long ramble: my “year off”, 2016, begins

I just purchased some Leki trekking poles, the “lady series”. According to the tag they are legendary since 1948. Must be a good sign.

~~~~~~~

2016 is here, and I’ve officially started my year off of school — 2 semesters to be exact. I have a rough idea of what my plans are: stay home and work, hike the CDT, work at/near school. I’m putting a lot of emphasis on the hike the CDT portion, so I’ll talk about that first and see what happens from there in my first official post to the uberinterweb. I feel weird. I constantly raise my eyebrows as I type and think about what my mom is going to say when she eventually reads this. Oh well.

For starters, the CDT, the Continental Divide Trail, is one of three “Triple Crown” hiking trails in the U.S. along with the more popular Appalachian Trail (AT) and Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). These trails are “National Scenic Trails”, made government official in the National Trails System Act in 1968. Well, the AT and PCT were official then, but the CDT wasn’t declared until 10 years later, 1978. All three of the trails have unique histories that started way before that (fun google research) and different reputations that have grown through time, but all Triple Crown trails have one common thread: they are home to the culture or pilgrimage or life or however-you-want-to-call-it thing known as thru-hiking. Thru-hiking, the act of completing one of these trails (ranging from 2200-3100ish miles) continuously in one three to six month swoop, has become a weirdly awesome fascination in American outdoor recreation culture… and for me. (some generalizations here) Thru-hiking often involves walking around or more than twenty miles a day, walking and sleeping in the “wilderness” everyday except for town stops, carrying minimal amounts of gear you need on your back for 4ish-8ish or more day stretches at a time, going by a trail name, eating lots of dehydrated food, lots of peanut butter, tired feet, no deodorant for a very long time, meeting the coolest people ever, hitchhiking into and out of small towns…

I feel like it’s hard to explain without writing a lot of words about real personal experiences, the future purpose of this blog. I have a somewhat shortened version of those experiences already since I’ve done a 570 mile section hike on the PCT (only about 1/5 of that entire trail, holy smokes in a canoli and fry em up good). I still feel an odd sense of hypocrisy when thinking and telling other people about my upcoming hike. I’m pretty confident in my outdoor skills and the quick miles I walked with Boz on the PCT last summer where I received my trail name, Slingshot, but I’m also pretty sure I’m talking out of my butt half the time and don’t really know what it’s like. If I sound like my nose is slowly lifting up into the air, please let me know, I’ll try to keep it down.

I definitely don’t know what it feels like to hike thousands of miles in one go, but if you’re interested, watch this film if you want to hear and see real people talking about what the real PCT thru-hike is for them https://vimeo.com/126514281 — well worth your time!

Back to the CDT! Why did I choose the CDT as my trail of choice? I already walked a decent chunk of the PCT, so I ruled that one out. The AT is also extremely awesome, but also very popular. The inner hipster in me wants to go somewhere with a little less people and a bit more remote, the CDT. It starts at the New Mexico-Mexico border, along the high desert, into the enormous, snowy Rockies of Colorado, across the Great Divide Basin of Wyoming, through the Wind River Range into Yellowstone, dips a bit into Idaho, then traverses the famous Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana and finally ends in gorgeous Glacier National Park at the U.S.-Canada border. I can’t really tell, but a lot of people walk it northbound and not as many walk it southbound, but there are more southbounders by percentage than on the PCT and AT (sort of a complete guess, there I go again). The CDT is known for its rugged beauty, its isolation, and grizzly bears. It also goes through country similar to where I worked in Wyoming, another reason for me. That said, there is always a chance that snow or fires will foil my CDT plans and force me to walk another route. Speaking of routes, the CDT is cool because it is not one continuously finished trail. There is an official CDNST (Continental Divide National Scenic Trail) route composed of GPS waypoints that amounts to about 3100 miles, but I will be attempting a route through the most gorgeous or the most available parts because of fires/snow that will most likely amount to somewhere in the ball park of 2800 miles. Another guess until I actually sit down with the maps or GPS.

I’m hoping to carry a super light load on my back so I can walk many miles day to day. I’m planning on carrying a kindle, a journal, and a phone so I can post to this blog as I go. I thought about bringing a guitar and writing songs as I go, but that might not be realistic. A metal/carbon fiber guitar on my back could act as a great lightning rod though… I’m planning on starting alone in late April and maybe meeting someone or a group of hikers to tag along with that walk about the same pace I do. Hopefully I will reach the San Juans in Colorado in early June, praying that the snow has melted, although it’s looking scary thanks to El Niño. From there I’d race to Canada, hoping to end before October when winter starts kicking in again.

There are some questions I think about all the time for the hike: loneliness? other people? stoveless or stove? music? bring a guitar? gps? phone as gps? money? shinsplints? my arthritic big toes? how cold? how snowy? ice axe? crampons? water? giardia? cow poop? me poop? first aid stuff? how many miles a day? getting there? leaving there? bears? hitchhiking? money? rain? hypothermia? boredom? hackeysack? blizzards? forest fires?

I could go on and on. It sort of stresses me out thinking about how much there is to think about. How do you plan a life out for yourself, town by town, for 5 months? I can’t remember too well what the day to day last summer was like on the PCT — I’m scared I only remember the good times and not the bad ones. There wasn’t much bad to remember though… I’m slowly realizing that maybe I shouldn’t plan like crazy. I’ll figure out my town stops, which ones I have to do mail drops, and maybe guesstimate how many miles my fuel canisters might last. Some questions I will answer, but some won’t be able to be answered, sort of like an organic chemistry test. I’m down for that. Embrace the brutality and all that jazz. ~Btw “Embrace the brutality” is the unofficial (or official?) slogan of the CDT dubbed by thru-hikers~

Meanwhile, I have a little over 4 months before I begin. Sort of a blessing and a curse. I have a ton of time to plan and prepare. I really need to get in shape… But it also sucks thinking about it all the time and not actually being out there walking…

A couple other questions pop up: why now? what are you hoping to learn? regrets? scared?

Why not now. I don’t have to worry about leaving a job and not having something to come back to, and I get to go back to the structure of school. I don’t have to worry about making time when I get into the “real world” after college. I realize this is also a huge privilege made available to me by my parents and by my school, and that definitely sits in the back of my mind as I move forward. Sort of on a self-happiness level, I want to challenge myself with something very real and very physical. School has been – pardon my french – a mindfuck lately. That said, I really love Pomona and all it has to offer, my classmates, my professors, but I haven’t been at my best, and I’m hoping to gain confidence in myself by walking for a really long while and maybe meeting some cool people along the way. I definitely have regrets. I won’t see my classmates who were abroad last semester until their senior spring in 2017. Well, I’ll probably visit at some point this spring and hopefully work on campus in late fall 2016, so there’s that. But still, it kind of sucks. I really am looking forward to my time away, and I know my friends understand that. I’m also pretty nervous about the hike. Anything could happen on the CDT. I could get caught in a blizzard, or I could get a foot injury or shinsplints and have to stop, but I try not to think about that. I don’t know. I’m hoping I have some better answers as time goes on.

Well, after that long ramble filled with parenthetical phrases and randomness (sort of how my mind works), although I did warn about rambling in the title of this post and I’m currently rambling right now (so many layers happening right now) — someone needs to stop me — I’m super stoked for 2016. I’ve contributed nothing to the above pages I have organized for the website, but I will have information on them sometime in the near future. I’m gonna go watch Netflix and fall asleep, words thousands of millenials are saying, thinking, or texting across the nation.

-Slingshot

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