Loneliness on the CDT

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I stood there, watching her walk away, not knowing what to do. It felt surreal, like I was an observer watching a movie that suddenly took an unsettling twist. I was powerless to do anything about it, so I just sat in my seat, cringing as I watched the movie unfold. It was my loneliest day ever.

That’s what it felt like. But let’s back up and figure out how we got to this point.

Destination: Parkview Peak

After a relaxing stay at Shadowcliff Lodge, and our Rocky Mountain National Park fiasco, we were en route to Parkview Peak. This is the peak that the Colorado local had raved about. It’s also the last of the 12,000+ foot peaks on the CDT when you’re going northbound. There’s even a hut at the top to stay in.

The hut on top of Parkview Peak.
The hut on top of Parkview Peak.

Chris needed to get back to Salt Lake City soon for her sister’s birthday and a few other obligations. The plan was for us to hike from Grand Lake to Parkview Peak. Then Chris would backtrack down from the peak to a highway and hitch a ride to Granby where she would take a train to Denver, stay overnight with my niece (Thank you, Cecilee! I love you! You’re definitely in my top 6 favorite nieces of all time!), then rent a car and drive back to Salt Lake the following day. Convoluted travel plans, but sometimes that’s what you gotta do getting to and from these trails. Plus, Chris really wanted to ride the train through the mountains. Literally through the mountains—43 tunnels! 🙂

Orange sunbeams through gray clouds.
Chris Krejca's awesome view of fiery sunbeams shining through gray clouds while traveling by train through Colorado.

Blown off the Mountain

Not much to report from Grand Lake to Parkview Peak. The larger mountains and grand views were behind us down south. We did pass through a huge burned section from some massive forest fire several years prior. Spanned numerous mountains and valleys, likely several thousand acres. However, that did make it easy to see the animals there.

We saw deer. We saw a moose. Then two more moose, probably two brothers. Super annoying younger brother following around his big brother everywhere he goes no matter how much the big brother says to quit following me and leave me alone! (I might be projecting a little bit.) 🙂

Eventually, we cross the road where Chris is going to hitch to Granby the following day. Finally, we get to Parkview Peak and the little hut on top. The hut is cute. Part of some old, abandoned radio tower. Made for a good overnight shelter. Protection from the elements and the wind. Oh Lord, the wind…

At some point while we were there, a massive windstorm blew in. No rain. No lighting. Not even clouds. Just sudden, massive winds. We were sheltered on one side of the hut, protected from the wind. I went around the corner and literally got blown down the mountain. I had to claw my way back up to the hut. It was impossible to stand upright. The wind was 50–60 mph at this point.

The hut has windows all along the top of its walls, and these windows have shutters over them to protect them, I assume for precisely this situation. Unfortunately, the wind was so strong that it ripped one of the shutters off with a loud crash.

Chris went inside while I put the shutter back in place. The shutter was already damaged before the storm: the hinges were shot, and the latch at the top was missing. Hence why it got blown off, and it was only a matter of time before the wind ripped it out again.

I walked/crawled around the shelter and luckily found some old bailing wire. I used that to lash the shutter in place, zigzagging among old nails and hooks surrounding the window on the outside wall until I was confident it would hold against the wind. I checked the other windows. Most were securely held in place with padlocks. However, a few windows were missing their padlocks. I went back, broke off a couple of short pieces of the bailing wire, and used the wire to secure the empty latches. All sounds simple enough, but it was an arduous task to accomplish in nearly hurricane-force winds.

With the shutters secured, the hut is a damn fine shelter. The wind howled outside. Huffed and puffed like the big, bad wolf, but couldn’t blow our house down. Unfortunately, even though the wind couldn’t get in, something else could…

Rodents of Unusual Size

“Rodents of Unusual  Size? I don’t think they exist.”

—Wesley, The Princess Bride (1987)

Unlike Wesley and Buttercup in The Princess Bride, we didn’t see Rodents of Unusual Size (“RoUSes” as Buttercup called them). However, we did encounter Rodents of Unusual Forwardness (“little fuckers” as I call them).

These little fuckers consisted of chipmunks during the day and mice at night. The chipmunks didn’t care that you were right there. They would run right up and start chewing on your gear. One literally leapt up several feet onto Chris’ trekking poles just to lick the salt off the handles.

Here’s a video of one running around my feet and climbing on my shoes. Later (not in this video), one of them climbed on my shoe and started chewing. No! Bad chipmunk! I kicked my leg out, which tossed the chipmunk several feet into the air. Didn’t phase him at all. He was back chewing on my gear just a few moments later.

The chipmunks were cute, albeit a tad annoying. We had to constantly guard our gear and listen diligently for any chewing noise. But the mice…oh, those little fuckers.

Chris and I slept in the hut that night, safe from the wind but not safe from the mice. As I was sleeping soundly, I felt something pulling on my hair. I woke up groggy, trying to figure out what’s going on. Then I realized there’s a mouse on my head chewing on my hair. Motherfucker! Don’t fuck with my hair! In fact, stay the fuck off of me! But he didn’t listen. He didn’t respect my personal boundaries.

All night long, that little fucker kept crawling under my down quilt and licking my bare legs. I’m not a violent man. I’m not a hunter. I’m a conservationist. But that little fucker chewed on my hair, crawled under my quilt five or six times, and repeatedly assaulted me by putting his mouth on my bare legs. I decided enough was enough.

I grabbed my headlamp. Saw the little fucker running in the tight space between me and Chris, and I whacked him hard two or three times. He started convulsing. I grabbed him by his tiny foot and then quickly threw him hard against the door. Bam! Dead.

I know we’re out in nature. I think all these creatures have a right to be here. But don’t chew on my hair. Don’t repeatedly lick my leg while I’m trying to sleep. Respect my personal boundaries, and I’ll respect yours. Invade my personal space, and you get what you deserve. Just like those stupid humans who walk up to a two-thousand pound bison for a selfie and get mauled. (And just like the mice are to me, stupid humans are “little fuckers” to bison. Remember that mice…and stupid humans.)

Time with Chris

That was our night. Before we get to Chris walking off into the sunset (sunrise actually), let’s add some more perspective to this loneliness feeling.

I had been hiking the Appalachian Trail for the previous six months. Chris drove me to Amicalola Falls and hiked with me for the first three days. Then she got a shuttle back to her car. We said goodbye in the parking lot as the driver waited patiently. Pretty normal goodbye. Obviously sad to see her go, but my adventure was just beginning. I had never been on the AT. I didn’t know what to expect on a multi-month backpacking trip. My mind was racing. And we had plans for her to join me in two months during Spring Break.

Spring Break comes, and Chris joins me through the Shenandoah Mountains. It was beautiful. We had an amazing time. Plus, lots of time together in town at the beginning and end where we could shower and snuggle up all clean and fresh. I drop her off at the airport. Again, obviously sad to see her go. But we’re at an airport. We’re accustomed to saying goodbye to people at an airport. Not unusual. And we had plans for her to come hike with me again on the CDT during her summer vacation in a few months.

Unfortunately, I’m so slow that I was still on the AT when her summer vacation rolled around. But that turned out to be awesome because now Chris could finish the AT with me. She was with me at the beginning, the middle, and now the end. Almost like I planned it that way instead of being super slow because I’m old and feeble. Yeah, planned it that way. And after we finish the AT, we get to start the CDT together. All part of my plan. 😉

Keep in mind that at this point I have been hiking alone for basically five months. I’ve had to figure out everything for myself. Plus, the farther north I get, there are fewer and fewer towns and resupplies and shuttles. Logistics become a problem, and again, I have to figure it out by myself.

Then Chris comes. My beautiful CNM partner. Someone to hike with me, someone to help figure out logistics, someone to vent to when you make plans with a certain hostel owner and they screw you over and you have to figure out new plans and those plans turn out even better than the original plans and now you get to enjoy those new plans together.

Yeah, it was really great having Chris with me again. I loved having her summit Katahdin with me. Then we got to fly to Salt Lake together, spend Fourth of July at her sister’s (Love you, Jean! You, too, Kristina! And even stinky Jay), and watch the amazing fireworks display across the entire city from their balcony. And again, we worked out complicated logistics together. It’s great to have a partner for all that.

Then we start the CDT together. I love mountains. Chris loves mountains. Oh, the views we saw together. Sleeping together in alpine meadows above the treeline. The peaks. The passes. The squeaky marmots. The big moose. The flowers. The lakes. The sunsets. The sunrises. The hut on top of Parkview Peak.

The Loneliest Time

And there I am, the next morning, standing next to the hut on top of Parkview Peak, watching Chris walk away.

This isn’t an airport where she walks inside and the doors close behind her. She didn’t hop in a car and drive away, quickly out of sight. No, she’s lingering. Walking down, down, down the ridgeline, yet still clearly in view from high atop the mountain.

It doesn’t seem real. I’m not sure what to do. I feel out of sorts. We’ve parted ways before, but this is different. We’ve grown so close over the past year. Daily texts, “Good morning, darling!” with lots of kissy emojis and hearts. Life altering discussions about religion, philosophy, and relationships. And always a plan to see each other again.

Maybe that’s the difference this time? After a month of fantastic experiences together, we’re going our separate ways without a clear plan to see other again. Her school year is starting again soon in Alaska. I don’t know when I’ll finish the CDT…December? After that, I’d like to move to Alaska to be with Chris, but I still have a few months worth of tasks to do in Texas. Can I even get a job in Alaska? Is the uncertainty of all this weighing me down? Not knowing when I’ll see her again. Not knowing IF I’ll see her again.

I stood there on top of Parkview Peak, watching Chris still walking away, trying to finish my breakfast. It was bland, unpalatable, nauseating. Still I watched as Chris slowly walked farther and farther away from me and then finally disappeared over the ridge.

I stood on top of Parkview Peak for another two hours. Marvelous views for 20 miles in every direction. Chipmunks and marmots foraging around me. 3,000 miles of adventure lay before me.

And I have never felt so alone in my entire life.

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4 Responses

  1. Oh Bennett. This is a beautiful story, I almost cried. I feel like I was there with you (and Chris).
    Perhaps you can turn this blog into a book? It is THAT good.
    I send a big smile, heart warmth 💕

    1. Thank you, Annie! Even though we haven’t seen each other in many years, I still consider you a dear friend. I love you and miss you! (Although not quite as much as I miss Chris.) 😉

  2. I have hiked in the area you are now entering. The Wind River Range was my favorite place to take Scouters for a hike the year before they were old enough to go to Philmont. After the Wind River Range, Philmont was a piece of cake. If you can hike through the Circle of Towers, it is a great view. I have been on both the backside and frontside of the Circle of Towers. It may be slightly out of your way.

  3. 1 is the loneliest number. All by myself. Some heads are gonna roll. Enough song lyrics? I’m more annoyed at the jerk face older brother deer that was doing all the cool deer-teenager or deer-nager things and flaunting them to his younger deer brother. Whattabutthead!

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