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[CDT-L] Spiriteagle - the contract
Yeah --- we're back.
For those who don't know - or are new to the lists, Ginny and I started
our CDT (Continental Divide Trail) thruhike on May 30, 1999. We finished
at Palomas, Mexico on Nov 30, 1999.
Our re-entry to "normal life" has been much less successful than our
thruhike. We're back in Maryland (temporarily), in the same house that
we left in May, and in serious culture-shock/decompression mode. In
other words, we've become hermits. The good part is that we won't be
here long because we've started planning a PCT thruhike starting in late
April. It'll be interesting to see how deep the post-trail culture
shock will be after 2 years of thruhiking.
We have some things to say about thruhiking and about the CDT - and
other things, but a lot of what we learned will take time to emerge -
but we're in no hurry. If those things don't get said before we start
the PCT then you'll get to hear them next year. You can run, but you
can't hide. :-)
What follows is the first of a series that we'll try to write, most of
which we'll put out between the Ruck and mid-April. After that, we'll
be back on the trail. This part will go to all three lists. The series
(whatever it consists of) WILL go to cdt-l because it'll be CDT
related. If anyone's interested on the other lists (at-l and pct-l) let
us know and we'll put it out there too. But if no one's interested, we
won't waste the bandwidth. Kahley will have to decide whether to put it
on the Spiriteagle list - we're still not on that one (assuming it still
I wrote this in Deming, NM -- three days before we finished the CDT.
Maybe it'll answer a few questions - about us and about the trail.
Jim & Ginny Owen
Spirit Eagle, AT-92, CDT-99, PCT-00??
27 Nov 99 - The Spirit Eagle contract
Over the last 5+ months there have been a few questions about what
we're doing, about "how" we're doing it - about why we've done some
things. We're now less than 3 days from the Mexican border and I'm
gonna do something I hadn't intended to do - talk about our "contract".
Before we started our hike, we did some serious thinking about what we
wanted it to be - and why. And we (Ginny and I) decided - and agreed -
what our "contract" would be. Those who don't know about contracts can
find more information on the subject in the Thruhiking Papers at
Those who read this should understand that this is "OUR" contract and
"OUR" reasoning, based on "OUR" priorities, experiences, preferences,
etc. It has no relation to anything that anyone else is doing, has done
or will do. And it's NOT a comment on, criticism of or comparison to
anyone else's hike - we don't have the time, energy or inclination to
judge what others are doing - we're too busy living our own lives - our
The Spirit Eagle contract isn't complicated - it only has 5 points. And
it reads like this:
1. We'll walk from the Canadian border to the Mexican border along or
near the Continental Divide Trail.
2. We're out here for 6 months.
3. We're here to see the country, to meet the people and to learn
whatever lessons God has to teach us.
4. We're here to walk the mountains and the wilderness as much as
possible - not to "roadwalk" the Trail.
5. Finishing the Trail is important, but not as important as enjoying
the Trail. If the push to finish gets in the way, we'll re-examine what
we're doing and why. If necessary, we'll take 2 years to finish rather
than compromise on points 1, 3, and 4.
Now comes the hard part - the underlying assumptions,
implications and explanations that go with that contract. The first
point of the contract raises the question - Why didn't we just follow
the CDT? Why did we allow our hike to be "impure"? And the answer has
several parts, some of which concern the nature of the trail and some of
which concern the nature of thruhiking.
The first part is that there is no such thing as a "pure" CDT. There
are "official" routes for much of the trail, there are Jim Wolf's
guidebook routes (and alternatives), there are routes that have been
used by other hikers and there are a gaggle of "undocumented" or
"possible" routes. The fact is that much of the Trail is not only
unmarked, but undesignated and arbitrary. For example, of the northern
350 miles of the CDT in New Mexico - only 25 miles is "marked". And
much of the "trail" has no treadway - only axe-cut blazes through
untrodden forest or cairns across rough desert and grasslands. And some
of the "official" trail is so waterless as to be unfeasible and useless
for either hiker or horse travel.
The second part is that, in keeping with contract points 3, 4,
and 5, we're out here to see what WE want to see - not someone else's
idea of what we "should" see. If we'd followed the "official" route
through the Black Range in New Mexico, we'd have missed the West Fork of
the Gila and the Gila Cliff Dwellings. Worse yet, we'd have been
walking trail that passes through miles of burnt forest - with the
accompanying massive blowdowns that other hikers have reported - rather
than through beauty. We did hike some of the Black Range - and we CAN
confirm just how bad some of that trail is. We had enough of burned out
forest along the rest of the trail.
The third part is that (as I'll expand on another time)thruhiking
is about learning, and personal growth and freedom - the freedom to make
your own choices - and to live with the consequences of those choices.
We made our choices - it was our choice to do the Anaconda and Creede
cutoffs. It was also our choice to go through the Cirque of the Towers
and the Indian Peaks Wilderness - each of which was longer, harder and
more time-consuming than the "CDT" routes. But it was our choice, our
time, our sweat --- our hike.
The fourth part is that time, weather, injury, safety, water
availability and a host of other considerations can sometimes make
following the "Trail" impractical or even downright dangerous.
The last part is that I doubt that anyone has hiked the CDT as a
"pure" hike in the sense that the term is used on the AT (and sometimes
on the PCT). Undesignated trail sections, mazes of unmarked dirt roads,
snow-covered trail, etc. make route-finding a constant challenge such
that few hikers manage to stay on "THE TRAIL". Is there anyone who's
hiked the CDT without getting "lost" or "off-track" or "misplaced" at
some point with respect to the "Trail"? If so, I'd like to meet them.
The bottom line here is that on a trail that's partly
undesignated, largely unmarked, generally unmaintained and often a
non-existent bushwhack or a cross-country route, "purity" is an alien
and invalid concept. So our hike was never designed or intended to be
"pure" in that respect.
The second point of the contract carries implications in terms of
daily mileage. To spend 6 months (~180 days) on the CDT implies a 16 to
17 mile per day average. Getting into "male-macho-mileage" mode and
increasing our average to 20 mpd would have us finishing in about 5
months. Higher mpd averages would mean even less time on the trail, an
increased probability of injury or burnout, and less time to see the
country, meet the people and learn what we're here to learn. It might
also necessitate skipping some of the mountains and road-walking more of
the trail. That would violate points 2, 3, 4 and 5 of our contract.
It's not what we're here for.
There are those who come out here to "do" the Trail in minimum
time. They do "big" miles (20 - 30 - 40 miles per day) or they take no
time off in town or they road-walk or they skip sections or some
combination of the above. God bless them - it's their hike. But that's
not why we're here - this is a "Spirit-walk" for us. It was meant to
take 6 months - and it has. And that's the way we wanted it to be.
We've seen a lot of wild and beautiful country and met a lot of
wonderful people in the towns along the way. And I believe we've
learned more than a few lessons. We'll find out about the lessons over
the next couple years.
With respect to point 4 of the contract, we've done a couple
"road-walks" along the way - the Anaconda cutoff, for example. And
we've talked about them. The conclusion is that, with only one
exception, we won't do those road-walks when we walk the CDT again.
We'll take the longer route instead. There's no regret about what we
did - simply curiosity about what the other routes are like and an
increasing preference for choosing routes as wild and natural as
The last point was sometimes the most difficult to keep in mind.
With both of us being "thruhikers", there was always the desire to
finish in one year. There was also a high probability, given our
deliberate decisions about time, speed, distance and routes, that we
could have been stopped in Colorado or northern New Mexico by snow or
cold and have to come back next year to finish. Resolving that conflict
was an exercise in mental discipline. It required a decision about what
we wanted - and then a second decision to adopt, internalize and accept
the attitude that would achieve that goal. It also meant accepting the
possibility of NOT finishing this year - and accepting that as one of
the lessons we were here to learn.
One of the hardest parts of thruhiking is the way the push for miles can
take over a hike. When it becomes an endurance test - a death march -
then the purpose of the hike changes from exploring and enjoying the
land and the wildlife to a joyless quest for more and more miles in
order to get to the end of the trail. On the CDT, that translates to
the "race for the border" - and the destination becomes more important
than the journey. Constant exhaustion can easily lead to burnout, both
physical and emotional. For us, there were many days (too many) when
water or weather concerns forced us to push harder than we liked. There
were other times that we stretched the miles just for the fun of it, but
we always tried to remember why we were there.
We were lucky. We had snow and cold and injury and long days with
little water, but nothing that we would allow to end our hike. More
than that, we never lost our enjoyment of the trail. We ended the hike
being sorry only that it wasn't longer. Our contract was a good one -
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