The trail can be full of chaos, tough decisions, mistakes, and occasional regret. Other times, everything comes together so perfectly and feels just right. In my experience, these "perfect moments" are pretty rare and deserve the spotlight, especially when it feels like the trail is just beating you down.
The wind was whipping so wildly that it pulled my tent stakes out of the ground overnight while it rained and hailed intermittently at nearly 12,000'. I had big climbs in the San Juans coming up, and as my hiking partner and I climbed up the first pass, the wind pushed us back down every step of the way. The clouds were dark and the farther we hiked, the worse the wind became. We finally made the unpopular decision to hike down out of the mountains and take a cutoff through an old mining town. As we dropped in elevation, the wind let up, and we were able to look around and take in the shimmering gold aspen groves, beautiful meadows and eventually an incredible canyon with a huge amount of mining history. No one ever talks about how beautiful and interesting this cutoff trail is, and I am so happy that I was able to experience it.
Once in town, we got a meal and then found the hostel. This hostel felt immediately comfortable, cozy and homey in a way no other hostel I've been in has quite achieved. It is nothing fancy- just an 80s triple-wide with efficiency wood paneling, a few sets of homemade bunk beds, mismatched furniture and a flat screen tv. There is laundry, a full kitchen and a giant dining table with windows looking out at the mountains. The owner is totally hands-off, leaving the whole house to hikers, and we ended up with 5 of us for the night. Weather was coming in and we all agreed that staying the next night as well was a smart move.
The next morning, we made a huge family breakfast with pancakes, eggs and bacon, and multiple pots of fresh coffee. We lounged in our loaner clothes and curled up in the comfortable armchairs with our quilts, sipping our coffee and sharing stories and laughter. It was raining outside, and eventually that rain turned to snow. We were all so happy to be inside, warm and dry and safe, surrounded by wonderful people and sharing such a cozy space. Someone noticed the snow and mentioned that it felt like Christmas morning. This was such a perfect description for what I had been feeling and the others agreed. Something about this place, these people, this moment, felt magical and so right for all of us.
Two more hikers showed up in the rain that day. We welcomed them in and they felt the magic too. That night we made a massive pasta dinner, split a gigantic container of ice cream and bonded around the heavy table. In the morning, we all planned to return to trail at different points. We returned and washed our loaner clothes, packed our tattered gear, and peeked out the windows at the still-falling snow and white-capped mountains. Hugs all around, it felt like saying goodbye to family after the holidays, not sure when we might see each other again. There was much hesitation to leave, and lots of joking that maybe we all stay longer, put up a Christmas tree and watch the snow from indoors.
As my hiking partner and I left the hostel and began our trek toward the snowy mountains, I felt so grateful to have taken this cutoff and to have had the opportunity to stay in such a cozy place with such wonderful humans. It isn't often that you get to experience so much warmth and connection, especially when far from home surrounded by relative strangers. The trail truly is magical!
When I resupply, I look at how many miles I need to hike until my next stop and what the terrain is like to determine how many days' worth of food I will need. The more I hike, the better I get at this calculus, but sometimes I still get it wrong. On this last stretch through the Gila River Wilderness, I definitely got it wrong and my hiking partner and I ended up a bit at odds, having some severe food anxiety for days and being VERY hungry. How did it go so wrong?
Usually I make my food before I leave home, dehydrating and measuring and preparing every meal with nutrition, calorie content and weight in mind. I sort all of my food into resupply boxes and label them for post office drops along the way. Sometimes, however, things get messy. A box gets lost in the mail. I arrive on a holiday weekend and would have to wait 3 days for...
Honestly though, this hike has been worlds apart from my thru hike of the PCT. The trail itself has a very different feel, the people are different, and I am a different hiker than I was on my last journey. This hike has been such a unique experience from any of my other hikes and I am so grateful for it.