The Great Divide Trail Pt4 – The Smoky Path South

The Great Divide Trail is a physically challenging trail.

I’ve been hiking twelve to fourteen hours a day to achieve 35k a day or so (or 21+ miles when I am across the American border again. 🙂 )

Though my East Coast jaunt put some pounds on my Gimli if he had a distant Mediterranean cousin frame, that weight melted along with extra mass I did not plan. The New England seafood, Italian-American bakeries, NC BBQ, and Atlanta soul-food are long gone.

But so are the Colorado craft beers.

And the Canada-bought dried sausage, food bars, mashed potato flakes, trail mix AND burger, fries, and Imperial pints in town are not sticking around long either! 🙂

Picture a balaclava and a black fleece instead!

My Appalachian Trail thru-hike in 1998 was the last time I’ve felt this hungry and possessed this kind of metabolism overall.

Except in 1998, I possessed a 24-year old’s metabolism to start, my pack weight overall doubled my current pack weight, and the AT took me five months instead of about a month.

So, yes, physically the GDT can be challenging. Fair to say most hikers experience roughly a 20% drop in daily distance coupled with longer days to achieve that distance goal.

But that is not a complaint. More of an observation.

The trail is more of a Type 2 fun experience overall.

It is my nature not to remember the difficulty, however. But I’d rather remember the beauty and how fortunate I am to be walking the spine of the Canadian Rockies.

The other issue the past week or so has been more some smoke obscuring the horizon.

Unlike my friends now in Banff, the smoke I am seeing is more of a nuisance than a possible health issue never mind making the trail unenjoyable.

I timed it well.

Oh, there is another closure to the south now. But it is more of a preventative closure. Smoke should be minimal.

I plotted out a route that should legally take me to Waterton Lakes and avoid another closure still on the place from last year. With minimal road walks. And if the closure expands, I have a backup plan that is mainly improved jeep road walking. Knock on wood!

But, as mentioned, I’ve been blessed.

Crossing alpine passes, walking for days at a time without seeing people, hearing wolves howl, and seeing scenes of enchantment every day.

And serendipity comes into play that adds to the experience. I am walking down an improved jeep road and who do I see taking a rest break? My friends Naomi and Mike heading north!

I normally do not take selfies. But I will with friends. My friend Wendy admonished me on my selfie amateurism. 🙂

I cherish these moments. They are why I gave up a steady and well-paying job in IT. Looking at scenes of enchantment on my wall calendar tacked on the beige side of my cubicle or gazing at photos of past trips decorating my apartment wall is not the same as seeing new passes, eating wild huckleberries on a hot day of hiking, or meeting friends on an obscure road along The Great Divide.

I walk the path. A path loved by many. Not just thru-hikers. But trail volunteers. Outdoors people of all types who appreciate the Canadian Rockies and their majesty.

The GDT is perhaps where the CDT was about 20 years ago.

A trail becoming more well-known. And increasingly more maintenance done by an active organization.

But the trail, even if it gets to the current CDT standards, will always be wild, remote, and bountiful in experiences that satisfy the soul.

Experiences satisfying on some level beyond pretty scenery or another acronym to add to the alphabet soup resume’.

Experiences that make a person realize that almost a full year into a sabbatical, the beige box can’t be returned to again. Ever.

As we passed on, it seemed as if those scenes of visionary enchantment would never have an end.” —Meriwether Lewis, 1805

And that is the gift I’ve received from the GDT in particular and my sabbatical in general. To know again on a gut level that the scenes of visionary enchantment somehow need to be part of my life on a regular basis.

Not as a weekend escape from an office job slowly sapping away energy and making the outdoor experiences ancillary to my life.

To not merely look at a photo by my bookcase and see Chaco Canyon. And know  I am too busy to go there again anytime soon.

I need to go to Big Bend or the Grand Canyon or across the alpine tundra in the Canadian Rockies not to escape my daily life.

But instead, I am going to Big Bend or the Grand Canyon or across the alpine tundra in the Canadian Rockies because it is my life.

The GDT is tough. It is not always euphoric fun.

Instead, it is a trail that is not leading just back to America.

But, like my Appalachian Trail thru-hike twenty years ago, it is a trail leading to a new direction in life.

In a few days, my trek on the GDT will finish.

But I know the journey I started in September 2017 is continuing onward.

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5 years ago

Beautiful trail. Congratulations on your journey.

Grace cassel
Grace cassel
5 years ago
Reply to  SeanE

Thanks for the inspiration Paul!
I am starting my journey on the colorado trail in a few days biking- looking forward to this, but a little anxious too! Happy Trails- grace

5 years ago

I have enjoyed reading your journals, being along for the ride so to speak. But, most of all relating to your sentiment of finding challenge in nature that can transform your everyday life into something that many/most people will never “feel”. The gratitude felt after misery can make you appreciate life’s simplest pleasures. It is truly a gift to be relished. Thanks.

5 years ago

Vicariously living the trail life through your posts. Thank-you!