CDT Concerns and Conundrums
I find myself checking the Countdown app on my phone more and more these days. The start date for my CDT thru hike attempt draws near: 73 days… 69 days… 53 days… I can’t help but reflect on how I felt leading up to my AT hike, and notice the differences between then and now.
What I Am Leaving Behind
In the weeks leading up to the AT I was plagued with worry. I fell asleep to concerns about finances, and potential injury, and had repeated nightmares about a thru hike gone wrong. I attempted to qualm my fears by researching excessively during my boring day job, but since I had spent the previous 10 months combing through blogs and gear lists, there was nothing new for the internet to offer. Instead, I would find the occasional negative gear review for something I had already invested in, and my concern would only continue to spiral. I was nervous for many reasons, but the first or foremost was because I knew the hike HAD to happen. Come Hell or High Water I was making it to the trail, and I was making it to Maine.
I called my AT hike a Quarter Life Crisis. It wasn’t just a goal, it was a necessity, the only perceivable way out of a situational depression and inescapable funk that had lasted over 3 years. I put everything I had on the line in order to hike.
Needless to say, I fell in love with thru hiking. It provided everything I needed and then some. I came home and was able to manifest the success and happiness I needed to survive in the “real world” as well. Which is how I have found myself living comfortably with the man I love, working a job I enjoy, surrounded by people who care about me. So, to leave everything behind this time, when I truly love the life that I have created for myself, seems almost counter-intuitive. The AT was an escape, but when I leave for the CDT, I will actually miss my home. I wonder how this will affect my motivation on the trail. The AT could hit me with everything it had: rain, snow and sleet, steep climbs, and blisters all in one day and I could simply respond “This still beats being at home. This beats being in the office any day. This beats wallowing in self-pity on the couch”. What happens when the CDT hits me with everything it has (which is arguably a much harder punch), and I realize I could go home to an easy and happy life?
I know thru hiking is still a passion of mine. I have done enough smaller thru hikes since the AT to be reminded of this. But even still, I imagine 3,000 miles looks a lot longer when the alternative is enjoying a lazy Sunday morning with loved ones in a sunlight-filled home.
What I Am Bringing Along
Not all cherished elements of my life will be left behind, though. Raphael, my partner of over two years, will be joining me for this adventure. I was single for the entire duration of the AT and this fact drastically impacted how I hiked (and, to be honest, who I hiked with). To do the CDT with a partner will be, I imagine, one of the biggest differences between these two adventures. This past fall, Raphael and I hiked the 300 mile Superior Hiking Trail together, and also knocked out several sections on the Mountains to Sea Trail. So far, hiking together has been fairly simple. He hikes faster than I do, but enjoys stopping more often so I normally catch up. We can hike together in silence or chat away the hours. On the SHT we formed a nice routine that consisted of conversation in the morning, and solitude in the afternoon. We started out with separate tents but soon learned that sharing was easier than either of us imagined and was well worth the saved weight.
For the most part, I am looking forward to sharing the experience with him. I can’t help but be nervous though. The last thing I want is for the thru hike to have any long-lasting negative impacts on our relationship. The idea of the hike was mine. Being from Colorado, he is drawn to the Rocky Mountains, and his long history of travel and adventuring makes me think he is going to love the experience. But even still, I worry that it is more my dream than his. And I know as well as anyone that when faced with the challenges of a thru hike, you have to really want it, or it won’t be worth it. Our SHT thru hike was my idea too. He enjoyed the majority of it but there were a few days where I could tell he wasn’t happy. He is the most polite sufferer I have ever seen, walking through the dismal rain in silence and not voicing a single complaint. But somehow his silence hit me harder than words ever could. With every quiet step we took, my guilt increased. His sour mood (a mood that is always going to be unavoidable on a thru hike) engulfed me as well. I became empathetic to his disposition, and as someone who isn’t normally an empath, this was incredibly strange for me. On one hand, I see this as a sign of a strong relationship. I want to be in tune with his emotions and to understand his highs and lows. On the other hand, I selfishly worry about the impacts this will have on my hike. Instead of only experiencing my own highs and lows, I will be experiencing his as well. And he will feel mine. I can only hope that this will strengthen our relationship rather than spoil it.
What Lies Ahead
I also find myself worried about the unfamiliar terrain that I will find myself in. I was born and raised on the East Coast, and have done all my hiking here. I can hike through humidity all day. I have learned to not only tolerate but appreciate the endless rain. I am in love with the thick, dense, green forest that blankets the Appalachians, and am fascinated with the life that is constantly bursting around me.
The West is entirely foreign to me…
This past fall, I finally got to explore some of this alien landscape for the first time in my life. I was so excited to spend time in the desert – I have always done well in the crushing heat of the Carolinas and was eager for the drastically different scenery. But when we arrived in Utah, I found the environment to be harsh and unforgiving, and quite frankly, ugly in a way I hadn’t expected. The orange dirt and unique geological features were breathtaking, but I missed the trees! The land was barren and dead, and the revitalizing energy I normally feel in nature was absent. Instead, I baked under a harsh sun and felt my energy drain. I was irritated at the sand and exposure. I was used to a humid heat, but with the relief of constant shade from the bursting canopy. Without shade, it turns out, heat is much harder to handle. And on top of it all, every water source tasted like mud. I forced down liter after liter of water only to still feel thirsty.
All of this was on a casual car camping adventure. We had shady campsites to relax in, along gushing rivers. We took short day hikes through the area, never logging more than 5 or 6 miles.
Now, I look at 773 miles of trail that weaves through the barren, exposed terrain of New Mexico and my heart races. I wonder how I will handle the sun and heat, how I will survive off fowl water sources. I dread the feeling of sand getting stuck in my everywhere and wonder what other challenges will present themselves. It has taken me years to learn the strategies needed to make East Coast hiking enjoyable, but soon I will be a novice again, learning these lessons the hard way.
While I wait for April to just get here already, these fears chase each other around my brain. To distract myself, I have stayed as busy as possible. I have picked up a part time job guiding hiking trips for the spring, on top of my job at the brewery and managing my art business. I am focused on setting myself up for success when I return, so I can easily dive back into my comfortable life when I finish the trail. But I still check my countdown app every day. I watch anxiously as winter comes to a close. And at the end of the day, I crave the freedoms of a thru hike, despite all the challenges.
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