With the countdown on for my first steps on the CDT (65 days), there are a lot of details to get ironed out in preparation. All of my gear is finally coming together, so an updated list will be arriving shortly (once I figure out how to transpose a spreadsheet from my hard drive to this blog … anyone?). But, there is a lot more to consider than just gear. Lots of decisions need to get made, resupply boxes need to be planned, backup plans thought out, strategies considered, playlists and podcasts ready to go for those inevitable and pesky road walks, maps printed and routes studied…and how do I use a compass again? There is so much research, money to be saved and let’s not forget to stay in shape!

I can sit here behind my laptop tirelessly researching route options, resupply points, good and bad towns for zeroes, water and weather reports, must sees, must skips, etc., but in the end none of it is relevant once you are on the trail. Weather happens, fire happens; SNOW, lightning, water shortages, hard hitches, no vacancy hotels, no campgrounds; pain, fatigue, hunger, closed post offices and stores with funky hours. They all happen, and none of these things are part of the “plan”.

What I’ve learned is that the only plan you can truly make is to show up and hike (and always remember to hike your own hike!). The research will come in handy later, but trying to stick to a strict plan is simply bananas. I’ve seen hikers who overplanned their hike and I never envied their rushed nature. They always had to get to the next part of the plan and often seemed like they were missing out on the experience of the hike because of deadlines. Sometimes it forced them to skip something they didn’t want to because they were obligated to be somewhere else.

It all seems like a real drag to me. It sucks the fun out of the randomness of adventure, of taking a minute or several to enjoy a moment that you could have never planned on happening; an epic view or sunset, a prime swimming hole, a great camping spot, trail magic, encounters with other hikers or wildlife.

To me, those are the real joys. I remember times on the PCT where a 25 mile day turned into a 16 mile day because I just couldn’t tear myself away from a view, and I never regretted lingering in a special place longer than anticipated. Those moments would always breathe new life into my hike, often just when I needed them to.

So my plan is to be prepared, but to remember to enjoy myself.

Being prepared involves having the right tools to have a successful hike no matter what life throws at you. You have to be flexible and knowledgeable; able to make decisions on a moments notice, understanding that things will surface that you hadn’t planned for. Unpreparedness is foolish and often comes with risks to your safety and that of those around you. Not being an idiot is probably one of the best things you can do out there (and we’ll all do something stupid at some point).

I’ve worked a total of 5 jobs this winter, which I wrote about in my blog (The Cost of a Thru Hike). It has been very time consuming, exhausting and both physically and mentally challenging. No matter how hard it was, it was worth it. Not only did it prepare me financially for my hike, but it has strengthened my resolve and mental coping skills which will be invaluable on the CDT.

I really feel like I earned this hike. Really, really earned it.

Because of all that working, I hardly had any time to keep myself in shape this winter. Time went by in the blink of an eye, and all of my plans to go ski, snowshoe or hike went out the window, week after week. I got out a few times (and time isn’t up yet), but not enough to keep me in good enough shape to hike a long trail. Therefore, I have done the unthinkable and joined a Crossfit gym. It has turned out to be one of the best decision I’ve made in ages. Seriously, I feel amazing, capable and even more mentally prepared than ever. I’m really learning to endure the grit for the payoff. It’s incredible, and to me captures the essence of everything I’ve ever heard about the challenges of the CDT.

I’m also planning on taking an avalanche awareness class in Colorado in early April. I’ve never ever backpacked in the snow before, and that seems to be the hot topic among hikers in Colorado. The snow is one of the biggest challenges I’ll face out there, and it’s a brand new challenge for me! Instead of making the popular decision to change the direction of my hike, I’ve decided to conquer the unknown and face the challenge head on. I plan (there’s that word again) to go through the snow because to me that’s part of the experience. I’m actually excited to hike through the snow (remind me I said that in mid June when I’ve been postholing all day!). Seriously though, I’m out there to experience the new, the hard, the gritty, the seemingly impossible; the reward is always bigger when you face a challenge rather than skirt around it. At least in my experience.

So, in a nutshell that’s how I’m getting ready. I’m doing my best with what I have, and trying to make the most informed decisions possible. It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve done since the PCT, and I simply can’t wait to keep meeting the challenges I’m sure to face this summer.

Bring it on!