• Mary Anderson

Tipping Points, Climate Change, and the Continental Divide

Mary Anderson is hiking the 3,100-mile Continental Divide Trail and writing a book about it.

Mary at Yellowstone National Park.

On the trail, I have become acutely aware of the tipping point of many things. First, there is my pack. It is usually on the high end of weight when I leave town. Each day I eat it gets a bit lighter, except for days when I have to tank up and carry at least three liters of water. It is amazing to me how just one extra pound can make my pack go from feeling comfortable to too heavy. Some of it depends on the terrain, the weather and my stamina at the moment, but a lot of it really is the raw weight of the pack. I eat lunch and my pack feels so much better having shed just six or eight ounces. Drinking a pint of water really makes a difference, but then adding a quart instantly negates that difference. Sometimes this makes the difference for me between feeling like I am dragging or making good time.

There is a tipping point with miles hiked per day. I can do 17 or 18 miles for only so many days before I feel my body demand a zero. It seems when I do more than 20 miles per day, especially carrying water, I am more likely to feel pain for at least a few days later.

Calories, too, have a tipping point. I can be fine pulling up the last climb of the day, when suddenly, I bonk. When this happens I feel my energy drain away, and all I want to do is cry.

I try to be aware of these tipping points and stop before I reach them. I’ve always been one to push past pain, and I’m finding this is taking a toll on my aging body. I’ve learned that catching myself before the tipping point saves a lot of time fixing later problems.

Emotionally, too, I’ve learned to be aware of tipping points. This was a challenge for me to learn, because with post-traumatic stress the switch could flip in an instant. But by spending time as immersed as I am by myself on the trail, I have come to recognize the emotional tipping points and try to head them off by paying attention to what it seems I need. It is a skill many parents work to develop with their parenting.

Unfortunately, I think a lot of learning happens when we have already gone past the tipping point. We look back and say, "I wish I had . . . " I fear this is where we are at with climate change. I just hope we don’t go too far past the tipping point before enough people join together to do what has to be done to curb the damage.

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