Inside The Mind Of One Of Hiking's Few Triple Crowners
Only about 500 people have completed the thru-hiker's Triple Crown—the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail. And it's not something Craig Fowler initially set out to do. But during his Appalachian Trail hike in 2001, it became clear to him that the PCT and CDT would also be in his future. This September, he completed the CDT, earning the rare Triple Crown. "Hiking the Appalachian Trail was an awakening for me," he says. "I tell people, it’s inside me. What I really mean is that lust for roaming is inside me. The Appalachian Trail awoke it and now I view life like that of the caged tiger."
Hiking those roughly 7,900 miles definitely requires a certain amount of minimalism. "Most of us make life more complex than it needs to be," Fowler says. "After every hike, I have looked around my room or apartment and thought how I just lived out of a 3,500 cubic-inch pack for the last four months."
Fowler—a.k.a Scatman (read the story of his trail name here)—has learned a lot about simplicity since he first set foot on the Appalachian Trail. And if you ask him why he hikes, he's likely to say, If you have to ask, you wouldn't understand anyway. "For me, hiking is about simplicity, seeing new places, slowing down, and emerging myself in the natural world," he says. "There's nothing better than watching a bear, moose, or even a tiny pika interact within their world. I always feel like a visitor when I wish I was at home when in the woods."
We caught up with Scatman to find out what he loved about it, and what he learned:
"The trail also has a way of making you ask yourself what is important to you the most. For me, it's seeing and discovery new places."
"Looking back, I don't get a kick out of how inexperienced I was, but view it as wasted time and money. Almost everyone starts out carrying too much. More recently there are those who do the research and nail the light/ultralight thing the first time. For most of us we spend a ton of money and time refining our craft. Many don't make it past a few hikes and give up, a terrible result for sure. For others, we trudge on and the process is slow and costly."
"The most important learning experience I can share is no matter what size pack you buy, you'll end up filling it. So get the smallest pack you can and research going light/ultralight. It will force you to trim, adjust and rethink what you need in the backcountry. The result will be a smaller pack, refined gear list, less stress on your body, easier miles and more of them."
"Too many people think going light/ultralight means not being comfortable. What it really means is compromise. What you have to do is decide just how much you're willing to compromise and what level of comfort you want or can do without. It's different for everyone."
Sometimes thru-hiking can look like homelessness—or, at least suspicious, apparently. "While in Lincoln, Montana, I went to the tiny local grocery market to get a few supplies. I left and got dinner and on the way back to the hotel I decided I wanted a Coke, so I went back to the grocery store. Knowing exactly where to go, I just made a bee line for the soda cooler. As I did this, the lady working there left what she was doing and went to the cameras for the store. She watched me move throughout the store and back to her at the checkout. She rang me up and I left. It wasn't until I got outside that my hiking partner at the time told me what unfolded in the store. At our next town stop, Helena, Montana, we went to Albertson's to shop. While my hiking partner shopped, I watched our packs, his dog and our charging phones just outside the entrance. I was sitting on a pallet of charcoal when an employee came up to me and said with a nasty tone, "You can't sit here, you have to leave!" I looked at her as if I didn't look homeless and was clean shaven and said with a tone, "Excuse me! My friend is inside shopping and I'm watching our stuff. In a few minutes I will be spending MONEY in your store!" She huffed and said, "Fine," then walked down the way to smoke.
"I would love to go back and hike the Bob Marshall Wilderness to the Canadian Border. Unfortunately, due to the fires at the time I went through, visibility was terrible and I feel like I missed out."
"There are definitely plenty of shitty areas on each of the trails, whether it be burns, dry desert stretches, just areas without any views, or sections of P.U.D.S (pointless up and downs). That said, as a thru-hiker, you have to accept that there will be shitty sections you don't want to hike, but if you're like me, skipping any piece of trail is not an option. I always say, 'You have to go through purgatory to get heaven.' "
"I was aware of the PCT and CDT when I first hiked the AT, but I didn't know I would hike them as well until I actually got on the AT. I met a few individuals along my AT thru-hike who painted such a beautiful picture of the PCT and CDT, and that was combined with a growing sense of wanderlust throughout my thru-hike that by the end I knew one day I would complete the Triple Crown."
"Personally, I think the Continental Divide Trail was the toughest. What made the CDT so hard in my mind is a combination of the planning process, tread, weather and the simple fact that the trail is on the actual divide for much of the route. Being on the divide multiplies the effects of the elements and your level of exertion, making it much harder than at lower elevations. The average elevation of Colorado is 11,000 feet—that's 700 miles at 11,000!"
"After 25 years of cycling, I've decided it's time for me not to be the engine. ... The idea of covering larger amounts of ground and seeing more is what drives me now. Walking 7,575 miles makes you realize just how much more there is to see in the world. I want to see as much as possible."
THE CONTINENTAL DIVIDE TRAIL BY THE NUMBERS
- 18 weeks and 4 days
- 131 days
- 3120 hours
- 187,208 minutes
- 11,232,480 seconds
- 2751 miles
- 21 miles per day - average miles with days off included
- 23.3 miles per day - average miles w/o days off included
- 40 miles - biggest day
- 4.9 miles - shortest day
- 201.7 miles - biggest 7 day total
- 13 days - number of zero days
- 9 days - number of days w/o a shower
- 26 days - longest stretch w/o a day off
- 10 days - most days w/o precipitation
- 3 days - most consecutive days of precipitation
- 44 days - number of days with rain (+3 more on zero days)
- 19 days - number of days of hail
- 9 days - number of days of snow (+1 in camp)