Millions of people canceled their travel plans in 2021 as Covid-19 halted international trips around the world.
Renee Miller and Tim Beissinger were not among them.
The pair are “thru-hikers,” a term which describes a style of hiking that starts and ends in different places, while often covering long distances.
Rather than staying at home, the American couple saw the pandemic as an opportunity to embark on a 3,149-mile hike along the Continental Divide Trail, which stretches across the United States between the borders of Mexico and Canada.
Miller and Beissinger shared their four-month journey on the trail, commonly called the CDT, on the social media website TikTok, where they now have 1.7 million followers.
“We knew … other hikers would find it interesting to watch somebody on the CDT,” said Beissinger. “But the fact that many people have been inspired and motivated to think more about hiking … has just been fun and rewarding.”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the CDT spans the length of the United States north to south, passing through famous hiking destinations such as Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park, and along the Rocky Mountains.
The couple gained popularity on TikTok as followers tuned in to see the scenic views of the CDT and to monitor their progress.
“We didn’t have to do any work to show how beautiful it was,” said Beissinger.
The couple said they received messages from people who said they were inspired to start hiking — some for the very first time.
Beissinger said one man told them he was inspired to start hiking for health reasons.
“He lost 42 pounds,” said Beissinger, adding that long distance hiking doesn’t require prior experience. “You just need to have the desire and the passion.”
From packing lists to recipes, the couple’s social media pages and online blog contain preparation tips for hiking the CDT.
To ensure they had an adequate supply of food, Miller and Beissinger dehydrated 100 homemade dinners and mailed them out to the various towns they planned to pass on their hike.
“It’s really nice to have a healthy homemade meal at the end of every day,” said Miller, who said these meals usually contained a combination of carbohydrates, vegetables, beans and flavorings.
The couple did not always have access to clean water during their journey, and would often rely on streams, lakes and rivers to stay hydrated.
“Our water filter was extremely important … We could have gotten sick if the water sources were infected or contaminated with giardia,” she said. “It could have kicked us off the trail.”
When crossing a desert, Beissinger recounted how they started running out of water after a spring they were using went dry.
“After going backwards 11 miles and really rationing our water and being thirsty, we found a nice full cow pot,” he said, referring to a water trough. “Cow water never tasted so good.”
Bumps along the way
Miller and Beissinger’s journey on the CDT may sound like the perfect escape from the lockdowns many experienced in 2021. But their journey came with many challenges, they said.
Rapid changes in weather often meant traveling through rain for hours at a time.
“We had our rain coats, rain pants and rain gloves even, but we always had wet feet,” Miller recalled. “I had a blister on every single toe on the bottom of my foot.”
The pair each went through five pairs of shoes in the four-month period, she said.
The equipment that was brought to ensure they stayed warm and dry throughout the hike “could have been a matter of life and death when the weather changed,” Beissinger added.
Traveling during the pandemic also meant that when the couple left the trail to venture into towns, drivers were more cautious about giving them rides.
“Normally the trail is up in the mountains,” said Beissinger. “We usually hitchhike to a town … cars were maybe more nervous about stopping and picking us up.”
The couple didn’t always have access to showers either. At one point along the trail, they went 23 days without bathing.
Despite putting their careers on hold and experiencing unforeseen challenges during their hike on the CDT, there was “never a time I thought about quitting,” said Miller.
“The desire to get home to a bed also means responsibilities of not being on a trail and being away from that beauty,” said Beissinger.
He said his favorite points of the hike were when the couple found themselves “in the middle of nowhere.”
The hiking duo are currently north of the Arctic Circle in northern Sweden experiencing the “polar night,” a phenomenon where the sun doesn’t rise for weeks or even months at a time, depending on the location.