"True to the thru" is a fairly common mantra among many thruhikers, just not on the CDT and it certainly hasn't been something I've been saying to myself...but I have been thinking about the phrase.
The concept behind the phrase is simply a dedication to hiking the offical trail, following in the footsteps of the hikers before you, having a continuous series of steps from beginning to end. This simply does not exist on the CDT instead the mantra "Hike your own hike" rules the day there is freedom to explore and make your own route, see what you want to see, go where you desire to go. Actually, I have not spoken with a single hiker yet who has faithfully stuck with doing only the 'offical' route and I'm no exception.
My first deviation was on my fourth day (following a zero mile day three) when I bailed out of Glacier National Park due to concerns about my ability to keep up the miles required for my permit in the park. Upon reflection bailing out was probably the smart move as I had considerable difficulty on day two and the rest of the days and passes only got harder. So early on I created my own alternate and did a road walk out of the park and recaught the trail some days later outside of East Glacier.
In planning the trip I realized that there were many offical alternates, I mean there are two different Canadian starting points, and three Mexican end points, there are several major alternates such as the often skipped Rocky Mountain National Park Loop, and the Gila Cliff Dwellings these I knew about but now hiking day by day I get why its believed no two CDT hikers hike the same hike. Almost every day there are atleast two possible alternates to the main route. Sometimes the alternates are just cross-country travel and scrambling along the divide, sometimes they dip down below the divide for water, or over the mountain instead of going around. There have been times when I've been hiking and found myself doing an 'unplanned alternate' and finding my own way completely separate from any know route.
This is probably one of the more 'taboo' things with a hike: skipping sections.Not only have I taken my own alternates(usually to skip a climb or to find water) I've also skipped some areas(*gasp*) so now I do not even have a continuous set of footprints behind me but that is okay the two main areas I've missed were hitchiking from Lincoln to Flesher Pass instead of Rogers Pass skipping around 10 miles due to no rides picking us up to Rogers Pass but several to Flesher Pass. The second major area was the night I made it into Helena. My plan was to hike to Priest Pass leaving a short 5 mile day (and 1000ft climb) before McDonald pass where people usually hitch into Helena from.
Upon arrival to Priest Pass around 2100 it was as I expected, a wonderful place to camp: there were some great flat areas, and even some nice rocks to cook on, and then I heard it... "Moooo!"
A heard of cattle was out and about through the area. My first though was to ignore them and setup camp anyhow, but as I tried to do so I only seem to attract more and more cattle to come check me out and express their displeasure at my presence (atleast that is what I assume they were saying, I don't speak cow). Eventually I started to feel pretty uncomfortable being there so I figured I'd just take a quick walk down the road and hopefully find the cattle guard or something and camp beyond it.
So I walked, and I walked and never found an area free of cattle just some with less so as it was getting late and I realized I had walked a pretty good distance from the trail and now my near-zero mile day would become a full day to get to Helena so I just setup camp on a slanted area that was atleast near some water (something that hadn't happened this section). As I was setting up I heard a vehicle approach and decided to toss my thumb out, they stopped and so I skipped the climb and made it into Helena early...and it was nice to get into town early but I still skipped a bit without a very good reason even though the skip was much smaller at only around 5 miles compared to the 10 or so from Rogers to Flesher pass its this last skip that I feel the most guilt about.
I decided before I even started that I don't care about being a thru-hiker, I'm totally okay if I don't make it to Mexico. I would jump at the opportunity to do some sections via rafting or some other interesting non-morotized means so I've never thought I'd be true to the thru. What I am not okay with is giving up on myself I do not want to quit and turn around early because its too hard or I say I just can't do it I am after-all out here to do something hard, to challenge myself, and ideally to find my limit and push on. In a sense my impulsive decidicion to hitch early into Helena was exactly that. Of course I have not given up on the trail and I'm still going so I've not given up but I do want to reaffirm my commitment to challenging myself on this hike and doing something hard, because its hard. Yet, I also must balance that with the fact that I'm out here, not to thru-hike but to just be out and enjoying my time out in the wilderness.