Total Miles: 2457.3
One final night came and went, and the stars that had thrust aside the evening clouds dissolved into the gray light of morning. I rolled over and lit the stove for coffee before closing my eyes for a few more minutes thinking how, in spite of this being our last day on trail, it felt no different than any of the others.
Packing up and setting out felt like pure muscle memory, the things you just do every day of your life without really taking notice of any of them. Everything creaks and aches—one thing that never seems to change no matter how many miles have come and gone—until enough time has elapsed for each complaining body part to get the memo that this is happening whether they like it or not.
The trail rose to a low crest in the Big Hatchet Mountains before cruising on a gentle decline towards the flat expanse of Mexico that beckoned only miles away. Trails of dust rose and fell far in the distance that had its color drained slightly as if bleached by the sun. Strolling down the gentle road, I started to wonder when we might get our first glimpse of the border obelisk that would mark the end of it all.
A few steps behind me, a sun-kissed Ace bopped her way down the trail and I thought of how lucky we’ve been to share this trail together, its highs and lows, its agonies and ecstasies. To think that this is her first multi-month trail also makes me so incredibly proud of her, not because it was easy but precisely because it was not. In a few short hours, she’ll find herself in some incredibly rare company.
How rare, exactly? Although the number grows each year, the CDTC estimates that approximately 150 people will attempt a thru-hike of the entire trail with only about a third succeeding. It’s hard to say how much the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted the total number of attempts this year, but it’s certainly been an exceedingly quiet experience. On multiple occasions, we hiked over 100 miles without seeing another day hiker let alone another hiker attempting to complete an entire thru-hike. All told, in over four and a half months and 2500 miles on the trail we met only 17 other poor souls similarly foolish enough to attempt a thru-hike this year. Each time we met one, we had to remind ourselves what a social interaction felt like.
There’s a trite sounding expression that you often hear from those on and around long distance trails: “The people are the trail.” And, in a way, it still rings true even on a trail like this that had been further hushed by the crush of a pandemic. The people we met, who reached out to help of their own accord, who offered what they could to us at every opportunity are what restore your faith in basic humanity and decency, between perfect strangers at that.
And, of course, there are the people whose support, wisdom, and friendship propel your legs farther than what would otherwise seem possible. For that, I am in your debt. To Beardoh and Sweet Pea, our friends and hiking companions for embarking on this journey with us; to our friend Proton for handling all 17 (!) of our resupply packages and countless other last-minute requests; to Rebekka, Franz, and the entire team at Ulysses—without which I would’ve been crushed by a fear of writing long ago; to Chaco sandals—without which I never would have been able to hike the miles of the past 16 years; and most importantly to our friends, family, and co-workers who cheered us on, sent us goodies in far-off places, went out of their way to spend time with us and generally bent over backwards in ways that we one day hope to repay: Thank You. You’re as much a part of our hike as any mountain ever could be.
For me, the border monument growing larger and larger was a bittersweet end to yet another incredible chapter in a lifetime of hiking. 18 years ago, my friend Ian and I did our first thru-hike together in the Green Mountains that had been our college playground. Those 275 miles of the Long Trail opened a door that could never be closed. Two years later, the Appalachian Trail reached out and plucked my heart strings for every one of its miles just as the Pacific Crest Trail would a dozen years later.
Hiking the Continental Divide Trail has been just another step in what feels like a life spent searching for what lies just around the next bend in the trail, what I might find there and what I might learn from it. And although it won’t feel officially complete until Glacier National Park reopens its portion of the trail to hikers, this feels like the ceremonial end to my own Triple Crown, joining the other 440 “terranauts” who have done the same, a group of foolhardy souls even smaller than the 550 who have hurtled into space on a rocket ship. No one ever accused me of being smart.
What we have done says less about who we are than what we will do, and so the question is: What’s next? The Triple Crown may have come and gone, but there are many more trails to hike, more wild corners of the country and of the world to stand in awe of. The person I most wish to celebrate each of them with—my Dad—may not be there waiting at the end, but just as he carried me as a child I carry him now in my heart and in my memory. How much he would have loved this trail and all those still yet to come.
As for what happens now, it’s time to give our feet a good long rest, sip the champagne that sits on ice, hold close the memories of the CDT, and dream of the next trail that will be beneath our feet…