The Next Phase

I bought a travel trailer.  I did a lot of research before I did.  I discovered that most manufacturers aren’t that careful and that there are ALWAYS issues with a new build.  I also discovered that buying a used trailer is also wrought with challenges.  But I didn’t learn enough about that prior to buying mine.

I found the trailer on Craigslist and contacted the seller.  After a quick online background check of the seller (Facebook & name search) I discovered that he was a pastor at a local church.  I assigned a level of trust to him that I shouldn’t have.  I also wasn’t informed or discerning enough.  I blame myself, not him.

Immediately I learned that the furnace didn’t work.  The sail-valve was defective.  He said it worked the weekend before he sold it to me…I can’t prove otherwise.  Then I discovered that there was a crack in the skylight and that the outside shower wasn’t hooked up.  All of these issues should have been discovered in my initial inspection.  I didn’t look at the trailer well enough.  That’s on me.  I do wonder how much about these issues he was aware of though.  But, like I said – I should have been more efficient during the purchase phase.

Anyway, my first “boondocking” experiments will happen this March.  I’ll post up along the AZT trying to have fun doing trail magic.  By June I’ll probably be up in the Jacob Lake area.  I have no idea where I’m going to be after that – I’ll be playing it by ear.  I’ll have to find locations with Verizon coverage so I can still work remotely.  I upped my mobile data so I could have plenty of WiFi.

We’ll see how it goes.


Being an adult bites.

Well, I’m sad to say that I’m off the trail.  It wasn’t for any reason that I’d have been able to predict either.  My body was responding well – I was getting my hiker legs.  My gear was great too (except for the MSR Hyperflow water filter).  And after my initial blister fiasco, my feet were even playing along.  Nope – I had to come back to reality.

Each time I came home (unplanned) I was brought face to face with what I’d set aside.  All of my worldly responsibilities reminded me that they were either waiting for me, or being dealt with by another person.  And I felt guilty.

During the planning phase I tried to ignore that faint siren of a warning that the real challenge to staying gone was going to be the mental one.  I tried to be selfish about taking the time; that seemed like the only way I could arrive at a semblance of permission.  And it worked – I successfully left.  But two, unplanned return visits to my home brought the house of cards down.

It would seem that the timing of this hike was not appropriate.  I simply have too much shit to do.  Stuff that you can’t really ignore.  I’m not 20 something and aimless, or 65 and retired.  Nor am I wealthy enough that I can pay others to handle my “day to day” . . . yet.

So, I’m off the trail.  But this is only temporary.  I promise.  I will try again.

In the meantime, I’m going to plan a series of segment hikes.  I’ll be hiking them with the intention of learning the secrets of each segment and passing them along to future hikers/bikers.

See you outside.

Thank you sir, may I have another . . .

If you want to make God laugh, plan something.

Not surprisingly, I’m home again.  This time it was because of an injury to my dog.  I don’t know how/when it happened, but I discovered a rather alarmingly large gash on my Zuni’s inner thigh.  So, I contacted my wife, and she scooped us up.  After a brief visit with our trusty veterinarian, Dr. Bastek, we’re on the road to recovery.  And, as you might expect, I took advantage of this down time to make some small gear/logistics adjustments.

They’re rather minor so I’m not going to waste time elaborating.  However, I AM going to bring you up to speed and try to pass along a little wisdom to anyone planning their AZT hike.  As you may recall I had a hiccup a couple of weeks ago; I got that sorted out and hit the trail again a week or so later.  Since then, I’ve hiked from Jacob Lake to just outside Flagstaff.  The miles have been pretty easy since exiting the Grand Canyon too, which is nice.

When you get to the Grand Canyon, go to the permit officer and tell them you’re an AZT hiker – they’ve gone out of their way to accommodate us.  You see, they have some campgrounds at Bright Angel/Phantom, and Cottonwood that are exclusively reserved for people that take horses/stock into the canyon.  They’re rarely used and the Park Service puts thru-hikers up at these camps so we don’t have to wait around for days until an opening comes around.  It’s apparently a rather new policy so you might have to kindly guide the ranger.  I worked with Steve Bridgehouse (N. Rim) and he was VERY helpful.

Another thing about the GCNP is that they have a biker/hiker campground that’s “always available”.  Those were Steve’s words – I don’t know if he meant that they will “make space” or that it’s so underutilized that it’s rarely a problem, but keep that in mind as you approach the canyon.  Technically it’s illegal to camp in the park, but outside their formal campgrounds.

Something else I learned is that the trail comes VERY close to Tusayan.  It comes within about 40 feet of an RV park.  DON’T get a spot at the RV park; there are some great spots in the National Forest.  The best spots are on the trail just south of the trail/park junction.  They have a shower, laundry, some sinks to wash dishes, and water.  They’re also right next to the General Store (which will receive packages as long as they’re shipped UPS or FedEx) and a pizza joint.  Oh, and the Stage Stop has great coffee, but you need to get there at 7, just as it’s opening otherwise you’ll wait a looooooooong time for your brew.  It’s popular and they don’t move fast.

Regarding the stretch from Tusayan to CO Bar – it’s as dry as they say.  As of this writing there was water in the trough next to the metal Russell Tank, at Lockwood AND an unnamed tank about 8.5 miles south of Lockwood.  I was forced to strain it through a bandanna and use iodine.  It had a faint smell of “cow” but tasted fine.  A proper filter would go a long way here.  Yes, I had a filter but it crapped out on me AGAIN.  It was the MSR Hyperflow; I can’t overstate what a fickle POS this thing is.  I broke down and bought the Sawyer.  I should have started with that to begin with.

Well, that’s what I know so far.  I’ll report more as I learn along the trail.

Oh, one more thing – Anish is on the trail.  She’s hoping to finish by October 23rd.  In her words: “we’ll see”.  I love it when chicks kick such royal ass.

See you out there, sole 2 soul.

Two steps forward, one step back

I wasn’t expecting to be writing this blog from my office.  I thought I’d be posting from my mobile phone.  I’ve had an unexpected setback.  Blisters, two, huge blisters on the back of both heels.  So, instead of sole to soul, I’m healin’ the heels.

Within the first half hour of the first day my heel started to tickle.  But it wasn’t much.  By the time I’d gotten to camp the blister on my left heel was larger than any piece of moleskin that I had; then the next day the same thing happened to my right heel.  By day three I couldn’t fathom the idea of walking another 9 miles in my flesh eating boots.

Here’s the catch – these boots were an old trusty pair that had NEVER given me a blister, not ever.  I’d had them resoled and even walked around in them for a week to make sure they’d work.  They didn’t.  I finished my third day in my camp shoes – Crocs.

Brian and I returned to his RV, that we’d stashed about 1/2 mile from the trail, just outside of Jacob Lake.  I’d planned on re-supplying there and continuing on; with these blisters I knew my boot days were over.  I  planned on hiking the next 50 miles in my Chacos with the heel strap moved aside, but when I tried that I quickly realized that the straps would rub different holes in my feet if I continued.  I was at an impasse.

I faced a prolonged healing process before I could continue.  I estimated that it’d be at least 4-5 days.  I didn’t want to burn days and provisions sitting in a tent just outside Jacob Lake, not to mention the need for different footwear.  So, I decided to head home and heal.  I’m going to admit, that at first that reality hurt – I’d be returning home after 3 days.  It wasn’t the setback I’d expected.  I figured I’d have some muscular or skeletal issue – sore back, legs, knees, feet, lips . . . anything but blisters from a trusted companion.

The disappointment didn’t stick around very long though.  I received a couple of messages from some close friends and immediately things didn’t seem so bleak.  I could come home, heal and in the meantime take care of a few house/farm-keeping chores.  But most importantly I could take the time to head south and scout the towns and trail heads.  I might also be able to cache some water for myself and other hikers.

Speaking of caching water for other hikers, I had a neat experience.  Brian and I had cached some water along our route; some for us and some for other hikers.  When we’d returned we saw that someone had taken some water.  I felt like a kid again – remember when you’d leave cookies and milk out for Santa Claus and in the morning you could tell he’d been there?  That’s what it felt when I saw the water gone.  It was exciting.

Anyway, I’ve decided to turn this issue into the silver lining rather than the cloud.  I get to tweak a few gear choices and still be out there, playing along the trail.  Maybe I’ll see some hikers on their own journeys.  If I do I’ll be prepared to distribute a little love & magic.  I suspect I’ll be just as excited about that as they are.

See you out there.


It’s like bootcamp again.

I’m sitting here in my office and in about 5 hours my friend Brian Higgins is going to pick me up to take me to the Utah border.  He’s going to hike the first three days with me; from the Utah border to Jacob Lake.  I can’t help but reflect on my impending journey.  It feels like I’m going to bootcamp again.

In 1986, after I graduated from high school, I went into the US Marine Corps.  I think it was something like 17 days in between graduation and bootcamp.  I had these days to think about what was coming.  I knew that the next 13 weeks was going to be hell, but trans-formative.  I wondered if I had what it took to be a Marine.  One of the last things my dad said to me before I shipped out was that when things got tough, too tough, tell myself that I can quit tomorrow; that I’ll finish this day but tomorrow I could quit.  If I told myself that every time I felt like quitting, I’d at least finish the day.

This hike is a lot like bootcamp to me.  I wonder about the physical and mental challenge and how I’m going to respond.  I know that there will be moments when I’ll want to quit.  But on the other hand I also feel that a person can’t do something like this without it having some impact on your soul.  In truth, I can’t think of a better way to go about a reset.

See you out there.

Smiles per day

How do you know when someone does Crossfit?  Oh, they’ll tell you – over and over.  How do you know when someone is attempting a thru-hike?  Same thing.  I’m 17 days out and, as you might expect, the most common topic on my brain is this hike.  I’ve been to professional networking functions.  Invariably people ask you “what’s up” . . . when that happens I see an opening and I tell them about my plans.

I know it’s natural to want to talk about important things, and honestly, I’m not embarrassed that I bring up my adventure.  I know that people love to hear of other people’s adventures; like anyone, we conjure the romantic images of whatever that adventure is.  The white sandy beaches, the fresh air, the majestic mountains.  What I’m sure they don’t envision, at least as it applies to a thru-hike, is the pain.  The blisters, heat, sore back, stubbed toe, sunburn, hypothermia, lack of sleep and the invariable cut on the hand (how DID I cut myself?).

To be honest, I don’t really think about that stuff either.  I know it’s going to happen so why worry about it.  There’s no reason to be miserable twice for the same thing.  So, I ignore the impending.  I think of those sunny but perfect temperature days, on flat ground, hiking next to gurgling streams.  I dream of those million mile views.  I don’t think of the rain or how it turns to mud that sticks to your boots so eventually you’re plodding along with 10lb feet.  I know that this is going to be a physically demanding endeavor.

Knowing all of this has enabled me to look at this hike differently.  Usually, when I go backpacking my intent is to get to where I’m going without wasting time, so I can enjoy the campsite.  I’ll relax in camp, pace be damned!  But on this trip, I’m really not “going anywhere”; sure, there’s a goal, but it’s nothing to hurry about.  I’m going to hike when I want, stop when I’m tired, nap when I’m sleepy and camp when I like my surroundings.

I’ll be measuring the smiles per day, rather than worrying about miles per day.  For the most part.  I’ll still keep y’all up to date.  I’ve got one of those DeLorme InReach devices and apparently I’m able to post to Facebook and shit.  Really roughin’ it, huh?  I’ll also be periodically posting to Instagram and in this here blog-thingy when I reception and intention happen to intersect.

If you get a wild hair up your butt and feel like going camping, hiking or mountain biking, maybe you could time your outing to my passing through.  Both pizza AND fried chicken are great at room temperature.

Is it September 19th yet . . .

Trail Magic

When I first started looking into “thru-hiking” I discovered something called Trail Angels.  Along the Appalachian Trail, the granddaddy of our thru-hiking trails, there are these amazing people that apparently get their kicks by showing up at random trail/road intersections and hand out refreshments.  Some just leave a cooler of water, others go way overboard and set up kitchens . . . God bless those people.

IMGP0250This phenomena apparently happens so much along the AT that it’s becoming a part of the expectations for some hikers.  If anything on the internet is true, then some of the legends of hikers with entitlement-syndrome must be as well.  I suspect that it’s only a few bad apples that are creating the drama.  The rest of the stories of surprised and grateful hikers strikes me as the norm.

Either way, the Arizona Trail network of Trail Angels is nowhere as developed as the hordes on the AT.  But they’re there.  The most common act of love these angels do is to stash water at various intersections.  If you visit the Arizona Trail site and check out the maps, there are literally hundreds of places where the trail crosses a road.  In some cases, major roads.  There are even a few places that the AZTA has installed water cache boxes.  These are animal proof, metal boxes and dedicated angels stash gallon water jugs.

I think the reason this is the most popular type of angel support is because the AZT is known as “800 miles of water stress”.  Luckily I have access to a water report that’s updated every couple of weeks or so.  It tells me where the most common water sources are and their relative reliability.  Regardless, the water isn’t abundant.  Some hikers have reported carrying 6-9 liters because water sources are so far apart.  Each liter weights 2.2lbs, not counting the vessel.  That means 13-20 pounds just in water weight.

Anyway, yeah . . .so these water caches are pretty damned appreciated.

Maybe if you happen to be playing outside, near the Arizona Trail, you’ll take it upon yourself to stash a couple gallons of water where hikers & riders might find them.  If you do, then make sure to use those typical gallons you can buy from a supermarket; the ones that look like milk-jugs.  The reason is because they’re collapsible and light, making them easier to haul out.  Also, if you see empties, please haul them out, especially if you are in a car or on a bike.  Especially.

If you’re in-state and feel like camping along the trail to surprise and delight hikers then please take photos – I’d love to see images of AZT Love!

One Month Left

I have exactly one month left before I put sole to dirt.  On September 19th I’ll be waving goodbye to my friend, Chuck and heading south. I’ll be attempting my very first thru-hike of any trail.  Luckily I happen to live in the state where the trail exists, no doubt the logistics of an out of state hike is more daunting as well.

For the last 5 months I’ve had my “kit” on a folding table next to my desk.  When I’m going ADHD at work I turn around and look at the kit – I mentally scrutinizing every piece.  “Can I find something lighter, or one that has multiple uses?”  “Do I really NEED that?” How much can one really leave behind before you start compromising your preparedness?  There’s a saying – “there is no such thing as bad weather; only bad decisions and/or gear”.  So I’m looking at every single piece and trying to pare it down to the perfect balance of need vs. want.  Weight equals pain and luxury.

So I’ve got my kit dialed in; at least I think I do; here’s a video I shot in one take on the first try.  I’m a bit surprised that I mostly made sense.

I’ve got some pretty great gear and an amazing wife that’s willing to finish stuffing priority mailing boxes & sending them to places as I go along.  I’ll have an InReach so I’ll even be able to let her know if I need any additional stuff or gear replacements.  I truly do have it easy, really.  If Lewis and Clark can discover Oregon without modern gear, then I’m pretty sure I can stumble to Mexico with my cool gadgets.

My favorite part of this whole trip, right now, is that I’m actually taking 60 days off, at a very inappropriate time in my life.  I have so much shit to do right now.  I know, I know – we ALL, ALWAYS have tons of shit to do.  But my shit is also seasonal – the fall is pretty damned important.  It’s when our busy season starts ramping up; in fact there are some major events that are already booked, that will require human effort.  I’m going anyway.

I’m glad I’m a Gemini; I get to watch one twin say “%$#@!-it, I’m going outside to play”, and the other twin shake his head, condescendingly, and say – “but you have responsibilities”.  Usually, unfortunately almost exclusively, my sensible twin wins.  This time – not so much.

I’m on board with the sentiment that memories are the greatest investments of all time.

Only the first half

Over my right shoulder, just behind me is a table with my “kit” spread out.  That way I get to think about the relative need of every piece of gear, as a whole, over a long period of time.  I have a philosophy on what gear goes into a backpack.  This reasoning applies to backpacking as well as thru-hiking.

Except for medical supplies, if a piece of gear doesn’t come out of your pack and get used every day, it’s probably not worth carrying.  Also, if a piece of gear doesn’t have more than one use then you need to consider alternatives.  Plan well, but don’t overthink it.

This is an “average” philosophy.  By that, I mean I apply this philosophy differently based on the trip.  For example, T.I.T.S. (Thanksgiving In The Superstitions) requires a whole different set of tools than a trip across the Tonto Plateau in Grand Canyon.  I apply the average of the philosophy as an “overlay” to the trip, so to speak.  However, for this upcoming AZT hike I’m also adding two other layers of consideration.  The first scrutiny can be explained in a simple equation: weight=pain=luxury.  The second analysis is of a “durability/ease-of-resupply” style, will it last the entire time and if not, how easy can I replace that item.

I have just about one of every single piece of gear in back up.  It might not be the exact same make and model, but the capacity is the same.  For example, if my MSR Micro-Rocket dies then I’ve got the most ubiquitous stove on the planet – the MSR Whisperlite.  I’m also pretty good at starting fires, so there’s that.

Anyway, the underlying, long-story, over described point is that I’m planning the $#!T out this trip . . . but only the first “half”.  I’ve hiked many of the sections north of Oracle.  I haven’t hiked a single segment south.  I’m roughly familiar with the topography due to some extensive scouring of the Arizona Trail Association website but I’ve not hiked a single inch of the trail, yet.

You see, I figure that since I’m hiking south-bound, by the time I get to Oracle I’ll have my shit together.  I’ll have shaken down my gear, streamlined my operations, and gotten my “hiker legs”.  I’ll have just enjoyed the company of friends and amazing food in the middle of the wilderness (T.I.T.S.).  The rest of the way I can make it up as I go, for the most part.  If, for some reason, I am forced to abandon my hike I won’t need to know the trail for this go-around.

Either way, I don’t think I’m going to worry about the second half.  Except for mail drops, water caches, hotel reservations, resupply logistics, “coyotes”, etc.  For that, there’s MasterCard.


Living vicariously

Mike left last week for his thru-hike of the AZT.  I’ve been following his blog (Protect the AZT) and it appears he’s having the time of his life!  Sure, there are already challenges, but conquering them is half the fun!  Anyway, it was a real education watching him in his last few days of planning.  The experience was great for two reasons: first, I was able to watch someone in planning mode during the final days prior to departure.  The second was because I really was able to think about how I wanted to serve the hiking community.

Mike had attempted the hike last year but Murphy decided to tag along; he was forced, for various reasons, to bail early on in the attempt.  It’s probably a good thing though, because if you read his account of the incident you’ll realize that he hadn’t planned properly.  The opposite was true this time around and I was able to benefit from his learning experience.  In fact, by living vicariously through him during the 6 days he was here was invaluable!  In fact, I learned about two awesome spots along the trail that I hadn’t originally counted that can be counted on for resupply.

The most valuable lesson was coming to the realization that I would love to run a thru-hiker basecamp and help others achieve their dreams of completing the AZT.  I’d been thinking about something like this for a while but it wasn’t until Mike stayed with me that I was able to really put the idea to paper.  I’d been doing casual research on the subject as I read stories of hikers on other trails like the PCT and AT.  I’d also read horror stories about hikers gone wild.  I wasn’t sure how to make it all work, but this week I came up with a plan.

So, I posted my ideas on a few Facebook pages and within minutes I had two people that were interested.  At this point you’re probably thinking “how awesome; you’re going to do great”!  Well, my first thought was “shit, now I have to figure out how to price this so I’m not losing money or wasting time”.  So, I did what any smart business person would do and I made up some pricing that sounded reasonable and sent some estimates.  Since I haven’t heard back from them I’m not sure how well they liked it.  Live and learn . . .

Anyway, to make a long story less long I’ve outlined what we’re going to provide – a base camp, in-town supply shuttles, border drop-off/pickup, gear receiving, and a few other small services.  We have a great property, centrally located, with ample camping spots and a 15 passenger van.  It’s a start.

The best part about helping hikers is that I get to hear the stories.  A person can learn a lot about themselves by just listening to others’ tales of chasing dreams.