Taking on a great outdoor adventure like the Appalachian or Pacific Crest Trail means navigating a world of blog posts, YouTube channels, and gear lists that can make planning overwhelming. So when it is all too much? At what point does our preparation begin to infringe on the experiences we’ll have on the trail?
Connecting footsteps involved hiking the next stretch along the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire, which would lead to the Long Trail in Vermont as we made our way to the New Hampshire/Massachusetts border to begin the New England Trail.
It took logging nearly 3,000 miles on long-distance trails before I figured out a food routine that was somewhat cost effective, accessible and most importantly, dense in nutrients that helped build and sustain Luna’s endurance deep into a thru-hike.
How did we come to nurture such time outdoors? How did I come to be here? To this humble point. This person of perspective and collectivism. This person who only seems energized by living outdoors. This person of imperfections and flawed understanding of her place within a vast world.
Thinking about, or planning a thru-hike of the Continental Divide Trail? It’s an underrated gem of a trail. There’s a lot I think you should know, so for this first part, I’ll talk about timeline, navigation, alternates, information sources, and water.
Everything about a hike, town experiences included, are unique and subjective. Most of the towns along the CDT are a ways from the trail, so it's often tough not to stay the night. I had some favorites stays and town stops along the trail in 2017. Part of the adventure of the CDT is having little resources telling you where "the spot" is. So here I go ruining that for you with some picks, because I want to support the people who provided me with the best experiences.
Winter is here. Plenty of snow, ice and cold temperatures to play in. When prepared, hiking in the winter (free of bugs and crowds) can be incredibly fun and rewarding. Given the nature of the challenge, winter hiking often leaves a hiker more confident and fit going into summer adventures. Here’s an extensive overview on clothing and other related gear for winter day hiking, including some examples.
The intangible benefits of having a bag like the Outback Dreamer are incredibly valuable to me. At the end of a long day of hiking, I’ll take this bag out and lay it down for Luna, helping her to establish that this would be camp for the night. It gives her routine and comfort during times when the scenery is changing each day.
Traveling is a skill. People, human interactions are a skill. Like everything else within the human capacity, we get better at things through experience and practice. There’s always a new conversation around the corner waiting to expand our perspective. These interactions are what give me life; energy. So, how do we find mindfulness through human connection? One thing we ALL have in common: food.
For 3,000 miles I’ll be hiking through the Rockies, living with only the contents in my backpack. The Continental Divide Trail travels across diverse environments- alpine, forests, basins and deserts along the Great Divide that splits North America.
The shrinking, rolling mountains of the Divide. The winding Gila River. The remote and wild desert. New Mexico was everything I needed. I traded in warmer layers for more forgiving weather and extraordinary sunsets. While yes, there was plenty of cow shit water and road walking, but I managed to soak in all the sun and dust I could during the final leg of the hike.
Colorado was nothing short of an adventure. The high Rocky Mountains gave us rugged peaks, pristine water and knarly weather. With a knack for the unpredictable, this state tested my resilience, adaptability, and patience.
Expectations. We form them, even if we insist on trying not to. So what happens then, when winter comes? When the going gets cold, how can we readjust our expectations of what's ahead? Well, we do just that: readjust. We don't hide.
Wyoming, rich in culture and scenery, was a stunning, environmentally diverse state to hike through: Yellowstone NP, the Wind River Range, the Great Divide Basin and Medicine Bow NF. All topped off with viewing a solar eclipse in full totality from the trail. Five hundred miles and 23 days more experienced, more crisped by the sun, and more prepared for what lies ahead in Colorado.
Hiking with a dog is different. A thru hike is a unique, individual experience no matter the level of solidarity. Some choose to hike with a partner; some end up in a group. Others, bring along a dog that, while unable to express their needs through speech, will become an extension of you. So in sync that words become insignificant. A giddy, energetic, lovable presence that can change the energy on any given day.
A little over a month and 1,000(ish) miles down, our time in Montana and Idaho's mountains is finished. The Continental Divide Trail has been a series of remote, hidden gems that are peaceful and unimpacted. Quaint and quiet small towns and adventurous, happy travelers; I have not been bored.
The Scandinavian cities of Gothenburg, Oslo, Copenhagen filled my body with exquisite foods and long urban walks searching for historical architecture and lush green parks. In Switzerland I emerged in the French Culture, swim in glacier-fed lakes and hiked in the Alps.
Sometimes I come to a place where I am overwhelmed with bliss. It’s trickling through my body, warming every bit of my insides. It’s washing the dirt from my ego and bringing exquisite clarity to mind. I’m in a place where I feel happiest; as if it can’t get any better than this. Satisfying the relentless need to be immersed in nature’s humbling beauty.
Most gear is pretty straightforward and non gender specific- tents, sleeping bags, filtration systems. But there are a few things we ladies need to think about. The things a Google search or guidebook will rarely tell us; only experience and sometimes tough learned lessons.
Goodbyes are hard. Even sickening at times. This wandering; never staying one place for too long, creates more emotional separations. Beginning to put down roots and form strong connections, only to walk away from them. I'd like to think practice has improved my expressions of goodbye, but no. I've just gotten better at tying the apron to make and giveaway obscene amounts of baked goods.
On the trail, we often become the truest versions of ourselves. Stripped down to the muscle on our legs and contents of our backpacks. Vulnerable. The ever changing circumstances of travel keep us energized and engaged. Take that away, and what's left?
Pleasing this dog can be difficult. Because well, her expectations are remarkably high. In the first 4 years of her life, I’ve set the bar to a level that is difficult to keep up. Which sadly, leaves her disappointed with anything less than a highly stimulating day.