When Dad departed South Pass (hiking southbound on the CDT), I didn’t have much of a plan for what to do with myself before we met up in 3 days. I knew I’d need to get some groceries and gas, and that the nearest station was in Lander. After that, I decided I’d aim for a campground in the nearby national forest. When I discovered upon arrival that the campground was adjacent to a trailhead, I opted to stay a second night. On my “day-off” in between, I hiked up to the first of the Stough Creek Lakes at an elevation of 10,500 feet, about 14 miles round trip. Much to my surprise, on the second night, Dad’s inReach location put him only 9 miles away from our first meetup. Given his 25 minute-per-mile pace and early starts (he usually gets going around 5am) that put his arrival at 8:45 the following morning! The problem was that I was at least 2 hours away, and was hoping to stop at a grocery store en route. So I also had an early start. I wasn’t sure whether he’d be more in the mood for breakfast, as opposed to the cheeseburgers I’d previously promised, so I picked up the ingredients for both. After reaching our appointed lat/long at 8am, I hiked up a nearby hill that gave me a view of the CDT receding into the distance. Just like clockwork, Dad materialized out of the chaparral at 8:35am and we walked together down the trail to the Jeep. He wanted a shower, but in my haste to arrive on time, I hadn’t filled it. So we pilfered water from a nearby livestock reservoir, and he was able to clean himself up. Though his “hiker hunger” had not yet kicked in, I managed to feed him both breakfast sandwiches for lunch and cheeseburgers for dinner.
Our second meetup was only 2 days later, and I really wanted to stop by NOLS, headquartered in Lander, while I had the rare chance. (As an aside: I took the NOLS Wilderness First Responder course in San Francisco over 10 days in January 2019 along with Stephanie and Danny. I never had the wherewithal to write about the experience both because it stands out as one of the most intense and challenging things I’ve ever gone through, and also because immediately afterwards, Stephanie and I moved out of our apartment, decamped to Tahoe for a month, and then went on to thru-hike the Arizona Trail over two months. Even now, I find myself drawing a blank trying to find the right words to express how excellent the course was. Alas.) So after Dad took off, I made a beeline to NOLS and had a nice chat with Aimee Newsom, their Alumni Relations Coordinator. Afterwards, I ran a few errands, and then installed myself at a campground along the Popo Agie River so that I could hike up to the falls that afternoon, about 4 miles round trip. Once again, the next morning I had errands to run and a long drive to get to our meetup, much of it on washboarded dirt roads. I arrived within 5 minutes of Dad. At this point I was starting to realize that I should try to get to our meetup spots the night before, given his propensity to finish the day’s miles before noon. We set up camp beside an idyllic wildlife reservoir, and had the pleasure of entertaining two northbound thru-hikers, including one who knew Danny from the PCT last year! That night I made smashburgers with the remaining burger fixins.
Dad had created our meetup plan by taking his 2016 list of resupply towns and adding in additional access points along the trail (i.e., road crossings and trailheads that I could, in theory, reach via Jeep) so that I could resupply him directly every 2 to 3 days, allowing him to stay on trail and carry less food weight. Our third meetup, planned for 3 days later, was one of those original 2016 resupply stops—the center of the city of Rawlins, WY—perfect for a self-supported thru-hiker, not such a great place for us to set up camp. So we decided ahead of time to meet just north of Rawlins. I spent the first night at a small, quiet BLM campground on the North Platte River, and though I thought about staying a second night (or even bringing Dad there on the third night), there really wasn’t much to do besides looking at the river. So I relocated to our meetup spot on the second night, in part because Dad was camped only a few miles away. Sure enough he arrived at 8am the next morning, had a Coke and a nice sit down, and then decided to try something for the first time: slackpacking. He exchanged his fully loaded backpack for my daypack, carrying only water, snacks, and his inReach. I’d drive ahead with his gear, while he hiked another 6.8 miles to a point just south of town. Many thru-hikers scoff at the idea of slackpacking, seeing it as a form of “cheating”, and we get it, we’ve both been there, but man, if you could have seen his smile when he reached me again at noon, it was as if I had given him wings. Hike your own hike. That night we treated ourselves to Domino’s pizza.
The next meetup, our fourth, was set for the very next day, after a long 22-mile hike. Fresh off his exhilarating experience slackpacking, we made plans to meet up 5 miles before the end—so that if he was bushed, he could quit for the day, but if not, he’d once again exchange his kit for my daypack and finish the miles unladen. After he set out, I grabbed some groceries and then drove ahead to check out where we’d be meeting up, and I discovered that the last 10 miles of the day’s hike were fully concurrent with the dirt road I drove in on. I turned around and headed back to the point where the trail joined the road, which is precisely where I found Dad, who had just emerged from a difficult cross-country stretch, looking both bewildered and relieved to see me. After the obligatory Coke, we lightened his load, and he slackpacked down the dirt road. Meanwhile I took off to scout our next meetup location. I ended up driving over an hour away, and it occurred to me then that should anything have happened to me or the Jeep, Dad would have been left dangerously under-equipped to weather more than a few hours of my absence. Of course neither the Jeep nor I broke down, but for any future slackpacking endeavors, I decided that I should remain less than a day’s hike away, ideally on trail, so that one of us could reach the other on foot in case of an emergency. I returned to our meetup spot, passing him with less than 4 miles to go. That night I made chicken quesadillas for dinner which we enjoyed with tortilla chips and refried bean dip.
I checked out a dozen or so audiobooks from the library before I left Fresno, which I expected would primarily come in handy during the long drive to Austin and then Wyoming. Indeed, the BBC Radio dramatization of Good Omens made California pass in a blur, while the maddening and heart-wrenching Educated by Tara Westover made the unfathomably long drive through Arizona, New Mexico, and West Texas all but disappear. However on the drive to Wyoming, Dad and I talked pretty much the entire way. So it wasn’t until I found myself with so many unclaimed hours to fill between meetups, that I returned to the audiobooks. I finished Anthony Bourdain’s Medium Raw which I had started during that neverending drive through Texas, and I began listening to Oliver Sacks’ wonderful memoir, On the Move, while driving to check out the town of Encampment. I continued listening to On the Move after I reached our fifth meetup location that afternoon, hiking with my headphones on for 2 miles up a dirt road and then back again. I continued listening for several hours after dinner in the rooftop tent when the clouds started to threaten rain and the wind picked up. And I finished listening the following morning as I awaited Dad’s early arrival. For the last 2 days he’d been pushing to make extra miles because his plan inadvertently shoehorned a 3,000-foot climb up to an 11,000-foot peak near the end of what was supposed to be a 21.7-mile day—the following day. So instead of calling it quits when he reached me at 9:30am, he resupplied quickly and then continued on, aiming to cover another 10 miles, so that he’d only have 12 to do while going over the mountain.
After Dad’s “drive-thru” resupply, I relocated to our sixth and final meetup in Wyoming, a sweet spot nestled among the trees, in fact the first spot with any trees to speak of thus far on the trail. The following morning I woke early so that I could meet Dad at the top of the 11,000-foot peak. But not that early—I had 1,122 feet of elevation to ascend over 3.8 miles, while he was climbing 2,073 feet over 8.7 miles to reach the top. Also for the first time, it was cold, windy, foggy…and raining. We met near the peak at 9am and then made our way down, back the way I had come. The rain had stopped by the time we reached the Jeep, but our feet were wet and we were quite chilled, so to warm us up, I cooked sausages wrapped in tortillas with pickles and mustard for lunch, and later for dinner, pizza-quesadillas. After 12 days on the CDT, Dad had completed 207.1 miles.