• Mary Anderson

Trail Wisdom: Making Do

Mary Anderson is hiking the Continental Divide Trail and writing a book about it. Above: The Spanish Peaks range in Montana.


It is fairly certain that on a long hike, some piece of clothing or equipment will need repairing. We try to plan for such things, carrying small repair kits. I check my clothes periodically so I can replace something before it completely falls apart on the trail. Last year I had to glue my boots together a few times, and I needed a new shirt when the back of mine ripped from top to bottom. The over-90-year-old woman from whom I purchased the shirt, for seven dollars, sewed a pocket on it for me at no extra charge. For a few weeks I ate with sticks after my spork broke.

This year I am just starting on a new pair of shorts. My old ones are beyond repair, and I have been blessed to be given a new pair by trail angel Jackie. She is a great seamstress and made an adaptation to my shorts so that they were more functional for me on trail. I do carry a small sewing kit, though a common thread out here is dental floss. Jackie's husband, Dean, gave me a small piece of metal, and he and his son helped me splice together a rib on my umbrella that has been broken since Glacier. I’ve repaired holes in my water bag, glued and taped my eyeglasses back together, and I make do without soap, a comb, or a washing machine.


This northern half of the CDT has pushed my adaptability to new levels. I am adapting my entire route out here. It seems every few days the route I think I will take changes, due to my gleaning more information, a lack of water, the chance to hike with people, or an injury. I've had three injuries out here. The first, bursitis in my knee, I managed by adapting crutches for dirt-road hiking. I added extra padding to the crutches and eventually smartened up and wore two pairs of gel gloves to lessen blisters on my hands.

The second injury was to my foot. It had me learning to adapt my gait, and I discovered if I soaked my whole foot, boot and all, in cold water when crossing a stream it felt better, so I let my boots get wet when stream crossing. I also adapted my expectations for daily mileage.

My third injury seems to be a twisted pelvis. I’ve had this happen many times before, only I usually have someone to help me do the tugging that realigns it. As I walked the dirt roads in the national forest heading into tiny Mammoth, Montana, I wondered what I could do to help it. Then I hit upon the idea of putting one foot through the bars of a cattle fence. I tried to push the cow pies aside, but in the end I know I was lying on some old ones. I’ve learned not to be phased by them. I wedged one foot into the gate and pushed on the gate with the other foot, effectively pulling on the leg that was wedged into the gate. It wasn't a perfect solution, but it sure helped.

It got me thinking about how good I feel when I manage to make do with something. I know it used to be the way of life for most people, but I think this adaptability and creativity is being lost in a disposable world. When something is expected to break and there is enough money to replace it, the incentive to repair or adapt and make do is lost. Not only does this stress our earth's resources and fill our dumps, but it robs us of the satisfaction of feeling self-sufficient and creative enough to turn a cattle gate into a traction device.

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