June 5, 6, 7, 8
Durango is bigger than I thought it would be- we get dropped off midday by an exuberant beautiful older hippie lady with silver hair and silver jewelry who talked to us on the drive about wolves and the necessity, when raising children, to instill in them a balance between wonder and doom. As soon as we arrive in cute hip main-street Durango it begins to rain- water slicking the streets grey and pouring down on all the shops, the people drinking coffee, the climbers with their dogs. Spark, Track Meat and I find a small openfront restuarant selling grass-fed burgers (Apache and MeHap are still hitching, we broke into teams and our team won!) and drink rootbeer, watching the rain fall. We formulate a sort of plan- visit all the gear shops, buy drugs. There is a gear store on every corner and I find a new warm hat, a pair of simple fleece gloves, some caffeinated clif shot blocks and a headlamp that actually creates light- for the last two years I’ve been carrying the petzl one that goes around your head via a string and does nothing. This is the CDT, I guess I should have a real light.
I’ve never been in a pot store before. Full disclosure here, I rarely smoke weed. Or drink. I’m actually painfully sober almost all of the time. For this reason it’s extra exciting to smoke when I do, and it always feels like I’m doing something much wilder and more hardcore than I actually am. Smokin drugs woo!!!
The pot store is like a classy wine shop, complete with fancy clerks who look down their noses at us in our dirty clothes with our packs on our backs strapped all over with snowshoes and ice axes, like we’ve just come down out of the mountains. There shop is a brick loft with big windows that look down on the street and long tables flooded with light. On each table are rows of glass jars with magnifying tops. Each jar has a rubber cork which can be removed in order to sniff the nugs inside. Golden goat, purple diesel, green crack. I read the labels while the clerk looks down his nose at me, hands clasped tastefully behind his back. In the end we each buy a little chunk of drugs and are ejected back out into the street in the rain, where we plod through the puddles to the next gear store.
Our friend from the PCT 2013, NoDay, has a family cabin outside of town that’s empty and we get to stay there while we’re here. This makes me miss NoDay. I wish she were here. Instigate too. It’s not the same without other hiker ladies to talk shit and commiserate with. That being said, I couldn’t ask for better dude friends. Total eccentric weirdos, so achingly, painfully funny and not a teaspoon of ego among them. We’ve become quite the group, sort of clannish and codependant. Recreating western culture among the five of us, building something that better suits our tastes. Another reason it’s great to hike with these dudes is that they try really hard not to say misogynist shit, and I’ve even seen them call out other dudes who do. No reducing other women on the trail to their percieved attractiveness/lack of attractiveness, no games of fuck/kill/marry. The only “bro talk” is of the funny/self-deprecating kind and no-one makes assumptions about what I can/cannot do or know based on my gender. Basically my friends are smart kind people who’ve done their homework. This is priceless and rare and magical and I appreciate it more than I can possibly express.
A new friend named Shannon, who lives in Durango and is about to leave for an epic rafting trip (everyone here, it seems, is very outdoorsy and about to leave to go rafting/hiking/mountain climbing) kindly shuttles us to the cabin outside of town, as we are worthless carless layabouts. The clouds begin to curdle just as we’re getting settled, exploding our packs and claiming couch/floor space. Our plan is to wait out this three day storm, hitch back to Chama, pick up the last of our gear from the post office and head into the San Juans. But as I scroll through the facebook CDT page before bed, the vision of the trail ahead through Colorado, in this record high snow year, becomes more and more foreboding. Avalanches galore, impossible ridges, hikers bailing- even the most experienced ones. To walk the lower routes, to flip up to Canada and southbound. Even the double triple crowners (a triple crowner is someone who’s hiked the AT, PCT and CDT) and the people with extensive winter backcountry experience. Everyone ahead of us is bailing. Everyone. No-one should be up there, the internet seems to be saying. No-one should be in the San Juans right now.
So what is our plan again, exactly?
The only things I remember about this day are waking up to thunder and hail (and feeling grateful to be indoors and not up on the snowy, exposed ridges with the wet slides), smoking weed out of a twizzler, eating barbecue pork ribs, and seeing the new Mad Max movie, which I wasn’t expecting to like but which I LOVED as its female characters were some of the most fully developed and realistic of any I’ve seen. Things I learned from this movie-
-Older women are beautiful
-Women can be strong without being or ever even becoming sex objects
– A strong woman and a strong man can build a relationship based on mutual respect and fight together platonically towards a common purpose: defeating the skinhead army in order to release resources to the poor and install a matriachy of funny intelligent beautiful desert-wizened older women who have incredible marksmanship
-Even pregnant models dressed in tattered strips of white cloth can be fearless and brave
-Sometimes you’re crouched next to your war machine in the desert aiming your giant gun (which has just one shot left) at the lead vehicle in the approaching war party while the pregnant models attempt to un-stick the war machine’s tires from the mud and the beautiful older woman who drives the war machine comes over and you hand the gun with its one single bullet over to her because, let’s face it, she’s actually the better shot
-Badass older women are even more beautiful and badass once they’ve lost an eye
Other hikers arrive in Durango, we pick their brains for information about current conditions and finally admit to ourselves and each other that even though we bought all this fucking snow gear and have been getting ready for this expedition for a week things are not looking good in the San Juans, even more people are bailing and every experienced person everywhere is saying- swollen dangerous streams, avalanches, impossible ridges, exposure, storms, don’t do it, I wouldn’t do it. If we take the low route we miss the San Juans proper, which are said to be a highlight of the trail, so what is there to do? Flip. Rent a car, drive up to Glacier Park in Montana and start a southbound hike. It’s what dozens of other hikers are doing as well.
None of us have ever hiked southbound. It seems unnatural. Desert to northern mountains, sun at my back- that’s what I’m used to. This breaks our hearts, in a way. On the other hand, I’m excited about the novelty of southbounding. And to be in Montana. And to see the San Juans in fall! And to just hike, no obstacles. Can you even imagine it!
In the evening we fit nine hikers in one sedan in order to get home from the country bar (where we were all thrown from the mechanical bull), Mehap tosses a watermelon into the air so that Spark can smash it with his ice axe (Spark bought the watermelon just for this fun activity), we play a rousing game of The Village (the werewolf wins), and then we sage the cabin while listening to John Denver and walking from room to room in the dark, jumping on all the beds.
I’m so over being in town. I need to be back on the trail. Fuck fuck fuck. All day my anxiety creeps up like a water balloon about to burst. I gotta get outta here! Also I haven’t been sleeping well- I don’t sleep well in beds, and I wake up every morning at 5:45 right now, no matter how late I stay up. Everything today is too much. I feel haggard and sort or raw. Too much noise, too much talking, too much interaction. The logistics of switching our hike from NOBO to SOBO are complicated, but I think we’re figuring it out. In the afternoon we rent a car- we have a car now! An actual car! To drive to Montana! By the time we get back from all our errands I just want to crawl into a dark hole and hide. At 9 p.m. I put myself to bed. Tomorrow- we drive!
Photos on instagram