This is our "contract" for our 2006 CDT thruhike. While it hasn't changed very much from our 1999 contract,we think the changes are significant.
I’ve been one of the more vocal advocates of the “Hike your own hike” philosophy. If you’re not familiar with the concept or with the idea of a personal "contract", you might want to read the Thruhiking Papers first. The following paragraph is a short excerpt -
When I was in "engineer school" I was taught that if I couldn't define something mathematically then I didn't really know what I was talking about. Likewise, if I can't specifically define my hike, then how will I know when or if I'm hiking my own hike? For me, "Hike your own hike" means knowing my own ground rules. It means writing my own contract and then living it. If you don't know what "your" hike is, how are you gonna know if you're hiking it? Or if you're not?
If you’ve thought about (or are willing to think about) your hopes and fears and expectations for your thruhike, and if you're willing and able to define specifically what you want your hike to be, then we believe the probability that you’ll finish the hike will be significantly increased. Personal experience is that vague and/or unrealistic expectations is one of the major reasons why people don’t finish a long hike.
We talked about our 1999 CDT hike for more than 3 years before we actually started walking. We knew what our fears and expectations were, what our “contract” was, before we started. But we didn’t actually write it down until someone asked us about it after we'd been on the Trail for nearly 6 months. Putting it on paper wasn’t a necessity for us because our “contract” was an extension of our personalities, our lifestyle and our deepest core beliefs.
I finally put our 1999 contract on paper when we were in Deming, NM - after some 2500 miles on the trail. This time we're doing it before we leave. Keep in mind that this is “our” contract – it’s not meant to fit anyone else. But it may give a few people some insight into the thought processes involved in "our" planning and execution of a thruhike. Some people will think it’s not important. Maybe they’re right. Make up your own mind, write your own contract (or not). If you do, make sure it's what "you" really want it to be.
We wanted our 1999 hike to be 'unique' and it was. So we "designed" our 2006 hike to be unique in different ways. And it was.
The only way we failed to meet our 2006 contract was that we were only out there for 6 months instead of 7. We can live with that. But it also gives us reason to go back - again. Our 2006 hike was even better than the 1999 hike.
We hope your hike will be what you want it to be, too. But only "you" can make that happen.
The 2006 Spirit Eagle contract
Those who read this should understand that this is “OUR” contract and “OUR” reasoning, based on “OUR” priorities, experiences, preferences, etc. It has no relation to what anyone else is doing, has done or will do. And it’s NOT a comment on, criticism of or comparison to anyone else’s hike – we don’t have the time, energy or inclination to judge what others are doing – we’re too busy living our own lives – our way.
The Spirit Eagle 2006 contract isn’t complicated - it still only has 5 points. And it reads like this:
- We’ll walk from the Mexican border to the Canadian border.
- We’ll be out for at least 7 months.
- We’ll see the country, meet the people and learn whatever lessons God has to teach us.
- We’ll walk the mountains and the wilderness as much as possible - and “roadwalk" as little as possible.
- Finishing the Trail is important, but not as important as enjoying the Trail. If the push to finish gets in the way, we’ll re-examine what we’re doing and why. If necessary, we’ll take 2 years to finish rather than compromise on points 1, 3 and 4.
As usual, now comes the hard part - the underlying assumptions, implications and explanations that go with that contract.
The first point of our contract raises the question - Why don’t we just follow the "official" CDT? And the answer has several parts, some of which concern the nature of the trail and some of which concern the nature of thruhiking.
First - there really is no such thing as a Continental Divide "Trail". There are “official” routes for most of the trail, there are Jim Wolf’s guidebook routes (and alternatives), there's Jardine's route, Jonathon Ley's routes, there are routes that have been used by other hikers that we read about on the internet and there are a gaggle of “undocumented” or “possible” routes. But there is no single track blazed trail in the same sense as the AT and the PCT.
Second - in keeping with contract points 3 and 4, we’re out here to see what WE want to see – not someone else’s idea of what we “should” see. So this time we'll walk different trails, visit different places than we did on our first CDT thruhike. This is the essence of "Hike Your Own Hike." This is the freedom that it gives you - for those few who can handle it.
Third - for us, thruhiking is largely about learning, personal growth and freedom - the freedom to make your own choices and to live with the consequences of those choices.
Point 2 of our contract carries implications in terms of daily mileage. To spend 6 months (~180 days) on the CDT implies a 16 to 17 mile per day average. Increasing the average mileage to 20 mpd means finishing in about 5 months. Higher mpd averages would mean even less time on the trail, an increased probability of injury or burnout, and less time to see the country, meet the people and learn what we want to learn. That would violate points 2, 3 and 5 of our contract. It’s not what we’re here for.
There are those who go out to “do” the Trail in minimum time. But that’s not why we’re here – this is a “Spiritwalk” for us. Therefore, point 2 expresses our intent to spend as much time on trail as possible. To put our philosophy succinctly:
He (and/or she) who finishes last - WINS
Point 3 - should not require explanation.
Point 4 - in 1999 we did a couple “road-walks” - like the Anaconda cutoff. We’ve talked about them and the conclusion is that, with only one exception, we won’t do those road-walks when we hike in 2006. We’ll take other routes instead. There’s no regret about what we did - simply curiosity about what the other routes are like - and an increasing preference for choosing wild and natural routes.
Point 5 is often the most difficult to keep in mind. With both of us being “thruhikers”, there's always the desire to "finish" (i.e.- get from Mexico to Canada) in one year. There's also a high probability, given our deliberate decisions about time, speed, distance and routes, that we could be stopped in Colorado or northern New Mexico or northern Montana by snow or cold and have to come back next year to finish. Resolving that conflict is always an exercise in mental discipline. It requires decisions about what we want - and then more decisions to adopt, internalize and accept the attitudes that will achieve that goal. It will also mean accepting the possibility of NOT finishing this year - and accepting that as one of the lessons we're supposed to learn.
One of the hardest parts of thruhiking is the way the push for miles can take over a hike. When it becomes an endurance test - a death march - then the purpose of the hike changes from exploring and enjoying the land and the wildlife and the people to a joyless quest for more and more miles in order to get to the end of the trail. On the CDT, that very often translates to the “race for the border” – and the destination becomes more important than the journey. For our 1999 hike, there were many days (too many) when water or weather concerns forced us to push harder than we liked. There were other times that we stretched the miles just for the fun of it, but we always tried to remember why we were there.
In 1999, we were lucky. We never lost our enjoyment of the trail. We ended the hike being sorry only that it wasn’t longer. Our contract was a good one – for us. Now we have the opportunity and desire to go back and do the hike (and the variations) that we want to do. So we will.
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Created: Fri, 06 Jan 2004
Revised: 15 Nov 2009
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