CT Day 7: This is Not a Drill

July 5
Segment 7 miles: 4
Backtracking for emergency phone service: 1
Evacuating to Frisco: 4
Segment 8 hiked: 5
Skipped because bus driver: 1.6
Total hiked today: 14
Trail Mile: 124

Segment 7 Miles 1-4; Segment 8 Miles 1.6 to 6.6

I wake in the early morning, and lying in my triple bunk with the window fan running and my mouth so dry, I can’t help but imagine we are all slotted like stacked trays in a giant food dehydrator making hiker jerky. I peel myself out of my bed-tray and jump in the shower which is stocked with quality shampoo and such. Not the cheapest hostel, but truly one of the best. I grab a place of watermelon and sausages (no judging) and sequester myself away from the animated hiker conversation to knock out some blog posts.

Town has a tendency to breed anxiety. I have options that are not just keep walking. There’s a hiker here with the tightest set of gear and I have major pack envy. And ongoing worries about the abusive relationship between my shoe and left tendon. I want to go but am becoming shy and uncertain, wanting company for the bus ride to the trail as much as I want to be alone. At the post office I mail home my microspikes. I’ve had conversations with many hikers about this and have decided my skill and risk tolerance leans more toward the CDT hikers, who either didn’t carry or didn’t use them on the coming segments. So off they go, hopefully no regrets. CDT friends from last night are on the bus and someone makes a comment about the smoke in the valley from the fire north of town, how can there be a fire when there’s still so much lingering snow? “Yeah, the snow is on fire,” I add.

It’s mid- morning as Steph and I start walking and sweltering hot too. Sweat streams down everywhere, so much for doing laundry. I trudge uphill, chanting to myself “My pack is full of helium balloons it has no earthly mass.” I push hard, trying to walk off my town anxieties and find a little space for myself on trail today.

The smoke in the air seems thicker now, a stinging haze that burns eyes and washes out the view. Then a few miles in I see a pillar of grey smoke rising from the woods. It doesn’t seem particularly large, just bonfire sized, so I continue, while keeping an eye on that general direction. Then I reach a junction and pause. The fire seems close now, less than a half-trail mile off, and wider than before. One of the many passing bikers confirms it is indeed a wildfire but doesn’t know more. I pour over my topo map. Double checking. And again, it appears that the fire is directly in my path just up the trail. Then the semi-steady stream of bikers suddenly seems to stop and Steph, who I thought was close behind has yet to catch up. So I sit at the junction working out what do, as smoke continues to billow up. I try calling the sheriffs number in my data book, but the connection is too choppy. 

I mull over the conditions: beetle kill trees down every where, tinder dry conditions and it’s the hottest day of the year so far. Plus the trail goes above the fire (fires move fastest uphill) and the wind, which always seems to pick up in the afternoon could change things rapidly.

I semi-reluctantly side with caution, heading back out toward Steph and proper phone service, walking up a large hill I just came down until I find both. Steph calls 911 to report the fire and we are told trails are closed and to hike back out. Just then a couple of hikers show up and suggest hiking out toward Frisco, the general direction of the trail, downhill and away from the fire. We leave a note so those behind us know to get out too. Steph and I take off, at a good, steady clip (the other couple stops for lunch?!?). I still am feeling alarmist as if I am over reacting and it’s no big deal. But then the planes start circling again and again. And there’s a police officer closing the trail closer to town. “Don’t worry, the helicopter should be here any minute now.” Says the cop. Not words I was expecting to hear today. Or ever, really. Then we watch as a team of hot shot smoke jumpers parachute into the heavily treed area close to the fire. Aparently they just hope to grab branches and climb down? In any case, fear I was overreacting gives way to relief we did the right thing.

At Whole Foods a crowd has congregated outside, eyes to a now thick, dark cloud of smoke billowing upwards behind the ridge we just walked down and out. The fire has expanded, says the news to 70 acres in a few short hours. Our little note could very well have gone up in flames by now.There’s no way segment 7 is going to be passable anytime soon, so we opt, miraculously in the only place on trail this is possible, to take the free bus over to the next segment, fire stories in tow and move on. And as if the day hasn’t had enough detours and complications, the bus driver delivers us to the wrong stop. We end up starting a mile and a half in to Segment 8 instead of at the start, after wandering lost around the ski resort. Five miles up there trail, there’s a guy whose made a freaking campfire. We go over to “chat” and, as politely as we can, make sure he knows Breckenridge is on evacuation alert and that the rangers have been asking people where they camped and if they made fires. Is there ataully a ban he asks? Does it even matter, I think to myself. We are breathing smoke from a wildfire (and yes, there was a totally county fire ban). It is just Too Soon!

We press on toward a more enticing meadow spot, as thunder grumbles. What else does this day want us to go through? Calling 911 and self-evacuating isn’t enough???!

We end up camped on the pretty meandow and I feel kind of terrible squishing a few plants, but the more durable sites are taken and there are fire pits here and the grey remains of an old log cabin. Though there’s absolutely no way I’m lighting anything other than my stove tonight. The thunder clouds have thinned to whisps (smoke?) pink with sunset. And the almost full moon rises above the red hillside as the alpenglow glow fades into night.

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