Today is the day…
…and I woke in a soft, cozy bed with a million pillows surrounding me! No, seriously. All of us stayed in a hotel room the night before… well, all except Devan. She stayed the night before in the hotel, so she volunteered to stay with the horses at the campground that night.
It was 4 am. Annie’s alarm clock went off. I had the most amazing dream that last night in a warm bed! Let me get this straight right away… if there was one thing that I really, really missed except family… it was training brazilian jiu jitsu! And I’m pretty sure all of my teammates would have agreed! It’s pretty much all I talk about and the number thing I missed throughout the whole trip. I admit – I’m obsessed. In a good way, I like to think! 🙂
So anyways – awake after the most amazing dream, we all got ready to head back out to the campsite. I actually did not take many notes in my journal of the first few days, but I am pretty sure we were planning on starting at 6:00am or 7:00am. We also expected a bit of a delay since it would be our first day packing up, but all was fine since we did not have too long of a ride for today.
By July 1st, I was just ready to get out on trail! The days leading up to this were so exhausting. The horses were getting anxious and riders too. All of them sitting around for a few days not doing much but eating, eating and eating. (and riders too…)
I was not too worried about the trail itself, but instead my horse. BLM Mustang, Makani’s Grace, was the toughest, little horse I had ever started. I had adopted her back in April of 2016 and boy was she tough. Fast forward from the fear, tears, blood, rope burns, gravel cuts, only one trip to the hospital, maybe a little cursing… Then add in some more tears and blood! We made it out to Colorado! But she only trusted me. She still disliked other human beings… great! Surely 500 miles of mountain trail with hundreds of hikers, bikers, and maybe some bears – we could straighten all of that out! Right? I honestly had my doubts… but I often times listen to my gut, and it was telling me to trust my little, mustang. She trusted me, so I owed her the same with all of my heart. Best decision ever.
I saddled up. Makani and I were ready before everyone else. But it was a cool morning. Makani was definitely feeling energized up and maybe a little bit of the nerves/excitement being passed around the camp. I started leading her around and just getting her moving. My thoughts? “Dear Lord, please just don’t let me lose my horse. Like literally lose as in my horse wandering off. My horse and her free mind just getting up and leaving me to enjoy the mountain grass away from domestic life.”
Ah… Finally we got on. My mind, “Just relax, Jess. Just relax. Makani will do just fine! You know she will!”
I can feel my horse, and I know her tendency to be a bit unpredictable, but I have come so far and know how to read her. She was definitely a bit more attentive to everything. Staying up front and walking out a bit was the plan, and I knew she would settle in after we got moving. And off the team went!
Segment 1 of the Colorado Trail is 16.8 miles starting from Waterton Canyon and ending at the South Platte River Trailhead. There is plenty of water, but I knew going into this that camping would not always be ideal for an equestrian group. Since we were starting at the Indian Creek Trailhead instead of Waterton Canyon, we were cutting off 6.7 miles of road in exchange for approximately 4 miles of trail. We planned on riding that 4 miles and joining up with the CT at Lenny’s Rest at mile 7.9, and then continuing to the end of the segment to look for a campground. The problem – literally no camping for equestrian groups! I’m telling you! When you have to highline 6 horses and set up 3 tents… yea nope! Limits our choices. Add in the fact that there is no camping allowed along the river at the beginning of Segment 2. OH!! And Segment 2 is DRY with very little trees due to the 1996 Buffalo Creek Fire. Like I said, I knew this going into the start that this would be our first problem we ran into.
Finally out on trail, the nerves were starting to leave. I just focused in on listening to my horse. I got off and walked some, but we hit some inclines where I finally started feeling the elevation. The trail in Segment 1 was beautiful. There were a few times on this trail near some water crossings were we had to ride over big, slick rocks with very low brush. Just lean down, hug your horses neck, and let them navigate for the most part… The horses handled it well, and Makani was actually leading! I was so proud of her, she was being a complete rockstar. A few of the first mountain bikers and hikers were terrifying, but my little, mustang was trucking on!
We got up to the high point of that segment and stopped for a picture then started a descent of switchbacks. Just one more switchback, I promise!
The whole way down, Devan and I were scouting for camp spots… nothing to hold our group. Nothing.
We made it to the end of the trailhead, but now what? We had to decide where on earth we would camp! Segment 2 was 11.5 miles long and completely dry other than the start at the river which did not allow camping. We did not want to push through on day 1 to the end of segment 2. We couldn’t find a spot on the west side of the river, so we were left with setting up a dry camp.
We took a break at the river and allowed all of the horses to drink and graze. We filtered and filled up our water, talked it out a bit, and then set off to try and find a campsite about 1 mile into Segment 2. Of course, the first mile of segment 2 was one mile of climbing AFTER getting through this obstacle – Gudy Gaskill Bridge:
All of the horses actually went through the railing and over the bridge like pros. Could be a real difficult obstacle if not well prepared, though.
None of us liked the idea of dry camping. Not at all. The camp spot we found right after we climbed that mile up was not too horrible as we were able to set up a highline, but grazing was limited and well… there was no water. The horses looked fine, happy and eating. They did amazing the first day! We setup our camp and hung out for a bit, but it was a bit obvious that we were all trying to save on our water intake for the next day of 10 dry miles. The idea of going back down to the river to fill up on water was brought up. I gladly volunteered to hike back down and fill up our 6L camp water filter plus some extra camel bags and water bottles. I felt strong enough to do it and still very energized. So off I went, going downhill was quick and fast. I rested by the river for some time, soaking my feet in the water and cooling off just a bit. Filled up all of the water, and off I went back up. That water was extremely helpful for that night and next day.
We ate super, secured the horses and bunkered down in our tents. I think I only woke up once that night. I smelled a super sweet, candy-like smell. LOL I never figured out what it was. Possibly a plant? But it smelled wonderful… off to sleep I drifted away.