Day 47, June 10
Start: Matterhorn junction, mile 962
End: mosquitoville, mile 988
Miles hiked: 26

I slept amazing last night. I wake up, and my neck isn’t quite so stiff. I eat some breakfast and am first out of camp by a long shot. It’s good, because I hike like a dummy still with my head cocked. I know it slows me down, so I need a head start if I’m going to keep up with these hiking gods that I call my friends.

I soon reach benson pass, after just under 2,000 feet gain. It’s really pretty and forested. There are several granite slabs poking out of the valley, very Yosemite-esque. Makes sense, as we’re still in the national park. Carrots with me, and we take a good break where I eat lots of breakfast and drink what seems like gallons of kool-aid. That’s my style. Wake up early and hike for an hour or two on nothing. Get outrageously hungry and thirsty. Stop at 8 and gorge. It works for me. It’s always freezing in the mornings, and I never have an appetite right when I wake up. I’m the only one in the group that hikes this way. Some drink coffee. I hate coffee. But if I had Mountain Dew, I would be all about it.

Soon not a chance catches up, then Mack. We all take off down the beautiful valley. We go up and down through mud and snow. The trail is hard to find, and it doesn’t really make sense to me how or why they decided to weave the trail all over the place here. It’s strange, but the beauty makes it worth it.

The day is really tough. Up and down steeply back and forth all day. Much more steeply than what we are used to. Very much like the Appalachian trail. It makes the miles slow and challenging. We pass many beautiful little alpine lakes, tucked in between rock outcroppings with trees and bushes all around. They’re beautiful and unnamed. At one little lake we all stop to eat and recharge a bit. Not a chance and Guthrie get right in. It’s beautiful here.

We return to the trail and talk revolves around the trail and perceptions from outsiders who want to hike the trail. We come up with the three most common views of the trail from those who have not hiked.

1. The romantic view – the view that the trail is mostly easy, comfortable, and a romantic experience. You hike your own hike, camp in beautiful places every day with water, sunshine, no bugs, no aches or pains, and you’re clean as a whistle every day. There are no grueling days, nor are there any huge challenges that will really take much effort. Life on the trail is relaxing and fun.

2. The uninformed view – the trail is an insurmountable, epic feat that only crazy, hardcore people could ever complete. The challenges are extreme, there’s animals and weather and natural forces that could kill you at any moment. How could anyone ever complete such an impossible journey, they must be mega athletes, or the most stubborn sons of bitches around. Though more true than the first view, this is also very untrue. The trail throws you challenges, and you’re uncomfortable nearly all of the time, but hiking the trail isn’t some insurmountable feat, not by any means.

3. The realist view – a slight mix of the two views above is the most accurate. In our experiences, the trail can be the most beautiful thing, and then throw you a curveball of steep snow that challenges your fears, making you overcome them, and the danger that is eminent. There are challenges every day, blisters, sore feet and legs, lack of energy or food. Possibly fear of bear, rattlesnakes, scorpions. There is intense heat, exhaustion, freezing rain and hypothermia, insane winds. High mountain passes covered with snow and ice, where if you slip and fall, you could easily slide your way to major injury or death. There’s intense sun, and ludicrous Mosquitos. People can experience this on day hikes, or a weekend backpack. But they have the blanket of knowing they’ll go home to a shower, a warm comfy bed, a house protected from those flying, blood sucking bastards. That’s a lot of mental comfort that we out here so not get. Whatever nature throws at us, we deal. Yet it’s not all pain and suffering. We get to see the most beautiful and diverse landscapes every day, without hordes of people. We have giant mountain lakes all to ourselves. We have lonely peaks to summit, desert views that span miles without any human impact in view. We sleep on the earth, and wake to the Milky Way and stars many will never be lucky enough to see in their lives. We get euphoria out of things those in real life will never get. Like sitting. Every time you sit down and get off your feet it’s pure joy. When do you ever think that in normal life? Drinking a cold soda, eating a hearty meal. The joys are magnified tenfold. Taking a dip in a stream or alpine lake can make your day. Having a friend offer you a bite of their Nutella. Little things like these that go unnoticed in the real world become huge out here. Life is simple, though far from easy. And you have to want to make it to Canada and get this experience to push through the hard parts. You also have to be ok with smelling like garbage (I smell like a mix of goat piss and onions, and that’s after a shower and thorough wash), and having your clothes be as filthy and smelly as you are. You don’t have to be a mega athlete. You just have to be willing to accept the discomforts and know that some will come and go. All you have to do is keep walking. And if you can do all of this, and push on through, you’ll be rewarded with an experience that no one can ever take away from you. One that will surely shape your future, and be fondly remembered for the rest of your life. That’s the real trail experience.

At some point, we come to a boggy place. In a cloud of fury emerges eleventy billion flying blood suckers. Just hatched, and ready for your liquids, they swarm you. We’re covered in trees and there’s no escape, so I throw on my big suit and cake on the deet. But these jerks are immune. I walk with a cloud the rest of the day, neck still stiff and hurting, and finally I come across twig and lead dog with a great fire. I eat, and climb into my sleeping at early to get away from them. I still cowboy camp, but I have to sleep with my baseball hat on and the bug net over it. It’s not so bad. I get joy out of seeing the hundreds of hungry buggers swarm right above my face, knowing they won’t be getting my blood tonight.

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Bring it, bugs

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Up to Belden pass we go.

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View from Belden pass

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Just another alpine lake. Not pretty or anything.

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Not a chance climbs strong.

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MOAR lakes!