ABOUT THE BOOK: Married to the Trail tells the story of my thru-hike along the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). The CDT is a 2,700-mile long backcountry trail that runs the length of the rough and rugged Continental Divide. It walks through New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana and provides an adventure unlike any other. Leaving New Mexico on May 4th, 2011, I surrendered myself to the challenging nature of the trail and began hiking north. As a solo female hiker, and at the age of twenty-seven, I would hike through many obstacles, including deep snowpack, thirty-mile waterless sections, fast-moving and swollen creek crossings and long days of solitude. 133 days later, I’d reach the northern terminus of the Continental Divide Trail.
For a review of Married to the Trail, please visit Hiking For Her.
SAMPLE CHAPTER: MARRIED TO THE TRAIL
Thank Goodness for Tents
July 21st–27th, 2011 | Mile 1,485–1,630
Majestic mounds of granite. Crystal clear alpine lakes. Lush green forests. Snow-capped alpine passes. Just like that.
I walked into the Wind River Range as if I had stepped through the curtain onto an extravagant stage where a beautiful mountain fairy tale was unfolding before my eyes. Just east of the Tetons, the Wind River Range is the lesser known, but equally dazzling mountain range of the American Rockies. The route walks alongside the Divide’s electrocardiogram profile, staying just below the towering spires that shoot out into the atmosphere. The scenery is nothing short of spectacular.
I was two days beyond Atlantic City and it’s desert ambiance, when I camped below Temple Pass at 10, 800 feet. I set up my tent in a glacial moraine where the surrounding peaks have been carved over eons of time by glaciers. There are more glaciers here than there is anywhere else in the contiguous forty-eight states, and although that night there was no glaciers in sight, there was plenty of snow to make up for it.
The Winds can’t be described as anything I’ve hiked. It’s unique, special, one of a kind. It isn’t Colorado or the Sierra Nevada or the White Mountains of New Hampshire. It is it’s own, just as it should be. The Wind River Range is a behemoth of wilderness that is beyond hypnotic. The color of the rivers surreal. The polished rock mesmerizing. The texture of the landscape humbling. Such beauty is like the work of a Dutch artist, who renders an impossibly realistic silver plater adorned with heaping piles of succulent, forbidden fruit. It is a work of art incapable of a replica. And I was camped in the middle of such a canvas.
The next morning I realized I shouldn’t have camped below Temple Pass, at least not on the south-facing side. What a well-seasoned backpacker like myself should know is that these snow-covered slopes are best to traverse in the later part of the day when the snow is soft and malleable. I knew this, but I just didn’t have the energy to ascend the remaining eight hundred feet, followed by an eight hundred foot descent, all of which I could see was over snow. It was after seven when I reached the perfect piece of real estate where a nice, flat camp sat beside a cascading creek. It was seven the following morning when I paid the heavy consequence of my decision. Halfway up the pass, I precariously kicked steps into the frozen slab of snow while a steep, discouraging slope ran out below. This was not an easy feat in itself, let alone in lightweight trail-running shoes which made hardly an imprint in the frozen snow. I envisioned myself losing my balance and sliding out of control, head-first down the flanks of Temple Pass. But luck seemed to be on my side. That was until midway across when my trekking pole collapsed.
With exhausted ankles—and nerves—I made it over the pass, to which I began the descent down a snowier north face. Thinking this was an appropriate moment for a glissade, I put my butt down on the snow and scooted forward. Twenty seconds later I regretted my decision as my ass endured a painful freezer-burn and I catapulted myself back into the upright position. For the remaining descent, I resorted to skating and sliding until meeting a meadow at the bottom where a dozen men were seated front row to my ice antics. They were a handsome group of men, quiet and reserved. As I walked past, we exchanged short hellos and I continued onward. I suspect that I was the very last thing they’d expected as not only was it still early but I’m sure it was quite a shock to see a woman of my size descending down from an otherwise impassable pass.
A couple miles later I descended to Big Sandy Lake where touristy backpackers outnumbered mosquitos. At an obscure place in the trail, I veered westward cross-country to avoid the excessive horseshoe trail leading south to their hub. Leaving the well-used trail, I climbed up a valley freckled with boulders of every size and shape. It looked like someone came along with dynamite and blew up the mountain as fragments of rock were scattered in every direction. My route led past these boulders and back down to the trail—sans tourists. Instead, I was met with pink shooting stars, purple lupine and yellow sunflowers. I was also met by the unwelcome company of newly hatched mosquitos. Thick hoards of relentless, blood-thirsty mosquitos. When I reached camp—exhausted from a dozen miles spent at an abrupt pace to keep the swarm at bay—I frantically set up my tent and crawled in for the night.
Two hundred mosquitos are a lot of mosquitos and there, in the heart of the Wind River Range, they had become as ubiquitous as the green on my maps. Hoards of the newly-hatched, blood-thirsty, buzzing bastards swarmed outside my tent. They sounded like a crappy overhead strip of fluorescent lighting that buzzes at all hours of the day. I watched as they landed on tent and incessantly stabbed their needle-like, pinocchio noses through the no-see-um mesh.
Through a tiny, unzipped crack in my tent door I stirred my dinner, baring the flesh of my hand to the hundreds of pinocchio wannabes. Dozens of mosquitos flew into the flame of my stove and I smirked when their toasted remains accumulated on the foil beneath. If it sounds immoral to derive such pleasure in the death of these insects, well, to each their own. It was late July and the heavier-than-normal snowpack created an ideal breading ground for pinocchio and all his offspring. I was ill-prepared to handle the continually procreating list of relatives, as I had neither bug-spray or head-net. Some hikers choose not to wear bug spray for health and environment reasons. Some would rather cover up in their waterproof jacket and pants and synch the ties down around their head. I, on the other hand, chose not to carry bug-deterrent because I was too stubborn to pay for the nine dollar bottle of bug-spray back in Atlantic City. In hindsight, I would have gladly paid nine dollars. In fact I would have paid double for a bottle of 100% DEET, because what I have found is that anything less is predictably unreliable.
That night I fell asleep to the lullaby of Culicidae, well aware that I’d awake to the carnivory that would descend upon my vulnerable flesh. Sure enough, the punctual swarm met me at my front door early the next morning. As I packed everything into my backpack—while still inside the shelter of my tent—, I watched as they resumed their signature move. They stabbed at the mesh walls with their needle noses; they buzzed; they waited. In defense, before climbing out, I layered on clothes, including my impermeable rain gear. When I did emerge, they took no mercy and before I had my tent packed away, I was walking briskly down the trail, stuffing the remainder into it’s stuff-sack.
For the next half dozen miles I had fallen into some delirious mosquito mardi-gras. The party just kept going, no matter how hard I tried to escape it. I was caught in the chaos, in the non-stop tango line, and nearing insanity as a permanent cloud of mosquitos engulfed me. Too hot for rain gear, they were biting through my long johns and long-sleeved shirt, bathing beneath my eyelids and taking up dormancy in my ears, playing a percussion of out-of-tune sitars. I twistered madly about, waving my arms as they glued themselves to my perspiration.
Fed up, I screamed a tangent of curses. Mother f—! Sh—! Leave me alone, won’t ya! Without any other option, I dropped my pack, pulled out my no-see-um mesh tent and draped it over my body. I then stood there, in the middle of the trail, draped in a tent. By all means, I could have been a model walking the runway wearing the latest fashion attire. After all, I fit the criteria—minus my shorter than model-esque height and unshaven legs. I was bordering on emaciation and wearing one of the century’s most atrocious fashion statements.
It would have been quite the comedy for someone to come walking down the trail and stumble upon a girl wrapped up in her tent. After 1,700 miles, I didn’t care if someone came along. My skin wasn’t being prodded a dozen times every thirty seconds. I finally had peace and quiet and I hiked for hours—draped in my tent—as if it was just another ordinary day.
For a review of Married to the Trail, visit Hiking For Her.
Copyright © 2013 by Mary Moynihan. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from the author, unless in brief quotations within articles and reviews.