#6 Pacer’s 2022 CDT Thru-Hike: South Pass City, WY to Rawlins, WY

This is update #6.
Chris “Pacer” Ford is attempting to thru-hike the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) when he began on April 30, 2022. He will keep us updated every week or two with the progress of his adventure with stories and photos from the trail. Follow along with us… get automatic updates by subscribing to this blog.

June 9, 2022

1,185.2 of 3,100 miles…38% complete

Trail Names:

Haystack, Angel, Camp Finder, Dr Tom, Newby, Yeti, Hot Rod, Peaches, Solo, Shoes, Chameleon, Ducky.

Shuttle To Southern Wyoming:

My last update ended with a need to get Wyoming, clear of higher elevation snow for for a couple weeks. My long-time buddy, Jim, offered to drive us north of the Great Basin with very short notice. After ZEROing in Buena Vista, Jim arrived the next morning; he and I starting catching up over breakfast at Jan’s Restaurant…I ate there 3 times total. After, we picked up Let It Rip from her trail angel’s house and headed north for the 7.5 hour drive to WY. It had been over 10 years since we’d seen each other…so much to catch up on. The long drive gave Jim and I time to chat about family and relive some of our most memorable antics together. So many good memories flooded the car while we drove…Let It Rip endured the barrage of “this one time” stories. Although not about hiking the CDT, I think I’ll share one of those stories in the “Trail Tale” below…after all, we did relive this one in the car during a CDT shuttle…close enough. We drove and talked across the terrain that we’d cover as we would hike south. Jim was dropping us off in South Pass City on the northern side of the Great Basin. As we chatted and navigated, we missed the highway turnoff to South Pass City. We expected pavement, but instead, the road was dirt.  We backtracked and found our mistake. South Pass City is actually an old historic gold mining town that is more about tours than an actual town these days.  Jim took our ice axes, and we said goodbyes. Jim, I really appreciate the drive and the time we got to spend together. Thanks buddy…best of times and what memories!

The Great Basin:

The CDT clips the northeast section of the Basin across a 120 mile stretch between the towns of Lander to the north and Rawlins to the south. Comprised of six states, including almost all of Nevada, it got its name because all precipitation evaporates or collects internally to lakes, streams, creeks, or underground. There are no external drains to either the Pacific or Atlantic Oceans. This 120 mile stretch of CDT is usually a section of dread for hikers due to high summer temperatures, high winds, virtually no trees, and sparse water sources. The Colorado snow opened up the opportunity to knock this section out during the late spring when temps were lower and water was more abundant…a silver lining. Looking to our north was the entry into the Wind River Range. Assuming we finished up Colorado on our way south, we’d be right back at this same spot in a few weeks to head north into the Winds. For now, the Winds were completely covered in a recent snow…ominous, cold, and dark cloud covered…a hiker’s Mordor! With the Wind River Range to our back, we pointed south across the Basin.

The view from the northern Basin looking back at the snow covered Wind River Range. The Great Basin isn’t very photogenic…the trees disappeared after just a few miles.

Let It Rip and I set out around 4:00 in the afternoon after saying goodbye to Jim with no particular campsite goal, but to get about 10 miles knocked out. Leaving South Pass City along a couple flowing streams and green fields set an unrealistic expectation for the rest of the Basin. After a couple short up and down climbs, we quickly cleared the more fertile boundaries and were in a more typical desert environment. Still full from our Rawlins’ McDonalds stop a few hours earlier, I didn’t even cook that night…just noshed on a handful of treats in my food bag.  

While planning my CDT thru hike, Cookie Jar and I discussed her possibly coming out to visit me when I got to middle Colorado. During the hike, we talked about it, but the logistics of the snow and where I might be were problematic.  That night I didn’t have cell coverage, so I powered-up my Garmin inReach GPS device to check messages. Jamie found a gap in her schedule, dog sitting, etc, and she was gonna head to Wyoming for a short visit over my birthday! I really wanted to spend a little time with her, so I was gonna lay down the miles…hard, if needed.  I had 2 options:  1) check up short in Rawlins (120 miles) and wait for her there; or 2) hustle, and I mean hustle, for another 2.5 days across another 84 miles to the tiny town of Encampment where the only thing there is just enough infrastructure to support a large oil refinery. We communicated over GPS texts. I started building a hiking plan to reach Encampment…start with low-mid 30 mile days to Rawlins, quick resupply, back to Trail, then finish two days with 35+ mile days into Encampment.

The next morning, I shared with Let It Rip that Jamie was flying into Denver and our friend, Kim, was driving her up to WY to visit. While we hiked, we thought through the options: Rawlins or Encampment? The first hiker heading north that we saw was Haystack. We asked about Trail conditions south of us. He (and others would confirm later) said there is snow pack north of Encampment around Battle Pass. Any type of snow would make 35+ mile days risky to achieve…everything has to go right. I thought about and weighed the two plans as we hiked. Haystack also warned us about ticks; he had about 15 on him so far.  I ended up with 5-6…not too bad.  

The Basin hiking itself was easy to gobble up mileage so far. The Trail was following old rancher road beds…tread was consistent and quick. The landscape was DOMINATED with sagebrush…completely covered. It was everywhere as far as I could see across the wide open plains…ankle/knee high across the flat sections, but waist/chest high and thick where the land creased and undulated. Wild flowers…purple, blue, yellow, red, white grew in clumps very close to the ground. They had virtually no stems…I assume it’s an adaptation to the high winds/elevation. It was interesting to see how these clumps of flowers would cluster together with other flower species…very pretty and fit well in the vast sagebrush. Antelope and cows were consistent across the Basin as well. Antelope were at times solo, a pair, a small handful or even collected in a herd. They watched us closely and moved with an unusual smoothness. Their legs bounced back and forth together (both front legs together, then their back legs together…like they were bound together…not a gallop), propelling them quickly, but their torso and head were effortlessly parallel to the ground…like a gimbal…didn’t bounce with their legs. 

Late in the day, we were told about a water cache by Dr Tom that also had Dum Dum suckers and Lifesavers.  We got there around 5:00; the wind was howling around 50 mph. With our backs to the wind, we had a runoff for our favorite suckers. I think orange was Let It Rip’s favorite and mine was watermelon. With the lollipop challenge over, we searched for any kind of depression in the landscape to help break the wind. We carefully setup camp and made sure to not let go of anything in that wind…especially our tents…we’d never see them again if we did. As it got dark, the winds died down significantly. This routine of winds building through the day and thankfully waning in the evening continued.  

The morning temps were pleasant, only needing a wind shell. We noticed the cows of WY were more animated than they were in NM…even a little aggressive and intimidating at times.  We pieced together why and what was going on. During our drive up with Jim, he pointed out a corral of cows and calves…Jim said it was calving season. That idea was new to me, so he explained that the season’s new calves are getting branded to help prevent theft on these wide open lands. Now, as we hiked, we started noticing fresh brands on the calves’ sides. Until now, cows and calves would usually just let us walk through and among them at safe distances. But now, they would approach toward us or trot around us. The mothers were clearly not trusting of us in their area, given their calves had recently been hurt by people. Now, we were in their area with no where to protect or barricade ourselves. We just had to read the situation, take wide berths off Trail around them, or slowly work our way through them as they watched us closely. Sometimes, I’d see a flick of an elevated tail that I didn’t like or a light foot tap. I’d try to calmly chat with them for reassurance that we meant no harm. As the day played out, the winds gained as the day before. Skies built clouds light and dark across the sky. We ended up with a dark cloud overhead right before camp, and it started spitting rain. We waited for it to pass to set camp.  

Now it’s our third full day in the Basin. We had a slow 1,000 foot climb later in the morning up to 8,000 feet where we saw pine trees. The skies were more clear than the previous days.  We came across a good solar powered water source that was fenced in. The flow outside the fence was for the cows; we got inside the fenced section where the clean water source was protected from cows. We decided to eat lunch at the water source. There were at least 50 cows in the 1/2 mile radius to watch and hear. There was a lot of mooing, calls, and whaling. We had fun interpreting all the commotion and communication going on.  Some of the mothers sounded painful as they moo’ed. One in particular sounded upset, persistent, strained…a little pissed off to be honest. From behind us came a bouncing, bucking baby bull that was on the other side of the hill. He quickly collected with mama, and she went back to eating grass with now both her calves. It was entertaining to watch the cows for a bit and trying to figure out their conversations. By the end of the day, we were about 12 miles outside of Rawlins; we had scurried across the Basin with 30+ mile days. The discussion of town food and our favorite this and that entertained us until camp. That night, I ate my usual dinner and all the leftovers.   

We made it Rawlins around 10:00, and luckily, the Econo Lodge let us check in early…sweet! Then, off to McDonalds for breakfast. Given the known snow at Battle Pass, I decided to check up shorter at Rawlins to wait for Jamie and Kim there. Pressing to Encampment could risk Jamie’s long trip out here…there were no roads to reach me in that 84 mile section where they could pick me up shorter. And, a longer ZERO would allow CO to melt a bit more. 

Let It Rip decided to skip a ZERO in Rawlins and wanted to press south while I ZERO’d with Jamie. The next day, we met at Taco Bell for a goodbye lunch. Let It Rip and I covered hundreds of miles together…she’ll be a few days ahead of me, but I’m confident we’ll see each other again further down the CDT as the twists and turns of a thru hike play out. Really enjoyed hiking with you, Let It Rip!

Let It Rip and Pacer…another Taco Bell visit!

Trail Tale:

OK, a little tale, not about the CDT, but a tale that Jim and I relived during the drive to WY. Back in the mid-90s, Jim and I worked flight test programs at Edwards AFB in the Mojave Desert. It was my favorite personal and professional time of my AF career. Good, smart people working neat programs! Jim and I were always into some kind of after work project…we were always glued to each other’s hip. One of our favorites to pass time was restoring/repairing/flipping old cars. One of those projects was an old VW Beatle Jim bought that needed a new hood. A guy in our shop had 9 VWs…an expert, right? Well, we thought so. He told us about a VW with the correct hood that’s abandoned at the edge of Rosamond next to a trailer park. Another buddy had a small Datsun pickup. The Plan…find the owner, negotiate, buy the hood, head back to the house. Waallaa! What could go wrong!?!

We loaded up some tools, borrowed the Datsun pickup, and headed to Rosamond about 20 miles from the center of the base. We found the faded blue Beatle, and we knocked on the door of the closest trailer. The guy came to the door, and this is where our plan went sideways. He said, we could have the hood for free, but we’d have to get rid of the whole VW. Hummmmm…new plan needed!  

We only had the small truck…no trailer. The VW was practically stripped. We had a tool box. I think it hit us both about the same time, and it sounded crazy as we talked about it…but, it would be a blast. Let’s cut the VW in half! We’ll load the back end up first and drop it off at the junkyard. Then, come back to the trailer park and load the front end into the pickup. Then, haul it to my house to scavenge the hood and other parts we might need. This is how we thought and acted…nothing stopped us…just keep plowing through!  

Well, keep in mind that it’s the Mojave Desert…black widows and rattlesnakes everywhere, and HOT. We had to get comfortable around the car looking for critters first. How did we cut a VW in half!?!  Almost entirely with a hacksaw…the A-pillars where the windshield meets the dash were easy. The floor wasn’t too bad, but we had to remove the saw blade for most of it, just pumping the dull blade back and forth in our hand…swapping off when one of us was tired. The toughest and thickest part was the center of the floor where the gear shift shaft linked back to the transaxle. This section was a bear…we pounded a chisel into thick metal and worked that worn out blade for hours on the center console area. Finally, after all day, we had cut a VW in half! You probably never knew, that you knew someone, that has cut a car in half…now you know!  

Jim and I lifted/loaded the back of the VW into the Datsun’s bed and headed to the junkyard. Their first question was, “Do you have the title?” Uhhhhhhh, “No.” We thought, seriously, it’s garbage. I seem to remember the junkyard guy pausing a few moments, then he said, “Just pull around back of the junkyard and dump it out back out of sight.” Yaaaaasssss…now we’re making progress! We did just that, and headed back for the hard earned front end. Can you imagine the look on our faces and the faces of the gate guard as we pulled up to the base gate? I think ours’ was pride, the guard’s was wonder. We got home, and Jamie came out to look at what we brought home…a routine she got used to.  

Two guys proud of a hard days work!  

I seem to recall her quickly saying it wouldn’t fit even before we unloaded it.  In the back of my mind I started thinking the same. Jim’s VW looked shorter. It couldn’t be…our VW expert said it would fit.  

As you can see, Jamie was right. That hood was about 9 inches too long!  Look at it…it went out past the bumper!  😝

That VW front end sat in the corner of my garage for weeks after we stripped several other parts off.  I remember we finally scrapped it at the Rosamond junkyard. I still can’t remember what we did with the hood we worked so hard for. But, we have the story and can say that we’ve cut a car in half with a hacksaw! Not many people can say that!

Until Next Time,


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