PINEDALE — Sunburnt, bug-bit and grubby, dozens of backpack-toting adventurers have begun pouring into western Wyoming's mountain towns.
Over the next two months, several hundred hikers will hoof it through Wyoming on the Continental Divide Trail (CDT).
The leanest and hardest among them, the thru-hikers, have been on the trail since sometime in April. They hope to finish by late August.
Their intent it to traverse the trail's entire 3,100 miles from near Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, on the Mexican border, up through New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana to the trail's northern terminus in Glacier National Park on the Canadian border.
Gateway communities along the trail like Pinedale, Dubois and Lander offer them a bed, shower, "town food" and social interaction.
"The people you meet make such an effort to be kind to CDT hikers," said Marty Lee, trail name "Quiet," from Socorro, New Mexico. "I mean, it will shatter your cynicism. When you stop to ask somebody a question and they find out you're walking to Canada, there's suddenly nothing they won't do for you."
They all use a nickname, or trail name as it's known in the long-distance trail culture. The name should be earned and accepted on a long-distance hike.
The trail community uses numerous descriptive terms that are foreign to outsiders. A section hiker is someone who only tackles a section of the trail during a season. A "nobo" is a northbound hiker and a "sobo" is a southbound hiker.
Days off the trail are called "zero days," meaning no miles were traversed. On those days, Quiet's top priority is a shower followed by elevating his feet and getting rest. But there's lots to do while in town, including resupply with food and often a trip to the Post Office to pick up new boots and other supplies hikers have mailed ahead to themselves.
They all know the exact weight of every piece of gear they carry. When that's added up, they can qualify as an "ultralightweight" if a backpack, less the weight of consumables, comes in under 10 pounds. Consumables include water and freeze-dried food.
A "lightweight" is someone whose base weight is 10 to 20 pounds. And anyone who carries a pack heavier than 20 pounds is considered a masochist in this high-tech, gear-minded community.
Quiet's trail name is an antonym. He earned it when someone asked rhetorically if he could be quiet.
At 69 years-old, he's a section hiker. During previous seasons, he has completed the New Mexico and Colorado sections. This season he's working on Wyoming and part of Idaho.
Quiet started in Rawlins around July 1. He's been making about 20 miles per day, and it's taken him about two weeks to reach Pinedale.
"Out in the Great Divide Basin I was making 22-23 miles a day, but there were thru-hikers blowing by me," he said. "I'm starting to get my trail legs by now."
Quiet prefers to hike solo most of the time. He says hikers yoyo back and forth on the trial, and he frequently bumps into others he knows. He likes to team up in northwest Wyoming because of grizzly bears.
Another New Mexico-based thru-hiker identified as "Noodle" told Cowboy State Daily he, along with female partner "Extra-Mile," post-holed their way through 850 miles of snowdrifts in northern New Mexico and Colorado this spring.
On July 14, the pair was 76 days into their journey.
Shaving supplies are apparently an unnecessary extravagance among the men on the CDT. Noodle has a ruddy beard that starts just below his eyeballs and ends at the neckline of his "town shirt."
"Bear spray is worthless in the winds if you're headed north," he said. "If you're headed south (in the direction of the predominant wind) it's fine, but I'd much rather have a pistol."
CDT Wyoming Section
The CDT leaves Colorado and enters Wyoming near Encampment in Carbon County. It meanders north across the high desert to Rawlins and then hopscotches west across the Fremont and Sweetwater county lines.
Wyoming's southernmost section of the CDT could be where the Big Empty earned its nickname. This section inflicts an ample amount of suffering on those brave enough to take it on.
Hikers told Cowboy State Daily the available water in this section comes mostly from stock ponds often surrounded by cow turds.
The latest in lightweight water filtering technology is a small filter that either connects to a plastic water bottle or a collapsible plastic bag. The filters do a good job cleaning the water of microscopic bugs that can cause illnesses, but the smell of cattle and sheep remains.
At South Pass City, some hikers hitch a ride over the 37 miles to Lander for a break before heading north on the CDT into the Wind River Range.
Back in the mountains, clean water is abundant. Quiet said snow in the high mountains is melting rapidly and the forest is damp. Dry camp spots are hard to find.
Dubois is a frequent rest stop for hikers at the north end of the Wind River Range. From there, the CDT proceeds west and north through Yellowstone National Park, exiting Wyoming a few miles directly west of Old Faithful geyser.
Tim Schoessler, trail name "Six-Year," is a Powell, Wyoming, native and a stay-at-home dad whose wife cuts him loose for a five- to six-week-long adventure every summer.
"There's something about this lifestyle of always being on the move that's appealing to me," he said. "Sometimes when I'm out on the trail I want to get to town, but after being in town it doesn't take long before I want to get back out on the trail."
When Six-Year gets to town his priorities are, in order: beer, followed by town food, followed by more beer, and then a shower, he said.
Six-Year started his summer excursion near Encampment, but by the time he got to Rawlins he had bad blisters on his feet. He said it was the hard pavement that did it.
"Give me dirt any day," he said.
Accommodations Along The CDT
For people who essentially live in the mountains for most of the summer, the clean, cool breeze that circulates up and out of a U.S. Forest Service pit toilet is akin to the pinnacle of affluence.
When they get to a town where there's a bed, shower and food that isn't freeze dried, they’re all smiles.
At the Jackalope Motor Lodge on the south end of Pinedale, some of the rooms are converted to hostels with six bunks each. For $43, hikers get a bunk for the night, shower, power to charge electronic devices and access to a propane grill, washing machine, clothesline and a fire pit. There are also six plastic totes labeled "bear spray," "food items" and "random."
According to a popular hiker phone app, "If you're not staying at the Jackalope, you're not doing the CDT right."
There's generally something clever on the Lodge's marquee. "We'll be your huckleberry," was the catchphrase on July 14.
Throughout Pinedale, Dubois and Lander, local businesses welcome CDT hikers and bikers who travel a different, parallel route from Canada to Mexico.
Peter Paulin, executive director of the Sublette County Visitors Center, said it provides laundry services, food, books and many other resources to travelers. They see as many as 150 hikers and bikers every day during the peak summer season.
Numerous other towns along the CDT, along with volunteers known as "trail angels," join together every summer to help these weary, sunburnt, bug-bit adventurers reach their goals.