Two mountain bike packers politely stopped and stood aside, waiting for me to pass. Although we have not met many people thru-hiking or riding the entire trail, we have probably met as many riders as hikers. Most carry customized, lightweight luggage that fits inside their bike frames, attaching additional gear to handlebars and seat posts. Space is at a premium in these tiny bags, but the bikers are able to travel many more miles each day and therefore do not need to carry as much food in between resupplies.
With blue skies, fluffy white clouds, and golden rays of sunshine, the trail seemed magical. We passed through colorful meadows dotted with lavender, yellow, white, magenta, purple, and red. Rugged mountains streaked with colorful minerals towered over us as we traversed several ridges, all over 11,000 feet.
Fluffy white wisps were soon replaced by towering, dark thunderheads. As the dark clouds gathered, we stopped for lunch in a small grove of trees. The storm hit before we were through.
Thunder cracked loudly overhead, fading to a rumble as it rolled across the sky. A sharp bolt of lightning lashed against the ridge we had just traveled. Then, with the suddenness of a dam bursting, the sky unleashed a torrent of water and icy, pea-sized pellets of hail. We huddled in the shelter of two trees with full branches, waiting for the danger of the lightning to pass.
As the thunder quieted, we swung on our backpacks and headed out into the pouring rain. Muddy water coursed down the trail like a deep, reddish brown ribbon of hot chocolate. On the other side of the pass, many of the streams and creeks swelled with fresh rainfall, spilling over onto the trail.
Bright-red, heart shaped berries dangled from short stems near the trail. Although these tiny wild strawberries were no bigger than the tip of my little finger, they were packed with flavor. We stooped over to pick countless tiny berries, savoring their sweet, juicy flavor.
We climbed from one ridge to the next, just below treeline. We interrupted a male elk as he grazed peacefully in a meadow. Sensing our presence, he quickly loped out of sight.
With bright flashes of sheet lightning off in the distance, we set up camp in the shelter of trees, carefully selecting a low point on the ridge and avoiding the tallest trees.