Sometimes I wonder if I've hung on to my military experiences more than I should. It's the "High School Football Problem" where some guy is still talking of high school football glory days well into college when everyone else had long moved on. Is the veteran experience similar? Will I always be stuck in 2009, clinging to my life's most significant experiences?
For the most part, I don't think anyone would ever reasonably compare the two. The nine years I spent in the Army include a majority of the most impactful experiences in my life up to this point. I think it is perfectly reasonable to expect someone to dwell on the things that have had the greatest impact and significance to them, and for that exact reason, I think it is important to find something else. It isn't healthy to constantly dwell on past accomplishments or constantly live in the past. You can be proud of it; you can reminisce, but you should also continue to grow and experience new elements of life and constantly reshape the way you identify yourself.
I need that next major goal in life. It may betray some type of weakness in me to say I need to identify as something different than the current version of me, but I see that need as a call to grow and continue to challenge myself beyond my comfort zone. My military experiences between the age of 18 and 28 built the core of who I am as man today but every significant accomplishment outside of that experience helps me round out as a person. My MBA from the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business was instrumental in helping me begin to shape myself in a post-Army professional life. That significant civilian-world accomplishment added a whole different dimension to how I identify myself and the experiences I draw in during everyday activities. When it comes to military transitions to the civilian world, the completion of that program did wonders for me and now I'm ready for another, equally transformative experience.
I have wanted to through-hike a long trail like the Appalachian or PCT ever since I completed my first backpacking trip at Glacier National Park in 2002 with my best friend Andy. Last summer, that very same Andy told me about bikepacking which is where someone packs all their camping gear on a mountain bike and goes on a multi-day mountain biking trip. Furthermore, he told me people did it on the Colorado Trail all the time. We have some familiarity with the trail having hiked two sections of it in 2005. The idea was born there in his kitchen. He and I are going to either ride our mountain bikes or hike the entire 490 mile distance of the Colorado Trail in one trip.
Colorado Trail - View From Mountain Pass
We're calling this trip the "Through 2." In backpacking, a trip like this is typically referred to as a "Through-Hike." We don't have time to hike the 500 mile Colorado Trail and you can't mountain bike the entire trail since some of it goes through Wilderness Areas that are off limits to bikes. So we figured that we will either be on two feet or two wheels the entire time and will just call it a Through 2.
I dreamt big for my first 35 years of life and I was able to make most of those dreams a reality. I think it is critically important to mental health and happiness to always have a big goal on the horizon; it gives you something to focus your everyday energy on and feel like you are moving ahead in life.
This goal, unlike some of the previous ones in my life, is centered on the outdoors and my own human-power to accomplish. Being in nature like that just makes you realize how insignificant you really are and what is really important in life. The trail you run and the mountains you cross were there millions of years before you (or humankind) were and will be there millions of years after you and I have long decomposed back into the Earth. How can you be stressed out about your TPS Reports at work or any of the hundreds of other stressors in your everyday life with that inescapable truth pounded into you every second of every step or pedal stroke? That realization and ongoing discussion with the world through steps or pedal strokes always ends with a true appreciation of the only thing that really matters in life to me - the value of the "present." The "present," in my perspective, is each breath of air and its smell, the sounds around me, and the seconds and minutes I have with my wife and family when I'm with them. I don't know how to explain it but it is like time slows down and you start to notice and appreciate the small details of everything around you, making the world look like a completely different place.
Colorado Trail - Campsite
The current plan is to ride in 2021. Four years is a long time away you might say. Well, you are right. Earlier in life I might have been able to make up my mind, train, and knock something out like this within a year or two. Now, I happen to be a dad in a growing family with bills to pay and little mountain biking experience. With that in mind, four years doesn't even seem like enough time to:
- Accumulate the vacation at work
- Save the money needed for gear
- Plan logistics for a four week trip
- Train up so I'm competent enough for the challenge
Getting away from the family on the weekends over the next few years to train for 50 mile days on a mountain bike will be the greatest challenge of all. It is a hell of a great goal to accomplish and this serves as the official announcement. When this is done, I expect that I will:
- be a happier man overall
- have better focus on the things that matter most in life
- Be a better husband and father
- Continue to grow as a person and be able to identify as something more than I am today
Both Andy and I will be posting on our progress here and it will include everything from the initial research to planning to training to gear reviews. I'm really excited to share this story as we go. My buddy Andy is the most knowledgeable and skilled outdoor sports guy I know and he could totally do this trip within the year without me holding him back. Consider me, your proxy. Our posts will show you that if I can go from the couch to the Colorado Trail with the right research, planning, training, and expedition partner, then you can do whatever you want in life with the same formula.
We are average dads. We're not professional recreationists nor do we have rich uncles in foreign countries that left us a million dollars. We're scraping calendars and budgets to find time and money to make some pipe dreams come true and you can too.
Colorado Trail - Solitude