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Photograph by asafantman, Flickr

The Continental Divide Trail: Hiking the Spine of the United States

Have you ever considered quitting your job and hitting the trail for something like, say, 3,100 miles? Sounds like a pretty extreme backpacking trip, huh? My coworker, Peter Sustr, just left Outdoor Industry Association to tackle the Continental Divide Trail, a fabled route that follows the spine of the United States from Canada to Mexico.

Perhaps you remember Peter from when I wrote about his fast and light trip through Grand Gulch last year. He’s always had an affinity for trekking through the woods alone, but this brings it to an entirely new level. This epic journey will span six months, take him to the lofty height of 14,270 feet atop Colorado’s Grays Peak, and pass through five states, 25 national forests, 21 wilderness areas, three national parks, one national monument, and eight BLM resource areas. It should be quite an adventure. In fact, it’s on National Geographic Adventure’s Ultimate Adventure Bucket List.

What an amazing National Outdoor Recreation System we have in this country that you can embark on such a long journey through some of the most wild and scenic areas in the United States. This Continental Divide Trail system is a labor of love by passionate citizens who are dedicated to completing and protecting this national gem. Learn how you can help by checking out the Continental Divide Trail Coalition.

Just a couple dozen people embark on the full Continental Divide Trail each year. The route—which is only about 70 percent complete—requires some careful way finding as you pick your way along many sections that are unmarked and unnamed. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart. From the scarcity of water in New Mexico, to the dizzying peaks of Colorado, Wyoming’s vast isolation, and the daunting grizzly country of Montana, each state brings its own challenges and rewards.

Vertically traversing this giant country promises to wear through Peter’s shoes, deliver a physical beating, leave his hips begging for a soft bed, and ultimately transform his perspective—whether he’s ready for it or not.

Such is the beauty of thru-hiking. (Yes, those in the know spell it like that, even if it gives grammar geeks like me a severe twitch.) You’re bound to spend a lot of time alone, reflecting on life and how insignificant modern-day worries seem. To immerse in the raw beauty of natural landscapes day after day—with little distraction—promises to profoundly connect Peter with nature and cleanse his soul in a way only the wilds can.

Will he make it? Peter thinks that mental will is the ticket to success. Of course it will be tough. Some days he’ll want to curse or cry or bail. But he firmly believes that if he sets an intention, he can complete this challenge—as long as he is able to adapt to the unexpected.

Is he nervous? Of course! You’d have to be missing a chip to not have a little trepidation. But he’s learned to live with challenges before. And he’ll be fueled knowing that his journey is helping raise awareness for a cause near to his heart. Peter suffers from Crohn’s disease, an intestinal ailment, and he’s partnering with the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America to demonstrate how you can still live a full life with this disease. The motivation to prove his point will be the stoke that keeps his fire burning through bad weather, getting lost, broken gear, physical pain, loneliness, or whatever other curve balls come his way.

This is Peter’s dream. And he’s doing it. Good for him! How many people sit around day after day, chained to a job they don’t like, or hindered by the perception that there are too many obstacles to pursuing what makes their heart sing? Nonsense! You only get one crack at life. Start crafting it into what you want it to be. You might not be able to take off into the woods for six months, but I’m willing to bet you can take one small step toward making your dreams reality. And guess what? If you keep taking small steps, before you know it, you’ll be living the life of your dreams. What are you going to do about it today?

Want to follow Peter’s journey? Check him out on Twitter and Facebook at Couch2CDT and read his blog at

Avery Stonich is communications manager for Outdoor Industry Association. Follow us on twitter: @OIA and @averystonich.