MATT SCHUBERT’S OUTDOORS COLUMN: Port Angeles graduate hikes Continental Divide Trail

SOME DUDES WERE made for walking.

Port Angeles native Dylan Carlson is one of those types.

The 26-year-old Port Angeles High School Class of 2001 alum is a veteran thru-hiker (or long-distance hiker, as the layman might say).

He’s traversed roughly 5,000 miles of trail in numerous pairs of boots, including a pair of long-distanced treks that would make even Lewis and Clark blush.

Three years ago he and college friend, Sarah Bronstein, hiked the entire Pacific Northwest Trail from the Continental Divide all the way to Cape Alava, nearly 1,200 miles.

Yet that was mere child’s play compared to his solo trip this summer along the Continental Divide Trail.

He passed through five states (New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana) and four national parks during the 137-day trip, encountering rain, snow, triple-digit temperatures and a whole lot of cow manure.

He began at Palomas, Mexico, near Deming, N.M, and approximately 2,800 miles later he was in Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada.

If he were a car, he’d be in need of an oil change. As it is, he could use a little rest.

After all, the man traveled across the United States on foot.

Although, he admitted, “It’s the short way.”

I think we can forgive him for that.

Longtime hiker

Carlson developed a love for hiking as a member of the Boy Scouts in Port Angeles.

His first big hike was a 50-mile trek across Olympic National Park when he was 11 years old. He’s been hooked every since.

“It was something I enjoyed,” he said, “it was something I was good at, and it was something that made me feel stronger and fitter.”

In the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), the second longest of the 11 National Scenic Trails designated by Congress, Carlson had found the ultimate challenge.

The CDT Web site (www.cdtrail.org), estimates its length at 3,100 miles. Yet because the trail is still a work in progress — Carlson himself got lost on a handful of occasions — there’s no real way of knowing the exact distance.

It is one leg of the “Triple Crown” of thru-hiking, the Appalachian and Pacific Crest trails being the two others.

“That’s sort of the holy grail for hikers, finishing all three of those,” Carlson said. “[The CDT] is the longest and most challenging of the National Scenic trails in the country.

“Anytime you walk across the country, it has its ups and its downs.”

Yes, as the trail name denotes, the CDT follows the Continental Divide. That means one must endure high elevations, cold temperatures and thin air.

While many Americans were working on their suntans and lighting off fireworks July 3, Carlson was hiking through snow in the rugged San Juan Mountains of southern Colorado on trails as high as 13,000 feet in elevation.

It was one of three days he ran into snow, another coming when he forded the headwaters of the Snake River.

That’s what Carlson, a political consultant and campaign manager in Olympia, calls a summer vacation.

“You have to suffer through a little bit of the bad to get to the good,” said Carlson, once a member of the Hurricane Ridge Ski Team.

“You trudge through a snowy overpass, and it makes your feet wet and cold. But it also makes it sparkly and beautiful.

“There’s times when you get into camp and you don’t even see where you’re camping, and all of the sudden you wake up [in the morning] and see a herd of elk.”

Steady clip

Carlson averaged about 20 miles per day during his hike, getting up to a clip of about 27 miles by the end of his journey.

He carried a pack that weighed anywhere between 11 and 35 pounds, depending upon how much food he was hauling at the time.

He purchased food and boxed it up prior to his trip, with his mother, Judy, mailing boxes to different stops along the trail.

It was nothing fancy, just lots of pasta, dried beans, rice or other basic carbohydrates that require only boiling water to cook.

“You get into camp and you’re just so tuckered out,” Carlson said. “Food was important, but cooking wasn’t a big priority on this trip.”

A skinny fellow naturally, Carlson never did lose much weight during the trip. He did, however, gain his share of blisters while also dealing with stiffness in his knees and shin splints.

Carlson befriended a number of hikers along the way, many of whom had the same goal as he. Some came and went, but by the time he reached Canada he was with three other hikers.

“Some folks you know for a night, some folks you know for a week, and some folks you know for a state,” he said.

He and his posse finished the hike on Sept. 24, just a few days after autumn arrived.

“Finishing the hike was extremely rewarding to see a long-term goal checked off and to see the finish line that had been in my mind’s eye for so many months,” he said.

“I wasn’t ready for summer to be over, and I wasn’t ready to be done camping every night, but I sure was done walking 25 miles every day.”

No doubt he’ll change his tune once those blisters heal.

________

Matt Schubert is the outdoors and sports columnist for the Peninsula Daily News. His column regularly appears on Thursdays and Fridays. He can be reached at matt.schubert@peninsuladailynews.com.

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