Total Miles: 840.3
Inching ever closer to the end of Colorado, there was nowhere to hide from the relentless wind—a preview of what is sure to come in New Mexico. Hearing myself think over the wind was a challenge in its own right, which made it all the more enjoyable when I sat down for a Q&A with Ace, aka Emily Newcomer, over dinner in a quiet, sheltered spot among the pines...(lightly edited for clarity).
Mt. Man: You've had a lot of backpacking experience leading up to this hike, but nothing quite on this scale. How has this experience so far been different from the time you've spent on other shorter trails?
Ace: That's hard to answer. Sometimes you just can't put that into words or when you do put it into words it kind of minimizes it. I think with shorter backpacking trips you just go into it with a different mentality.
As I even said in my first guest blog post, with the exception of the Adirondacks, a lot of my backpacking has been in ideal conditions since on shorter trips you're sort of planning around those things that you just can't control whereas on a long thru-hike, you're gonna be out here and you're just gonna have to take what comes.
I know I always mention the weather, but that really was always my mental hang up. Other than that, maybe my appetite is starting to get bigger?
Mt. Man: Has it been difficult hiking with a spouse for such a long period of time? Be honest now...
Ace: I think it's probably more difficult for you than me just because you've done solo thru-hikes before, and anytime I've done any backpacking, for the most part, it's been with you. I think the bigger challenge has been you and I hiking with another couple. You know, you and I have our routines, they have their routines, and I think we've all adapted well. That was just something that was notable for me, but it's not hard hiking with you.
Mt. Man: You wouldn't call yourself a runner nowadays, but at one time you were a dedicated marathoner, having run the Boston and New York marathons among many others. Obviously you have a history of accomplishing very physically demanding things. How has that experience prepared you for thru-hiking, either physically or mentally, and how are they different?
Ace: I actually was thinking about this, ironically. Running a marathon is 95% mental. And I would say doing this is 95% mental. So I do think it helped prepare me in a way. I'm grateful I have that foundation and even though I haven't used it for a while, I find that it's a well I can dip back into.
Mt. Man: No one likes being cold and wet far from a warm bed and a hot shower, but this was something you were particularly concerned about coming into this hike. Has it been better or worse than you expected?
Ace: Oh, it's been better. I mean, I would say I’ve probably had a 50% success rate in terms of how I've responded to it but all told, that's just me making it worse for myself. That's my mental faculties breaking down more so than the reality of me being miserable.
Mt. Man: Have you done anything in particular to help cope with that fear?
Ace: No, not that I can think of. I mean, you see a storm rolling in, you think: “Okay, I’m getting out my raincoat and I'm making sure that I have my gloves and whatever else I need to stay warm.” And then obviously I make sure that all of my down—the things that are really important—are in the inner sanctum of the compactor bag in my backpack so that those at least stay dry. That's really all you can do.
Mt. Man: In the early 2000s, you were a Peace Corps volunteer in a small village in Côte d’Ivoire. Is there anything about that time, so detached from home and family, that relates to thru-hiking?
Ace: That's a good question.
Mt. Man: I thought so. 😉
Ace: You know, I feel so detached from that experience. I don't give it enough credit. I guess at a very surface level in both situations you're missing your community, your friends. The other thing is, even though we're hiking together, and we've been hiking with Beardoh and Sweet Pea so you're with people, you oftentimes are hiking in silence. So a lot of the time you're alone with your thoughts. And in Côte d'Ivoire I often wasn't engaged with the villagers or doing work in the village or with other volunteers—I'd be in my little hut, alone with my thoughts. So there's a lot of self reflection.
Mt. Man: You've been very open about your struggles with self-confidence. Has hiking the CDT so far underscored that struggle or helped you begin to see yourself with newfound confidence?
Ace: I've always been very self aware and forthcoming with my faults and my shortcomings, but because so much other stuff is stripped away out here I'm having more clarity around those shortcomings. If, eventually, that added clarity gives me more confidence then that could be a potential outcome.
Mt. Man: So more awareness around them. But do you foresee that being a catalyst for change?
Ace: Oh, yeah, ‘cause the added clarity I think makes growing more actionable.
Mt. Man: Before we started this hike, you left behind a career in favor of a new start. Was that more freeing or more terrifying?
Ace: Check back with me at the end of the hike (laughs). No, I mean it's freeing in a sense because I know that there's time...
Mt. Man: Freeing for now, possibly terrifying later?
Ace: Exactly, freeing for now, possibly terrifying later. I was not fulfilled in my job.
Mt. Man: That’s become more clear to you in the time that we've been out here?
Ace: Uh huh. I mean, I love the company, love the team, was not necessarily motivated by the work.
Mt. Man: There's still a long way to go, but given what you've experienced so far, would you want to hike another big trail? Why/why not?
Ace: Yes, there is still a long way to go. I would want to hike another trail. And the reason why is because there's something oddly comforting about starting at one point and hiking continuously to the end. We knew going into this—given Covid and the other circumstances that I've written about, you've written about—having a hike that is that simple would be nearly impossible. If you can hike a long trail continuously, I think you're very lucky.
Mt. Man: After the CDT, what's the next adventure you'd most want to embark on?
Ace: Covid aside?
Mt. Man: Yeah, Covid aside.
Ace: I want to go to Mexico and learn Spanish, and go on more hikes.
Latitude/Longitude: 37.03260, -106.50432