CDT87 – 1722 – Lander – full version

Day 1 – welcome to the Basin

Lady hiker: have you seen the trash? I want to throw out my TP bag.

Smokebeard: do you throw out the whole bag or just dump it into a toilet?

Lady hiker: I throw out the whole bag, sometimes there’s other stuff in there, like wipes, or …

Smokebeard: YEP! Got it! OK!  ‘Nuff said.

Conversation in town

I hit the grocery store for 5 days of food, then trudged back up the highway to downtown Rawlins. I hit the PO to send food to Pinedale ( later found out they have a good grocery ). I had time to kill, I didn’t want to leave midday. But the library was closed…who closes a library? So did a bonus mile to a coffee place, which was awsome. Turns out only eastern Rawlins sucks, downtown and NW of center are great.

The women at Mukwano Coffee were super friendly. One was convinced she could clean the mold out of my Gatorade bottle. She even fashioned a bottle brush of sorts, but was ultimately unsuccessful. They had a lot of Trail questions, mostly typical of Wyoming.

Don’t you carry a gun? Even just a Glock, for snakes?

Girl at Mukwano Coffee, Rawlins, WY

A few donuts and hours later, the sun started to drop so I hit the road, literally. Its about a 5 mile roadwalk out on Rt 287. Eventually there’s a tiny sign on an ATV track that leads off into nowhere.  Lots of sagebrush, dust, and horny toads. And cows and growing blisters from the last 50 miles of pavement.

At mile 12 there was miraculously a stand of pines. They were near some kind of ruined foundation, an old relic of a homestead I think. By dinner time I was back within earshot of the road, at a spring/pond set up by a hunting association. They set up these solar wells to create small oases to attract wildlife.

My tent zipper was pretty much ruined at this point, fortunately mosquitoes weren’t too bad. What WAS bad was the mouse. Around midnight it found its way into my tent, nibbled on some tortillas, then went frantic when it couldn’t get out. I awoke to it racing around the inside of the tent, on me, over me, rummaging in the corners. I put the headlamp on the open door and shooed it towards. I could feel it’s relief as it bolted out.

Day2 – 31 miles and 96 degrees

If day 1 was hot and flat, day 2 was hotter and flatter. More dirt road walking over mostly slow, rolling hills. Broad, flat valleys with hints if green at the bottom. Lots of antelope. At one point there was a brief low area with pools of water, and killer mosquitoes. In the desert, it just didnt seem fair. I got off the trail briefly to use the bushes, and found an angry rattler.

14 miles to the Bull Spring solar well.  It was glorious, lush green grass, and cold water coming straight out of the pipe. Thank you elk hunters. My blisters are not getting better by walking on them, but it was day 5 without a rolled ankle.  Zero literally no shade.  Almost no wind.  My food melted, even m&ms, and I drank my big chocolate bar by squeezing the wrapper.  My peanut butter liquefied, becoming like the fancy kind. Water bottles were like bath water. I needed the water to sweat, but I think drinking it actually made me hotter.

11 miles later there was a small spring, and a mile after that there was a big water cache set up by the Baptist Church in a local town. I took a long break there and a couple liters of water. At that point I had already done 26 miles and had thought about calling it but in another 5 miles there was a reservoir. I still had several hours of daylight and it was mostly flat so I thought why not, and pushed on.

A mile or two later as I came up a hill I regretted the decision. Some people on an ATV came down the trail and I had a chat with them. Turns out they were the ones stalking the water cash, and they also offered me a ride to the reservoir. Given that this is the CDT, and everything is a road, and they offered, I took them up on it and in a short time I was at the lake. I guess this means I technically skipped those three miles. Sue me. So it was 28 miles on my feet, but 31 on the map.

I camped there with an old thru hiker named Mercury. He’s done a lot more miles than me and he says this will be his last hike, as it seems to get harder every year. He also had a lot of the same thoughts about the quality of this trail, the logistical difficulties and the general experience on this trail being much less enjoyable than others.

Fortunately tomorrow there is water at 1.5,  9, and 23 maybe.

Click to open and really zoom in

Day3 – the long 23

23 miles in 11 hours.  Not bad, but it felt way longer.  i think its a post-30 hangover, and residual exhaustion/dehydration from the previous day. Cooler, and with a brisk, annoyingly hard wind all day.  A wind that somehow was always a headwind. The trail goes basically one direction, but with a few twists and turns – somehow always upwind.  Saw wild horses.  My big toe blister growing alarmingly, so I switched to my Injinji socks ( they have individual toes ).  Hopscotched with Mercury most of the day, he’s not feeling it.  I think yesterday took a lot out of us.  Plus dinner last night was weak; mashed potatoes – 400 calories and thats it, although 100 percebt if your sodium.  Even with candy and mango and macadamia nuts, it was a weak meal.  I think I started off not firing on all cylinders.  First 9 miles were cake, the last 14 were a lot of up.  Relatively up, to 8000 feet. But it was rocky, and thrre were trees. When you’re used to 50 miles of flat, doing 600 ft/mile feels like Everest. Some very cool views.

Camping near 2 cow ponds, and the water tastes like it.  Cows not a problem, there’s 2 bulls but all they do is follow 1 cow around, moving at her.  More wild horses here.  Rough day.  A pond in 11 and a creek at 17, spring at 28 tomorrow.  Guthook saving my life out here, I don’t know how people did this without the app. Well, they carried those old “dromedary” water bags and night hiked, I suppose.   47 miles to Atlantic City where there may be soda, and 55 to the road to Lander.

Might try the 28 tomorrow.  5 more miles, but only a skosh more up and down.  Less than proportionally, meaning it will feel flatter.  Then I can camp near the water, so much easier.   And it grinds out 5 more miles.

My drinking water

Day4 – the easier 23

Short climb then mostly downhill, and a huge, shady water cache. With a bag of lollipops! Did 12 by 1130, rested 90 min in actual shade.  afyer this even more downhill, followed by a long gradual climb after crossing dried up Alkali Creek.  another wide valley, gradually greening as we got higher and cooler and rockier. I think the water doesn’t simply drain away into the sand.  there were some spring fed pools, surrounded by cows, but very drinkable ( after filtering ). All two track today, very nice walking.

Annoying is the constant wind in the face, and a mixture of sunscreen and sweat in eyes.  then you wipe your eyes with your salt crusted shirtsleeve, and its worse. I spent a lot of time trying to find a “clean” spot to use.

At dinner time I got to Weasel Spring, gross but clear. You had to reach WAY down into the pipe to reach the water, I’m not sure how shorter people do it.  after eating I felt better, so i pushed on. But after another mile, foot pain & blister pain told me it was time to stop.  saw some more wild horses.  its a whole different Basin, first was hot and flat, then yesterday hilly with actual trees at 8000, this morning dusty and chalky rock layers, then wide green valleys with grass and cows and antelope and horses.  Now rock formations sticking up, reminds me of Scotland somehow, the hills near Edinburgh where I used to roam.

Blisters subsiding, but still hurt.  No tape on the left foot today, and I survived.  7 days without turning ankle, but still stiff.  24 easier miles tomorrow ending in a river and maybe trees.  Mormon Spring in 5, and the Sweetwater River in 14, then nothing until South Pass City at 28.

Body literally sticky.  Dried sweat, salt.  Been a hard few days.

Later heard from Bright Eyes they were doing a “50 mile challenge”, which for me took away most of the magic.

9pm a hiker couple passed.  I envied their all day energy, their companionship and the implication that following the setting sun would lead to more adventures for them.  They walked up the trail, into the dark, confident of a campsite.  I think I also envied their sense of urgency, as if they couldn’t wait to see what was around the next bend. Meanwhile I’m eating snacks to try and recharge my body and taping up my gross feet.

Day5 – 28 miles to South Pass City

A long day, with a late start.  Walked along the actual Oregon Trail.  At midday I met Bright Eyes, who told me she was glad to see another human being. Then she accelerated away like I was in reverse, because shes one if those 40 mile per day longstriders. Met her again at the bridge over Sweetwater River. she saved me a LOT of trouble though. Asked me, “are you doing the roadwalk?” I pricked up my ears, “roadwalk you say??”

Apparently the trail turns to shit afyer this, its all “xc” ( cross country ). A lot of the CDT isnt a trail, just a route on a map, waiting for enough people to hammer down a path. Cutting xc through sagebrush is a good way to get scratched up, turn an anke, or bitten by a snake. Roadwalking means easier travel, possible hoyching if necessary, and you csnt get lost. The BLM cuts all these dirt roads everywhere, why notbuse them?

I ground out the rest of the day on the road, with a bonus treat. You can tell what kind of hiker someone is by leaving an M&M on the ground ( in this case peanut). The dayhiker will walk right past it. The section hiker will notice it, and eyeball it while stepping over it. The thruhiker picks it up and eats it.

I camped at 8pm in picnic area in old South Pass City. Glorious cool, dewey grass, an open bathroom, with the power on.

Look at this handsome fellow

Day6 – stalled out in Lander

Woke up FREEZING.  Wore base layer and rain jacket until sunup.  4 miles to road, despite the crap signs.  Miraculously a min hitch, the guy passed me then came back.  Scenic route via forest roads, which I didn’t mind. “Its better than walking 37 miles, man”.

Discussed “Bidenomics”, the fact that oil doesn’t come from dinosaurs ( that would be ridiculous ), that CO2 is good because plants need it, and how electric vehicles are dumb. Hashtag Wyoming.

At Safeway by 930.  Shopped, packed, walked to PO. Swapped tent, mailed parts home, some to back to Big Agnes for repair.  im worried because the tent smells like ammonia. I think from me breathing in it all night. I hear that when you have that “cat piss” BO smell it’s from your body consuming muscle for energy.

AND the new tent sucks, flimsy fittings, stupid front zipper with a right angle, so you can’t use both pulls, yet still same problem with the tail of the tent fly touching the tent.  Also “bikepack” version so it has 12 inch poles.  WTF. They added a 2nd gear loft which does nothing but get in the way when you’re trying to stretch out. Lame.

Ran into a few hikers as I walked by the restaurant they were at, “hey Smokebeard!” Felt both gratifying and sad. Hit up the outfitter for fuel and bear spray.  Can’t attach it well onto belt, annoying.  met a lady hiker at the outfitter, “I’ve heard the other hikers talking about you.”  She shared the same growing whisper in the back of her head, “hurry up, hurry up, 2 months left”.

Had coffee with the Czechs.  I decided to stay over, since I wasted the chance to get out at 5. Free camping at City Park, except theres some fucking concert.  Poorly performed covers of rock/blues music, like if you went to a local bar and there was a dude with a guitar. Place is full of Travellers and park weirdos too, asking things like “have you seen Dustin?”  NO I FUCKING HAVEN’T SEEN DUSTIN!

But being alone he had begun to conceive thoughts of his own unlike those of
his brethren.

The Silmarillion ( re: Melkor )

Plan: hitch out early, then hopefully just 4 days to the Pole Creek side trail (10 miles) to the trailhead to hitch to Pinedale.  Total trail miles, 76.  Total miles on my feet, 86.  I’ll roll the dice and say 4 days.  It’s an exciting part of the CDT, because everyone says it is an exciting part of the CDT.  Joy.

10:30 pm.  Concert still happening.  And, parking lot floodlights are on.  Pointing at my tent. 

It’s especially frustrating because I had built up some real trail momentum over the past 5 days and now on come the brakes again.  I needed to make Pinedale an in-and-out.  I’ve realized that’s the difference, at least A difference on this trip.  There’s so much logistics involved that it ends up being a bunch of short hikes.  Never one big one, just a series of 4-5 day jaunts, separated by days in random hotels or city parks.  Maybe Montana will be better.  At least through Yellowstone it’s going to be the same thing.

7000+ go like hell

Postscript: After about 25 miles in over the next 2 days, feeling terrible, I turned around and bailed. I got a ride most of the way to the road and hitched back into Lander. VERY interesting hitch, this guy who was Lakota Sioux, and wore an eagle claw on a string around his neck. Had very interesting things to say about: quantum grammar, the gold standard, validity of government treaties, the necessity of car insurance, numerology, and a wide range if other topics. I don’t THINK he was high, he just talked a mile a minute.


  1. Mom says:


  2. Kristen Labatt-Simon says:

    Still reading your posts!! Hang in there 🙂

  3. Ed the Elder says:

    My hat’s off to you. I would have bailed earlier and at an younger age. You’re as tough as nails…………but mortal.
    Also one hell of a chronicler.
    Be as good to yourself as you can be.

  4. Patti says:

    Enjoy following your posts. Wonder if the trek is as hard as you imaged it or is it easier. Hope you blisters heal.

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