“I’ve loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.” –Galileo Galilei
“In the death of winter I finally learned there was in me an invincible summer.” -Albert Camus
On April 7th, 2002 I got dropped off at the southern terminus of the famed Appalachian Trail. I diffidently weighed my oversized backpack at the Amicalola State Falls Ranger Station before the approach trail to Springer Mountain. Impossibly, the scale tipped a massive 58 pounds. I had recently broken up with a girl that I loved and lived with for 3.5 years, flunked out of graduate school, and was homeless. Even worse the first few drops of a cold Georgian spring rain began to fall. Little did I know that it would pour for the following two weeks. I reckoned my success for completing a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail was slim and none and Slim (me) just twisted his knee badly and had never slept alone overnight in the woods. Twelve years, 3 long distance trails, and 7,000 miles later, I ended my Continental Divide Thru-hike the same way I started the AT: in two weeks of rain.
Steady and I finished our triple crown together on September 20th, at 12:28PM at Copper Mountain, CO after flipping and hiking south from Glacier National Park. Miraculously the sun came out the afternoon before and we had a clear, starry night! The temperature dipped to 25 degrees but for the first time in two weeks we got to cowboy camp under the endless stars without being rained on. After an emotional walk up 3000 feet to Uneva Pass we took our “completion” photos with the requisite kitschy Burger King crowns that we awkwardly acquired in Frisco the prior afternoon. It still seems so unreal to not have any miles to hike tomorrow.
It has been my humble privilege to be tutored by these three trails. I have gained confidence that only comes with walking amongst the tallest mountains, harshest winds, oldest forests, and most extreme environs. I have loved and lived outside for an accumulated year and a half, walked through almost every possible ecosystem, and pushed the limits of my body in ways that I never could have imagined. On the AT I tried walking a girl out of my head, on the PCT I tried walking one in, and on the CDT I wised up and simply walked with one. I discovered the therapeutic effects of walking in the woods that have allowed me to come to terms with biggies like: the eventual cessation of my fast temper, the power of positive thinking, and going after whatever it is that I want out of life. I believe we create our own reality and think that anything is possible. I have come to be amazed by the beauty of process that exists in nature. The cyclical manifestation of processes like: photosynthesis, germination, sublimation, erosion, heating, freezing, breathing, and condensation are intuitively beautiful. But the symphony of their molecular machinations and chemical symbiosis are something that I have come to revere. The critical means of dispersion in nature is astounding. The crazy world of birds and insects give the woods and those wild places far removed from the hand of man a sense of movement. Joseph Campbell wrote that we do not seek the meaning of life but the experience of living. To that end the simple act of moving with my own two feet makes me feel connected to Her and truly alive. I was rewarded for my movement by bearing witness to a forest fire started by a lightning strike less than a mile away. I experienced honesty and camaraderie that only comes with walking with somebody for thousands of miles. I’ve heard the feral call of deer, bears, elk, hawks, packs of coyotes and the numerous quantities of bird songs, mating calls, and lullabies. I have felt hundreds of unidentified insects, spiders, caterpillars, dragonflies, mosquitoes, and butterflies crawl up the standing hairs of my arm. I have observed the intelligence of the forest and can barely fathom the millions of things we don’t understand about her. I have fallen in love with the texture and scent of pine, cedar, and fir sap. I have melted against sunbeams peeking out of week-long boxed up clouds. I have ached to sleep on soft pine needles, desert puffy sand, and the supine position of peering up at the inexorable night skies. Like Tesla’s imagination, I marveled at the mysteries and sensation of charged air from an impending thunderstorm. I have befriended and regarded as my equal hundreds of languishing plants, ebullient flowers, and my favorite: trees. I have come to know how phenomenal food can taste from my starvation, the ecstasy of cleanliness from my filth, the endless bounds of fellowship from my solitude, the paroxysms of joy from sadness and the triumph of accomplishment over my failures.
As we descended into the town of Copper Mountain I was astonished by the invasive sounds of I-70 echoing off the ridge and how nobody ever thinks about what is drowned out. Her voice is there for those that put away their busy schedules, agendas, cars, chainsaws, careers, ATVs, television sets, rifles and phones. Before you trade all your freedom away for comforts go to where you can still hear the call. It has become my beacon.
If you have followed my blog this trail; you know this trail has often been a slog. There have been some amazing highlights like the unparalleled beauty of Glacier National Park, the uniqueness of Yellowstone, and the desolate wonder of New Mexico. But in retrospect post-holing above tree line on impossibly sharp angled snow slopes, failed logistics, shitty water, dangerous fords, frightening lightning storms and thoroughly soaked bones and spirits were integral to the experience. I got to walk through the good and bad with somebody I love and that has been the difference. Without each other’s encouragement we would have gotten off this carnival ride awhile back.
Unlike the other trails, the CDT has a dearth of trail “magic.” It was the second to last day on a hitch to town we got picked up by an extremely passionate and affable man named Ira. His enthusiasm, honesty, and positive admiration for what we were about to accomplish was the first that we experienced on the entire trip. We were strongly buoyed and surprised by his sheer kindness and the force of his positivity. His huge pat on our backs was appreciated and needed.
When our package didn’t arrive at Benchmark, MT we were totally screwed. We were out of food and had another 100+ mile section to go. We were forced to hitch on an extremely remote road and hope was dimming after 6.5 hours in the sweltering sun when an honest, pleasant, and intelligent couple named Mike and his wife Mary picked us up. They drove us all the way to Helena and shared their home and stories. In essence they saved our skins and our trip.
Outside of Pagosa Springs we got our first dose of magic from a previous triple crowner named Grizzly. He gave us free reign of his beautiful home in the mountains and rides in and out-of-town. His kindness was legendary.
To all the people who took a chance on us hitchhiking and gave us rides thank you so much!
To Hugh, Jason, Mike, Wayne, You guys are my brothers and thanks a million times over for bringing the “noise.”
To JB, Siva, Srin, Jen, Javi, Chris, Jennifer, Doug, Kelly, Smokehouse and MLK: I can’t wait to see you all and sink some pints soon!
To my Mom without whose support, unconditional love and service these trails never would have been possible. I love you.
To Heather my navigator, who saw me at my very worst and best, you made the bad times bearable and the good times epic. Thanks for steering the ship, keeping me afloat in the stormy waters, and demonstrating the importance that comes with a steady approach. Congrats, I am proud of you!
Thanks to everybody else for reading and those that have touched and inspired me along the way.
So this brings me to the very familiar and annual million dollar question, what’s next?
Next week I plan on taking some time to help with flood recovery for those good folks in northern Colorado doing whatever I can to help. After that and next spring, who knows? Whatever does come my way I know I will move confidently and embrace it. Maybe one of you will want to go for a little bicycle ride with me…
around the world?