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[cdt-l] CDT Planning - Hike your own hike

I know – some of you have seen some of this before – we put some of it on 
the list last year.  But it’s no longer available to the ‘new’ people – 
those who might want to have it because they intend to thruhike this year or 
next.  So y’all get it again. ‘ Delete’ is a wonderful option.

I’ve been one of the more vocal advocates of the “Hike your own hike” 
philosophy. If you’re not familiar with the concept or with the idea of a 
personal "contract", try 
http://trailwise.circumtech.com/thruhikingpapers/part3 for a definition. The 
following paragraph is a short excerpt -

When I was in "engineer school" I was taught that if I couldn't define 
something mathematically then I didn't really know what I was talking about. 
Likewise, if I can't specifically define my hike, then how will I know when 
or if I'm hiking my own hike? For me, "Hike your own hike" means knowing my 
own ground rules. It means writing my own contract and then living it. If 
you don't know what "your" hike is, how are you gonna know if you're hiking 
it? Or if you're not?

If that doesn't make sense to you, then this is the time to use the delete 
key.  But if you’ve thought about (or are willing to think about) your hopes 
and fears and expectations for your thruhike, then the probability that 
you’ll finish the hike is (or will be) significantly increased.  Experience 
is that vague and/or unrealistic expectations is one of the major reasons 
why people don’t finish a long hike.

We talked about our CDT hike for more than 3 years before we actually 
started walking. We knew what our fears and expectations were, what our 
“contract” was, before we started.  But we didn’t actually write it down.  
That wasn’t a necessity for us because our “contract” was an extension of 
our personalities, our lifestyle and our deepest core beliefs.

I finally wrote this when we were in Deming, NM in response to a  question.  
Keep in mind that this was “our” contract – it’s not meant to fit anyone 
else.  But it may give a few people some insight into the thought processes 
involved in the planning and execution of a thruhike.  Some people will 
think it’s not important.  Maybe they’re right. Make up your own mind, write 
your own contract (or not).  If you do, make sure it's what "you" really 
want it to be.  We wanted our hike to be 'unique' and it was.  We hope yours 
will be too. :-))

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’ll 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 about - what our “contract” would be.

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 way.

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.
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's Jardine's route, 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”. [This was true in 1999] 
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, for us, thruhiking is largely about learning, 
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 [and far more 
worthwhile] 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 so.

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.  Some 
of them do “big” miles (20 - 30 - 40 miles per day), some take no time off 
in town, some road-walk or 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 “Spiritwalk” 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 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 did 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 other routes 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 possible.

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 and the people 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, and there were times we had to compromise on what we wanted out of 
our hike, but there was 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 – for 

One of the interesting things in reading the few trail registers along the 
trail was hearing about the many different approaches others had taken to 
hiking along the Divide.  You can see it in reading the trail books (Karen 
Berger, Steve Pern and Eric Ryback) as well.  Do you want the most 
historically/scenically interesting hike you can find, the one that is 
truest to the Divide, or the fastest?  That's more or less what they did.  
We also read in the registers about people hiking from/to South America, or 
Alaska, others who were into climbing peaks (there are lots of peaks to bag) 
and skipped some areas in order to spend more time in others, and some 
hikers who wanted to experience the local off-trail culture as deeply as 
possible by staying with people along the way.  When you are actually out 
there hiking, there are so many possibilities.  We used to look at the maps 
and mentally explore various options - and we wished we could try them all.  
But in a thruhike, there is only so much time, and so you have to make 
choices as to what is most important to you. For some, it is enough to 
follow, as best they can, the routes that others have chosen.  For us, it 
wasn't enough - with so many options, we had to pick the ones that gave us 
the hike that was closest to what we really wanted out of the experience.  
We can and will go back to try some of the other options.  But we have no 
regrets about the choices we made.
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