At Big Agnes, when we say we sleep in the dirt, we mean it and we do it. There’s no better way to develop and test product, no better way to walk the walk of an outdoor gear brand than to immerse ourselves as much as possible into the trails, campgrounds, and amazing public lands that surround us here in Northwest Colorado and beyond.
The summer of 2018, we got out as a team to sleep in the dirt even more than usual. Here’s why: In 2017, Big Agnes adopted 75 miles of the Continental Divide Trail near Steamboat Springs, CO as part of our support of the Continental Divide Trail Coalition. As an adopter we agreed to do our part to maintain the designated portion of the trail, mark the trail as needed, keep it free of trash, and be good stewards of the trail whenever we found ourselves recreating on it. Which turns out, because of its proximity to Steamboat Springs and our corporate headquarters, is quite often. To celebrate our adoption, the CDT’s 40th Anniversary, and the 50th Anniversary of the National Scenic Trails Act, we decided to hike the entire Colorado section of the trail this past summer in a relay-style journey. Yep, 740 miles! 146,000 vertical feet up and down along the spine of Colorado, topping out on Grays 14,000 ft summit –and we coined this adventure the “Border to Backyard Rally.”
You may be asking yourself two things: How did this idea come about and how did they pull it off? After absorbing the commitment to the adoption, the crew at Big Agnes and our sister-companies BAP and Honey Stinger began thinking about how impactful this trail is not only to our community of Steamboat but way beyond that, and maybe it’s time we help raise some awareness. But how could we do that? Make t-shirts, throw another party, post about it on social media…sure, those are great ideas and we’ll do that too, but we needed something bold. Whether the idea was written down on an après bar napkin by co-organizer and thru-hiking bad-ass Kathleen Lynch or born on a sunrise tour on the ski area one morning, no one knows for sure, but between January and June we mobilized more than 70 employees to sign up for sections of the trail.
The sections ranged from day hikes and bike rides to week-long high alpine treks through some of Colorado’s most wild and scenic mountains. We broke the 74-mile stretch into 24 sections and planned to start at the NM/CO border on the morning of June 11th. It was a cool and sunny summer morning with five very excited employees and their meticulously packed backpacks ready to tackle the first section of trail – a 75-mile jaunt that would deliver them to Wolf Creek Pass seven days later. After a send-off ceremonial blessing from a member of the Jicarilla Apache tribe, our Border to Backyard Rally began!
Ten miles into what was sure to be the highlight of their summer we got a call from our partners at the US Forest Service: Due to a large wildfire, the San Juan National Forest was closed indefinitely and we needed to get our hikers off the trail as soon as possible. (Cue deflated balloon sound.) Months of planning, meetings, scheduling, and excitement leading up to this kick-off day was literally burning up right before us. That’s the thing about planning adventures in the wild; you can prepare as much as you want, down to shuttle cars and GPS systems and perfectly proportioned salami disks for each lunch, but mother nature don’t give a f@%k. She will derail your plans with drought, lightning storms, wildfires, and wind, and all you can do is react, re-route, and keep on trucking.
The closure lasted a few weeks, but by the time the forest was re-opened we had regrouped and bypassed the sections affected. The new beginning of our journey was a little further north on a 48-mile section outside the boundaries of the forest closure. We made up the first two sections later in the summer and were able to get most of the folks originally signed up for them out on the trail. All in all, we faired pretty well with nature’s curveballs and can give credit to our crew for their planning, prep, and perseverance through a summer no one here at Big Agnes will likely ever forget.
So how did it end? On another sunny, albeit chillier day three months later and 739 miles further north, we woke up in tents less than one mile from the WY border. As had been done every morning since we began (officially on June 25th) water was boiled, oatmeal was stirred, bags were stuffed, and packs were zipped up for the last time. It was bittersweet to finish knowing there wasn’t another team to hand the baton to for their section of adventure that lie ahead. We joked about conquering the WY section next summer, but really, the accomplishment wasn’t just about physically making it all 740 miles this summer. It’s the excitement of what’s still to come for the future of the CDT. Raising awareness for this rugged, brutal, historic trail means more funding for improvements, maintenance, and protection. Our accomplishment isn’t measurable yet.
Katie Hughes is a long-time Big Agnes marketing mastermind and outdoor maven. When she’s not acting as the voice of Big Agnes, you can find her on one of the many local mountain biking trails, rafting on the San Juan River, or sharing her passion for the outdoors with her five-year-old daughter Ivy.