There was a terrifying, wind-whipped storm on Colorado’s Eastern Plains. There was a run-in with a bear near Minturn. There have been blisters, and many reroutes.
But none of it has stopped India Wood from pressing on toward her goal of traversing Colorado from corner to corner, a more than 750-mile journey that has tested her patience, determination and hiking boots.
Wood had realized her day job was quite literally crippling her and decided 2020 was going to be the year she put her body to the test.
“Why not?” said Wood, a 54-year-old writer, mother and wife from Boulder. “Who wouldn’t want to go on a grand adventure?”
Wood’s journey began in the southeast corner of the state, a place mostly unfamiliar to people living on the Front Range. She said the checkerboard of native grasslands and dryland farming in her first 60 miles was quite interesting. The wildlife that she encountered fascinated her and watching the vast sky showed her how small Earth was.
“It’s hard, southeast Colorado can be a difficult area,” said Wood, who grew up in Colorado Springs. “It’s windy and can be very hot, but it was the only part of the state where people would slow down or stop and ask me how I was doing or if I needed anything.”
Wood started her long walk on May 11, soon after Colorado’s stay-at-home order lifted. She’s averaged 10 to 15 miles and thousands of feet of elevation gain each day, seeing new places and meeting new people after being cooped up for weeks under the state’s coronavirus social distancing rules.
More than two months in, she has about 250 miles left to go and isn’t breaking her pace.
When the clock struck 2020, Wood started getting in shape and began plotting two-week stretches of her journey at a time. Her brother told her she couldn’t do it alone. There’s nothing like your older brother telling you “no” to inspire you to go do something, she joked.
“I wanted to rediscover that kind of teenage confidence in myself that I think we have as girls when we are 12 or 13. We think we can conquer the world and then the world tells us we can’t,” Wood said. “I feel so much more confident than I did a few months ago because I can figure all of this out.”
She was persistent and able to figure things out even when she was a kid. At 12, she discovered a dinosaur bone on a ranch in Moffat County, the far northwest corner of Colorado. She kept digging until she had a complete allosaurus, which became a fixture at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. She says that journey and this hike are similar: She wasn’t qualified to do either at the start, but she was passionate about them.
“Again, the same sort of persistence and need for help made both adventures possible,” she said. “So, I guess I haven’t changed much.”
The big idea
Now that her two daughters are grown, she realized getting out and exploring the state was something she missed from when they were children. After sitting in front of the computer analyzing Excel spreadsheets for trade associations for almost 15 years, her arms and hands were chronically numb. This adventure was something she needed.
“When I was 20, I spent a fair amount of time in Africa with an internship with the Peace Corps,” she said. “Maybe that was the beginning of my realization of how much I enjoy planning difficult things.”
Wood spent some time on the East Coast for college, but returned to Colorado to share the varied and diverse landscape of the state with her kids.
“I love the southeast corner of the state with all of the ranches and I love the northwest corner of the state where I found my dinosaur,” Wood said.
She said she always toyed with the idea of walking across Colorado, but began preparing in January because she was turning 54 and felt it was time to seize the moment.
Wood chose these far corners of the state because they tend to be the least explored.
“I thought most people just go to the pretty places or the places that are easy to get to and I thought if I just drew a diagonal line across the state, I bet I would run into a bunch of really amazing people and places.”
From the start, Wood knew the planning to make her expedition feasible would be difficult. She wanted to begin at the Oklahoma-Kansas spike, the marker of Colorado’s border with its neighbors to the southeast. There were no roads nearby. To stay on her diagonal track, she had to call real estate agents, ranchers and park rangers to get permission to hike. She will complete her adventure at the Three Corners Monument, where Colorado meets Utah and Wyoming.
“I’m a fairly independent person and most of what I have done in the past, in my career, has been things I could do on my own. And I soon realized with this trip, that I needed other people every step of the way,” she said. “And that’s been the real beauty of it.”
She says the hospitality and friendliness of the people she’s encountered have surprised her and made the long days, blisters, dehydration and unexpected turns worth it.
With a global pandemic pushing everyone into isolation and the upcoming election creating division, Wood just wanted to meet people. Wood trained hard for months before beginning the journey. She said she used to consider a 5-mile hike hard. Now she triples that distance on particularly long days.
“I just have the best time talking with people,” she said. “People have enjoyed hearing about my crazy journey and given me their good wishes.”
Logistics and safety
The logistics of Wood’s journey revolve around four things: shelter, food, water and safety.
Finding a place to sleep every night was difficult, especially in southeast Colorado. Now that she’s more than halfway through her journey and hiking across public lands, she can plan her campsites and invite more friends along to share short legs of the journey.
Wood said she can’t carry more than three days worth of food on her back, so she stores dry goods in her Toyota 4Runner to restock.
Dedicated to walking the entire way, Wood parks her vehicle — or as she likes to call it, the world’s smallest RV — three days’ hike ahead of her, and then hitchhikes back to the place where she left off walking. She then travels three days back to the vehicle and repeats the process, pausing only for the occasional motel shower or grocery store trip for fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and an essential item — chocolate.
The third thing is water. In the southeast corner of the state, Wood said she had difficulty finding water in ponds, creeks or rivers and had to cache it for herself along her route. Only once has someone stolen the brown paper bag with water jugs stashed in a ditch, and the local parks and wildlife officer helped her replace the water after a day of hiking.
The last is safety. She said it took her awhile to get used to camping alone, but it’s not the people she worries about. It’s the animals.
Exhausted and not thinking clearly after a 16-mile hike last week, she said she made the mistake of finishing a chicken dinner inside her tent to escape the mosquitos. Soon after, she heard a giant sniff and knew it was a bear.
“I made noise for a few minutes (to scare off the bear) and decided to pack up and go down the 6-mile trail to Minturn because I knew the bear was probably going to be back,” she said. “I felt bad. I was showing the bear that tents equal food.”
Being mindful and reducing the risk of emergencies has been one of the biggest challenges. Wood’s friends and her younger daughter, Charli, have joined the expedition from time to time, but getting used to being alone in the middle of nowhere is something new.
To fix her location, she uses a Gaia GPS mapping system and a Garmin Mini. The devices allow Wood to text her husband, notify nearby police in case of emergency and be tracked every 10 minutes. “You won’t get lost if you stay found,” she said.
Still, she added, if she had relied just on advice dispensed by the internet, she would be halfway to the Atlantic Ocean by now.
“The internet is not the sole source of information, you have to talk to people locally and go look for yourself,” she said.
She texts her husband her precise location, including a description of her surroundings, each morning and night. It’s part of staying found and staying sane. Both of them find comfort in knowing where she is, that she is safe and that even with weak cell service, they can still try to communicate.
“A few nights ago I was camping a couple of miles outside of Breckenridge and I suddenly felt so lonely,” she said. “I was able to call my husband and having that connection and encouragement really helps.”
Every two weeks, Wood heads home to Boulder, where she showers, rests for six or seven days and plans the next two-week stretch. Each time she heads back out, she starts exactly where she left off.
Motivated by the past and the future
Both of Wood’s parents were professional photographers, and she received her first camera as a teenager. She has used photography to document her experiences and share glimpses of the diverse landscapes she encounters.
Her personal Facebook page has been transformed into a gallery of her weekly photo updates.
“There’s a part of me that enjoys entertaining people with nature and my own discoveries through Facebook,” Wood said. “It’s been really rewarding during this journey to post things. People really like it, especially since they’re stuck at home.”
After her expedition is over, Wood hopes to start a new business taking people camping and hiking. Diversity and inclusion are important to her, and opening new doors to help people get outside is something she hopes to pursue.
“I think everyone needs to get outside,” she said.
On the trail
Walking as much as she does, Wood can’t carry many things. Thirty pounds is her limit, which meant new lightweight gear was necessary. The ultra-light tent, sleeping bag and backpack were the most expensive parts of the expedition, but they make a big difference in the heat and on the trail.
She packs strategically, with about half her bag taken up by 6 pounds of food and a gallon of water, which is enough for a three-day stretch.
She wears long pants and long-sleeved shirts, a wide brimmed hat and a neck covering to protect her from the sun, which has been brutal at times.
“When I hiked from La Junta to Pueblo, it was 95 to 100 degrees every day for a week,” Wood said. “It was so grim.”
Camping on a ranch outside of Pueblo, Wood was at least 8 miles from any other person. She said it had been a beautiful day, but the wind rolled in quickly, and seemed to stay forever.
“It was like a tornado hit. This wind just slammed into my tent, flattening it with me inside of it. It blew 60 miles per hour from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.,” she said. “I was stuck in my tent. There was no place to go.”
Once the wind died down, she packed up and trudged on. She knew, with the varied landscape, wildlife and weather, she would see a better day soon, and so she steadfastly stuck to her diagonal line.
“I am not easily dissuaded from a goal once I get attached to it,” she said.
Talking to local people has been the best part of the trip, she said. From popsicles provided by random ranch families to sharing her story about finding dinosaur bones with young children, she has found joy in everyone she’s met, which has helped her push on across the prairie, through the Rocky Mountains and onto her final destination.
Wood hopes that her long walk across Colorado helps people know they, too, can take a step to make their dreams become a reality.
“I don’t know how many thousands of steps I’ve taken on this trip,” she said, “but the first one is just setting out.”