CouchtoCDT

Hiking the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) Northbound in 2013- sharing my preparation for the hike and my day to day experience while I'm on the trail. Inspiring people to follow their dreams.


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Top 5 to-do’s for my CDT thru hike

Money 

This trip isn’t cheap.  On average it costs between $3-5K to hike the CDT, depending on how frugal or lavish you are.  You have to pay for food for every day of the trip, insurance, clothing, town stops and equipment that’s going to need replacing.  You go through 5 pairs of shoes alone.  I also don’t want to complete the trail and come home broke. Getting back into the groove of modern life will be hard enough after the trail, but to come back having to go straight back to work would be tough.  Since my current savings is at $0, this is of immediate concern.

Research

How do I get from Mexico to Canada?  I need to get lots of maps and guide books to hike the trail, learn what are the best foods to take and decide what gear I need and when.  I need to learn where to send mail drops, lodging and transportation.  I also need to enhance my outdoor skills like navigation, site selection, animals and observing the weather.  There are a lot of moving parts, so tackling them in an organized and methodical way is my only hope.

Family

Leaving my family and friends for the thru hike will also be hard.  I love seeing my family for dinners, wrestling with my nephew and being a short drive away.  Having my family involved in the process and having their support is very important. Setting up ways to communicate with them through email, pictures and phone calls while I am away will be a key to happiness for everyone.

Fitness

Getting fit enough to endure 4-5 months of 20-30 mile per day hiking, every day, is going to be a challenge.  Some people don’t train hard before the hike because they figure they will get fit on the trail.  This is wrong.  You need to show up in shape and be ready to do the miles; this prevents injury, enhances your enjoyment and helps you feel more confident in your abilities, mentally.

Mental

Most people who hike a long trail will tell you that the trail is 80% mental and 20% physical.  The day after day hiking in the rain, cold, heat and bugs can make a person start hating life real soon.  Preparing myself mentally is one of the biggest things I can do for a long trip like this because I will be in my head A LOT.  Can I stay positive?  Can I remember why I’m out there and pushing myself like this?  I feel I’m mentally strong now but this will be a whole different challenge for my head and my body.

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Labor day in Canyonlands

Canyonlands National Park

Labor Day weekend is a time that every weekend warrior cherishes, an extra day of solitude and adventure.  For me, I was on a mission: to return something that I had collected on a previous trip to Capitol Reef National Park that would symbolize my decision to get married to my now ex-wife.  The rock was a beautiful piece of petrified wood that I had found at the bottom of a wash, off trail in Capitol Reef, 4 years earlier.  I was on my way to a Backpacking Light course in Glen Canyon when I stopped for the night at Capitol Reef to check out the sights and find a free place to camp for the night.  The ‘rock’ symbolized my decision to get married but now it was a symbol of my lost marriage and a new way for me to have some closure to it.

My buddy arrives at the park-and-ride off of I-70 after work on Friday and off we go, full of excitement and a ‘lets get the hell out of here’ motto running through every conversation.

20 miles into Utah, with a dark night sky, we entered a construction area where we suddenly started hearing a repeated thump. We pulled over quickly  to find that the tire is completely ripped to shreds and is smoking, making it look like my car was on fire.  We empty out the trunk, get out the spare, put our circle of hope on and dream that it would make it… but to where?

After deliberation, we decided it was best to head to Moab for a new tire since its one of the mecca’s of off road vehicles, which, to us, meant lots of tire shops.

We roll into Moab on our donut and find Chip’s Grand Tire, which was closed at the time, but  opens on Saturdays at 8 am.  We plan on being there at 7:30.  We drive back up the road and randomly turn right on a forest road, desperate to find a quick and close campsite on BLM land.  Off-roading on the donut was not an option so it was either this or hide somewhere in the residential areas of Moab, sleeping in my car.  Luckily we found a spot 60 yards off of I-191 where we camped out, listening to the hums of the highway close by…  In the end, I paid $249 for two new Michelin tires with mounting and everything.

Over breakfast at Love Muffin Café we decide to abandon our original trip plans and head to the Needles district of Canyonlands National Park. Canyonlands was an appealing 2nd choice because I’ve been there about 10 times, mostly during my somewhat annual Thanksgivings trip.

We get to the visitors center about an hour later and talk with the ranger about what backcountry spots are available.  If you want to book a site, you have to do it two weeks before your arrival date otherwise its first come, first serve after that. We booked my favorite spot in Chesler Park, got our backcountry permit, filled our water bottles and away we went.  Parking at the Elephant Hill trailhead we headed out towards Chesler Park with a fury of finally being on the trail.

 

Part way through the hike, with the rock still in my pack, I came to a spot that the ex-wife and  I had stopped at to rest at along the trail, the first time I took her there.  I had originally planned to put the rock back exactly where I had found it but laying it down here, next to a juniper tree, seemed just as appropriate as its former home.  I laid the rock down, thinking about what had happened between the time I had picked it up and now putting it down here.  When I laid that rock down at the stump of the Juniper tree I didn’t feel the wave of emotion I thought I would have.  I didn’t feel as much weight lifted off my shoulders as my therapist in Boulder said I would.  I just felt like I was leaving this behind, that I wouldn’t have to look at this rock in my living room anymore, reminding me of what used to be, or what could have been.

We hiked the 4 miles to Chesler Park, dropping our packs in the shade and taking a moment to absorb the vastness that the view allowed.  It is so gorgeous, and I was happy to be back!

I was looking forward to the short hike on the Joint Trail, a series of narrow fractures in the rock that run for several hundreds of feet and towering the same height above you.  Your shoulders scrape the walls as you walk through them with tempting side cracks that lead to places unknown.

As I’m sitting there enjoying the view of Chesler Park after the Joint Trail, the skies opened up with a fury that you can only see in canyon country.  The rain came down in fat drops, coming at us from all directions with a wind that was whipping around with a fury I have rarely seen. The rain created creeks where 5 minutes before was just sand, waterfalls coming off the sandstone and the aliveness of the foliage that has been waiting for this moment since the last rain.  We were able to fill up our empty water bottles and pots with the extra water.  The burst came and went in 15 minutes.

We took a slightly different route in the morning but nonetheless ended up at our car in about 3 ½ hours.  It’s always a little sad walking back to your car after being on an overnight or longer trip.  The car is this crazy symbol of being back to the world, back to our problems and the vehicle that would bring us back to our regular lives; I hate the car.

We made a stop in Moab at my favorite bookstore, Back of Beyond; they specialize in Southwestern books, authors and rare books.  I spent more time there than we should have, but I picked out a book that I thought represented a lot of what I was feeling:  The man who quit money by Mark Sundeen.  I wasn’t quitting money and going to the extent that he did but I was quitting the life I had, for a new life of adventure and change.


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Evolving from Car camper to lightweight backpacker

I started camping when I was about 8 yrs. old.  My dad brought the family and I out to Colorado for a camping festival with over 200 Czech people, which is where my family immigrated from back in 1979.  At the time, the woods of Colorado were amazing with the trees, rocks, cliffs and the possibility of bears.  Oh, how I wanted, but didn’t want to run into a bear.  It’s an amazing feeling to be both scared and excited at the same time.

I continued to car camp with friends and family through the years but it wasn’t until about 8 years ago that I decided that there must be much better things to see far away from the parking lot and my beer stash.  My buddy Bret always wanted me to leave the site and go for a hike but, I was more interested in being fat and close to my beer then to actually go out and see something.  Once I did leave the parking lot, I was amazed at how beautiful, quite and clean everything was now in the woods.  There were no beer cans, propane stoves and huge fire rings so you could have that stereotypical ‘bonfire’ that your suppose to have when you camp.  I learned how to follow a trail, pack equipment (not lightweight) and setup camp in the backcountry.  I was immediately hooked.  I spent a long time looking for resources to learn more about it.  After a few trips with a traditional heavy pack, I knew I had to lighten up.  I weighted about 300lbs at the time so I didn’t want to carry another 50 lbs on my back.  I went looking for a lighter way and below are some online resources I found:

Here is a summary of my favorite backpacking sites:

Backpackinglight.com is probably the best website you will find that is dedicated to lightweight backpacking.  It has a huge online forum community that is very helpful, great gear reviews, buy/sell your used gear and wonderful trip reports posted by members.  They examine techniques, philosophies, gear, and the evolution of products and are constantly challenging the status quo of current backpacking trends.  This should be your first stop if learning how to hike.  If you’re going to start venturing into the backcountry you might as well do it light!

Whiteblaze.net is another great site to learn about backpacking, hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT) and get advice on gear and technique.  This site has been around a long time so there is a large archive of forum questions and discussions.  There are also a lot of colorful members who are very helpful with your questions and will be honest on what they think of your gear list or any question you ask.

Backpacker.com is the online site for the same named magazine that I’m sure you have seen somewhere.  They are great at posting reviews, trip ideas, interviews and stories related to the outdoors.  I tend to use this mostly for trip ideas; you can enter in a place such as Rocky Mountain National Park and it will pull up trips that they have either posted online or in their magazine.  I do question some of their reviews but, they are a great place to look if your brand new to backpacking and still need to learn what the 10 essentials are. My only warning is that they mostly promote traditional gear, not very many lightweight options but a good place to look.

My next posting will be a trip report from my weekend in Canyonlands National Park over the Labor Day weekend.  Keep a look out for that soon!