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Date Hiked: March 16, 2014

Start: 10:30 am

End: 3:50 pm

Miles Hiked: 16.8

Elevation Gained:  ~2,300 feet

Elevation Lost: ~2,900 feet

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Lately, I’ve been feeling the mounting pressure to get in shape, and give myself a real test to see where my physical conditioning was at.  I knew it was going to be bad.  I’m arguably in the worst shape I have ever been in my life.  That’s what happens when you’re in your forth month of Busy Season at work, consistently working 60-75 hours a week.  I go to work at 7:00 am, and don’t get home on week nights until 10-12 PM each night. I have only had Sundays off.  This has made training extremely difficult for me.  Add to this that I’ve been eating out for lunch and dinner every one of those days, and my body has turned extremely soft in just a matter of months. It’s depressing, and it’s been getting me pretty nervous for the start of the PCT.

I needed to test myself.  See just how far I have fallen since being in the best shape of my life this past summer.  After working all day Saturday, I decided I would try Section 1 of the Colorado Trail, which is practically in my back yard.  The section is 16.8 miles, and I knew what to expect, as I had done it previously in 2010.  If I could get dropped off at the South Platte River Trailhead, I would be able to hike my way to Waterton Canyon, which is roughly twenty minutes from where I live.  This would allow me to hike point to point, which I always like for the challenge, and knowing you have to keep going.  It’s a different mindset, and I need to get used to being in that situation, as I’ll be dealing with it constantly for the next 7 months.

Lucky for me, my sister is extremely generous and didn’t hesitate when I asked if she would drive me early in the morning to the trailhead (which is roughly an hour each way).  This, all after a night of fun for St. Patty’s day, was awfully nice of her.  Thanks Monica J  The drive was beautiful, winding in between the canyons forged from the South Platte River.  The final 6 miles was a dirt road paralleling the icy river, with large, smooth slabs of rock shooting up from the rivers west side that reminded me much of the slabs in Yosemite.  We passed the historic South Platte town site, with the old western style Hotel boarded up.  The little town of an abandoned hotel and five or so scattered shacks seemed lost in time, and out of place.  For some reason I thought the contrast of this old western town, with horses and ranches, and two city folk driving by cranking some new 311 tunes was quite amusing.  The contrast was sharp, to say the least.

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Once at the trailhead, I snapped a few pictures, and thanked Monica again for driving me out.  We said our goodbyes, and I watched her disappear into the canyon as the music slowly faded away.  I explored the area for a good 15 minutes, remembering the memories that were so vivid from when I hiked through four years prior. There’s a nice bridge over the South Platte, and I specifically remember making peanut butter tortillas with dried blueberries.  We were about to head to a dry section, and got six liters per person to make it up and over the burn zone to the west.  I remember the heat of the sun, and the cool water running through my toes.  But now I was cold, and the thought of touching the icy water gave me chills.  Maybe next time.

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I began by hiking out of the canyon, roughly 1,600 feet of elevation gain in just a few miles.  I had a full pack, with everything that I would start with on the PCT, save four days of food. It really didn’t feel too bad, despite the three liters of water I took off with. It felt good to be back hiking in the woods.  It felt familiar, yet foreign.  The scent of the pines, the crisp air from the river below, and the sun poking through the trees, melting the dew on the grass as the stresses of work seemed to melt away with every step I took.  It reminded me of why I am hiking.  Why I am taking seven months off. I want to be out there.  I want to see these things, live in them, and be a part of this world.  I don’t want to live my entire life in an office, only seeing the world from the windows at work. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and to see if I could learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” – Henery David Thoreau

I think of this quote often in my life.  I don’t want to get to a point in my life where I may not have these same opportunities, and look back wishing I had taken advantage of them when they were available to me.  Attempting to hike these trails is something that I need to do.  I’ve felt this need for several years.  And I know without a doubt, that if I did not take this opportunity, I would look back later in life and regret not taking this chance, not pushing my boundaries, and not seeking new and unique opportunities.

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Surprisingly, I didn’t struggle at all going uphill with a full pack.  In fact, it felt pretty good, and I rarely needed to take breaks.  This was good, I thought.  I enjoyed seeing the familiar Colorado Trail markers, and the views down into the canyon and beyond.  There were several good vantage points where I paused to take in the views of the great mountains to the West.  I was hiking on the North facing slopes of the mountain, and the snow was pretty deep in places, often post-holing over a foot into the snow.  I knew there would be snow, but I didn’t expect this much.  My shoes got extremely wet going through this, but stayed warm if I kept moving. I also got a chance to try out some of my fancy new photography gear.  One is called a stick pick, and it attaches to the end of your hiking pole to hold your camera.  I had fun nerding out and playing around with this, as you can see in the video below.  Be prepared for many more nerd video’s along the way!

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Once at the top of the ridge at roughly 7,500 feet elevation, I could see Denver in the plains beyond the foothills to the east that I would be travelling through.  I also got a great view of frozen Strontia Springs Reservoir, held up by the Strontia Springs Dam.  The trail twisted and turned as it made its way down towards the Dam, crossing both East and West Bear Creeks several times.  It was very snowy in this area, as it was shaded from the sun by the mountain.  I really liked it, as it was pleasantly warm, but the coolness of the ground was crisp and refreshing.  About a mile from the Dam I saw the first person on the trail, a mountain biker on a big Surly bike with the fat tires.  It looks like a lot of fun riding that monster truck of a bike through the snow and mud.

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Eventually I made it to the Dam at the end of Waterton Canyon.  From here it’s a 6.2 mile dirt road walk back down to the trail head.  My feet we’re starting to throb, but my legs, lungs, and shoulders were all fine.  It became clear to me that more than anything, I need to be on my feet walking as much as possible to prepare for the PCT.  Sitting on my butt all winter long for work has really made my feet extremely wimpy.  Although it was an easy 6.2 miles, my feet made it feel a lot longer than that, and I was surprised at how much I struggled with this last bit. There were many people in this section either running or biking, as it is a popular place for recreation in the Metro Denver area.  It was hot, and hiking in shorts and a t-shirt felt great.

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I made it to the trailhead just before 4:00 PM.  This is the start of the Colorado Trail, which runs from Denver to Durango, nearly 500 miles through the Colorado Backcountry.  I sat for a here for a good while before my roommates Andrea and Morgan showed up.  They were nice enough to come and pick me up from the trailhead, ready to take me out for a beer.  I laughed as I approached their car, with both of them outside in full summer gear, with the music blasting from the car.  I snapped a quick picture of this, and thought of how great it would be to be dropped off, and picked up every day by pretty girls on my hike.  I even got to shower right when I got home, which felt unbelievably good on my sore feet, and tired body.  If only trail life would be this wonderful all of the time!

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Here are things I learned while on this warm-up hike:

  1. I’m in better shape than I thought I was in.
  2. I’m in extremely poor shape.
  3. To extend on #2, I need to get out and hike over 15 miles each day of each weekend from here on out, otherwise I may be in trouble on the PCT.
  4. Wearing gaiters will be a good idea in the desert section of the PCT
  5. I can hold my umbrella up within my backpack by using the loop for the ice axe.  This will allow me to be under the shade in the desert while still using both my poles.  Basically, this is awesome.  Very awesome!
  6. My solar charger I purchased recently works great – Charged my iPhone over 35% in less than an hour of exposed sunlight.
  7. My backpack is very comfortable, but there are still a few things I need to finalize with it that will help, such as stabilizing the padding in the shoulder straps.
  8. Being sent off by my sister, and picked up by two girls waiting to take me out for a drink is a fantasy… Still awesome though.