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Shawn Bryan Mar 11th, 2021
Shawn Bryan's 2021 CDT Thru-Hike

For my posts here, I will be using some terms that are either unique to the long distance hiking community or take on a unique flavor to hikers. For those who may not know them, here they are (in no particular order). Note: I don’t pretend to be an authority on these since I am a noob (see below). This is just what I have learned while researching my hike over the last year, including many blogs and vlogs. I am sure others with more experience would differ. It is at least what I mean when I use the terms. Note 2: This list will not include backpacking gear. I will define gear as I go.

Noob (or newbie): within this context, someone new to either hiking in general or long distance hiking in particular. That is me.

Hiking: backpacking. Before this, I always thought of hiking as a day hike. However, long distance backpackers refer to themselves as hikers. For these posts, hiking will mean backpacking.

Thru (sometimes through) hike: completing a long distance trail. Sometimes within a set timeframe. For example a thru hike of the Appalachian Trail must be completed within a 12 month period. (No timeframe is set for the CDT.) (What exactly defines a thru hike can be hotly debated.)

Section hike: hiking a part (potentially a large part) of a long trail.

AT: Appalachian Trail PCT: Pacific Coast Trail CDT: Continental Divide Trail (Many long trails are known by their abbreviation, but these three are the most well known and tie in to the next definition.)

Triple crown (related: triple crowner): completing a thru hike of the AT, PCT, and CDT. For those completing their triple crown, the CDT is usually the last trail for various reasons. I am hopeful to meet some folks completing their triple crown this year.

NOBO: northbound

SOBO: southbound (The three triple crown trails run north- south. There are long distance trails that run east-west but no common terms have developed there; WEBO? EABO?)

Flip and flip-flop: terms applied when completing a thru hike by skipping a section forward (because of weather, fire closures etc) with the intent to come back and complete that section (a flip) or actually skipping to the other end of the trail and completing the trail the opposite direction (flip-flop). For example on the CDT, if there is heavy snow remaining in Colorado in June for a NOBO hiker, they may flip to Glacier National Park and then go SOBO; that is a flip-flop. A more common occurrence on the CDT than on other trails.

Leave No Trace (LNT): A set of principles to encourage minimizing impact on our wilderness areas and public lands and to share the trail with others. So “pack out what you pack in”, for example, falls within LNT. https://lnt.org/why/7-principles/

Hike-Your-Own-Hike or HYOH: this one stirs up some debate, so my take on the subject here. It takes on two meanings, one internal and one external. Internal: don’t let others define your hike. This can range from what gear to use or is ‘best’, what pace or mileage to hike, when to take a day off, etc. This can be difficult for a noob since you are learning. But it can lead to worrying needlessly or pushing yourself too hard. Especially a problem if you are hiking with a group. Enjoy the hike! External: don’t impose yourself on someone else’s hike. That doesn’t prevent you from helping out when asked or when someone is in distress, but even then treat the other with respect. Violating HYOH can happen simply by bragging; for example, “My base weight is 9 pounds” when it is obvious the person next to you is carrying much more. Just don’t be ‘that guy’. And don’t use HYOH as an excuse to say something critical : “I wouldn’t hike the next section with trail runners, but HYOH I guess.”

Zero: zero miles on trail for a day, as in “I took a zero today.” Most commonly done when in town to both rest and complete town chores. Though you could do an on trail zero (for weather or a minor injury) that is rare.

Nero: A ‘near zero’ literally . Used commonly to indicate a low mileage day hiking into a town. However, ‘low mileage’ is not defined so sometimes used more broadly to indicate a day getting to town in order to spend a night there.

Bonus miles: miles hiked that don’t make progress down the trail. Used in a deprecating manner: “Well, I got some bonus miles today.” Examples: 1. Taking a wrong turn that requires backtracking to get back on trail. 2. Deliberately taking a side trail to a water source, viewpoint, or to go the peak of a nearby mountain. 3. Walking down a road to get to a town not on trail.

Trail magic: Unexpectedly coming across something or someone on trail that provides something you need. Most commonly associated with food and or drink but also people providing rides etc. Trail magic can be a cooler full of drinks and snacks left at a trailhead for hikers, someone providing a ride to a hotel, or a hunter giving away extra food. Trail magic is the least common on the CDT among the triple crown trails due to a number of factors, but all the more appreciated because of its rarity.

Trail angel: someone who provides trail magic. But that definition undervalues them. They are fantastic! Some people have dedicated themselves to being trail angels in their area and supply rides, water caches, containers of trail magic, and even rooms in their homes. Others are trail angels simply by providing a hitch into town or a bottle of water on a hot dirt road when they drive by. Trail angels restore your faith in humanity!

Water cache (pronounced “cash”): water stashed/stored at a location along a trail for hiker use. Sometimes a water cache is planned ahead by a hiker or it can be left by trail angels. Trail angels know certain trail segments have little or no reliable water and help out. Warning for hikers: don’t rely on water caches! Count it a blessing when one is found.

Cairn: a pile of rocks placed for some purpose. Within the context of hiking in the US, used to mark the trail, especially in rocky or hard surfaced areas or where the trail itself is hard to see.

Guthook (often incorrectly called Guthooks): a very popular navigation app used on many long trails. For a fee, you can download the CDT maps (for example) in segments and use it for navigation. But it isn’t just for navigation. Guthook has comments from users on water sources, problem trail intersections, places to stay in town etc. and also shows the elevation profile of the trail. I will be using Guthook.

Town chores: doing all the things that need to be done while in town. It’s a lot! A not exhaustive list: Resupply food for the next segment of trail, eat, take a shower for the first time in a week, do laundry, eat, recharge phone, camera, SOS device, and battery bank, eat, figure out how to get back to trail, update blog, eat, call spouse (parents, friends, sibling etc.) eat, pick up new shoes from post office, check weather, catch up on news, sleep, eat, get back to trail. (Notice a theme there? More about that later.)

Hitching: short for hitch hiking. Especially a challenge on some parts of the CDT since the road may be lightly traveled or far away from the town desired.

Stealth camping: generally means camping not in an established camping spot and out of view. LNT principles ask you to camp away from the trail when possible. This term is used in a slightly different manner by some to mean deliberately camping illegally (i.e. on private land without permission, not getting a required permit etc.) while very much staying out of view.

Base weight: the weight of everything in your backpack not including food and water and fuel. This is helpful since consumable items vary depending on conditions, but everything else you can control in trying to reduce your carried weight.

Hiker trash: A term earned and worn with pride by long distance hikers when they are looked down upon by ‘normal’ folks for their dirty appearance, unkempt hair, stink (especially their stink), saying that the cow trough water doesn’t look too bad, their willingness to ride with animals in the back of trucks for a hitch, wearing only rain gear at the laundromat (!) and for their constant need for food. Like art, hard to define, but you know it when you have achieved it.

Hiker hunger: an insatiable desire/need for food brought on by the high caloric needs of continuously hiking long distances and the practical limitations of carrying sufficient amounts of food on the trail. Leads to the ability (and real need) to eat insane amounts of food while in town. Hiker hunger usually takes several weeks on the trail to really start.

Hiker box: a container or containers at a place hikers usually go to in town, most commonly a hotel or hostel (but also at several churches in Wyoming) where hikers discard still usable items (food or gear) they no longer need and which other hikers can freely take.

Hiker midnight: generally regarded as 9 PM. The idea is that anyone not asleep by that time (and after hiking all day, you should be — right?) should be quiet and respect those that are.

Road walk: just like it sounds. Can range from hard surface roads to Jeep trails. Generally despised by hikers unless short. Parts of the CDT are officially on roads. Can also happen when the official trail is closed due to fire, bear activity etc. and the only way around is via roads.

Alternate: a generally accepted ‘other way’ to the officially designated trail. The CDT has many alternates, many of which are mapped on the Guthook app. Though not unheard of elsewhere, the CDT is especially known for its alternates. Some call the CDT the “create your own adventure trail” and has led others to say that no two hikers have ever hiked the exact same CDT.

‘Real’ life: what hikers do when not on a long distance hike. “What do you do in ‘real’ life?” However, the term is often said with a smile or sarcastically since many hikers discover that hiking is more real than all the worries of day/to-day life. Indeed, many long distance hikers give up much of their ‘real’ life in order to take 5 to 6 months to hike a long trail.

Blowdown: a tree or group of trees that has fallen across the trail, often due to winds. Always a sporadic problem but a concern on the CDT this year after a major storm around Labor Day weekend 2020 reportedly created lots of blowdowns in the southern Wind River Range in Wyoming and in northern Colorado. My respect for trail crews working on clearing the blowdowns!

PUD: pointless up and down. Used derisively to talk about the trail going up and down for no apparent reason.

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