‘This Thing That Is Bigger Than Myself’

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Resident Completing The ‘Triple Crown’ Of Hikes

Bryan Walsh is going for the “Triple Crown.”

The Continental Divide Trail is the last trek needed for Rockbridge County High School graduate and local resident Bryan Walsh, 25, to complete the “Triple Crown” circuit of hikes.

Walsh has already checked off the Pacific Crest Trail and Appalachian Trail from his to-do list. He’s now utilizing his mental and physical strength for his second attempt at the CTD.

Prior to and along the way of his hike, Walsh has been sharing his perspective on “thru-hiking” and the challenges that accompany it with The News-Gazette.

As of 2018, the American Long Distance Hiking Association - West has only presented 396 Triple Crown awards since 1994. To accomplish the challenge, a hiker completes a thru-hike, which means from start to finish, on the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail.

In total, a Triple Crown hiker covers roughly 7,900 miles of terrain.

Of the three trails, Walsh said the CDT, which runs from Mexico to Canada, is the most difficult.

“CDT is the most remote of the three trails,” explained Walsh. “With that remoteness comes this kind of inherent brutality that isn’t really present on the other two trails.”

Spanning between 2,800 and 3,100 miles depending on the routes taken, the hike takes approximately four to five months to complete.

Walsh actually hiked 1,000 mi of the trail last year, but was forced to turn back because of inclement conditions. Preparedness means life or death on a trail such as this.

“There were times on the CDT,” continued Walsh, “I felt that if I was not prepared enough or equipped enough in the right way, I could die.”

A journey on foot through miles of wilderness is a mental commitment, according to Walsh who remembers well the day he first chose to do a hike.

“I had a moment in October of 2015 where I knew, very specifically, that I was going to hike a long trail in 2016,” said Walsh.

After some research, Walsh said he knew the Pacific Coast Trail is where he needed to go.

Asked how his first attempt went, Walsh chuckled.

“I made it,” he said.

With old camping gear from his childhood and little prior research, Walsh set out solo on the PCT.

Since then, Walsh’s gear, trail research and diet have significantly developed, but his basic approach remains the same.

“Mostly now, I have cut a lot of weight off my pack,” said Walsh. “But, the base level hasn’t really changed. I look at it as a bunch of continuous five- to six-day outings or little trips. Throughout, I just plan each of those trips.”

Physical preparation involves running and yoga for Walsh. However, he said, “The only thing you can really do to prepare your body for backpacking is to go backpack.”

Asked what one of the hardest parts of the external atmosphere is for him, Walsh said it is rain, especially over a period of days.

“At the end of a day, if I can’t get dry or get into something dry or become dry, that can get pretty demoralizing,” said Walsh. “Also, in the morning having to put back on wet hiking clothes can be pretty rough.”

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Throughout his hike, Walsh has blogged about his daily experiences on a trail website called The Trek. His accounts are supplemented with stunning photos of desert, mountains, lakes and snow, and include memories of meals with friends along the way.

Though rain posed the greatest challenge on other hikes, on this one, with record high snow in Colorado, Walsh might say it has been the snow. In his June 28, blog post, Walsh said the snow required him to continually take alternate routes.

“It’s July and Colorado still has a lot of snow, which puts me in a bit of a predicament,” wrote Walsh July 7. “I’ve already skipped the San Juans and the West Collegiate route because of snow. So part of me feels like I will come back to Colorado at some point when the snow isn’t historically high and hike those routes.”

On July 11, it was day 73 of hiking and Walsh made the most of the snow with an ice pick climb up Mount Elbert summit at 14,439 foot elevation.

He maintained his cool through the snow, but on a trail on day 75 he sunk, literally. Walsh made it off a ridgeline into a bowl area which met up to the next trail, only to be met with more snow.

“This made for extremely tiring and frustrating hiking,” wrote Walsh. “I would sink up to my knee, thigh, or waist with every step. And then my next step I would think was solid but once I shifted my weight over to it, I would sink even farther down.”

Eventually, he waded out of the Colorado snow and to Old Faithful Village in Yellowstone National Park where he remained for a few days.

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Set to reach the trail end at Waterton Lake in Glacier National Park by mid-September, Walsh has only a month and a half more of his trek. As of last Tuesday, he had reached the Idaho-Montana border and had just 1,000 miles to go.

Before his hike began, Walsh said his sights were set on completing the trail. Even then, he spoke of the unknown after this feat.

“After each trail, there has always been another trail,” said Walsh during an interview before the hike. “I think that is something I am going to face with this trail because it is the triple crown. There are other trails but nothing of the caliber of these long trails.”

Once he completes the CDT, life is “a pretty open book,” according to Walsh.

He said he may consider other trails in New Zealand, Canada, Europe and Patagonia. Guiding others through trails is another possibility in Walsh’s future. Additionally, he is considering writing a book about his experiences.

He cannot help but be drawn back to the trail.

Asked what inspires him to continue thruhiking, Walsh said it is the idea of the trail being “this thing that is bigger than myself” and the unparalleled experience as a sojourner fully present at any given time.

“It’s kind of a condescend version of life,” explained Walsh. “There is a beginning, there is an end, and a lot of ups and downs in-between. Something that I find on thru-hikes is that my home is on my back. So I don’t have anything else. I don’t have a part of myself somewhere else. I fully am where I physically am. I don’t have a home to go to at the end of the day. My home is on my back.”

The News-Gazette

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