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Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? — Mary Oliver

I definitely plan to finish the second half of the Colorado Trail. That is at the top of my “things I absolutely HAVE to do during my one wild and precious life” list. Hopefully I can finish it next summer as work and family responsibilities have put completion of our journey on hold for now. My son and I recently finished the first half of the CT — from Denver to a trailhead between Buena Vista and Salida. We backpacked close to 250 miles and trudged up (and also down) some 37,000 feet of elevation gain.

That’s a lot of ups and downs. In a variety of ways and for a variety of reasons. Our trek took us through four different wilderness areas and over several mountain ranges. In addition to a variety of terrain, we experienced all kinds of weather as well — including sun, rain, sleet, hail, and even snow. We also inadvertently timed our travel through the Mt. Massive Wilderness area during the Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race and ended up having to spend the night at a hotel in Leadville (aaahhh, nothing like a warm shower and a soft bed). Lance Armstrong competed in the event, which is intense to say the least. It’s a 100 mile off-road mountain bike race with what is described as “steep climbs and serious descents.” No kidding! The start and finish is in the heart of the small mountain town of Leadville, CO (elevation 10,200 feet). Fifty miles out and back with a turnaround point at 12,600 feet makes this race pretty dang extreme. After 100 miles, Lance was second by less than 2 minutes! How does that happen? Two minutes after 100 miles of mountain bike racing? And there were hundreds of entrants.

There’s also a Leadville 100 Ultra Marathon which is billed as the “Race Across The Sky” and considered one of the toughest distance races on the planet. It was held the following weekend. Starting at 4 AM, with most of it on the Colorado Trail and the Continental Divide Trail, it’s a true high-altitude, hard-core distance race. To make it even more interesting, this year runners experienced rain, wind, lightning, marble-sized hail, and snow during their 100 mile marathon. Almost sixty percent of the entrants didn’t finish. They’ve been doing this race for 26 years now and they never cancel because of the weather. Hardy souls indeed.

But I digress…

We experienced some of the same weather during our journey, but at least we were in our sleeping bags and tents at 4 in the morning and we didn’t have to cover more than about 12 to 15 miles a day. Some longer days, some shorter days.

Spending that much time in the wilderness allows for hours and hours of time to think, reflect, figure things out, day-dream, re-figure things out, make up endings to stories, sing Johnny Cash songs, wonder what that noise was, think about food, learn to whistle, re-re-figure things out, and have long annoying conversations with yourself. And on it goes, day after day. No money to deal with, no bills to pay, no TV to watch, no phone to answer, no email to check, no newspaper to read, no gas to pump, no purse to dig through, no mirror to look into, no BlackBerry to obsess over (not that I have one). Going back to the basics is incredibly cleansing. I highly recommend it.

Now I’m in the midst of putting together my backpacking meal recipes, sport-specific nutrition information, dehydration tips, and instructions on how to prepare and pack your own food for the backcountry. Most prepackaged backpacking foods contain gluten or other allergens and most companies can’t guarantee that their food is gluten-free, even when there are no obvious gluten-containing ingredients. Most of those foods either use gluten as a filler or prepare their foods on equipment that also processes foods containing gluten. The last thing I want is to get sick while backpacking. No time to have stomach issues. Or achy joints. Or be overly tired. Or have trouble sleeping. Or have headaches.

Well, you get the idea. That’s why I felt it was important to make and prepare all my own food. That way I was able to balance my nutritional needs for exactly what I was doing — this means eating strategies for all-day energy, what to eat when you need a boost to make it up and over the pass, and how to adequately recover so you can start all over again the next day. I’m interested in sport-specific nutrition and how to maximize performance and stay healthy at the same time. I’m thinking a book is in my future. Wish me luck.

In the meantime, here’s a photo wrap-up of our trip, with a reader contest to top it off.

Next week I’ll get back to regular posting with nutrition tips, recipes, and whatever else comes to mind. Does anyone have a topic they’d like me to focus on? Something you might be confused about or interested in? Leave me a comment indicating what’s on your mind and I’ll pick one of the topics and write a specialized post on it.

Sugar? Omega 3s? Antioxidants? Caffeine? Coffee? Sports drinks? Boosting immunity? Strong bones? Wine?

Let me know.

Photo #1 — Melissa filtering water (a wilderness woman’s job is never done).
Photo #2 — Columbine, the Colorado state flower.
Photo #3 — Breckenridge Ski Area way in the distance.

Photo #1 — I became obsessed with taking pictures of signs along the trail. Some were interesting, some informative, some just plain funny. These little “thumbnail” versions of my photos aren’t great, so I doubt you can see this very well, but it says, “Colorado Trail & Tennessee Pass” with an arrow one direction, then it says “Old Mine” with an arrow the other direction. Who knows where the old mine is as we had just come from that direction and never saw one. Hmmm?
Photo #2 — Very old CT sign, with an awe inspiring back-drop.
Photo #3 — Big mountains.

Does anyone know what this is? Keep in mind, this “find” was out in the middle of nowhere along the Colorado Trail. The first person who knows the answer gets a prize. Take a guess!

And don’t forget to get out there and enjoy your one wild and precious life!

In good health,

11 Responses to “the Colorado Trail — part 3”

  1. Cheryl says:

    wow, that picture is breathtaking. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Terry says:

    These are the coke furnaces along the CT just west of Tenesee Pass (middle of nowhere?) Coke was an important part of mine smelting. Other furnaces can be located in the area including the Mitchell Creek Trail. This part of the CT follows an old narrow gauge railroad bed. I believe it was the Midland Line.

  3. Katya says:

    Hi! I was really excited when I read that you are thinking about nutrition ideas to optimize performance. I am GF and just moved to a small island in the Caribbean. I plan on doing a lot of hiking here and wanted to know what suggestions you had for snack food and energy packed food.

  4. Melissa says:

    Cheryl — Thanks! And the real thing is even more breathtaking.

    Terry — Good comments — thank you! You’re right about the coking ovens. I don’t really understand the process, but these beehive ovens were used in the late 1800s to carbonize mined coal. As for being in “middle of nowhere” — I suppose that’s a matter of perspective. The town of Leadville is in the middle of nowhere to some folks.
    You’re also right about where these were, not too far from Tennessee Pass (maybe about a mile or so). I just wanted people to know these oven remains were out in the backcountry.

    And yes, there are narrow gauge railroad remnants in the area, although I’m not familiar with where the Midland Line ran. Did that join with the Denver & Rio Grande?

    I’m sure you know this Terry, but for the rest of you, another interesting historical note is the location of Camp Hale, only about 5 or 6 miles from where these ovens were. Camp Hale was built as a military base to train troops for winter warfare and military mountaineering. The 10th Mountain Division was stationed there. There’s a very moving monument on Tennessee Pass paying tribute to the grit and sacrifice of the 10th Mountain Division during WW II.

    Terry, contact me at and I’ll send you your prize. Don’t get too excited, it’s nothing major, but it’s a fun little item that has to do with backpacking and camping.

    Katya — welcome! I’ll have more information regarding sport-specific nutrition in the future. In the meantime, check this post I did on “fuel for the backcountry.”
    Where did you move from and what are you doing on a small island in the Caribbean? Wow, sounds interesting! I’d love to hear what the hiking is like.

  5. Lizzie says:

    I LOVED the post Melissa. I applied to and actually got accepted to a Masters program in Environmental Education that would have had me backpacking and living off of a bus for months at a time. For a variety of reasons, I could not do the program, but your post reminds me that I can still go into the wild. I couldn’t agree more with you; it’s truly cleansing. What a great way to spend time with your son.

    I’d love to hear about all the topics you mentioned, but I’m very curious about sugar. After reading “Sugar Blues” I started blaming tiredness, skin issues and moodiness with my sugar intake and while I do notice a difference when I have little sugar in my diet, I wonder if substituting agave, for instance, for regular sugar has any impact on the negative effects.

  6. michelle says:

    That Mary Oliver quote is one of my all-time favorite! My grad school advisor used to keep it on her bathroom mirror.

    You’re making me miss my home state, dear Melissa! I miss those mountains most of all. I’m so glad you did this – it certainly is cleansing. Do write a book! One of my favorite gifts from my mom was a copy of an old hippy-dippy guide from the 60s for how to make your own backpacking food (I used to backpack quite a bit and hope to take it back up again one of these days)!

  7. Melissa says:

    Lizzie — Funny, but I’ve been thinking of doing a post on sugar for a year now and just haven’t gotten around to it. You’ve re-sparked my interest. Plus, I ate a lot of sugar in various forms while backpacking (all rules go out the window when you need quick energy) and feel like I need to make some healthy readjustments to get ready for fall and winter. I’m going to start a mild cleanse soon and sugar will be the first thing to go so doing a post on the subject will be perfect. It’ll motivate me. So, SUGAR it is! Check back in a week or so. (I’ll leave you a comment on your blog when I publish the post.)

    And if anyone has another topic they’d like featured, please let me know. I’m always looking for new post ideas.

    Michelle — yes, I love this quote and have it posted on my bulletin board next to my desk just to periodically remind me to get out there and enjoy my one wild and precious life!
    Hippy-dippy? Your mom must be a 60s girl! Yeah!

  8. Tiffany says:

    Melissa, I’m so glad your backpacking trip went well! You are so hardcore!!

    I would love it if you wrote a book 🙂 Also, I am interested to read more about sugar, I have the same questions as Lizzie. Also, what are you doing for your cleanse? I’m thinking of doing one myself, but I dont want to go too crazy or extreme with it 🙂

  9. Melissa says:

    Hi Tiffany — Glad you added your thoughts on this. I’ll definitely do a sugar post and will work on it this weekend. I haven’t really started on my cleanse, but plan to soon. I like mellow cleanses where you give up the major “offenders” like sugar, caffeine, alcohol, processed foods, dairy, etc. and stick with cleansing foods (mostly veggies) and detoxifying teas. I like a mix of Aruyvedic cleansing and Traditional Chinese Medicine methods. And I like to do some version of cleansing in the spring and the fall, but tweaked a bit according to what season we’re moving into. Maybe I should do a little post on that. Hmmmm? Anyway, I totally agree with you on nothing too crazy or extreme. It’s just nice to get out of bad habits that may have developed and get back into healthy eating.

  10. Vittoria says:

    Fantastic progress on the trail, that’s something my parent would like to have done, although they’re not much for roughing too much at this point.

    That ‘structure’ looks, for all the world, like an Andy Goldsworthy creation. (although I know there are other artists who do similar works too)


  11. j says:

    definitely finish the trail. i thought the second half was the best. also look for hidden cache of water and beer in segment 27.

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