The Road to The CDT: Part 1

The Road to the CDT is an ongoing series chronicling my progress towards a thru-hike of the Continental Divide Trail, a 3,100 mile corridor of wilderness with a southern terminus at the edge of New Mexico and a northern terminus on the shores of Waterton Lake in Glacier National Park, Montana.

Why hike the CDT?

Because I like squirrels and springs and walking all day.

Being “out there” is an emotional experience ingrained in American culture that in times of hardship we rediscover. The feeling is overwhelming. The effect of rejuvenation for many of us who take long hikes, however, dissipates after some time back in our metropolitan homes and must be re-kindled. So, after a little while of pondering and saving up, we must look for the next way to get our nature kicks. The CDT is the logical next step for a Pacific Crest Trail hiker like myself.

A hike of the CDT is a magical journey where things like this and this happen.

The weather is unpredictable. The bugs are oppressive. There’s no water in New Mexico. The grizzly bear patrols Montana. I might get eaten. I might die. And after all that I am still far more terrified of the idiot swerving through traffic on the highway or peering up from my death bed wishing I had when I hadn’t.

Let’s be real: long-distance hiking is mostly walking and is not a death sentence. But the CDT is still a doozy. Somewhere around a third of the journey is possible only along paths or roads that are not the final trail. It’s a whatever-floats-your-boat hike lacking the laser-guided direction of the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. You’ll get lost at times, but that sort of thing happens to people sitting on the couch too, and with far more horrifying consequences.

High ridge route or low valley route, walk or rest, boots or trail runners, each choice made on the CDT guarantees that your experience on trail is both unique to your senses and intimately relatable to others fortunate enough to have also spent months walking with themselves and with the company of the blue sky. It is that bond with strangers, powerful but disappointingly foreign to our city lives, that makes us certain that what we’re doing out there is not the oft-ridiculed “finding ourselves” but rather a melting away of that need entirely. That’s the draw, a pull that can be resisted but not for very long.

There will be many other hikes talked about on this blog, but until the CDT happens (could be this April, or it could be in 2075) it will always be The Big One.

Here are the obstacles to this hike…


-a reliable source of income to return to post-hike that:

-keeps me out of the home I grew up in
-produces laughs and not apoplectic self-loathing or catatonic depression
-pays just enough to move ramen from "occasionally necessary" to "NOPE"

-a marginal buttload of dollars allocated comfortably*

a) half a buttload for the hike and gear
b) half a buttload for post-hike reintegration 

-more practice with safe snow travel

-maintain a high level of fitness

-maintain friendships

*I was broke when I got off the PCT and had nothing lined up for afterward. Sacrifices were made in gear and food for the hike and the consequences were often amusing but were sometimes dangerous. The experience of being freezing and hungry was humbling and necessary, but I have grown a little more responsible as a result.

For those interested, here is my work in progress shoulder season gear list.


Hi All

Hi All,

Welcome to my website dedicated mostly to the thing I love most – walking around outside with a bag of stuff and things on my back.

First post following right away.

-Zach “Triv” Markman