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. 

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