Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

View of King Lake. One of my last views before getting off the CDT last year.

Today marks one year since I made one of the harder decisions of my life: quitting my CDT hike around the halfway mark, after 72 days and roughly 1,500 miles. I had been struggling a lot since around the Colorado border, and thus had decided at my last town stop to take an alternate route in the next segment that would hopefully be easier. However, I would miss the highest point on the CDT, and it would separate me from the people I had been hiking around consistently (aka trail family, or tramily). Since it had taken me nearly a month and a half after starting to finally feel like I had a tramily, I was pretty bummed about splitting up with them and not knowing if/when we would meet back up. The day before quitting I hadn’t seen any other CDT hikers on trail and I tripped and fell hard just before getting to camp. The morning of I had a difficult climb, and I really struggled on the climbs. After the climb, there was an exposed ridge walk with wind chills likely around freezing (I had seen ice on the trail near the top of the climb). I was pretty miserable that whole morning. I stopped for lunch at a place where I could either continue on the CDT or get off trail and hike into Winter Park, CO. One of the popular mottos on trail is “Don’t quit on a bad day,” but after eating and mulling it over for a bit, I figured if I kept going I wouldn’t be enjoying it much and would be miserable pretty often, so I decided that I had had enough and hiked into Winter Park. 

Although I still sometimes second guess that decision, a lot of good things have happened in the year since that decision. I got to keep my streak of running in the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon/Half-Marathon alive (I’m now at 10 consecutive years). About a month after quitting I got to go do trail magic on the CDT in New Mexico and catch up with the tramily. I got a job in NW Arkansas and got a house bought. I have been able to meet up with a couple friends from the CDT in NW Arkansas. When I was in Wyoming earlier this summer I was able to meet up with and do some trail magic for some CDT hikers I had met through an online thru hiking community (Thru-r). I have adopted a section of the Ozark Highlands Trail, and am the secretary on the board of directors for the Ozark Highlands Trail Association. I have found an animal shelter I can volunteer at and enjoy some kitty time. I have got involved with a running group and really enjoy trail running with them each week. 

And yet, I feel like I’m right back where I was a year ago: different paths ahead of me, pondering what my next move is.

  1. Do I get back into attempting to sell prints of my photography? If so, when? If I get back into it in the next few months, it will likely mean pulling a few thousand dollars out of money I have set aside for retirement. Do I wait until I have more photos from around NW Arkansas? Where do I sell? Can I even find a gallery to exhibit in? Do I set up an online store? What do I do differently this time to improve my chance of success? Can I sell enough prints to keep the printer busy enough to not have issues with clogged nozzles? I could go on and on with questions. 
  2. When/how am I going to get back to the CDT to finish the southern half? The HVAC system in my house is old and needs to be replaced soon. That will likely cost around $15,000. As it currently stands, it will be late 2024 before I have the money saved up for that (and that’s with putting 20% of my take home pay into savings). Which means, at least from a financial perspective (unless I pull money from retirement funds), it will be at least 2025 before I can make it back. And that’s assuming no other large expenses pop up during that time. 
  3. What do I do about my job situation? My current job is far from fulfilling. However, I think it’s going to be near impossible to find a job that is fulfilling and also pays as well or better (and has as good of benefits) as my current job. If I get back into selling my photography, my current job might be beneficial in that I can hopefully use the photo studios to get some good product photographs of my prints (after having a couple of the photographers teach me how to do it). So do I try to “tough it out” another 3-4 years at my current job until I have the money to finish my CDT hike? Do I take a chance on another job that pays more but may still be low on the fulfillment meter? Do I get a more fulfilling job that pays less, but then be even more stressed about my budget?

It just so happens that on this one year anniversary of quitting my CDT hike I’m back out in the Colorado mountains on a solo backpacking trip, which should give me plenty of opportunity to think through all this. Haha. I hope not to spend too much time thinking about all this though. Hopefully I can spend most of the time being present and enjoying being out in nature. Maybe in another year I’ll be able to look back and see more good and progress that has happened and have some new life decisions to ponder. 

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