I finally bought what I’m sure will be first of many maps and map books for the Continental Divide Trail. “So what? Are you going to hike it?” you may be asking. The shortest answer is yes, I’m going to hike it. The more important, and probably the more interesting question is why am I going to hike it. I’ve been thinking about this question a lot lately and I’m sure that as I rack up the miles, the answers will change. Some may fall away, others will change and still entirely new answers will emerge. There are some answers at the moment, and I’m pretty comfortable and pleased that there are more than a few because its actually taken a number of catalysts to bring me to this place. Perhaps first and foremost, the last few years have been really difficult ones for me. I’ve had to do a lot of redefining of myself, although rediscovering may be a more accurate way of stating it. When you ask yourself “what do I want” and are answered with an empty silence, its pretty damn frightening. I had a lot of dreams growing up, adventures I wanted to have, but because of various things, I let them slide away for a number of years….to the point where I had a hard time even remembering them.
When I was in high school I had a really strong desire to go somewhere big, to put a pack on my back and start walking. This big place was never the far flung exotic locals you see on travel shows where your afternoon guided hike along a trail with handrails ends in umbrella drinks on a beach somewhere. I remember sneaking copies of Outside Magazine into class so I could read about long distance treks through mountains and deserts and feeling pulled west. As I’ve thought about this over the last year or so, the great American trails have wriggled themselves into my thinking. More than a few friends of mine have worked the Appalachian Trail, but its in the wrong direction. I like the east coast, but its just not right for me. The Pacific Crest Trail is certainly in the west, but it seems like its defined by the ocean and I’ve never been a big fan of that much water at one time. Those are the oldest, best known of the big trails in America, but neither has felt right for me. Living in New Mexico, I’d heard of the CDT but honestly didn’t know much about it. Figuring that it must at least be close to home, I started researching it. The more I read about the CDT, the more the 17 year old in me wanted to jump out of his school desk and run out the door. The King of Trails feels right. Its a massive challenge, 3100 miles, much of which I’m betting I’ll have to hike both ways as solo hikes. It will take me from my home to some territory I knew as a boy growing up while visiting my Grandpa in South Dakota….we went into Wyoming more than a few times. Most importantly though, when I ask myself if I really want to do this there is no silence, just a simple, satisfied “yes”.
As photographer most of my recent work has focused on the territory around where I grew up in Kansas, or concepts that have grown out of that place. I’m kind of obsessed with grain elevators, especially the ones that haven’t been in service for awhile. I’ve also been photographing panoramic landscapes out in the prairie, first in Kansas but now closer to home in Santa Fe as well. Something about a vast landscape, yes even ones that are made up mostly of horizon line, draw me in. I’ve started to recognize when I’m in a right place to photograph one of the panoramas more by feel than anything else. “Itchy Feet” I call it. I get this strong urge to just start walking, usually towards the horizon. The CDT has a kind of itchy feet feeling for me. Naturally, I’m going to document the journey and a few ideas have started rolling around in my head for how to do so. I’m going to try my hand at a little video work for the first time, and I’ll be making individual images along the way, but the idea of the trail and my panoramic work keep wanting to shake hands in my head. To scratch this itch, I’m going to try to make one panorama of the entire trail facing west. More than likely I’ll learn a lot about the logistics of making something like this work during this first summer!
I’ll be hiking the trail in sections, not as a through hike. Work and other obligations just won’t permit the 6-8 months needed to walk the trail straight through. It follows then that this will be a project many years in the attempt. I suspect that much of the time I’ll be hiking by myself. Don’t worry, I always leave detailed itineraries with someone any time I go hiking and I take all necessary safety precautions. I’m actually looking forward to some of the solitude, but that doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t welcome some company from time to time. If you know me, and are interested in wearing your boots down a little, let me know. I’d be happy for a little support on this adventure!
Oh, and if you follow this little blog because you enjoy the few local day hikes I’ve put up thus far, don’t worry! The CDT isn’t going to consume all of my hiking time, so there will be plenty of smaller hikes still to come!