In the epilogue post of my 2019 Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike, I described my quick conversion from someone who never wanted to hike another long trail to a person anxious to hike the Continental Divide Trail. It was a change of heart, to be sure, but it wasn't a full commitment.
I figured I would do a series of long section hikes. The first one I planned was the New Mexico portion of the trail in the spring of 2020. I intended to pick up where I left off and hike through Colorado in the fall. Two more trips in 2021 would be needed to complete the remainder of the trail.
Then something happened that at first made me wonder if I would hike any of the CDT at all.
Through a series of unfortunate circumstances, starting with having a wisdom tooth pulled and ending with a broken jaw, I needed surgery.
While I was waiting to be wheeled into the operating room, I felt glum. Though I was confident of my doctor and wasn't worried about a bad outcome, the whole ordeal made me feel fragile. Maybe this was just the start of the misfortunes that come with old age, I thought.
When the anesthesiologist came in to talk to me, I realized I knew her husband. She said something that I had forgotten, "Our whole family follows you on Instagram!"
She went on to say many kind words about my photos, to me and to others in the pre-op area. This uplifted my spirits, but without realizing it, her words also planted some thoughts in my sub-conscience.
After the procedure to attach a metal brace to my jawbone was completed and I was coming out of the anesthesia, I did something I had never done before. Before I was fully awake, I dreamed I was walking on a trail. It was in the desert on the CDT.
I know this seems odd, but for as many miles as I've hiked in the last few years, I had no memory until this moment of a dream about a hike.
This experience energized me. Within days, I was mapping out plans for how I would get to the trailhead. I invited my friend Tengo Hambre to join me, and we coordinated our plane and train tickets so that we would arrive in New Mexico at the same time.
In the middle of those preparations, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. We didn't need a long time to realize our trip wasn't going to happen.
For the rest of the spring and into the summer, I had to content myself with walks in my neighborhood and making beer, a lot of which I distributed to friends.
In this period of time, the desire to hike the CDT festered. I also came to ponder how temporary our phases of life can be. I was fit and healthy. I was capable now of completing an entire thru-hike, but I wondered, how long would that last?
I decided I needed to hike the whole trail and do it as soon as I could. I may not get another chance, and I may not complete it if I stretch out the effort too long.
Those thoughts might seem to be tinged in pessimism, but they gave me hope and determination. I still couldn't plan it in too much detail because I didn't know when I could safely travel to New Mexico.
A vaccine appeared to be promising, but it wasn't yet readily available. Meanwhile, New Mexico had placed a two-week quarantine on all travelers arriving from out of state. These were roadblocks for me.
All I could do was prepare and hope. Part of that preparation was doing a three-week thru-hike close to home on the Benton MacKaye Trail.
In late February 2021, I became more encouraged a full thru-hike would be possible. Because I was now 65 years old, I was able to be an early recipient of the vaccine. The timing was right for me to get the second dose and wait the recommended time before traveling to New Mexico. Around that same time, the state's quarantine order was dropped.
Tengo had other commitments now, but I was able to recruit another friend. Zigzag had hiked the Appalachian Trail the year I hiked the PCT. We intended to hike the whole trail together.
As a bonus, Polecat said he wanted to hike some of the trail with me, much as he had done for segments of the AT and PCT.
A few weeks before leaving, Zigzag, Polecat, and I made a training hike at a nearby state park. A thru-hike was finally looking like it was going to happen.
With the continued support of my wife Kim, the pieces were falling into place. Now I just needed to find out if my body could still handle the rigors of going up and down mountains for nearly six months.
As I reflected on my post-surgery dream, I wanted to take it as a sign everything would work out, that I would be able to hike and complete the CDT. But the truth is, I have difficulty believing in messages from dreams. I think they can be taken too literally, and they are easily wrapped in subjective interpretation.
Still, I believe in dreaming, the act of planning and hoping for the future. And right now, I'm intently dreaming about a wonderful experience of completing the CDT and long-distance hiking's Triple Crown.