CT Day 11: Smiles, Not Miles

July 9
Miles: 12.1
Trail: 189

Collegiate West 5.6
Segment 11 Mile 7.2-13.7; to Collegiate West 1 Mile 5.6

At check out time I leave our cozy home and take up my post out front of the the general store. I’ve spent a lazy morning blogging in bed and plan to make today a true nero – hiking “near zero” miles. Steph has hiked in and piles of other hikers are here too: Quentin and Balaji from back on night 2; Whiskers and Flower from night 3. And, I’m super excited because there’s word that Bad Camper is hiking with Motown and other PCT 2015 friends and that they should arrive today. I’ve spent the last few days staring hopefully at tall northbound hikers, but alas, No Bad Camper.

We eat food from the hiker box, roasting in the sun waiting for phones to charge. I chase the shade, settling for a tiny square beside the gas pump, that I only later realize has been hilariously named:

I carefully construct a lunch of double hiker box tuna in a hiker box tortilla with hiker box ketchup. I take a bite and instantly regret not checking out the restaurant or barbecue truck.

Is unbelievably hot for 9,200, but when friends fail to walk out of the actual woods, Steph and I head out into the heat, getting a ride to the road crossing in the back of a pickup truck. We’re following the official CT here, a stretch that many shortcut because the trail makes a massive elongated side loop, circumnavigating the lakes. We are on the sunny, dry side, all shadeless and sage, and it feels like the desert. A few miles in, I’m feeling woozy from the heat, and spy a stand up paddle boarder gliding peacefully out on the lake. Am I hallucinating? But then there’s a side trail to a sandy bit of beach between the reeds and a family is there playing in the water. I drop my pack, offer “smiles not miles as explanation,” and dive into instant relief from overheating. We sit on the beach, chatting with the family, and, amazingly are offered use of the paddle board if we want to try (!). Of course I say yes and manage a little spin without falling in, massive peaks as backdrop.

Refreshed and amused, the next miles fly by: across the dam that raises the lake levels in the 1970s; past countless perfect lakeside campsites. We take a tiny detour to a historic site, expecting some derelict building remnants, and can’t believe what is there: Fancy log houses, a six-sided outhouse, and a whole hotel in various stages of restoration. The house is open to visitors, though no one is there. We wander the rooms and marvel at the woodwork.

It’s later now but we do want to conquer at least some of the infamous hill that is Hope Pass, with its gazillion feet of elevation gain in four short (by seemingly interminable miles). It’s like climbing mount Elbert minus the views and with full resupply. On a jeep “road” which is basically the worst trail ever: straight up, washed out and rocky.

Finally there are campsites meadowside. But it is creepy here in the darkening woods, with tin cans and TP scattered here and there. And once I set up, I notice a massive pile of moose poop beside my tent, and worry I have camped on a large animal superhighway. I half wake in the night to a stampede of heavy footsteps, moose or bear at a run heavy, that stomp to a walk as if they are making an unexpected detour around the strange structure that has sprouted on their path. In the morning there’s no sign of night visitors, just the echoes of feet in the night ringing in my head.

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