Hiking the Colorado Trail

Guest Writer: Sonya Wild

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Just to set the record straight, I'm not a writer. I'm not even an athlete by my own or my family's definition. What I suppose I really am is a full-speed charging Leo lion with a lot of forehead bruises to show for it. And so, athletic or not, when I decided to walk the entire Colorado Trail, I knew I would either finish with a metaphorical (or perhaps literal) concussion or very sore feet. I came out with both but I also came out with a fresh clarity on my life, my place in the universe, and what was important to me. My name is Sonya and I walked 486 miles through the Rocky Mountains alone with all my food, shelter, and protection on my back.

There isn't anything in my background that would scream I should even attempt this challenge. I'm an international flight attendant and, though I try to keep myself fit enough from having to scoot sideways down the aisle, I don't qualify as a hardcore jock. As my oldest son Jake once said when asked what his mom does, “My mom opens cans for a living.” But my two boys- now technically adults- go to college in Durango which is the southern terminus of the Trail. Me being me, I said to myself, “Self, if you walk the CT you can go see your boys.” At the time it seemed just as good as driving six hours. Plus, the northernmost point on the trail is just a few miles from my house outside Denver. Almost anything can seem like a good idea at the time.

The Colorado Trail, as I said, is 486 miles through a comparatively small portion of the Rocky Mountains, and it's all back country. In total, it's 90,000 vertical feet of climbing and the average elevation sits at 10,300, but you'll climb up to 13,271 feet. Oxygen comes at a premium the entire journey but it's a beast to huff and puff with full gear in this rarefied air.

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So I did it, the whole way, by myself, and I knew I'd finish because I'm stubborn. Obstinance established, only two things really worried me: Either I'd be eaten by a mountain lion or struck by lightning. Neither of those things happened, but both of those things came a little too close for comfort a little too often. What I didn't expect were things I wouldn't have been able to anticipate, like not having anyone to bounce ideas off of when I needed to make important decisions. When lightning threatened, no one weighed in on whether it was safe to climb over at 12,500 foot pass. I had to be the only smart (or dumb) one to decide that. And a campsite is a lot easier to determine, believe it or not, when someone else is there to help scout out locations and make suggestions. That said, I could decide for myself when I needed to eat or rest without having to worry about stopping for someone else. That's important because I tend to go without food, to just carry on. If I stop it's difficult to get going again, so I opted to just never stop. I'll admit, it's not for everyone.

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I've been asked if I ever wanted to quit. No. Never. I don't have a permanently “bruised forehead” for nothing. The thing is, I'm not extraordinary. I'm just like you. What I eliminated from my vocabulary was “can't.” Before I set out, I just vowed to myself that it was just a forbidden word, and once it was then I had to find a way to do whatever needed to be done. It sounds simple and it was; whatever was happening, “can't” was not an option. It was quite comforting really. I had no out so I simply had to find a way through every situation. No other options existed for me.

My friend since forever (and 1/3 of Travels with Chelsea), Lisa T, asked me to write to inspire others to accomplish something extraordinary or experience life beyond what they thought was capable. I don't ever feel like I have that capacity but I'll say what I learned about myself: I carried a 50L Osprey backpack full of food, bedding, tent, clothing, toilet paper (& trowel, don't ask), night lights- things I take for granted are just there for my daily needs- for over 500 miles of rough terrain. I thought walking two dogs was hard, I had no idea.

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I have never done anything like this in my life, but I wanted to be a “completer.” I wanted to be able to see myself as someone who could accomplish a difficult task. What I actually learned when I walked off that trail after the last mile is that I can literally accomplish anything I put my mind to, if I eliminate the “can'ts” from my life. I can hardly stand to even hear the word spoken anymore because I know the truth. That word is a lie, a convenience we've all invented to deny ourselves a fuller life. It's such an easy cop out, saying “can't” when what we really mean is “won't.” It's a word that's now gone from my vocabulary and if there's any inspiration I can offer at all, it's to remove it from yours, as well. Maybe you don't want to hike the Colorado Trail but I bet there's something else you want to do- physically, mentally, psychologically, spiritually- that you've been telling yourself, “I can't,” and the only thing stopping you is that you keep the word “can't” in your arsenal. Well empty the chamber because you “can,” whatever it is. Five years ago I didn't think I could hike for 6 weeks straight over the Rockies. Then I did. At some point in the future you will have to look back and say that you didn't think you could do something. How will you be able to finish that? With a “and so I didn't,” or with a permanently bruised forehead saying, “but I did.”

Now for those of you interested in the technical more than the inspiration, here they are:

The hike took 34 days total with 4 built in “no hike” days for refueling the body and the food supply. I carried my Osprey 50L backpack with the following contents:

.... Ursack Bear Bag

....Water filter, 3 liter bladder, two one liter Smart Water Bottles

....Food (tuna, flour tortillas, block of parmasean cheese, salami, breakfast bars, payday candy bars, sport beans/gel blocks for electrolytes)

....Two shirts, 3 pairs of socks, one pair shorts, 3 pair underwear

....biodegradable toilet paper, trowel to bury solid waste

....18 degree F women’s sleeping bag

....sleeping bag liner

....rain jacket, light fleece pullover jacket, rain pants, gloves, hat 

....ziplock bags to carry trash out to my next mountain town ‘Leave No Trace’

....Cell Phone, Charger

....headlamp

....small medical kit w/ bandages, Benadryl, Motrin, antibiotic ointment

…sunscreen, wipes for personal hygiene 

....data book for maps and trail details

....2 lighters for emergencies

....3 inch blade knife