April 26, 2013. The last few days had been sunny, but a late season storm was now threatening this corner of the Appalachians. I had camped about six miles south of Hampton, Tennessee, setting up myself for a short day into the famous Kincora Hostel. I woke up early and beat the weather to the hostel.
Kincora is/was run by the legendary Bob Peoples, a giant among men in the hiking community. Bob had outfitted his hostel with hundreds of books, the perfect things on a rainy, snowy day like today. I picked up a curious-looking book, the Pacific Crest Trail Hiker's Handbook, by a thru-hiker by the name of Yogi. And as it rained, then snowed, I became transfixed.
That book was my introduction to the PCT and hiking in the American West. After hiking Appalachian Trail, I moved to Utah and soon found myself hiking through high mountain landscapes and deserts - the same kinds of landscapes that Yogi's book had described in almost mystical terms.
And over time, I learned about another trail, the Continental Divide Trail. Even higher, more lonesome, more remote than the PCT, it runs the backbone of the continent, up the spine of the Rocky Mountains, from southwest New Mexico to Glacier National Park in northernmost Montana. Like the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails, the CDT takes between 4 and 6 months to hike in its entirety. Unlike the AT and PCT though, it's as yet unfinished, requires both roadwalking and advanced navigation skills, and pushes the limits of even the most savvy thru-hikers.
On that day, April 26, 2013, I decided that the AT would not be my last thru-hike. Although I settled in Utah and took a job that I really enjoyed, made a wonderful group of friends, and grew to love my amazing church family, the drive to thru-hike kept pushing me forward over the years.
That's why I gave my two weeks notice at work this week. It's not because I don't enjoy what I do - it's because I simply must hike. So this year, I'll hike.
Stage 1: The Hayduke Trail
Over the course of the last 4 years, I have section-hiked about two thirds of the Hayduke Trail in southern Utah and northern Arizona. Before I start any new hiking projects, I need to tie up some loose ends - the last 300 miles of the Hayduke. Essentially forming a giant "U" shape, this section of the Hayduke will start on the Utah/Arizona border, dip down to the Grand Canyon, and then turn northward, ending in Zion National Park.
A worthy hike in its own right, this section of the Hayduke represents the culmination of what the last four years of my life have been - exploring the intermountain west on stolen weekends and short vacations, always adventurous, but always bite-sized. I expect this journey to take about three or four weeks, between mid-March and mid-April.
Stage 2: The Continental Divide Trail
This one's the big ticket. The CDT spans 2,800 miles, give or take, between Mexico and Canada. It follows the Continental Divide, the hydrological apex of North America. West of the Divide, streams flow to the Pacific. East of the Divide, they flow to the Atlantic.
The CDT passes through some truly magnificent areas - the Gila River, the San Juans, the Wind Rivers, and Glacier, just to name a few. At the same time, it's an adolescent trail - it follow dirt roads through much of New Mexico, and slogs through the Great Divide Basin in Wyoming. That's part of the appeal for me - the CDT offers room for route options, for exploration, and for solitude.
I plan to leave the Mexican border sometime in April, and, Lord willing, arrive at the Canadian border sometime during the month of September. The weather window on the CDT is extremely tight - if I start too early, I'll be waylayed by late-spring snowpack in southern Colorado. If I start too late, and winter will arrive to the northern Rockies before I arrive in Canada. Hiking the CDT is a race against the seasons.
1) How can I keep in contact with you? I will have cell service maybe once a week, once every other week. If you've got my number, feel free to text. I'll check email once in a while too. Don't expect immediate responses - life moves a little slower out there!
2) Will you blog/instagram/write a book? Maybe, no, and no. I'm pretty bad at social media in general, and being in the wilderness doesn't do much to sharpen those skills. If I had to guess, my sharing of the journey will follow roughly what I did on the AT - several posts at the beginning as part of an initial burst of enthusiasm. Then I'll post nothing for a thousand miles because I don't have the time or inclination to do it. Then maybe a post up north, and a weepy post when I'm done. I don't know. Ask me later. Don't expect much.
3) Aren't you going to die? Yes, eventually, unless Christ returns first. But I'm an experienced hiker, I've frankly done sketchier, scarier things before. This is just longer - instead of a hundred-mile hike, it's thirty hundred-mile hikes, all back-to-back.
4) BEARS??? That's not really a question, but I'll address it anyway. Yes, grizzlies exist in the Greater Yellowstone and Glacier ecosystems. They're a concern. But nothing that a little forethought and a can of bearspray can't handle. Something to be aware of, but no freakout necessary.
5) How can I help/be a part of your journey? Sending little notes of encouragement is always nice, as is news from "back home". No need to send food/gear - I've got that lined up already. A small crew of family and close friends have volunteered to send me some stuff that I've already pre-packaged.
6) What will you do when you're done? I don't know, but I've got plenty of time to figure it out. Ask again later!