Q: Who are you? And what are you about to do?
A: Hi there! I'm Gretchen, AKA "Scribe", a mid-thirties vagabond from Ohio who loves personal growth audiobooks, chai tea lattes, building community to survive late stage capitalism and everything outdoors. I left my cushy corporate career in 2019 to thru hike and have never looked back. Beginning in late June, I am setting out to backpack the Continental Divide Trail, which runs approximately 3,100 miles from Canada to Mexico through the Rocky Mountains. I will be heading southbound and will be trekking alone, although hopefully I will meet some other wonderful hikers along the way.
Q: This isn't your first thru-hike: What made you want to return to the trail for another go-round?
A: It took me two tries to thru hike the PCT, and I've done the Colorado Trail as well. The Continental Divide Trail has always loomed in my mind as the most intimidating of the big 3 long distance trails in the US, and although it always called to me, I was afraid of it. Now, with over 4000 miles of backpacking experience, I feel prepared to tackle this choose-your-own-adventure behemoth. I strive to one day earn my Triple Crown of hiking, so this is a logical next step! For why I thru hike, see the next question.
Q: What do you seek outdoors—is it the scenery, the peace and quiet, or is it community? What is the reason you’ve built your life around being outdoors?
A: Those things are the big three that people always mention and they absolutely are things I seek, although you can find those (albeit in smaller doses) on less demanding hikes as well. There is something that changes in you when you're out there for a while, and for me, it never changed back. When I am not on trail, I crave that life. Not the pain or hunger or constant urgency to keep moving, but the purpose and the freedom and the person I become. You leave your entire life behind and eventually the masks and walls that go with it fall away. Your fears and insecurities shrink as you prove to yourself that you CAN do this, and slowly you become this strong, capable, feral creature that is intensely connected to nature. Simply, when I thru hike, I am seeking my truest, most secure self.
Q: What did you struggle with most on your first thru-hike? How are you hoping to overcome that this time around?
A: I had a LOT of pain on my first two hikes, more than what many hikers seem to experience, including getting a stress fracture in my foot that ended my first PCT attempt. I changed shoes from the popular Altras to much more padded and supportive Hokas which helped my foot pain immensely. I now use kinesiology tape to support my joints and do regular yoga and targeted stretches and warmups every day. I also changed my diet from standard hiker fare to healthier homemade options. This time, I am focusing more on nutrition, reducing my sugar and caffeine intake while supplementing with some natural remedies to help manage inflammation, energy and stamina.
Q: Best food combo you've cooked up on trail? And the worst?
A: Because I am vegan, I make a lot of my own food ahead of time. There's a tie for best meal: Polenta with Peppers (based on legend Andrew Skurka's recipe which is on his website) and Pasta Marinara with Portobello Mushrooms (Ramen, tomato paste in a tube, dried mushrooms, Italian seasoning, olive oil). I could eat just those two things for an entire thru hike and be happy! The key is to take some shake parmesan cheese along with you—you can get a vegan version online. The worst combination was Key Lime Oats. I figured something a little weird and different would be fun but that was NOT the way to go.
Q: What are you most looking forward to on the CDT?
A: I am actually very much looking forward to the challenges of this trail. This will be the most secluded trail I have done and I struggle with day-after-day solitude, so I am looking forward to tackling that and to finding ways to keep my mind occupied through the quiet. This trail is also full of alternates and options for your route, as well as tricky terrain and dangerous weather conditions. I am looking forward to putting my navigational skills to use and testing my abilities in new ways.
Q: Talk about the gear you've chosen to bring with you—have you had any personal experiences or preferences that influenced your choices?
A: I will always carry an Osprey pack on my thru hikes because of the way that they can carry extra weight and their lifetime guarantee. I have tried a popular ultralight frameless pack and it was TERRIBLE for the long water carries on the PCT, but my Osprey handled it like a champ. It got quite a bit of damage from my PCT thru hike, and they replaced it with a brand new pack, no questions asked. I am very excited to try out the Zenbivy Synthetic Core Bed and Light Mattress- initial trials suggest that I will able to rotisserie and thrash all I want without restriction or drafts! I carry a JetBoil for my stove, a Lightheart Gear rain jacket, and a Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo tent. Most of my gear is pretty standard but one unique item that I will NOT hike without is my pStyle- not having to take off my pack, squat, or expose myself to mosquitoes when I need to "go" is an absolute game-changer!
Q: Any parting thoughts as you get ready to set out on trail?
A: I am endlessly grateful for the privilege I have that allows me to do long distance hikes like this one. Without the generosity of family, friends, sponsors, and communities of trail angels all their giving time, energy and resources in support of my hikes, these endeavors would be far more complex and formidable, perhaps impossible. I am continually awed by how emotionally invested others (even strangers) become in my hikes and am so appreciative of the outpouring of encouragement and positivity. Many thanks to my mother, who despite much hand-wringing, has always supported my adventures no matter how crazy they sounded or how worried she was. Thank you mom and everyone else for the incredible, immeasurable support!