How I Got Lost Before Even Stepping Foot on the CDT

Before conquering the deserts, mountains, and prairies of the Continental Divide Trail, hikers must face the equally challenging obstacle of organizing and planning their thru hike and my experience has been no different. It’s been 6 years since my last 1,000+ mile thru hike and like many others, I struggle with imposter’s syndrome. How will I handle the challenges of this trail? Have I studied enough? Am I strong enough, mentally and physically? Will this trail have the same spark that made the AT and PCT so magical? Is the actual experience going to live up to the expectations I’ve been building up in my head for years now? 

I would have liked to have hiked the CDT in 2022, but it didn’t fit into my timeline.  I was one of the lucky (sarcasm) nursing students that was in school during the COVID19 pandemic and graduated in 2021. A thru hike less than a year after starting as a new grad on a cardiovascular step down unit during a nursing crisis just didn’t seem like the correct career move for me at the time. So, here I am, a decade after my first thru hike on the Appalachian Trail in 2014, making my triple crown attempt(fingers crossed). 

 I’d say my trail prep had been going pretty well until this last week… I thru hiked the 300 mile Benton MacKaye Trail through GA, TN, and NC last October to feel prepared physically.  I’d bought most of my hiking gear during holiday sales and I was excited to test out many ultralight items (which I’m privileged to be able to afford now making a living wage as an RN).  I’d downloaded the maps, ordered my resupply items, tested all my emergency safety items, and made a rough itinerary.  Just as I was beginning to settle into a feeling of adequacy, complications arose like a tidal wave slamming me into the sand.  And damn, that hurts! 

I had arranged for my beloved gray and white, long haired cat, Sox (who I often call Senor), to stay with one of my close friends in Atlanta. She has 2 other cat companions and Sox is extremely playful and begs for attention at all times. Staying with other cat friends will be the perfect setup for Sox! Except Sox decided he enjoys beating the living shit out of every other cat in a mile radius apparently(FYI: no cats were harmed during the introduction period)… 

Not to worry! I, of course, have a plan B for Sox. He will stay with my cousin in Boston. This plan comes with some complications as Sox will have to fly (Sox absolutely HATES traveling and often loudly complains about my driving and musical choices). So I quickly got it all arranged: vet visit, call with cousin to discuss any concerns, and a flight ticket for my mum to fly with him since it’s such short notice.  And just as I feel like I’ve gotten my feet underneath me, another wave hits: my cousin maybe switched from full to part time at their current job and with such big life changes may not have a Sox friendly housing situation…

And so we’re on plan C. Sox will stay at my parent’s place. This is not ideal for many reasons. My parents are retired and travel between a large and small family farm during the week which will leave Sox alone for extended periods of time. (Sox is the definition of clinging and requires constant cuddling) My dad’s mom is elderly and dementia comes with a variety of stress and struggles which has required more and more of my parents’ time.  I surely did not want to add to their stress and workload…but I was out of options. 

Mouse with their parents upon completion of the BMT

But at least I have my gear dialed in right? Another wave rises from the ocean floor… I bought a fancy pack for the trail this year on sale during the holidays. I tried it on a couple of times and ordered a size based on my measurements–but I was right between a medium/small. I had chosen the small women’s pack hoping it would fit my body best, but as I started loading my pack in earnest it felt like it sat a little too high. I frantically had my mum take my measurements again and decided to reach out to the pack company. I was well over the 30 day return window. As a seasonal affective disorder girlie, I’m not always on top of things during the dark winter season… My heart was in my throat as I awaited a reply.  Thankfully the company was kind and flexible enough to allow me to return it for a refund, but now I had to rush to the post office to get it in the mail asap! And will my correctly sized pack arrive in time? Tune into the next episode to find out…

All the adrenaline of anticipating a 5+ month adventure has been building up in my body. I’d forced myself to go to crossfit classes in an attempt to burn off some pent up energy, but it hadn’t put a dent in it. It’s like my mind and body know we’re ready to hike 20+ miles a day. All that spirit has no outlet and so: I can’t eat, I can’t sleep, and I’m a total spaz. Not the look I was hoping to have a week out from leaving for the Crazy Cook Monument.  

But learning to move with the tide and pick yourself back up after a wave has dragged you toward the murky bottom is all part of the thru hiking experience. I remind myself that this adventure is all about letting go of the control I so desperately cling to in everyday life. It’s about getting uncomfortable in a way few are brave enough to endure. It’s about really feeling the world around us, the elements, our internal feelings, and reverting back to a simplicity that only requires us to put one foot in front of the other: from Mexico to Canada.

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Comments 3

  • Nature Boy : Apr 13th

    Sounds like you need the serenity of a long trail, Mouse. I look forward to reading of your adventure (as I slog through the health-care industrial complex, as a neurophysiologist at Univ of Virginia, so central Appalachians). Crossing my fingers for you for an easy trip to the Cook Monument, and full water caches…

  • Annie : Apr 14th

    I loved that last paragraph!! Can’t wait to follow along in your journey! One foot in front of the other…

  • Swisscake : Apr 16th

    Mouse, I hope our tracks cross out there. I’m on a similar mission, pushing my sometimes unreliable body out to its limit so my brain can let go. We got this!!


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