It’s been 16 months since my last post, give or take a few days. I finished the AT on October 25, 2022 so proud of my accomplishment. I still marvel at how overcome I was with emotion when I crested Springer Mountain. Finishing was surreal after 7 months on trail. It still is.
When I got home, a few people asked if I was planning to do another long-distance hike. At the time, my resounding answer was NO! It was amazing. It was thrilling. It was hard. It was challenging. Physically, mentally, and emotionally. I missed my family terribly. I was exhausted. I missed my tutoring students. Did I mention I missed my family? I had plans to combat the post-hike depression that I had read so much about. I continued to hike and backpack, including a weeklong hike over the summer. I went back to other hobbies like reading, knitting, and spinning yarn. I picked up a new hobby – pottery. We got another cat, and another dog! And I loved on my family. Boy, did I love on my family!
So why am I back on The Trek blogging you ask?
I read a book.
It’s that simple. I read a book about someone’s experience hiking the CDT. Then I read a few blogs. Then I read another book. And within a month, I caught the bug, again. The thru-hike bug. I really missed the trail, trail life, communing with nature, solitude, and serenity that can only be found on a long distance hike – at least for me. I get snippets of these when I go out for more than a few days, but it’s not the same.
I also really miss relying solely on myself, and only for myself. The feeling of being completely self-reliant is scary, but freeing. I decide how far to hike on any given day, what I will eat, how much water or food to carry, what gear I need. All of it. I don’t need to consider anyone else’s input, but I am totally responsible if I make poor choices and have to manage the consequences. I have to figure out problems on my own when things go wrong – because they do on the trail.
And maybe it’s a mom thing, but I feel like I do so much for others, that the trail is my chance to just be me. It also gives my husband and teenaged son the opportunity to step-up and manage life on their own. A good skill for a teenager! And my husband didn’t realize just how much I do at home and for our family until he had to do all of it. I had done it on my own many times as a military spouse with kids, a job, and animals. He has been more on-the-ball about running the house with me since my last hike, instead of having me manage everything and him waiting for me to tell him what needs to be done.
Planning and preparing
I started gradually replacing my heavier AT gear with lighter versions because the CDT has longer water and resupply carries. I wanted to reduce my base weight as much as possible to account for the extra water and food weight I would be carrying. Plus, I’m adding a heavier bear can (instead of my Ursack from the AT) because bear hangs are not possible without trees. (I’ll do a gear post later.) I started intentionally planning my backpacking trips to test the new gear. I started taking long walks, at least 5 miles. I even started working with a trainer at the Y to get stronger, improve my balance, and be prepared for longer days with more mileage.
I have been planning in earnest at home, too. Maps (Ley, FarOut, and CDTC), Yogi’s guide, and spreadsheets. Yes, my spreadsheets are back! I found so much useful information from my AT spreadsheets that I used them as a template to recreate them for the CDT. I’m adding a few more columns for data that I wished I had tracked on the AT. Things like weekly mileage, resupply mileage, notes to remember each day (sites not to miss, where to get off-trail for resupply, etc.). I also have my spreadsheet for during the hike created, just waiting for me to populate the fields. I added a few extra data points there, too.
Managing anticipated challenges
And I have a spreadsheet for my resupply strategy, including care packages like I had on the AT. Because the CDT is far more rural and less traveled (both the trail and roads crossing it), resupply sounds more challenging. From what I’ve read in the books, blogs, and social media exchanges, the CDT is physically easier, but logistically more challenging than the AT. Sometimes, the trail passes right through a town. That town may or may not have decent resupply options, hence the care packages from family and friends. Sometimes, I will need to get off trail to resupply. That might involve a shuttle or hitch of up to 30 miles.
That brings me to the other big challenge. The CDT is longer, but the window to complete it is shorter. I will have to put in bigger mile days than the AT, just to get to resupply points and finish the trail before Glacier closes Oct. 1. Additionally, my planned hike, including the alternate routes I am considering, may look vastly different from what I actually hike. Heavy snowpack in Colorado or wildfires anywhere along the trail will dictate some of my route choices along the way.
Fortunately, I’ve also read that the CDT is physically easier than the AT, in that the ascents and descents are usually more gradual. On the AT, it is common to climb up or down 500-1000 feet in one mile, often several times in one day. Looking at the elevation maps on the CDT (and from comments from triple-crowners), getting bigger mile days won’t be as challenging this hike. And the CDT is a chose-your-own-adventure hike. Unlike the AT (and what I’ve read about the PCT), the CDT is not about following one set of blazes for the entire trail. The “official” CDT is only 95% complete, with road walks connecting sections. Bonus though, are the many alternates you can choose to walk between the international borders! Some of the alternates are just a few miles long and follow a ridge instead of a valley, or go around a road walk. Others are a few-days journey that help you avoid potential dangers (I’m thinking of the San Juan’s heavy snowpack) or the circuitous route around Butte. I’ve read many times that no one hikes the same CDT.
Hiking since the AT
Last summer, I hiked in the Whites for a week. I was supposed to head to Scotland for the West Highland Way, but plane tickets were too dear. So, I drove up to NH and spent a week hiking around. It was a lesson in flexibility. Between thunderstorms and remembering the challenges of some sections (and choosing NOT to do them), I changed my itinerary multiple times.
This weekend I backpacked in Shenandoah National Park. I remembered this section of the AT as really cruising – probably because it was the second half of my AT flip-flop. I had my first 20 mile day in SNP. I don’t think I had any day under 15 miles in the park.
And then reality hit this weekend. I was back at SNP, starting at Front Royal. I knew that climb from Front Royal was steep, but boy was it steep! Getting a late start on Friday afternoon didn’t help, either. There’s a reason I don’t like night hiking, even with a strong headlamp. And then there was the seemingly relentless climbing up to Mount Marshal. Good golly. What I had planned as 4 days with at least 45 miles ended up with 3 days of just under 30 miles. I did push the last 6.5 miles to get back to the trailhead before dark last night, so there’s that.
Always moving forward, but reflecting back. Over a year removed from my AT hike, I can’t help but think, “It wasn’t that hard.” I mean, it wasn’t easy by any stretch, but it really wasn’t that hard. Once I got over myself, my feelings of imposter syndrome, my fears of falling, it really was just walking (or climbing) every day. Yes, there were some really challenging days – I’m looking at you Katahdin! But there were also innumerably pleasurable days.
Moving forward to the CDT, I will take my experiences from the AT and apply them where they fit. The biggest take-away being adaptability. Because of the nature of the CDT, all my planning may become moot. Who cares? In my nearly obsessive planning, I find comfort in learning about the trail and feeling prepared. I know my plans will most likely change, but I’m okay with that. I’m really looking forward to this new adventure!
What are you looking forward to this year?
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Among other things, I’m looking forward to following you as you tackle the CDT 🙂 . I followed you on the AT, and remember your “NO!” when you were done. Life is full of surprises!
Thanks! I really had no intention of hiking 2000+ miles in one go again. But here I am! 😄 Books get me into trouble, sometimes.