Words by Katie Houston
It was just before dawn when I said goodbye to my partner Legs, my two pups, and the camper we had been living in for the last 3 months and took my first steps on the Colorado Trail. My pack was about 15 lbs lighter than it was when I started the AT in February of 2019; this was mostly due to the fact that I started with gear I received as Christmas presents when I was 10 years old that was heavy enough to make any ultralight hiker gasp.
I started my AT thru-hike as a solo female hiker and stayed that way until I met Legs in New York (and when you meet a man who will split the weekly motel bill with you AND carry the tent how can you refuse?)
On theme with my previous thru-hike, I found myself consistently, but politely, denying the offers I got to camp with other hikers. There was something empowering about being by myself and tackling the daily challenges of a thru-hike on my own terms.
It took about two days for me to fully realize just how much I had goofed by filling my pack with exclusively what was inside when I finished the AT and nothing more. But this wasn’t the AT: this was Colorado. There was much less coverage on the CT and the first few dozen miles left me without shade and with limited water sources. I was missing sunscreen, a way to carry an extra liter of water, and a hiking shirt that covered my shoulders. Needless to say, when Legs saw me next I was a bright (and unhappy) shade of red. A few days later I developed a gnarly case of heat rash all over my legs and elected to hike in my thermals just to keep my sun-exhausted skin covered.
Besides one slack-packing experience I had going over the Wildcat Range in NH, I never really had to worry about exposure on the AT. Most people ditched sunscreen within their first few weeks and storms were never terribly intense. I had heard about a tree taking out the corner of a shelter in VA and once had a tramily (trail family) member enthusiastically play harmonica to distract me from one particularly booming storm, but otherwise I never felt uncomfortable hiking in storms due to the generally good coverage on most of the trail.
Something that I learned about myself in Colorado is that I was definitely scared of thunderstorms. Not unreasonably so; the dangers of CO storms combined with the exposure of being above 11,000 feet was very real. But there were a few times I was woken up by storms and after meticulously counting the time between the cracks of thunder and the flashes of lightning that lit up my tent, I elected to crouch on top of my folded-over sleeping pad for up to half an hour as it passed overhead.
As much as I learned and grew as a hiker on the CT, making it to Durango all the way from Denver really didn’t feel like the finish I was expecting. I felt like I had just gotten my trail legs in the last week… now it’s over? The 3 ½ weeks I spent on trail felt more like a sprint than an endurance challenge. The sheer length of the AT and the 5 months that it took me to complete it was undoubtedly taking some of the glory away from my CT finish.
But that didn’t satisfy me. My AT thru-hike goals were focused around enjoying the experience and making it to the end with a smile on my face. But somewhere along the CT, I decided that pushing myself and hiking longer days was what was fulfilling for me. So, I ventured off again on the CT, this time 75 miles north of Durango. I headed SOBO down the trail with a goal of completing the trek back to the finish line in 2 days… and I did it.
The girl that had completed her thru-hike of the AT was not the same person that hiked 75 miles in 2 days. I hadn’t completed a single marathon day in my time on the AT and my policy was never to hike past 6 pm while on trail. I now have goals that include averaging 30 miles per day and attempting FKT records; this was something that I never would have had confidence in myself to accomplish had I not had such a fulfilling experience at the end of my CT thru-hike.
And I can’t wait to see what I learn from my next adventure and where the trails take me next.
Read more from Katie here:
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Hiking in winter offered me the feeling of being truly alone without feeling lonely: a feeling a lot of people can identify with right now.
Seasonal depression is real and practicing self-care is important now more than ever. Going on a hike in the winter is a great way to get endorphins flowing and get out of the house. Not to mention there’s no bugs, no crowds, and more views on trail; don’t let the winter scare you away, rather, embrace it and have a good story to tell.
Covering those four miles an hour seemed like a distant dream. I moved at a pace dictated by the desert. The quicker you moved, the more you slipped about. It could be agonizing. This was a discomfort unique to the desert, one that I knew well from previous sandy sojourns in the Mojave and White Sands. My twisted mind invited the discomfort in. Let’s tango, desert.
My pack was stocked to survive three days in the backcountry. Though there were a good amount of clouds in the sky, the sun somehow found a way to shine through. And my skin found a way to chafe in the only place the sun don’t shine. My feet felt the burning heat from the sand through my lightweight trail runners. My calves punished me for subjecting them to such a rigorous sandy workout.