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Carey Kish

Carey Kish of Mount Desert Island has been adventuring in the woods and mountains of Maine for, well, a long time. If there’s a trail—be it on dirt, rock, snow, water or pavement—he will find it, explore it, and write about it. Carey is a two-time Appalachian Trail thru-hiker, Registered Maine Guide, author of AMC’s Best Day Hikes Along the Maine Coast, editor of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide (10th ed.), and has written a hiking & camping column for the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram since 2003. Follow his outdoor travels and musings here, and on Facebook/CareyKish. Let Carey know what you think at MaineOutdoors@aol.com.

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Maineiac Outdoors with Carey Kish
Posted: November 24, 2013

Lessons from the Continental Divide Trail

Tom Jamrog of Lincolnville, Maine is no ordinary hiker.

In 2007 at age 57, Jamrog hiked all 2,180 miles of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Katahdin. Two years later he decided to tackle a big hike on the left coast, the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada, 2,700 miles through California, Oregon and Washington.

One big trail might be enough for most people, especially those enjoying “retirement.” Two big trails and you’ve really achieved something, well, big.

How about three trails?

Yes, just two short months ago, at the wily age of 63, Jamrog completed the granddaddy of big North American hikes, the Continental Divide Trail. That’s 3,200 very long miles from Mexico to Canada through New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana.

Wowza.

With this last hike Tom joins up with some rarified company. Just a handful of people can claim to have completed the “Triple Crown.”

Double wowza.

Tom Jamrog photo.

Now I know Tom a little bit, certainly enough to call him my friend, so heretofore I’m going to refer to him as Tom, or perhaps Uncle Tom, his trail name.

I’ve talked with Tom a number of times over the last several years, interviewing him about his big hikes. I’ve also seen a couple of his post-big-hike presentations. My goodness is he ever passionate about the outdoors, about hiking, about the big trails, about the amazing long distance hiking experience only a fraction of the population will ever fully grasp.

I caught up to Tom again recently for his evening program in Lincolnville, “How I Survived Hiking the Continental Divide Trail,” one of many in a rapt audience. For an hour we listened as he told the story of this incredible hike and showed us images of the desert and mountain landscapes over which he traveled those many days from April through September.

For an additional half hour Tom fielded all kinds of questions about the hike.

It was a most interesting and entertaining evening, one that passed much too quickly. I am of the sort that could have sat there for another couple hours completely content to listen and look on and on and on.

Amongst all this sitting and listening and looking I took copious notes. And here I will present the essence of those pages, a little bit on Tom’s CDT story, some of what I learned on that fun evening about what it takes to hike the Continental Divide Trail fresh from a guy who’s been there in the thick of it all.

TOM’S TALES FROM THE TRAIL

The Continental Divide Trail isn’t at all like the AT or the PCT. It’s only 75% complete, which means that you have to bushwhack through a good chunk of trailless country. And that means plenty of opportunity to get lost. You also need maps, which are pretty much superfluous on the AT and increasingly so on the PCT.

“You get lost a lot,” said Tom, doing so on the very first day north of the border, and many times hence.

Tom Jamrog photo.

Water is a huge issue on the CDT; it is sparse and infrequent, and many times Tom had to beg passersby for it. In many places water was obtained from remote windmills and tanks. Always there was the uncertainty of whether any water at all would be found at such locations. During the driest parts of the hike all water went to hydration and cooking, nothing spared for washing up.

As a result, “We were filthy.”

There are not a lot of people out hiking the CDT. At one point, Tom and his hiking party went a full month seeing no one else on the trail.

Food is also an ever-present concern, that is, there is a desire to eat as much as humanly possible all the time. Tom ate lots of food when it was available in towns and pretty much went hungry the rest of the time.

AYCE is acronym cherished by through-hikers… “All You Can Eat” means just what it says, and when famished hikers pull into such a place, well, it ain’t pretty. If you’ve never witnessed someone order three entrees plus a salad and eat them at once and then move onto several desserts and coffee, you haven’t seen a hungry hiker at an AYCE. Stand clear!

Tom completed the CDT in 124 days, averaging 19 miles a day. On 60 of those hiking days he exceeded 20 miles. The longest hiking day was 38 miles, the shortest was 4 miles.

None of it was easy.

“This is your job. You’re walking all day every day. It [the CDT] was a lot of work for me, my family, and especially my feet. I think I’m done now.”

Tom wrote a journal entry every day on his iPhone, and carried an iPod for entertainment while hiking.

More on Tom and his Continental Divide Trail adventures in my next blog post…

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