Ragan: Adventure on Poudre Trail trek becomes community endeavor
September 30, 2015
I assured Nikki she wouldn't die.
This, of course, was more comforting before we stepped out of the car and into the chilly early-morning air. The mountain we set out to conquer wasn't quite the 14er I hiked the week before. The smooth pavement of the Poudre Trail wasn't a mountain at all, in fact. The next 21 miles, however, would require will power capable of moving mountains.
I wanted to start early. I knew the eventual 90-degree heat would cripple the enthusiasm of those on our trek.
At 5:45 a.m., spirits were high.
Nikki Work, the features reporter for the Greeley Tribune, Ali Xafar, the Tribune's Pakistani exchange journalist, and myself, the agriculture reporter and designer for the Tribune's sister publication, The Fence Post, set foot to pavement.
Ali began to think Americans were crazy to willingly inflict this level of physical exertion on themselves. In Pakistan, he said, no one walked anywhere by choice. They'd get robbed or worse if they did. But I loved it. As an avid hiker and runner, I wasn't worried about the physical difficulty of a 21-mile walk. I packed a handful of chocolate chip energy bars, three water bottles and sunscreen.
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Before moving to Greeley, I spent two years in Boulder. Morning, midday and night hikes were a large part of my daily life. The move to Greeley altered my access to the outdoors, but it did not eliminate it by any means. Hiking the Poudre Trail would be a way to find the beauty and adventure in a more urban landscape.
The morning was still crisp and silent except for the rustle of rabbits in nearby bushes and faint bird songs. Windsor residents had not yet poked their heads out of their homes to begin the day. The moon hung bright and full in the dark sky.
The Poudre River teased us. It ran up close to the trail at points, beckoning us forward, and then it would snake away into the distance. The sun rose around 6:30 a.m. For a while, the sun and the moon shared the sky.
The Poudre Trail is entirely paved. This makes biking, longboarding and roller skating safe, fast and easy. The hard surface, however, can be hard on the joints, especially if you're used to softer paths such as mountain trails. Usually, I lace up my trusty Lowa hiking boots. I opted to walk in running shoes for this hike. This was a good call. The deep-lugged soles of my boots would have been impractical and uncomfortable since there was no rocky or uneven terrain. Running shoes built to strike level surfaces are superior devices when hiking in urban areas.
At 10:34 a.m., I took my first sip of water. We'd been walking for about five hours. Our pace slowed considerably.
Nikki decided to double up on socks. It has yet to be determined whether that staved off blisters or merely caused more. I've always thought one pair was optimal. Too many layers of socks make your feet sweat. Unnecessary sweat causes problems.
At mile 10, we realized the next bailout point was another three miles away.
Panic and doubt took hold of Nikki, quickly melding into anger directed at the trail itself. Those were dark moments. After a brief hug and a pep talk, we marched forward slow and steady.
By noon, I was struck not so much by the trail itself but the people on the trail. We spoke to several people who were genuinely interested in our attempt to walk all 21 miles. They stopped to say hello and wished us well on our way. Bikers, runners, joggers, longboarders bid us good morning. Old and young alike waved in greeting. They all seemed surprised we'd try to walk that far.
The small town feel I've come to love about Greeley only increased on the trail. It ceased to be an adventure shared only with my fellow journalists. It became a community endeavor.
At mile 13.2, we realized we'd walked a little over a half-marathon despite the jelly legs and sweltering heat.
With this small victory, we called in backup. We would tackle the whole 21 miles another day.
The Poudre Trail tests physical, mental and emotional endurance along its smooth, winding and concrete curves.
Though there's no substitute for Colorado's rugged dirt paths, wild mountains and tall trees, the Poudre Trail is a slice of wilderness to which I will gladly return. It's a welcomed escape from the sounds of the city and the bustle of the daily grind. With a bit more training, one day Nikki and I will be able to lace up our running shoes and take another crack at conquering all 21 miles of the trail.