Going the extra mile

Published by the Albuquerque Journal; to view the full article, click here

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Jonathan Miles is laying low in a hotel in Cuba.

A snowstorm passed through New Mexico slowing down daily life just a bit more. While Miles relaxes in the room at the Cuban Lodge Motel, he takes in a few hours of television. A rare moment for a man that’s always on the go. “The storm caught me off guard,” Miles says. “I got a call from my girlfriend warning me there was going to be a storm. I was in Abiquiú and took off running to make it to Cuba.”

Miles – also known as Leatherfoot and Redbeard – is currently walking the Continental Divide Trail in New Mexico. He’s been walking for a few weeks and weather events – no matter where he is – keep him on his toes. New Mexico will be the 31st state Miles has trekked on foot. “I think as human beings, it’s very important to get outside and live an active lifestyle,” he says. “We’re not supposed to be inside. It’s important to be with nature and be surrounded by it. It can be scary sometimes. I’ve seen roughly 100 bears, thousands of deer, and mountain lions. I do get stalked by wolves. I don’t let things like that deter me.”

Miles’ walking mission began in 2015 when he walked from Colorado to Canada. He flew into Albuquerque in early October to get ready for the journey. The CDT runs 3,100 miles between Alberta, Canada, and Chihuahua, Mexico. It passes through five states – Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico. The New Mexico portion of the trail is about 700 miles long – with many areas with limited water.

It begins near Chama and runs south through Cuba and Grants. It continues south through the Gila National Forest and hits Silver City and Lordsburg continuing to Mexico. Usually local volunteer groups place water caches at various points along the trail. With the pandemic, a lot of that has been restricted for walkers. Miles had to get used to taking only what he can carry. “I don’t get to eat very much,” he says. “My caloric intake has been low compared to how much I’m burning off.”

Miles grew up in Eugene, Oregon, and moved around the country in the last five years. He lives in South Carolina today. He’s always wanted to experience traveling America by foot. “This is the best way to experience the country,” he says. “It’s not normal, but I enjoy it.” Miles has walked across North Carolina and Massachusetts. He’s ridden a bicycle around Idaho and Wyoming.

On this trip, he’s raising awareness for Partners for Active Living, which is a non-profit based in Spartanburg, South Carolina. The organization works to improve health and wellness by creating an environment and culture that fosters physical activity and healthy eating. “(It) advocates for a community where activities like walking and bicycling are safe, easy, and convenient,” he says. “They also play a key role as proponents for accessible healthy, local food and direct their activities to help close the gap on health inequities in communities.”

To prepare for a journey such as this Miles takes time to be mentally and physically ready. He will gain weight on purpose knowing that he will quickly lose it. “I pray a lot,” he says. “I find it the best way to prepare my mental state. It’s a constant battle for me. It’s really good for me to talk to people while I’m walking. I have a tight-knit group of friends that are always there to keep me going. My mom and girlfriend don’t like this, so I try not to talk about my trips too much with them.”

Oftentimes, the kindness of strangers restores Miles’ faith in humanity. The CDT is desolate and it’s rare to see a human on the trial. That changed on Wednesday as Miles crossed paths with someone on the trail. “They gave me eight sandwiches, two Gatorade, two pizza things and a pack of hotdogs,” he says. The kindness didn’t stop.

On his way to Grants, Miles’ shoes began to tear. REI Albuquerque stepped in and provided a new pair of hiking boots. “We’re always looking out for hikers,” says Tobias Taylor, REI sales manager. “He’s headed to rough terrain. If his shoes weren’t torn, they would have torn during that part of the trail.”

Miles has set a goal to reach at least Silver City before Thanksgiving. “I promised that I would spend the holiday with my family,” he says. “Then I’ll pick up and finish the trip.”