Here is a link to my recent NPR interview concerning my CDT Thru-hike.
“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?
Howdy folks, I hope everybody has enjoyed their summers. I hope to finish this trail September 20th right on the cusp of the autumnal equinox at Copper Mountain. This trail has been one of extreme contrasts. The pendulum has swung from dry to wet, warm to freezing, easy to hard, etc. The rains started right after hanging out with my buddies Jason, Mike and Hugh. They brought great food, music, beer, and guns! Or as I say a typical night in Wyoming. They drove us to the Tractor Pull in Encampment as well. The tractor pull event has to rank right up with watching grass grow and paint drying in terms of excitement. But there was some good food and nice weather. It would be the last decent weather we would experience on the trip. The past 2 weeks since crossing the CO/WY border it has hailed and rained on us everyday! It rained at night, mornings, afternoons. It rained when we set up our tarps, and took them down. It rained at dinner time, breakfast, and lunch. The most unfortunate part has been the disrepair of my tarp. My luck with plastic zippers is catastrophically bad. I tried adhering velcro strips in place of my malfunctioning zipper in Lander thinking that it’s not going to rain for the remainder of the trip. I mean September is one of the most pleasant times of the year in Colorado with respect to mild weather, right? Wrong! Anyways this “biblical” amount of precipitation has forced us to take several zero days in our tarps and in towns. My compromised tarp has forced me to enter and exit it by scooting on my belly like a snake. It has also forced me to get creative in relieving my excrement at night. Lets just say yoga practitioners have nothing on me. On one of the really heavy rain nights I made a critical error in setting up my tarp on a slope that turned into a mudslide. I had to build a system of levees and irrigation ditches using a sharp rock. By the middle of the night I had a primary and secondary system of canals flowing seamlessly into a main ditch from just under my tarp. If we had spent another few days there I could have moved on to construction of a dam and possibly be generating some hydroelectric power in a week or so. One thing the time spent in my tarp has allowed me to do is write another chapter in my book and read a bunch of others on my Kindle.
The hiking has been difficult with the many mountain passes, rain and wind. Unfortunately most of the scenery has been obscured with all the rolling fog and dense, dark storm clouds. Colorado was supposed to be beautiful but the only thing we have seen is a bunch of condensed water vapor. It has been very AT-like but without the shelters to dry out in. I did see my first fox on this trail which was cool. The cold weather has grounded most of the birds and so I got to see a magpie being harassed by two much smaller birds chasing and attacking it. I cannot lie this trail has been an order of magnitude more difficult than the other two and for the first time in 3 trails I am looking forward to getting off instead of sad to be done. If everything goes right my next entry will be my last from the Divide. Cheers!
Go where you think you want to go
Do everything you were sent here for
Fire at will if you hear that call
Touch your hand to the wall at night
Words. -I. MacKaye
Howdy, pardners! We have reached the
boom bust town of Rawlins, WY. We started this stretch from the historically epic South Pass City. Strolling through this abandoned ghost town conjured up images of gunfights over rightful possession of horses, cowboys being thrown out of saloons, and pioneers finding passage via the Oregon Trail. Unfortunately, as it sits now you won’t see authentic cowboys but rather Japanese tourists wearing oversized cowboy hats, tattered brochures in kiosks scattering the road and tumbleweeds sailing across the street’s boundary. I was looking forward to the 120 mile walk across the Great Basin as a respite from the stormy and torrential Wind River Mountains. However by day two, the record triple digit heat began taking effect. Unlike the Southern California desert on the PCT there is not even a semblance of shade. Worse yet was the deteriorating water situation. Most of the “drinkable” water had to be filtered and retrieved from defecatory bovine puddles. It doesn’t matter how many times one runs this water ordure through a Sawyer Squeeze filter the taste of feces never goes away. Steady discovered that Peach Tea flavoring was the best palliative in obtunding the taste of this water. I had Wyler’s Lemonade that did a considerably less effective job. In fact the taste of lemonade for me may have been permanently and irrevocably ruined by its newly discovered correlation to fecal coliform. There was a surprisingly abundant supply of wildlife in these harsh environs. We saw herds of bounding antelope, sage grouse ambuscades, hundreds of insouciant cows, and heard the canorous call of Canus latrans every dusk and dawn. The most beautiful time in the desert for me was in the cool evenings when the angry sun finally decided to settle behind the horizon. The constellation-stuffed, night sky was the clearest and brightest that I have seen on this trip. I saw tons of shooting stars, satellites, and galaxy clusters. There were so many stars I could imaginarily draw the lines in the constellation like some gigantic, connect-the-dots painting. I was strongly reminded why I like this state. I have always enjoyed Wyoming not for the things here but for the things omitted. There are not undulating car horns, suffocating crowds of people, cacophonous traffic, or the cloying pablum that plagues most cities. These desolate landscapes have always indulged my sense of self-reflection and space. Out here I feel like I have room to think. The highlights of the desert came on the third day when we reached Brenton Spring and the only tree in the 120 mile trek. We spent the entire afternoon drinking water, talking, and napping. We also met an ultra fast, first time thru-hiker named Raffle. He was attempting to hike the entire basin in 3 days. We spent a couple of hours exchanging hiking stories. I couldn’t imagine starting with the CDT as my first thru-hike but he was doing better than me and well on his way to finishing his goal on the Day of The Dead in Mexico November 1st. The basin is also home to a great deal of oil and gas production. We saw these tireless workers in their heavy coveralls toiling in the hot summer. I may have been hot and uncomfortable in my running shorts and short-sleeved t-shirt but they had to be flat-out miserable in their attire. Most of these workers were also very friendly and more than one offered us water and asked if we were doing ok. They must think we are absolutely nuts to choose to walk through such an arid and harsh place. I think the same of them working out here but at least they are making copious amounts of money doing what they do.
Tonight and tomorrow we are spending some zero days in the culturally necrotizing town of Rawlins. My mother has been extremely kind to come and put us up in a motel to rest our tired soles. We plan on catching up with some missing calories and strenuously working out our air conditioner. Next weekend we will be meeting up with my fellow band mates for a cookout up on Battle Pass. The walk south will become a little more serious after that but until then I am going to enjoy this last gasp of summer.
“I embrace my desire to
feel the rhythm, to feel connected
enough to step aside and weep like a widow
to feel inspired, to fathom the power,
to witness the beauty, to bathe in the fountain,
to swing on the spiral
of our divinity and still be a human.” -Maynard Keenan
This last week of trekking began with an air of uncertainty. Steady and I decided to attack the venerable Wind River Range with separate routes. This has been the longest we have been solo on this trail. I took a high mountain route that started at Gunsight Pass at the northern entrance of The Wind River Mountains. Unfortunately, on the yonder side of the pass there is an active forest fire that has closed the trail. I know the smoke is horrible for my breathing but the strong scent of burning evergreens and aspens painted some pleasant memories of Christmas Tree hunting when I was young. I bushwhacked through hundreds of blown down trees with a trekking pole in one hand and my GPS in the other. I crossed the paludal Roaring Fork Creek depression and eventually emerged 3 miles later on the closed trail descending onto the banks of the beautiful Green River. I probably saw 30 hikers on that stretch of trail and felt like a bad ass powering past them on my strong trail hardened legs.
I have to preface this next paragraph by saying that along with Evolution Basin in the High Sierras and my summit of Katahdin in Maine at the conclusion of my Appalachian thru hike; the Wind River Mountain Range ranks in the top three of the most awe inspiring places that I have backpacked. It’s one of those places you have to experience it to believe it. However, by day two the trouble began early. I was rudely awakened by a deluge of rain at 6:30 am. I was cowboy camping (sans tarp) and started the day already behind the 8 ball with a soaking wet sleeping bag, socks, shoes, and backpack. It was extremely difficult walking after that. I found myself constantly being rattled and hurried by reverberating thunder and lightening strikes. Often times the trail would inexplicably disappear or seemingly false cairns placed that misdirected my orientation. On top of these constant colluding factors was my consistent fatigue and speeding heart rate from the ultra steep gradients, boulder scrambles and thunder inspired adrenaline flow. I fell down four times in two days narrowly missing a particularly nasty, upright and protruding tree limb mere inches from impaling my gaunt abdomen. I also rolled my left ankle severely and hobbled to camp on day three where I set up my tarp in marble sized hail and granite resonating thunder boomers. I endured two electrical storms throughout my days above tree line and never slept as peacefully as I would have liked. I compare this section of trail to a mixed martial arts fight. I was lucky to watch one of my best friends training partner fight on national TV in Dubois last week. His name is Matt Manzares and he represents the Black Dragon Mixed Martial Arts Gym in Cheyenne, WY. Coming off a severe knee injury, he was fighting the younger brother of a UfC fighter. He eventually won the fight with an unexpected and devastating arm bar but he took a number of hard strikes in the previous round. That was like me in the Winds. After a few days of being constantly battered something goes off inside and it becomes personal. Context is everything. I remember seeing an episode of Northern Exposure the TV series back when I owned a TV. The town radio DJ and local philosopher, Chris wrote a paper about striking out in baseball. His English teacher called it cliché and simplistic. The details are a bit blurry to me but somehow Chris had his teacher take his place at home plate. Every pitch that sailed past his teacher made him exponentially more frustrated and increased his desire to simply connect with the spiraling sphere until the final pitch. After striking out and completely dejected and humiliated it became more than a mere English paper. Like a lump of visceral failure hitting him in the gut amidst the smell of dirt and the taunts of Chris he finally understood the context. It’s one thing to write and read about hiking solo in the Winds over 7 days, famished, blistered, bruised, drenched, and frightened over steep mountainous terrain but entirely different in that moment.
It was at the base of the Cirque of the Towers I had a paroxysm of ecstatic reverence and epiphany. Staring up at the towering granite, jagged spires eating my lunch by the aptly named Lonesome Lake and observing the ominous gathering storm clouds, I decided to stop hurrying and embrace the chaos. Strangely, once I resigned myself to the fact I was going to get bombarded by lightening; it never came.
I am currently in the lively and outdoorsy city of Lander, WY camping for free at the city park. It’s awesome to chill out with fellow SOBO hikers, soak my swollen ankles in the river, sink some pints of beer and share our Winds horror stories;
summer life is great! -Skeeter
We are almost through the Big Sky State. We are in Ennis, MT and should be at West Yellowstone in a few days. We have been pretty indolent in our travels through this section. Coming out of Whitehall we entered the gorgeous Tobacco Roots Mountain Range. After confabulating with some locals in Whitehall, we were warned that there are grizzlies and lots of black bears roaming about. Unfortunately we have seen very little evidence of ursine activity. On the third day of our trek through this beautiful section we traversed past the 9400 ft Nicholson Mine. The walk up provided us views of discarded mining equipment and abandoned living quarters. Evidently, it was a primarily a gold and silver mine. It has been run continuously since its beginning in the early century. I found a great piece of quartz walking over Hollowtop Pass and have picked up several other possibly gold-encrusted rocks. I have been carrying a smooth river rock for a couple hundred miles now. I find that it keeps me centered throughout the day. The rock is split in half as if it was literally torn across. We have made a decision to continue hiking the lower mileage days. We are not necessarily thinking about completion of the trail as a thru-hike this year but still not given up hope. That being said, taking it slower has been extremely nice. I know a lot of North Bounders this year are churning out the 30+ mile days trail pounding and walking from dawn to dusk. Steady nor me find this enjoyable. We would rather get to camp around 3pm read, write, watch clouds, or hang out down by the plentiful rivers in these sections. I have started writing my book on my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail from eleven years ago and love the time out in the wilderness to capture the details and nuances that only being in the woods and away from the city can afford. Once we get to Yellowstone, we plan on going through Old Faithful and some of the touristy places since Steady has never been there. The CDT has felt like a nice several month-long summer vacation at this point. I personally am looking extremely forward to the Wind River Mountains after Yellowstone. I will be back in my native state and on my slow walk home.
Guidebooks tell us where to go
30 gallons to the mile
Honey, quick, the polaroid[Chorus]
Brave as old John Wayne
A true yankee pioneer
Blab all day on the CB
Winnebago WarriorLittered campgrounds, folding chairs
Feed Doritos to the bears
Honey, quick, the polaroid[Chorus]
Kill some fish down by the creek
Hang their picture by the sink
Show your grandson who’s the boss
Tie your two toat-goats to the front
U-Haul trailer full of souvenirs
That you buy along the way -Jello Biafra
“Whenever I see a photograph of some sportsman grinning over his kill, I am always impressed by the striking moral and esthetic superiority of the dead animal to the live one.”
― Edward Abbey
Hi folks, my apologies for the long delay between updates. I am very pleased to report that we have reached Interstate 70 at Copper Mountain, Colorado. We recently took a much needed break in Cheyenne, WY. We have spent the majority of the last section on the Colorado Trail. I have done several sections of it in year’s past and my anticipation of the mosquitos, umpteen ascents and descents, and magnificent views has proven true. We decided to take the Creede cutoff alternative route out of Pagosa Springs, Colorado. This path bypassed much of the San Juan Mountains and the deep snow pack still above 11,000 feet on most of their peaks. The route we took was no walk in the park. Once we hiked back up to the official trail we encountered a 70 degree inclined snow field. The traverse across was a bit disconcerting but worse yet was the following day when we descended down the Trout Creek Trail. If we had checked the forest service’s website and the conditions prior to hiking down this route, we would have seen that this trail was closed due to the numerous blowdowns. The pine beetle infestation has decimated the forests in this area. After seeing all the dead and rotting trees I am certain that burning the entire forest is the only real solution to this problem. The fire hazard in this region will always be high as long as their is such a ready amount of fuel awaiting a lightening strike. When we weren’t high stepping, ducking under, or navigating around the numerous blowdowns we were forced into extremely strong river fords. Steady is a bit of a professional in crossing these rivers but I am very shaky and lack the confidence in making these fords. We were forced to cross the Trout “Creek” six times before finally I lost my balance on a ford and luckily was able to turn around. If not for my trekking poles I would have probably been sent on a trip down into the class 3 and class 4 whitewater rapids. By process of elimination, we decided to bushwhack up the side of a very steep mountain through some scree and thick blowdowns. After only making .7 miles in two hours we finally came to a forest road and were able to escape. This was the first time I have ever been in the woods where I felt a sense of panic and anxiety closing in on me.
A few days ago I found myself squatting over my cat hole and lo and behold I saw a Great Horned Owl looking at me. Owls are eerily similar to humans. The way their heads move and eyes makes it seem like they have no neck. Another thing I have been tuned into lately are bird calls. I lost my Ipod back in the aforementioned snow field and so I have been forced to listen to the sounds of nature a lot more often. Birds have become fascinating to me. Some of their calls irritate me due to their redundancy. Others are very complicated and melodic. We also saw a porcupine the other night making its way right towards Steady. I put my headlamp on him (the only time I have used it this trip) and it stopped him cold. He looked liked an unnatural animatronic carnival attraction as it tried to twist and contort its body around. It was moving in very slow motion until finally it faced the other direction. I was half expecting it to shoot a volley of quills at us but luckily it slinked harmlessly away.
Another setback has been my contraction of Giardia lamblia. I started treatment this past week on a 5 day supply of Metronidazole and hopefully I will be feeling better soon. I have had some nausea but mostly it has just been the discomfort of having very low fecal viscosity plus the sensation of having two feral kittens fighting over a scrap of food under my stomach and intestines. My stomach is constantly gurgling and grumbling like an angry volcanic fire god that was not properly appeased. The worst part though is the diarrhea. I have even entertained the idea of using Depends undergarments to control the leakage. A recent commercial I saw while in Cheyenne was one where Depends are now marketing to a 35-50 year male demographic. I was thinking it might be nice to have one for just hanging out playing video games and eliminating the need to take bathroom breaks. Now instead of using them recreationally it will be out of necessity. Unfortunately this bout of lamblia has exacerbated my weight loss considerably. I am now at a lean 140 pounds when soaking wet. I am down almost 20 pounds total and we still are not even halfway done. Good news has been the recent sale of my house! Interesting to me is the meaning of the word mortgage. In french it literally means death contract. I understand that being tied down to one property offers security and a piece of mind to some people but I view it through a literal and decidedly french lens and see it as an albatross of financial commitment until my death. I feel so much better to have my possessions down to what I can fit in my car. I am happy to be free of my “death contract” and have concluded home ownership is not for me. The classic Fugazi lyrics come to mind: You are not what you own.
We have also made the decision to flip-up to Glacier National Park and begin hiking southward back to Copper Mountain. The main reason for this is to give us a slightly longer time frame for completion and to change-up the scenery. My mother was generous enough to drive us up to the border. Obviously being off trail for a few days and being weakened by Giardia; It will take a little time to get back into shape but we are planning on doing some small mile days initially. Mostly we are just happy to have left Colorado!!! Onward and southward!-Skeeter
There is no romance in this land
just tiny elf owlets begging in desperate chorus
from their hollowed saguaro
for their mother’s catch
and the ferocious beating of insect wings
against the searing air like the dying gasp
of an old plodding bass drum
Everything is poisonous or stings or pricks or bites
Behind the chaparral bush and rare cacti bloom
Beware the coiled warning thrum
With the soul of a poet and
the soles of a dead man hiking
I’ll walk 700 miles through this place
just to hold her hand
Out here, it’s not what we acquire
but how shit gets moved around. -Skeeter
Me 2668 miles later and 8kgs lighter. Thanks to my mom, Liz, Hugh, JB and my bandmates, srin, siva, the L-town posse, Jennifer, Bro, my many friends and everybody i met and know that has encouraged me and inspired me along the way. Cheers!