Continental Divide trail, USA – I venture a CDT trail thru hike attempt from May until September 2021. But travel during the pandemic is a challenge. Including many documents and restrictions. And a stay in Cozumel Mexico before entry permit to the USA.
All of a sudden, a possibility opened up for me to realize my dream of a CDT trail thru-hike attempt. Despite the current pandemic time. In a hurry, I made the last preparations for travel during a pandemic and set off. With a mandatory two weeks stop in a non-European country. I chose Cozumel Mexico.
The Continental Divide Trail
The CDT trail is a long-distance hiking trail of about 4890 kilometres. Leading from the Mexican to the Canadian border. It is one of the U.S. National Scenic Trails established by law in 1968.
Composed of dedicated trails and minor roads, the trail is approximately 75% complete. On the unfinished portions, you must make your own way through the terrain or hike on roadways.
The CDT trail follows the Continental Divide of the Americas along the Rocky Mountains. It traverses five U.S. states – Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico. In Montana near the Canadian border, the Continental Divide Trail crosses Triple Divide Pass. From which waters may flow to either the Arctic Ocean, Atlantic Ocean or the Pacific Ocean.
Only about 200 people attempt the entire CDT trail thru hike each year, and it takes them about five to six months. Most start in April in southwestern New Mexico and hike north (northbounders or nobos). While others begin their hike south (southbounders or sobos) in mid-June or early July. Depending on weather conditions, in Glacier National Park on the Canadian border.
Along with the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail, the Continental Divide Trail is one of the so-called Triple Crown trails. Hikers who have walked all three trails call themselves “Triple Crowners.” So far I have only thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail.
The CDT trail thru hike was described in 2013 by a Triple Crown hiker as “Raw, wild, remote and unfinished. It is a trail that will make use of all the skills of an experienced backpacker. It is also a trail that is beautiful, stunning and rewarding.
My CDT thru hike attempt
My plan is to hike the Continental Divide Trail northbound, from Mexico to Canada. With a start at Chief Mountain southern terminus on May 7. I want to reach the northern terminus of the CDT trail around late September/early October. This would match my hiking pace from the 2018 Pacific Crest Trail.
Like the PCT, I will be walking the Continental Divide Trail alone. Yet, unlike the PCT, the CDT trail is much less travelled. This means I won’t run into like-minded people as often as last time.
In the meantime belonging to the group 50+, I start this CDT trail thru hike attempt preloaded. My knee with advanced arthrosis is still not operated. But, I have learned some therapies and believe I can manage with less pain than on the PCT back in 2018.
Also, my hallux, which I tore shortly before then, is still a recurring problem. Yet, this is also better under control. Besides has now come a metatarsalgia in one forefoot ball.
A new problem, unknown to me, over long distances. That is, of all three concerns actually the biggest, because unknown.
Where there is a will, there is a way – that has always worked for me. So why shouldn’t it work on the Continental Divide Trail?
But before I can enter this new challenge, I still have some hurdles to jump.
Goodbyes are hard for me… it seems like this gets harder with each new year on my back. I need to say goodbye for some months to my dogs. I love them. They are my family. And they love me (at least I hope they do :-)!
Animals sense a lot more than we could know. The behaviour of my pack was anything but normal in the last days before departure. Yes, of course, the heat of the one female Raschka was probably also responsible… but not the major part.
Ori didn’t want to eat anymore, which is unnormal for him even during female heat times. When I gave him the food in the bowl, he tried to follow me out of the kennel. Only when he realized that I was actually locking the door behind me he went to his bowl, only to sniff it.
The pack’s behaviour
The whole pack was much more affectionate than normal. In the running yard, where they romp and play, they hardly wanted to leave my side. The kisses on the forehead, ears and otherwise exposed skin were countless.
Such behaviour does not make it easier for me to say goodbye. I am ashamed, I have the feeling to betray my children and I don’t want to leave.
Knowing my free spirit too well after 50 years, I know that I still have to leave to be happy. I am aware that this is also the wish of my pack. But this consolation is small at the moment of parting. With a promise to them, that this will be the last long journey for their lifetime I say goodbye. Then I left for Stockholm on April 17.
Travel during the pandemic
This is not easy. As a European, I am not allowed to enter the USA directly. I must have stayed at least 14 nights in a non-EU/Schengen country. I chose Cozumel Mexico because it seemed to be the easiest solution. Mexico is still one of the only countries where you can enter without big restrictions.
I travelled by train to Stockholm and spent 2 nights in Arlanda. Yes, slow travel is in vogue again. During a travel in the pandemic, nothing is so fast and easy anymore.
Unfortunately, my transit country France wanted a negative Covid test. I left my saliva in the morning of my day in Arlanda. Only to receive the longed-for written ok for the flight late in the evening.
On the other side of the Atlantic
The entry at the Paris airport went smoothly, I was able to show all the necessary papers. I flew on to Cancun, Mexico. The plane’s landing was delayed in Cancun and the passport control lasted for ages. Probably caused by restrictions of travel during a pandemic. I got my passport stamp after Mexican midnight (00:10). What happens to my mandatory 14 days in a non-European country?
Because of this late arrival, I did not reach the ferry to the island of Cozumel Mexico. Without further ado, I booked a last-second accommodation in Cancun.
When I left the airport building, it took my breath away. What heat!!!! In the middle of the night! Together with the high humidity a hammer for a northerner.
By cab, I arrived in front of a locked hotel door. The driver wanted to wait, but I said thank you and that I am ok now. He left. After ringing the doorbell one wanted to open it.
Of course, it was more than the middle of the night and my booking was not older than one hour. Since I chose no luxury hotel there was also no 24 hours operation.
I wanted to call. But alarmed I found out that my phone did not work. Despite the buy of a subscription extension, which should be valid worldwide for a week. (still doesn’t work now!) Oh no, why did I deny the help of the cab driver?! He might have known what awaits me.
I tried to ring the bell still for another 10 minutes. Without success. What’s next? I would not worry in the countryside, go and sleep somewhere under a tree. But I was in the middle of a city!
But I was lucky… a local on the night lanes was kind enough to make the call for me. Huff, I was glad… Dead tired I let myself fall into bed. My travel during the pandemic started.
Las Fincas, Cozumel Mexico
The next day I finally reached my first stage destination. Las Fincas, Cozumel Mexico. This island lives 100% from tourism. So the pandemic troubles the Cozumel. The mostly closed tourist attractions look almost ghostly. Many hotels are open, but pretty empty. All in all, an eerie picture.
I chose an off-site remote Airbnb to have a chance to get in touch with locals. So I did. I put up with two very friendly and large Mexican families. They usually share two small adobe houses in “Las Fincas” the abandoned part of Cozumel Mexico. For the past month, they have been renting one via Airbnb. This being one part of the struggle to survive during the pandemic.
Another part of their fight for survival is a food package worth 100 USD/family/year as a contribution from the government. I do not want to comment further on this here and now. If you are European like me, please let us think together…
My Mexican family
The hospitality of my hosts is enormous. None of them ever have crossed the Mexican border, some of them have not even left the island Cozumel Mexico. Despite their predicament, I get everything and a little bit more. Food, drink and company they see as a natural service, even if I have only booked the accommodation. How I will honour this is unclear to me at the moment.
With great joy I take part in their life. Today we will be off to the beach. Yes, you read right! I am going to the beach! I can not deny the chance to learn more about them and their culture. It is Sunday, a holy holiday for the whole family.
To meet this family is an experience caused by my travel during the pandemic. In normal circumstances, I would fly straight to the USA and miss this beautiful encounter.
My remaining time in Cozumel Mexico
I will use the remaining 10 days in Cozumel Mexico to prepare my muscles, tendons and bones for the Continental Divide Trail.
But the island of Cozumel Mexico offers no hiking opportunities. It is a destination for beach vacations and water sports. I found two trails where I can leave the traffic. They are normally ATV tracks for the tourists, currently empty… on the east coast of the island, a track runs parallel to the sea for about 20 km. Another about 5 km on the west coast as a continuation to the hotel zone.
Good preparations for the CDT trail
Off the roads, the vegetation on the island is too dense. When I say dense, I mean impassable that you can only get around with a machete. So no chance to off-trail hiking. I will have to choose roadsides or the same tracks over and over again. Preparation for road walks on the Continental Divide Trail.
I also use the almost insufferable heat to my advantage. I walk in the middle of the day in the blazing sun with as little water as possible. Good acclimatization to my coming CDT trail thru hike attempt which starts in the desert.
My further travel during the pandemic
Due to the late arrival (00:10) in Cancun, I am now missing one night in Mexico to travel to the USA as planned. I have to postpone the flight from Mexico to Tucson, the USA by one day. According to the new plan, I should now arrive in Tucson on May 5. Complete my course during the night of May 6-7, and then hit the trail on May 7! Tjoohoooo!
My next covid test and the check-in procedure shortly before the onward flight will decide if I can keep this plan.
This blog post will be the last regular one for a few months. Instead of written posts, I will be doing video updates during the Continental Divide Trail. I will primarily publish them on my YouTube channel.
Are you as excited as I am to see if and how I successfully finish my CDT trail thru hike attempt? Subscribe to my Youtube channel and stay tuned!
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