51 Miles – I’m Done – No More For Me

Friends and Relatives-

This is the hardest blog post I’ve ever written for one of my hikes.  It’s also the last one I’ll ever write.  The Arizona Trail beat me, and I am off the trail for good.

This is a big disappointment for me, and I’m sorry if this is a letdown for you.  It was so much fun to post updates on my other two long hikes, and to keep marching along from start to finish with reports along the way.  But it didn’t work out that way for the Arizona Trail.

Two things were different this time, one of which was unexpected.  The main reason for my failure to continue forward is that my appetite completely abandoned me.  I spent three days and two nights on the trail.  My favorite meal has always been my freeze-dried dinner at night, my only hot meal.  It’s what I’ve always had on my hikes.  Both nights the dinners did not appeal to me at all and I had to force myself to finish them.  In the mornings and afternoons none of my normal hiking snacks were appetizing.  Furthermore, I wasn’t drinking enough even though I knew I should.  When I arrived in Patagonia last night, the first trail town and 51 miles into my hike, I bought a bottle of Gatorade and drank only half despite being in the hot Arizona sun all day.  I ordered a 10 inch pizza and ate only two slices.  Just then I knew I was in trouble and couldn’t go on like this.

Secondly, and what I thought might be the case, I was going to be hiking alone and would hardly see other north-bound hikers.  The majority of hikers for this trail had started in March and were far in front of me.  April 4th was the soonest I could start.  I don’t mind hiking on my own, but it was always nice to pass back and forth around other hikers.  We would compare notes about the trail and socialize a little in the trail towns.  That wasn’t going to happen here.

Maybe I should have quit two years ago while I was ahead.  This failure three days into my third long-distance hike will sting for awhile, but it is up to me to put it to rest and move forward.  I won’t let this failed attempt cast a shadow on my previous accomplishments.  There are lessons to be learned from failures, and I’ll look for them.  It might make me a stronger person.

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I’m keeping all my gear.  I look forward to weekend camping trips with my granddaughters when they’re a little older.

 

 

In 24 Hours…

Tuesday Morning, Cooperstown, NY

I’ll be in Tucson late tonight.  Just about this time tomorrow I’ll throw my pack into the back seat of my shuttle ride to the AZ-Mexico border, and then my journey will begin.

I’m about to experience by foot the diversity of Arizona and the great American West.  I’ll hike through the Sonoran Desert, see and smell the world’s largest ponderosa forest, and step into and then out of the Grand Canyon, one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

I’ll hike through the Superstition Wilderness, into Alamo Canyon and past Whiterock Mesa.  I’ll be near Native American reservations and re-charge in trail communities like Vail, Oracle and Summerhaven.  I’ll visit at least two ranches, stay in a bunkhouse, and sit down to eat with people wearing cowboy hats.

I’ll see wildflowers in springtime bloom, orange and purple sunsets, and shooting stars in a dark, dark sky.  If I’m lucky, I’ll see a bear, hear a coyote and step safely afar from a diamondback rattler.

Come out and join me tomorrow morning.  Doors open at 7; the show begins at 9.

Packed and Ready to Go

Monday afternoon, April 2

It’s hard for me to fathom that I’ll actually be backpacking in Arizona day after tomorrow.  I said good-bye yesterday to my son and his family and my wife who all flew back to Reno.  A couple hours later I saw my daughter off to her home in Orlando.  They won’t see me again until after my hike is over.  What a great time we had together!

I’m home in Cooperstown and did yard work in 40 degree weather this afternoon after waiting for the one inch of overnight snow to melt.  I also finished other tasks to get our house ready for this summer’s rental season.  These little jobs distracted me from thoughts about trekking past saguaro trees in just two days.  But I spent the chilly morning hours inside the house organizing all of my supplies for my flight tomorrow night.  Stuffing supplies into my backpack made me understand that my goal to undertake a through-hike of the 800 mile Arizona Trail is finally almost here.

I’ll fly out of Albany, NY, tomorrow night, connect in Denver, and reach Tucson late Tuesday night.  I’ll catch a hotel shuttle to the Quality Inn and begin my short night’s sleep.

The next morning I’ll load up with my last real meal at the hotel’s breakfast bar.  I’ll look out for my shuttle driver, a guy named Ken, who will drive me to Coronado National Monument where the AZT begins.  I learned about Ken from my guidebook.  It will be a two hour car ride, and he is also picking up another hiker, a lady named Sherry, who is apparently on the same schedule as me.

We will be dropped off at Montezuma Pass along a rugged dirt road at the national monument.  It’s the closest a car can get to the southern terminus of the trail.  I will hike south about two miles to the monument at the Mexican border, contemplate the start of my newest adventure, take a deep breath, and begin my long hike.  I don’t know if I will be there alone, or if it’s just me and Sherry, or if there will be other aspiring long-distance hikers.  Will I know Sherry for only a couple hours and never see her again, or will we be hiking partners and post-hike friends?  In fact I’m very curious about the number of other hikers I’ll encounter along the way.  The AZT is lesser known than the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail.

The temperatures at the start of my hike begin with an overnight low of 48 and a daytime high of 75.  The 10 day forecast for Coronado is 0% chance of rain.  My first town for a sit-down meal and a little re-supply from a store will be Patagonia.  It’s 51 miles into my hike.  There’s a public library there and it should be my first opportunity to write an in-progress blog.  In fact it may be the next time you hear from me.

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My mother has some tuna noodle casserole waiting for me.  Served with a side of Harvard beets.  It’s my favorite dish that she makes.  My stomach’s growling.  Here we go again.  I’d better get used to it.

 

Gearing Up for Arizona

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Saturday morning, home in Cooperstown, NY

I have three more nights in a bed before I stretch out this body in my one man tent somewhere in the Arizona desert.

Meanwhile I have just less than 24 hours to spend with my two kids and grandkids whose gathering in our home has been four of the best days in my life.  Tomorrow Scott and his family (plus Mrs. Terry) return home to Reno, NV, and Ashley flies back to her home in Orlando.  Two days later I fly to Tucson, AZ.

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Gearing up for Arizona.  Here’s what I’m taking with me.  My main two pieces of gear are my backpack and my tent.  My backpack has traveled with me for well over 5,000 trail miles.  It’s an Osprey 50 liter capacity pack that I bought for my AT hike in 2013, and it lasted me all of the 2,600 miles of the PCT in 2016.  It’s beat up, but it still performs well.  It is attached to me – attached with sentimental value, and attached with straps to my shoulders.

My other main piece of equipment is my one-man tent.  It is made by a lesser-known company called Z-Pack, and it was the shelter I used on the PCT.  It is made of Cuban fiber material, weighs just under one pound, and easily stuffs into my backpack.

I’ve decided to take my warmer and heavier of two sleeping bag choices.  It’s a Mountain Hardware brand bag that is rated to zero degrees.  I’ve chosen this over a lighter weight 40 degree bag.  Each of these seasoned bags probably have a warmth rating less than in their original form over the course of use and washings.  I have watched the temperatures of two southern Arizona locations to see that the overnight lows will be around 48 degrees.  I didn’t want to take any chances with being uncomfortably cold at night, so it’s the warmer bag for me.

I have a new Camelback reservoir unit for carrying the bulk of my water.  It’s a three liter model with wrap around hose that comes to the front for easy access.  I’ll also two one liter water bottles.  Finding water in the dry stretches, especially at the beginning of my hike will be challenging.

Speaking of finding water sources, my AZ Trail guidebook will be with me.  It lists the location of water sources and their reliability.  Together with my paper maps, I should find the springs and other surface water sources for replenishing my supply.  The guidebook also gives me information on the various towns along the way – some very close to the trail, others a hitch-hike or long walk away.  I have information on the grocery stores, cheap motels, public libraries (for their computers), and most importantly their restaurants.

The clothes that I carry will fit into a small pillow case.  One of this and one of that – in addition to what I wear.  This is where I compensate and do without for all the weight of five liters of water.

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It’s 6:30 am.  Baby Everly is up and needs to see her Papa.

My Food Re-supplies – AZ Trail

Sunday morning, at Ashley’s house in Orlando

My thru-hike of the Arizona Trail will start in 10 days.  I have seven mail drop packages packed with food to keep me going.  I’ll supplement these packages with a few grocery items that I pick up at these locations.  This is the same method of re-supply I followed on the PCT and the AT.

Each box contains Mountain House freeze-dried dinners – Italian pepper steak, chicken a la king, beef stew and breakfast skillet.  Those will constitute the only hot meal I will have each day.  For my lunches I will have tunafish in foil packages along with small packets of mayonnaise and relish.  (I bought the ones packed in oil because they have the highest calorie content.)  I also have peanut butter, jelly, and cheese sticks packed.  I will buy bagels at stores to have with these items that I carry.

I have also packed zip-lock bags of trail mix.  I have assorted candy bars and granola bars and protein bars.  I have small sized packages of beef jerky, packs of gum, hard candy, and high calorie individually packaged muffins.  And of course I have Pop-tarts packed in the mail drops.

All of these items are stuffed into USPS flat rate boxes which cost me about $13 each to mail.  I sent four of the seven boxes to places that told me they would hold them for the extended time of mid-March until my estimated arrival in April or May.  These locations are the La Posts Quemada Ranch located at Colossal Cave Mt. Park near Vail, AZ; the Chalet Village Motel in Oracle, AZ; the LF Ranch near Payson; and general delivery to myself at the Flagstaff post office.

Three other mail drops will be sent by my wife closer to the date of my arrival to the following places – Roosevelt Lake Marina; Grand Canyon post office located at the south rim, and; the North Rim Country Store on the last leg of my hike.  These places hold packages for only about two weeks, and I will call Terry from the trail to have her mail the boxes at the right time.

Check out pictures along the AZT by visiting the website http://www.aztrail.org.  Seeing the pictures might help you understand better why I’m anxious for this long walk.

My gear next time.

My 1st Step to the Arizona Trail

Tonight is my last night at my winter home here in North Ft. Myers, FL.  Tomorrow my scenery changes, and I take the first step towards Arizona.  The Internet gets turned off in a couple hours, so I’ll hustle off this little pre-hike narrative.

Tomorrow Mrs. Terry and I will pack the car and then give a six-month good-bye to our friends at Six Lakes.  We’ll drive three hours north to daughter Ashley’s house in Orlando.  We’ll spend the weekend there, and on Monday I’ll drop Terry and her mother off at the airport for their flight home to New York and I’ll begin my 20 hour car ride north.

On Tuesday I’ll reach home and join Terry.  Late that night Ashley flies home.  Our son, Scott, and his wife, Promise, and little girls Nora and Everly, who live in Reno, will arrive during the day.  Everly is nine months old and this will be her first time to meet Aunt Ashley and the rest of the Bliss and Drake families.  We’ll be blissfully together for four days.

On Easter Sunday, April 1st, Ashley returns to Orlando, Mrs. Terry joins Scott and family to fly back to Reno for a three week visit, and I stay put for two days until I fly to Tucson to begin my hike.

Coming next will be details about gear for this hike and the mail drops I’ve just sent.

Blue Moon

Here I Go Again – This Time, Arizona

I’m taking a long walk again.  This time it’s in Arizona – all Arizona – and I start on April 4th, just two weeks from today.  I hope you’ll follow the adventure.

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I knew it was still in me.  I still have the bug.  Call it want you want.  But I want to get out into the great outdoors again, with everything I need on my back, to see and hear and smell nature’s beauty.  I want the simple life, if only for a few weeks.  I want to test myself again, two years older than when I trekked the Pacific Crest Trail; five since my first big hike, the Appalachian Trail.  I want to explore.  I want to share my story as it develops with my friends and family in New York and Florida and the others I’ve come to know.  I want to see if I can succeed, and I believe I will.  Follow me as I hike the Arizona Trail.

The Arizona Trail is one of 11 national scenic trails.  It is 800 miles long, in a fairly straight south-north orientation, connecting the state’s southern border with Mexico with the Utah state line.  I expect that it will take me about six weeks to do the whole thing.  The AZT is short by comparison to its two big sisters – the 2,220 mile AT and the 2,600 mile PCT.  You don’t know how many people this winter have said to me with a smile, “Yeah, it’s ONLY 800 miles.”  That’s true, and it will seem abbreviated compared to what I’ve tackled before, but I presume no easy walk in the park.  It will be dry, and it will be fairly hot, and anything can happen.  But I’m confident that I can make it to the end.

I’ll close this first blog and make sure it publishes the way Scott told me to do it.  I don’t want to waste too much typing if I’ve messed up.  Once I see it’s there, I’ll try a Facebook entry for the first time in well over a year to give the alert.  If all goes well, I’ll write a few more blogs over the next few days.

The hike suddenly seems so much more real to me now that I’ve officially put my plan out there to you.  I’m really excited now!

Blue Moon