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Split & Two Step
Begins: Jun 30, 2018
Date: Mon, Aug 27th, 2018
Start: Boise, Idaho
End: Pleasanton, California
Daily Distance: 0
Trip Distance: 756.5
Daily Ascent: 0
Daily Descent: 0
Max Elevation: 7200
Entry Visits: 315
Journal Visits: 10,805
Guestbook Views: 166
Guestbook Entrys: 27
Final thoughts on the CDT
Final thoughts on the CDT
Rereading our final journal from last year's CDT hike through New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, and the start of Idaho/Montana (see last years September 22, 2017 journal entry), I vividly remember the wistful feeling I felt as we drove away from the snow-covered winter mountain scene in Lima, Montana, and headed back to a waning central California summer. When we thru-hiked the AT and the PCT there was little question that we would do almost anything to complete those trails in a single season. We were invigorated to be struggling through snow and the change of season with our trail family to reach the end of those trails. The challenge made the completion that much sweeter.
In contrast, our decisions on the CDT, beginning even before we departed, eventually made a single year thru-hike of this trail very unlikely. Firstly, a May 1st start seemed reasonable due to near record in-season and then very late winter/spring snowfall in Colorado. Even with that late start, the reports of treacherous snow conditions from hikers only a week or two ahead of us resulted in us taking many extra zero days and moving slowly through New Mexico. Still, even our weeks-delayed entry into the Rockies resulted in us encountering days of traveling through trackless snow-covered mountainous terrain, experiencing a (sort of self-inflicted) snow injury, and thus more delay for healing time in Pagosa Springs.
So we fell behind much of our growing trail family, but soon realized our go-slow hiking was suiting our developing trail strategy very well. We had had lots of time to appreciate the most uniquely scenic part of New Mexico, Ghost Ranch. We would eventually spend a zero at almost every resupply town-stop, and as a result take in a little of the local flavor by meeting residents, frequenting local restaurants and craft beer establishments, and visiting the local sights. We met a whole new set of hikers, and found some of those hikers were also enjoying a slower, more reflective, pace. And it was also exciting to have brief reunions with our earlier trail friends - China Rock, Bad Camper, Motown, Nel, Dundee, Spam, and Skippy.
We also decided to go slow in order to be in the center of the total eclipse zone. The two-plus minutes of this event, shared with a large fraction of the U.S. population, was one of the most memorable experiences of the entire journey. Finally, our two week mid-hike sabbatical to California at the end of August put us far behind our new trail friends, and assured that we would encounter cold weather.
So when the snow came and the trails became nearly impassable, we knew we could forego the trail and road walk to Canada, and we knew it would be a memorable experience - just not the one we were looking for, and so the wistful return to California was decreed.
However, leaving the CDT unfinished was not an option we cared to contemplate, but as usual, life intrudes. There were health issues, family challenges, and the inevitable concerns about another long trek into the wild. For a long trek it would be. With many fewer miles to complete this year than last, we were determined not to hurry. We set a July 1st start date, and then watched in growing dismay as this year the near record snow fall shifted north to Montana. As April and May passed we grew concerned as we watched the snow levels only slowly decrease, monitoring each post of updated satellite-derived results. Would the trail clear early enough for two snow wary, and weary, hikers to start out at the appointed time? By mid-June we realized that the snow was unlikely to stop us, and our final preparations started.
From the first day, as we walked out of Lima into what had been snow-covered mountains last September and were now packed full of wildly colorful wildflowers, we realized that a two-season hike had great advantages. As we walked along a vibrant green Idaho/Montana border with abundant water simplifying our planning and hiking, we knew we were enjoying the best season this area had to offer. The views were clear and free of fire and smoke, and the weather practically rain free. Definitely, a hiker’s paradise.
Our hiking experience this year was much more solitary than any of our past scenic trail hikes. We were far ahead of the main northbound pack, and when we did see northbound hikers, they were this years fastest, and they were soon far ahead. We saw a significant fraction of the southbound hikers, and although each meeting was welcome, exciting, and a chance to exchange valuable information, the interactions were by necessity short lived - for there were miles to go before we would sleep...
But we enjoyed the unusual solitude of the Montana forests and wilderness. We sang and laughed as we walked, tented wherever and whenever we wanted, and enjoyed views of pitch-black star-filled skies every night. When we needed a ride into town, the friendly Montana residents, full of enthusiasm for the outdoors, came to our aid. Our solitary and isolated days of trekking were also conducive to seeing all kinds of animals: elk, pronghorn, deer, bald eagles, weasel, skunks, marmots, moose, mountain sheep, mountain goats, buffalo, one coyote and one black bear. Our only sighting of a grizzly was with the aid of a 60x magnification spotting scope - although we saw lots of tracks and carried bear spray, we did not have the close encounters and bluff charges experienced by other CDT hikers we met.
When we finally had the chance to hike with someone for an extended time, we found our nephew Andy to be the ideal partner. Seeing the trail through his eager and enthusiastic eyes lifted our spirits and made us see the long trail in a different light. He also brought a new type of wildlife into our hiking - fish!
The final day of our hike to the US-Canadian border was as exciting as any long trail finish, and my stomach churned with anticipation. Appropriately in theme with this year's hike, we reached the border monument and reveled in our accomplishment as a solo couple. A last moment of wilderness solitude before proceeding into the vibrant and well-populated Waterton Park in Canada.
Yes, we did this trail differently than the rest. Not better or worse, but different, and there is little if anything I would change. Each trail has changed us, and I think this year's change was a better appreciation of the meaning of solitude - at least solitude in the way that is most meaningful to us - experienced together.
Now that we've returned and spent time with friends, the question that we encounter again and again is "What next?". Wrapped up in enjoying every minute of this trip, and basking in the internal glow of completing another epic adventure, we can truly say we really don’t know. The future will come. The present is overwhelming enough at the moment.
To those of you who have followed this journal, and/or written in our guestbook, thank you for your thoughts and words. Mental support is often as important as physical support, and you were a participant in our adventure.
The trail must end, but the adventure continues.
Relaxing with another long string of zeros,
Split and Two Step
Split And Two Step's CDT Continuing Adventure
The Continental Divide Trail is a national scenic trail that runs from Mexico to Canada via New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. This unfinished trail can potentially span up to 3,100 miles. Learn more: www.continentaldividetrail.org
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