Thru-Hike Preperation, Changing Plans
Motivation From Failure
I began preparing for this year’s hike the moment I gave up last year. When I gave up on the Colorado Trail last July was the same moment I began preparing. At least, mentally. Identifying my mistakes before I even got off the trail, I began to rectify them soon after. It’s not a great feeling to not even get a day in on the trail after talking it up for years to family, friends, or anyone who would listen. Standing there on the side of the Colorado Trail on Segment 8, soaked, out of breath, and my heart pounding out of my chest was an eye-opener. Giving up on a dream, at least for the moment, was hard as hell. Right there, there it was. That was the fuel that lit my fire and motivated me to keep going. That moment stuck with me. Heart pounding, soaked in rain and sweat, and standing at 10,000 feet feeling so small under the mountains and the dark sky.
My cardio fitness level was also not where it should have been to attempt a thru hike. Since last July, I put in over 600 hiking miles, mostly with my pack. Along with pack weight going down, my body weight took a dive, too. Losing 20 pounds has made a massive difference.
Also, my confidence grew and my perspective on thru-hiking changed. Now I know that a thru-hike is a serious physical undertaking. The best way to get into hiking shape is to hike.
Not until after hiking last summer through this winter did I have confidence in my leg. Will it hold up? I think so. It hurts, I won’t lie, but I know it will hold up. All those day hikes have finally added up to something bigger.
Hiking longer day hikes, multiple times a week and at higher elevations from summer through winter. Grinding out day hikes in snowstorms, postholing and carrying my pack boosted my confidence. At least I’ll be as physically prepared as possible this time around.
If the numbers don’t lie, then I knew my mileage totals would need to come up. There are just some spots on the CDT and the CT that require longer food carries. Although not fast by any means, I bumped up my pace to 2.5 miles per hour, sometimes 3.0. I was slogging along at 2.0 to 2.2 mph. last year when I attempted the Colorado Trail. That pace should help me get to each resupply in a decent time without having huge mileage days.
Liter of the Pack, Other Gear
My pack base weight is also very crucial. Last year, my base weight was 25 pounds. The food added another 12 pounds. No bueno for a newb. As of yesterday, my base weight in my 65 Liter pack is close to 12 pounds, while my 35-liter pack is around 8 pounds. Right now, I’m not sure which one I’ll use. More room for food and water in my 65-liter, but that’s also more weight. My smaller 35 Liter, although lighter, would require a smaller sleeping bag or an upgrade to a quilt to save space and also less room for water and food.
I will probably be sticking with the gear I start with, although many thru-hikers change it throughout their hikes. I’ve been using this gear for a little while now and I’m very comfortable with it. Most likely, my 65 Liter NorthFace, Marmot sleeping bag, Nemo Sleeping Pad and quarter dome tent will be with me the whole way. Unless one piece needs to be replaced due to whatever reason, the only other thing that will be replaced are water filters.
Rest is Key
Resting up is also a part of my preparation. More specifically, my left leg, the one with metal plates and screws, needs rested. Usually, after 5 or 6 days of hiking, I’ll take a rest day. Not only for the moment, but so I can keep hiking for years to come. Sleep is also key. I”m naturally a night owl, but I’m getting used to getting up earlier and earlier. Rest equals recovery and on a thru hike, I’ll take all the recovery I can get.
While gaining confidence in myself, my legs, and my ability to carry a pack, I also had to train mentally. I guess everything outside of physically preparing could be considered mentally preparing. There are a lot of things to consider when planning for a thru-hike. Knowing why I want to do a thru-hike, being as prepared as possible, and being knowledgeable of the basics. Reading a book or two on thru-hiking gave me a glimpse of what to expect on the worst days and the best days. Also, reading hiking blogs and just generally studying the Colorado Trail Guidebook and maps has also prepared me mentally.
Since this is my first thru-hike, I’m probably overthinking everything. I think there is a term that applies to even thru-hiking. Keeping it simple. It seems like there is a lot of information and opinions on thru hiking. Getting overwhelmed is easy even when just casually browsing hiking forums. Just staying focused, not getting distracted, and enjoying every second leading up to this hike will also help.
There will be bad days, I’m sure. At least I know they will come, and I will be prepared. Weather, fires, hail, and just generally uncomfortable or unexpected situations shouldn’t throw me off course. Knowing is half the battle, especially in thru-hiking.
Going With The Flow…Or The Snow
I walked in the snow all winter long. I don’t want to walk in it much more. But, I also want to start early while limiting the amount of snow hiking I do. I won’t wait until July, or June, even. Its shaping up to be a lower snow year, so an early start might be doable. Hiking in snow sucks most of the time, otherwise I would be out there right now. If timing is everything, then this hike’s success partly depends on timing. Leave early, like right now, and that’s probably a month of snow hiking.
Direction is also important to me on this hike. Starting south of the Colorado Trail, I would see the San Juans early. Along with snow, too. Not like I hike super fast or anything, but I’d encounter snow even at a slow pace and going north. After much contemplation recently, I’ve changed my plans. Hiking southbound might fit me better. The CDT is very close to home and eventually intersects the Colorado Trail, so familiarity is good but so is proximity. Also, the San Juans are the icing on the cake, or the hike in this case. Timed just right, peak views in peak hiking season sounds pretty sweet to me, so southbound is my new choice.
That’s all I have for now. Next time you hear from me, I will be somewhere on the Continental Divide Trail headed for the Colorado Trail.
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