I just wrapped up my 2021 Colorado Trail ride last Thursday. It was a wonderful and painful trip from Durango to Denver that was full of memories, visions of the future, and so much emotion. I have a long relationship with this trail and with anyone who has experienced the CT it gets in your blood and to quote my friend Justin, it becomes “a ribbon through my heart”. For the CT does not touch upon you lightly, it beats you down as it shows you light you never knew existed, it tears at your mind and tortures your ego. It is anything but easy, but it is compelling beyond words, for after a 27+ year relationship with this trail and I am still somehow unable to stop thinking about, visualizing and wanting to come back to it.
Way back in 1993 I was living in Gunnison, Colorado, working a shitty job in a kitchen, making minimum wage, and living in a trailer with 3 other guys. I was also wondering what the hell I was doing with my life, I was full of piss and vinegar and had no idea what to do with myself and all that angst and energy. I was into listening to music, drinking too much coffee, and smoking cigs. I didn’t do much other than hang out at the coffee shop doing those things, plus doodling and playing chess. A friend working at the coffee shop was planning a thru-hike of the Colorado Trail and with permission, I latched on and we began to plan. I had never hiked much, never backpacked, and I didn’t know a damn thing about being outside or traveling under my own power. I was a naive, confused, “green as hell, boy”, but I knew I wanted more and wanted to try something Big! It wasn’t an easy road to get to Waterton Canyon that summer, I almost didn’t make it there. There were so many ups and downs, very tough decisions, and some very dark personal moments along that path.
On that first trip we just made it to Monarch Pass, but I learned so much about being in the woods, myself and most importantly, that there was other ways to live than what I knew/was taught. In fact after that first trip down half of the CT, I was hooked on being outside, planning the next adventure, and scrapping by to make it happen. Since I have returned to the Colorado Trail many, many times, like an old friend I crave its company, its lessons, its solitude. Everyday life has always been a drag for me, I have a hard time doing the normal stuff and it tends to beat me down to the point of not knowing what the fuck it is all for? Before the CT experience, I would often spiral down till I hit the deep dark bottom of the well of despair. I didn’t have any holds, no steps, nothing to break up that fall. Once I had the perspective of the big, rad things I could do with my mind and body, this made dealing with that down spiral possible. Knowing there is amazing things around the corner and always planning the next one, kept me on target, gave me something to look forward to that was strong enough to pull me through the dark bullshit of life.
I can not express how important that first trip on the CT was for me. I am pretty sure it saved my life, certainly changed it profoundly, and while I am not rich or set up, I wouldn’t trade all those experiences for anything, esp money. Cause that is what I keep learning, experiences are always greater than things. Things never make you want to live another day, but the light of possibilities at the end of the tunnel, in my experience can.
Since that first trip on the CT, I have returned many times. I finished hiking the trail to Durango a few years later, hiked again, from Durango to Kenosha Pass in 2000. Started riding bikes again in 2001 and rode the CT from Durango to Gunny with my dog and Bob trailer, then in 2003(?) I rode Gunny to Denver. Finally in 2007 was the first Colorado Trail Race, and things went even deeper. After that first race on the CT, I was obsessed with what I could try with my new found mind-body connection. I returned over and over to race the CT and see how hard I could go, it was a bit of a dangerous and depleting hobby. I really wanted to give it everything I had, and while in retrospect my level of obsession seems a bit extreme, it was very important to me and helped me find more reasons to keep trying, living, reaching.
Fast forward to 2021 and I just finished my 9th Colorado Trail Race! The trail is busier than ever, so many Thru-hikers, and Bikepackers, kind of amazing to see so many folks out there getting some CT. While it isn’t always easy to share, it is empowering to see so many people out there getting to experience that magic ribbon. I had a great trip, including some great conversations with myself, some powerful realizations, and lots of self discovery, also two shooting stars, lots of moon glow, star light, amazing sunrises and sunsets, and so many flowers and mushrooms! I really thought this was going to be my last race on the CT. Have to admit right now that is probably not the case as I can feel the pull of that dirt ribbon as it threads through my heart and it is pulling me back out there!