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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Big Sky to Butte

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I sat shivering on the bus stop bench after being dumped off at the base of Big Sky Ski resort.  Having spent the night in a park in Bozeman and getting drenched by the parks sprinkler system at 5 am started my day off on the wrong path.  Now I just wanted to get warm and get my mood into a better place.

Walking up to the base I found a visitor center and met ‘Chad’ a mountain concierge who asked me how my overnight hike went; assuming I was a tourist who ventured out for the evening.  I gave him a slight smile and explained my already scripted CDT story.  I think he saw my desperation for a warm place to relax and charge my phone.  He took me to the hotel across the way and got me an access card to the fitness center.  Another act of kindness from a complete stranger. This place was heaven!  Stocked with showers, sauna, shampoo, conditioner, TV and places to hang my gear out to dry.  I spent the next 3 hours taking full advantage of everything; getting my core warm with a long hot shower, drying gear and going through my food resupply.

Leaving Big Sky with dry gear and a warm core lifted my spirits.  I left town staring at the beauty of the mountain and promising myself to come back and ski here one day.  I turned on my newest audio book, Ted Turners autobiography “Call Me Ted”, began following Jay Road, a private dirt road with many millionaire’s homes, winding over and through the mountains.

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The next day I stood in an open valley surrounded by hay fields and beautiful farms that seemed to go on forever.  There is something beautiful about being in the middle of a large valley surrounded by fields, watching high thin clouds, and a truly big sky.

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Crossing the Madison River I entered the town of Ennis, MT population 900, on the town’s main street that served as its main corridor.    After eating at the  local pharmacy/diner I found the local library and hopped on the computer to catch up on some blog posts and overdue emails to friends.  Many of these small town libraries have time limits of 50 minutes on the Internet, so you have to type fast or beg the librarian for more time, which is usually accomplished with a small donation.  I still had plenty of food from my Big Sky resupply but I bought some small treats and snacks that I couldn’t pass up.  I had been planning on leaving that same day but after long phone calls home, eating at the diner again and some general wondering around the sun was setting and I didn’t want to get stuck on the side of the highway for the night.  Instead I ended up hanging out in the back of the library where their Wifi reached and I caught up on the first 3 episodes of the new second half of Breaking Bad on my phone.  It was fun to squat behind the back of a library snacking and watching shows.  I finished my last episode at 11:30 pm and simply laid out my sleeping bag between the library and the house next to it in the dark shadows hoping I wouldn’t get caught.  Thankfully I didn’t, instead I caught a great nights sleep!

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Nice place to camp

Nice place to camp

Heading up the highway towards McAllister the sky opened up with a flash of rain that sent me running towards an old bar with an overhanging roof.  There I stayed until some other thru hikers came by and sat under the overhang with me.  One of them, Bone Lady, had found some money as she was walking the road and then more, and then eventually finding a pile of credit cards, hunting/fishing license and a total of $375 in cash!  Thankfully we found a phone number on the fishing license and called the relieved owner who had left it on top of his car.  We agreed to leave the contents at the post office across the street for him to pick up later.  Thru hiking karma points!

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We turned off the road at McAlister and began walking on a dirt road that lead us into the Tobacco Root Mountains in the Beaverhead National Forest, a 26 mile long and 18 mile wide wilderness full of 10,000 ft peaks, lakes and old mining claims.  Walking up the road, reaching a high point, I looked back into the valley of where I had just been and with the shine of Ennis Lake and the Spanish Peaks with the Big Sky mountains in the background.  I closed my eyes to lock in that view in my memory forever.  It was truly amazing.

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The next morning we continued on the hike up the forest road, watching the clouds creeping in over the range to the west of us.  We knew we were going to get hit by them but when and how bad was another question.  Shortly after pondering this question, the clouds came in and unleashed a world of hell on us.  The rain came down hard, like buckets of water being poured on us with the wind and cold right behind it.  I hid under a scraggly group of trees that offered little protection but at least made me feel like I was somewhat protected.  My MLD pack cover was keeping the contents of my pack dry but I was another story for the most part.

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After about 30 minutes of non-stop rain it suddenly came to an end.  Content with my future of walking through mud and cold I continued on.  Shortly after passing a barrier to keep out the jeeps and off road vehicles I reconnected with my fellow thru hiker, Cheese, who had hid only about a 100 yards ahead of me.  As we walked ahead on the trail we chatted but noticed the second wave of clouds approaching.  Cheese, being a veteran thru hiker and on the CDT to complete his Triple Crown, saw the signs and started setting up his tent.  Not one to be left out, I helped him setup quickly and as soon as we got inside, the second wave had reached us.  This time the rain came down harder then before with bigger rain drops, stinging wind and cold and it was relentless.  We hid inside that tent listening to Bob Dylan, Rage Against the Machine and Black Joe Lewis & The Honey Bears pouring out of my phones speakers.

One hour passed before the rain let up and we packed up Cheese’s drenched tent into his pack.  We hiked up and over the pass that was covered in old mining equipment long along left behind; it must have been cheaper to leave it behind then to bring it back out.  Coming down the trail was reminisce of old cabins, cables and every kind of mining equipment you could think of.  I always try to imagine the life of those miners who had lived here before, how they had lived, where they were from and about the day that they left.

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P1010672Emerging off the trail we were back on a dirt road that lead us to the town of Mammoth, a very small cluster of houses that looked abandoned but still lived in.  It was a very cool looking town; the kind you know you could survive any looming zombie apocalypse in.   I wish I could have met some of the people who lived there but no one was in sight and knocking on a door was not an option.

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The next morning was cool, with a slight frost on my tent, which is just how I like it.  It was a good morning because I knew that within 23 miles I would be taking respite in Whitehall that night, sipping a beer with my feet kicked up.  Unfortunately it would be dirt roads and pavement for 20 miles to get me there but nonetheless I was excited for the day.  Dirt roads never bother me but the main paved roads were different because of the traffic and percentages were against me.  The best part of my walk into Whitehall was the apple a group of older women gave me as I walked past their property.  They asked if I was a hitchhiker, which I explained I wasn’t and told them about my hike.  They were amazed and offered me a fresh picked apple from the tree.  They said they were collecting them to make some pies that night, so I jokingly said I would be walking past again tomorrow to get a slice!

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As I approached Whitehall, Cheese told me that a friend of theirs was going to pick them up at Whitehall and take them into Butte where they would be taking a zero day.  I was ready to take a zero but felt bad leaving the guy I had been hiking with for the past month, who unfortunately was not getting along with the other 3 hikers.  We had been having some tension building between us for a while and I was ready to hike with a new group.  I made the tough decision to tell him I was leaving and essentially had to break up with him on the side of the highway.  He was ready to hike alone anyways so I feel it was mutual but it was still a little awkward. I began getting excited about moving on from Whitehall into Butte.   As I hopped into the back of Dirty Feet’s pickup, I waved good-bye to Flippi and looked into the setting sun looking forward to the cold beer waiting for me in Butte.

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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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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 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.

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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.
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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.
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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….
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New Mexico Sections 6-10

This is my plan for sections 6-10 which ends in Chama, NM which is my last stop before I start heading into the San Juan section of my hike.  Here’s how I’m planning to hike these sections:

Section 6:  Reserve to Pie Town:  39 Miles

Ley Maps 28-26-Mail Drop

This section of trail is a pretty short section to go before hitting Pie town, and is not known to be that difficult.  There is decent water throughout this section with many solar wells and a couple of spots where local ranchers will let you take water directly from their spiggots.  Pie town is famous mostly for one thing… you guessed it, Pie!  There is very little here other than the two restaurants that serve some of the best pie in the world, according to some hikers.  If the Appalachian Trail (AT) has a “½ gallon challenge,” then I think that Pie Town should have a whole pie challenge.We’ll see if I actually do that when I get there.  A mail drop is pretty much mandatory here because there is no real grocery store in town other than the Top of the World store, which is 3 miles west of town and has a limited resupply selection.  I will be sending to, and staying at, the Toaster House which is a very friendly hostel that accepts packages (UPS only) and has cheap accomodations.  You can also call head to the Grants Visitor Center to see which windmills are operational. However, this is an old note I read from 2008, so I’m not sure whether or not it’s still valid.

Section 7:  Pie town – Grants:  86 miles

Ley Maps:  26-20-Local Resupply

This seems like it will be a very cool section because it takes you through a lot of canyons and Anazasi ruins.  The water supply is spotty in places with some stretches of 20+ miles if the sources you do find are not suitable to drink.  The area is also known for illegal drug activity  – with planes dropping bales of something for pickups waiting to haul it away.  I’m sure they move their smuggling spots around so I’m not too worried, but I might think about camping ‘out of sight’ in this stretch, just in case.  When I hit Grants I will be happy to stop by some wonderful Trail Angels – Hugo and Carole – who run a small B&B.  They are extremely welcoming and will help you with anything you need, especially water caches for the next section.  They used to allow people to stay in their home but as of this year, they are no longer doing it. Apparently an extremely rude hiker trashed the couple online about the accommodations and their help.  They will still help you with everything above, but you can’t sleep at their house anymore.  This just shows that you need to be nice to every person that you meet along the trail.You are just a person with a pack on your back , not some rock star, so don’t expect to get special treatment.  Be thankful for every bit of help you get.

Section 8:  Grants – Cuba:  111 miles

Ley Maps:  20-11- Local Resupply

This section is where you start hitting more mountainous  terrain, with more ups and downs, and an option to summit Mt. Taylor.  Mt. Taylor is just northeast of the town of Grants and is directly on the Ley route vs. the Bear Creek maps which goes around it.  The Navajo People call it Tsoodzil, the turquoise mountain. It is one of four sacred mountains that are part of the cardinal boundaries of the Dinetah, which is the traditional Navajo homeland.  As a big fan of native culture(s) I am definitely planning on hiking to the summit.  These places always have a unique power and feeling to them and knowing the history you can’t help but think of days gone by and the people who had been there before you.  The town of Cuba is said to be a little run down but, has all the things you need.  Thru hikers report having a good experience at Del Prado Motel, as the owner is very hiker friendly.  It has a laundry, comfortable beds and the owner will even loan you her laptop for the night if you want to use the free wifi.  The grocery store is said to be good if you’re not too picky.  You also have the option of staying at Circle A Ranch which is only a little bit past Cuba.  The ranch is hiker friendly and some hikers report this being their favorite hostel along the whole trail.  There is not a resupply there, but they do accept packages and you can use their full kitchen to prepare meals.  If you don’t want to stay in town, this might be a good option at only $60 for one night and $30 a night for two nights.

Section 9:  Cuba – Ghost Ranch:  55 miles

Ley maps 11-7- Mail drop

This section of trail goes through some good canyons with reliable water sources nearby or along the trail.  The real highlight of this section is getting to Ghost Ranch which is a great spot, and not to be missed.  It’s a Presbyterian retreat, but is very hiker friendly with basic amenties like showers, laundry and a cafeteria that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner at a reasonable fee.  They also have a library that is open 24 hours with good wifi and outgoing mail.  They will also hold packages for you at no fee as long as you clearly indicate what your arrival time is and how long they should hold the package for.

Section 10:  Ghost Ranch – Chama:  80 Miles

Ley maps 7-1-Local Resupply w/ equipment mail drop.

If you want to see an  intimidating-looking section of maps, this is the section.  There are more notes on the Ley maps here than anywhere else. Notes such as‘trust your compass’ and ‘pay attention’ are littered throughout.  There are a lot of alternatives you can use here, including some old routes, the new Bear Creek route, or even road walking the entire distance between Ghost Ranch and Chama.  You can take a train from Chama to Cumbres Pass.  There are a lot of forest roads, side roads, bad tread and everything in between for this section. However, I’m positive my navigation skills will be good at this point, so I hope it doesn’t  matter.  In Chama I plan on sending the gear that I will need for the San Juans, since they start shortly north of Chama.  I plan on buying my food locally, but I will have my sister mail me a box I’ll have packed up ahead of time, including warmer clothes, ice axe (if needed), microspikes for my feet and my maps for the next few sections.  I might also do a zero day here to prepare me for one of the parts of the CDT I am really looking forward to (not to mention one of the most physically demanding sections as well).  I don’t think that this year will be as high of a snow year as 2011 was, but low snow still means there is snow on the ground, so I’m sure postholing will be in my future.


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Leave of Absence- The Aftermath

I wanted to let you know how it went with my boss asking for my leave of absence.  I was really nervous all day because it was such a huge step in the process but I wanted to get it done.  The main reason I did it sooner then I was planning was that I had to turn in my “Strategic Plan” for the year; what I was going to take ownership of and drive for the next year.  I didn’t feel right going into a meeting with my boss and my boss’s boss and lie to them about what I could do for the organization over the next year when I clearly knew I wouldn’t be here.  I would be torching every bridge I had built.  That’s just not my style.

I started by telling our CEO about my plans, that I was requesting a 5 months leave so I could go hike the CDT.  I told him about my struggles over the last year, my passion for the trail and how I felt it would help bring me back or at least help me find my true self after a very long time of being absent.  I confessed how much I love my work and how I hoped to come back after this journey.   I didn’t know if he would say that’s great but, no you can’t have any kind of time off and how I would have to leave by the end of the week.  Instead I got an ” I get it” and ” I did the same thing at about the same age and similar situations”.  I was totally shocked.  He was fully supporting my decision and very much respected me for giving the organization 6 weeks notice to find a replacement and have me train them.  It really was a great moment.

Next I told my immediate boss in a meeting with my brand new upper boss.  I was worried about this meeting most but, like the first it was a better then I expected.  They were behind me 100%.  They understand why I wanted to go and what it was about.  They were very encouraging, asked for details about my trip and overall gave me positive feedback.  Again, they both appreciated the 6 week advanced notice, my willingness to help with whatever they needed during the transition and my eagerness to come back after my hike.

I had been nervous thinking about this day for months but in the end it was a great experience.  I felt truly appreciated and embraced for what I am about to do.  It proves to me that if you treat people with respect, don’t try to play games and bullshit them, you will get good things in return.

What I liked the most is once word got out about my trip, everyone in the office started coming up to me and sharing their personal stories of reconnecting and reshaping their lives through a trip to Australia, New Zealand and Europe.  Every person has at one point shaken up his or her lives to make a dramatic change whether it was from illness, divorce or feeling lost.  I’m convinced its a universal emotion and people will more times then not embrace your bravery and commitment to living out your dreams.

So if you haven’t done it yet, go ahead.  Tell your story.  Believe in yourself because, only positive can come out of saying your dreams and plans out loud.

this_is_your_life1


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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.