Road 787.2D to Stewart Creek Trail
Day: 20.9 Miles
Trip: 344.4 Miles
It’s five o’clock in the morning, and I’ve been rattled to consciousness by a chorus of cattle. It’s way too early for fat heifer shenanigans. If I want to wake up to the sound of farm animals losing their minds, I’ll sleep in a coop full of roosters. Hopefully, the trail will climb out of cow country today.
These long, flat meadows are beautiful, but lack running water that isn’t fowled by the dung of our four-legged alarm clocks. I’ve been looking forward to a gated spring all morning, only to find an uninspiring poem about an old man’s dysfunctional penis.
Late in the morning, the trail descends into a valley and begins to follow Cochetopa Creek. It’s the first source of flowing water, larger than a trickle, that we’ve seen in days. Filling up my water bottles, I marvel over this basic necessity that we take for granted. Like the planet we live on, the human body consists of seventy percent water. We need it so desperately, yet we carelessly pollute it. Man is no wiser than a heifer, in this sense.
Farther up the trail, Diptop is sitting by the creek, waiting for the rest of the group. Every hiking ensemble has their routine, and this is theirs. Diptop hikes ahead, scouts out an adequate resting point, and waits for The Three Stooges to reconvene. It’s a considerate formula that promotes synergy and cohesiveness. When Sprout arrives, she points out that we’ll be following Cochetopa Creek, for the next fifteen miles or so, until we reach its source, San Louis Pass. Our dry spell has officially ended, and I’m willing to bet that Cow country isn’t far behind.
I’m feeling anxious, fidgety, ready to cruise. “I’ll see you guys down the trail,” I say, while fastening my hip belt. The trail is nearly flat, evenly grated, and parallel to a creek, which means I can carry a liter or less of water. I’m a day out from my next resupply point, so I have very little food. My pack feels like a feather, hanging gently over my shoulders. I’m cruising down the trail, floating along, like a day hiker, when the bush to my right rustles loudly. I’m startled to laughter. What on earth is a cow doing in that bush? The smile on my face begins to dwindle. Cows are skittish, but this one isn’t. This isn’t a cow. It’s a giant bull, standing five feet away from me, glaring into my eyes.
I decide I should explain my situation to the animal: “No problem, bully! I’m just going to go back to where I came from, and you can stay here! Okay? Good!” I back away, slowly, then turn and run to The Three Stooges. “Hey, guys. I decided to wait for you.” I’m out of breath, freaked out. “There’s a big bull down there, a bully.” Diptop suggests that it may have been a steer, which could be true. I have no idea. Strangely, I didn’t consider bending over to have a look at his balls.
I spend a couple hours hiking with Diptop, ahead of the others. A native of Maine, he hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2011, with Bastard Sherpa and Sprout. We exchange stories about backpacking in New England and share the joys of yelling at cows to get out of our way.
We reach an intersection called Eddiesville Trailhead, just as it starts to rain. There’s a public restroom here, a bit of trail magic left behind by society. Using it as a shelter doesn’t cross our minds, until the rain turns to a downpour. In terms of backpacking, there’s a fine line between hiker trash and resourceful genius. I can’t tell the difference, right now.
The precipitation momentarily tappers off, and we resume our ascent, toward San Luis Pass. It’s a sixteen-hundred-foot climb that should deliver us from the land of cow pattys and big bullys, but we’ll have to wait until morning to finish it off. A dark overcast is upon us again, along with a downpour of rain. The Grouch has returned, with a fresh batch of shit to keep us below tree line. Hastily, we set up camp in a small clearing. It’s tight, but we make the space work for us.
We’re coming for you, San Luis.