Reflections on the Continental Divide Trail

Writing about some thoughts that have been bouncing in my head

It’s been a few months since we last spoke! Last I wrote I was nervous as hell and excited to hike the Continental Divide Trail. Now I come back to you on the other side, a more accomplished and slightly changed person. It was quite the journey and now it’s time to come back to life and back to reality.

Update on Substack Status

First and foremost I want to tell you the good news. I will continue to be writing about semiconductors on Substack! I still am overwhelmed by the outpouring of support I’ve received and more than anything the hike got me stoked to get back to work. I have never felt more confident in writing a Substack and I’m feeling refreshed but still like some part of me is still on trail.

My plan, for now, is to offer a free post and start the paid substack again. So you should expect Substack to start billing you again in early October. Doing a lot of research to get the writing schedule back, so it’s a process. Also, I’m doing a relaunch so watch for big things coming!

Luckily for me, it looks like we have quite the schedule of events coming up.

My plan is to cover the analyst days and then slowly start doing some work on where we are in the cycle. I have a lot of subjects I want to write about and a few longer-term projects I’m excited to tell you about.

For now, I’m just trying to get readjusted to life, both literally and in the world of semiconductors. It’s a bit jarring to go back into the writing routine after walking 12 hours a day, so please forgive me if I’m a little rusty. I’ll get back there in no time. We have a lot of work to do.

But before all of that, I’d like to just share some consolidated thoughts about my adventure. It’s taken me a while to even get pen to paper, but writing about it has been very cathartic for me. Feel free to reach out to me and email me if you have any other questions. Talking about the experience is how I’m processing it.

Reflections from Trail

I thought it would be best to just answer a self-interview on topics that I have thought quite a bit about since I started on trail. The Continental Divide is a 3,100-mile-long trek from Mexico to Canada along the Continental Divide. It passes through some of the most remote areas of New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana. It took me 148 days.

Why Do You Hike?

One of the hardest questions to answer on trail when we met strangers was “Why do you even do it?” or some permutation of this question. To be honest with you, I don’t think I can answer it. My go-to short answer is “it’s an adventure,” but the longer answer gets so complicated that on further thought I don’t think I know why I hike.

I think I hiked the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) because I love challenges. I really like pushing myself, and the CDT was the hardest thing I could imagine. I think I hike because I love the outdoors and the simplicity. Life is really simple when you step down Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and I found a lot more meaning and purpose to the day-to-day of hiking than I ever did while in the “real world.”

I think I hiked because I wanted a set of experiences that I get to keep till I die. But honestly, there were many moments where I would’ve disagreed with each of those statements. So I don’t really know. Sometimes I hated the challenges, sometimes I didn’t care about views, and sometimes there was nothing more in the world that I wanted than to be at home and comfortable. So to sum it up I still think “because it’s an adventure” is my favorite answer. Some questions remain unanswered.

What Was It Like?

Man, this is a hard thing to answer. I posted quite a few beautiful photos, and a few stories, but I hate to say it but photos don’t do it justice.

It’s hard to “bottle a feeling”  and even just writing about the whole experience feels like a sham. I can’t just say “it was awesome” or “breathtaking” because those words don’t mean shit. There were moments of ecstasy, fear, joy, boredom, comradeship, beauty, and so on. But the thing I can tell you for certain is that each of those feelings came in the largest doses I’ve ever taken.  

I feel like the extremity of emotions both high and low is unique to what a long trail (or through-hike) has to offer. The trail offered insane situations over and over, and within hours I could go from the highest highs to the lowest lows and that’s central to the whole hike. I feel like I got to know myself better in those moments because I had never felt true moments of fear or joy in those proportions ever before. And in each moment I reacted in ways that frankly surprised me and taught me something about myself I didn’t know before.

But before I sound too sappy I want to have one friendly reminder to the reader: There’s a lot of hiking in through-hiking. One of the people in my trail family (Dusty) started with a long-time friend who quit pretty quickly into the hike. I think he forgot the primary activity of a through-hike, is well, HIKING. There are cool stories and such but they are just small punctuations between the reality of day-in, day-out hiking. That’s what we really did, we hiked 12 to 14 hours a day, day-in, day-out. All the other moments of serendipity came as but brief breaks between the primary directive, HIKING.

And man did we HIKE! Toward the end of my hike, I would split my day into quarters and hike whatever that amount would be, and then take a break. So let’s say I hiked 28 miles a day, that would mean four 7-mile blocks of hiking. At 3 mph that is ~2 hours and 20 minutes of hiking before a ~30-minute long break and then repeating that process three more times. Afterward, I would sleep and repeat it all again. Over and over and over for some 148 days punctuated by tons of days off. That is what hiking is like. I can’t begin to tell you how grueling yet wonderful it was.

What Were Some of Your Highest Highs?

This one is kind of easy to answer. The recipe for a high was pretty simple, a shared experience with friends, something beautiful, and serendipity. Some memorable ones were the day we had an easy day in Glacier with Skeebs, Dusty, and Kalidoscope (trail names), and the day walking around Old Faithful with Dusty.

Summiting mountains always were literal highs, like the time I did Mount Elbert with Toeby. I’m also really social so I think that day where we took a zero at Doc Campbell’s (didn’t hike forward) and stayed in the hot springs with Pogo, Jazzhands, MagicHat, NoNo, Season Pass, and Smudge. That was a really good moment and the real “beginning” of the whole adventure in my book.

What Were Some of Your Lowest Lows?

OH MAN. There were a lot of lows but I think the three that really stick out to me were:

  • Deciding to keep hiking through sickness, which was painful and terrible. 3 days of hacking my lungs up while deliriously hiking up mountains was challenging. It would take me 5 hours to hike 10 miles and it hurt like hell.

I don’t really want to go further in detail, but I think I can make a very generalized statement about how all of my lows sucked. First, I was alone all three times. Second, it meaningfully shook my thoughts towards how I viewed myself. I realized each time I was weaker and less daring than I thought and they were all huge ego checks of varying sizes. Lastly, I think each time was kind of stupid and if a few more terrible things could’ve happened it would’ve been bad. Those kinds of experiences are true fear and shake you.

What Were The People Like?

Something you may have noticed is that I mentioned my highs were almost always shared with someone, and my lows were almost always alone. I think this is a natural segue to one of my favorite parts of trail, and that is the PEOPLE.

If you knew me on trail at all, I want to say thank you for every moment we shared together. I am sorry if I was grumpy sometimes (this is specifically for Dusty) but I promise there was not a person I didn’t like.

The people of the CDT are some of the greatest. I learned a lot from many of my friends, and I love the diversity and crazy backgrounds everyone came from. It ranged from a guy who was independently wealthy after selling his business, all the way to people who were professional vagabonds. And it didn’t matter one bit. The trail united us no matter where we came from or what we “did.” Hiking was our profession and good vibes were the most important thing.

First, I have to say that the whole “what do you do” question in America has to be the most overvalued statement ever. I truly could not care less about what you do but rather cared about how was it being around you and were you kind and enjoyable company. Your political views, your ethnicity (to be fair it skews extremely white), and where you’re from really did not matter. The real question was did I enjoy spending time with you? More often than not that’s a yes and then in my book, you are family.

One of the coolest things is the instant connection hikers have to each other. There is a secret language in the way you walk, the clothes you wear, and the way you smell. I felt like a meerkat sometimes. I would be talking to another hiker and then I would perk up and be like “yo that’s hiker” and we would both look over. We were always trying to say hi and meet a new hiker or just shoot the shit with friends.

I was always amazed at our ability to just gossip and yammer for hours. One time in particular I went to Glacier National Park to get permits at 5 am in the morning and Point3, Samwise, Carrot, and I talked for three hours laughing like madmen the entire time. The other people in line must have thought we lost it! What’s weirder yet was it was the first time I’d spent with them and it was like we knew each other for years.

Many times people would ask how long we’d been hiking together and I’d be like, “I met this person yesterday.” That connection was just so deep and so instant. They were the only ones in the world who truly could understand me. I miss that about through-hiking. Your family was all around you, and the only cost of admission was hiking a long-ass distance.

What is a Trail Name?

This is one of my favorite things to talk about — trail names. A trail name is pretty much the fake name that all the other hikers call you by. You can name yourself but that’s kind of weird, so usually, your friends around you name you for some event or something that happened to you. I was named “Hobotoe” because I kept breaking my toe socks and my toes would stick out like, well, hobos’ toes.

You don’t just get named a shitty name and have to take it. It’s up to you to accept it, and in the beginning, I tried out a few names but nothing stuck. However, sometimes if everyone introduces you before you meet them, well that’s what people are going to call you. In Grants, New Mexico, Cloppy and McGoober introduced me as Hobotoe to everyone, and boom the name stuck.

I think something that doesn’t translate well is that trail names aren’t supposed to be cool names. They’re best when weird as hell. I mean Hobotoe isn’t exactly flattering, but I love it. It was a one-of-a-kind name and it has a cool cadence that I love when screamed. I can think of a few times where my friends just screamed “HO BO TOE” and that memory makes me smile.

The worst in my opinion was having a name that was really generic. A good example is anything bird-related. I met so many freaking bird names, like Freebird (cool guy), Strangebird (strange guy), LongBird (long guy?), etc., etc. Or if your name was something so generic you’d be asked “Hey, did you hike the Appalachian Trail in 2017?” and you’re like, no, that must be another guy called Cake.

This brings me to my next point. I truly believe that through-hiking is a cult and the loss of our government names is an important part of that. Think about it — we change our names, spend time away from our loved ones, and endure insane shared hardship to create a little tribe that had a pretty hardcore “us versus them” mentality. I fucking loved it. Trail names are important, trail names are fun, and man I miss being called Hobotoe (preferably shouted).

Some trail names of the people I hiked with this summer, in no particular order:

Pogo, Cloppy, Mcgoober, Buckmild, Toeby, Dusty, Scoutmaster Keebs a.k.a. Skeebs, Catwater, Oldtimer, Davinci, Snowcone, Snowballs, Fire Hazard, Spidermonkey, Gravity, Kaleidoscope, NoNo, Pax, Chillzen, Riddles, Dog Gone, Jazzhands, Salty, Loverboi, MagicHat, Melon, Pantry, PDF, Bison, WizardSpoon, Poly, Riverdance, Cake (x2), SoGood, Topo, 2Taps, Bullet, Spamcake, Cheeto Jackson, Spench, Peach Fuzz, Lizard, Paddles, Little Sprout, Big Sprout, Tumbleweed, Crispy, LongBird, Blitz, Money, Nude Beach, Horse, Road Runner, Carrot, Point3, Samwise, Thirteen, Shepard, Fried Green Tomatoes, The Brown Streak, Bellows, Beta, Farmhouse, Prince, Crunch, IBTAT, Tapeworm, Bud, Tex, Oldhead, Stubbs, Frisbee, Trigger, Savage, Machine, Mooch, Wild Turkey, Sugar Mama, Animal, Moose, Sunshine, Teton, and probably a few more that I’m missing.

I miss ya’ll.

Did You Hitchhike? What is Trail Magic?

Hitchhiking was pretty crucial to hiking. Whenever you poked out of the wilderness after a three-to-seven-day stretch you would have to resupply, and the trail spits you out oftentimes in the middle of nowhere. In New Mexico, we walked into the towns, but in Colorado onwards, we would have to hitch.

I really enjoyed hitchhiking.

It would be the logical beginning and end of each section of trail, so whenever I put the thumb up it was like a chapter was closing. I met some really cool people as well. Some of them were just really kind strangers, some gave me the hives (looking at you Lincoln hitch). It was all part of the experience.

Hitchhiking obviously has a bit of a negative connotation these days. More aligned with serial killers than with through-hiking. My overwhelming experience was super positive and I think you have to believe in the goodness of people. Because despite whatever you’ve been told, people are way more often good than not. This is the obvious time to talk about TRAIL MAGIC.

Trail Magic is just the term that is given to any external help that is given to you on trail. A cooler that said “hikers” with some Dr. Pepper (sugar crack) was a blessing. A meal that is given to you by another camper, also a blessing. When you have so little, each and every little act of kindness is akin to magic, hence “Trail Magic.” The people who perform Trail Magic are “Angels” or Trail Angels.

It’s really sometimes just as easy as asking. I met this guy Spidermonkey who just asked relentlessly and he got a lot in return. I really think that the only thing stopping humans from helping each other is just a little friendly reminder.

One of my favorite trail stories is the Tacklebox Boys on their roadwalk around the Morgan Creek Fire managed to get 40-something beers, multiple pizzas, and put up in a cabin for free! Just by holding up a sign that said “Beer?” People really just needed a gentle nudge, because the kindness we give each other is priceless.

I had so many wonderful little interactions with people that I don’t know where to start. But I have to say, sometimes you really hit the jackpot. People are so kind and the trail will teach you this lesson with so much force that it will change how you view others forever. Take it from some friends of mine, who literally got flown in a prop plane by trail angels who let five stinky hikers stay at their house. That is magic, and that man is an angel.

A post shared by @graceluscher

Would You Do It Again?

Hell yes. But I need to do some real-world stuff for a while. It’s going to be a bit before I’m out on a long trail again. So don’t worry, Substack readers, it’s good to be back to semiconductor investing for now!