Just like the previous one, doing anything the next morning was a real struggle. What a wretched mess I was. Once again Craig patiently waited 10-15 minutes for me to get my gear stowed and roll out. We had 30-40 km to do over a minor pass before dropping into the town of Salida. Just before the top we rounded a corner and startled half a dozen elk. I didn't think anything of it, but 100 m later Craig asked me to stop, having spied something 20 meters off the trail to our right. I couldn't see it so back-glided a few meters, just in time to see it flush, although Craig saw it much better. A mountain lion turned on its axis and slunk past a rock and vanished - a first for Craig, who despite years of serious hiking had never seen one before. High five!
We dropped into Salida and found a cafe for breakfast. I was quite emotional regarding my predicament. Between bites I was texting home back and forth, tears running down my face intermittently for half an hour. Fair to say I wasn't holding it together terribly well. The staff didn't comment, nor did Craig, sitting opposite, who must have wondered what sort of mental case he'd tethered himself to. I was just having a tough time. Ever since day two I'd been hamstrung with an accumulation of persistent injuries. I finally felt I was getting back to some sort of manageable normality, until now, with the crash bringing me back close to zero on numerous levels.
We finished breakfast, I composed myself, and once again I wished Craig well, citing the need to just do everything at a snail's pace, including procuring some bandages better able to contain my weeping hip. I found the local Safeway and was cruising the isles, cleats conspicuously clacking, when a strapping middle aged man asked what on earth I was up to, given my ragged attire. I explained and he seemed mightily impressed and wished me well. Ten minutes later I found myself in the same checkout just behind him, complete with usual resupply items along with a couple of packs of the largest bandages I could find as well as antibiotic cream. As his produce was being swiped he added, "and I'm paying for his stuff too". I tried to protest but in the end all I could offer was that I didn't have the energy to fight him over it, and thanked him once again. Suburban trail magic, at just the right time given my state of mind.
The rest of the day's agenda included Marshall Pass, another biggy but starting from a much lower altitude than from Breckenridge the previous day. It was another tempo climb but I was struggling with the heat and the alternating rock-strewn and sandy surface. About half way up, on a shadeless section I heard the sudden hiss of my rear wheel having punctured. I rolled on for half a dozen revolutions hoping for sealant to deal with it, but alas no. I was lucky to still have time enough to plug the hole with a tool, then sealed it with a dedicated worm of rubber - my first ever tyre plug! After pumping the thing back up I was once again on my way. The descent this time was into a head wind, robbing me of the normal reward for hauling up such a peak.
I rolled into the outpost of Sargents and once again parked my rig next to Craig's. We ordered lunch and prepared mentally for a long march into the wind which would consume most of the rest of the day. Somewhere into this march my guts gave me the tell-tale signs that something in that burger had disagreed with me. Rather than try to argue the toss I pulled over for the first of three trail-side dumps as shadows lengthened. We were once again looking at a bivvy between towns and climbed the Cochetopa Pass in fading light. Fortunately this pass had the perfect surface for descending under lights to a low point where overnight temperatures would be milder. We parked next to a stream, allowing for a bit of a sponge bath to clean up filthy legs before crawling into sleeping bags.