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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Section 5: Pie town to Grants

I love Pie!

I love Pie!

After stuffing myself with pie and loving the Toaster House, while in Pie Town, it was unfortunately time to start the hike to Grants. We left late in the afternoon after meeting two other CDT hikers, Trip and Michigan Wolverine, in cafe where  we were having a late lunch. I couldn’t resist having one more piece of pie before I left.  We chatted for a while and shared stories of the past section, which is customary to do with other hikers. They are both great guys and I was glad to bump into Michigan Wolverine later on the trail in the El Malpais ” The Badlands” . We left the Toaster House with new hiker friends, Virgo and Nicotine, and did a 10 mile road walk until we called it a night near the road out of town. It was a cool night with a half moon that lit up my tent.

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The next morning we started on a full day of road walking before we hit Amejo Canyon which would be our camp for that night. We got water halfway through the day by stopping at the Thomas ranch which is run by some of the sweetest people I had ever met.

John and his wife have lived on the ranch for many years, having purchased the property from a flyer they happened to receive in the mail many years before .   They ranched the property and lived in a what you would call a “large open shed” that they converted into their living space. Everything was beautifully compartmentalized and decorated with antique, family pictures and an old west-looking ‘outhouse’ indoors. Its was a wonderful place. We sat and talked with them for 2 hrs about all the hikers that had come through the property since they started hosting hikers in the late 90’s, I believe. They had nothing but good things to say about hikers and the visitors they’ve had over the years. John told us stories about his time being a medic in Korea and how proud he was of his service and his continued mission work around the world. He was a pastor and his wife had joined him in his journey while raising their children.

John told us a story about how he had saved a man’s life in Korea.  He was called to a mortar explosion that a private had been unfortunate enough to be standing near.  When John arrived he used what he calls his “basic” military medical training to help the private whose insides were now outside of his body. The skin tends to shrink after the tension has been released from it so he picked up a large safety pin that was used to close laundry baskets and pinned the skin to his pelvis, pushing all of his insides back into his body.  They had been laying on his chest before that time and it was doubtful that the private would survive.  John did all he could for him and took him to the helicopter that would take him to the MASH unit that was waiting for him but not before he took a picture of the chopper as it flew away.  Fast forward 42 years, and after some investigative w0rk by John over the years, he obtained a phone number from the private’s cousin he’d  found through the internet.  With shaking hands, dialed the number and waited for someone to pick up… ring… ring… ring…  Finally someone picked up and it was the man whom he had saved 42 years earlier.  John told him his name and explained “I was one of the medics that pinned you up that day.”  The shocked private acknowledged, saying only “Oh, Oh…”  Unsure of what to do next, John asked him if he had plans for breakfast, being as the phone number was in the same area.  The private told him that he ate breakfast at the same place everyday, and he suggested they meet there.  John replied “Ok, I’ll meet you there but you better not die tonight because I’ve waited 42 years to meet you again.”

The next morning, two men who had not seen each other for 42 years are face to face in a coffee shop.  They embrace other and quietly start to cry.  This is the story that John tells us and as he tears up, I can feel myself doing the same.  This is bravery and love from service that I will never know.  It warms my heart thinking about it even now.

The Thomas's

The Thomases

John then embraced his wife, for whom he has so much love, it practically glows from their faces and  bodies. It was truly a wonderful place to rest our weary bones. Two hours later, we continued on our road walk until dark when we reached the canyon and setup camp for the night. The next day we headed up and over the ridge to Sand Canyon, which as you expect, was lots of walking on road and sand that just sapped the energy out of me. Virgo is a faster hiker than me, so he took off and we didn’t see him again until we arrived at Grants. Everyone has their own hiking style, and that’s fine with me. We continued down the canyon and eventually started our road walk to the Rim Trail which provides a great overlook of the Ventana Arch and the expansive volcanic area called El Malpais National Monument.

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The black basalt terrain was created over the past million years by volcanic forces that created this vast landscape of cones, trenches and caves. The black volcanic rock was tough to walk on and brought the end of my shoes by cutting up the soles so badly that my feet were completely exposed to sand. The going was slow but, the beauty of the landscape and it’s rugged terrain was a great change of pace. After the 4 hours of walking across the El Malpais we entered the final canyon which would take us to Grants the next day. We camped that night on the side of the forest road with Michigan Wolverine, who we’d caught up to toward the end of our hike in the Malpais. The next day we continued on the forest road but not before spotting my second snake of the trip. It was sunning itself on the road and cared less that we were near it until we got a closer at it. It was still a young snake so it’s rattle wasn’t loud and it didn’t seem as afraid of us, as I was of it.

USA

USA!!

Walking into Grants I was happy to back in a town that provided me with the opportunity to rest and relax before the next section. We stayed at the Travel Inn, which has cheap rates, and did our laundry, which needed lots of presoaking. I’ve learned that washing machines are designed for normal humans, not thru hikers.


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Thru hiking with Crohn’s

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Living with Crohn’s disease isn’t easy but, trying to hike 3,000 miles from Mexico to Canada doesn’t make it any easier.  I’ve lived with stomach pain since a very young age and it stopped me from doing all the normal things that kids and young people do.  Now as an adult, it’s even more difficult with work, social life and private life that’s affected by this disease and really, there is nothing we can do about it.  Regardless, I have decided to live my dream and hike the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) and bring Crohn’s with me.   Right now I’m in Ghost Ranch, NM, 580 miles from the Mexican border I started at 40 days ago.  These 580 miles have been a challenge for me because there is no place to hide from the pains that have been affecting me everyday with cramping, diarrhea and constant nausea.  Its hard enough trying to walk 20-25 miles a day with a 20 lb pack on, following “trail” that isn’t really there makes it even harder to keep your cool and keep going.  Luckily, you can ‘go’ where every you want but stopping several times a day doesn’t help you keep your pace and get the miles you need to make it to the next town.

I can go where ever I want

I can go where ever I want

Hiking 20-25 miles a day and thru-hiking in general requires that you eat 3,000-5,000 calories a day which makes you eat a lot of processed, disgusting manufactured food that has these high calories per ounce which is very important.  At home I can control my pains with a strict diet but out here I’m happy to eat a banana or apple every 5 days. This has been the biggest problem for me; getting the calories I need without causing me so much pain that I can’t get out of my sleeping bag in the morning.  Food is always on your mind as you stare at the “trail” ahead but, you know the pain that comes with it.  I try to buy whole grains or gluten free foods when I can but, Walmart, which seems to be the only grocery store in New Mexico, has a section that is smaller then the respect Crohn’s & Colitis patients get.
The trail has been wonderful as well.  The beautiful orange, red, purple and pink sunsets have brought me to tears that I can even be out here to enjoy this gorgeous landscape.  The smell of the plants, the wind in my face and the ever changing landscapes have given me a reason for my pain.  As I hike I am always looking around at the views, the little lizards that run across the trail and the birds with their great calls.  I’m always worried about 6 types of rattle snakes
that live in these areas and can say that unfortunately I have seen two already.  I’m not against snakes, they have their purpose but, for a Chron’s sufferer its pretty easy to scare the crap out of me.  One was a long, scary looking black tipped rattle snake I almost stepped on in the Gila River valley and another young one on the way into Grants, that was sunning itself on the warm road.  Both got into their coiled positions with their rattles rattling loudly, heads poised to
strike and muscles tight ready to leap the 3/4 of their body length to inject me with their venom.  I stayed far away from them letting them know I had NO intentions of causing them harm and that I would wait all day for them to get off the trail.  Even then I wait and proceed with caution just in case this is some new technique to bite me just for fun.

snake
I can’t imagine not being out here and I know that making it this far is a privilege that many other suffers can’t do.  When I get down on myself and the pain is to much, I think of all the other people who couldn’t be out here, who can’t make this type of journey.  I walk for you.  I walk to help find a cure for this disease and think that this pilgrimage is a blessing that I hope will inspire and change peoples minds about the what is possible for us.

If you wish to make a donation to fund research and awareness for Crohn’s and Colitis you can donate on my page:  http://www.stayclassy.org/fundraise?fcid=241603


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Section 4: Doc Campbells to Pie Town

About to Rock the Gila's

About to Rock the Gila’s

Being at Doc Campbell’s was a great milestone of my trip as I knew that if I made it there that I was making good progress to make it across New Mexico and my eventual goal of Canada.  At Docs I got my resupply box that my sister had prepared for me with little surprises of good chocolates and notes from home that were welcomed motivation to keep going.  Knowing that people back home are supportive of my hike really keeps me going and the positive encouragement helps you stay connected to home.  After staying the night in the campgrounds to soak in the local hot springs which loosened my aching muscles we did the road walk up to the Gila Cliff Dwellings Visitor center and took the time to check out the site.  You can’t walk this far and just pass up a piece of local history that is only an extra 2 mile road walk away.  The dwellings were amazing, snuggled up on the rock facing south with the light hitting the interior of the caves.  The Mogollon’s are ancestors of the ancient Puebloen people of the southwest were in this area over 700 years ago. The caves at Gila are considered to be everything from ceremonial sites, permanent dwellings to only seasonal residence.  The caves are amazing and you can feel the history when your inside with the petroglyphs, the dark ceiling from the fires and the intricate construction of the homes that once stood there.  This is our American heritage and being there and walking in the same area that they once considered sacred was an honor.  After visiting the dwellings I took a alternate route towards the Middle Fork of the Gila River, coming out of a slot canyon to its wonderful high walls and its beautiful flowing river.  The river is amazing and I couldn’t wait to start getting my feet wet with its endless river crossings.

Cliff dwelling

hand print

After repacking my backpack just in case I fell in while making a crossing I put my sleeping bag, clothes and electronics in protective cases and just a plain old garbage bag.  I started the winding trail through the Gila, crossing from dry trail to dry trail, crossing the river with different depths where only my feet got wet to water up to my waist.  Having your feet and legs constantly wet was a nice change from the hot and sandy desert.  Dealing with wet feet all day brought new challenges of loose skin on my feet, more rocks in my shoes and trying to dry my socks and feet at night to prevent even more blisters.  I only got 1 new blister because of the Gila which was good for me.
Gila pic 1
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I slowed down my pace through the Gila’s as it was one of the places I was really looking forward to during my CDT trip. During one of these day dreaming episodes I was abruptly stopped in my tracks by a loud rattling sound.  Oh crap, I had almost just stepped on a black tipped rattle snake!  As soon as I heard the rattle I stopped, looked down and ran back really quick.  I hate snakes.  I don’t like them and honestly would have been happy as hell if I didn’t see one the entire time I was in New Mexico.  After running away, I made my way back a little closer to see the coiled up body of a huge rattle snake with its head sprung back, tongue out tasting the air and ready to strike.  I moved in closer to get some pictures and every time I did it rattled louder and louder.  If you’ve never heard a rattle snake before, trust me, you will know one is around because it is loud.  Cowboys and others in the southwest call them the “gentleman of the desert’ because of these rattles.  After about 15 minutes of picture taking, me checking my shorts and stepping back the snake slithered into the rocks below but not before giving me one last rattle to let me know who was in charge out here.  I gave it another 10 minutes before I ran across the trail where it had been, hoping it wouldn’t jump out and bite me.  I was glad that experience happened without me being bit and me not needing to change my shorts.
Holy Sh*t!!

Holy Sh*t!!

The rest of the Gila went great with its high cliff walls, winding river and beautiful cool temperatures and all the water I could drink.  In all I did 147 river crossings before hitting the end of the trail and getting back into the open valley’s ahead.
After the Gila’s we entered into the open plains again and towards higher mountains that rises above the valley floor, following new CDT trail and forest roads towards the highway that takes you to Reserve.  The water situation was tougher in this section because we had to take water from springs that were surrounded with cow pies and other nasty stuff making me miss the Gila even more then I already was.  Passing through burn area that had used blazes like you see on the AT for trail markers made it very difficult to navigate through.  The blazes were chopped into the tree but, of course this was burned as well and blended with the rest of the tree.  Losing the trail here was easy to do and took me extra time to make it through the section down to the highway.  Once down at the highway I made a failed attempt to hitch to Reserve to surrender to my craving for town food.  After 3 hrs of attempting to get a ride, I gave up and slept in the tree’s eating my sad rice and tuna dinner versus the big steak I had been envisioning for days.
burned trees
The next morning I got up and headed into the Apache Forest on my way to Pie town and the famed Toaster house I had heard so much about.  I had been following the Ley route the entire way but, heard the official route was new and nice so I decided to go that way.  After about 3 hours of constant winding around the hills I got frustrated  and bushwacked back to Ley’s route and continued from there.  The official route is nice, don’t get me wrong but thru hikers don’t want to take the scenic route, we just want to get there already.  So after summiting Mangas Mountain and coming back down the other side I made a push to make it into Pie town before the Cafe would close.  That morning I decided to hike the 30.5 miles to the Toaster House, which would be my longest day of hiking ever.  The trail was good and the roads were easy to follow but the road just kept going on and on and on with no end in site.  After making my last left turn and knowing I only 5 more miles to go I made the final push in the dark to make it to the Toaster house at 9:30 pm.  I was greeted by 2 CDT bikers and a fridge full of Tostinos pizzas which I ate 2 of, drank about a gallon of water and crashed in one of the beds.  The Toaster house is an amazing place and Nita is a wonderful women who leaves it open for all weary travelers to enjoy.  The pie is amazing, the people are colorful and welcoming.  The Toaster house is truly like a CDT hall of fame and I only wished the walls could talk….
toaster house


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Section 3: Emory Pass to Doc Campbells

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After 2 days of rest in Silver City, it was time to leave and get back on the trail.  I was happy to get out because I was starting to feel a little too comfortable with my soft bed, unlimited TV and showers whenever I wanted.  I wasn’t on vacation. I was thru hiking, damn it, and it was time to go. During my shopping at Walmart, which is the only place to shop in the last couple of cities, I bought a large piece of cardboard to help us with our hitchhiking. I used the term Sunday had used before but with a twist:  “Hikers to Emory Pass.”  This way people would know that I’m a hiker and not homeless. Also, stating specifically where I’m going might let people know that they won’t have to take me to Florida or something.  A smiley face wouldn’t hurt either…

After deciding to just go right outside of our hotel, we took our spot on the road and started the hitching process.  I took off my hat, cleaned up my shirt, put on a big (but not cheesy) smile on and held the sign. Two and a half hours later, we got a ride by a lady who was only going to the intersection of the road that would take us to Emory Pass.  She wasn’t from New Mexico so she didn’t know if riding in the back of a truck was legal or not, and at that point I didn’t care either, so I hopped in.  I kept a low profile just in case the cops drove by and just laid back and watched the clouds go by as the wind whipped passed me and gripped my hat so it didn’t fly away.  After about 10 minutes, we were at the intersecton saying good bye when another person that had seen us earlier asked us hop into her van.  It was only 10 seconds between hitches, which was fantastic, and gave us hope we might get to the pass soon.  We rode in the van with a woman and her son to the last intersection where any car passing us would be going to Emory Pass.  Surprisingly, it took another two and a half hours to get a ride up to the pass.  During that time, the sun beat down on us with no break.

Hitchin'

Hitchin’

Another hiker came out from the corner of the road toward us and told us he was a CDT hiker who was headed back to Gypsum, CO. Apparently he had no maps and was hiking the CDT with only a road atlas which I thought was crazy!  He got a ride with us and ended up going all the way to Santa Fe with the lady and her kids, who gave us a ride. Once on Emory Pass we hit the trail and hiked the 5 miles to the top of Hillsboro Peak lookout in about 3 hours, due to of the long switchback trail that kept going on forever to the 10,009 ft summit.  At the top was an unmanned fire lookout tower, a cabin for the lookout person and a cabin that was free for all people to enjoy.  We settled into the cabin for a great night of playing cards. It had a small room with bunkbeds, wood stove and a great porch that looked east.  I sat on the porch for a long time, gazing over the open basin below and the distant views that it provided.  That night we had the most amazing time eating and playing poker using rocks as poker chips, by the light of my headlamp.  It was truly a great moment of the trip so far and will not be soon forgotten.  That night the wind howled non-stop, as I lay snug inside the creaking cabin safe from the elements.

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The next morning we headed out, winding around the mountain, up and down several of the saddles that the route traversed.  You could tell that the area was not well maintained, as trails fading into nothing and junctions pointing us in directions we didn’t think a trail could exist.  After a long lunch, we made our way down a newer looking trail, looking for the road we hoped to join up with.  The trail was faint, but was covered with cairns, as if a drunk person had placed them as a joke to the unknowing hiker.  After several hours, we finally reached the road and began our 15 mile hike down into Mimbres.  With no real camping available in Mimbres, we stayed that night 5 miles outside of town, happy to have gotten a signal on my phone where we watched Gilbert Godfried standup comedy, which was a great change of pace.

The following morning we awoke to a gorgeous sunrise of orange, pink and yellow that lit up the mountain and everything around us.  We made the 5 mile walk to town, ready to hit our next trailhead. It was next to the Forest Service building that also held our desperately needed water supply. Half way to the building a truck stopped next to us and asked if we were hikers.  We were easy to spot I guess, looking smelly, beaten and wearing packs… no real place to hide. Steve was a Mimbres local with a seasoned face and a hand-rolled smoke hanging out of his mouth.  We told him we were CDT hikers and started chatting.  He asked if we wanted to go to his house and take a shower and use the internet.  Under normal circumstances I would think twice about this type of situation, but being stinky and thirsty we agreed and made our way to his house, which was only a mile back the way we came.  We showered and chatted with Steve, who had actually built most of the trail in the area.  In his 30 years in the valley he had been everywhere, he said, working with scientist and the forest service.  He was a great guy and I was happy to have met him.  After that, we hit the trail, but not before stopping at the Elk X-ing Cafe to destroy a quick burger.

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Heading up the Allie Canyon trail we saw our first CDT marker at the top. It only took 200 miles to see our first marker!  That same day we met up with the offical route that the Crazy Cook hikers take and were happy to finally had made it to the lower Gila River.  It was like entering an oasis with all the water that we could drink.  Beautiful flowing water that wasn’t a nasty stagnant cow tank. A paradise you just wanted to jump into and never leave.  We stared down into the canyon and were excited to finally make it to the Gila River.

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We walked the next one and a half days on the lower Gila keeping a look out for petroglyphs, dwellings and mountain lions from all the prints that we had seen on the river banks.  This also started the river crossings, which for me was welcomed because of the cool and crisp feeling of cold water on your feet and thighs, at times.  We wound back and forth across the river to banks of drier ground, only to cross again.  Any time our feet started drying it was time to get them wet again.  This is where lots of mesh comes in to play and can make or break your feet.  Why you would wear water proof shoes or anything like that I don’t know. We made a nice camp in the canyon and listened to the first rain that night from 3 am until 7 am, when we crawled out of our tents.  We reached Doc Campbells after just over a day in the canyon and were happy to be there.  It was time for our resupply boxes and hot springs to warm our cold feet and aching bodies.  Next was the Middle fork of the Gila and a whole other story….

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Pmags- Interview with a thru hiker

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I walked into the brewery, to the immediate smell of hops and malts hanging in the air. I was ready to drink me some damn good beer. I was also here to meet Paul Magnanti, or “Pmags,” as known by everyone out on the trail and his blog, Pmags.com.

I was excited to meet him and happy that we could meet at the Avery Brewery, a local favorite of both of ours. This was my first real interview ever, if you don’t count the janitor and lunch lady for the school newspaper. He was gracious enough to meet me so I could ask some questions about the CDT and get some straight answers.

Pmags did the CDT Sobo starting in July 2006, not taking his first zero day until Salmon, ID. This hike completed the Triple Crowner after starting with the AT, then PCT and finishing with the CDT, as he says most people do. He did miss the San Juans due to heavy snow, taking what he described as the Super Creede cut off. He took routes such as Butte vs. Anaconda, the Gilas in New Mexico for the ruins, and the Winds for their stunning beauty. He’s definitely a ‘Hike Your Own Hike’ kind of hiker. He’s more likely to tell you “it depends”, rather than to tell you exactly how you should do it. His philosophy is: It’s all about what’s best for you and your situation. If you read his blog, it’s not full of technically detailed reviews of the new (insert company) jacket and how the fibers work and moisture transfers or how it could save you from a zombie apocalypse. He reports on how to get good stuff at Costco, a good shirt from Target and why not to eat Value Brand bologna on the trail after 5 days in your pack.

I wanted to know more about the logistics of the trail and what’s real compared to what you hear on the forums from a ‘pack sniffer’ (Google it now, I’ll wait).

BEARS:

You hear a lot of stories about how bad the bears are in Yellowstone, or is it Glacier, or watch out in the Bob Marshall. The perception of bears is not that big of a concern, as long as you stay especially aware around Grizzlies. He does advocate a different hiking style while in bear country. Some of the suggestions he made were:

  • Don’t eat where you sleep
  • Stop and eat dinner, then continue hiking again
  • Camping for the night with your food hung far away.

The chances of encountering a bear can be likely, but more so in Glacier because it is more spread out, with fewer opportunities for the bears to encounter humans and get used to us. Yellowstone is day hiked a lot so the bears are more used to people Also, the large hunting parties in the Bob train bears to avoid humans because, to them, humans equal guns. Typically hunters shoot right above their heads if they have an encounter. I think the hyper-alertness you need to have in these areas is the biggest stress, making it more of a mental game with yourself, than an encounter situation. Pmags relied on his techniques, and didn’t even carry a bear canister through any of these areas, and he hasn’t been eaten yet.

Food & Water:

If you’re thinking about taking snickers bars on your hike, consider that Pmags ate 60 of them in 20 days during his Colorado Trail thru hike. Keeping it simple while your out on the trail is a good policy if you don’t have any dietary or medical restrictions on your diet. If you do, then relying on mail drops and timing your stops in town to parallel the local post office hours will be key. If you can eat anything, then you can rely on mail drops, super markets and the occasional convenient store rotating heating rack. If you’re hiking to a spot that is remote you are going to have to mail yourself food, such as places like Ghost Ranch, but when you hit any larger city with a good food selection you can mail ahead your next 5 packages, as he did. This gives you the flexibility to not have to worry about shipping yourself 26 boxes, paying postage and finding a friend to help you. It provides the ability to pick foods that you like right then, or what sounds good to you for the next couple of weeks. Nothing could be worse then packing something up in March and eating it in July. Who knows what your body will be craving at that time or what just sounds really good. Eating 5,000 cals per day was typical for his hike. Estimating an average of 100 cals per oz makes the math easy to calculate when buying food. Follow the KISS philosophy for food, make sure you have carbs and protein in your diet, such as a simple tuna and rice, and try not to get overwhelmed by trying to calculate the ratio for each type of food.

Pmags is a self proclaimed Dip & Sip kind of hiker, meaning he’s not too picky about his water and uses Iodine mostly to purify. What he’s seen on the trail is mostly hikers who use Iodine or Aqua Mira do selective treatments. Steripens are for religious purifiers and pumps are for weekenders. He’s horrified people such as the Princess of Darkness (POD) out on the Wyoming Basin, doing a 5 min iodine treatment on what she considered to be very suspect water.

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Trail Towns, Trail Angels, Orange Buckets and Not Stinking

Trail towns are all about food. It’s the first thing you think about when you hit town and are craving the calories you just burned. Pmag’s food of choice is good old-fashioned pub grub; Burger, Fries, Salad and a local beer when he could. When he hit a town and wasn’t starving, he would get a hotel, take shower, do some laundry, then get some food, shop, send emails and do any mailings. Get the things you need to get done first, before you crash into your bed and start catching up on ‘Honey Boo Boo’. Taking a shower first is the important part because, as he says, “its one thing to have a big beard, another to stink.” Be considerate of the locals. They are not there to gush all over you because you’re walking across America. Trail Angels are there to help because they are great people and want to support you and the trail, but they are not your parents. Don’t expect them to give you something because you’re a thru hiker; a simple “please” and “thank you” go a long way, in his book. Leadville is what he calls a real hiker town with a great hostel and wonderful mountain town feel. Salmon, ID is another great town even if it is a 50-mile hitch there. Most trail towns these days have a restaurant, bar or library where you can get Internet access if you need it. If you’re worried about that, you can utilize a bounce bucket that you send from town to town. Pmags used a bright orange Home depot bucket because it was lightweight, durable and every post office employee could easily spot it, lowering your chances of it getting lost. These days you can’t rely on payphones anymore (seriously, when was the last time you saw a pay phone?), so bouncing a phone or iPad could be great for you. You can also bounce chargers, self-addressed stamped envelopes, maps, medications or whatever you need along the trial.

Electronics & Mental

The use of electronics on the trail is a hot debate for any hiker regardless of ability. Pmags will say to take what is best for you but he doesn’t see it as a necessity for the hike. If you want to bring it, cool, but hiking the CDT and the American West, for that matter, isn’t that difficult, navigationally. As he says, “Harder was having to worry about navigation, not navigation itself but, worrying about navigation, can’t just zone out, you have to be on the ball“. Even today he doesn’t think that he would take a GPS with him, which is the way that I plan on traveling as well.

The one question I find myself asking anyone who has done any large athletic feat is how you handle it mentally. How did you push yourself to accomplish what you have accomplished? The CDT is beautiful in many ways, but there will be boring sections, hard sections and times when I am just going to want to get off of the damn trail. Making the transition from backpacker to thru hiker as he says is a transition from the mentality of a typical weekend backpacker who is hiking to camp, to that of a thru hiker, who is hiking to hike, not to camp. These two activates are totally different. A good way of seeing if you are up for a thru hike is to go out for a week, hike to hike and see if you enjoy hiking with a pack on all day. In the end, if you can’t make that transition from backpacker to thru hiker, the trail will be very difficult for you. If you go out there with a romantic view of the trail and deny the realities of it you will probably not make it. You need to stay positive and understand your abilities. I once read a quote saying that ‘thru hiking is about becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable’ and I think that’s true.

So what does the future hold for the CDT?

The CDT has changed since his sobo hike in 2006 with his pocket mail and heavier equipment. Today we are fortunate to have an ‘official’ route now with the introduction of the Bear Creek maps and the wonderful Ley maps being continually updated. Books like Cheryl Stayed will help create a buzz about the trail, but only a temporary bump in numbers of participants. Pmags says that the CDT will become more like the PCT in the future with a more ‘official’ route and unofficial side trail options. He doesn’t think the trail will ever be finished because the CDT will always be a HYOH kind of trail, and he likes that about it. He speaks to the population surrounding the trail. With very few large cities near the trail, it will always lead to it being less worked by volunteers, less used by hikers, and have fewer resources, compared to the AT or even the PCT. This rural aspect of the trail means that it will never truly be completed. It will always remain a rugged patchwork of trails that will lead people along the Continental Divide and provide them with an experience of a lifetime. Will a book about the CDT create more buzz about it? Sure, but in the end it will always be a special trail for everyone.

Pmags has had some great adventures in his life, like hiking the long trails or enjoying his passions for backcountry skiing and climbing. He’s enjoyed the time and reflection the trails have provided him and have made him part of who he is today. I know that the itch will always be there for him to be active outdoors, and I hope that I can get the same attitude as him during and after my CDT experience.


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Are Coupons just for Soccer Mom’s?

I was standing in line at the grocery store under the florescent lights with my apples, bananas and Speed Stick deodorant reading the headlines of gossip magazines while waiting for my turn to check out.  The lady in front of me, a typical looking soccer mom, pulled out a huge folder with coupons.  She had a coupon for everything.  Her total bill was $98.72, but after all of her coupons it came to $53.19. Now that’s some savings!

If you’re like me, you never use coupons unless it’s for a free beer or a buy one get one free lunch special to save a couple of bucks.

With a need to start saving money for the CDT, I’m looking at creative ways to save a couple of bucks and start collecting things that I will need for the trail such as food, personal care products, prescriptions, batteries and everything else that might come up.

I did some searching and came across a couple of sites that offer online print coupons, coupon codes and free giveaways on Facebook or the products website.  Here’s a couple I found.

Coupons.com– obvious website address but they have pages and pages of coupons for everyday products such as cereal, shampoo, bologna, chocolate and anything else that you can find in a grocery store.  A nice feature of this site is that you can enter in your grocery store’s savings card number (not all stores are listed) and the coupon is automatically uploaded to your card, no printing or remembering to bring it with you.

CouponMom.com– This site also has coupons you can print but you can search locally, nationally and also by categories like restaurants and online-only deals.  They also have a great section that actually teaches you how to ‘coupon’, for example knowing when you can double that $1 coupon for TP into $2 worth of savings.   The thing I like most about this site is they keep track of free samples that companies are giving away. I’ve got a couple of Prilosec and Head & Shoulders samples coming my way just by filling out some info.  It takes about 6-8 weeks to receive your freebie, but who cares, it didn’t cost you anything.

CouponCabin.com–  This site is great for saving percentages off of everyday products.  Lots of the deals are save $20 off of a $50 purchase or 20% savings on your entire purchase at oldnavy.com.  One came through today that said save 40% on any flight with southwest.com.  They also have savings on shoes, clothing and electronics.

Living on a Coupon–  This site was started by a mom who was struggling to buy food for her 4 kids when the recession hit.  She’s started a blog about coupons, how to do it, what deals are out there and the best way to use a coupon.  I guess there is a right time to use a coupons and other times not.

This isn’t ground breaking stuff but, it helps you get into the mind set that every penny counts and that there is always a way to get a better deal.  Why spend $20 when you only have to spend $10. Not all of these things are exactly suited for the CDT but saving $1 here, 75 cents there, adds up quickly and can save you a bunch of money in the long run.