This Is The End

Everything comes to an end. That's the way of the world.

Burning Man had come to a close. Analog and I were back in Reno for a day of re-grouping. The decision to hitch from the Wyoming / Montana border down to Reno, NV did not come easily. And, in making it we didn't know if finishing the Continental Divide Trail would be possible, or if we even wanted to attempt to finish it up. It was late in season and we were 900 miles of road from where we left off. We harbored no illusions that completing this trek would be an easy option.

Throughout the week we had ample time to discuss our options, and neither of us could deny that their was a magnetic pull to give this hike one last shot.

We had liberated ourselves from the Continental Divide Trail and we had all the options in the world open to us. We had time on our hands, equipment for back country or urban exploration, and our world famous can-do attitudes. We had talked about a leisurely "seat-of-our-pants" exploration of the Southwest, a trip out to San Francisco, and the always enticing prospect of Baja California or Central America. But still, after our time at Burning Man, we both agreed that we'd keep head back up to Montana and see what we could do.

Being behind schedule, we figured we would jump up to "the pack", or large majority of hikers, near Helena, MT, hike to Canada, and then with the great lightness of taking off on our owns again, hitch back to Helena and hike South back to Mammoth Hot Springs where we had left off. In essence, we'd get to see some people we haven't seen in a very long time and attempt to knock the northern most section of trail out before things get to nasty. Then we would do what we do best, slow cruise our way to our personal finish line. Which, as we thought about it, finishing in Canada is pretty neat, but finishing at Mammoth Hot Springs would leave us with, well, hot springs!

And here, once again, our hikes went sideways. We had done the 900 mile hitch down to Reno in about 26 hours straight. We spent the next five days, hitching at times for over 48 hours without sleep, and made it only into Southern Idaho.

Everything came to a screeching halt. Our trip, our plan, our intentions, our attitudes, everything.

Pick me up! I'm not crazy!

I can't easily explain what went wrong. Analog and I came out of Burning Man with positive thoughts roaring to go. I've always thought that I was somewhat of a gifted, or skilled, hitcher. And I've always been positive that a ride is always out there, it's just a matter of time.

It took two days alone to leave Reno. Which was bad, but at least Reno offered cheap lodging when we did finally decide to throw in the towel. But, things got worse yet.

We made it to Salt Lake and then North of Salt Lake where we were dropped at what was described as "probably a pretty good place to hitch." In reality it was one of the worst places you could hitch from. A gas station, in a complicated round-about, which we eventually learned had such serious construction on the opposite side of the overpass that it was nearly impossible, save for the most dedicated drivers, to approach the gas station and continue North after having refueled. Without a relatively protected place to camp, we continued hitching through the night, fueled by coffee and burritos, without even a hint of success.

Finally, in an act of desperation, we crossed the overpass and entered the on-ramp. Yes. This is illegal. And, with the construction project at full tilt, we were well aware that cops were bound to be in and out checking on things. We had no alternatives. And this isn't to say that our gamble was a promising one. Typically, if someone is going to take a risk, the reward, and likely-hood of receiving it, is equal, if not higher, than the risk itself. This was not the case. This was a case of desperation. The on-ramp was still relatively difficult to access, and without room for someone to pull over completely, you'd have to be half mad to pick us up.

And then, eventually, we did get a ride.

We explained ourselves. Who we are, where we were going, and where we needed to be dropped in relation to where he was going. Then we explained how long we had been awake, and politely asked if it was okay for us to go to sleep. He said it wasn't a problem and that he'd be sure to pull over before our routes split.

We went to sleep.

When I awoke, we were absolutely headed in the wrong direction.

I pulled my phone out to confirm how far off track we were. And, as I expected, we were pretty far West of where we were supposed to be. I woke Analog and asked to be let off in the next town. And then, things got even worse.

We were left at a truck stop just to the East side of Heyburn/Burley, middle of nowhere, farmingsville, Idaho. Not only were we dealing with a difficult demographic, but if you were to pull out an atlas, you'd realize that there is almost no way drivers would be here if they were headed north. So, the ride scenario was difficult. But, worse yet, we were suddenly competing with legitimate homeless people for turf. I don't have anything against homeless people, my friends here in Vail, CO remind me regularly that I am in fact, often a homeless person, but these folks were exhibiting the sort of erratic behavior that calls methamphetamine and other serious drug use to mind. Now, I do my best not to label people or judge them unless I know for sure what's going on, but I'll say this much, they made us uncomfortable.

And it was in this scenario that we kept our eyes open for more than 48 hours straight. Which, in it's own way, was a sort of test of strength and resolve, not unlike a long distance hike, that's allowed me to further understand my physical and mental capabilities.

That being said, I will absolutely never recommend anyone spend over 48 hours awake attempting to hitch hike near this particular truck stop, or any particular truck stop.

Eventually, I began to fall into a sort of demotivated dream state. I don't doubt that had we pushed our caffeinated selves much further full on auditory and visual hallucinations were just around the bend. I'll admit it, my team ethic fell with it.

On our third night at the truck stop, still without sleep, I had decided that sleep was a necessity that overcame all other considerations. Was I confident that it was a "good idea"? No. Sleep was something that simply needed to happen. And so, at some point after midnight on our third night, Analog and I laid down behind the truck stop, gear consolidated and ready in the event that a quick evacuation was necessary, and bear spray within arm's reach. It wasn't bears we were worried about.

After our five hours of "respite" (I didn't sleep very much at all), the sun began to rise and we were forced to pack up, as our risk of being spotted was increasing quickly. I can't say I was rested, but I did regain my grip on certain mental facilities and sanities that I had lost the previous evening.

It was at this point that Analog and I sized up our scenario and decided, that since traffic was not headed where we needed to go, and since we hadn't been offered one ride in three days (in any direction), that we would take anything anywhere, which, more than likely, was back to Salt Lake City. In addition to our breakdown in motivation, each day we spent roadside trying to return to the trail pushed us further into the season and into a greater chance of cold and wet weather.

And then, miraculously, we convinced a young couple to give us a lift to Salt Lake. They were reluctant, initially, but I think when they came to realize how long we had been struggling here at the truck stop, and that we were far too fatigued to even think about murdering anyone, they conceded. And, again, we politely asked if it would be okay if we napped for a bit.

Analog and I had both come to the agreement, months ago, that we were operating as a team and that neither of us would abandon the other.

On trail, there simply weren't a lot of compatible or available options besides hiking alone for either of us. And, with our venture off-trail and down to Nevada, we had solidified this p. If either of us wanted to give the hike one last shot (again), then the other was going. And not just going along, but 100% going for it.

Once back in Salt Lake City, we had one last decision. We were South of where we had been in Idaho, but we were in a better location to get back on the road. Going back out to the road could mean days of hitching and then, if we ever made it to Helena, MT, we were left with the prospect of what was likely to be very difficult, cold, and wet conditions. Alternatively, we had a good friend, Maverick, who lived in Salt Lake and therefor a place to crash. And from there, I had a relatively easy trip on the Greyhound back to Denver and then over to Vail. Analog also had a great travel and lodging opportunity out in the Napa Valley region.

It was decided. It was time to call an end to our adventure. We officially decided that we were both done hiking for the season and that we would not be completing the Continental Divide Trail. And with that, for the first time since we met, Analog and I were now headed in different directions.

Thanks for hanging with me, folks!

That about wraps it up as far as this story goes! But, stay tuned for some finals thoughts on the Continental Divide Trail, gear reviews and recommendations, and more. is nowhere near being considered a finished project.

Burning Man

The people of Burning Man speak of self expression, reality, tuning in to nature, and personal honesty. They wear costumes.

According to, "Burning Man is an annual art event and temporary community based on radical self expression and self-reliance in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada."

The Man illuminated at night.

Analog and I came into Burning Man and our trip from the Montana border to the festival with very few expectations. We knew there was art. We knew there was music. We knew it all took place in a pop-up temporary community known as Black Rock City out in the desert. That was about it.

We were in Reno, NV, all we had to do was get 40 miles back East of town and make our way down a small road to the event entrance. We figured this would be easy. There were plenty of Burners, people who attend Burning Man, in Reno. Surely we would get a ride. We were wrong. This was the first, but not last, of many indications that the Burner "family" or "tribe" was much less tribal than we had hoped. It was very difficult to get out of Reno, despite the fact that we were being passed by hundreds of vehicles sporting the Burning Man logo, clearly headed exactly where we needed to be. But, given enough time, a ride is bound to appear and we made our way to the festival entrance.

As we neared the entrance we entered a traffic jam and took this as the perfect opportunity to excuse ourselves from a rather uncomfortable hitch and do what we do best, walk. Plus, why sit around in a car going nowhere, when you can walk right past all that nonsense right up to where you want to be? It seemed like the obvious choice for us, but again, we were wrong.

Burning Man began as a small collection of friends meeting on a San Francisco beach to burn a wooden effigy, "The Man". They were sculptors, performance artists, and good friends. As the event, and "The Man", grew, it was relocated to the Black Rock Desert, East of Reno, NV. "The Man" got taller each year, attendance grew, and rules and norms crept their way into the "anything goes" event.

View down the Playa.

It turns out, that walking into Burning Man was not only uncommon, but event organizers and volunteers did not know what to do with those crazy guys walking their way into the event. "Return to your vehicle." "Please remain in your vehicle." "Ect, ect, you need a vehicle," was the mantra as we strolled past the sedentary.

After being directed, misdirected, and re-directed we approached the will-call booth where we received our tickets. We headed straight for the event gate, a roadway flanked on each side by large torch-like flaming structures. Where we were stopped again and instructed that we absolutely needed to be within a vehicle to enter the event. After our brief explanation, "Well, you see, we don't have a vehicle. Don't even own one. In fact, we were hiking from Mexico to Canada, and had just reached the Montana border when we received tickets to the event, and so here we are. But, we've got no vehicle. So, if you'd excuse us, we'll be on our way...." we did nothing but confuse the event staffers.

We may have been attending an event based on "radical self-expression and self-reliance", but this is America, and you need a car if you intend to be self-reliant! ...We realized that if we wanted to get into the event, we'd have to throw our thumbs to the heavens once more.

We hitched one last ride, from just outside of the gate, to just inside of the gate.

Burning Man is an incredible event. Art, music, dance, spirituality, technology, nature, communal living, self-expression, and of course, fire all come together for a week of unplanned madness in the desert. And it's big. Really big. Nearly 70,000 people big; making Black Rock City the second biggest city in Nevada, for just one week.

There's no festival itinerary, no band line-up, no main stage. It's a sort of controlled madness, an ordered chaos. But rest assured, whatever you're into, it'll be there. For me, that was sculpture and the idea of Black Rock City, itself. A temporary city in the middle of nowhere!

Octopus themed art car.

Sculpture first, because Burning Man delivers in spades. Sculptures and art installations are scattered over every inch of the desert. From major installations over 140 feet tall, to tiny ones, to "art cars" (cars whom have becoming moving pieces of art themselves), to themed camps, to the appearance of most attendees. Nearly every aspect of Burning Man is a piece of art, one way or another, and most of it is set to be burnt at some point during the week.

As far as the city, Black Rock City goes, it's pretty neat. 70,000 people, their shelters, entertainment, food, drink, all of it, is brought in by the festival goers. And at the end of the week, it's all brought out again... in theory. Some of the major art installations will take a little longer to remove and volunteers do hang around for a week combing the desert and hauling out the stuff that is inevitably left behind). Unfortunately, it is 2014 and Burning Man has become a pretty big deal and tents are most certainly out of fashion. I was astounded by the amount of RV's. In fact, Analog and I felt like one of very few people to actually be staying in a tent.

Black Rock City.

The Temple, exterior shot.

The Temple, interior.

Flower themed lounge installation with The Man behind.

Then we've got the "community" aspect of the festival. A lot of burners talk about their burning man "family" or "tribe". After having mixed feelings about the Continental Divide Community, largely due to the stress the trail seemed to load onto those of us attempting to thru-hike it, we came into Burning Man with high hopes of meeting people and making some of the connections that we hadn't been finding.

Unfortunately, Burning Man did not prove to be a place of intimate human relations.

Partly, I think Analog and I had trouble assimilating into the Burning Man culture. In a weird way, this counter-cultural event is a lot about "stuff". The costumes, the camps, the bikes, etc. We didn't have any of that. We wore exactly the same outfits that we had been wearing for the previous four months. It's all we had. It's all we needed. But, when the young lady dressed as a unicorn walks by, she isn't interested in talking with you, she'd much rather talk to that dude dressed as the Mad Hatter. Because we didn't look like Burners, we were often left to our own devices.

This isn't to say we didn't meet some incredible people. Because we did! We were fortunate to camp just next to a couple of great people who opened their camp to us! More than that, they opened themselves to us and became great friends throughout the week. I don't do this often, but I'm gonna break from all narrative continuity here and say it: Paula, Anna, Kellie, and Brandon, thanks for being your bad selves!

Look at these people! They were certainly a huge part of our Burning Man experience, and I'm glad we camped near 'em!

Overall, Burning Man is a pretty crazy experience. I'll let the photos speak for themselves, because lets face it, this stuff was pretty cool. Click the photos to see them in full size!

Embrace. Yup. This was burnt as well.

* Photos provided by Paula as well as borrowed from the world wide web. Sorry gang. I didn't take any myself.

From Yellowstone to Reno

Hitchhiking is a game of odds. Odd people stand at the side of the road, all thumbs and dopey smiles, hoping that an individual slightly odder than themselves might stop and pick them up.

Would you pick me up?

Would you pick me up?

It's a method of travel, but it's also a method of immediate breakdown of personal space. Driver and rider are immediately thrust into a close proximity social scenario. A personal vehicle is an intimate place. Picking up a stranger violates a handful of social and personal norms; sense of privacy, proximity between communicators, and of course, fear of strangers.

Not only is hitching a game of odds, it's also a game of rampant superstition. I believe in a handful of guidelines to increase my odds of getting a ride.

I also believe in a certain sort of "hitchhiking fate", in which there is always a ride out there, somewhere in the world. The exact moment this ride will appear is per-determined, yet unknown to me. The ride and I are both moving vessels. The object is, to reach our point of intersection at the appropriate time. At some point, or paths will cross, but when?

Sometimes, the rides you never expect stop for you. Single women and people with kids are almost always a no go. But, babies! That's a first for me.

Therefor, in order to score a ride, and decrease wait time, it is of utmost importance that I appear roadside at the proper time. How is it done? By navigating your day, be it a hiking or a town day, in the manner the day is prompting you. You can't rush to be roadside, but you cannot procrastinate, either. You can't attempt to pin point the perfect timing. You simply go about your day, whatever it is that needs to be done before the hitch, and then you do it. If something requires extra attention and time, you can't worry about it, because that is the way the day is unfolding.

I believe there is a zen element to the perfect hitch.

We had our tickets to Burning Man, we had our minds made up, now all we had to do was navigate roughly 900 miles of road. Simple, right?

Unconventional hitching maneuvers in Southern, CO. Signs read "Creede" and "Johnny Depp <---" It was worth a shot.

Analog and I took to the roadside, Reno bound. We've hitched a lot together and while it may be a game of odds he and I did what we could to turn those odds. We were good. We hit the road dedicated to getting this done. Positive energy was in place, as well as a realistic understanding of the distances we were trying to cover. 900 miles is a hell of a trip when you own a car. Without one, and with the reliance of strangers, it was ludicrous.

We reveled in our new found freedom, the absurdity of our endeavors, and the dichotomy between the Continental Divide Trail and what we were now thumbing our way into.

Twenty six hours of consecutive hitching later and we were in Reno, Nevada. Not only were we in Reno, Nevada, but we each had eight more dollars in our pockets than we did yesterday!* It was a hitch hiking record, as far as we were concerned.

There we were, in the "Biggest Little City". Two hikers, two backpacks, two tickets, and two smiles. The change of place was overwhelming and exciting and it would only increase as the week continued.

* I don't generally accept money from strangers while I am traveling, unless I am certain that they understand that I have chosen this lifestyle and I am not, in the traditional sense "homeless" or "in need". However, as we put distance between ourselves and the trail it became next to impossible to explain the nature of our trip.

** Additionally, I've got a second post nearly ready to go. It was all going to be one big ol' post, but they're really two different "chapters" in my story, so it only makes sense to break 'em apart. Stay tuned for Burning Man!