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!

A New Direction

You plan a hike, not an adventure. It isn't until plans fall apart that a true adventure unfolds.

You walk out one evening to buy a loaf of bread. Because you love french toast, obviously. Now, if you navigate the space between your home and the store, purchase a delicious loaf of whole grain goodness, and return home, no adventure has occurred. What a shame, right? Not exactly. You chose to walk, rather than drive which, along with reducing your carbon foot-print, leaves you most open to adventure when compared with alternative methods of transportation. You not only love french toast, but you're living on the edge. You've chosen adventure. It's only a matter of time before adventure chooses you!

However, let's say you leave your house headed for your favorite bakery (Ploughboy, of Salida, CO), and you deviate from the walk-purchase bread-return home, pattern. Now you're having an adventure, even if it may not be "classically" adventurous. Pirates, trolls, and treasure need not exist. It could be that something catches your eye causing you to detour. You could get lost. You could fall and injure yourself. You could meet a beautiful young lady who invites you over for a drink (in which case, it's only appropriate that you invite her back for french toast afterwards; it's the polite thing to do). The point is, an event occurs that forces a deviation from the anticipated sequence of events, "the plan", and you had an adventure! Congratulations!

I planned a thru-hike of the Continental Divide Trail. And, as it turns out, when attempting to execute a 3,000 mile cross-country trek, more than a few things will occur unplanned, often even counter to your plan. That's the way it goes, and that's the way I like it! Adventure is bound to occur.

And that's just what happened.

Something weird in Salida, CO.

Something weird in Salida, CO.

There were a variety of unexpected events on our journey from Mexico up to the Montana border, but most unexpected was my own personal change.

As the Continental Divide Trail threw trials and tribulations in both greater intensity and frequency than expected, I found myself spending a lot of time digesting who I am, and what it is I like. I still can't say I've figured it out. But, I do know that I'm a different person than I was five years ago, when I took my first steps into the world of long distance hiking.

When I began the Appalachian Trail, I did have something to prove, both to myself and to others. I was twenty at the time, in college, and doing "well". The problem was, most everything I'd ever done had come relatively easily and it could be said that much of what I had done, thus far, was dictated by society. I did it because that was simply what people do. Not to say I was a conformist; I was a long haired punk and a dabbling conservationist, but I hadn't done anything to prove myself. I committed myself to thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, without nearly the skills and experiences most would imagine, and I learned. 2,160 miles and five months later, I stood at the top of Mt. Katahdin having completed the trek.

A year later, I found myself planning a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail's western partner, the Pacific Crest Trail. This time I knew what I was doing. I knew backpacking and long distance hiking. I knew about ultra-light hiking. And I knew what worked for me. I didn't ever worry or doubt that I would finish the Pacific Crest Trail. It was beautiful, I was surrounded by great people, and it (almost) never rained. Not once did I ever even consider leaving the trail. 

Then came the Continental Divide Trail.

Not all trails have to be linear.

I was excited and had every intention to complete the trail within a single season. Only, this trail turned out to be unlike the other two trails in a lot of ways. Much of the trail felt as if existed solely as a means of connecting one interesting part to another. Much of the trail is road, sometimes even paved roads and highways. The length of the trail requires big miles to complete it in a single season, but the physical terrain and weather will do everything you can imagine to continually drag a hiker behind schedule. And, unfortunately, I found the trail community on the Continental Divide to be lacking. It isn't that their aren't good people hiking and working around the divide, because their are. But, the stresses of the trail, coupled with the level of experience most hikers have on the Divide, led to a competitive and narrowly focused community.

The CDT was rarely fun and I didn't believe I was taking much from the experience. I knew it could be done, and believe I could have completed it, if my heart was really in it.

On our way to FIBARK!

On our way to FIBARK!

In southern Colorado, I more or less quit. I was still hiking, but I had resolved to hike the trail on my own terms and if that meant I ran out of time or didn't complete it, then that was fine by me. We intended to call the shots. I had decided that the rules and stipulations as to what a thru-hike was, and what a thru-hiker does, no longer applied, because I was no longer receiving a positive gain from adhering to them. We took a lot of time off. We stayed in town when the weather was bad. We attended the Pagosa Folk and Bluegrass Festival and the FIBARK rafting festival in Salida, CO. I focused on meeting people and engaging in town, rather than strict rest and resupply.

We were the self proclaimed "worst hikers on the CDT" and we didn't care one bit.

Live music in my latest hometown, Vail, CO.

Live music in my latest hometown, Vail, CO.

I had realized that more than completing the trail in a single season, what I really wanted was to spend a summer enjoying nature, connecting with people, and having a positive experience. I realized that I was less of a solitary creature than I had believed myself to be, or perhaps had once been. While I had loved hiking the first 200 miles of the trail alone, I had to admit that I was a community oriented person.

So, by the time the idea of attending Burning Man entered the equation, it seemed unjust not to consider it. I wanted to go. I understood that hitch-hiking 900 miles away from the trail and spending at minimum a week and a half of the remaining summer would put the completion of my hike at serious risk. But I wanted to go.

To ignore that desire simply to achieve a goal and follow a plan that no longer aligned with my core values would be foolish.

It was therefor decided, if we got tickets, we would make our way to Reno, NV, and go. Then we'd evaluate our situation and continue at that point.

We hadn't quit, necessarily, we had simply taken our adventure elsewhere. Analog and I discussed exploring the Four Corners desert region after the festival. Or going to the coast. Or coming back to the trail and giving it another shot. We had no plan and no remaining agenda. We were free.

Yup. We did get a hitch in this vintage classic!

Stay tuned for more adventure. 900 miles of road in 24 hours! Reno! Burning Man! Art! People! Desert!

It aint over yet, baby!

Big Sky Deviants

I haven't hiked for over a week. And. I'm not remotely close to the Continental Divide. Actually, I'm about eight hundred and fifty miles via road from where Analog and I left the trail.*

Break time.

After leaving the lovely and rugged Wind River Mountains Analog and I worked our way to Dubios, WY. From there, we were left with options. The first option was continue following the "official" CDT route through the south-western side of Yellowstone National Park, stop at Old Faithful, then follow the trail west along the Idaho / Montana border and then eventual work back eastward. We heard that much of this hiking was difficult, but without rewarding views. Our second option, was to take a route along the eastern edge of Yellowstone and continue directly north. This route was significantly shorter and brought with it promises of exception scenery in the more rugged and less well traveled portions of Yellowstone. Without much deliberation, we chose the second option, known as the "Big Sky Variant".

Entering Yellowstone National Park

And. I highly recommend it to future thru-hikers because it is indeed beautiful.

However, that isn't to say it was easy hiking. We were well into grizzly country at this point and were forced to take the time consuming and sometimes frustrating precautions associated with that.

More so, it rained. It rained a lot.

And it was cold.

We hiked from Dubois north to the town of Cooke City, WY. Where we, again, did not hesitate to get a room, dry out, and then spend a second day drying out hoping for weather to improve.

It's one thing to be caught in a storm. It's another thing to deliberately hike into one.

We hitched back to the trail. Our ride, however, happened to be by some very generous folk who were slowly working their way to Nevada to attend the annual Burning Man festival. And so the seed was planted. We didn't have tickets. We didn't have transportation to Nevada. But, Analog and I did agree, that at least at this particular moment within our hike, the thought of an arts festival out in the Nevada desert was mighty enticing.

Analog emailed a friend and hiking buddy of his who has often attended and asked if he might know of any extra tickets floating around.

We continued to hike through more rain and ill weather. And, through herds of buffalo! In order to avoid more bad weather, and potentially scope some buffalo, we opted to walk a section of road through lower elevations within the park, thus avoiding a high ridge line, and potentially dangerous weather. Sure enough, we came across a lot of buffalo, and we found that while they have a healthy respect for large motor vehicles, they can be down-right aggressive towards us lonely bi-peds.

It was with the fear of being gored by buffalo that we may have performed a CDT first.

As we approached a herd, cars would slow to a crawl in order to navigate their way through the animals. We would then approach these cars, knock on their windows, and secure a quick ride hanging to the back of a tailgate or a jeep's side rails. It worked perfectly as we used the bulky vehicles to camouflage our pedestrian selves for a hundred yards until having passed the herd. Then a quick dismount, and on we would walk.

When we reached the in-park "town" of Mammoth Hot Springs we had to make a decision. We didn't have ticket confirmation or any firm details yet, because we didn't have phone service or internet access. But, we had judged that it had been a few days since we sent out the previous email and a response probably existed. We would have to spend an unplanned town day to find out, but again, it was rainy and cold, and we figured, "why not?"


We hitched north of the park to the town of Gardiner, MT. Made a few phone calls. Received a "yeah, I gotta check on a few things, but I think I can cover you two on tickets". And quickly arranged a work for lodging agreement with the local food pantry where we spent the day repackaging, labeling, and shelving food, as well as mulling over the pros and cons of leaving trail to attend a festival.

We both agreed, and for reasons I will further elaborate in the future, that we should take our chances, hitch to Reno, NV, and go to Burning Man. After which, we could then decide if we wanted to continue our hiking to Canada with the understanding that we had put ourselves behind schedule, or to transition, drop the CDT thru-hike, and explore the canyon lands of the southwest, or to call it a good summer and move on to the next adventure.

And so we set out to hitch from Gardiner, MT to Reno, NV, roughly 850 miles.


I've got a lot more for ya'll coming. Hitching, Burning Man, more hitching, and ultimately calling an end to the hike. It's been a lot to digest and so I'll leave the rest of the story for next time. Plus! I've got some general CDT thoughts I'd like to get out there for everyone on the world wide web, and possibly even some pointers (though I can't recommend you take any of them!)

* This post was originally started, but not completed, in Reno, Nevada on September 2nd, 2014.