After leaving Lander and hiking the 8 miles to Atlantic City, Stomper and Mayor and I decided to camp outside the Grubsteak with Hummingburd, Merlin, and OG. Tucked away within a run down gold mining town that hasn't seen any growth since the 1870s, the bar serves delicious food while the 20 people that live there year around sip on their whiskey and smoke cigarettes.
Mayor and I decided to get out of town around 6:30 the next morning, and as we got up to the trail around 7:00 A.M, we prepared ourselves for the longest day of our lives. We both had plans of trying to push through the basin as quick as possible. Something I've never tried to do.
I've never pushed my physical or mental limits before so this was shaping up to be something new and not so exciting once it actually came time.
We both kind of looked at each other with a slight bit of nervousness in our eyes, but more determination and sheer will than anything. I've never pulled a long stretch like that before, but Mayor has done it twice now on each of his other hikes along the AT and PCT. He knew what awaited us, while I was co mpletely oblivious - something that would change sooner than I realized.
I started hiking at 7:08 in the morning and the trail immediately threw me for a loop as I trudged through an open field of sage brush and uneven sand. Tough on the ankles, sand is my least favorite terrain at this point. It uses stabilizer muscles in the ankles, feet and legs that aren't normally necessary. With six miles of cross country in the books in about an hour and a half, the trail finally transitioned to more of a jeep track than a trail. I got to the first water source around 10am where Mayor caught up and kept pushing while I took a small break. I caught up to him shortly thereafter and continued on through a section of the track where the CDT crosses both the California Trail and the infamous Oregon Trail. Stumbling on pieces of History along this hike has been a real treat if you ask me. Between hiking a good portion of the Lewis and Clark route, crossing the Oregon Trail and eventually (hopefully) seeing the Gila Cliff Dwellings in Mexico, there's hundreds of years of stories to be learned of through this trail. Not to mention all of the little mining, logging, and migrating towns along the way.
We hit our first Spring around 18 miles, and as Mayor cut through the thick cactus ridden sage brush field that separated us from the spring, the pack of wild horses that were drinking scattered and waited for us to collect water on the east side of the rock pile. The wild horses in the Great Basin are extremely territorial but rather inquisitive. They band together as a pack and are extremely cautious around humans. Seeing them gallop in a heard across the desert plains invoked a feeling of the old west. Seems fitting for Wyoming.
The day wore on just as a long mile day would. Blasting tunes, drinking 2 gallons of water by dinner, resting for 20 minutes or so every few hours, and genuinely enjoying the day. We hit a water cache that's maintained by Hawkeye, a 2015 LASH'er, (long ass section hiker), and with a Gatorade remaining for each of us, our spirits were high at 35 miles, my longest day on trail to that point. A mile and a half later we sat down to watch the sunset before us, and it was seeming to be all too similar to what an African Savannah sunset would feel and look like. Ravenously stuffing my face full of carbs and protein packed bars was the plan for a half hour as we prepared for nightfall.
A headlamp was needed for the first 10 or so miles as the moon made its way over the clouds off in the distance, but by mile 47 for the day, the moon was shining bright enough to cast shadows, something that was as eerie as it was appreciated. I hadn't to my brother in a few weeks so I gave him a call and chatted with him as I tried to get my mind off of the amount of miles that I was putting myself through.
Over the course of the next 15 miles, sleep deprivation and exhaustion started to take hold. I hit a wall at mile 50, 55, and then when we finally crashed at 62.7, 23 hours into the hike. These walls weren't just your normal mental barricades though. They were both mental boundaries and physical pains that needed to be overcome. When we got to a spring at mile 55, we saw our buddy Mousetrap had his tent set up and was sound asleep. At that point, my legs were begging for rest while my mind was starting to imagine every sage covered spot as a perfect spot to lay my head. I sat down and leaned up against the latter that you need to crawl over to get to the water, and within a minute, I started dosing off into what would have been a deep slumber. Mayor had to take me out of stopping at that point, but had I been alone, I would have slept for hours. Around 2:45 A.M on the morning of the 9th, we headed back into the night with a remaining 8 ish miles. I wasn't looking forward to it to say the least.
The next few miles flew by as we shot the shit and focused on the 2 LED lights around a mile away. Initially, we were positive it was a car with the headlights running, waiting for us to hobble by. Our minds got to us and all we could imagine was a serial killer awaiting us in the nighttime; something out of a horror film. We conjured up ways to get around the car, depicting scenes of us sneaking through sage, or fighting the assailant with the trekking poles. As it turned out, we were walking towards a power plant of some sort and the two LED lights happen to be outside of the building, used just as they should be; to give light to the dark for maintenance purposes. We stumbled by the plant and meandered towards our campspot at mile 62.7 for the push. We had arrived and threw in the towel on the challenge.
Within minutes, Mayor was out, and as I crawled into my quilt, I drifted off into what was a deep, deep sleep that didn't last nearly as long as I wanted it to. I awoke at 9 A.M to a blistering sun piercing through my tarp while my body began to overheat with s 10 degree bag laying atop it. I immediately was frustrated. Not enough sleep. It was hot. It was sunny. Really a great day, but so miserable. I finally mustered up the strength to get out of my tarp after two hours of convincing myself that I could. With the sun beating now, we trudged to our first water source of the day, a piped spring oasis in the middle of the desert. It just so happens that they even have a Batchi ball set for hikers to play while you're basking in the sun with the sand in your feet. Sounds good right? I would have thought so had I been doing anything but walking after already hiking 63 miles. We filled up, and got a start to the day.
We had our sights set on Rawlins by the end of the next morning. Still another 35+ miles to the highway, and not nearly enough sleep to do so. We slogged through the deep white sand, the sage covered desert floor, and drank our cow water for the remainder of the day. Extremely exhausted and worn out, the miles were beginning to feel like a chore. Two miles here, then a break. Four miles there, then a long sit at the water source. It wasn't until we arrived at an electric well where my spirits finally gave way. The water was ice cold and it was flowing directly into a giant truck tire that was used as a cow trough. I scared away the few cows that lingered around and began my quest of quenching my thirst. I drank liter after liter and we prepped for another push into the evening.
I had been waiting to take a five hour energy, and at that moment, I knew it was time. By the way, those things really do work - the next three or four hours flew by and the pain subsided in my feet just long enough to enjoy the miles again. The next stretch was a straight line. Literally straight down a jeep track for longer than the eye can see. I got a second win that day and picked up the pace until we arrived at the top of the last climb before a 15 mile descent. The cell service was good there so I updated a bit, talked with some friends and got my mind off the miles for a little while
Before us sat an expanse as massive as anything I've seen. The desert was wide open right before us, and in a small instant I felt like I could actually be a part of it. Pronghorn, wild horse and cows were my companions for the past 36 hours at that point, and in a way it was comforting seeing other living and breathing creatures existing in such a harsh environment.
Mayor taking it all in at mile 77 for our push
The remainder of our stretch played out as normal until we arrived at around mile 82 for the push. We were beginning to get a flash of heat lightning here or there, and around 10:00 P.M, the Basin was engulfed in the galaxy as the Milky Way lit up the sky. We were only a few miles from the spring, so I set up and took a few shots and rested the legs. When we got to the spring, Mousetrap was there and within a few minutes, we called our Great Basin push at 86 miles, and fell asleep immediately. Something I had been looking greatly forward to.
Roughly 39 hours, 86 miles, and only three hours of sleep concluded the hardest stretch I've ever done. The next morning we woke to a slight drizzle and killed the next 12 miles to the highway where we hitched into Rawlins for a much needed rest and feast at Taco Johns.
When we stumbled into town it almost felt like I woke up from a dream. I could hardly remember half of the miles without having to rack my brain. The once so distant seeming town was finally beneath my feet and somehow all of the hallucinations, aches and pains, and total lack of feeling, immediately dissipated into a 1,500 calorie meal at Taco Johns that disappeared within 10 minutes. The burritos were engulfed as the donuts topped off my gluttonous chow. Two hours later I ate more tacos and proceeded to order a large pizza from the table of the taco join. If that's not hiker trash, I'm not sure what is.
Looking back on it, it wasn't as crazy as it sounds. I complained a bit, Mayor complained a bit, our knees hurt and our feet cried out, but it wasn't end all game. It never is. We took multiple breaks, some extending upwards of 45 minutes, and some only 10. We sat down 20 minutes at around 3:00 am and I actually fell asleep while it was 40 degrees, with my pack on, with shorts on. It was madness, I've never been that physically spent and mentally exhausted, but I could have been more of both. I will be more of both.
I didn't do this for any certain reason, and I most certainly didn't do this for anyone but myself, but truthfully; I'm not sure why I did it. Or why Ill do it again. Or why I plan to run and hike long distances for the rest of my life. In fact, regardless of all the reasons I could come up with to justify this type of lifestyle and these types of extreme activities, I can't find one reason that proves I shouldn't. That's how it should be for everything I and anyone reading this does in life.
Do it because you feel you have to and that there is no other option.
The pull and to test our limits and boundaries is ubiquitous and goes unnoticed, almost gravitational. For myself and many others, testing these thresholds under human will alone is even more enticing and rewarding.
Dont settle for mediocrity. We are all capable of more in whatever we do and as long as we have just a little bit of passion, we might be able to keep progressing. Just maybe.