Just south of South Pass City, Wyoming. That’s where I’m supposed to be right now. That is, at least according to a now defunct spreadsheet of trail logistics that could have only been described as “complicated.” It’s not a place of any particular importance, merely a small dot on the Continental Divide Trail that is connected by millions of other small, insignificant dots. It’s only significance is that it’s both the place I should be and the place I wish I was.
Over a thousand miles away from what I imagine is an arid, windy place on the northern edge of the Great Divide Basin, life here in Seattle has ticked by in a state of suspended animation—a mixture of nostalgia for the world that was, and depending on the day, either excitement or apprehension for the world that has slowly emerged to take its place. Having spread like wildfire across the globe these past few months, there’s hardly anything that has escaped the impact of the novel coronavirus and our plans to thru-hike the Continental Divide Trail weren’t spared either.
Our planned April start date for a northbound hike came and went as the U.S. braced for the worst of the pandemic and May saw the return of only the faintest glimmers of optimism. But as June fast approaches, those hopeful signs continue to grow little by precious little and as with most things worth doing, waiting for perfect circumstances is rarely an available option. With that—planning for the worst and hoping for the best—Em and I are taking the leap and preparing to start a southbound thru-hike of the CDT in a few short weeks.
Uncertain. That seems to be the word du jour. Every day. Not a new concept, of course, but it sure went from background singer to lead vocalist in the music of all our minds awfully quick. Maybe it was a notion that we should have been paying more attention to all along. As the son of a dad who didn’t live to see his 60th birthday, it’s rare that I’m caught napping on the idea that nothing in life is a certainty.
Even in the best of times, thru-hiking long trails is no different. So much of its success or failure hangs by the thinnest of threads, with injury, illness, snowpack, and forest fires just to name a few of the sharp objects waiting to sever that thread at any moment. Under normal circumstances, all of those qualify as acceptable risks on an endeavor that is usually bookended by the relative certainty of leaving and then returning to a world and a home that is safe. Comfortable. Predictable. The advent of the coronavirus pandemic has challenged those bookends. What we’ll leave behind when we first set foot on the trail on June 12th is as uncertain as what we’ll come home to. And yet, as unnerving as all that may sound, there’s comfort in realizing that that uncertainty is nothing new. It’s been with us all along. It’s just become impossible to ignore.
Finding a way to embrace the things we love—at least until we can safely embrace the ones we love—is good medicine. Pouring over spreadsheets of food resupply logistics isn’t quite my idea of embracing my love of hiking—ok, I’ll come clean, I actually love the spreadsheets—but it keeps me mentally close to something I’ve always held dear. So have the series of 20-mile urban “hikes” this spring that became the makeshift substitute for being out on the actual trail. If nothing else, it’s reminded me of how much walking on pavement sucks and also that those shin splint exercises are probably worth doing after all.
Pretty soon, a basement corner’s worth of trail food will be stuffed into resupply boxes and shipped off to points along the trail and all of our worldly belongings and cares will fit neatly into our backpacks before its time to hop in the car and drive out to the trail. After that, it’s only walking.