Thursday, February 29, 2024

Desert Winter Thru-Hike: Advice to Future Hikers

The Desert Winter Thru-Hike occupies a special place in my heart. I hiked all of it in 2024, and half of it in 2021. Here are a laundry list of opinions and considerations for the prospective WTH thru-hiker.

Fast Facts:

  • Name: Desert Winter Thru-Hike 
  • Creators: Brett "Blisterfree" Tucker and Melissa "Treehugger" Spencer
  • Length: ~784 miles
  • Eastern Terminus: Saguaro National Park, near Tucson, AZ
  • Western Terminus: Joshua Tree National Park, near Palm Springs, CA
  • Season: December-March 
  • Experience Level: Expert
  • Physical Difficulty: Moderate

If you have not already read everything Brett has written on the WTH, stop now and go read it. The rest of this guide assumes you've already done so, and won't rehash things already covered elsewhere in the WTH corpus.

Seasons and Timing:

Brett covers the ideal start date pretty well in the literature - mid-January, hiking westbound. It's best to wait until much of the winter rain has already fallen and recharged the water sources along the route.

That's all good in theory, but there's clearly a temptation in the hiking world to start the route earlier. I suppose it's natural to try to squeeze a winter hike around one's existing plans, even if it means the weather window is a bit sub-optimal. Following a couple unusually wet monsoon seasons, a few hikers have successfully hiked the WTH in late fall (late October, November, and December).  

Judging from the few years of water data exist for the WTH, I think it's fair to conclude that most of the sources along the WTH (specifically the guzzlers) are less seasonally-variable than one might assume. Off-hand, I can recall only a handful of guzzlers noted in the water chart as completely dry. That said, most isn't really a useful standard. Averages are cold comfort if you were banking on this source that turned out to be dry, and the next potential source is 20 miles away. Depending on the weather, your hydration, and how far the next source is, a dry source can be anything between annoying and fatal. If you choose to hike the route before Brett's mid-January recommendation, be prepared for a few of those unpleasant surprises along the way. In particular, you'll probably have to carry 50 miles of water with 6-7 days of food on your back, up and over some of the WTH's hardest terrain in Section 6. It's tough stuff. 

The other reason to wait until mid-January is perhaps a bit more straightforward: it's cold in the Mojave! The last few sections of the WTH in California have a lot more "high" (3,000-4,000') terrain than does Arizona. A mid-January start allows the Mojave to emerge from the dregs of winter before you arrive, potentially minimizing the storm systems and brutally cold wind. 

Expert-level Backpacking:

The WTH is a route. As such, there's no trail tread; you have to navigate. There are no trail angels; you have to be self-sufficient. There's enough water, but only just enough. Climate factors are tough, even in the middle of the winter. And you're entirely alone out there.

None of this should be a surprise to WTH hikers; they've all done other Brett Tucker routes, after all. But even for experienced hikers, it's easy to get lulled into a false sense of complacency. If you're looking for a relaxed, wintertime trail to chill out on, go hike the Florida Trail. While parts of the WTH are pretty cruisey, you still need to bring your A-game, particularly when storms blow through.


All previous WTH finishers have taken between 40 and 50 days to complete the route. It could certainly be done faster by the hundred-day-CDT crowd, but keep in mind that daylight is very limited during the depths of winter. Night-hiking is not always possible, particularly in areas of complex navigation or trail-less terrain. I budgeted 40 days for my 2024 thru-hike, and would have greatly appreciated another few days to wait out storms, lessen the amount of night hiking, and take more detours to check out off-route water sources. 

Don't be fooled by the amount of "road" on this route. While there's certainly plenty of 3-mph terrain, not all road is fast walking. Many of the roads are nothing more than ancient, abandoned mining tracks. They may provide a convenient handrail for navigation, but often the travel is not any faster than pure cross-country is. 

All of this suggests that a 20-mpd pace is probably right for most folks (adjust for your own pace as necessary). Add in some extra time for towns too, since several of them require significant bonus miles to access. The route definitely gets harder as you progress west, though that may be offset by more daylight hours as spring approaches.

Vertical Gain:

The WTH is pretty mild in terms of vert. Remember, it stays rather low for climatic reasons. Some of the uphills can be short-but-steep, a few hundred feet perhaps. There's some occasional scrambling, usually a class II. There's maybe one spot of brief class III in the Turtle Mountains, but it's no biggee; if you've done the northern half of the AT, you're fine.

The only huge climb on the WTH is up and over the Harquahalas. It's steep, long, and unrelenting. It follows what used to be a jeep road a million years ago, but now is mostly just a rocky ditch with occasional catclaw to dodge. It'll slow you down. Other than that, most climbs on the WTH are either short or gradual.


The walking surface contributes to the WTH's difficulty far more than vert does. It's often hard to predict how easy progress will be. Surface type (road vs. trail vs. cross-country) tells you almost nothing. Remember, most of the roads the WTH follows are unimproved, and thus are no easier or harder walking than the adjacent terrain. Similarly, cross-country can range from 3mph on the delightful desert pavement west of the Turtles to a rocky hellscape in the Woolsey Peak Wilderness. Brett sometimes warns you about tough terrain that may not be obvious from looking at the map; other times, it's a surprise.

In general, it all kind of evens out. Buck-30 has lodged some pretty bitter complaints about the WTH's rocks. I share his opinion only partially. True, the rocks were horrifically bad at times (especially in the Woolsey Peak Wilderness, the Turtle Mountains, and the Pintos), but the agony was usually short-lived. Many more miles were kinda rocky, but not twist-your-ankle-and-scream-at-the-sky rocky. I say that as someone with a surgically-reconstructed foot and a well-known loathing of rocks.


With as few as 10 hours of daylight during the depths of winter, it's tempting to assume you'll do a bunch of night-hiking on the WTH. Sometimes, night-hiking is peaceful and pleasant on the WTH. Particularly when crossing unremarkable desert basins, it's useful to do those easy road miles in the dark.

But here's the thing - navigation on the WTH often entails following subtle washes, faint mining tracks, or ephemeral burro trails. Or you might follow nothing but a compass heading. That stuff is just plain hard at night. There were definitely times on the WTH where I wished I could night-hike, but it just wasn't practical. My advice: if you need to night-hike (say, to get to the Wenden Post Office before it closes), plan ahead, so you can do easy road miles in the dark, not complex navigational problems.

One fringe benefit of the WTH is the sunrises and sunsets. I generally hiked an hour before dawn until sunset most days, so I saw every single desert sunrise and sunset. And magical they are! Savor this unique aspect of winter hiking.


On one hand, the WTH crosses the lowest, driest, hottest deserts in North America. On the other hand, it's a Brett Tucker route. If you hike during the recommended season, you'll probably never have to carry more than about 30 miles of water. I consistently found myself carrying 15-20 miles of water, and sometimes more than that. 

As far as quality goes... it's the desert. You will only encounter 1 or 2 naturally-flowing sources on the entire 800 miles. The rest are cattle wells, potholes, and wildlife guzzlers. With stagnant water comes the potential for truly nasty water, of course. You'll almost certainly have to drink out of a source that has a dead animal floating in it. Your water will very often be noticeably green and have a funky taste. If you're not OK with this, the WTH is not for you. On the other hand, not all of the water is nasty. I carry Fruit Punch flavor packets in the desert, reserving them to mask the taste of only the most vile sources. Over the course of 40 days, I think I used 4 or 5 of them in total.

One benefit of hiking in the winter is that you don't need to drink nearly as much as in the summer. Everyone's water needs are different of course, but I frequently found myself drinking only a single liter over the course of a day. Even though 20-30 mile carries were common, I rarely found myself toting a heavy water load.


One key benefit of hiking a Brett Tucker route is the top-notch quality of navigational resources. WTH hikers will already be familiar with his conventions from other Tucker routes. I prefer to navigate primarily by paper maps. I found this a challenge on the WTH for the following reasons:

  • Sometimes the base maps (USGS quads) just didn't have enough detail on them. The contours were illegibly faint, or inappropriately-sized for the terrain (e.g. 40-footers, obscuring a delta of 20-foot-deep washes). 
  • Sometimes Caltopo likes to put labels directly on top of the route, obscuring valuable topographic data underneath
  • Often, the route is a maze of faint vehicle travel corridors. What counts as a road/two-track/vehicle-accessible-wash is entirely subjective. The USGS base maps will say one thing, the OpenStreetMap layer will say another, Brett's waypoints will say a third thing, and your own observations will say a fourth. In short, it's an undefinable anarchy.

None of this is really Brett's fault; it's just the nature of hiking in an environment of braided washes and vehicle mayhem. I've provided all this feedback to Brett already, and I have no doubt he'll continue to refine the mapset in future iterations of the WTH resources. But there will always a degree of unavoidable "What the heck??" inherent in hiking a route like this. And for that, it's imperative to make sure the digital resources are teed up.

Now, perhaps you read the previous paragraphs and shrugged it off since you don't carry paper maps anyhow. In that case - yikes. I won't go off on a rant here, as I'm clearly on the losing side of the Great Paper Maps Debate. I'll just note that my battery pack shorted out in the Sheephole Mountains, and with it my phone. Had I not carried and used my paper maps daily, I would have been utterly lost, in exposed terrain with a massive storm approaching. GPS is a useful supplement, but cannot and should not abrogate the hard work of understanding your surroundings with the paper mapset.

On the topic of GPS: 

  • Avenza Maps works just fine for the majority of the route. It still suffers from text-atop-the-data issue, but usually you can muddle your way through just fine.
  • Occasionally, Avenza just isn't zoomed-in enough to really understand what's happening. In such cases, satellite imagery is really helpful. Download it before you leave home. Sometimes there's no substitute for a photo from space when trying to make sense of a maze of faint roads, washes, or burro trails.


The WTH is murder on inflatable pads. I think Recon managed not to pop his, but he might be alone in that regard. After the WTH put15 holes in my pad in 2021, I opted for a foam pad in 2024 - even though I hate foam pads and sleep poorly on them. This was a prudent choice. The only downside to a foam pad is that I had to strap it to the outside of my pack, so my load was a bit bulkier when pushing through catclaw and other nasty desert plants. The pad got pretty beat up. Whatever, it's a foam pad.  

The WTH is an extremely windy trail. It's strong, it's relentless, and it's freezing cold. I wore my windshirt nearly every day until I lost it in the middle of Section 6, and I wished for it every day thereafter. Yes, windshirts are delicate. Yes, you will certainly tear it up on catclaw. Yes, it's still worth it.

I recommend some form of mild bug protection on the WTH. On both my 2021 and 2024 hikes, I had a couple nights of annoying bugs in the lower elevations (near Parker and Amboy, to be specific). Anything will do - a fully-enclosed shelter, or even just a headnet to wear while sleeping. I only used my headnet maybe three times, but it was sure better than waking up to a dozen mosquito bites on my forehead! As long as you're not completely defenseless, you're fine.

Just because the WTH is a desert trail doesn't mean it's hot. Temperatures regularly dip down into the 20's on the WTH. As a cold sleeper, I carried a 10-degree bag in 2021 and 2024. Given the length of winter nights, I appreciated the extra few degrees (and ounces) of fluffy downy goodness. 

There are enough rocks on the WTH that it really makes sense to replace your shoes a little earlier than normal. I generally get 500-700 miles out of a pair. On the WTH, I found that they were pretty much done after 400. I endured a couple weeks of tired and achey feet on the WTH until I replaced my shoes.


On the whole, the towns on the WTH are pretty bad. A solid half of the resupply stops are nothing more than a remote station and maybe a post office. Parker is a good town and makes for an excellent place to take a celebratory halfway-there zero. Buckeye's alright. The rest are pretty primitive. A typical resupply plan:

  • Arizona City: Buy (Dollar General)
  • Buckeye: Buy (Dollar General)
  • Tonopah: Skip. Carry from Buckeye to Wenden (120 miles total)
  • Wenden: Maildrop (PO, though note the limited hours) OR buy in Salome
  • Parker: Buy (Walmart or Safeway)
  • Fenner: No great solutions. Maybe bribe a driver going to Needles to take you.
  • Amboy: Maildrop (Roy's)

Red Tape:

There's basically zero red tape on the route, and none that's particularly burdensome. In brief:

  • Joshua Tree National Park requires non-quota backcountry permits. If you're already in the town of Twentynine Palms, you can get one in person. If not, you'll have to pay your blood money to Wreck-Dot-Gov. 
  • There's no camping in the western unit of Saguaro National Park, which really isn't a problem as you're only in the park for a few miles. It's easy enough to just keep hiking until you get outside the park boundary


The WTH is designed as a stand-alone route, and its termini in the two National Parks are certainly worthy objectives. They also provide easy access to other long-distance trails - the AZT and PCT on the east and west ends, respectively. In both cases, Blisterfree has mapped short connectors to those trails. The WTH therefore plays the role of the PNT in its ecosystem, facilitating all sorts of exciting journeys. Want to hike from the Divide to the Pacific Ocean? A combo of the GET, AZT, WTH, PCT, and SDTCT is your ticket.

Limited Circulation:

The WTH is amazing, but it's not for everyone. Buck-30 covers this very well in the "Should I Hike This Route" section of his WTH overview post, and I'd encourage you to really read and consider whether the WTH is for you. In my opinion, there are a couple factors that contraindicate broad popularity with the hiking masses:

  • Inaccessibility. The WTH is beautiful, but not in the classical sense of green trees, snowcapped peaks, and sparkling lakes. The route is remote, stark, and forbidding, and yet those precise qualities lend the WTH its beauty. The towns suck, the water sucks, the wind never stops blowing. But it's enormously rewarding, in large part because you're scraping together an existence - however meager - in a most hostile environments. Not everyone's a dyed-in-the-wool desert rat, a prerequisite trait on the WTH.
  • Fragility. Footprints last forever in the desert. Potholes and guzzlers only collect a finite amount of water, and a large crop of hikers could easily drink them dry. Gates, wells, and fences are decades-old, and might break if not treated with extreme care. The Wenden Post Office is roughly the size of my tent, and cannot handle a flood of resupply packages. In short, the WTH is a particularly fragile route.

I think of the WTH as a delicate manuscript in a library's rare book collection. Unlike an ordinary paperback (the AT, PNT or whatever), it can't be circulated in an unrestricted fashion, as it'd quickly suffer an ignominious fate. On the other hand, it does no good to lock it away entirely and prevent all access - what would be the point in even having it?

Of course, libraries have already solved this dilemma already. They generally limit:

  • Who can access the rare book collection (researchers with a demonstrated need of the materials and with experience handling them properly)
  • Under what conditions they can access the collection (on-site in a special reading room; no checkout available). 
Brett's solution for the WTH is similar. The WTH resources are available only to veterans of at least one of his other routes (400 mile minimum), under the condition that they not share those resources with others. You can find more details on his site. I think of the WTH as a nice little treat available to those who have already proved their desert route-hiking chops, and who've demonstrated their ability to be exemplary citizens of the route-hiking community by giving back (particularly in the form of water information).


Brett's stuff is required reading, and I'd recommend reading Buck-30's summary post at the end of his journal. If you want to dive deeper, you can also peruse Buck 30's daily entries, as well as Recon's.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Forty Days and Forty Nights


Certain landscapes seem quintessentially “Southwest”: a  sea of Joshua trees, punctuated by granite boulders and a handful of precious oases. A jolly saguaro, wearing a cowboy hat, of course. Mirages seething above a low desert bajada, forever just barely out-of-reach reach. Low, rugged mountains full of hideouts and abandoned mines.

These deserts - the lowest, driest, and hottest in North America - are the domain of the 800-mile Desert Winter Thru-Hike (WTH). The WTH isn’t a “trail” per se. Indeed, actual hiking trails are a rare treat in this hardscrabble country. Instead, it mostly follows jeep tracks, ancient mining roads, dry washes, jagged ridgelines, and the occasional utility corridor from Tucson, AZ to Palm Springs, CA. A pair of National Parks - Saguaro and Joshua Tree - bookend the route. Some of the most desolate, lonesome, and rewarding miles of my hiking career lie in between.

Map courtesy of Blisterfree

I flew to Tucson the day before New Years Eve and spent the night with friends Ralph and Sue. It was an evening full delicious food and delightful conversation on topics ranging from faith and worldview, to baseball, to small-town childhood shenanigans. Ralph and Sue dropped me at the trailhead in Saguaro National Park the next day. I couldn’t imagine a better way to begin a long hike.

That evening at Ralph and Sue’s was the last vestige of true civilization I’d encounter for many weeks. Like any trail, the WTH featured “towns” every week or so. But I use that term loosely, because of the seven resupply points on the WTH, three of them are mere gas stations, in the middle of nowhere. This route is not exactly plush. And that’s exactly the way I like it.

Something Old, Something New

The terrain was not entirely unknown to me, however. I walked the Arizona half of the WTH in 2021 while waiting to clear a work-mandated background check. You might wonder why I opted to hike the whole WTH in 2024 rather than just resuming at the California border where I left off in 2021. I suppose there are a couple reasons:

  • Re-hiking a trail is like reconnecting with an old friend. Sure, there’s less novelty the second time, but that’s offset by a deeper understanding of the landscape and a host of good memories from the first go-around.
  • The route was in its very early stages of development in 2021. Blisterfree, the route’s creator, constantly tweaks and refines it. Therefore, even though I had in theory hiked the route before, there was still plenty of terrain that was new to me in 2024.
  • As a route creator, I enjoy seeing hiking routes evolve. I ground-truthed some of the segments in 2021 and have kept fairly close tabs on the WTH over the years. Blisterfree is, without exaggeration, the best in the world at what he does, and it’s fascinating to watch a master craftsman at work. In 2024, I was gratified to hike the (mostly) finished product.

I don’t regret my choice. I enjoyed Arizona just as much the second time, and the much-anticipated California section lived up to my lofty expectations.

Low Desert Wandering

Among thru-hikes in the Southwest, only the WTH is suitable - and in fact designed - for the dead of winter. Unlike other routes, it spends no meaningful time at high elevations. Instead, it oscillates between broad desert basins and low, rugged mountain ranges.

Such is the rhythm of the WTH: I'd cross an expansive desert basin on a two-track, or perhaps just by line-of-sight navigation through the sparse vegetation. Most basin water sources were of the windmill or solar-well variety. Even in this arid country, a few hardy and/or sickly cows subsisted on a meager diet of scrubby thorns. Travel through the basins was generally easy, and often provided opportunities for night-hiking.

Sooner or later though, I'd climb out of the basin into a low, craggy mountain range. I'd often encounter a wildlife guzzler at the periphery of the range, just before crossing into a designated Wilderness area. Once inside the Wilderness, I'd follow ridgelines, dry washes, and burro trails. Travel was much slower in these rugged mountains, as rocks, cacti, and pour-offs slowed my progress. But the scenery was often jawdropping, and the sense of isolation was sublime. These were the miles that made the WTH truly special. Ever heard of the Old Woman or Harcuvar ranges? I hadn't either, and probably never would, had it not been for the WTH.

After crossing the mountains, I'd descend into another basin, and the cycle would repeat. 

Though everything in the desert wants to make you bleed to some extent, I discovered that not all plants are equally sinister. On one end of the spectrum is creosote, the kindest and gentlest of all desert plants. It's a little grabby, but unless you crash into it headlong, it won't ensnare you too badly. On the other end are the twin terrors of cholla and catclaw. Tangle with these guys at your own risk! Cholla is the villain of more open desert terrain. It doesn't actually 'jump' of course, but it falls to the ground in pieces, which stick to your shoes and calves on the way by. Catclaw tends to grow near washes and other sheltered/brushy areas. Slaloming around it can be an absolute pain, but not nearly as painful as getting hopelessly tangled in it. My clothes didn't get too shredded by catclaw on the WTH, but only because I was exceptionally careful. My foam sleeping pad, which protruded from the top and sides of my pack, wasn't so lucky.

There wasn't too much out-and-out bushwhacking on the WTH, but even a small amount of occasional overgrowth was enough to give me a nice set of desert pinstripes.

Dihydrogen Monoxide and other Toxins

It's impossible to overstate the importance of water on an austere desert trek like the WTH. Sources in the desert are infrequent and incredibly precious. Even when water was present, some of it was of dubious quality. Nearly all of the sources were stagnant - either cattle troughs, wildlife cachements, or potholes in the bedrock. Some of my water came in exciting hues - green, brown, or yellow. Sometimes it tasted a little funky. And once, it was a radioactive-green algae sludge so noxious that it stained my hands and my water bottle. On that occasion, I suddenly decided I wasn't thirsty after all!

I encountered the pièce de résistance just west of the California state line, at one of only three naturally-flowing sources on the entire WTH. It had just rained the day before, and I was more than a little jazzed to find a brief flow of cold, clear water in the sculpted narrows of a deep canyon. After filling all my water containers, I continued upstream, humming a jaunty little ditty. Then, around a corner, I stumbled upon a rotting burro corpse, lying right in the middle of my cheery stream. Yuck. 

I drank the water anyway.

A Big Mistake

I didn't really plan to hike the WTH this winter. But when the holidays rolled around and I found myself with a little extra time, I made a somewhat last-minute decision to squeeze in a WTH hike. I had firm commitments on both ends - Christmas on the front end, and a February family shindig on the back end. I intended to fly the day after Christmas, but the cheapest airfare I could find wasn't until December 30th, so I opted to fly cheap and hike fast.

This decision left me with only 40 days to complete the route, a relentless 20 mile-per-day pace. I knew this was a risky plan, but to start any earlier would have cost me another couple hundred bucks in airfare. I figured that I could make up a day or two along the way, even if it meant a little night-hiking. This was, of course, penny-wise and pound-foolish. A forty-day itinerary gave me zero wiggle room, which I sorely missed when El Niño dumped his entirely-foreseeable torrent of rain on the desert Southwest.

If there's one guarantee on a thru-hike, it's that something will go wrong. The trail quickly reminded me of this lesson. My bad ankle did Bad Ankle Things my first week on the trail, and I lost about half a day babying it. Then my poncho-tarp abruptly announced its retirement, and I lost another day waiting for its replacement to show up. Do a 19-mile day over tough, rocky terrain? Congratulations, you just fell further off the pace. I was behind the eight-ball from the very beginning.

RIP Original "Moak Cloak", 2014-2023

I ended up doing a lot of night-hiking on the WTH. Sometimes this wasn't a problem - a few mindless miles along a jeep road in the dead of night is no big deal. But often, the terrain precluded the possibility of night-hiking. The WTH darts in and out of many minor washes and subtle terrain features. It sometimes heads cross-country for a few miles. These navigational problems are a cinch during the day, but they become nearly impossible on a cloudy or moonless night. I spent an annoying amount of mental energy timing my days so that the post-sunset miles were easy ones.

The Fury of the Child

WTH hikers have a complicated relationship with the weather. And boy oh boy, did I ever ride the roller coaster on this trip.

On one hand, most of the water on the route is a direct result of recent runoff. In the Sonoran and Mojave deserts, much of the year's rain falls in the winter. I therefore needed the rain to recharge all the potholes and wildlife guzzlers on the route. Other hikers had reported the aforementioned dead-burro water source as "dry" a month before, leaving me with a potential 50-mile water carry. Only because of the previous day's rainstorm did I have anything to drink.

On the other hand, storms on the WTH are a special kind of miserable. Usually, terrain features squeeze most of the moisture out of the clouds before they reach the low deserts the WTH frequents. But even so, desert storms bring copious wind, which howls across the open landscape. The temperature crashes into the 40s, and suddenly it's you're in Hypothermia City once the rain starts.

This year was an El Niño winter. Warm waters off South America's west coast trigger a chain reaction across the Pacific Rim. El Niño's effects aren't uniform or always predictable, but one thing's certain: in an El Niño winter, there will be fireworks.

In this case, "fireworks" meant weeks of unrelenting, bone-chilling wind and a trio of drenching Atmospheric River events. I increased my pace still further as I neared the end of the trail, trying to buy myself a little flexibility to sit out the truly horrendous weather. And it almost worked.

At 4,500' in the Mojave National Preserve, the weather is raw indeed. I'd been keeping an eye on the weather for a week already, and knew that a significant storm was on the way. I put the pedal to the metal, trying to drop a few thousand feet before the storm hit. The day before the storm, I hiked until 9:30pm. I caught a few hours of shuteye, then got up at 3am and did ten miles before sunup

Around mid-morning, it started to rain. I'd already decided I was just going to wait out this storm in my tent. Even the best raingear can't eliminate the misery when it's 35 degrees and raining sideways. So, before long, I set up my tarp and got comfy. I put on my fluffy sleep socks, ate an enormous meal, listened to podcasts, and read scripture while the rain and wind buffeted my tarp. Thunder boomed overhead. Life was good indeed.

Red sky in the morning...

And then from nowhere, vwooooooooom. An enormous gust of wind, perhaps a thunderstorm downburst, slammed into my tent. I never even heard the tent stakes let loose. Instantly though, I was staring directly into the sky as heavy rain poured down on me. There was no time to think. I yelped, threw my shoes on, and chased after my tarp as it hurdled downwind in true prairie-schooner form. After about a hundred yards, a corner caught in a creosote bush. The tarp stood straight out like a flag, flapping in the wind. I grabbed it and raced back to my campsite. Everything I owned was saturated, and getting wetter by the second.

I had to make a decision, and fast. I was wet. My sleeping bag was wet. The temperature was forecast to crash overnight. Not great. Pell-mell, I jammed everything into my backpack and dialed Rascal.


An auxiliary benefit of spending a decade in the long-distance hiking community is that you make friends in really weird places. Such is the case with a couple I met in 2023 near Eagle Rock on the PCT. Rascal works as a field biologist in the Mojave National Preserve, and Ripper's a ranger in Joshua Tree. So when my tent turned into a sail in the middle of nowhere, Rascal was just around the corner. Due to roadway flooding concerns, she'd just left work for the day.

The long and the short of it: half an hour after getting my stuff drenched, I was sitting in Rascal's car with the heater cranked on our way to town. When we got there, I threw everything in the dryer as the rain continued to come down in torrents. Rarely have I been so grateful to be warm and dry.

But wait, there's more! After Rascal dropped me back off at the trail the next morning, I hiked for a few days before yet another atmospheric river arrived. The forecast for this one was truly apocalyptic, so I hitched to town and hung out with Rascal and Ripper again. And when I finished - you guessed it - Rascal was there to pick me up and deposit me at the airport.

Usually, "I couldn't do it without them" is nothing more than a trite platitude. As humans, we're pretty good at adapting and make-do. Perhaps it would cost a little more, or be less convenient, but we find a way. In this case however, the sentiment is sincere and literal. If not for Rascal and Ripper, I'm not sure I would have finished the WTH successfully. I owe them an enormous debt of gratitude.

If you're into Weird Desert Crap, the Mojave is the place for you.

A Slog to the Finish

By now, you might be getting the impression that my final few weeks on the WTH were a dumpster fire. And in that assessment, you'd be entirely correct. 

Of all the things you wouldn't want to lose in the middle of the Mojave desert, a windshirt would rank pretty high on the list. Let me paint you a picture.

Somewhere after leaving the amazing Turtle Mountains, I came across a 4-foot-long Super Mario Bros Mylar balloon. All wilderness travelers eventually grow to despise Mylar balloons: they're eyesores, never decompose, and drift for miles before settling down into otherwise remote and untouched landscapes. I sighed, bundled up the enormous piece of litter and crammed it in the back pocket of my pack.

Apparently though, that pocket was too full. Somewhere in the next ten miles, my windshirt must have popped out while I was wandering through the creosote in a low desert basin. By time I realized it was missing, I had zero chance of finding it again. Oh well, I only had a couple weeks left on the WTH. I'd just tough it out.

It should therefore go without saying that the wind never stopped blowing for the last two weeks of the WTH, and there wasn't a half hour that went by that I didn't chide myself for losing the windshirt. Things came to a head on my penultimate day. Winds increased throughout the day, and by evening were absolutely screaming. The prospect of sleeping with my tarp flapping furiously eight inches from my face was... unappealing. 

As the sun set, I found a mining adit, an exploratory horizontal shaft maybe 30 feet long. Its tailings pile protected the entrance from the howling winds. The floor wasn't entirely flat, but good enough for the night. When I emerged to pee in the middle of the night, it was snowing sideways. I crawled back into my cozy, quiet cave and fell back asleep. 

I ventured out in the morning to cranking winds and fresh snow. Said snow had blanketed the windward side of the Joshua trees' trunks at the upper elevations. In the delightful Wonderland of Rocks area, a normally-dry stream flowed for several miles, and dry feet were a fool's errand. The WTH clearly wanted to give me a fitting send-off!

Splendid Isolation

I've complained enough, don't you think? Let me circle back to the delights of the WTH. I saw a handful of day-hikers in Saguaro National Park on my first day on trail (a beautiful New Years Eve afternoon). I bumped into one group of day-hikers in Joshua Tree National Park on my last day on trail. In the intervening 750+ miles, I saw zero hikers. I only saw a tiny handful of vehicles on the primitive 'roads' that the WTH follows at times. Nearly every day featured a mountain range protected by Wilderness designation. In short, hiking this route felt like true exploration.

Of the route's seven towns, three of them were mere gas stations. One of them didn't even have water; two of them didn't have indoor plumbing. Civilization was but a thin strand out there. And unlike my 2021 WTH hike, fighter jets from nearby Luke AFB were only an occasional annoyance, not a continuous roar. Of course, there was one night near the end of the trail where bombing at a nearby Marine base kept me awake for hours!

Theological Ruminations

By happenstance, I spent exactly forty days in the desert. During my desert sojourn, I focused my Scripture reading on episodes where God’s people spent forty days - or forty years - in the desert. As I read, I realized that God often uses the rigors of desert life to prepare his people for what’s next. Examples!

  • God calls the descendants of Jacob out of Egypt “so that they may worship Me in the desert” (Exodus 7:16). After a miraculous deliverance, he establishes a covenant with them at Mt. Sinai. God uses Israel’s desert wanderings to transform them from a rag-tag band of slaves into God's special possession, by whom he would bring blessing to the entire world.
  • Elijah despairs at Israel’s recalcitrant idolatry even after God demonstrates his absolute superiority over all pretenders. Fleeing persecution, Elijah high-tails it to Mt. Sinai, back to the same mountain where God originally established his covenant with Israel. There, God assures Elijah that despite Israel’s apostasy, God is still working out his purposes, even using godless foreign kings at times. And God hints at the next development in his redemptive plan - to preserve a remnant for himself even as the majority of the nation backslides into idolatry and unbelief. This remnant will eventually find its focus in a single man - the God-man - Jesus of Nazareth.
  • Jesus spends forty days in the wilderness where he faces an onslaught of temptation. Unlike Israel’s misadventures with idolatry, Jesus remains faithful, succeeding where Israel failed. This, the first event following Jesus’ baptism, prepares him for his public ministry.

There are plenty of other examples, but we’d be here all day and your supper is getting cold. To be brief: on this hike, I was struck by the way in which Jesus ties all the Old Testament threads together. His 40 days in the desert don't just use convenient Biblical imagery, but rather are intended as a specific counterpoint to various Old Testament 40's. They illustrate how Jesus, a specific Israelite, embodies and fulfills Old Testament Israel's God-given vocation.

To wit: I’d always been a bit troubled by how the New Testament authors seemed to ignore the original context when applying Old Testament prophecies to Jesus. The original context often referred to events already in the past, or to more proximate future events surrounding Judah’s exile and subsequent return. For example, when Jesus was a toddler, he and his parents fled to Egypt as refugees. Upon their return, Matthew cites a passage from the prophet Hosea, “Out of Egypt I called my son”. Matthew employs this quotation to illustrate how Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecies. But in the original prophetic context, it’s clearly a backward-looking passage describing what God already did centuries ago: calling Israel, his metaphorical “son”, out of Egypt. There’s no indication that the prophet is anticipating a future event, much less that the “son” would refer to the incarnate Son himself, e.g. the second person of the Trinity.

Akin to real estate, the first three principles of Biblical interpretation are context, context, and context. Yet here we see Matthew ostensibly ignoring the original context. Is he just plucking a convenient turn-of-phrase out of the Old Testament to serve as a shoddy proof-text? For a long time I couldn’t make sense of this puzzle - how the New Testament could repeatedly apply Old Testament prophecies to Jesus, even when the original meaning obviously referred to something else, usually Israel itself.

During this hike though, something clicked. I finally understood that these passages rightfully apply to Jesus not despite the fact that they originally applied to Israel, but because they originally applied to Israel. A main point of Jesus’s messiahship is that he lives and embodies the story of Israel. Where Israel failed in proclaiming God’s kingship on Earth, Jesus succeeds - not only in proclaiming the kingdom, but in being the King himself. Because Jesus is living out Israel’s story, the motifs and prophecies that originally applied to Israel apply to Jesus too. In fact, these passages find their fullest flowering not in the proximate fulfillment of exile and return, but in Jesus’ messiahship.

Anyway, that's your dose of theology for the day. Thanks for coming to my TED talk 🙂

What’s Next:

The WTH is a nascent route and information is scarce, aside from Blisterfree's foundational writings. In an upcoming post, I hope to contribute to the corpus of WTH literature with some advice for future hikers. 

Thursday, December 14, 2023

2023 - In Review

In the winter of 2019-2020, I ordered my parents a wall map depicting the upcoming year's objective: a thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. True to maternal instinct, my armchair-adventurer mom promptly dropped fifty bucks to frame that simple fifteen-dollar map. Its place of honor? The kitchen, positioned prominently on the wall behind the breakfast island.

Of course, the pandemic scuttled everyone's 2020 plans. For the past three years that map has stood sentinel on the wall. Each time I visited their home, the map taunted me, a silent monument to dreams deferred. 

I once heard an old wives' tale: to obtain compliance from an unruly dog, you need only grab its jawbone. Dogs instinctively recognize the mouth as their meal ticket. To control a dog's mouth is to control the dog. To quote the great philosopher Yukon Cornelius, "he's nothing without his choppers!"

The veracity of that folklore is quite beside the point. The (figurative) truth: I've got a jawbone in my foot. When a debilitating injury in early 2021 imperiled my ability to hike, I was cast adrift. The injury didn't merely hinder one of my hobbies; it threatened one of the primary ways I bring glory to God and find joy in his creation. The story of the past three years has therefore been one of halting progress and general malaise. Any success had to be couched in provisos, qualifiers, and caveats: It was only a couple miles, but I still enjoyed it. My inability to handle rough terrain heightened my appreciation of frontcountry trails. You get the picture.

Torpor no more! This year, 2023, was an unequivocal success. My foot held up for the entire Pacific Crest Trail. Moreover, it held up alright on half the Arizona Trail and a section of the Appalachian Trail, both far tougher arthritic joints than is the manicured PCT. I've written and re-written this section about five times now, and I still haven't captured the depth of my gratitude to God. You might say this year was on par with some of the other all-timer years I've had - the Continental Divide Trail in 2018, or the Route In Between in 2019 - but after a couple years of malaise, 2023 tasted particularly sweet. Thank you, Lord.

As always, let's start the review with a few contrived stats and cheap jokes:


  • Pairs of shoes: 6
  • Toenails that succumbed to said shoes: 2
  • Ingrown toenails (not really the shoes' fault): 1
  • Bottles of DEET: 3
  • Tents: 3
  • Leaky tents: 1
  • Leaky tents I've complained about for four consecutive years-in-review, and finally (!!!) replaced: 1
  • Umbrellas: 2
  • Respectable silver backpacking umbrellas: 1
  • Polka-dotted umbrellas panic-purchased at Dollar General: 1
  • Down sleeping bags: 1
  • Down quilts: 1
  • Down quilts regretted: 0 (I was nervous about it though!)
  • Packrafts purchased: 1
  • Packrafts my sister teases me about because I won't stop yapping about it: 1
  • Massive gear overhauls, for the first time in a decade: 1
  • Bear canisters: 1
  • Bear canisters resented with every fiber of my being: 1
  • Miles carrying an ice axe through the desert: 300
  • Times I actually used the ice axe: 0
  • Miles carrying microspikes: 800 


  • Thru-hikes: 1
  • Section hikes along National Scenic Trails: 3
  • Weekend backpacking trips: 3
  • Trips with friends: 3
  • Solo trips:  4
  • Packrafting trips: 2
  • Packrafting trips where my wet feet got so numb I couldn't feel them for three hours afterward: 1


  • Miles hiked: 3,100
  • Miles packrafted: 31
  • Highest point (literal): Forester Pass, 13,200'
  • Lowest point (literal): Columbia River, 20'
  • Highest point (metaphorical): Walking the sky-piercing Goat Rocks ridgeline in Washington
  • Lowest point (metaphorical): The three-day Labor Day Weekend rainstorm extravaganza
  • Shortest full day: 13 miles
  • Longest full day: 36 miles
  • Most miles hiked in a 24-hour period: 42 miles


  • Hitchhiked: 11
  • Perched precariously on a child's car seat in the back of an ATV for fifteen torturous, bumpy miles: 1
  • Sore butts afterward: 1
  • Bummed a ride with friends/family: 10
  • Played rummy on trail: 24
  • Played rummy sitting in the middle of the trail: 1
  • Favorite rummy spot: A mine shaft
  • Winter Storm Warnings: 1
  • Tornado Warnings: 1
  • Fresh inches of snow: 5
  • Tornadoes: 0 
  • Bears: 3
  • Bears that sprinted away from me at top speed: 2
  • Bears that just kinda looked at me and sniffed dismissively: 1
  • Bobcats: 1
  • Deer: infinite
  • Rattlesnakes: 3
  • Rattlesnakes I very, very nearly stepped on: 1
  • Blowdowns cleared: 57


  • In a sleeping bag: Too many to count
  • Under a tent/tarp: 60%
  • Cowboy camped: 40%
  • In a motel room: 5
  • At friend/family's house: 8
  • At a trail angel's home: 1
  • At a church: 1
  • On top of a picnic table: 1
  • In a bathroom: 1
  • In a creepy rural cemetery: 1
  • On a playground: 1
  • In a ditch: 2

Previous years in review: 2022, 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2014.

I spent the first couple months of the year packing my life into a dozen Rubbermaid totes and stashing them in my friend Elizabeth's basement. On the last day of February, I set out for a week on the Appalachian Trail with my pal Blue Moon, celebrating the ten year anniversary of our 2013 AT journeys.

In March, I teamed up with Blue Moon to tackle the southern half of the Arizona Trail. As in 2019, I hiked through the midst of a spectacular wildflower bloom. The AZT remains one of my favorite trails.

In April, I hiked in Capitol Reef National Park with my good friends Max and Lara...

...and then headed out to California to start the PCT at the Mexican border.

I continued northward through hottest, driest section of the PCT as the calendar turned to May. When I got to the end of the desert, I headed to Michigan to wait out the historic melt.

In June, I did a brief section of the North Country Trail in Michigan.

I got back on the PCT in July, heading southbound from the Canadian border. I finished the state of Washington on the last day of the month.

Oregon and northern California consumed the month of August. A fire near the state line forced me onto a 100+ mile re-route. 

In September, I entered the Sierra Nevada, the home stretch of the PCT.

October brought the year's first snowstorm and the successful conclusion of my PCT journey.

In November, I took a pair of packrafting trips, one to southern Indiana...

 ..and one to Northern Michigan.

For the first time ever (?), I took a December backpacking trip along the Lake Michigan shoreline.

 What's next:

This wrap-up notwithstanding, the book isn't quite closed on 2023 yet. I plan to start the 800-mile Desert Winter Thru-Hike on New Years Eve. The WTH meanders its way from Saguaro National Park to Joshua Tree National Park, traversing low terrain suitable for exploration in the dead of winter. The WTH is another gem from renown route creator Brett Tucker. I hiked the Arizona half of the WTH a few years ago. Since then, the California half has gnawed at my craw, and since I've got some free time at the moment, I plan to take full advantage. Lord willing, I plan to do the full route. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

PCT & Triple Crown Wrap-up

It seemed that Mt. Rainier might reach out and grab me. The hulking, glaciated beast loomed impressively to my north, magmatic pressure silently building deep below the snow and rock. From my perch atop Old Snowy, I also spied Mt. St. Helens, a visceral reminder of what happens when a volcano gets a tummy ache. To the south lay stately Mt. Adams. Once I rounded Adams a few days later, the cycle repeated itself, with Mt. Hood visible to the south. In all, I spent more than 1,200 miles navigating from one giant snowy volcano to the next, pulled inexorably southward by the stately peaks.

On weekend backpacking trips, we may visit a beautiful place - the Timberline Trail around Mt. Hood, or Mt. Rainier National Park, say. But unless we know the surrounding area well, these beautiful places lack context. They're mere eye candy in a terra incognita. On a long-distance hike by contrast, we see both the crown jewels and all the places in between. We see the scenery change slowly over the course of 2,000+ miles. Each geographic feature blends into one cohesive tapestry.

In case it's not already clear: I love long-distance hiking.

PCT: Overall Thoughts

I apologize in advance that this section won't live up to your expectations. There's a lot of platitudes I ought to repeat about the PCT, like "it changed my life", or "it's all about the people". But to be honest, none of them really apply. The truth is more prosaic: it was an amazing dessert. 

Yes, dessert, with two S's. A sweet course after the main meal. 

My path to the Triple Crown (AT, CDT, then PCT) is perhaps the most unusual of the six possible permutations. Most people do the PCT fairly early in their hiking careers, whereas I was ten years deep before I ever got around to walking the PCT. It therefore stands to reason that my experience on the PCT would be a bit offbeat as well. I'm not here to drone about how difficult the PCT was, or how much it changed my life. Such things were true about my first long-distance hike, the AT. But after a decade of long trails, the PCT's appeal to me was perhaps more banal, yet no less delightful.

The PCT was all sweet. The miles came easy, the weather remained cooperative, and it was more consistently beautiful than either the CDT or AT. The PCT is perhaps the best trail for thru-hikers who want to turn their brain off, let their legs churn miles, and enjoy the beautiful scenery. I certainly wouldn't want all my trail experiences to be PCT-like, just as I wouldn't want to eat a diet solely of marshmallows and ice cream. In general, I prefer trails with a few more rough edges. But as a dessert - as a well-earned, pleasant reward for many other miles of eating my vegetables, I certainly enjoyed it.

In particular, my aim on the PCT was to experience the grandeur of the Cascades and Sierra Nevada, two ranges I hadn't previously spent any meaningful time in. I enjoyed the Sierra, which was no surprise. The Sierra reminded me of other granitic ranges, such as the Wind River Range or Little Cottonwood Canyon in my Utah backyard. Beauty is of course subjective, but I reckon most hikers regard the Sierra as the most scenic section of the PCT, and I can't really disagree. 

But the Cascades blew me away, far exceeding my modest expectations. I had perfect weather for almost all of Washington and Oregon. A perfect amount of decorative snow lingered. Mosquitoes were annoying in spots, but overall not as consistently bad as I'd anticipated. Vis a vis expectations, the Cascades were my favorite section. In fact, Washington in particular was so scenic that I perhaps unfairly turned up my nose at Oregon, which held far more beauty than I gave it credit for.

So that's the grand conclusion - the PCT was beautiful and pleasant. It was dessert. And sometimes, that's enough.

"It's all about the people"

Ask hikers what their favorite part of a thru-hike is, and many will repeat the above platitude about "the people". I'm not entirely sure if most people actually believe it, or if they're just afraid of being labeled as misanthropic grumps. As a 22-year-old fresh off the Appalachian Trail, I certainly would have dutifully recited "the people" as the trail's top highlight. But over the course of my long-distance hiking career, my style has evolved toward something a bit more solitary. If you want a highly rewarding interpersonal experience, join the Lions Club or something. For me, thru-hikes aren't a particularly social experience.

To be clear, I've made amazing friends on long trails and in the hiking community over the years. I'm still in regular contact with many of them. I treasure those friendships.

But though it was my most social thru-hike, I still spent most of the AT hiking alone or in loose affiliation with others. Likewise, on the CDT, I made some good friends, but only camped with another person once on the entire second half of the trail. And even on the crowded PCT, I camped alone at least 90% of the time. Prior to the PCT, I was a bit concerned that I'd be stuck in a fishbowl and not cope well with the crowded nature of the trail. My concerns turn out to be unfounded though; I found that by minimizing town time and dry camping, I found enough peace and quiet.

Speaking of People...

When it comes to professional networking, I'm a complete zero. But in the outdoors, it's different. The thru-hiking world is a small town, and there are never more than two degrees of separation between any pair of hikers. If I don't know you, I almost certainly know somebody who knows you. After 10 years and more than a few long-distance hikes, I've made a good number of friends. On the northern half of the PCT, I took the opportunity to visit several hiker friends. I realize that listing the friends I stayed with isn't exactly riveting journalism, but to gloss over anyone seems almost criminally inappropriate.

  • Mike & Naomi (Winthrop, WA)
  • Tree & Free (Sisters, OR)
  • Cruise & Shine (Ashland, OR)
  • Blue Moon (Reno, NV)

Cruise and Shine - hiking partners in the desert, hosts in Ashland

In fact, on the entire PCT, I only stayed in a motel room or other commercial lodging three times. The rest of my stays were with friends. I was able to sample a little bit of their lives. And because they're all hikers, they were prepared for my stinky gear and impolite appetite. Salt Lake City is perhaps the most central crossroads in the West, and I host hiker friends pretty routinely. It was a treat to have the shoe on the other foot and enjoy some hospitality. A sincere thanks to all of them.

And those are just the people who I stayed with during the actual PCT. I'd be remiss not to mention the other delightful visits this year as part of my hiking adventures:

  • My uncle Steve and aunt Karin before and after the PCT
  • My uncle Marc and aunt Paula before and after my AT adventure
  • Ralph and Sue Pugliese in the middle of the AZT. 

I realize this is just a list of names to most folks, but each represents memories I'll smile about for a long time.

Pedal to the Metal

When I made the decision to flip up to the Canadian border, I knew I'd be on a tight timeline. I had to attend a wedding on the 4th of July, and wanted to be done by early October to maximize my chances of beating any early-season snowstorms. I had to hike 2,000 miles in less than three months - a pace right at the limit of my capabilities.

To be honest though, I was looking forward to that pace. All of my hiking adventures for the past two years had involved training wheels - a gradual process of regaining function and fitness after a pretty devastating injury. I was ready to pull off the training wheels and see what would happen. I couldn't stand the thought of being Uncle Rico, longing in vain for bygone days and wondering "what if". 

I don't believe in giving 100% effort on any one individual day, because then tomorrow's performance suffers. Instead, by putting in a level of effort that's sustainable day-over-day, I perform at my long-term peak for weeks or months. There's not much more I could have done to go faster - I was giving it all I had.

I only hiked about a dozen 30-mile days on the PCT, and those only by walking from dawn to dusk. Mostly, I achieved the pace by keeping town stops short. I tried to walk at least 20 miles on town days, and 25+ on non-town days. As the autumn equinox drew near, I found myself doing a couple miles before sunrise each day. Hikers often repeat the axiom "It's about the smiles, not the miles", but in pushing myself on the PCT, I found a lot to smile about. I'm not usually focused on pace on a thru-hike, but on this dessert-hike, it added an interesting challenge.

Losing a Lodestar

For the past ten years, the Triple Crown has served as an life-organizing principle. Even though the accomplishment of Triple Crowning was never particularly meaningful to me, I dreamed of doing each of the individual trails - embracing the challenge of the CDT, the beauty of the PCT, or the lore of the AT. Moreover, the Triple Crown trails have a certain cultural cache. Family and friends understood what I was doing, and could at least imagine why such a journey might be personally meaningful. By contrast, DIY routes with arbitrary endpoints tend to draw blank looks of confusion.

With the completion of the Triple Crown, I've lost that lodestar. Unless I aim to finish all 11 National Scenic Trails (which is currently not on the menu), any future thru-hikes won't fit into any overarching meta-narrative of working toward a long-term goal; they'll just be something I want to do. This doesn't bother me, but it does color how friends, family and employers perceive these journeys. 

My rain gear is super attractive, y'all

Superficial Superlatives

Each trail of the Triple had its own personality, and comparison is mostly a pointless exercise. But hey, you already made it this far in this quasi-iconoclastic screed, so clearly you can't object too much to my bloviating.

For me, the Appalachian Trail (2013) was the most transformative of my Triple Crown hikes. The AT tipped over a whole bunch of other dominoes in my life. My decisions to move to Utah - to work in the financial services industry, to live life out of a car or a backpack for a while - all these are interwoven with my 2013 Appalachian Trail hike. On the AT, God showed me where he wanted me - in the outdoors, marveling in his creation.

The Continental Divide Trail (2018) was my favorite Triple Crown hike. It was the wildest and most roughly-defined of the three trails. On it, I developed my preferred hiking style - a solo, off-the-beaten-path, immersive wilderness experience. The CDT was a remarkably smooth hike; while I hit four fire closures, they were all fairly minor. Given the chance to do one of these trails again, I'd choose the CDT in a heartbeat. On the CDT, God showed me what to do in the outdoors - to be a visible representative of Jesus in the hiking world, where the good news of salvation is desperately needed and rarely heard.

The Pacific Crest Trail (2023) has been discussed at length already, so just to summarize - it was the most "fun" trail, in the traditional sense. It was stunningly beautiful, and offered me an opportunity to re-engage with the outdoors after a bumpy and difficult couple of years. On the PCT, God showed me how to exist in the outdoors - aware of my utter dependence on him, and in constant prayer and conversation with him.

What's Next

I'd like to formally announce a retirement from long-distance hiking... of my boonie hat. My hat has accompanied me on every trip for the past seven years, and was, starting to show its age. It survived a nighttime rodent encounter (fixed with dental floss) and a bear attack (fixed with dorky green thread). I abused it countless times pushing headfirst through tamarisk and all sorts of nasty desert spikey plants. The sun literally wore holes in the top. When I patched the holes, new holes developed around the perimeter of the patches. It's threadbare to the extreme.

So after at least 12,000 miles, it's time for a new hat. The new one's identical to the old one, of course, and with it I plan to embark on plenty of new adventures. I don't have anything planned in specific, but there's always a trip or two in the works. For the foreseeable future, I expect those trips to be vacation-length. I'm applying for jobs at the moment. I'm not exactly sure what the next chapter looks like, but the lesson I learned from the PCT is that God always has another trick up his sleeve, and I can have confidence in him.