For Trail Geek Eyes Only, Part 3: Maps and Technology

A whole new world! That is how we can describe CDT prep relative to all our other hikes when it comes to maps and technology, maps from necessity and technology from personal objectives. Both are new realms for us when it comes to hiking, both areas have required lots of research, and both have us slightly nervous, even though we feel like we’ve done what we can to be prepared.

When it comes to using maps with our past hikes, simply put, we’ve never used them. With thru hikes of the AT, PCT, and CT under our belts, we never used more than a data book to navigate our ways down these well trodden paths. However, all we’ve heard and read about the CDT is that it’s not fully finished, it’s easy to get off track, and flat out impossible without a map.

So we dove in and began trying to unravel the mystery of the CDT and navigating our way from Mexico to Canada on this supposed trail. The end result is a combination of maps, a GPS, and a make-shift data book from someone that put it up on the internet for free.

We also had to make a decision: What route do we want to follow? Or better yet, which routes do we want to follow. For me, the answer was pretty simple. Unlike many hikers that love the CDT for the freeness it provides, I like the idea of walking a set path. While Julie gets criticized in her books for not being into nature or beauty, one of my main reasons for liking thru hiking is the simple act of walking all day. And while I don’t necessarily want to walk down a highway all day, I am not overly influenced by scenery to the point that I really want the decision of choosing one route over another. Also, I generally stay pretty positive so if the route is a little hotter, a little steeper, or a little drier, I don’t really mind. I put in my miles for the day and enjoy the majority of my time doing it.

So when we found out there is a new “official route”, I jumped on it. Apparently, a guy named Jerry Brown worked with the US Forest Service to declare an official route from Mexico to Canada through the Rockies along the Continental Divide. He has maps (Bear Creek Survey) for sale that follow this route and we’ve purchased them. We plan on following the route as well as possible so we don’t have to do much thinking regarding which path to take. Instead, we can focus our energies on the aspects of hiking that we enjoy most.

Along with Jerry Brown’s maps, we’re also carrying Jonathan Ley’s maps which he graciously updates and sends out for donations each year. Over 10 years ago when he wanted to hike the CDT, he was unhappy with the maps that were available, so he made his own, and now he shares them with hikers. We’ll keep them in case we can’t do the official route or for some reason are convinced to do an alternative route – there are quite a few people that have been trying to convince us to take some of Ley’s routes.

So we have the Bear Creek survey maps, Ley’s maps for backup, and we have a GPS in case we have no idea where we are. Having never used one before, it was a bit of a challenge for my techy wife to actually figure out. However, as of yesterday, we have the GPS loaded with free maps for the trail as well as some 7000 waypoints to guide us in case we get turned around. We also have a make-shift data book from a guy named Beacon that put all the Bear Creek waypoints into an easy-to-use format.

This GPS technology was just the tip of the iceberg for our CDT trip. While we’ve hiked with iPods before and we’ve had a small laptop on the AT for updating our blog, we generally haven’t planned much with our technology or given it much thought at all prior to our past hikes. However, after our 3 week Colorado Trail hike last summer, where we were almost fully disconnected from the world, we realized that this wasn’t how we liked to hike. Again, unlike many hikers, we aren’t necessarily looking to leave society to go to the woods and be alone with nature. There is plenty of time for that out there and we enjoy it, but we also like feeling like we know a little of what is going on in the world. So we have made it a point to stay connected this time.

In order to stay connected, we first addressed the internet options on the trail. We want to keep our website updated and we want to keep up with the world – silly things like sports and the capital markets. As you all know by now, we’re also focused on pack weight, and pack space for that matter. So the computer was out, plus, it didn’t have its own wifi connection and required our crummy phone for tethering. We ended up with an iPad Mini and are pretty excited about it. We’ve never been Mac users but this fits our needs nearly perfectly, and it only weighs 12 ounces. We can update our website through a WordPress ap, we update our location and map on the website through a GPS mapping ap, and we have access to the internet whenever we can get a signal through Verizon (which may not be too frequent, but what else can we do out there?).

Along with a Verizon iPad Mini connection, we are also carrying our smart phone (4 ounces) with a T-Mobile phone connection. It tends to work whenever AT&T networks are available too. So we should be able to call friends and family with these networks as well as use the iPad as a phone with the Verizon network if that is the only signal we can get.

We’re also focusing on some entertainment for this trip. We’ve done entire trails with no music or diversions from our minds and nature. We’ve done trails with music and some thought-provoking lectures. This time around, we’re focused on having plenty of entertainment options to the point that I’m looking forward to getting out there to learn (and groove a little to some of my favorite tunes). We bought Sandisk MP3 players (0.8 ounces each) and with an additional SD card, we have 36 gigs of capacity. We have language learning lectures, academic lectures and stories, as well as plenty of music. I am also carrying CFA audio study material to keep up my daily CFA study streak.

With carrying all these gadgets, along with our Sony Bloggie Camera, we need some way to charge all these things, especially since we may not be spending tons of time in towns or restaurants (not likely to find many good vegan eats along the way). So we’re trying a solar charger, the 3.3 ounce Bushnell from L.L. Bean of all places is the one we’ve chosen to carry. It takes a charge (we’ve tested) and it charges our iPad (also tested). So we’re hoping to keep everything pretty well juiced throughout the journey without having to rely too much on anything other than the sun and the occasional town charge.

With all this planning and thinking about routes and staying connected with the world, we’ve spent so much more time before the trail than we’ve ever done before. However, we are excited to implement our plans and to hopefully see our ideas make for a more enjoyable experience than our previous hikes. We know it’s not the way everyone may want to do a trail, but it fits with the way we like to hike and it fits with the reasons we have for hiking so we’re happy with it all. With the last of our lectures now being loaded onto our MP3 players, all we have left is to eagerly await the day when we actually get out on the trail and get to actually get going!

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