It’s crazy to me that it has already been over a month since I called it quits on my CDT hike. I get asked all the time how the hike went. It’s difficult to give any sort of short (or even long) answer that does the trip justice. Although it’s still quite difficult to put the experience into words, I have spent some time over the last several days trying to put some thoughts about the trip down in writing. I ended up with three different blogs (including this one). I’ll share the other two over the next few days. Hopefully these blogs will give you a glimpse into the main takeaways I had from the trail and give a decent answer to the question “How did the hike go?”.
When I started the hike, I had every intention of going all the way to Mexico. However, some people may have noticed on my Instagram that I put “attempting a thru hike of the CDT” in my profile instead of a more definitive “thru hiking the CDT”. I knew the chances of actually finishing the trail were quite small, so I felt it was more appropriate to put the “attempting” in the bio until I actually finished, but I also wondered if that was an indication I wasn’t in the right mindset right off the bat.
Starting off in Glacier National Park (GNP) was amazing, and I’m really glad I got to hike through the park. I really enjoyed spending time at camp with Little Red and Chuckles. It was a great way to kick off the hike. It was a bit difficult, though, leaving the park and losing the magnificent views, running into lots of blowdowns, hiking through lots of burn areas, and being alone at camp pretty much every night. I think it made for a more pronounced “honey moon phase” at the start.
I said at the start that if I could make it through the first couple weeks, I would feel good about making it to Mexico. After the first two weeks, despite some rough moments, it was full steam ahead. However, it was around this two-week mark that I really started having issues with my first pack not fitting properly. I bought a new pack in Helena, MT and that pack ended up being worse than my first pack. At that point I had my parents send the pack I’ve used on my shorter trips over the last few years to Anaconda, MT. It ended up fitting better, but it still took my body some time to adjust to it. This whole ordeal made for some pretty miserable hiking over a few weeks.
Unfortunately the pack I got in Anaconda was much heavier than the pack I had started out with, which I knew I might regret in Colorado when the elevation gains and losses were a bigger deal. It seemed to take until early Wyoming before I felt like my body was fairly used to carrying the pack. I really wanted to get a lighter pack before Colorado, but I didn’t want to have another fiasco of trying a different pack and it not working out again. I decided in the end to keep the heavier pack, which may have been a contributing factor to me calling it quits early.
The other big story for me in Montana was the fire detour. There were all sorts of different things hikers were doing to get around the trail closure, which unfortunately ended up scattering hikers until northern Wyoming. I ended up skipping about 150 miles of the CDT, and instead doing a roughly 100 mile walk primarily on highways through the Big Hole Valley. It was a bummer not going through the mountains, but the Big Hole Valley was a neat area. The highway walking was really tough on my feet. Some of the worst blisters I had on trail occurred during this stretch.
Other than the pack issue and the fire detour, the Montana/Idaho section overall went fairly well. There were definitely some really difficult/rough parts, but they were sparse enough that they didn’t taint the overall experience. In the next blog I’ll share an overview of the WY/CO section.
I have had quite a few questions about the gear I will be carrying on my Continental Divide Trail (CDT) hike, so I figured at least a few people would find a blog post about my gear interesting. I have made a couple last minute changes this week (shoes and video equipment), so I’m crossing my fingers those work out. My pack weight is definitely on the heavier side compared to others thru hiking the CDT, which makes me a little nervous. I’m still debating whether or not to leave the umbrella and sandals at home to save a little bit of weight, but for now I plan on bringing them. Outside of the weight, I feel pretty good about this gear, so I don’t anticipate a whole lot of changes along the trail other than getting rid of the snow gear at some point, but we’ll see how it goes. Pictures and a list of my gear are below.
In December 2016 I bought the house pictured above in Del City (part of Oklahoma City). It was definitely in need of some updating, and I was looking forward to making it my own. In the 4.5 years since, I have put a lot of time, effort, and money into improvements. My parents have helped out quite a bit as well. The completion of the full bath remodel late last year marked the last major project off the list I wanted to do. I lived in this house longer than any other place since my family left Wyoming back in 2003. (After Wyoming I lived in Artesia, NM just over 4 years. Between leaving Artesia in 2007 and buying this house in Dec. 2016 the longest I had lived in any one place was 2 years.) Up until just about a year ago, when I got the idea to hike the CDT, I had every intention of staying in this house for a while, thus all the effort to make it my own.
Yesterday I hit my last major “life milestone” before the CDT: I drove down to OKC to sign the closing papers on the sale of my house. I moved all my stuff out a couple weeks ago and have been staying with my parents in NE Oklahoma. As with the job, leaving OKC is bittersweet. I loved how my house had turned out. I had made it mine, and it was really the first place I could call my own. Having put so much time into it to make it mine, it wasn’t an easy decision to sell it. I’m sad to see it go, but it will be nice not to have to worry about it while I’m on the hike, and it will allow me flexibility after I finish my hike. I have loved living in OKC. It will always have a special place in my heart. There will definitely be some OKC related items hanging on the wall wherever I end up next. But between now and then there is a big adventure to be had, and it is coming up quick!
If you read my Fears/Struggles/Cons blog, you know that my biggest fears have to do with what happens post trail. One of the main reasons I decided to hike the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) was the opportunity to make some life changes after finishing. So even though I haven’t hit the trail yet, I have put a decent amount of thought into what I would like after finishing the hike. As it stands right now, the plan is to try to find a job I like – in a place I like – quickly after I finish up the trail (more on this below). I would like to find a place where I can settle down, plant roots, and make a difference. A place where I can find community.
With that being said, I have heard many people talk about wanting to do more long thru hikes after they finish their first one, and a 4-5 month thru hike will give me lots of time to consider what I want after the trail. Thus, I realize my post trail plans could be quite different after finishing the hike. However, I want to throw out where I stand at this point so that it can potentially give people ideas on opportunities I would be interested in post trail, and possibly have something lined up quickly after finishing the trail should I decide this is the route I want to go.
The list below contains some criteria that, if met, would place a job high on my list. If a job fits the center of the Venn diagram below (yellow star), it would also be high on my list. If you know of any jobs I might be interested in, please let me know about them or feel free to provide my resume to the appropriate person. You can view my resume by clicking here. Assuming I finish the whole trail, I likely won’t be available for a job until at least late November. If you think I would be interested in a job that doesn’t quite fit this, don’t hesitate to let me know about it.
Has some sort of connection to mountains, backpacking, photography, or art.
Close to the mountains.
Close to the CDT (preferably in WY or MT).
At least a somewhat regular schedule, ideally M-F 9 to 5 type.
Frequent 2 sequential days off work (for short backpacking trips).
At least a couple weeks worth of time off each year.
Somewhere with a good art scene.
Not in a big city.
I have listed some towns/cities below that interest me, along with some pros and cons. I’ll definitely consider places that aren’t on this list, but hopefully this gives you an idea of what I’m looking for.
Pros: Very close to the Wind River Range; close to the CDT; common resupply point for CDT hikers; would be back in my “home state”; has an outdoor gear shop; housing prices don’t seem to be too bad; might be a good place to get my art in front of tourists if I could figure out how to do so. Cons: not sure I would want to go this small; job opportunities limited; doesn’t appear to be much of an art scene.
Pros: close to the Wind River Range; close to the CDT; common resupply point for CDT hikers; would be back in my “home state”; has a couple outdoor gear shops; has a couple other places with job opportunities I might be interested in (NOLS, The Nature Conservancy); appears to be somewhat of an art scene; seems to be one of the more affordable housing markets; relatively close to extended family in WY Cons: no big cons I have thought of at this point
Pros: one of the most affordable housing markets in this list of places; fairly close to several different mountain ranges; has an outdoor gear store; appears to be somewhat of an art scene; on the larger side of towns I’m interested in, so more job & housing opportunities; Cons: not a common resupply stop for CDT hikers; on the larger side of town size I would want; is there a reason housing is so affordable?
Pros: common resupply stop on CDT; several outdoor gear stores; fairly close to Bob Marshall Wilderness; appears to be somewhat of an art scene; on the larger side of towns I’m interested in, so more job & housing opportunities; Cons: on the larger side of town size I would want; housing probably on upper end of what I could afford;
Pagosa Springs, CO
Pros: close to the San Juan Mountains; has an outdoor gear store; somewhat common resupply stop on CDT; appears to be somewhat of an art scene; great place to get my art in front of tourists. Cons: Housing possibly too expensive; on the smaller end of town size I would like;
Pros: lots of family friends and extended family live here or nearby; close to Beartooth Mountains and Big Horn Mountains; an hour away from where I lived most of my childhood; familiar with the town; a couple outdoor gear stores; somewhat of an art scene; great place to get art in front of tourists; Cons: not very close to CDT
Pros: close to extended family in Cody, WY; has an REI, as well as another outdoor gear store; close to the Beartooth Mountains; on the lower end of housing prices compared to other places I’m interested in; on the larger side of towns I’m interested in, so more job & housing opportunities; Cons: bigger city than I would prefer; not close to the CDT;
Pros: have heard great things about this place; close to the Beartooth Mountains; has an REI along with other outdoor gear stores; other places I would be interested in working at (Oboz, Mystery Ranch, Go Fast Campers); appears to have a pretty good art scene; on the larger side of towns I’m interested in, so more job & housing opportunities; Cons: I have no idea how I would afford a house here; not close to the CDT;
Pros: have heard great things about this place; amazing place to live for backpacking; close to several different mountain ranges; has an REI and other outdoor gear stores; appears to have a good art scene; know a couple other backpackers who live here; on the larger side of towns I’m interested in, so more job & housing opportunities; potentially a good place to live to host people about to begin or just finishing the CDT; Cons: not sure if I could afford to purchase a house;
Park City, UT
Pros: close to the Uinta Mountains; great art scene; Cons: not very close to the CDT; not sure I could afford to buy a house here;
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.
Hit another big milestone in my CDT preparations today: my last day as a Devon employee.
Despite living for 4 years and graduating high school in Artesia, NM, where there is a heavy oil and gas industry presence, I had no interest in pursuing a career in the industry when I left for college in 2007. Fast forward to August 2013, when I took the picture above, and I still had no idea that a few months later I would be working in that building (Devon Energy Center in downtown OKC). After being unable to find a job in meteorology post-college, a friend suggested I try applying to some energy companies in OKC. In Feb. 2014 I started a job with Devon working in their downtown skyscraper. Working for an energy company in a 50 floor skyscraper was something I never would have imagined just a few months prior.
Although it was a completely different path than I had imagined, it has been a great place to work for the past 7+ years. I have worked with some great people, and there have been some great memories from my time there, including:
Flying on the corporate jet.
Great seats at Thunder games.
Spending time in the field for the area I worked learning about field operations and getting to know some of the field personnel.
Participating in a Wyoming Conservation Corps project with some coworkers.
Combined birthday/Christmas party my first year (there were 3 of us in my immediate work group with birthdays around that time).
United way fundraisers (including mini golf on our floor).
Getting asked what floor I work on when I tell someone I work in the Devon tower.
In addition to some great memories, later in my employment it allowed me the financial means to buy a house and make it my own, and the financial means and time off to get in a couple big backpacking trips each year and start participating in art shows.
Seeing as a good chunk of my scholarship money for college was related to oil & gas, it seems fitting that I was able to contribute to the industry for a bit, particularly with a company that has a large presence in Artesia and in Wyoming (the state where I lived most of my childhood). I’m grateful for the experiences, relationships, and the place it has brought me to in life. It was a difficult decision to give this job up, and today is definitely bittersweet, but I’m excited to start this next adventure. I know I will have a lot of my coworkers following along and cheering me on, which will be a great motivation to help me push through the tough times on trail!
It has been pretty weird seeing the northbound CDT hikers starting (or preparing to start) their hikes while I still have a couple months to go. Even with a couple months left before my start, preparations are starting to pick up. I did a couple hikes along the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT) during the last month to test out my new gear. They were great trial runs and I’m really glad I was able to get them in. I’ll put some links to blogs about the hikes at the end of this blog. Late last week I started printing off maps to carry along on the CDT. Over the weekend I took my first load of stuff to storage. I’ll likely take another load at the end of the month before my house goes on the market at the beginning of May. My last day at work should be June 1.
I was excited to find out a few weeks back that the east entrances to Glacier National Park (GNP) will be open this year. That means I will be able to follow the official CDT alternate route that starts at the Chief Mountain border crossing. I could have made it work otherwise, but it will be great to hike the CDT through GNP. I still don’t have a specific start date set yet. I probably won’t have an idea on that until early June.
So while seeing others start their hikes makes me really want to get out there, it’s nice to be able to start more of the preparations myself. I’m sure my start date will be here before I know it, and I’m looking forward to running into the northbound hikers at some point 🙂
I haven’t said much about the CDT since posting my announcement that I’ll be hiking it, and there have been some developments in the last couple weeks, so I thought it’s a good time for an update.
A couple weeks ago I had some realtors come by to start the discussions about selling my house. All of them said my house would sell quickly (and at a price I was happy with) based on the market right now. That was encouraging. I got a realtor picked out, and then it was a matter of figuring out when we would need to list it, which would depend on when I would be leaving work.
When I gave my notice at work back in October, I told them that I could stick around until either mid-April or mid-June. I learned this past week that they will be keeping me around until June, which really wasn’t much of a surprise. With that in mind my realtor and I decided to list the house in early May. That makes me a little nervous since it gives some time for something to happen to the housing market. I looked into apartments that would do short leases, and wasn’t particularly thrilled with what I found. They were either more than I want to pay, or weren’t particularly appealing. After that I did some reading about forecasts for the housing market, and pretty much everybody seems to think it should stay fairly hot this year, so I think I’ll take my chances and list the house in late April/early May. Fingers crossed!
I have gone through my gear a couple times this month and weighed stuff and tried packing it into my pack. After the first round I realized it weighed more than I would prefer, so I purchased a new tent this past Friday to drop a couple pounds. I was hoping to avoid that, but it was needed. Even with the new tent it is heavier than I would like, but I don’t plan on making any other changes at this point. There will likely be a gear blog after my Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT) hike next month.
The June start date means I will be starting at the Canada border (likely mid to late June) and going SOBO (southbound). There are pros and cons to this:
I would rather finish in the mountains at the north end than in the desert at the south end.
Starting in the mountains will be harder than starting in the desert.
I will break my streak of consecutive OKC Memorial races (currently at 8). There was a small chance I could still make the race if I started in April and hiked NOBO, but I won’t be finished in time going SOBO.
Later start date hopefully allows some more time to get COVID under control before starting, although I’m not too terribly optimistic.
San Juan Mountains should be a lot better going SOBO (assuming they don’t get some major, early snow storms). NOBO hikers generally run into a bunch of snow in the San Juans, and it’s fairly common for them to take an alternate route through there. The snow should be gone by the time I go through, and there were a lot of SOBO hikers last year that had amazing fall color pictures in the San Juans. I’m hoping I can time that right.
I’m sure I’ll think of more pros/cons over the next few months, but that’s what I can think of right now. While it’s definitely nice to have the starting point/timeframe figured out, there is a lot about the start that is still up in the air. Last year a good chunk of Glacier National Park (GNP) was closed, including the official CDT route. I believe most people did a road hike on the west side of the park. I don’t think any official decision has been announced yet in regards to what will be open this year. I would definitely like to hike on the official trail through the park, but if that is closed, I’ll have to figure out another route to the Canadian border. So lots to be figured out there still.
Other than that, not much more to put out there at this point. I have had a few people ask if I’m busy planning the hike. There really isn’t a whole lot to plan with the hike itself. More of the planning/preparation will have to do with life stuff (selling the house, getting storage figured out, getting business stuff sorted out, etc.). Haha. Really for the hike itself it’ll mainly be figuring out a start date and point, and then figuring out where I need to send resupply boxes and if I want any particular gear sent to a particular place. I’ll probably spend some time pretty soon figuring out alternate routes at the northern end in case the CDT in GNP is closed. I do still plan to do a “shakedown” hike on the OHT in mid-February to test out new gear and make sure I’m happy with everything. I’m really looking forward to that. There will definitely be some pictures and updates after that.
I’ll keep everybody updated as more things come into focus.