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. 

Transplanted

It’s hard for me to believe it was only about 6 months ago when I called it quits on my Continental Divide Trail (CDT) adventure. It feels like it has been so much longer than that. A lot has happened in the last 6 months, and since I have been so quiet on here and social media, I figured I would take some time to update those of you who follow me with some of the happenings of the last 6 months. It has been a rollercoaster!

After I got off trail early in September I went to live with my parents in NE Oklahoma. When I announced my plans to hike the CDT and then move out west, they had decided to start looking to move closer to my brother in SE Kansas. Ironically, they ended up moving just a couple weeks after I got off trail. I’m sure some would see that as unfortunate timing, but it was great to be able to help them out with the move after all the help they had given me on trail. 

In early October I ran the OKC Memorial Half Marathon. One of the things I was bummed about when I made the decision to hike the CDT was that I would miss that event and break my streak (which at that point was 8 consecutive years), so I was really excited to be able to participate in that. I ended up running my second fastest time (which was completely unexpected) and I got to visit with some friends and coworkers while I was in town, so that was a great weekend. After that I headed out to New Mexico for a few days to do some trail magic on the CDT. That was a blast. It was great seeing many of the people I had hiked around, and I met a lot of new people as well. 

Trail magic in northern NM.

After that it was back to real life and trying to find a job. I had decided to try finding one in northwest Arkansas (NWA) first instead of out west. Thankfully it didn’t take long to get one lined up. At the beginning of November I found out I had the job, and after that it was time to find a house. I didn’t start the job until after Thanksgiving, so I had nearly a month to get a house lined up, but it ended up taking much longer than that. At the beginning of February, three months after I had started looking, and after two months of living in a hotel, I finally closed on a house. I spent a couple weeks getting some work done (mainly painting; huge thanks to my mom for helping out) before getting all my stuff moved in, and then have spent the last couple weeks getting everything put up, organized, etc. 

My new place in NW Arkansas.

Thankfully things slowed down some this past week and I was able to relax a bit and actually enjoy having the house. There are still a lot of projects to do around the house, but nothing at this point I’m in a big rush to get done. Yesterday I signed up to maintain a section of trail next to Lake Fort Smith. It’s not the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT), but it’s right next to it, and I’m hoping I can eventually take over a segment of the OHT. I also got signed up for some volunteer training at an animal shelter type place, and I’m hoping to start getting involved with a couple running clubs. So after ripping up roots last year, it feels like I’m to the point of trying to get some roots growing in a new place.

As far as photography goes, I got the camera out a few times over the last 6 months, mainly for some shots of fall colors and snow. The snow pictures are still up on my website in my Fresh Off The Card gallery if you want to check those out. Hopefully pretty soon I’ll be getting it out on some trails around here. I have been able to get together here in NWA with a couple people I met on the CDT, one of which I shuttled for his OHT hike. It was fantastic seeing them, and hopefully I can get involved with more of that type of stuff on the OHT. While I won’t be doing any sort of thru hike this year, I’m hoping to get out on a couple multi day trips in the Rockies and get back to NM in the fall to do some more trail magic. Fingers crossed it all works out, and hopefully you’ll start seeing some trail pictures from around here soon!

And the Winners Are…

First off, I want to say a huge thanks to those of you who completed my survey and chose your favorite pictures. It was fun, interesting, and useful to see the results. The survey is still open, so you can still take it if you would like. You won’t be entered to win a gift card at this point, but I would still appreciate the feedback.

Second, to those of you who liked my Facebook page or followed my blog, I look forward to sharing my journey with you. I have no idea how this is going to go or where it will take me, but that’s what makes it exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time. Hopefully I’ll have some helpful information, good stories, and lessons learned that I can share long the way.

But without further ado, here are the winners of the gift cards:

Survey ($100): Marsha McCorkle
Facebook ($50): Robert Funk
Blog ($50): AHazardDesign

I will be sending you three emails/messages shortly. Congratulations!

Before & After: Kitchen Remodel

If you had asked me which room I would like to remodel first when I bought my house a couple years ago, I would have probably told you the kitchen. I enjoy cooking/baking, and the kitchen was quite dated. I replaced the in-wall oven and cooktop with a standalone range shortly after moving in. At this point the kitchen was usable, but it definitely needed some more work. However, I kept doing other projects that were more “important” in my opinion. This past August, 19 months after buying the house, I finally got started on remodeling the kitchen. Ironically it ended up being the last project to get completed from my list of projects when I bought the house.

A very large chunk of my free time the last 4 months has been tied up in working on this kitchen. My dad made a few trips down to my place to help me out, and I have to give him a big shout out. He was a huge help. I would have been dishing out a lot more money if it wasn’t for his help and expertise. We essentially did everything ourselves outside of the countertops, backsplash, and running a couple spare water lines. I decided to go with IKEA cabinets to save some money, and I assembled those and my dad and I hung them. I’m really happy with how they turned out.

It has been a great learning experience, but I’m so glad it’s done, and I’m looking forward to putting to good use. I think I will be taking a break from house projects for a while. If you have any questions about anything I did with the remodel, feel free to shoot me a message. I may put together a future post focused on the the IKEA cabinets, but for now, here are the before and after pictures. While I enjoy the art part of photography, I also enjoy before & after photography as well!

Move In Pics

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After Most Of The Demolition

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Finished Product

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Uintas Trip: Getting My Gear and I There (and back)

The Logistics

When I first started looking into putting this trip together, I knew I had two main options: drive or fly. The driving option was pretty straight forward.  The flying option was a little more complicated. Do I take all my gear in checked luggage and hope it doesn’t get lost? Do I ship it ahead of time with FedEx, UPS, or USPS? Do I check/ship some of it and rent some of it when I get there? Were there items that I couldn’t ship or put in checked baggage?

After doing some research with Google and thinking it through, I decided I would fly and ship my gear ahead of time. Mainly to save time and I felt like there was a smaller chance of it getting lost with FedEx/UPS/USPS than with an airline (particularly if I was going to have more than one flight segment). But then there were still a few questions. What items couldn’t I ship? What would I ship it in? Where would I ship it?

After doing some research, I came up with a list of four items that I may have issues shipping: camp stove fuel, bear spray, bug spray, and matches (strike on box specifically). From what I read online, some people didn’t have any issues sending these items, while others did. I went by a local UPS store to ask them about shipping these, and the clerk there gave me a couple numbers I could call. I gave one of the numbers a call, and the answer I got was something along the lines of I had to have an account with them to be able to ship those items. I didn’t want to set up an account, so I moved on to USPS. After doing quite a bit of research online, I came to the conclusion that it would be possible to ship all these, although I figured I may have to convince the clerk at the post office. This document is what I took with me to the post office to use if I had any trouble. (I did have to convince the clerk at the post office here in Del City that I could ship the items, but once she took a look at the documentation, it wasn’t an issue, and she was very thankful for me having done the research beforehand.)

With that sorted out, the next questions was what to ship them in. I wanted something reusable, so I decided to go with a plastic storage tote. Based on a plastic storage tote I had at home, I figured that I would need a tote in the mid 30 gallon range. After looking at several different totes, I decided on the HDX 38 Gal. Tough Storage Tote from Home Depot. This had locations where I could put labels, seemed sturdy enough, and had some locations where I could secure the lid. But after doing some research on the shipping costs, I determined it would be cheaper to send two 27 gallon totes instead of a single 38 gallon tote, so I returned the 38 gallon tote and bought two 27 gallon totes. For the hazardous materials labels and address labels, I created them in Microsoft Word, printed them onto Avery 8 1/2″ x 11″ TrueBlock Shipping Labels, and then cut them out. To seal the lid (keep it from coming off), I was originally going to use zip ties. The only problem with this was that I would have to have something to cut the zip ties once I picked up the packages, and with flying in, I wasn’t going to have any sort of knife on me or anything like that. However, when I was looking at zip ties, I noticed some velcro strips used to tie cords (similar to these). These ended up working perfectly. They are reusable and don’t need any sort of item to cut them. Here are a couple pictures of my packages (after getting them back from Utah).

The final step for the shipping was where to ship the packages to. I don’t have any close friends or family in the area, so that wasn’t an option. I called the post office closest to the SLC airport, and asked them about it. They told me about general delivery. With your package addressed for general delivery, it will be held at the post office, and you just have to show up with your ID to pick it up. However, the post office I called stated that I would have to pick it up at the post office downtown, which wasn’t a huge issue. The USPS website says that general delivery packages will be held for 30 days. However, when I called the downtown SLC post office, they said they would only hold it for 10 days. Just something to be aware of if you go this route. (Also keep in mind that you will need to take return labels with you to put on your packages to ship them back home. I printed some out prior to leaving and took them with me in a book so they didn’t get bent up during the trip.)

So now that the shipping was figured out, I could go ahead and book my flights. Southwest seemed to have the cheapest round trip flights, and they got me to Salt Lake City pretty early in the day, so I went with them. I then had to get a method of transportation. I looked at several car rental places at the airport, and the one with the best reviews was Enterprise. I had used Enterprise once before and had a good experience, so I decided to go with them. I had heard, however, that it may be significantly cheaper to rent a car away from the airport, so I started looking at Enterprise locations away from the airport. It turned out that it was about $200 cheaper to rent a car from a downtown location than at the airport. And as an added bonus, the Enterprise location was just a couple blocks from the downtown post office. Round trip Uber between the Airport and the Enterprise location was about $30, so I would still save about $170.

The Cost

Here is roughly how much it cost me to do the trip this way:

Shipping Packages: $220
Airfare: $340
Car Rental: $200
Rental Car Gas: $20
Uber: $35
Travel Meals: $40
Hotel: $90
Airport Parking in OKC: $60
Total: ~$1,000

Had I done it driving instead of flying, here is what I estimate the cost would have been:

Gas: 2,306 miles/30 mpg = 77 gallons x $3.00/gal = $231
Hotels: $180
Travel Meals: $70
Total: $481

So quite a bit more expensive to go the flying route as opposed to driving (assuming I’m not forgetting anything). But what about the time component?

The Time

Here is how the time works out flying:

Thursday: Fly from OKC to SLC, get some hiking in
Friday: Hiking
Saturday: Hiking
Sunday: Hiking
Monday: Hiking
Tuesday: Hike out to trailhead, stay in hotel in Park City.
Wednesday: Spend a little time in Park City/SLC, then fly from SLC to OKC

Here is how I figure I could do it driving:

Thursday: Drive 10 hours, stay in hotel.
Friday: Drive 7 hours, arrive at trailhead, get a little bit of hiking in.
Saturday: Hiking
Sunday: Hiking
Monday: Hiking
Tuesday: Hiking
Wednesday: Hike out to trailhead, drive 7 hours, stay in hotel.
Thursday: Drive 10 hours, arrive in OKC.

The driving option ends up being roughly twice the actual travel time compared to the flying option. With the driving option, to get roughly the same amount of hiking time, I would have to miss one extra day of work compared to the flying option. The flying route also gave me a little time to spend in Park City, although not a whole lot of time (an afternoon and morning, although some of that time would be spent getting cleaned up and getting stuff packed up and shipped). Keep in mind, though, that this will depend on how far you have to drive and your flight options.

What I’ll Change Next Time

Having gone through all this, there will probably be a couple things I do differently next time:

  1. If I’m making another trip to Utah, I’ll probably drive next time and save myself a few hundred bucks and the hassle of having to ship all my gear. I’m blessed to get generous PTO at my current job, so using my PTO is less of a worry for me than I’m sure it is for others. I also enjoy road trips and am not a huge fan of flying.
  2. Next time I do fly, I will probably try to use a larger carry on bag, and bring along my sleeping bag in it’s stuff sack. The sleeping bag takes up the majority of one of the storage totes, so I’m pretty sure if I take that in my carry on (and maybe a few other smaller items), I may have to only send one package instead of two.

 

Hopefully this has been useful for you. I know when I first started planning this trip, it was a little daunting trying to figure out all the logistics and the best way to go about it. Each trip will be different, but I hope this at least helps you see different options you have, or gives you some ideas you hadn’t thought about, for your next trip.