Human development is simply amazing. As infants, we're helpless, relying on the selfless love and kindness of others for survival. Our strength is hardly enough to resist gravity and our coordination is no better. We're dependent for all of our needs from being clothed for temperature regulation, cleaned for health and hygiene, and fed for nourishment. Each of these tasks are done for us, taken on by those who love us and brought us into the world. But soon enough, we develop more independent control over our bodies, starting with a greater ability to control our head and neck and then our torso. Driven by a desire to explore, at first we begin rolling, then crawling, and then walking as we coordinate our limbs to move us through space. In most cases, the progress is steady and the process is internally driven. Whether you believe in a guiding spiritual hand or simply a natural process, by some force, we teach ourselves new ways to move. However it happens, it's undeniably miraculous!
Some years pass and we become children, then teenagers, then adults. But across the years, that innate passion for moving and exploring, that inner drive we had when we were small, need not dwindle. Whether walking, running, dancing, pedaling, or swimming, there exists a multitude of avenues to pursue. For me, the challenge of traveling across greater and greater distances with self sufficiency has strongly resonated. I believe the simplest things are often the most beautiful. And while its often taken for granted in today's world where a car is the most ubiquitous form of transportation, traveling from one place to another doesn't get much simpler than walking. Whether it's one mile or one hundred, placing one foot in front of the other allows us the opportunity to delve into the complex world inside our minds while simultaneously developing a greater connection with the outer world that surrounds us. It's with these thoughts on varying modes of travel that I have felt compelled to delve into my first real foray into backpacking.
Colorado Trail "confidence" marker
Approaching backpacking from a runner's perspective has involved considerable planning and a shift in mindset. As a runner, there have been many times that I've put myself in adverse conditions. Perhaps low on calories and water, or at sub zero wind chills above tree line without proper clothing, I've taken solace in knowing that my warm house with a stocked refrigerator was mere hours away. In preparing for the 485 miles of the Colorado Trail however, that safe haven with unlimited access to food will be days away. Preparations, as a result, must be extensive and I've been tasked with learning new skills to allow me to travel as lightly as possible while still remaining self sufficient and safe. Over the course of this process I've found a rekindling of that infant/toddler curiosity and desire for growth.
The Colorado Trail winds through an aspen grove
Days away from the trek extending from Durango to Denver, a trip I've dubbed The DuDe, I'm now scrutinizing things to make sure I'll be able to take care of my most basic needs. In the months of preparation that have led up to the trip, I've had to learn how to clothe and shelter myself to manage the temperature swings and volatile Colorado summer weather. My frugal side has delighted in clothing and gear modifications. I've fashioned unfashionable items that serve multiple purposes like turning a hat into a visor and then attaching a cut up pack towel to serve as a neck flap for portable shade. I've also worked to improve my skill with choosing campsites and setting up a shelter with trekking poles in order to keep both myself and my gear protected from the elements. And in the event that my gear does get soaked, I've experimented with techniques on how to dry things out while still moving towards that next resupply point.
Sunrise viewed from the Twin Lakes dam on the Colorado Trail
In addition to providing myself with shelter and warmth, I've also learned how to stay clean and healthy on the trail. Ok, well not really "staying clean," but maybe just embracing the pungent aromas that come with outside living. I do have a strategy for washing clothes and body parts and maintaining the most rudimentary levels of hygiene, recognizing that periodic teeth brushing and creek bathing are essential! I've also learned strategies for discerning the best toilet paper available and that there exists a clear hierarchy for nature's Charmin starting with mullein, aspen leaves, and grass and ending with pine cones, and rocks.
What about nourishment? I'm glad you asked. With several options for resupply points, I'll need to carry anywhere from 2-4 days of food on a self-supported trip. As a result, much consideration has gone into devising a menu that identifies and prioritizes those foods with a high calorie to gram ratio and a low cost to calorie ratio. In efforts to cut weight and accommodate dietary restrictions, I've also decided to forego a portable stove. The fare, far from gourmet but at least reasonably palatable, will primarily consist of simple, real food items like Lara Bars, jerky, dried fruit, and cheese. But by and large, the bulk of my calories will be peanut butter derivatives as one 15 ounce jar of peanut butter contains 2,470 calories and costs $1.79. The very real challenge will be to not get sick of it after 10 days. Of course there's creamy and crunchy, but with a little creativity and supplementation from accessory ingredients, I've created enough peanut butter variations that would astound even Dr. George Washington Carver. To make a thicker medium with which to paint your culinary canvas, I've learned you can stir in honey, coconut sugar, powdered milk, banana flour, or cocoa powder. I've concocted carrot cake peanut butter, cinnamon raisin peanut butter, cranberry peanut butter, and chocolate peanut butter. There's peanut butter banana brownies, banana chip peanut butter, pumpkin pie peanut butter, and coconut flake peanut butter. And at the risk of becoming peanut butter's Benjamin Buford "Bubba" Blue, I'll stop there, but you get the idea.
The cocoa, powdered milk peanut butter tastes better than it looks!
Infants, in their quest for independence, still know how and when to cry for help. Should anything go wrong on my adventure, I'll need to employ a similar strategy. A SPOT satellite GPS messenger offers positional tracking and the ability and to communicate in an emergency situation so that the right people can hear my cries and provide assistance if needed. The device allows for one way communication and though this comes with some limitations, having a line to search and rescue gives me and the folks who care about me valuable peace of mind.
Finally, though my trip will be self supported, I want to point out that it is not an independent trip. I'm incredibly grateful for the knowledge others have shared since much of what I've learned has come from books and online resources from people like Andrew Skurka and Mike Clelland. I've also read the Colorado Trail Data Book and the Colorado Trail Guide Book for detailed trail descriptions and logistics planning. And for further inspiration and insight, Peter Bakwin's FKT site and trip reports from Shawn Forry (unsupported record holder) and Scott Jaime (supported record holder) have been invaluable. To top it all off, I've been able to pick the brains of many local friends who possess a much greater arsenal of backpacking know how. Through these discussions, I've searched for answers to the question of "How much do I need" and have enjoyed extending this same query to my life as a whole.
After months of toiling over logistics and physical preparation, my plan is to complete a self-supported, northbound journey on the Colorado Trail from Durango to Denver using the Collegiate West route. I'll begin early in the morning of July 6th and will cover roughly 50 miles each day through some combination of hiking, running, and shuffling. Embracing the self-supported philosophy, I will mail additional provisions to resupply points at Molas Pass Campground, Monarch Ski Resort, and Copper Mountain Ski Resort and won't accept support from others, except of course in the form of handshakes, hugs, and high fives. I'll have a SPOT tracker with me to leave a "bread crumb" trail, check in, and send requests for help if necessary. If I've set everything up correctly, you'll be able to follow my progress here once the trip begins (http://trackleaders.com/ct). My plan is to arrive at the Waterton Canyon trailhead in Denver sometime around the 16th. Ultimately though, my biggest hope is to both enjoy and to struggle as I travel to new places on foot and in my mind. And of course, I'd like to take a nice long nap when it's over!