You may have noticed this in our videos and not so subtle nods in our articles, but we are tired of dancing around the subject! No more! These precious trail companions need to take their time in the spotlight and get the recognition they so deserve. Many hikers may dismiss them and it even hurts our soul to say but some may even ignore them. Instead of taking precious time to see them, to look at them, to hear them, and yes as we have done many times to talk to them. We of course are talking about the Cows of Trail.
The feeling you get when walking through a herd of cows... unparalleled!
As our hiking evolved to trails out west and lesser known trail systems, the evolution of the cow in our days became a regularity. Yes, there are cows on the AT, but for the most part you do not "share" the trail with them. They stay fenced in behind their property as you walk an easement line through or around their fields. They have become very acclimated to humans, especially hikers, and the reverse is true as well. Hikers have become acclimated to them, and instead of celebrating their good fortune of meeting another cow, they may not even notice. Do not worry cows we recognize you and got your back!
As our sights were focused on out west hiking, the year of 2017 but mostly 2018 brought us up close and personal with cows many times. No longer separated by a fence line or barbered wire, we were fully in their element. The cows were our constant companions. On the CDT (Continental Divide Trail) if there was a day that we were not blessed with their presence, it was a very dreary day. Almost all of New Mexico, they greeted us at every water source. We heard whispers of the strong cows of the San Juan's in Colorado but never saw them. In Wyoming they grazed in the Basin as we hallucinated more and more cows as the water sources continued to get farther away. In Idaho and Montana, every hill that we crested we would scour the landscape looking for our beloved friends. We camped in their fields, we drank the water with them, we struggled underneath the baking sun with them, we froze in the snow with them, they were our constant companion, and our love for them only continued to grow.
Cows of the Basin! Nothing around besides dirt, gravel, and cows. So Beautiful!
As hiking season 2019 rolled around, we were antsy to get back out and find the piece of us that was missing in the "off-season." Almost instantly, we stumbled upon a farm that massive heads swiveled and leveled their gaze at us walking by. They greeted us to the new hiking season as only our partner could do, with a head nod of acknowledgment, and a slow chew of grass. As our eyes locked with one especially curious friend, it was as if we were transported back to the AT, PCT, and CDT all simultaneously. The look had not changed, neither aggressive nor welcoming, just curious and watchful as we continued to explore their homes wherever that may be. It was as if we were looking into the eyes of our past and our future all at once. We were home.
When did talking to cows become our norm? Well, honestly we always would talk to them as we passed. In the beginning it was more so for our own comfort as we would talk our way through their land. Yet, as we continued to grow and become closer and closer to our companions, the talking evolved. It became one of our favorite moments of any trail system. It would take us out of the physical pain of the day and sometimes the mental exhaustion that can only be found on a multiple month long hiking excursion. We would stop wherever we were, and start chatting away. We would ask them how the terrain was coming up, we would ask them how their day was going, we would ask them about the water source situation, any question we were curious about we would ask them. We never expected a response, and if we had received one, that would have just meant it was time to get off trail! Instead what we expected and came to love, was their constant expression and their constant appraisal. They would continue to chew and continue to weigh us, no matter the question and no matter the time, they would remain consistent. There was a beauty in this. A beauty of familiarity in an unfamiliar world. A beauty of consistency in a world that constantly changed drastically for us each day. A beauty of comfort knowing we were not judged, not expected anything of, and not held to any standard, besides the standard of a new person in this cows world which is not a standard at all. A beautiful world within a simple creature.
Such a beautiful creature! The tongue is even coming out to say hello!
As hiking season 2019 progressed, we moved on over to hike the Ice Age Trail. This would be the first long distance trail over 1,000 miles that we had done by ourselves. No trail family, no trail acquaintances, purely us and Wisconsin. Our mind found a peace in the solidarity, but as a hiker our strength is in togetherness. We loved testing our physical and mental strength this way, but we had already proved we could do this type of hiking, we missed our community. Yet, when the times were the toughest, a part of our community would greet us with open arms. Of course, we are talking about cows again. Through Wisconsin, as we were plugging in high mile days, a bright spot of our day would be when we got to see our familiar trail companion. It would bring back a sense of comfort, a sense of peace, a sense of warmth, knowing without a doubt we were on the right path. (Quick note: Do not follow cow paths, usually 9 times out of 10 they are actually the wrong physical path, never the wrong spiritual path!)
We continued to ask them questions as we passed by. "How was your day going?" They would continue their never changing stare. "It does look like it may rain doesn't it?" We were met with a slow chew of grass. "How do you enjoy this area of Wisconsin?" An eye or two would blink at us, but nothing else changed. Yes, we had become the person that would talk to cows. It was soothing knowing wherever we went, we would be greeted by another "local" in this community.
Ah, the Wisconsin Cow. Our truest companion along the Ice Age Trail!
If you have never talked to a cow, try it. It may look weird and feel weird at first, but we dare you not to come away from that experience without a smile. You will begin laughing at the slow way they move their mouths and eyes. You will begin chuckling softly at the curiosity they show to you. You will laugh at the simple absurdity of the moment. Taking a step back from yourself and looking at the moment as someone next to you would see it, will put a giant smile on your face. It is simply absurd. You are talking to a cow! What are you thinking? Have you gone mad?! No, you are just finding enjoyment and laughter in a moment where sometimes it may be hard to find. Good for you! Keep talking to a cow, and keep laughing at the absurdity!
What do we get out of talking to cows besides a smile? A smile would always be enough, but it seems that it has grown into more than just a smile, more of a complete feeling associated with these animals. Even when we are off-trail nowadays, until hiking season 2021 begins, every time we see a cow, we stop ourselves. We may not have the deep "conversations" that can be only found after someone has been in the woods for months, but we still appreciate them for what they are. There is a feeling that arises in us when we see them. A feeling of freedom, a feeling of purpose, a feeling of ultimate happiness. To us they have become the animal that represents "The Trail." We put the trail in quotations because, they do not just represent one or two trail systems to us, but they represent the feelings of all past trail systems and all future trails. They encompass what it means to be out there on a trail system, any trail system. They represent the trail community. They represent the long days spent when you crash into camp exhausted and exhilarated at the same time. They represent that first town food 2 pound breakfast after a long section, as your stomach bulges and you could sit in the café for hours. They represent the view of a sunrise on an epic mountain. They represent the laughter around a campfire as other like-minded "weirdos" chose this lifestyle. They represent everything it means to us to feel happiness in its entirety.
A creed to live by!
We truly do love these animals. When we see them in a beautiful environment we feel deep joy for them. When we see them in the baking sun and a deep desert we feel sadness for them, even if they are not saddened by the scenery. They really only have expanded and increased our enjoyment on trail. It is always something to look forward to each day, and sometimes if we do not see them for awhile, it is always a joy to see them again down the trail. We thank all the farmers that let these trail systems pass near or through their property. A trail without cows would be a sad trail indeed.
ElevenSkys motto may be: Simplicity, Durability, and Sustainability, to mirror the Big 3 of the backpacking world. Yet, if there was a fourth addition to this well-known phrase, without a doubt cows would be incorporated into our motto. No matter, we will stick with the Big 3, and the cows will always remain incorporated into our hearts. So, next time you see a cow, take a break. Take your pack off. If you do not feel comfortable yet talking to a cow, just sit there in their presence. No matter, if it is just being together, a quick chat, or a deep though provoking conversation, we guarantee that the encounter will leave you walking away with a smile. Don't take yourself to seriously, you are out on trail, you have been living in the woods for months, it is only normal to talk to cows!
One more cow quote that resonates strongly! It is not the Cow, but instead the How! Very apt for trail systems!
With a laugh in our hearts and a smile in our eyes from thinking about cows,
P:S: If we had a mascot... it would be a cow!