The last few weeks have been a real whirlwind! I never thought I would get this site up and ready in time.
I’m pretty excited to have this platform for blogging, and if you are reading this I thank you for subscribing to experience this journey with me! I just added a new menu page yesterday called “Articles.” I’ll post links to my articles/blogs for The Trek on this page, as well as anything else I might write for a third party. I’ll also have some video stuff coming up, so if you are interested in CDT prep and gear videos, head over to the Unfettered Footsteps channel and subscribe. I also have one more video to finish in my Roadtripping New Zealand series. I hope to finish that early next week. Ok, that’s it for housekeeping!
April 23 is fast approaching - that’s the day I fly to New Mexico, and then hit the trail on the 24th. With just 18 days until I leave, I thought it would be a good time to check in. It seems like no matter how much time I have to prepare for things, I never quite feel “ready!” That said, I almost always get off just fine, sufficiently prepared and ready to go for whatever the occasion may be. I’m sure this will be no different. Here’s where I’m at:
I’m in good shape gear-wise. Of course, it wouldn’t be a thru-hike if I didn’t second guess myself a million times. I have all of my gear ready, except I decided to get a slightly more powerful battery bank from Anker. For my AT thru-hike I used their 10,000 mAh (milli-amp hours) Powercore battery. It was great and worked well, but I’ll be taking more video this year, as well as trying to keep up with the blog and social media, so I expect to need a little more juice. I ordered the 15,000 mAh version. I also am getting a wall charger that will charge my power bank at optimal speed. The charger I had last year was pretty slow. As a side note, I really want to talk a bit more about power banks and charging times at some point. It is a very confusing world and I spent a lot of time researching them to find something that would meet my needs.
Food storage - I’ve been comically waffling on this, but pretty sure I’ve decided to just start with my normal system - cuben fiber bag and food in gallon ziplock bags organized by day (I number five gallon-sized bags 1 through 5 and each one holds a day of food). I have an Ursack and Opsacks, but I just don’t like how heavy the Ursack is and how the Opsacks add bulk to my food bag when I try to pack in more than 4 days of food. I will rethink this as I hike and probably have the Ursack and Opsacks shipped with my snow gear to northern New Mexico.
It’s really tough for me to swallow an 8.8oz food bag, which is what the Ursack weighs. I’ll think through it. I probably will end up using the Ursack and Opsacks just to make myself feel better in bear country. I don’t worry so much about black bears, but I don’t need to give grizzlies a new toy to play with…. In case you don’t know what these items are, an Ursack is a “bear-proof” material. They can’t puncture it with their teeth, though they can for sure squash all of your food inside it. Ironically, apparently small rodents can sometimes still chew through it. I believe it is kevlar-based, but I am not sure. The Opsack is just an expensive ($14 for two) plastic bag. It is an odor barrier bag, so apparently no smell can escape it. I honestly don’t know how much better it is than a normal ziplock, but many people swear by them. I think the point is that it provides another layer of protection to reduce odors. Bears have a crazy sense of smell though - it’s almost supernatural.
Snow gear - I will have this shipped to Chama, NM. I am not sure what I will need yet, but I have an ice axe and micro spikes. I will probably need both, and potentially need to buy some snowshoes and have them shipped to myself, but it is too early to tell. I may ship some other clothing layers to myself in preparation for the long stretches above 10,000 feet in Colorado, but I will decide later based on the weather.
What gear am I taking? I am going to try and squeeze in a gear overview video on my YouTube channel. I think it is always nice to be able to see the items rather than just read about them. If not I’ll be sure and compile a list. Stay tuned on this. Right now my base weight is looking like it will be somewhere in the 11lb range. Base weight is everything I will carry except the clothes on my back, my trekking poles, food, and fuel.
Food and Resupply Logistics
I am putting together a video on this as I think it will be helpful. This one I have filmed - I just need to edit it. I am doing a mix of buying in towns and sending myself boxes along the way. Logistics on the CDT are a bit more complicated because towns are often farther away from each other and not close to the trail. It will be more time consuming to resupply than it was on the Appalachian Trail. The Continental Divide Trail Coalition has a great resupply spreadsheet at www.continentaldividetrail.org. It’s handy because you can download it and customize it (it’s a google spreadsheet), so I have taken it and created my own personalized resupply sheet that I will bring with me on the trail. I just finished prepping a box that I will mail out the day before I leave for New Mexico, as well as one with a second pair of shoes I bought on sale that my wife can ship to me later down the trail. I also have my food for the first 5 days of hiking, which will come on the plane with me to New Mexico.
I’m using Guthook, the iPhone map app that I used last year on the Appalachian Trail. I also intend to use a set of topographic maps put together by a past hiker named Jonathan Ley. These have since been crowd-sourced for annual updates. Most hikers seem to use these maps, though there are other map options out there I have printed the maps, but they are heavy and big! I also have them downloaded on my phone into a free navigation app called Avenza. I’m trying to decide if I will take the paper maps or not. The argument for taking them is that it’s good to have a redundancy in case my phone dies somehow. That’s the only argument in favor of bringing paper copies. The arguments against are (1) the weight - weight does matter for overall health and stamina, (2) paper can easily get wet and ruined anyway, (3) even in the unlikely event that my phone becomes disabled, if I feel that I cannot keep moving forward, I could always backtrack to the closest town south to get my phone fixed, rather than push forward into new territory if I am in an area where the trail is not well marked for some reason. So far, I’m leaning towards not using paper maps, though that may be an unpopular choice with my wife :-). I’ll probably at least have paper copies for high route sections, such as in the San Juans (if they are safe to enter) and the Wind River range. I’ll do what makes the most sense.
To balance things out a bit, I will be taking a Garmin InReach Mini this year. I haven’t set it up with a satellite plan just yet, so I still need to do that. It is a very small GPS device that allows for me to get bearings, as well as have two-way messaging with my wife in case I don’t have cell phone coverage. She’ll always know where I am, and I will be able to check in, and also receive communications from her. I’ve heard that AT&T is even worse on the CDT than it was on the AT, so I caved and invested in this device. It isn’t cheap, but it will definitely give us both some peace of mind. It also has an SOS button, so I can radio for help while the grizzlies are chewing off my legs. I’ll try and get a picture too, don’t worry.
Fitness and Health
Fortunately the bronchitis has been gone for a couple of weeks. My voice is still weirdly a bit hoarse (you may notice this in the food video when I get it published!), but I feel good. I’ve gotten back to running and also walking with a weighted pack. I use my old osprey pack for this and load it up with 28-30lbs of random stuff. It’s more weight than I will be carrying on the trail, so I feel good about that. I love wearing it in the city neighborhoods around my house. I often get interesting looks….
I have also been running wind sprints uphill at a local park to try and repair my lung capacity - the bronchitis took me down a notch in that arena. This is also to build up lung efficiency for hiking at altitude later on. I only have so much time left to train, so while I am doing this stuff and trying to set myself up for success, I’m not going to kill myself overdoing it. I don’t want an injury and I will have time to get into my fitness groove in the flatter sections of desert the first week of the trail.
I’m kind of all over the place these days. Yesterday I drove up to Charlotte to see a good friend, after many many years, finally become a US citizen. It was an amazing thing to have the opportunity to attend. There were people from 31 different countries, all becoming American citizens that day. I was so happy for my friend, and grateful that I was able to witness such a momentous occasion. It may be the only time in my life that I get to see something like that!
On the drive up I listened to a bunch of podcasts, including checking out some of The Trek’s podcasts, called "Backpacker Radio.” There were a few on the CDT, or that touched the topic of thru-hiking the CDT, and in one of them someone described the trail as “incredibly brutal,” or something to that effect. In the other, the hiker who thru-hiked the CDT said that she absolutely hated the trail - that it was brutal and unforgiving and just too much. She was a triple crowner…. So, I started freaking out a little bit. I was definitely thinking “What am I DOING?!?!” I’ve calmed down a bit since, but there’s no doubt that I am a little nervous. I guess it would be weird if I weren’t nervous. The winter weather situation in Colorado isn’t helping any either. It just keeps snowing there, and it is unclear if any of us will be able to get through the San Juan mountain range safely in June, which is when I expect to be there. It’s pointless to worry now because weather can change, so I’m trying to put it out of my mind. I hope that we will be able to pass, but if not I have the option to flip up north to Wyoming and hike the basin, then head back to CO. What will be, will be!
I think the second thru-hike may be more difficult than the first in terms of the mental game, simply because I know what is coming. By that I mean that I know the ways in which it will be hard, and there is less of a “romantic” aura surrounding my prep for the experience. I already know it will be difficult to be away from my wife and Lucy the Cat. I know how the trail gets rough, and how my legs and feet will ache. But I also remember how one nice day can erase a week of tough weather and blistered feet, wooing me back in love with the trail all over again. There’s no beating around the bush - I know what I’m in for in terms of the difficulties of a thru-hike. What will be new will be the difficulties of a trail like the CDT.
This is, however, one of the reasons why I want to hike the CDT. It’s a chance to really push and test myself to see what I can handle. Today I managed to get out of my head. I went for a short run. I prepared a food drop box. I realized I got a flat tire on the way home yesterday, so I changed that and put the donut tire on. Somehow doing those things made me feel calm again.
I’m still REALLY excited about the hike. The nerves come, but then they go and I feel calm and focused. This is going to be one heck of a journey! I feel like I have a lot to do before I leave, but some of it is my seemingly insatiable desire to have life all wrapped up in a pretty bow before I head out. I probably just need to let this go. Things will land where they land. I should do my best, but not stress. Right now I’m going to be grateful that I have this opportunity, that I can enjoy this lovely Georgia spring weather we are having, and that I have the support of so many amazing people like yourselves on this hike. Canada or bust!
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