Barbed Wire, a Month in Dinosaur National Monument

I’ve been living and working with my trail crew 24-7 for the past five weeks. For the past few years my jobs have been incredibly solitary and autonomous (working as a backcountry ranger in Maine and working with dogs in Boston) This crew leading job has been a big change to say the least, but I’ve enjoyed adapting to it. We were camped in the most remote parts of Dinosaur National Monument on the Utah/Colorado border for the first month and now we are working up at 13,800+ feet on spalding peak in Mt. Evans Wilderness. I usually only blog when I’m thru-hiking (or obsessing about it) but I’m still living in my tent 7 days a week, working and exploring in the depths of the American West. This means I’m face to face with the subjects I often think and write about.

The Dinosaur NM project was a fencing project. I knew there was a potential for getting fencing work when I took this crew leader job, but I didn’t expect to be doing it for an entire month. Thru-hiking has left me a fervent loather of the barbed wire fence. They are everywhere in the west, new ones old one’s. Their two main purposes are to mark boundary lines (BLM, forest service, park service, private property and everything else) and to prevent cattle from crossing those lines. Some areas in the west have open ranges where cattle roam freely about, hang out in the middle of highways and whatnot, it’s great, but most areas are endless grids of fenceline. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog I’ve seen wildlife scarred and bloody from crossing fence lines. I’ve watched less athletic like animals like bear, buffalo, and pregnant elk pacing around remote fancelines, sometimes following them for miles, looking for places to cross. On the CDT I gashed myself open several times crossing fences, on the Grand Enchantment Trail some days it was an hourly hurdle. The constant presence of barbed wire fences leaves a sour flavor on the palate of those seeking to explore these american landscapes.

The reasoning behind the barbs on the wire of these fences has to do with the cattle. In the 1800’s farmers tried lining their properties with thorned Osage Orange shrubs to prevent cattle from destroying crops but they took many years to grow and proved a poor solution. Using smooth wire fences also was attempted but the cattle pushed on through them as they pleased.

Before the barbed wire boom there was a “law of the open range” which was more of an unwritten understanding of the west. Cattle roamed freely and were branded so they could be identified and the cattlemen went out on their epic cattle drives, sometimes hundreds of miles, from the vast wildernesses to cities where cattle were sold and hauled off on trains. An absence of fences was necessary for these journeys as well as for the cattle to graze and find water. It was the farmers who were advocates of the barbed wire and began fencing off their property which lead to hostilities between them and the cattlemen. In 1881 the “fence-cutting wars” began. Cowboys assembled gangs that went out at night cutting whatever fences they could find. This lasted for four years. Eventually fence cutting became a felony and the war was more or less lost. The barbed wire fence didn’t only entirely disrupt the way of life of the cowboys but it aided in the near extinction of the buffalo (disrupting grazing/migration patterns) which also in turn devastated many native american tribe’s way of life.

This all being said, the fact that I was going to be building barbed wire fences in remote high deserts for an entire month greatly disturbed me. Many of my crew members had similar feelings about fences and it was my job to motivate them to do the work. The fences we built were the boundary of the national monument and BLM land. Luckily we were building wildlife friendly fences; the bottom wire was smooth and the top wire coated in a white rubber which makes it easier for wildlife to detect and jump, but still a barrier for livestock. The middle two strands remain barbed. This made it a bit easier to justify to my crew. In some places we were building new fence like this, and in others we were repairing old fence and adding the wildlife friendly features.

To give readers an idea of how frequent wildlife deaths occur due to barbed wire fences here are some statistics I found from a 2006 research project by Harrington & Connover: The study analyzed 1,200 miles of fence along roads in Utah and Colorado: They found that one antelope died per year for every 5.6 miles of fence, one mule deer for every 7.8 miles of fence, and one elk for every 10.8 miles of fence. This adds up to one dead animal for every 2.5 miles of fence which is a disturbing statistic. This previous statistic doesn’t include their findings on the number of hooved animals found lying dead beside fences (previous statistics were for animals tangled in fences); one death per 1.2 miles of fence, an insane number. 90% of these deaths are young fawns separated from and abandoned by their mothers when unable to cross a fence line.

Because we were fortunate enough to be building less detrimental fence the biggest moral opposition to the work for some members was the cutting of the corridor which consisted of removing the vegetation within about five feet of the fence on either side. The vast majority of the vegetation was sagebrush which has no trouble growing back, but while hacking away at these plants the habitats of many birds, rodents and insects were destroyed so they had my sympathy and I did my best to put them on different tasks. The hardest part of my job for this first month was by far supervising work that my crew members were opposed to on various levels. Now we’re building stone staircases and closing social trails at high elevation and this is no longer an issue.

Fences in the west just kind of suck. Without them the national parks, national forests and wildernesses would get over grazed just like all the public and private lands that cattle currently do graze on. With the fences we have unwelcoming eye sores that are hazardous to wildlife and  grid off our country. What a predicament! The solution is…go vegan? Without the cattle there’d be no need for the fences. I believe this, but..I’m stepping into an issue far to complex and riddled with subtleties to go on with. Ranching cattle has been a way of life in our country for generations and its not going anywhere. Fences suck. That’s my point. I don’t have solutions to offer. I will say that there are barbed wire fences in many places where they are not needed. It seems many landowners, parks, and other land management agencies use barbed wire when none is necessary. I recently took my crew on a cross country hike from some state land outside of moab and into Arches National Park. When we got to the remote park boundary there was no fence to be found. There were simple little cairns of rocks holding up “park boundary” markers. There was no physical barrier. It was great.

Even though the work was less than desirable (and I’m almost ashamed to have become an expert at it!) we were camped out in beautiful landscapes I never would have seen without the job. I’ve driven by and briefly visited Dinosaur National Monument in the past and my impression was that it was a respectable, oddly shaped, piece of grooved desert on the CO/UT border. Now that I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in parts of the park so remote that the senior staff has never even ventured there I’ve developed a greater appreciation for the place.

The first stretch of the project we spent camped near Zanobia peak, an angular mountain topped with a firetower manned. To get there we drove our vans and trailers two hours on rocky rutted old jeep roads until we couldn’t make it any further and from there we were shuttled about seven miles in ATV’s and park service trucks. From our worksite we overlooked the Green River and Yampa River valleys, as well as Lodore Canyon. The canyons in this area are tremendously deep, gouged like erratic knife marks in clay. One day we hiked to the firetower on Zanobia peak. We hiked up from our worksite and followed a barren ridgeline for a few miles to get there. All around us, above the deep red canyons were mountains marked by red and yellow cliffs and ridges of oddly piled rock formations. The valleys looked soft, soley vegetated by sage brush, then the hillsides become forested with juniper and piñon until they begin to peak out and are barren along the ridgelines. Cattle could be heard moaning somewhere far far below in the Zanobia basin. At the firetower the jolly yet hermetic watchman gave us a little tour of his stilted abode. Like the other fire towers I’ve been to, it was full of a queer assortment of old equipment and maps. The centerpiece was an ancient looking Osborne Fire Finder, a circular map with two metal sightings positioned on opposite sides of the map that rotate together, letting the watchman decipher the distance and azimuth of nearby fires.

Our second stint in Dino was even more scenic and remote than the first. We were camped on a high ridgeline that extends from Wild Mountain. To one side this ridge looked over Jones Hole, a picturesque canyon of sinuous white beige and yellow cliffs. On the other side it overlooks the Canyon of Lodore from the opposite side as our Zanobia project. Easy hikes along pristine ridgelines from our camp lead to towering cliffs that overlooked these incredible canyons that descend 3000 feet to the rivers below. Landscape is landscape, to attempt to translate into text is unsuited. I’ve fantasized about creating a zig-zagging cross country route for myself in this little traveled park, but these immense vertical cliffs that accompany almost every geographic feature seem problematic. Who knows, perhaps I’ll try.

Each morning we woke up a half hour before the sun crept cooly over the eastern ridges, most of us rising from our unsheltered sleeping bags into brisk morning air. If it weren’t for the location of this project I would probably be unemployed. I love existing in the desert. The fine pale dirt in my mouth, on my skin, on every inch of all of us as we did mind numbing work in the desert, carrying 70lb spools of barbed wire, one after the other, up and down steep slopes of sage and prickly pear, pounding T-post after T post, digging post holes into dense rocky ground, we all let some of the landscape in, and in some sort of desert fueled ecstatic misery we made it through a difficult month of work. In the future I hope my only work with barbed wire fences is personal, involving only wire cutters and a vendetta against the barbed gridlock of the west.

Todaloo,

Nate Dawgy Dizzle

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An Over-Use Conundrum

Oh boy.

Before I figure out what my opinions are on this yet to be defined issue let’s talk numbers.  According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy an estimated 1,400 people completed a thru-hike of the AT in 2010, the year I hiked. In 2017 an estimated 3,700 people completed the AT. That’s over 2.5 times as many hikers as seven years prior. Even more drastic is the exponential increase in numbers on the pacific crest trail. According to the Pacific Crest Trail Association 156 people completed thru-hikes with me in 2011. In 2016 a whopping 724 completed the PCT (over a 400% increase, though it should be noted 2011 was a high snow year) I hiked the Arizona Trail in 2013. According to the Arizona Trail Association only six people thru-hiked the trail that year (my hiking partner and I are not included on that list) 113 people were listed as having thru-hiked the AZT in 2017. This year in the 50 or so miles that the Grand Enchantment Trail follows the AZT I saw over twenty thru-hikers. This was extremely surprising because I barely saw anyone in 2013 besides my hiking partner. The statistics revolving around the Continental Divide Trail have proved difficult to find, but the numbers there are increasing as well. It is a logical and natural trend. The majority of hikers begin with the AT or PCT and then many of them get “the bug” and graduate to other national scenic trails and their lesser known relatives.

In 2009 I had never heard of the Appalachian Trail. It was my girlfriend at the time’s idea to hike it and she taught me a bit about it. I’d always fantasized about going off the grid and living in the mountains so the idea of backpacking for roughly five months sounded fine to me. Our research mainly consisted of buying the data book and doing simple online research about weather and gear. We knew the trail was well known and not going to be a private and solitary five months. We were shocked though when we did actually get down to georgia and started hiking north. For the first few nights there were several dozen people all camped around the shelters. Sleeping in them wasn’t usually an option due to their first come first serve nature. The scenes reminded me of the “tent city” that the homeless community had erected between the abandoned mall and the train tracks in my home town when I was a kid.

We shrugged off the crowded aspects of things and focused on how to thru-hike without physically falling apart. We spent little time in towns. They were always full of hikers and the hostels were usually near capacity when we arrived. We didn’t drink much at the time and the party mentality of the trail community was a bit off putting. The feeling of being constantly around this type of overcrowding lasted at least to Trail Days in Damascus which was an overwhelming experience to say the least. Eventually we cut down on our pack weight and switched to trail runners instead of boots and figured out how to hike over 25 miles a day. This combined with how little time we spent in towns helped us creep towards the front of the pack. In the central states we found a much more tolerable number of people around; about 5-6 hikers we saw somewhat regularly, that we felt like we knew, and then a hand full of other people either passing us or getting passed by us. When we got to New England we finally got a taste of solitude and uninterrupted wilderness. There were at most only five days on the AT where we didn’t see other thru-hikers.

I tell you all this because…well…I just can’t imagine hiking the trail now that there are well over twice as many people on it. The Appalachian Trail, to me, is an example of a trail that has gotten to the point where the amount of use it is getting is so much that it is degrading the experience of those using it. Where exactly that line falls is hard to say. I suppose it would be different for everyone. When I hiked the AT, I wasn’t an experienced hiker. I didn’t know what else was out there. I benefited greatly from it and enjoyed my hike. Hypothetically, if I had never hiked the Appalachian Trail before AND the number of hikers on it was still the same as it was in 2010 I would not have much interest in it because that amount of use is so much that it takes away from the type of experience I am (now) interested in having. This might not be true for most hikers, especially those new to thru-hiking. BUT, the numbers are not what they were in 2010 and I am somewhat baffled at the continuing increase in interest. As the desirability of the thru-hike declines will the numbers one day decrease? Will a balance eventually be reached?

In 2010 trash on the AT was a big issue. Toilet paper could be seen along and near the trail much too often, the shelters were speckled with plastic wrappers and the fire pits were usually chuck full of foil and other unburnables. This issue has only increased. Perhaps it is due to the fact that the AT is often a person’s first long distance hike and their trail edicate and leave-no-trace knowledge are undeveloped. The AT suffers more than the other trails in this way because of its close proximity to civilization, and its heavy use my all different people. In 2015 three thru-hikers (Seth Orme, Joe Dehnert, and Paul Twedt) raised awareness by packing out over a thousand pounds of garbage they found along the trail. I see potential thru-hiking related job creation here!

When one person is alone in a house they may or may enjoy the house, its luxuries, the solitude. When two people are alone in a house they might get along, they might bond, they might…When fifty people are in a house it’s going to be a party. A few people will get annoyed and leave, the rest will get sucked into the social frenzy and have a good old time. This applies to the trails. As the numbers increase the party-mentality increases even more so. It’s understandable. It’s just how people are. I like to have a good time with a few hikers when I’m passing through a trail town, but there’s an important issue here that, from what I understand, has been plaguing some trail towns and their businesses.  From staying vaguely in tune with what’s going on in the trail community via the internet it’s been rather obvious that some hotel/hostel owners, and trail angels along the long distance trails have been simply fed up with hikers leaving things a mess, being loud and rowdy, breaking rules, and neglecting to properly pay for services. I know that it’s a bit of a “few bad apples” scenario but it’s also not a “once in a blue moon” issue. (I’m not sure exactly what my point is here, but i think it’s along the lines of “If you’re gonna butt chug beers and invite every girl on tinder over to your hotel room just clean up after yourself and genuinely apologize for being a nuisance” (sometimes that stuff just happens on the trail right?)

Back in 2013 I worked for a bit as the Katahdin Stream Ranger in Baxter State Park (and several years elsewhere in the park) and witnessed first hand the stresses these increasing numbers are putting on Baxter. I’ve listened to heated discussions about how the park should deal with the AT. The complex topic can be simmered down to either appeasing the trail community by compromising the guidelines set by governor Baxter, or just the opposite. I favor staying strictly true to the stipulations of governor Baxter’s donation of the land to the people of Maine, to keep it forever wild. Millinocket is where I’ve seen  AT related stress among the locals with my own eyes. I’ve sat at the Scootic in Millinocket and watched the bartender chase Appalachian Trail hikers down the street after leaving no tip on an all day several hundred dollar bill. Behavior like this is drastic to the local community’s perception of the trail. I’ve talked to many recent thru-hikers, listened to their stories and I can’t help but think that the Appalachian Trail must be losing its appeal to anyone looking for more than a lower body workout or a rugged five month bar crawl.

I’m sorry, I’ve lost track of my real point, or just failed to summon one out of my babbling. I’ve lowered myself to trash talking the AT (in a literal sense!) Lets get careless and jump around a little. What in the hell is a wilderness experience? I’m not talking about official national wildernesses when I use the word. A wilderness can be anywhere that feels devoid of society. The couple acres of woods between the house I grew up in and my grandmother’s trailer park were all the wilderness I needed to become a uncivilized vagabond. Like everything else I’m going on about, a wilderness experience and what it entails is different for everyone. I’m more particular than most. I like to be lost in the wilderness for at least a couple days at a time without seeing other people, towns, houses. That is what I look for in a hike. The relics of the past like abandoned homesteads, old farming stuff, mining equipment, none of that bothers me. Old jeep tracks and dirt roads don’t bother me either; they’re just trails. (don’t get me started on fences! Another time!) It is funny how temperamental I can be. It takes a bit of time to get into the wilderness experience, to feel comfortable in it. Sometimes something as minuscule as seeing an airplane overhead can snap me into a much less desirable mindset; if I’m having a rough day a billboard for soft beds, dirty sex, dank lasagna, and dumb as hell television might as well be floating across the sky. Lets just define a wilderness experience as: entering and existing within an environment consumed by nature during which time very little of the unnatural presents itself.

People are natural, why would seeing other hikers take away from a wilderness experience? Well, shit, maybe it doesn’t really. Not for most people. But it has to do with the volume of people and the negative things that can result; the trash, crowded campsites, not being able to take a leak without someone yelling “howdy!” What a crowded trail diminishes can be simplified; Solitude! Some people are not as interested in finding and experiencing true solitude as others and that’s fine. For example, nobody who hikes a trail with a partner (or partners) or a significant other will ever really experience true solitude, and many people who start the trails alone only do so with the intentions of falling into groups. It may sound like I’m talking down on the shared experience right now, but really I’m just realizing that a desire for solitude plays an extremely varying role in people’s reasons for thru-hiking. I’m just one of those people who puts a huge emphasis on it.

All of the trails are becoming more popular. The Hayduke Trail has begun to find some real attention, the Grand Enchantment Trail is seeing increasing numbers every year, and the same goes for The Pacific Northwest Trail, The Great Divide Trail, and every other trail. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens as the statistics continue to rise. Will the numbers plateau? Will increased regulation of trail usage go into effect before this happens? Will more bestselling novels be written about the trails and expedite the process? There are new trails out there. I hope the Great Eastern Trail gets completed and helps dilute the AT’s traffic. Foreign trails will gain popularity and maybe a rise in excitement about El Camino, Te Araroa, The Great Himalaya Trail will change the tide a little. One day I’d like to hike the CDT again, maybe the PCT, but I don’t really know what to expect a thru-hike to be like five to ten years from now. Will over 2,000 people hike the CDT annually in the near future?

The moral to this story is that I’m special and I want all the long distance trails to myself. Everyone stay home and become foodies! No, no, I want you to be out there. The moral is that I want these wonderful trails and routes to give rewarding experiences to everyone regardless of whether it’s someone’s first or your twentieth long distance hike. I encourage everyone to get out there, to try it, to see what their made of. Traveling by foot for such intimidating distances is something else. You see incredible things. You meet incredible people (yes, people can be good in moderation!) You may even find yourself, but you probably won’t. You’ll probably just find a new obsession to ruin your life with! Just be respectful, be mindful of the fragile relationship each trail has with its surrounding communities. Hike on.

A few miles down a dirt road I’m sitting in my car smacking away at this keyboard. The battery is low. The Sun has fallen below the distant Utah cliffs. My 3% alcohol beer is too warm to justify opening. It’s time to turn in. Goodnight. 

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Endless Exodus (an uncomfortable patriotism)

I finished my ~700 mile hike of the Grand Enchantment Trail yesterday. Standing up on Sandia Crest looking down on the endless flat sprawl of Albuquerque I thought very little. I just had the feeling that something good was over, something I should be proud of. Moving forward now is a continuation of the flux; getting back to my car in Phoenix, a brief visit to family, heading up to Colorado to start a new job, a summer of living out of my tent. The months ahead will be interesting and I can’t complain.

Today we will be talking about becoming a pedentary ball of observation, and more specifically, an inarticulate and uncomprehending one.

I do not fully understand why the landscapes look as they do, why the rocks formed in the patterns they have, what makes them red here, green there. I don’t know why certain plants exist here and not there, nor do I know the nomenclature of any of these things. I only see them, and see them change from place to place. Everything around me is always transforming; the climate, the land, the vegetation, wildlife, the people that inhabit the landscapes, the way people interact with the land, the relics that have been left behind.

I often wonder about the true scientists. How would a devout biologist, geologist, or archaeologist experience thousands of miles of observation? It would be profoundly different from my experience, knowing the names of everything, the true rarity of certain specimens. It would be a wet dream for many a young scientists who are stuck in classrooms and laboratories until they fall into a semi appropriate job (if they’re lucky) Here I am with just the crumbs of their knowledge and I’m out here seeing it all. Just because my understanding of the “why’s”and “how’s” is dull to say the least doesn’t mean I can’t get anything out of it. There’s something to be said about just observing everything, noticing the changes, taking it all in like a child passing through a museum. As I traverse mountains I don’t know if they are a titled fault-block range or composed of Cenozoic calderas. It’s interesting stuff to know, but I dare not say it’s important for my purposes.

A long distance hiker who’s assimilated with the endless walk, who’s become what they are doing, ends up a rather fluid entity of observation. I often feel like an extensive catalog of the natural world, useless to everyone including myself. To exist like this is to accomplish existence in its most brilliant form while simultaneously dancing on the line of not existing at all.

As I pass through the wildernesses I also pass through small towns and communities of the more remote parts of the country. I see the people change with the landscapes just like the grasses, cacti, and rocks. From town to town you notice changes in the little things; the way people treat dogs, the way lone men hold themselves at the bar, the drugs that plague communities, poverty in its different forms, the way houses fall apart and how trailers are parked out front when they finally implode. Culture has a way of disintegrating and getting isolated in the American West. Sometimes it’s tourism.; culture inherently eliminated as it arrives. Development does the same thing; the Walmart’s, the interstate highways that bypass the actual towns. Small communities are starved in the sense that small farms and businesses wither away.

In the remote canyons and open deserts homesteads crumble to the ground. Old ruins of cliff dwellings and pueblos whisper of some way of life unimaginable to modern souls. Sit me down in an old mud brick ruin and let me watch the wicked wind thrash the world about. Nature and time, hand in hand, sweep us under the dust as we blindly build build build in our ugly sprawling valleys.

Somehow I never really got to “find myself” on these many thousands of miles I’ve hiked. In fact I know myself less than ever, everything about me often feels ambiguous, like I have a disorder that involves always adapting to my environments instead of developing defined traits. I know less about myself but I know more about my country. In a strange way I’ve become more of a patriot than I ever though possible. That patriotism is quiet though, and is solely a love of the land. I care not for what the country stands for, for what its politicians do, for its history. If I could I would reverse it all because my patriotism is for what’s been destroyed, desecrated, and what’s been privatized. Having cut myself on barbed wire fences more times than I can count, having watched bears follow fence lines for miles looking for a way to cross back into the mountains, having seen the mines, the dams, the over grazing, I’ve become an uncomfortable man. Nonetheless, I am very much a patriot of these landscapes I know so well.

When I hit the trail the long distance hike is a long exodus, never complete; an ongoing pursuit of a simplicity that can’t quite be achieved. It is the futile exorcism of my humanity. For me it is an unbearable and ecstatic search for nowhere in particular.

I’m sure my views don’t apply to many people other than myself. My ideas focus on the solitary hike, not the shared experience. Thanks for reading my ramblings. I’m on a 9 hour grey dog back to my car in Phoenix. The bus is packed to the gills and my head aches. Just like when I was a kid seeing farmland and rolling hills for the first time, I see these empty deserts and wonder whats out there, yearning to pass through them for no civilized reason.

-Nate

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That Dark Calling (mile 657)

I left Magdalena a little past noon. I had a little tear in my eye and a pain in my chest as is often the case when I leave a nice little town full of people with real lives; lives very different from mine. I felt very alone. I was a bit tipsy on my way out and I nursed a bottle of whiskey across the enormous expense of desert that lays at the foot of the Magdalena mountains. It was too appropriate, the utter emptiness of the land I was crossing. It was a place as empty and lonely as I’ve been feeling myself. The wind was battering me the whole way and threatening clouds towered along the horizons I stumbled towards and away from.

It’s been hard for me to write posts on this trip. It takes a few hundred miles before I feel accustomed and assimilated to this lifestyle, and now I’m just over a hundred miles from the end of this endeavor and little I have to say feels relevant to the trail or worthy of sharing. I’m terrible at describing what I’m doing mile for mile so I try not to. My insights have been more personal this time, less about my surroundings.

I’ve never started a hike in a worse mental state than I did this time. I pulled the plug on my home life and as soon as I got out here I was faced with hundreds of miles of good old 20-20 hindsight. It’s not the first time I’ve started a hike in this manner, it’s just the first time I’ve second guessed my decisions, regretted them. There’s a dark calling involved with thru-hiking for me. When my “real” life gets to be too much the wilderness calls, my mind drifts off to the days of endless flux, self-reliance, independence, adventure. It becomes an obsession and that obsession is really just a burning fuse. It’s only a matter of time before everything goes downhill at home. Long distance hiking is a complex entity with a firm grip on me. It has a ton to offer me and I’ve benefited from it in insurmountable ways but it also, sometimes, serves as a inhibiting predisposition. It’s not an addiction, it’s more of a coping mechanism that I use when I feel trapped. I set off a bomb and before the smoke clears I’m off on some ridiculously difficult hike ignoring the problems I left behind.

Thru hiking is an exercise in autonomy and independence for me, a healthy one; my problems are hidden somewhere in my self image, not in the hiking itself. I have a delusional idea of who i want to be, of what will make me happy. I often think that solitude and independence are the things I should strive for because they have taught me a lot and helped me over the years. When I self destruct my life and embark on long distance hikes this is often what I’m thinking (to put it simply) but what I’m slowly learning is that independence, self reliance, determination, these are not the building blocks of my happiness in life. I talk and think a lot about how I want to recede from humanity, about how much I loathe the societal trends around me, but at the end of he day I am a human being like everyone else and trying to disappear into nature isn’t going to change that. (To be continued)

I passed a dry little desert graveyard on the dirt road leaving town. There was a couple mourning there in the wind. I felt like a ghost looking in on someone else’s life. I observed them as I walked on. My sadness is only for myself and nothing like the sadness in the field of epitaphs behind me.

At this point I’m over 600 miles into my hike and my distress has faded a little. It still creeps on me in the mornings and in towns and that’s okay. Most of the time now I’m once again entirely lost in what I’m doing; passing through landscapes, looking for water, observing everything changing as I move through. I only have 100 miles left of this hike and it will be hard to leave it so shortly after finally getting acclimated mentally and physically to what I’m doing.

I have several posts I’ve been sitting on that I’ll post shortly after the trail. I just hate typing and editing on my phone. Wish me luck in my last 100 miles.

-Nate

* post title is reference to a song by Tom House

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Made it to New Mexico (Alma, mile 340)

Lots to say, no time to say it. Long days of big climbs and massive views. The term “trail” on this route is not the same as my previous hikes. “Trail” portions tend to be the hardest. They are usually many many years overdue for maintenance and disappear entirely on a regular basis. I’m not complaining, it’s just taken some getting used to. It’s funny though that I prefer seeing cross country and route finding routes on my maps over hiking trails just because I know what to expect. This route is wild to say the least.

From here I’ll be heading into the highest elevations of the route in the Mogollons, 10,000+ ft, with high winds and low temps in the forecast. Only a few days to the familiar Doc Campbell’s outpost in the Gila though where I’ll say hello to my old friend the CDT.

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From mile 230 (Aravaipa and the Pinaleno Mtns)

I’ve been in Safford, AZ for over two days now. I had a rear molar removed yesterday after it shattered on trail three days ago. I’m hoping to get back on trail today if I can chew a cliff bar without severe discomfort once the IB kicks in. Even though I’ve been preoccupied by figuring out my oral situation it has been nice to relax because the previous 150 miles were intense. It took six days and a morning to get to Safford. I did pick up a resupply box in the tiny no-services town of Klondyke but I still hiked a full day. That’s the longest Hiked without any real breather in a while.

The hike out from The Gila at Kearney was hot but easy and pleasant. The Tortilla mountains made for a couple relaxed days of hiking. I traveled through rolling deserts thick with cactus. In many places the cholla became so thick it looked like a jungle covered in needles.

After passing highway 77 (not far from Aravaipa Canyon West Entrance) I traveled through some washes looking for a place to camp and stumbled upon the largest pack of javelina I’ve ever seen. They filled the arroyo and many were scattered up on the hillsides. There were at least 40 of them but I’m pretty sure their numbers exceeded 50. When I turned the corner I startled a few of them which triggered a sudden pandemonium of javelina snorting and dashing all over the place. I thought for sure I would get charged and mauled by tusks, but I was very lucky and slowly backing off yelling “sorry! Sorry!” Did the trick.

The next morning I hiked through the 10 miles if Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness which is now one of my favorite places in Arizona. The canyon consists of an ankle to shin deep stream surrounded by lush riperian growth and boxed in by steep colorful and beautifully patterned walls. It is quite narrow in places and widens in others. There was lots of wildlife including deer, various lizards, frogs, more javelina and best of all I saw over a dozen coatis which are a rare mammal that looks a bit like a monkey but is closely related to the raccoon. They are a South American animal and the only US state they are found in is Arizona. I had never even heard of them before I saw them.

After Aravaipa the route headed towards the Pinaleno Mtns, an intimidating range towering over the mere hills I’ve hiked through so far. The route included thousand foot bushwhacking climbs, long sections of severely overgrown trail and lots of up up up. For the first day in the range there was a sixteen mile waterless stretch. I didn’t anticipate the difficulty of the route and ended up arriving at my water source after dark with empty water bottles. It was chilly that night camping up at 9000 ft. The following day was a mix of roads and trails that detoured around a bad 2017 fire that left the main route very hazardous and nearly impassible. The detour wasn’t too bad, it was long, but there was lots of water which was amazing. I met my first other GET hiker, Dirty B, on the stretch and we hiked a bit together but mostly leap frogged each other for the rest of the day. I’d assume he’s a day or two ahead of me now.

Here in Safford I met some real nice folks at the diner who helped me out with a free place to stay while I figure my stuff out. But all seems to be figured out now, my mouth is sore but it’s stopped bleeding, and it’s time to hit the trail again. Until next time….

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Update from Kearny (jaw dropped, ass whooped)

So, I’ve made it to my first town stop ~80 miles into the hike. I’ll be taking a day off here tomorrow to recoup. I have a minor blister on my heel and a bit of sun poisoning on my wrist where I must have missed when applying sunscreen. Knees and feet are feeling a bit rough and could use the day off, but other than that I’m feeling pretty good.

The route so far has been non stop scenic, mountainous desert. It has been quite rugged at points and easy terrain in others. A bit of the route I’ve hiked previously on the Arizona Trail in 2013 but it was kind of nice being familiar with terrain and water sources. I’ve been moving quite slow due to heat, lack of water, terrain, and most of all BEING OUT OF SHAPE. I’m feeling lucky my body has held up as well as it has so far and tomorrow’s day off is to hopefully further prevent any overuse injury. I love the desert and for whatever reason it seems I’m drawn to it more than other landscapes. I’m sure it has to do with how incredibly different it is from where I grew up in New England. When I was 22 I drove out west and lived outside Pie Town, New Mexico for a winter and it really changed my life, wandering around vast mountainous deserts carved by arroyos and sprinkled with curious abandoned homesteads. A big appeal of the remote desert is not only that it is scenic, it is that it is not usually a magnet for tourists, and various hikers that many other landscapes are. You can still find solitude, you can hike all day without seeing other campers. There aren’t many parts of the country where you can still do this. Of course most days on desert portions of long trails I pass accessible or popular areas, but often I find myself in places truly wild and that’s why I chose this route. The highlight of this first section was a ten mile route through White Canyon Wilderness where I split from AZT. It climbed some vague trail marked by cairns through two saddles and then descend through a vast valley surrounded by enormous cliffs and buttes. I couldn’t keep track of the route so mostly went by map/compass until I met an old Jeep track. This eventually led to a bushwhack through a high walled canyon that eventually met back up with the AZT at the Gila River. This was the first invigorating part of my hike. White Canyon Wilderness is a place I’d like to return to in the future. I’m not sure when I’ll get service again to post, perhaps not until Safford in about a weeks time. Until then…-Nate

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