Do you set big goals for yourself? How do you know when it’s time to lean in to those goals and make them happen, or when it’s time to be cautious and minimize risk?
I have made a personal commitment to chase one of my biggest Life Goals this summer, to through-hike the Colorado Trail, all 486 miles. I hope I’m doing the right thing, but it is already keeping me awake at night.
The seeds of this adventure were planted when I first began running in 1978. Almost immediately I was taken by stories of epic runs. I read dozens of accounts of people who ran across the USA. I was fascinated by the idea of covering the surface of the earth by human power, and wondered if I would ever be fit enough to try something like that.
Once I started backpacking again, in 2004, my thoughts of a cross-country run morphed into doing an epic through-hike of the Appalachian Trail, or Pacific Crest Trail, or even the Continental Divide Trail. I doubted I would ever have the four-to-six months I’d need to complete a hike like those, but they called to me just the same.
Unfortunately, I waited too long to try. Arthritis took over my knees, reducing my gait to a bowlegged shuffle, and I had to move those goals to the back of my list.
But then I had double knee replacement in the summer of 2015. It went so well I quickly began to resurrect many of my old dreams of distance hiking. I started rebuilding my strength through running and biking.
During the Thanksgiving holidays of 2015 we saw the movie, A Walk in the Woods, about two unfit aging non-hikers attempting the Appalachian Trail. During one scene when they were hiking at night through blowing snow Cyndi leaned over and said, “You wish you were with them, don’t you.” She was joking, I think, but I realized that, yes, I did wish I was with them ... maybe not in the snow in the dark, but on the big trail.
There was a scene the beginning of the movie when the main character, Bill Bryson, played by Robert Redford, attends a funeral of one of his friends. As he’s standing in line to speak to the widow, another friend who was behind him in the line leaned over his shoulder and said, “Makes you think about slowing down, doesn’t it.” I remember thinking, as we sat in the movie theater, no, it doesn’t make me think about slowing down. It makes me want to speed up, do it now, take advantage of my second chance.
And then I heard about the Colorado Trail. It occurred to me that this trail was long enough and hard enough to meet my hunger for an epic hike, yet short enough it wouldn’t take six months to complete. I could do this. In early 2016 I started making plans to hike the Colorado Trail in the summer of 2017.
With all that excitement, through-hiking 486 miles is a frightening prospect. What are the odds I can finish it?
I will be 61-year-old at the trailhead. That comes with more limitations and liabilities than I’m happy to discuss, more than I’ve been willing to accept so far.
I have strong legs. Since 1978 I’ve run over 37,000 miles and completed nine marathons. Granted, those big miles are a few years in my past, but the muscle and mental memories are still robust.
I have been cycling a lot in the past five years and it has increased my aerobic capacity and strengthened my legs at a time I couldn’t run big miles.
My new titanium knees feel bulletproof. They feel anxious and ready to move. They feel like a second-chance in life. Now, when I push myself on foot or on my bike, my knees are the only parts that don’t hurt. It’s like magic.
I have been backpacking three to four times a year for the past thirteen years so I’m used to being on the trail, but the longest I’ve been out has been three days and two nights. I am looking at a 1400% increase and I’m not certain I can do it. I won’t know until I try.
I have good backpacking gear, and like most hikers, become addicted to finding new and lighter gear each year. I have an excellent expedition-size pack that Cyndi gave me for Christmas when I first started (She knew this was important to me (even before I knew it) and endorsed my ventures into the mountains. I am grateful. I am a lucky man to be so well known and loved.), but it weighs 7.5 pounds and I need something much lighter for a sustained through-hike. I have three backpack options in my gear room, all loaned to me by friends. Two weeks ago I used the Exped Lightening 60, which weighs only 2.4 pounds, and it was a nice experience.
I am carrying at least 25 pounds body weight more than I should, something I’ve regretfully maintained for at least 25 years. Lugging my big self over high mountain passes will be that much more work I have to do. Maybe I’ll burn some of that off along the way.
The average altitude of the Colorado Trail is above 10,000’, and I live at 2,400’ elevation. That means I will struggle finding enough O2 molecules to meet my needs. However, I’ve spent two nights above 9,000’, in the Pecos Wilderness, twice, and never experienced any serious effects of altitude adjustment. No headaches, no nausea, none of that. Doesn’t mean I won’t, just means I haven’t.
The greatest factors in my favor for accomplishing this goal are these: My wife Cyndi (also a big-dreamer and adventurer) believes in me and encourages me; and I have friends who may hike portions of the trail with me.
There is joy in taking on challenges with no certainty of success. There is also fear. I don’t know if I’ll make this entire hike, but I want to try. I’m interpreting the jitters I feel as indications my goal is worthy, sufficiently over-my-head, knowing it is in those situations I usually grow as a man and grow into God. I keep reminding myself I shouldn’t feel comfortable about this – it is a difficult endeavor.
PS: If you want to know more about this, see my page Colorado Trail 2017, or write to me. Maybe we can spend some quality time together on the trail.
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32