You Make Fast Friends on a Thru-Hike

As she nears the end of her journey on the Colorado Trail, our writer reflects on some of the people she’s met along the way.
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lando and maize

Lando (right) and Maize. (They and the author formed a "pod" in town after sharing space while hiking.)

Patricia "Blackpacker" Cameron is thru-hiking the Colorado Trail and chronicling the experience for us. Read part 1 of her trail diary.

About once a week, I visit a town to resupply and get some much-needed rest. I’ve approached this trip with the desire to spend time exploring each town along the way, taking in those microcosms of culture as I journey across the state.

As I mentioned in week one of my trail diary, COVID has affected how I’ve done things. I’ve arranged rides at different trailheads and road crossings to avoid hitchhiking. Prior to leaving, I mapped out my mileage and locations and sent the spreadsheet out to my contact list. As I roll into each town, I use my satellite communicator to contact whoever’s volunteered to pick me up; they drop me at my lodging for a zero day and return me to the trail when I’m done. There have been five pickups thus far and every single one has gone smoothly.

In hiking hubs, town life and trail life bleed together. The Colorado Trail’s thru-hikers create a kind of caravan stretching between Waterton Canyon and Durango. With our large packs, dirty shoes, and satellite receiver attached to our shoulder straps, we are easy to recognize.

I’ve been staying in private rooms in inns and hostels so that I keep social distance but can mingle with other travelers if the space seems safe and clean. We check in at similar times and then the shakedown begins: Take showers, find the laundry, and make plans to eat. My town days revolve around food: After hiking for a week straight, I’m usually completely disinterested in anything left in my bear bag. I spend most of the last day daydreaming about medium-rare steaks, sodas, and sweets.

The trail feels like it amplifies relationships, making it easier to form connections. Sometimes, I’ve felt almost as if I’ve fallen in love on this trip, or at least made intense friendships: One night together in camp or in town with new friends, and it feels as if we have known each other for a lifetime. Part of it is the shared experience, but part of it is just the spell of a Colorado summer night: Pizza and ice cream in Salida, a breeze, a smell. Jokes over beers on outdoor patios and recounting the trek up miles-long inclines to mountain passes with expansive views.

My time in Lake City, an isolated town in Colorado’s least-densely-populated county, felt like the perfect encapsulation of Colorado summer. My first meal was an open-air dinner on the patio of the Packer Saloon (named after Alfred Packer, the infamous San Luis cannibal). There, other thru-hikers recognized me and we made plans for the rest of the evening. A lot of hikers team up with lodging, especially in Lake City, where the popular hiker hostel Ravens Rest is closed this season due to COVID-19. I reunited with Lando, a hiker from Florida I met on July 6, my launch day. It felt like months ago since the last time we saw each other;in reality, it had been at least four weeks. By Lake City, we had both made our way over the same landscape and trail. As we reminisced over our shared experience, I found myself filling my mostly empty cup with his warmth and love. Lando believed I could finish the trail, and I believed him, because he knew me as the trail knows me: Not as Patricia, but as Blackpacker, the thru-hiker.

We find ourselves in odd pairings on a long hike. I’ve found myself spending long nights comparing physical and emotional injuries with people who I may have never seen or spoken in “real life.” Age differences, cultural differences, and even political differences tend to fade to the background as our shared experience bonds us. This is never more evident than on these zero, when we lay down our packs together and rest.