A guest post by Ace
In some circles I may appear as an experienced backpacker. In thru-hiking circles and even the wonderful trio of people I am with on this CDT journey, I am a definite rookie.
Sure I’ve spent countless weekends exploring the mountains of Washington State; I joined my husband on the first 200 miles of his PCT hike; and I’ve thru-hiked the John Muir Trail, the Tahoe Rim Trail and Wonderland Trail.
All of those experiences pale in comparison to my first five days on the CDT. I mean come on. Two of my previous thru-hikes are in my great home state of California that never experiences rain (much to the chagrin of my drought-obsessed father). They are beautiful trails that challenge you physically but rarely was I concerned about rain or being too cold.
The hiking experiences I’ve had that I think most prepare me for the mental and physical challenges of the CDT will be from my time hiking the Adirondacks with my wonderful mother-in-law Carol (Mountain Mama) and Jeff (Mountain Man). That’s right. Those lowly 5000 foot (and smaller) peaks definitely kick your ass. Mountain Mama and I have the scars on our legs to prove it.
Although it’s only been five days and 94 miles, I get the sense this trail will be different. Going into this adventure I have been humbled by my inexperience and nervous about how I would handle the challenges. I’ve never been too concerned about my physical ability (still in denial I’m a middle aged woman with a potential bunion; more on that later). My concern is more about my mental ability to overcome cold, rain, wind and snow. Reminder, I’m a native Californian who has only thru-hiked in a warm, sunny state. In other words, I am a “weather weenie.”
In the first five days my mental and physical strength was definitely challenged. Here’s my perspective.
We were all so excited to be on the trail and our early exclamations of “this is the most scenic first day of a thru-hike” quickly turned to “this is the hardest first day of a thru-hike.” That’s saying a lot for this group. For me, the rookie, I am just clueless. This quick turnaround was due in large part to our ascent of the snow covered 10,000 foot pass that topped off with scrambling over very large boulders. The trail was indecipherable. Post-holing was ubiquitous. And crunchy snow can make you bleed.
After hiking nearly 13 hours the day before, we woke up from a somewhat sleepless night. By 6:30 am we packed up our hammocks, put our breakfast bars in our pockets and off we went. The trail was mostly forest road type terrain but it had some beautiful views. It was also windy but in comparison to what we would encounter on day 3, it was nothing. I mean the sun was still shining and I barely needed my wind shirt to protect me. That night we made it to camp much earlier than we had the night before and all seemed right in our world. Note I didn’t say “the world”. That’s another blog, for another time.
Oh boy, this day was a doozy. As Mt. Man said, we were woken up by rain which quickly dissipated. Thank god. But, as we began another ascent upwards of 9000 feet the windchill factor became intense. I’m serious. No joke. I have no other words to describe it. We estimate we were walking through winds of 60 mph. I kept saying to Mt. Man, Beardoh and Sweet Pea that it felt like we were in the spin cycle of a washing machine due to the wind. Don’t get me wrong. We were walking along a beautiful ridge with views galore but I didn’t/couldn’t capture any of it as I was freezing my ass off and fearful I would blow off the ridge. The wind knocked us sideways on several occasions. However, not once that day did I doubt why I am out here. I was proud of myself for persevering and I was not miserable. That day would come later.
This was another kind day considering what we encountered the day before. We were falling into our routine. Walking out of camp around 6:30. Having a morning snack along the way (usually while doing laundry), a brief lunch break, and then a final stop for dinner a couple of miles before where we plan to camp for the evening. This day was a journey through a burned forest. Initially, weather was mild but as we began another ascent to just above 9000 feet the wind started picking up. It was also a butt-kicker of a pass very reminiscent of the Adirondacks, i.e. not a switchback in sight.
After dinner things took a slight turn.
- My foot started to hurt. Dare I say I’m getting a bunion? Awesome trail souvenir.
- SweetPea rolled her ankle.
- It started to drizzle and due to the burnt forest, it took us longer to find our camp spot for the night.
Since we hammock we need to find trees that aren’t dead, especially when it is windy. As a rookie, I’ve since learned those type of trees are known as widow makers which we want to avoid. #obvi.
The campsite we finally found was not ideal. We were on a ridge right in the middle of a blast zone of wind.
Thank goodness for the patience, kindness and good heartedness of my hiking companions because they continuously help make sure my hammock and tarp are set up correctly. As an aspiring perfectionist and guilt-ridden woman who hates being burdensome, the fact I need to rely on them makes me feel terrible and incredibly inadequate but I am also extremely grateful.
The good hammock setup served me well as we were all awakened by an incredible wind and rain storm. Packing up in the wind and rain in the morning made things a bit more challenging for me despite Sweet Pea and Jeff’s help. I also had to dig deep not to have a meltdown. This was the type of day I dread. However, once we started hiking all was good. It all changed as soon as we reached a meadow where sideways rain and arctic wind blasted us for a good 8 miles or more. This is where the day turned miserable. Even my experienced compatriots all agreed. It was a hypothermic slog. Luckily we only had to hike 13 miles to town and had a hot shower waiting for us at the end. As we were walking, Beardoh looked at me and said, “so this is a typical 5 day stretch.” Even my rookie naïveté didn’t believe him.
It was during this slog I started thinking about what I’d like to write and what I have learned so far.
- I still hate the rain but I will survive. The rain and wind combo really sucks but I will survive that too.
- My Feathered Friends down jacket and Montbell wind shirt will save my bacon on this trail. That’s right, I called out the name brands. #aspiringsocialmediainfluencer
- Despite the weather and terrain we’ve encountered so far, I’ve only been miserable once. And it was legitimate.
- This experience (so far) just feels right. The fresh air, the scenery, the breathlessness, having legs feel like concrete blocks as I ascend a pass, and feeling my heart beat out of my chest makes me feel alive.
- The physical and mental challenges are what I signed up for.
I am still a rookie and will continue to be until I’m lucky enough to finish this glorious adventure. Heck, it’s so early into this “journey” it doesn’t even feel like a thru-hike yet. (For you Bachelor viewers at home that “journey” is for you).
Until that day comes, I will just continue to put one foot in front of the other. Bunion and all.