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 6: Grants to Cuba

Summit of Mt. Taylor

Summit of Mt. Taylor

I lay in bed with the TV flickering on a random daytime show that makes no sense nor do I care who the actual baby daddy is.  This is the zero day that I had in Grants, it didn’t involve moving because of my aching foot that was tender to each step that I had taken.  The rest of the group had left that morning but I knew that an extra day would give my foot the rest it needed to make it to Cuba, which was the next destination for my next segment.

Grants is small towns that once use to be a booming city for Uranium mining and use to have one of the biggest and most productive Uranium mines in the country.  As the local shuttle drive told me high school kids were dropping out of school to go work the mines for the average starting salary of $80,000 per year, creating a huge void in the school system.  Once the government stopped buying the Uranium, the mine laid off 4,000 people overnight, starting a mass exodus out of the town.  Grant has since recovered but you can still see the boarded up shops of the downtown but you can still feel the local pride by its banners and its people.

After resting in the hotel room, doing some shopping at Wal-Mart and getting a resupply box ready to be shipped to Ghost Ranch it was time to leave.  My foot was feeling a little better but I was ready to keep moving.  I’ve learned the longer I stay in town the more comfortable I get and the more my head starts spinning with ideas.  I called the local shuttle to give me a ride to the post office and then to the Mumm’s who are local trail angels and were holding a new bladder system I had ordered from REI.  I was tired of always taking my pack off to drink water so wanted to try this new hydration system.  The Mumm’s are great people who leave out water caches at the start of the Malapais, entering the final canyon towards grants and one final one on the last stretch up Mt. Taylor.  They are wonderful people with a big heart and I was happy to meet them and give them a much-needed donation.

Hugo & Carole Mumm

Hugo & Carole Mumm

I got to the trailhead for the next segment and began the long hike to the base of Mt. Taylor, hiking about 10 miles that day to the water cache left by the Mumm’s.  I like staying next to caches as you can drink all you want and then camel up in the morning for the next day.  This was my first section alone since the border and I was actually happy to be hiking alone for this part.  I was able to hike at my own pace, my own schedule and gave me some time to think about the journey so far.

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I hiked up the 11,301 ft summit of Mt. Taylor, a leftover ridge from a volcano that had exploded many millions of years ago, now making it the high point of the CDT in New Mexico.  I was so happy to be gaining some elevation and the straight up trail and eventual switchbacks brought me back to this realization.  I summited Mt. Taylor in the morning with the sun rising over the huge horizon that laid before me.   To the south were the mountains I had walked through to reach Grants and to the west were the open plains of the desert landscape that hid Arizona not far away.  To the east and north you could see the next ridges and plateaus that would be my home for the next couple of days as I hiked on top of expanding Mesa’s.  I spent a little bit of time on top before making the descent down the mountain, following forest roads to my next water source, American Spring.  This was one of the nicest springs I had seen so far and was happy to get the water out of the pipe that was surrounded by great meadow full of grass and glorious shade.  What a change from the low-lying desert areas that had been my home for so long.  I ate a nice leisurely lunch there before continuing my trip down the mountain.  That day I hiked 27 miles making camp in a patch of tree’s after getting a burst of energy from Skrillz on my newly downloaded Spotify app.  Yes, some say technology is wrong in the woods but music is a great companion after a long day, especially Bob Marley.

Collared Lizard

The next day brought a boring road walk that seemed to never end.  It finally did at my next water source, Los Indios Spring.  This is the point where I’ve made one of my most stupidest mistakes of the CDT so far and taught me to read and then reread my map notes 10 times before making my next move.  The sign read Los Indios spring .5 miles so I thought that it was that far past the gate I had to walk through and down the 200ft canyon as noted on the maps.  I walked the .5 miles past the gate but, still no turn off or canyon.  I still saw foot prints so I kept walking, thinking the makers of the signs had made a mistake and I decided to keep on going.  I ended up stupidly walking about 3 miles before deciding to reread my maps and take the point of view of the southbound hiker and reading that at the gate you would go .5 miles down the canyon to the spring.  So this meant I had to walk the 3 miles back, go the .5 miles down the 200 ft canyon to get the water.  I don’t think I’ve ever walked so pissed off before in my life.  I walked back, got to the spring and threw down my pack in anger.  I knew I had made a mistake and being out of water for the last hour made me even more mad.  Why did I make this mistake?  What was I thinking? All of these things ran through my head to learn from the mistake I had just made and to not do it again but I knew that I would.

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After coming down off the high plateau and the breath taking view it provided it was back down to the desert floor where the fear of rattle snakes, heat and water resurfaced.  It was miserable.  That section of trail was miserable for me.

Back in the Mars like landscape

Back in the Mars like landscape

It was hot, the landscape was Mars like and it had no appeal for me.  It was only about 20 miles worth but it put me in such a bad mood that I found myself walking faster and harder then ever before.  After finally being in the tree’s and seeing green beautiful grass it was hard to right away switch back to the desert style hiking I had been enduring for weeks.

Beautiful View from the top of the Mesa

Beautiful View from the top of the Mesa

The last 20 miles before Cuba was a gorgeous change from the previous miles in the ugly desert because you spent so much time high on the plateaus that surround the area with wonderful rock formations, wonderful expanding views and cairned trail that was easy to follow.  It reminded me of hiking Utah which is one of my most sacred places to hike in the world.  I happily followed the cairned route up and down the mesa skirting the edge and then back to the middle again with my shoes filled with sand.  My shoes were dying and I couldn’t wait to get my nice new pair once I got to Cuba, saying good bye to these after 530 miles of hard walking.

My New Balance Leadville 100's lasted a long time over tough terrain

My New Balance Leadville 100’s lasted a long time over tough terrain

I walked into Cuba at 9 pm that night on Memorial Day, road walking the last 4 miles in the dimming light of the day as people drove home from parties and celebrations.  I was happy to get to town and plop down on the bed knowing that another section was done and a good rest was coming my way.  I lay on the floor of the shower with the water hitting my tired and bruised body knowing that this section was now done and that I was eating away at my eventual end of New Mexico.


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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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Section 2: Deming to Emory Pass

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A bum knee isn’t something to stop you from hiking, so I took off from the American Inn hotel after taking a day off to rest the knee.  I started out with a new knee brace from Walmart and enough food to make it through the next section.  The first 6 miles was a road walk through town towards an old non-working windmill outside of town, following the highway that had brought me into town.  I was still in high spirits, despite my aching knee, which I figure is just part of the experience.

Windmillin'

Windmillin’

The weather was hot walking out of Deming. I’ve learned that road-walking on the highway is not only fun from the steaming heat rising from the asphalt as it hits you in the face, but that most people don’t drive, they stare at their phones as they text, which is scary.  I was happy to leave the highway and start weaving through the residential streets north of Deming.  After about 7 miles I was outside of town and heading toward the broken windmill that was my first landmark on the map.  Once I found that, I was on my way to Spider Windmill. It had good water, but was also surrounded by the typical mounds of horse manure and whatnot.  The water was greenish with floaties, which I’ve become used to.  Its amazing how quickly you become used to something that normally you would look at and say, “I would never touch that.”

Leaving Spider Windmill I headed northwest to a non-functioning windmill and gate.  The map did not have rose on it so it was difficult to orienteer, but I took my best guess and started walking.  I thought it was odd to be going cross-country when the maps said there was a road, but I’m learning that in New Mexico, a “road” often isn’t really anything more than an obscure line in the dirt.  Admittedly, I got completely misplaced after about 2 miles, seeing no tracks or foot prints from the group of hikers who had left 2 days before me.  I was being hard on myself because at home I’d stare and stare at the maps. I thought I’d have a better idea of what to expect, but staring at them in the comfort of my home is completely different than actually being here.  I decided to sit down, drink some water, calm myself down and figure out where I was and where I needed to be going.  After about 15 minutes, I stood up high on a fence and spotted a shiny object about 3 miles to the west of me. I was convinced it had to be the non-functioning windmill and decided to go for it.  After an hour I reached it and the “heavy gate” that was supposed to be there.  Although I was relieved, I can say it was the lowest point of the trip so far.  I consider myself a good navigator, so getting lost 10 miles outside of town was disheartening.  It’s a real blow to your ego to get lost in a place you thought you had researched thoroughly.  I started feeling as though, if I had gotten lost here, how am I going to handle being in the middle of nowhere?  During my little pity party I saw 3 people walking toward the tank and figured they were other CDT hikers.  Immediately my mood changed and I was relieved when they finally got to the tank and I met Alarick, Abbey and Daniel, who were CDT hikers as well.  They sat down with me in the shade behind the tank and we started sharing stories of the trail. They were needing new shoes already and they shared some of their high and low points.  I have to admit it was great to be around other hikers and to hear they had been having trouble as well.  Swallowing my pride, I asked if I could hike with them and I was grateful when they said yes.  So now I was part of pack of CDT hikers and was very happy about it. We hiked together for a few more hours to the nicest windmill so far. There was good water and actual shade from a real tree, not just a big bush.

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Over the next couple of days we hiked together, leaning on each other for navigation, sharing food and having good laughs. We got misplaced the next morning, requiring us to go cross-country to get back on the actual trail.  Alarick and Abby had been suffering from severe blisters that looked horribly painful to walk on.  They were determined to keep going, though. They’re both strong hikers who definitely have a no-quit attitude.  Being from Seattle, they had done plenty of hiking and had decided to do the trail as a challenge, just as I had.  Daniel was from Austria and was on the CDT because he was debating between this trail and the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and flipped a coin, which landed him here with me.  I was grateful to have the company.

Over the next couple of days we hiked from windmill to windmill, fighting the brutal New Mexico wind, full of sand that whips you in the face each and every moment of the day.  There is no escaping this wind… It is relentless. I don’t know how the people or the cows who live here handle it.  We met a local rancher with a weathered face. He was nice enough to inform (and scare the crap out of ) me by saying this area is home to 6 different types of rattlesnakes, of which the rancher explained, “If you get bit by one of thems Mojave rattlesnakes you might as well bend over and kiss your ass good bye, because there ain’ts no anti-venom for them.” Having already been hyper-aware of rattlesnakes, I was now even more worried about them.  According to the rancher, during this time of year they hang out in the afternoon, hiding behind rocks and biting people as they walk by.  Great.

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Hulk Hogan the Messiah?

Hulk Hogan the Messiah?

Over the next couple of days we traveled from the desert to the hills which had trees and shade for us to hide under.  We passed an abandoned house that looked like one day the owners just picked up and left. There were shoes, clothes, dishes and piles of National Enquirers laying around.  Its was a creepy place for us to take our afternoon siesta, but it was shaded and provided us with some good laughs thanks to the tabloids, which told of aliens, bat boy and how JFK is still alive.  The next day we got deeper into the hills and met with another hiker named Sunday who joined our group, as well.  It was fun hiking in a pack and hearing his stories from the thru hike of the PCT he completed last year.  We got misplaced again, which left us with a fun bushwack over two mountains and down several sketchy sections to get back to the trail.  Once back on the trail we headed toward our last water source, which was a spring that was 200 meters from a trail junction.  Well, that water was barely there, leaving the 5 of us only 1 liter of water each to make it the 7 miles to Emory Pass.  That night, tired and dehydrated, I dreamt of showers, pools and ice cold classes of water.  I’ve never dreamt of water before and got a taste of what it feels like to be severely dehydrated, wanting nothing more then to chug a bottle of water.

Emory Pass!

Emory Pass!

The next morning we reached Emory pass at 10 am. We held a sign reading NEED WATER, which fortunately worked because a kind person gave us half a gallon, which we split between the 5 of us.  Now it was time to get a hitch.  Alarick, Abby & Daniel held a sign that read HIKER TO TOWN, which got them a ride after about an hour of trying, leaving me and Sunday to get the next one.  We got a ride an hour later with a nice couple on their way back to Arizona.  They were a wonderful couple who drove us all the way to the Motel 6 where I stayed for the next two days resting my swollen right ankle.  I’ll be going back to Emory Pass tomorrow to start the next leg of this journey though Mimbres and on to Doc Campbell’s at the foot of the Gila River, which I’m very excited for.  So far I have been humbled by this experience and can’t wait to keep going because I’m loving the experience and want more!

HIKER TO TOWN

HIKER TO TOWN


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Royal Rumble: New Gear vs. Old Gear

I held in my hand a $210 quilt that has the latest and greatest technology inside of it, like piles of 850 goose down-filled baffles with silky 10d nylon.  At my feet is a new sleep pad that was designed with body mapping technology to cradle me as I sleep.  These are the kinds of things you read about and see when you start buying gear for your thru hike or outdoor adventure.

I’m like most people – ok maybe not most – but I have a lot of gear that is old, but has served me well for many years.  They are my ‘go-to’ items such as my Golite quilt, Big Agnes one-man tent and closed cell foam pad that has seen better days.  We each have those pieces of gear that have been with us forever, like an old friend. I know I can depend on them because they will not let me down.  These pieces of gear are iconic in our minds, so it’s hard to start thinking about buying new gear for my CDT trip.  I almost feel like I’m cheating on my old gear just by thinking about this new and exciting gear I want to buy.  Recently, I had the opportunity to buy some gear at great prices, so I pulled the trigger and got a couple of new things, despite what I imagined as nasty looks from my old gear.

Nemo Siren 30 quilt:  This quilt is the newest technology in quilt manufacturing and the first run for a company called Nemo Equipment.  It’s rated at 30 degrees, weighs 18 oz, 6’ long, 10d nylon on the outside and filled with 850 fill down. If you’ve never used a quilt, think of a sleeping bag with the bottom cut out.  I’ve been sleeping in quilts exclusively for 5 years and absolutely love them.  By using a quilt you save weight because there is no zipper and no hood.  I toss and turn during the night and this quilt is wide enough to prevent drafts from coming in and is a great piece to just throw over you as you hang out in camp.

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Klymit Inertia X-lite:  This is a ¾ length pad that is the worlds lightest, most compact and technically advanced sleeping pad on the market today.  It blows up in about 3 breaths and is pretty comfortable.  It rolls up smaller then a banana and weighs only 6.1 oz.  This will be new for me, since I’ve traditionally used a ¾ length closed cell foam pad for several years, using my pack as the portion that protects my legs from the ground.  I’ve never been a huge fan of inflatable pads because, in my eyes, it’s a ‘moving part’, which means it has features that could go wrong.  It could pop, it could leak or some valve could break off.  I purchased it because if I’m going to be sleeping on the ground for 5 months, I should get something that is comfortable. And I have to say, when I laid on it, it was very comfortable.

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Rab Xenon Jacket:  Weighing only 12 oz in size Large, this jacket is a synthetic power house featuring super lightweight synthetic fill that will stay warm even when wet.  I picked this as my ‘go-to’ garment for early morning hiking in cold weather and in case of light rain in the cold.  It comes with a full-length zipper, 2 zipped pockets and a chest pocket, which is essential, in my eyes, for storing items you will need quickly and won’t have to worry about slipping out of your pocket.  I wore it recently, while walking a dog in a snowfall. It kept we warm and dry with only a cotton tee shirt underneath in 32-degree weather, for over an hour.

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Fast and Light through the Grand Gulch

Looking down Slickhorn Canyon

Looking down Slickhorn Canyon

It was day 5 of my Thanksgiving trip and I was waking up next to the San Juan River as it winded through the red stoned cliffs that surrounded it.  Today was the day I was going to charge up Slickhorn Canyon like a ball of fire and nothing was going to stop me.

Getting ready to hike the CDT is a challenge that will test you in many ways, so for this Thanksgiving I decided to give myself a good physical challenge.  For the past 7 years I have taken a backpacking trip to southern Utah during the Thanksgiving holiday.  Like any addicted backpacker you view company days off, especially a Thursday and Friday, as just an excuse to take a nice long backpacking trip.  This year I decided on an 82.2 mile loop in the Grand Gulch Primitive area in southern Utah that would test me physically, logistically and navigationally.  I’ve been to the Grand Gulch before, always wanting to hike the entire length.  My prize would be the smell and sounds of the river and all the water I could drink.  Instead of just going back the way I came, I planned to walk the 3 miles along the San Juan to the opening of Slickhorn Canyon and then hike up the canyon to my bike.  My mountain bike was chained to a juniper tree that would take me the 7 miles back to my car, creating what I called the Grand Loop.  From all the research I did, I didn’t see any mention of this loop or anybody doing it, so I will just announce now that I am the first person to ever do it (probably not true).

Dont' steal my bike

I was going to hike 82.2 miles in 8 days with just my map and compass, no GPS. I brought 15.2 lbs of food equaling 1.9 lbs of food per day, which would keep me feed and warm in the expected 50 degree days and mid 20 degree nights.

My food supply

My food supply

My gear was a minimal collection of a frameless pack, half sleep pad, 20 degree bag, a freestanding tarp, long johns, long sleeve top, cut off pants, 2 pairs of socks, 1 change of undies and my beloved hat. I’ve had my hat since I first started backpacking and it has been on all my adventures.  It’s my favorite piece of gear that I never leave home without.

I left my job in Boulder at 4 pm, arriving at the Bullet Canyon Trail head at 12 am.  In the morning I drove to Slickhorn Canyon #1 and locked up my mountain bike to a Juniper tree with a note asking anyone that found it not to steal it, hoping they would listen.  I started down Bullet Canyon on Saturday at 10 am, watching the canyon walls grow higher and higher around me as I descended to the canyon floor.  I stopped at Perfect Kiva to sit in it again; it was like visiting an old friend after a long absence.  That night I camped near Totem pole with the sound of light rain hitting my tent which was good fortune as this lowered my water problems just a bit.  I hiked the next couple of days going down the Grand Gulch, walking in the rocky creek bed and trudging through the sand.  As I walked, I passed many ruins, hieroglyphics and petroglyphs that were on the map, but found far more that weren’t.  Staying alert in Canyon country is important because there are no warm and fuzzy signs pointing you to the sites or telling you which canyon is which.  You have to pay attention because one missed canyon or water source can have a negative effect on your trip.

Hand prints 1  Big Man

I was moving faster than expected over the next couple of days.  My daily schedule included getting up at 7 each day, leaving camp by 7:45 and eating my breakfast bars as I started hiking.  This is the schedule that I wanted to replicate, to be like what it will be on the CDT; chasing the sun to get in my daily mileage, repetition at its finest.  I reached the San Juan on Day 4 of my trip and what a great sight it was.  The beautifully flowing river, so soft in its appearance, cutting through the canyon like it had been built there.  The smell of the water, the shadows across the walls of the canyons and the sense of finally making it here after 4 years of wishing was tremendous.  I was very happy to say the least.  That night I setup my shelter 3 yards from the San Juan, making a little fire from wood a NOLS group had left behind and smoked a fine cigar.  Everything was right in the world.

San Juan Campsite

The next morning was a completely different situation.  What I thought would be an easy 3 mile, 2 hour trip ended up taking me 6 ½ hours to complete.  I had counted on there being a small patch of vegetation hugging the river the whole way that I could walk along to the mouth of Slickhorn.  Instead what I got were constant up and down ledges, over and around large and small boulders that were constantly shifting and sliding from beneath my feet.  The vegetation was thick and tough to push through, not to mention the sharp and prickly plants that were eager to taste a sample of my blood.  After 6 ½ hours of difficult hiking I was happy to be approaching the mouth of the canyon.  As I sat down after that long and difficult hike a huge bee stung me right on the back, in the one spot that I could barely reach.   What a great way to conclude such a day.  I decided to not hike any further; I’d had enough of hiking, so I setup camp again by the San Juan making the best out of a hard day.  That night I had a dream that made me feel unworthy of being in a place like this, that I was some how faking it.  In my dream I was still the 292 lb person I had been just 11 months earlier; sad, fat and depressed.  I woke up at 6:30 that morning and the first words out of my mouth was “Fuck you!!!!”  I was determined that day to push it hard, to hike my ass off and push myself to my personal edge.  I hiked almost nonstop from 7 am until 6 pm while gaining 2,800 feet of elevation when I finally reached my bike in the dark.  I was a blaze of fire coming out of that canyon, which was difficult to navigate with its endless pour offs to navigate and multiple side canyons tempting me in wrong directions.

Bullet canyon 1

That day I hiked the most I had ever hiked in my entire life with a pack on: 17.9 miles.  In the morning, I mounted my bike with sore and wobbly legs to peddle the 7 miles back to my car.  The road was a mix of deep sand with some hard pack mixed in to tease me.  I reached my car on Friday at 10:30 am; it had taken me 6 days, not the 8 to go 82.2 miles. I was so happy that not only had I accomplished my goal of completing this loop but, because 12 months ago I had set a goal to lose weight and get fit enough so I could do things exactly like what I had just done.  I had accomplished my goal.


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I Am Your New Year’s Resolution

It was 12:30 am on my 33rd birthday. I had been up since 6 am the previous morning.  The wind was howling outside of my tent, blowing snow and bitter cold.  I was putting on my boots to hike up to the top of Mt. Bierstadt to watch the sunrise. This was going to be a good year!

Flashback to December 26th, 2011: the day I made the decision that I was going to start getting my life together.  I was going to lose weight, be happier and start living out my dreams regardless of what other people said.

Fast-forward to today:  It’s January 1, 2013 and I can say that I have lost 60 lbs. this year by exercising and changing my diet to more reflect a Paleo diet.  I am also on my way to hiking the CDT in 2013 and I am pretty happy these days.  This past year has been full of ups and downs, and I want to share some of the best and worse times with you.

The not so good stuff:

  • Getting divorced and going through that emotional process
  • Starting a new life with many unknowns laying before me
  • Changes in things I thought were concrete; like my parents’ marriage
  • Learning that working out and staying motivated isn’t as easy as I thought
  • Stupid Pontiacs that need to have their brakes changed all the time!
  • Realizing that not everyone will support my new way of thinking and how I want to live

The good stuff:

  • Moving to Boulder to be closer to work- 7 min commute vs. 1 ¼ hrs previously
  • Hiking up Mt. Bierstadt for my birthday and watching the sunrise over the Rockies, by myself
  • Running the Colorado Spartan Race with my sister- I now love obstacle races!
  • Starting to run and running the Bolder Boulder 10K and Merrill Down & Dirty 10K
  • Committing myself to meditation and reading at least one book a month
  • Going to therapy to work out my ‘issues’
  • Learning that I am tougher then I thought I was; mentally & physically
  • Most importantly, reevaluating my life and what I want out of it.  A clear path is the only way to move forward.

I started out the year with just another New Year’s resolution, but now I know that even though they are cliché in a way, they are important to make.  They’re a reminder of what you want to accomplish for the year; how to be a better you.  I started out just saying I wanted to lose 75lbs, but what made me lose 60lbs was remembering why I wanted to lose the weight.  Constantly reminding yourself of the why is what keeps you going after you’re sick of the diet change, the new foods and the new way of thinking about your daily activities.  It’s also not about what you are losing but what you are gaining from this.  Feeling better, looking better, playing with your kids without getting winded, having a more positive mind set and not just having a dream but the will to make it happen.

Setting goals that are attainable are the most important part of this whole transition.  You can’t just say “I’m going to lose 75lbs,” because it won’t work.  I learned it’s easier to say, “this week I will exercise 5 days this week and only drink 3 beers this weekend.”  These are attainable goals that keep you focused, but also help you reach your big goal.  Last thing I will say is that you will fail at some of your goals.  I’m not trying to be harsh but its true.  You will be distracted and you will fall back into old habits after the glow of attaining your new goals wears off.  This is not the time to quit. It’s the time to test your resolve.  Do you have the will and desire to get back on track.  Yes, you went to McDonalds and ate a Big Mac, super sized fries and washed it down with a 6 pack of microbrew.  It tasted good and felt good but you know it did not help you reach your goal.  What you do now is say to yourself “I screwed up and gave myself the fix I needed to feel normal again, but its time to get back at it.” This is how you will accomplish your goal.

Although the CDT may just be a loose connection of individual trails, that together create the CDT, right now it is like a person to me.  I think about it constantly and I am trying to make every decision relate to it.   Getting myself ready for it and being fit to hike it, preparing properly and getting to the finish — is my New Year’s resolution.  Next year, I hope to be writing about what an amazing trip it was and where I am at in my life.