Preparing for the CDT

Between working a full time job, starting up a website, training, maintaining a new blog, and taking care of the logistics for the CDT, there’s hardly any time left in the day to breathe! Late-January 2020 feels like yesterday and I was, for the first time, finalizing my decision to thru hike the CDT that spring… Then the pandemic hit and my plans were put on hold.

Now, it’s already March and my start date is rapidly approaching. Where have the days gone??

When I hiked the Appalachian Trail, I did absolutely no training and I suffered profusely for it. With the Continental Divide Trail and its narrow window of opportunity for a straight NOBO completion, being able to do 15 miles a day right off the bat is crucial. I believe I have set myself up well with the aim to reach Colorado and the San Juan Mountains in early-June, which gives me about a month and a half to get my trail legs in the 700 miles of New Mexico. After that though, I need to hustle.

Part of me is hoping (probably in vain) that the work I put in last year will roll over, like unused data. I had spent the spring completing not one, but TWO Yeti Trail Runner 24-hour Challenges. Over the summer, I accumulated 1,000 miles for the Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee. Then in the fall, I completed my first 50 miler at the Bear Lake Ultra 24 hour Race. It was my busiest year of races yet, and by the end of it all, I was feeling it. I had pushed myself to the point of exhaustion doing cardio… So, I took a week off and switched to weight training over the winter.

I can hear my doctor’s voice in my head: “That’s not really taking a break…”

Ready or not, I am back to doing full cardio. With limited time in the day, I have been doing my best to squeeze in 1-1.5 hours of training, as often as I can with our family dog, Vona, in tow. With a 20-pound weighted vest on, I hike or walk on the treadmill (hey, miles are miles) at least 5 miles a day, five days a week. At least, that’s the goal. This week, I haven’t worked out yet; there hasn’t been enough hours in the day.

At work today, I will be slinging roughly 1,900 Girl Scout cookies cases for 10 hours straight, so I’m counting that as my work-out for the day. With the Michigan weather being FABULOUS these past few weeks, I have also scheduled a 10+ mile training hike this weekend with a friend.

Despite my track record of being able to accomplish just about anything I can set my mind to, the trickling sensation of doubt yet persists.

The final logistics of the trail are coming together. I have determined my preferred path up through Colorado, and my resupply points are noted. Wyoming and Montana are next on the agenda, and I am still trying to narrow down my hiking shirt and shorts options (thankfully the rest of my gear is already squared away). Much of this may change depending upon how fast I am moving, if there are any trail closures, and the weather. I planned all the way to Katahdin on the AT, and deviated from that plan in North Carolina, so I’m trying not to become overly invested. You can only plan so much ahead of time and a lot can change while you’re out there.

Cautiously optimistic, I feel physically and logistically prepared for trail, but mentally ready is the next hurdle to overcome. The Continental Divide Trail is a 1,000 miles longer than the Appalachian, and I must do it in less time than the AT took me. That means, without zero days, I need to hike between 15-20 miles every day… and ask the universe for an early thaw in southern Colorado and late snow in Glacier. I look at that number and I keep asking myself, “Can I do this?”

If you had asked me a year ago, I would’ve been beaming with self-confidence. Now, I mostly just feel sick. Everyone keeps asking if I’m excited and I grin sheepishly to admit, “Yes… But I’m mostly terrified.”

From experience, I know, once I set foot on the trail and am at last confronted with reality, the adrenaline will take over and my mind will shift to, “Alright, let’s get this done.” But this waiting in the unknown is causing me such a panic. Unrelenting questions pop up in my head throughout the day: Who will I hike with? What if I slide down an ice shoot and am unable to self-arrest? When I reach the San Juan Mountains, will it be safe to travel? Where am I going to get food if I can’t get a hitch into town? Why did I decide to leave the safety of home to do this? How am I going to do this??

And…. breathe….

As challenging as it has been to recount, while simultaneously trying to remember my Appalachian Trail experience it has helped to remind me of my capabilities. After starting the AT overweight and in terrible shape, in a few short weeks I was able to do 14-18 mile days consistently… and that was with a pack that weighed nearly twice as much as the one I have now. Even though I am not the fastest thru hiker, I can put in the effort to wake up early and end late to get the miles. Despite the brief moments on the AT that I was scared of a rock scramble or a river crossing, most of the time I felt safe and my feet were on solid ground. Most importantly though, despite the hardships, I have never regretted my decision to go.

Even though at times this undertaking seems an almost impossible task… my heart is set on going. Nervous or not, I will be standing at the southern terminus in nearly a month’s time. I will be quitting my job, leaving family, friends, and comfort behind to begin my most challenging venture yet. I will walk through rain, snow, and sunshine to reach that northern terminus because I have given myself no room for failure. I have set myself this task and now I must follow through with it.

So yes… If you ask me now, I will be honest and admit that I am scared, but I have never felt more sure of my choice to go. I can’t wait to get started.

Bravery isn’t the absence of fear. Being brave is having that fear, but finding a way through it.

Bear Grylls