, it covers the whole damn trail at times! Deer, elk and cows are all Ruminants and have four chambered stomachs. They all chew their cud. Why does it process so differently, and with this I realize that with so much time to walk and think, the simplest of subjects can kill thirty minutes of one’s day.
In time I come across the black and white cuties. I don’t say hi or give my awesome cow impersonation (imcowination?) but just walk by. I count about eight cows. Hmmm…I make no judgment yet about “everywhere”. But by the time I make a right hand turn southward on the Colorado Trail I’ve passed another small group and now more cows are lounging about immediately off the trail. Further along there is an outright herd and a group of youngsters are in the trail. As I approach, I lift my trekking poles in front of me to form an X and give them a clack or two. This does result in a Pamplonan effect and the calves kick their hinds legs in the air and take off. For an instant I fear I’ve created quite the hullabaloo, but the older cows just chew their cuds and act as if they’ve grown weary of bipeds with tumors on their backs and funny headgear interrupting their day-long smorgasbord of sweet, tender grass with a view.
I pass a young man with a backpack and have a quick exchange with him telling me he is doing a short few days to see if he likes it on the CT. I try to muster a grin, knowing I’m largely unsuccessful, but don’t stop for a longer chat. Not 100 yards further along the trail I mentally kick myself for not taking the opportunity to listen to his story and offer encouragement to a guy that reminds me so much of myself when I was in my late teens and early twenties.
My fatigue and general lackadaisical feeling from earlier in the day has not waned. I haven’t communicated with Pam since Tuesday when I was at Mt. Princeton Hot Springs. At high points on the trail I’m now in the habit of turning on my phone and checking for a signal. At 9:23 I send her a text. “Morning, can you bring clean clothes, flip flops on Sunday? Love you!” I intentionally add the exclamation point at the end so that she will think I am fine. By omitting it, and the truncation of my message I don’t want her to really know how badly I’m feeling today.
This section of the trail is just not that interesting. As I come to a cattle guard with a herd in the meadow before the guard, I turn toward the cattle, cup my hands over my mouth, and let go with a guttural MOOOOOOOO! It’s my way of saying “F you!” to all of them. Not that they’ve done anything wrong but something needs to hear my displeasure about the day. Just after the cattle guard I cross a trail head and then a group of three or four people. A woman comments on the beauty of the day and it appropriately reminds me that all of this is indeed phenomenal and gives me an attitude adjustment, much like that from my 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Fauber. It does not, however, lift my spirits.
I find now that there is a categorical difference between a day hiker and a backpacker. And I’m sure that thru hikers can attest to the difference that exists from what they are doing across months versus what I am doing over ten days. But for today, the only thing worth mentally noting is that day hikers smell good. Deodorant, soap, body spray, perfume; an olfactory sense of freshness permeates from a day hiker. I like it. It is a small treat that is short lived, much like the candy or toy plastic cars dentists used to hand out to their tiny patients for enduring a cleaning every six months.
As I plod along up a hill it seems I’m coming to a road, but it is only a ridge. I hang my pack and try to call Pam, but there is no answer. A text comes in, “Just letting you know I love you and am thinking of you. Hope all is going well.” Because my phone only shows when the text arrives I have no idea of when it was sent in the last almost 48 hours. I sit on a log and for a few minutes put my head between my knees. A nap eludes me but it signifies that I’m symbolically surrendering to the day.
A bit later the skies darken just before I descend down to the Angel of Shavano campground. I had begun to go down and a young woman was scurrying up the trail, so much that she stumbles on a rock as she tows her dog behind her. She has “the look” that is commonplace with someone looking to escape lightning. “Good luck getting down the trail”, she says, without missing a beat. I stop, look around me and retreat back up the hill to watch the show. Lightning bounces in the sky, I count the gap between it and the thunder. I put a call out to Pam, no answer, and this time leave a message. After ten or fifteen minutes I decide I can get down and make it safely to the bottom and up again into the trees.
My destination for the day is Cree Creek. It will be what now seems like an ordinary 17.5 mile day. In my planning I didn’t feel good about Cree Creek. Perhaps because it was just a mile or so north of Highway 50. Just before I get to the creek I cross a forest service road and numerous parties are set up with campers, trailers and tents. I had forgotten it was almost the 4th of July weekend. Seeing the families and friends gathered leaves me a little empty. Beyond them the trail is brushy and everything is soaked. I have just missed a significant storm and as I cross Cree Creek it is running fast and is brown like chocolate milk. The runoff from the storm has made my water source very dirty and that is a concern as it might clog my water filter. Just beyond the creek I see the area to camp. It is less than appealing and it confirms the feeling I had previously about this spot. I mentally dub it the camp from hell and go about setting up my tent. I crawl in and take a nap just in time as it storms heavily. But for now I am dry and I can just sleep and this is the best feeling of the day.
After a while it seems to stop. Drops fall from the tree above me but as I peek out I can see it is an appropriate time to run and wash off. I make dinner, clean up and it begins to sprinkle again. I head for the tent at 6:00. I thank God that I had enough time to wash and eat out of the rain. I know tomorrow will be better and remind myself how amazing it is that the body can recover and rejuvenate overnight. Experience is a good teacher. I read until 7:30 and then turn out the proverbial light for the night. I am glad this one is behind me.