One common joke in the thru hiking community, although with some truth behind it, is this: you pack your fears. If you fear getting cold, you may bring extra clothes. If you fear animals (or other humans), you may bring some sort of weapon. Two weeks from today my parents and I will be hitting the road for the drive up to Glacier National Park (GNP). While I’m really excited about my upcoming adventure on the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), and whatever happens after that, there are definitely some fears and things I’m not looking forward to, and I have done my best not to pack extra for them. I figured some people would be interested in these, so here is a blog post dedicated to my fears, potential struggles, and cons related to this adventure.
Base Weight: Base weight is the weight of your pack, excluding consumables (food, water, fuel, etc.). Generally the lower the better, although at a certain point it becomes a safety (and comfort) issue. I knew my base weight would be on the heavier side for a couple reasons. First, due to carrying my camera gear. Second, I’m leaning more towards comfort than “ultralight”. I’ll definitely have a heavier pack than a lot of people on the trail, but after putting a lot of thought into it and a doing a couple shakedown hikes, I’m comfortable with where I’m at. If I change my mind I can make changes as I go along. If you’re interested in the gear I will be starting out with, stay tuned to my blog as I plan to post a blog before I leave that shows/lists all my gear.
Nasty Water Sources: In the desert portions of the trail there are likely to be a few nasty water sources that I don’t have any choice but to drink from. Between my filter and tablets, I’m not too worried about getting sick from drinking the water. It will just be overcoming the mental mind game of having to drink the water from the source.
Cold Weather: I’m not a big fan of cold weather, which is pretty ironic considering my top places to move after finishing the trail are much colder climates. In general, the part of the day I look forward to the least while backpacking is the time between getting out of the sleeping bag in the morning and the start of hiking, as it’s generally chilly in the mornings. Packing up gear in the cold is no fun, especially when it’s wet. I’m sure there are going to be plenty of cold mornings while hiking, and I’m sure there will be entire days that end up being cold. Historically I have pretty much always made a warm breakfast in the morning while backpacking, but to be a little more efficient and get to hiking quicker, I plan on eating stuff for breakfast that doesn’t need cooked. Hopefully getting moving sooner will help out on cold mornings.
Hike Your Own Hike: This is a popular mantra among thru hikers. The basic premise is pretty simple. If you want to take an alternate route, take the alternate route. If you want to spend an extra day in town, spend an extra day in town. Do the hike how you want to do it, not how others want to do it. While it seems really simple, it isn’t quite so. What happens when I’m hiking around a person or group of people I really enjoy being around, and I want to do something different than the person/group? Will I do my own thing, or will I go with the group? Will I change my pace just to stay with a certain person or people? There can be some really hard decisions around hiking your own hike. Hopefully I can get to the end and be content with the decisions I made.
Going Poop Outside: Had it not been for the Colorado backpacking trips last year, this probably wouldn’t be as big of a worry. If you read my 2020 Lessons Learned blog, you know that I went poop a lot more on the Colorado trips than I had on previous trips. On the second trip it was particularly hard to find spots where it was easy to dig a cat hole. It was also fairly difficult to dig cat holes along the Ozark Highlands Trail. It’s not particularly enjoyable when you have to take a poop and you’re struggling to dig a cat hole. Hopefully there won’t be a lot of instances like this, but I’m sure there will be some.
Rattlesnakes: My guess is, on the animal front, most people would say grizzly bears or mountain lions are their biggest fear (I frequently get asked if I’m bringing some sort of weapon to protect myself). For me it’s rattlesnakes. Grizzly bears and mountain lions are intimidating, for sure. However, in all the backpacking I have done, I have yet to see a mountain lion, and I have only seen one bear (a long way off). Thus I probably realize the chances of having a run in with either of those is fairly small, and a run in that results in injury even smaller still. However, I have heard a lot of thru hikers say they have come across multiple rattlesnakes. What scares me so much about rattlesnakes is the difficulty of seeing them, and thus getting too close without realizing it. I haven’t heard of any thru hikers who actually got bit, but I have heard plenty say they got quite close to the snake before realizing it was even there.
Thunderstorms: I talked about this in my 2020 Lessons Learned blog. I love thunderstorms, unless I’m caught outside during one. With thru hiking, chances are quite high I’ll be stuck outside during one, probably several. There are several stretches of trail where there won’t be much cover either. This will probably be the most prevalent, and dangerous, fear I run into during the hike.
Annual Trip With My Brother: My brother and I have done a multi-day backpacking trip in the mountains each year for the last 7 years. In part due to hiking the CDT this year, it’s not looking promising for getting our trip in this year, and it will be a bummer if we break the streak. But we’ll see what happens. Maybe we’ll be able to work something out.
Letting Facial Hair Grow: I’m not a big fan of letting my facial hair grow out. I generally don’t go more than 3 or so days without shaving unless I’m backpacking. I currently don’t plan on shaving during this trip, which means it’s not going to take long for my facial hair to get longer than it has ever been before. We’ll see how that goes.
Over-Romanticizing: I have listened to so many people talk about their thru hikes and all of them have been overall positive. There have been bad days mixed in, but overall positive. Late in 2020 I read the book The Nature Fix by Florence Williams, which puts a really positive spin on spending time out in nature. In January I read Journeys North by Barney “Scout” Mann, which is about the journey of several people along the Pacific Crest Trail, and it was wonderful as well. I worry that all this is giving me too high of expectations for the hike, and I may not be prepared for, or I’ll struggle with, the difficult days when they happen. What if I get out there and it’s not living up to my expectations? Part of me thinks I should listen to a couple people who didn’t have a good experience on trail to help tamper my expectations. Haha. I’m definitely going to have to keep the quote at the bottom of this blog in mind.
Post Trail: This is the biggest fear of them all. Many hikers talk about getting “post trail depression” after completing one of these big thru hikes. Going back to “normal” life after an adventure like a thru hike can be quite difficult. I’m hoping job searching afterwards, as well as photo/video editing and potentially putting a book together, will at least give me something to keep me busy and prevent me from getting too down. However, if the job search starts to take a while, I could definitely see it being a struggle. What if things don’t work out? What if I can’t find a job I want? What if I’m stuck living with my parents for months and have to get a job I don’t like?
At this point you’re probably asking yourself, “Why does he even want to do this hike?” Haha. While this is a long list, I think the potential pros in the end far outweigh the potential cons. I have plenty of reasons for doing this hike, which you can find in my blog I posted announcing my hike.
And maybe it’s like that with every important aspect of your life. Whatever it is you are pursuing, whatever it is you are seeking, whatever it is you are creating, be carful not to quit too soon. As my friend Pastor Rob Bell warns: “Don’t rush through the experiences and circumstances that have the most capacity to transform you.” Don’t let go of your courage the moment things stop being easy or rewarding. Because that moment? That’s the moment when interesting begins.Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert