Ever thought about hiking the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) but are dismayed about the road walks?
You’re not alone.
I didn’t hike it for three years because I heard how much road walking the CDT did.
Then, I said fuck it and hiked it anyway.
It is now one of my all time favorite trails.
This is how I have fun on roads and you can, too!
List of Contents
Not all Road Walks are the Same
While you’ve probably read that the CDT has some absurd number of miles of road walks. It’s true. And it’s also not true.
The CDT has four types of roads:
- Paved Roads
- Gravel Roads
- Dirt Roads
- Dirt 2-Track
The majority of the road walks on the CDT are the final two: dirt roads and dirt two-track. However, the painful ones that everyone remembers and complains about are the paved ones.
The overwhelming complaining makes it seem like every road walk is paved, but that is false.
Yes, the paved roads suck. They hurt your feet and cars zoom by often far too close.
The gravel roads are better than the paved ones, but not the best.
Usually, the dirt roads are fine with minimal traffic. They’ll eventually hurt your feet, but it takes longer.
Finally, the dirt two track is essentially two trails right next to each other with no traffic.
So, how do you have fun on all of them?
Hike Road Walks with a Tramily (Trail Family)
Road walks are always more fun with other people. On gravel, dirt, and two-track, you can walk side-by-side. Two track is essentially two trails right next to each other. This a provides fantastic time to swap stories, discuss your favorite podcast, or switch it up from walking single file.
Karma and I often walk take the opportunity to walk side-by-side. We like not having to project our voices as much like we need to in single file.
On some trails, we walk in a trail family and we enjoy taking up the whole road and talking.
If it’s a paved road with traffic, the side-by-side option is out, but it feels better to have other people to commiserate with while walking.
Listen to an Audiobook or Podcast
Audiobooks and podcasts are lifesavers on road walks.
After you’ve gotten used to the mental strain of constant navigating on the CDT, the road walks suddenly seem boring.
As your brain seeks stimulation on a road, I turn to audiobooks. Karma prefers podcasts.
Both audiobooks and podcasts can give your brain exactly what it’s searching for: a way out of the monotony of a road walk.
The best part? You can then talk about them side-by-side or during your frequent breaks. This helps change up the conversation from the usual food, gear, poo cycle.
Play Some Music from Your Phone and Dance on Your Road Walk
Sometimes you just don’t want a podcast or audiobook, but you need something.
Dance parties and sing-a-longs are always a good time.
These are particularly good for those frustrating paved road walks where you still have to hike single file.
While I usually DO NOT recommend playing music loudly off of a phone on trail, road walks are different. Often, you’re already feeling assaulted by car and truck noises, so why not add music?
Your favorite tunes can often change the mood. Cars can usually tell you’re having a good time, too. Sometimes, those cars will give you trail magic just because you look like you’re having fun!
Check Out all the Garbage on the Side of the Road
I know this sounds super weird, but you should definitely check out the garbage.
What flies out of trucks by accident and what people litter tells you a lot about an area.
For example, if you see a lot of beer cans, beware of drunk drivers in the evening and on weekends. Treat every driver on a Friday night like they might be drunk and not see you on the road.
Or, if you see one glove, inevitably, you will find the second glove further down the road. My buddy Not Guilty told me that years ago and it has proven mostly true.
On a rare occasion, you can even find full, untouched beers. On three separate occasions, I have found full beers on the side of the road.
Once or twice, I’ve also found cool hats that I’ve carried to a washing machine and mailed home for later.
You just never know.
Take Sit-Down Breaks Every 3-5 Miles on Road Walks
While this is my last tip, it is very important.
Just because it seems like flat, easy walking, doesn’t mean you can skip breaks.
ON THE CONTRARY, take breaks on road walks.
- Pavement and compacted roads is much harder on your feet, knees, and hips that you think. Most trail, even more compacted trail, is much easier on your joints.
- Repetitive steps are also harder on the body. Doing the exact same stepping motion for hours on end is worse for your body than the subtle shifts of trail. Yes, it’s easier for a few miles, but your body still needs breaks.
Karma and I never walk more than 5 miles of road between breaks. The 5-mile mark is a hard and fast rule for us and it has kept us from injury.
If we find ourselves road walking later in the day, often the distance between breaks drops down to every 3 miles.
The breaks don’t have to be super long…a 10 minute sit usually does the trick.
These breaks will help prevent common road walk injuries such as shin splints, plantar fasciitis, and knee pain.
Road walks are part of many trails, especially those that are not complete.
But, they don’t have to be the end of the world. YOU CAN have fun on them and make them a part of your journey.
The next time you’re bumming out on a road walk, try these trips and see if you can change your own outlook. Often, the amount of fun you have grows out of what you bring to the proverbial table.
If you’re looking for other tips on how to prepare for your CDT thru-hike, I wrote about that here.
Try them out and tell me what you think below.