Headed to the CDT: Fears, Expectations, and Blogging

I’m betting my second major thru-hike will be the most challenging. 

Preparing for the next multi-month thru-hike is nerve-wracking no matter the route. Physically, my body knows how to backpack. The uphill burn, the heft of my trusted pack, amazing views, the beauty of grime, and the comfort of laying back on my yellow inflated sleeping pad at night. These I look forward to.     

It’s the mental game that scares me. The stakes are higher this time. I know how endless it feels to walk 1,000 miles, another 1,000, and hundreds more. It’s exhausting! Was the Appalachian Trail (AT) a fluke? What if I don’t have a trail family to pick me up when the going gets tough? Will I adjust to unfamiliar terrain?  

On the AT, we’d sometimes say you gotta put yourself in a situation to get yourself out. Hike two miles to dry camp or another six miles to a water source? Dump the water you’ve got to get there. Hike 14 miles after 12:00 p.m. to get to a hostel by 6:00 p.m.? Book the hostel and get there. With that in mind, my airline tickets have been purchased, the hotel booked in Lordsburg, and the shuttle arranged to the Crazy Cook Monument. Now the only option is to wait it out while I mull over my questionable decision to once again uproot myself from “normal” society.   

Day hiking southbound on the CDT to Alberta Peak, CO. Photo by Kate Riley

The Trail

In late April, I’ll be on my way to the southern border of New Mexico to start the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (CDT). As my second of the big three Triple Crown hikes, I expect the 2,700 to 3,000 miles of walking northbound from Mexico to Canada to take just over five months.  

The CDT has been calling me for a while. Heading anywhere else would feel wrong in the core of my body. 

My interests have always aligned with the CDT over the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). It was always the next triple crown trail on my hiking wish list. However, with CDT in the works, the PCT has officially landed on my radar. I’m so happy to have hiked the AT first.  

There’s some amazing beauty along this challenging route of the Rocky Mountains. My experience in this region is limited, with time spent day hiking only two short sections of the CDT in Colorado. I’m looking forward to the endless desert of New Mexico, the mountains of Colorado, and the ruggedness of Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana. That’s the extent of my expectations at this point – everything else will fill in along the way.   

Of course, I’ve romanticized this upcoming CDT thru-hike in my head. That’s okay. I have backup trails for this summer if the CDT falls through.

Differences Between the Appalachian and Continental Divide Trail 

The Route

I stuck to a relatively purist mindset on the Appalachian Trail. My footsteps did not remain connected at road crossings and I certainly didn’t backtrack to pass every white blaze or walk every footstep. Best attempts were made to touch every mile of the trail. That is, until the end where I missed a 6.7-mile section near Franklin, NC for personal reasons. I often tell myself it’s a perfect reason to revisit the AT in that area. Maybe it’s for the best!  

Anyway, the CDT is going to be different. The main footpath of the CDT, or ‘red line’, is a newer route with a choose-your-own-adventure culture of connecting communities and ecosystems. Alternates allow for high and low routes, road walks, or scenic byways through river canyons. Hikers will often search for off-trail routes for better views or to pass unsafe conditions. 

The Continental Divide Trail Coalition (CDTC) website states that after the inception of the existing CDTC management group in 2012, the trail is around 96% complete on public lands. This was after a rocky history of organizing a trail system through the Rocky Mountains starting in the 1960s, and the founding of the CDT as a concept route in 1978.

As someone who used to be pretty comfortable with off-trail navigation but has recently gotten cozy in well-trodden footpaths, I’m excited to experience a trail system with less structure.  


A majority of the AT is cruisy following the white-blazed pathway. I’d still always recommend hikers carry at least two sources of navigation as you can get off-trail, even on the AT. 

A CDT marker near Twin Lakes, CO. Photo by Kate Riley

It’s my understanding that the red line of the CDT is sparingly marked with metal emblems and wooden mileposts. I’ll be using FarOut as my primary navigation app.  I’ve also downloaded the Jonathan Ley maps on Avenzahelpful information on his CDT experience can be found here. Other GPS-enabled maps like GAIA GPS and the Hiking Project/onX will supplement along the way. Every year the CDT pathway becomes more defined. I have close friends who’ve hiked the CDT – including my partner Tom/Shepard who thru’d in 2021 – and there are many helpful resources online. I’m not too nervous about navigation at this time.  

Bears & Wildlife 

Wildlife is probably my biggest concern. But for some reason, the idea of sleeping in the wide-open desert or alpine forests doesn’t terrify me as much as the dense forests of the East Coast. I’ll find out soon enough!  

Bear habitat is present along most of the CDT. While grizzly bears weren’t a concern on the AT, grizzly and black bears are present in northern sections of the CDT (Wyoming and Montana), and black bear territory extends south into portions of New Mexico and Colorado. I plan to carry a Ursack Major for food storage and will pick up bear spray for Grizzly Country.    

Rattlesnakes, mountain lions, and moose are just a few wildlife concerns along the CDT. Being aware of your surroundings and how to manage wildlife interactions are the only ways to prepare for a hike like this. The land doesn’t belong to humans.  I remind myself that lots of folks spend time on the CDT every year. The risks are low, rewards are high, and animals generally want to stay away from humans as we do to them. And I carry trekking poles, which I like to think of as my first line of defense to larger animals. (Lol, like the thin aluminum poles would be of any use!)

Read more: Wildlife on the CDT: What You’ll See and How To Be Respectful   

Hiking Style

Like the AT, I’ll be starting solo in New Mexico and looking to meet people along the way. Yes, I’m a female. Yes, I’ve hiked hundreds of solo miles in the past. I’ve hiked solo, I’ve hiked with friends, I’ve hiked with significant others, and hiked in found groups.

On the AT, I was quickly part of a wonderful trail family and larger southbound bubble – folks I connected with starting in Maine and am still in contact with almost two years later. Hiking in a group, I relied on others heavily for planning; sometimes being surprised at my drive to accomplish the group’s daily goal. For that trail, I was more than happy to go along with the flow. 

Last year’s AT SOBO Low Lifes ’22 reunion in Twin Lakes. Photo by Thad Mason

I’m headed to the CDT knowing there will be possibilities of solo camping or bouncing around as folks choose different routes. What I do know is that I’m a social hiker. I love meeting people on trail and in towns; sharing stories on life, community, and passion is what makes these experiences special.  


More than the Appalachian Trail I’ve been hesitant to announce this upcoming thru-hike. It feels riskier this go-around! I’ll be farther from home, less secure financially due to life changes since the AT, and hiking in a new environment. But I’m so excited to head into the desert!

I’m a writer at heart, constantly pitching and drafting stories in my head. My notes app is full of half-assed ideas that need a beginning and end. However, although I write in my head all day while walking, on the AT I found myself struggling to even write down even a few words in my digital journal at the end of each day. Hiking is exhausting. It was more rewarding to live in the experience. I also struggle with a teeeny-tinyyyyy bit of perfectionism which can get in the way of posting quick blogs with photos here on The Trek. I have an easier time with updates that require almost zero effort.   

What I found meaningful on the AT was the ability to use this blog to bookend my experience. So I’m leaving it open-ended. I have a few posts in mind before I head out to New Mexico. Then, like hiking itself, I’ll see what feels in alignment along the journey!  

If you’ve found this helpful or are excited about your own 2024 hiking plans, feel free to share in the comments below!  

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