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Adventure Lifestyle Hiking and Backpacking

Colorado Trail Part 1: “Don’t Go Wishing Your Life Away”

Colorado Trail Part 1

The idea for this trip first came to me at the Banff Film Festival’s Boulder, Colorado screening a few years ago.  We were celebrating my husband Patrick’s 30th birthday, and his father had come up frequently in conversation that night.  When Pat was in his early 20’s, he lost his father unexpectedly. We talked about how we wished Pat and his father could have fly fished in Colorado together, how we wished I could have met him, wished he could have seen Pat turn 30, wished he could be at our wedding.

Colorado Trail Part 1When the opening film began that night, it coincidentally told the story of a father and son’s river trip.  Not one to usually be emotional during movies, I was surprised to feel hot tears streaming down my cheeks.

I wish I could do a trip like that with my mom.

Colorado Trail Part 1Then, the voice of the owner of the horse ranch where I spend my summers popped into my head.  When he catches young staff members lamenting over how they wish they could have the opportunity to do this or that, and he always responds: “if you aren’t careful, you might just go wishing your life away.”

So, I called my mom.  We made a plan: this July we will undertake a two-week, 100-mile section of the Colorado Trail, with Bella in tow.

A Legacy of Adventure

Colorado Trail Part 1As a child, my mom grew up hiking the rugged White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family. She passed on her love of adventure to me, even if it did require her telling lengthy fairy tales to distract me from my whining while hiking as a toddler.  She even put me on a leash in the Grand Canyon once to keep my hyperactive and impulsive self from tumbling into the abyss.

As I grew up and became predictable enough to be freed from the leash, I began to fall in love with backpacking and the culture of the wilderness. When my maternal grandmother passed away when I was 12 years old, our entire extended family began the annual tradition of backpacking in the Whites to remember her as well as my grandfather, who died before I was born. Bella, a 60lb pointer/heeler mix, came into my life when I met Pat, and now rarely misses out on any adventure I embark on.

Colorado Trail Part 1When my mom turned 60, she thru-hiked all 273 miles of Vermont’s Long Trail with her brother-in-law. Despite our active natures, we now live 2,000 miles apart, and we don’t often find the time to hike together. Now 67 and retired, my mom is just as strong physically and mentally as ever before.

Why the Colorado Trail?

My mom has backpacking skills, and I have experience and endurance training in Colorado’s rugged terrain under my belt.  I wanted a challenge (the longest backpacking trip I have done to date is a four-night trip in Aspen), and my mom was up for backpacking in a new region of the country. Additionally, I was set on Bella coming, so I wasn’t up for any trail that would require an airline flight to get to. Finally, being in an area where at least one of us had some contacts would make resupply as well as overnights in town with a dog easier.

The Decision to Take Bella

Colorado Trail Part 1While I didn’t grow up with dogs, Bella has become my top adventure partner (other than Pat).  She will be nearly seven years old during our trip…young enough to be happy and healthy for the long-haul, but old enough that she knows what is expected of her on the trail and also knows what to expect.

From my mom’s perspective, other than just wanting me to be happy (aren’t moms great?), she was pleased to have the protection Bella would offer us at night in camp. Bella is protective, especially at night… her low growl turns into the ferocious sounding bark of a rottweiler she senses movement in close proximity. A bear in camp might be the obvious threat, but human invaders can be even more dangerous prowlers. I recently brushed up on my self-defense skills and took a refresher course designed specifically for women just as added peace of mind.

Initial Planning

My mom and I both purchased our own official Colorado Trail guidebooks and poured over different sections of the trail from our two very different regions of the US. We studied water sources, which sections stayed above treeline for extended periods, where we would have access to resupply, and elevation gains and losses.  I began to feel a sense of responsibility to both Bella and my mom and realized we needed to pick sections where we had access to help if we needed it. Also, we knew we needed to give my mom time to acclimatize for the first few days since she would be coming from sea level.

We also knew we wanted to avoid areas where we would need to carry water for multiple days straight. Carrying water is heavy enough, but carrying water for ourselves as well as Bella would be downright problematic, especially since we weren’t wanting to take on any 20 mile days through the dryest sections. We contacted friends who live along the trail for help with transportation, accommodations in town, and resupply, eliminating our worry to have to find dog-friendly amenities.

When I visited my mom back home in Vermont for Christmas, we combined our research and preferences, and we formulated our plan over the course of about four days. While some may find the planning process tedious, I found this to be a rewarding mother-daughter bonding experience during the coldest and shortest days of the year.

Gear Upgrades

I spent the next few months updating and researching gear, as well as researching articles on taking dogs on thru-hikes and section hikes. I made Bella her own custom sleeping bag out of a  child’s Kelty bag, and also updated her backpack to a custom, minimalist style by Groundbird Gear.

For myself, I upgraded to an ultralight, 20-degree sleeping bag. Cutting down on this weight would allow me to carry Bella’s sleeping bag for her.  I’ve also never really loved the fit of my own pack and knew it was time to figure out an alternative. When I initially bought my current pack, I was fresh out of college and made a guess on the size I needed due to an online sale I had found.  My shoulders consistently went numb the second day of backpacking trips with this pack, no matter how much strength I built up, and it felt like it was hitting me way too low on my back. So this time, I went to REI and got properly fitted.

I was astounded that I’m actually an extra small pack frame size in most brands. Internal frame pack measurements are determined by torso length….even though at 5’8” and 135 pounds I’m usually a solid medium and occasionally a small in women’s clothing, I was way off with my pack size…two sizes too large, in fact!  I’ll post more about these gear lists and updates as we get further into spring and we’ve had the opportunity spend some miles on the trails.

Next Steps

I’ve planned several early spring and summer backpacking trips with Bella to put our new gear to the test and build our weight-bearing strength. I also need to do some serious nutrition research and meal planning for both of us, as well as organize our resupply boxes. Bella has her annual vet checkup soon, where I will discuss the trip with her veterinarian and see if there is anything I need to do to further ensure her safety and wellbeing on the trail.

Follow Our Adventures

I’m excited to share our gear lists, initial gear tests, and adventures from the trail in the coming months, so I hope you continue to join us on this journey!  Here is an idea of what is to come:

  • June 2018
    Colorado Trail Part 2:  Release the Gearhounds!
    Learn about the gear (both dog and human) we chose for the section hike, why we chose it, and what our thoughts are based on our tests so far.
  • August 2018
    Colorado Trail Part 3: Reflections from the Trail
    Read about our adventures on the trail, learn how our gear held up, and find out if all goes as planned!

Interested in backpacking with your dog? Check out our pack list and crash course!