• Mary Anderson

Attitudes About Alternate Routes

There are trail politics around alternate routes. On some trails, such as the Long Trail in Vermont, there really aren't alternate trails for people to consider. You hike from one end of the state to the other on a very well marked trail. The Appalachian Trail is also well marked and maintained. Most people follow the trail the whole way, although there are a few possible alternates. Some people scorn the alternates and even think less of people choosing them.

This happens less on the CDT. The trail is longer and has many more challenges. There are long sections with dried-up or horribly cow-fouled water sources. Snow, lightning or excessive heat can be a problem on certain high-altitude or low-desert sections. Blowdowns and lack of a true trail lead people astray. And fire closures have become the norm out here.

Some hikers still scorn those who take alternates, especially if it cuts miles or walks dirt roads, which are often easier than hiking a trail over a mountain. But in general it is accepted that the CDT is a "make you own adventure" trail.

This is both a plus and a minus for me. I like the challenge of having to find my own way at times. But I also like having a well-maintained trail that I can follow without concern over being lost. I like knowing where my next water source is. It allows me to let my mind wander as I walk.

I think a lot of long-distance hikers have their identity tied up in doing the trail and in the number of miles hiked each day. It is one of the internal things we wrestle with out here. Those who resolve it seem less inclined to scorn other hikers. It reminds me to remain mindful of the times I project my insecurities or other feelings onto others in a judging way. I have thought by the time I reached my mid sixties I was beyond doing that, but to my horror, it creeps up from time to time.

The saying out here is "Hike your own hike." It takes a lot of courage to do that, bucking the norm at times, going deep within and deciding what it is you are out here for, and then hiking from that place to have no regrets at the end.

It is the way I aspire to live my life: with no regrets. I want to be open to all the alternate possibilities that come my way, comfortable with the choices I make without judging others for the life they choose to live. I want to remember we are all muddling along the best we can.


Above: Trail maintenance crew. Mary notes that she is older than their combined ages.

39 views1 comment