Reason for the Season (of Hiking), or Why I’m Hiking the Colorado Trail
As the days have reached their shortest lengths for the year and the temperatures continue to stay cold, it’s time for me to turn inwardly and answer the question: Why am I hiking the Colorado Trail in 2020? I’ve got three major reasons: to understand my social, physical, and logistical needs of a thru-hike.
For several years, I have had the goal to thru-hike the PCT. Last year I had lightly planned for it to be this year, until I realized I wouldn’t have the finances in time. This year I had briefly done the same, but a running-related injury shelved those hopes. Now that I’m healed enough to restart my running, my dreams have changed a bit, by growing more determined and specific.
When I first looked into thru-hiking, it was absolutely the access to daily beauty that drew me to it. Growing up in the suburbs of Missouri doesn’t provide an exactly endless expanse of nature and grandeur. In 2017, when I section hiked from Cajon Pass to Agua Dulce on the PCT, it was almost entirely planned for the beauty. To see and experience a section of the Earth in such a close way sounded so incredible. And it was incredible. However, the major factor in picking that section was that I wanted to hike with two old friends as they were on their thru-hike.
Following college, I made the move away from my family in Missouri and settled into a community in the redwoods of California. There the beauty was, and still is, continuously mesmerizing, but I’ve grown increasingly focused on something else: the community of people surrounding me. After just a few weeks with my new community, I felt extraordinarily alone as we briefly parted ways for a break, something I hadn’t even experienced when leaving my home state.
How did knowing these people for such a short time make me feel so much more intensely for them? Because our lives had revolved around each other. We worked together, lived together, ate together, laughed together, and struggled together. This is when I began to realize that maybe my life couldn’t just revolve around beautiful spaces, but also beautiful people and communities.
So how does this bring me to a thru-hike? As a lot of beautiful visual and written content has put it, thru-hiking usually ultimately makes you more appreciative of the people on the trail, even if that isn’t your original reason. The realization of my desire for a strong community had shaken up my original intentions to hike long trails. In hiking the Colorado Trail, I am seeking to test what the best balance of community and solitude is for me. On the Colorado Trail, I will be able to experience the thru-hiking community in miniature and how it feels to move in and out of it. Ideally, following a successful thru-hike of the Colorado Trail, I will be able to better inform my decisions for the PCT the following year.
As I regain my running abilities following my injury, injury prevention is very prevalent in my mind and injury is very possible on the trail. The Colorado Trail will be physically demanding and I hope that can answer questions for how I hike most sustainably. Specifically, what is a sustainable pace for me? Do I need to maintain a daily stretching or body maintenance routine (see here for my thoughts on tools for this purpose)? Do I need a zero day every certain number of days or can I go longer periods on neros? All good questions that only the trail can answer.
Many successful thru-hikers have taken off on a several-month-long journey with little to no actual logistical experience. This is not a bad thing at all and quite an accomplishment to use their resources and the knowledge of others, just as I’ll do for the Colorado Trail, to plan for such a long adventure. As someone whose mind tends toward extensive planning (you should see the Google Sheet I made for vegan trail foods) planning for 4-6 months seems immensely daunting with no context to how I can best process that. However, spending the time to plan for roughly just one month can provide that context and organizational structure I need to be my most successful.
As my way to exercise my logistical practices, I will be both sending myself resupplies and resupplying directly from towns. In this way, I’ll be able to create a version of my ideal system for packing boxes because, let’s be real, it’s probably going to be done by my parents or family at some point. I’ll also be able to understand how to walk through a grocery store and plan my foods out nearly on the spot. Finally, I’ll also be able to see if there is one approach I don’t like, as with my overall approach to my hikes.
Overall, as with many other thru-hikers, I hope to use my time on the Colorado Trail as a time of growth. Although my reasons listed are focused on using that growth for future thru-hikes, self-awareness and understanding can stem from those places and carry over into my daily life. Until I find myself out on the trail, I am content spending part of my days planning my trip while drinking tea and eating too many holiday cookies.
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