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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Helena to Rogers Pass

P1010839 Taking a shower after 10 days is a great feeling.  The mud, dirt and grime of your body washes away, sloshing down the drain and quickly forgotten.  How much dirt and grime I put down the drain is a badge of honor and this time it didn’t disappoint. We were dropped off at the Lamplighter Motel, a collection of small individual ‘bunkhouses’ that accommodated various sized groups.  The owner was a kind man who offered us a little discount because we were hikers but crammed 5 of us into a 2-room bunkhouse.  It’s a crazy atmosphere with 5 people in one little room.  It’s a yard sale of clothes, groceries, beer cans, cell phones, drying sleeping bags and cameras being charged and prepared for the next section.  My first stop was the grocery store to pick up all the cravings I had during the last section including chicken, grape gatorade and popcorn.  With my food needs satisfied, the group settled in to watch the beginning of the NFL season with my beloved Broncos playing their season opener.  We slept that night two to a bed with the smell of nasty shoes and Taco Bell clinging in the air. The next morning came on like a tidal wave.  The guy who had dropped us off called and said he could take us back to the pass at 9 am.  It was 8:30 am.  I had hoped to hang out more in town and relax but a guaranteed ride is hard to pass up.  I couldn’t decide but soon opted for the guaranteed ride.  I now had 15 minutes to shop for the 64-mile section to Rogers Pass, which would get me to Lincoln for resupply.  You would have thought I was on the old 90’s  TV show Super Market sweep for how fast I got all my grocery shopping done. Before I knew it, I was riding in the back of the pickup, waving good-bye, ending my “lengthy” 12-hour stay in Helena. The trail snaked up and around the mountain.  I opted to take the Ley purple route, staying low in the valley versus going up high on the divide because of the thick clouds in the distant.  Walking the dirt roads for a few hours I found a nice patch of shade and had a quick lunch.  Surprisingly I got a call from my mom who lives in Europe and I Skyped with her awhile, sitting in the shade of the trees.  All was well until a large crack broke the conversation.  I quickly, and probably to my mothers horror, hung up while yelling something like ‘Here it comes!’.   I quickly threw on my rain gear and battened down my pack and walked right into the storm.  The marble sized hail came with a fury, slamming into my head and body from all angles.  Trickles of water quickly collaborated with the others to create large streams where there once was a dirt road.  I cowered under a tree that offered little protection and after a while I just said “to hell with it” and walked out into the bombing of hail.   The hail bombardment continued for a solid 30 minutes before letting up and the sun finally smiled on me again.

Hail bombardment

Hail bombardment

Twice this size before melting in my hand

Twice this size before melting in my hand

I was walking alone and climbed even higher into the Helena National Forest feeling great.  That day I learned that I actually enjoy being wet, cold and a little miserable while hiking.   Cresting a ridge I found my next water source, which I definitely felt in need of.  I opened up the lid of the spring and found it to be nearly empty.  I was able to get enough water out of it for that night and a little for the next day to make it.   I would later learn that the group behind me would find it in even worse condition, filled with dead squirrels that had fallen in. My nose awoke me the next morning.  It was a clean smell; a freshness that absorbed into my nostrils.  I rolled to my side, still in my sleeping bag and peeked out under my vestibule and saw that I was surrounded in mud thick fog.  I could barely see 15 feet from the tent.  It was a slow moving ghost of white that flowed over me like a stone in a creek. P1010842 I crawled out of my bag and stood outside my tent with my bare feet sending a cold mossy chill up my body as the fog engulfed me.  It was the freshest air I had ever smelled in my life.  I raised my arms out, puffed out my chest, tilted my head back, opened up my nose and took a long deep breath.  The air quickly ran down my throat, into my lungs and was absorbed throughout my entire body.  I was cleansed.  I was free and I knew it. The whole day was full of amazing hiking.  The fog rolled in and over me all day leaving the forest mysterious and medieval.  Pine trees with green moss hanging from its limbs and fog hiding everything else in the background.  The fog was my mistress, teasing me with quick flashes of distant peaks and trail.  I snaked up and down the crest of the mountain excited to feel its next move and tantalizing surprise. P1010845 This day had been an experience that I would soon not forget.  The day ended with a continued rain but I didn’t care.  I was happy and content.  I made it to Stemple Pass where a hunter invited me into his RV for hamburger steak and 2 tasty beers.  I slept that night with a smile stretched across my face. In the morning I woke to a revived spirit, one that was ready to tackle the trail with no worries, only focus on the end goal.  I hiked along the mix of trail and dusty dirt road having to choose between the confusing official CDT route and or the alternates.  Thinking I was on the alternate I headed around a mountain and came to a clearing.   An established trail was to my left; a more defined one was on the right.  I choose right.  Wrong choice.  I went for about 2 miles, always looking back, questioning my decision.  Finally I realized I had taken a wrong turn.  Instead of turning around and going back the way I came, I figured why not just go cross country and connect back up with the trail I should have gone with.  I was in the middle of the woods, following game trails that lead nowhere but somewhere.  I knew I was in the middle of nothing but kept going thinking that eventually I would hit a road I saw on my map but wasn’t particularly sure if I would.  The place was uninviting but not scary.  I decided to just keeping going, assuming it was the best course of action at this point.  Stop thinking and just go. P1010809 I hit a road about 2 hours later and followed it to what I figured was an intersection with the trail I should have been on from the get go.  I needed to clear my head so I sat there, drying out my gear from the night before, digging into my food bag finding whatever chocolate I had left.  I eventually went cross -country to meet up with the original trail and followed it until nightfall, giving up on the ridge walk that awaited me in the morning. P1010904 In the morning I woke up to beautiful conditions of more fog and clouds that covered my path.  It was glorious.  I was high up on a ridge that was obscured with clouds rolling through, up and over the ridge.  I felt like I was part of the clouds and not just passing through.  This lasted for about 15 miles before coming down the mountain to Rogers Pass and my highway to Lincoln.  I was semi-happy to have hit the road, not really needing to get to town other than to satisfy my stomach’s desire for the indulgences of town food.  I put out my thumb in the cold and waited for a ride.  No ride came.  I didn’t care deep down if someone stopped or not, I was in the zone, fully charged and ready to tackle the trail.  My trail friends popped out of trees and I noticed them out of the corner of my eye.  I felt happy to see them, and ready to abandon my hitchhiking quest. After standing by the side of the road for the better part of 2 hours I felt ready to hike, instead of hitchhiking. It was 53 miles to my next resupply in Benchmark.  My food bag was getting a little light but I had bought more food then I needed in Helena.  Maybe I would make it on what I had to eat or maybe I would go hungry for a day or so. What I lacked in food I made up in desire to keep going and not stop.  I was ready for the next section dubbed “The Roller Coaster”.

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Butte to Helena

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I arrived in Butte with a good spirit, having just joined my new group of hikers who allowed me to join them on the trail for however long I wanted to.  I was excited to be with a new group, to have some new experiences and learn from these 3 other hikers that were on their way to achieving their triple crown (Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail & Continental Divide Trail).

We spent a couple of days resting in the cramped confines of a two queen bed hotel room for the 5 of us, 1 of them being a old friend of my new group from Oregon who was in the neighborhood.  We ate Chinese food, enjoyed the local brewery and I saw my first and only movie on the trail on Labor Day.  I was grossly disappointed with the movie but at least the movie theatre experience made me feel a apart of society again, that I was once again capable of doing normal things.  We spotted a Labor Day picnic at a community park hosted by the local electrical and pipe fitters union where there was free hotdogs and soda to be had and being cheap hikers we were obligated to stop by and consume our 3 hotdogs and 4 bags of chips like any true American.

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After a couple of days of leisure we started back on the trail right where we had stopped.  I was only about a mile outside of Whitehall but my other companions were about 4 miles behind me.  A farmers market that offered up fresh local produce and cookies that I was happy to buy and enjoy immediately distracted me.  My companions passed me after finding a too comfortable tree to enjoy my new food.  Walking the roads several people stopped to ask what we were doing and I gave them my regular response.  Most said that’s great but a few said that’s crazy.

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That day was all about road walking, going under the bridge of highway 90 as the cars and trucks zipped by at high speeds and then entering the local forest area on the east side of Butte.  Walking the gravel roads of forest areas is a big part of a CDT hike and they can be methodical and boring.  I was lucky enough to be recommended a new podcast ‘Things you should know’ and was enjoying learning about how ejector seats work, universal health care and diving bells.  Podcasts are a great way to make the miles just slip away.  That night we slept in a typical car camping spot while our friend from Oregon met up with us and brought pizza and beer.  The next morning we rose with a purpose but not the usual one.  It was Sunday and that meant that the newest episode of Breaking Bad was on AMC and we did not want to miss it. It would be a 17-mile day and we had to be done by 5 to get back to a hotel room that had AMC and watch our show that night.  We all walked with a purpose that day even if it was for a T.V show.

You hike for different reasons every day

You hike for different reasons every day

After we all injected or should I say snorted our Breaking Bad fix we were off again, entering the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National forest.  We had 71 miles to go to get to Helena and we were back on the official CDT after taking the Big Sky Variant due to time restraints and fires.   We made it up Champions Pass and through some pretty normal hiking that had good water sources, easy to follow trail signs, big open views and old mining towns long ago abandoned.  Excitingly as we sat next to the trail one day for lunch 2 old friends happened to turn the corner and walk right into us.  We hadn’t seen them in several weeks and it was great to be back with them.  Immediately we started talking about which sections had sucked, what town was cool and what goodies we had decided to carry.  We had ourselves a little party at camp that night and it was great to be amongst friends.  I knew that night was one to be cherished and remembered as only a night like that can be.

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We all hiked at different speeds so it was a constant game of leapfrog as you went.  One person would stop for a break as the other person kept going until you started up again and caught back up to them.  Each person was in their own worlds, listening to their music, books, podcasts or the sound of their own feet.  The trail would take you up high to gorgeous views and then surround you in woods that looked like no one had hiked them in a long time.  You’re brought back to reality when you pass huge power lines as they buzz with electricity and make eerie sounds as the wind passes around them.

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After only 3 days we covered the 71 miles to McDonald Pass, which was our highway to hitch into Helena.  The view before you hit the highway was a vast expanse of forest and a large open valley to the east where Helena waited for us.  It was a gorgeous view and one that I will remember.  I arrived at the pass, second only to Bonelady, who was drying out her sleeping bag from last nights rain waiting for us to arrive.  I had chatted up some nice tourist at the ‘lookout’ but that did not lead to a ride into town.  It’s all about chatting up the people you can actually talk to to get a ride because that is much easier then putting out your thumb and hoping for the best.  Eventually 5 out of 6 of us were at the pass and a nice guy pulled over and immediately asked if we were CDT hikers.  We said yes and he mentioned how we were going to be the 15th hikers he was taking into town.  We had great trail magic with someone who knew what we were all about.   We piled into his truck leaving one person behind to catch his own ride.  Now this isn’t considered rude mind you.  We had waited for as long as we could and you can’t jeopardize a ride that can take 5 hikers to town.  If we had let this ride slip away we wouldn’t have been considered nice but idiots.  So we drove off heading into Helena for a day of rest and the fried chicken I had been dreaming about for the past several days.

HIKER TO TOWN

HIKER TO TOWN


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Apps for Thru Hiking

apps

I brought a phone with me on my thru hike, yes a phone, and in the end I was very happy I did.  Some say that a phone takes away from your experience, which it can, but if used correctly as a tool, it can enhance your hiking experience, not hinder.  I used it to stay in touch with family and friends, check the weather ahead, listen to audio books, read books, get intel on the trail ahead, listen to music, take pictures and video, transfer photos, listen to podcasts and keep a audio journal.  Apps helped to enrich my experience on the trail.

OverDrive Media Consule:  Do you have a library card?  If yes, then you can use this great app to connect to your local libraries digital collection of ebooks & audio books.  After you’ve downloaded the app, you enter in your library card number and start searching your libraries collection.  You can scroll through hundreds if not thousands of titles to download to your phone in several formats that are available whenever you want. I listened to a total of 19 audio books on my thru hike.  It was a great way to use the time I had to learn about things I normally wouldn’t read about or catch up on all the things I wanted to learn about.  Starting and stopping your progress was easy and you can borrow the title for 14 days to listen/read your selection.   You can also put holds on titles that aren’t currently available and get an email notification when it’s ready for you to download.

Smart Voice Recorder:  After hiking 25 miles the last thing I wanted to do was type a diary entry on my phone.  I started out using a word program but after losing several entries due to crashes I gave up and downloaded this app.  Being able to simply push a button and record my thought and feelings without having to stumble through typing was great.  You have so much emotion on the trail that listening to your tone, mood and feelings afterwards brings you back.  I also recorded random thoughts and great reminders to do that day, next town stop or just stupid random thoughts.  The recordings are crisp, void of any dead noise and easy to transfer from my phone to computer.  No more worrying about spelling or my fat fingers messing something up.

Spotify:  Music, music, and music!!!  I listened to a ton of music on my hike.  Everything from Rage Against the Machine, Rolling Stones, Wutang Clan, B.B King, Elvis and everything in between.  For only $10 a month for the Premium subscription, you can download as many titles to your phone as it can handle.  I enjoyed listening to music before but wasn’t able to listen to a lot of it that was unknown to me.  I had the opportunity to listen to bands and artist I never heard of by following the ‘recommendations’ tab and other music by similar artists.  I’m now a fan of blue grass, classical and techno.  The sound of the birds and trees are great but when you need to get moving nothings better then putting on my headphones and listening to Gogol Bordello’s – Trans-Continental Hustle to get you moving!

iPP Podcast:  Podcasts are a great way to keep up with all the things that you love.  This app was easy to download and subscribing to podcasts was even easier.  All of your subscriptions are easy to track and new episodes are downloaded when you get back into cell reception.  You can store them for however long you like or can delete them once you’ve listened to it.  The podcasts I listened to most were:  Tara Brach (Dharma Talks & Guided Meditations) NPR Fresh Air, This American Life, The Truth, The Moth, TedTalks, Brewing TV and Stuff you should know.

Facebook:  I’m not a huge fan of Facebook but was an invaluable tool while on the trail.  The CDT thru hikers had a Facebook page, CDT 2013, that helped us keep everyone informed on trail conditions, best/cheap places to eat and sleep and to find out where your friends were.  Is the trail rerouted in the Winds?  Is the fire still raging out of control in southern Colorado?  What’s the best burger joint in Grants?  Facebook had it all.  Also, eventually you will get lonely on the trail so keeping up with friends and family back home and sharing your experience with them helps make your trip even more special.

P.S ( I had a Android phone but many of the above apps are available on the iPhone as well)

Do you bring electronic devices with you when you hike?  Which ones and why?


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Finished!! Hello Canada!

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Oh man, I can’t believe I’m saying this but I REACHED THE CANADIAN BORDER!!!   I can’t believe that I made it and am thrilled that I’ve accomplished my goal.  Thanks Grannyhiker and OregonTrail for checking in on me, things have been crazy trying to get things in order.  I apologize for being behind on my blog posts but trying to find a computer in small Montana towns had been very difficult.  I’ll be doing some catch up work in the next week.  I’ve got some great stories of what happened in Montana including the hike through the Tobacco Range, sleeping in a public park in Bozeman, finding a wallet with $350 inside, avoiding fires & hunters in the Bob Marshall Wilderness and my cold and snowy finish in Glacier National Park!  Stay tuned.


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The Exceptional, the Good and the Ugly: Part 2

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The Exceptional:

Golite BL2 Crewneck Baselayer: This baselayer has been with me since the start and has never let me down. It’s a great baselayer that weights only 5 oz and fits snug next to my body, keeping me warm at night.  Wicking moisture away quickly is key to keeping dry and it also stays relatively odor-free, even after 7 days of constant use. Its also my town shirt that I can wear to restaurants and bars without being that smelly looking homeless guy.

New Balance Leadville 100’s 1210’s: People always talk about the big 3 (pack, shelter and sleeping bag) but I think it needs to be the big 4, including your shoes. Lets face it, if your feet are all blistered up or in pain you aren’t going anywhere. These shoes feature a Vibram sole which grips the dirt and mud with ease and only weigh 10.4 oz, which is light. The synthetic/mesh upper keeps my feet dry. When I do have to ford a river they drain quickly and don’t wear out, retaining their form. My last pair were on my feet for 800 miles, so these shoes are built to last. Foot wear is SO important, and I’m lucky I found a pair that work so well. * I wear a size 13 4E for reference

Suunto M3 IN Compass: Having a compass is essential to being outdoors and this compass has not disappointed me. The features that make this compass so great are: Specifically balanced for the northern hemisphere, adjustable declination, magnifiying lens, ruler and luminous markings to help me us it at night. It’s lightweight and fits easily into my pocket. Even with all the dust and sand its encountered the bezel ring has yet to let in debris that would stop it from rotating and giving me the right direction. I will have this compass for life and highly recommend it. Now, just buying it won’t guarantee you don’t get lost but, thats a whole different blog post.

Otter Box Defender Phone Cover:  This protective case for my phone (Motorola Droid Razr Maxx HD) has kept it working after 2,500 brutal miles on trail.  I have dropped it on concrete and rocks, seen it roll down a mountain and submerged it in water with no problems to my phone.  The 3 layer protection of screen protector, polycarbon and silicone outer layer protect the screen and body from damage.  I can’t recommened Otter box more enough, its saved my phone from utter destruction

The Good:

Suunto Core Watch: I was so excited and researched this watch like crazy before I purchased it. At $299, it’s not a cheap watch but it’s feature rich with alti/barometer, compass, storm warning indication, elevation profiles, alarm and a host of other features. What makes this watch only good is that its not an easy watch to learn how to use and after 2,000 miles I still don’t know how to work 50% of the watch features. The storm indicator goes off at random times even when the skies are clear and a count down timer turns on for some reason. As with all Altimeter watches, you need to update your elevation frequently to keep it accurate. With storms coming and going, it can give you false readings as well. This is a good watch, but in order to learn all of its features, I feel like you need a degree to use it and then spend more time fiddling with it then actual hiking.

REI Sahara pants: These have been my pants of choice for many years and I love these pants, but there has been a recent redesign that has changed the fit and feel of the pants. The material does not last as long, and my right leg pocket is starting to rip right in the center, making it useless for most anything other then my large folded map. The zip-off pants do come off easily and the side zip feature helps me get my rain pants on quickly. The belt that comes with the pants does ‘unbuckle’ easily so if your adding a pocket to the hip belt make sure you don’t lose it when the belt becomes loose. Overall, I do like these pants but feel the new cut and material used have made it of lesser quality than previous generations.

Starter boxer briefs: Can’t believe I’m actually talking about my underwear but, these pair have lasted me the entire trail. I bought them at the Walmart in Deming, NM and surprisingly they have worked the entire way, beating out more expensive pairs I tried out. They are tight to my skin, help prevent chaffing and comfortable for all day wear. They also don’t collect much odor after miles and days of use and are an easy wash in a gas station rest room and dry very quickly. I don’t know what exceptional underwear feels like so they got put into the good category. I’m sure they would also be good for regular wear or other sporting activities.

The Ugly:

Sliding Zip lock bags: These bags are completely useless in my experience and should not be used for protection from the elements. The sliding mechanism works only for a short amount of time and rarely keeps a tight enough seal to keep out water, dust and dirt. Stick to your regular freezer bag quart size zip lock bags as they feature the double seal and are much more durable then any other type.

Pop-Tarts: Some people might not agree with me but Pop-Tarts have never worked for me on the trail. Other hikers love them for their very high calorie content but for me they would just crumble into tiny saw dust pieces that made them very difficult to eat. Hikers have explained that you need to get the kind with a cream or sticky filling so they bind more but, I guess I gave up too soon.


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Food Planning Tips for Backpacking

What will you take with you?

No matter the length of your hike, there is one common factor that everyone must contend with and that is Food.  Without food you will go nowhere.  The body is going to need its calories and if I know my body, I know that it’s going to be screaming at me!

While walking the equivalent of a marathon per day, more or less, I will need a ton of food to keep my body moving and in the proper spirits.

I want to approach my food planning with enjoyment, while considering the caloric density per ounce that will nourish me, yet not weigh me down. In other words, the amount of food I carry must not be insufficient for its burden.  How do I make sure that I’m taking the right stuff that my body needs and how much of it and when?

Food planning is going to be huge for this trip.  Some hikers, like Andrew Skurka, use spreadsheets to keep track of every meal, every bar that he carries.  He typically will do what he calls a ‘caloric drip’ to where he is eating 400-500 cal snacks throughout the day, so that his body is always running on some new calories and continues to burn energy all day.  Eating 9 meals a day, with only a hot dinner keeps the body going for long periods of time without bonking or causing a injury.

Excel spreadsheets help you keep track of what your bringing

Another veteran of backpacking, Glen Van Peski of Gossamer Gear, has written an article about the way he does his food planning for his vegan diet on the trail.  Mike Clelland, a long time NOLS instructor who has taken groups all over the world and into every kind of weather, wrote a great article on backpackinglight.com called * Food Planning using Pounds Per Person Per Day (PPPPD).  After working for NOLS for so many years he has developed a way to estimate a hiker’s food needs and he estimates that the average hiker’s needs are about 1.4 PPPPD.  Now this can change depending on other variables such as length. You need to add more PPPPD because you will get hungrier as you go for a longer hike and also depending on the weather.  He has also written an article called Groovy-Biotic Cooking:  Quick, Healthy Meals with an Ultralight cook kit.  This is one of the best articles out there about how your cook kit can be healthy and light, but also give you a ton of great options with spices, sauces and tons of calories.  I’m going to try making Super Spackle sometime soon!

Yummy!!!!

Many of the above articles will give you great information on what are some high calorie foods that are in the standard range of 125-150 cals per OZ but, these are some great sites to find out about the caloric content of most foods.

Small list of common foods caloric content per OZ

I’ll have a chance to put the above articles into action by starting to plan for an eight-day trip on the Hayduke trail.  I used to take a Thanksgiving day backpacking trip every year, but that hasn’t happened in awhile.  Unless a miracle happens by the PTO fairy, this will probably be my longest trip before I start the CDT.  I’m going to make the most out of it.

* The Mike Clelland articles might be only for Backpackinglight.com members but, these article are worth the membership fee!