“Truckin‘, I’m a goin’ home, whoa-oh baby, back where I belong.
Back home, sit down and patch my bones, and get back truckin’ on.”
In the present case, patching my bones may take some time. As I write this I’m wavering under the weight of a yet-to-be-identified malady that gradually sapped my energy during the last few weeks of the hike and then roared into the foreground within hours of completing the trail. Hopefully the doctors will get a handle on it soon and my rebound can commence in earnest. Meanwhile, I’m glad to be resting at home and finally putting some rear view mirror observations to paper.
In retrospect, I found the CDT as different from the AT as the AT was from day hikes I used to do in Lebanon Hills Regional Park years ago. While the AT features more elevation gain and loss (i.e. continuous ups and downs), in my opinion that is the only dimension by which the AT can be considered more difficult than the CDT. The Continental Divide Trail stretched me far beyond my previous limits: physically, psychologically, emotionally. I’m simply not the same person that started the hike and doubt I’ll ever morph back into who I was.
Despite my current condition (relentless nausea, unreliable bowels, a level of weakness I’ve never known), I loved this hike. The old adage about “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” seems apropos. I spent most of the hike alone, which was not at all what I expected (nor desired) going into the hike, but something I made my peace with and- eventually- embraced wholeheartedly. If you’re reading this and thinking to yourself that you’re in the market for a very personal, very isolated wilderness challenge, then this may be the hike for you. I don’t think most CDT thru-hikers become as “spent” as I did but I do think that many can relate to the very solo nature of the hike.
Over the past month I was often asked to sum up what I “learned” during my five month trek. In my case, the lesson that resonates the clearest has to do with redefining “luxury.” To the person sleeping in a cold tent every night, digging holes to poop in daily, fetching water from milky, stagnant ponds and cow troughs, surviving on a steady diet of lousy junk food, scratching one’s legs raw from a thick coating of fly bites, keeping a watchful eye for all manner of dangerous wildlife and flora that stab painfully from every direction, changing layers all day long as the cold -> warmer -> hot -> chilly -> cold again cycle repeats ad infinitum, battling precipitation in all forms (but predominantly hail), to the person who spends five months in such conditions, returning to a world of clean sheets and warm blankets, sit down toilets, refreshing drinks and showers on demand, fruits and vegetables, insect and varmint free indoor living, clean laundry and shelter from the storms feel like nothing less than winning the luxury lottery. I am profoundly moved by this hiking experience and hope that years from now I’ll continue to carry with me the gratitude I feel today for the simplest things in life- the “table stakes” that can so easily be taken for granted. I loved this hike, I love how it stretched me and I hope the change is lasting.
I’m bored of posting scenic shots so I’m turning this final post into a chronological tribute/recap to some of the people I met along the way. While on balance I hiked most of the trail alone, I also made the acquaintance of- and had the privilege to hike with- some dear, dear new (and old) friends along the way: people with whom I hope to never lose touch. I hope you enjoy this final set of pictures- some of which have shown up in earlier posts. Unfortunately I can’t find pictures of everyone I had the pleasure of meeting or hiking with, but the ones included here should at least paint the broader picture of the great souls I encountered between Mexico and Canada. Thanks again for your interest in this adventure and my sincere regards to you all. See you down the trail! Max