Thursday, December 20, 2018

2019: Two Hundred Days of Dirt

"When are you going to do the PCT?"

As I neared the end of my CDT hike, I started to get the question. Friends, family members, and fellow hikers inquired,. They were curious. I've now completed two of the three legs of long-distance hiking's rarified "Triple Crown". The Appalachian Trail and the Continental Divide Trail are done. The Pacific Crest Trail is next, right?

Well, sorry to disappoint, but I'm not going to do the PCT. At least not now. 

Putting one's life on hold and hiking for six months is a tough thing to pull off. To do it twice, or even three times is rare indeed. That, in part, explains why only about 400 hikers have ever Triple Crowned. Even for the most savvy thru-hiker, there's a very real possibility that this long hike will be their last - either for hiking reasons or for work/family/financial/community/health reasons. 

Each thru-hike is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So, if I knew this were my last hike, where would I go?

For several years now, I've planned, plotted, and schemed a north-south traverse of Utah. Utah is an absolutely terrific state, but relatively unknown amongst long-distance hikers, at least in comparison to its more famous cousins - Colorado, Wyoming, California, etc. Yeah, the Hayduke Trail is gaining popularity - and by "gaining popularity", I mean that maybe two dozen hikers attempt it every year - but in my opinion, the rest of Utah still has a lot of unexplored potential.

So here's the plan: I want to once again hike from Mexico to Canada. I want to explore my own home state. I want to a route that's rougher around the edges than even the CDT. This route will run the lengths of Arizona, Utah, and Idaho. 

Naturally, everything in our modern world must be named, defined, and commoditized, so I'm calling this thing the "Route In-Between". Geographically, it's between the CDT and the PCT. Between the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Cordillera. The RIB explores some oft-overlooked country. An unassuming name - a crappy name - for what I hope will be a really neat route. 

The RIB consists of three distinct chunks:
  • The Arizona Trail (800 miles). The AZT runs the length of Arizona, from the Mexican border near Tucson, up the center of the state, through Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon before terminating in the middle of nowhere on the Utah border.
  • The Deseret Hiking Route (950 miles). This one's my own creation. The DHR uses a combination of existing trails, dirt roads, and cross-country travel to make its way northward through the middle of Utah. It passes through Bryce Canyon, the high plateaus of Southern Utah, the Manti Skyline, and does a complete traverse of the Wasatch Range. Just north of the Utah/Idaho border, the DHR turns to the northwest and makes a beeline across the Snake River Plain, terminating in the Sawtooth Mountains. 
  • The Idaho Centennial Trail (700 miles). The ICT itself runs the length of Idaho, a thousand miles from the Nevada border in the south to the Canadian border in the north. My route follows the northern 70% of the ICT from the Sawtooths to the Canadian border. Along the way, it passes through some truly remote terrain, including some of the largest designated Wilderness areas in the country.
The idea of connecting the Arizona Trail and the Idaho Centennial Trail is not exactly new. I know of perhaps a half dozen people who have contemplated a route like this in the past. Most notably, a hiker named Pepperflake hiked a route from Mexico to Canada through Arizona, Utah, Idaho, and Montana in 2016. Our routes both utilize the Arizona Trail and run concurrently through parts of northern Utah and southern Idaho. 

What kind of resources are available for the RIB? Well, it depends where you are:
  • The Arizona Trail is a designated National Scenic Trail. Map sets, tracks, planning guides, town guides are all widely available. Logistical difficulty is no harder than, say, the CDT.
  • The Deseret Hiking Route is entirely my own creation. I've invested hundreds of hours of planning and research, made calls to random BLM field offices, perused satellite imagery, tracked down local experts, and more.
  • The Idaho Centennial Trail is a nascent trail. Only a couple dozen hikers have done the entire ICT before. A few resources are available, but they may be poor, limited, or out of date.
I am planning to start around April 1st on the Mexican border. That's a tad late for a standard northbound thru-hike of the AZT, but if I start any earlier, I will hit quite a bit of snow in the high terrain of Utah. The RIB looks to be about 2,500 miles, although I'm relatively confident that the actual route walked will be a bit longer than that. With significant routefinding and navigational challenges, along with the occasional bushwhack and re-route, I anticipate that the RIB will take nearly six months to complete.

The RIB is frankly tougher than anything I've hiked previously. Sure, I've done things that are more difficult on a per-mile basis. But this route combines the logistical, route-finding, and aloneness challenges of an off-trail route with the physical and mental ardor of a multi-month thru-hike. Even though I've done everything possible to increase my chances of success, there's frankly no way to guarantee that I will make it all the way to Canada. I'm pioneering something that may or may not be possible for an "average joe" like myself.

So I'm going to give it my best shot. I know that if I didn't take this opportunity now, I'd always look back and wonder what could have been. I hope you'll follow along on this adventure - an adventure in the truest, rawest sense of the word.


As mentioned above, I plan to begin the RIB in mid-April. But it's not April yet. What am I up to between now and then?

Well, in short, a bunch of things. In broad terms, I'm planning an extended road trip through the Southwest. It's mostly outdoor-themed - a mix of backpacking, car camping, day hikes, visiting friends, and whatever else catches my fancy. So it's back to the #crappybeatupsubarulife for me. I've got a few destinations already in mind - Joshua Tree, Big Bend, White Sands National Monument, and more. Included in there are a few more out-of-the-way destinations as well. Know of something cool and unique in CA/AZ/NM/TX that I should go see? Let me know!

I will be updating my blog occasionally during the next few months, but won't be taking the time to write up every little adventure. Additional photos and vacuous commentary are always available, though, on my Instagram page. And no, you don't have to have an Instagram account to view the page. 


My grandmother had an old, stately grandfather clock many decades ago. When she passed away, my family inheirited it. Tempus Fugit, it said on the clockface. Time flies. I've got time right now. I had better make the most of it. Time to make 2019 a year of adventures. Two hundred nights in a sleeping bag? That's my goal. Two Hundred Days of Dirt. 

Sunday, December 16, 2018

2018 - In Review

Think of it just in terms of National Parks. In 2018, I hit eight different National Parks, most of them part of the "inner circle" of true American classics: The Grand Canyon. Zion. Rocky Mountain. Yellowstone. Glacier. Add in Death Valley and my personal all-time favorite, Capitol Reef, and that's already an unforgettable year.

But wait, there's more! Only about 10% of my hiking this year was inside a National Park. And that 90% was usually just as remarkable as the stuff in the parks. I am truly, truly blessed. But before we get to far, here are the stats, per usual:

  • Shoes destroyed: 5 pairs
  • Broken backpack buckles: 3
  • Containers of DEET: 3
  • Ice axes: 2
  • Orange hiking shirts: 1 (vaguely resembles Swiss cheese at this point)
  • Containers of Aquamira water treatment drops: 5
  • "Indestructible" DarnTough hiking socks shredded: 4 pairs

  • Long-distance hikes completed: 2 (Continental Divide Trail, Hayduke Trail)
  • Medium-length backpacking trips: 2 (Uinta Highline Trail, Lowest to Highest Route)
  • Short backpacking trips: 6
  • Sleeping bag nights: 190
  • Miles hiked: 3,700
  • States visited: 8
  • National Parks visited: 8
  • Solo Trips: 6
  • Trips with friends: 4

  • State highpoints: 3 (Colorado, Utah, California)
  • State lowpoints: 1 (California)
  • Highest elevation: 14,505' (Mt. Whitney)
  • Lowest elevation: -282' (Badwater Basin)
  • Highest point (metaphorical): Reaching Canada (Chief Mountain, CDT)
  • Lowest point (metaphorical): Intestinal distress, in the rain, surrounded by ravenous hordes of mosquitos (Cochetopa Hills, CDT)
  • Longest full day, in miles: 36 (Great Divide Basin, CDT)
  • Shortest full day, in miles: 8.4 (Saddle Canyon, Hayduke)
  • Most consecutive days without seeing a human: 3.5 (Bootheel of New Mexico, CDT)
  • Longest waterless stretch: 60 miles (North of the Grand Canyon, Hayduke)
  • Heaviest packweight: 41 pounds (Grand Canyon, Hayduke)
  • Lightest packweight: 7 pounds (Route X)

  • Months snowed on: All of them except July
  • Latest snowstorm: June 30
  • Earliest snowstorm: August 28 
  • Fourteeners summited: 2:
  • Thirteeners summited: a whole bunch

Number of times:

  • Stopped by a backcountry ranger: 2
  • Stopped by a police officer: 2
  • Had my information run by a police officer: 1
  • Educated said police officer about what all these scruffy vagrants are doing in his town: 1 
  • Got a hitch from a police officer: 1
  • Acquired backcountry permits: 5
  • Hitchhiked: 20
  • Rode the Greyhound: 2
  • Regretted the Greyhound: 2
  • Woke up screaming to a car bearing down on me: 2 (unrelated to the Greyhound misadventures)

  • Packets of tuna: ~250
  • Pop Tarts: 0
  • Clif Bars: 2 (first time in 5+ years)
  • Sticks of string cheese: ~750
  • Resupply boxes mailed: 10
  • Favorite food: precooked bacon
  • Most hated food: those nasty granola bars I got at the sketchy food emporium
  • Cans of pop given: 3
  • Cans of beer given: 5
  • Cans of beer found abandoned on the side of the road: 3
  • Invited to share a meal: 1

Wildlife encounters:
  • Elk: hundreds
  • Moose: 6 
  • Gila monsters: 1
  • Bighorns: 2
  • Pronghorns: hundreds
  • Bears: still, forever, and always zero.

Ok, enough of the silliness. On to the trips!

In January, I hiked a wonderful route in Slickhorn Canyon, in the once-and-hopefully-future Bears Ears National Monument.

In March, I finished the Hayduke Trail (Sections 10-14), looping through the Grand Canyon and Zion National Park.

In April, while still in Zion, I hiked the world-famous Narrows of the Virgin River...

...and then headed down to New Mexico to start the adventure of a lifetime, the Continental Divide Trail.

In May, I finished New Mexico and entered Colorado by midmonth...

 ...and while waiting for some lingering snow to melt, took a side trip back to Slickhorn with some other CDT hikers.

In June, I continued northward through the mountains of Colorado, crossing into Wyoming just before month's end.

In July, I hiked through the Great Divide Basin, the Wind River Range, and Yellowstone National Park. 

The entirety of August was spent in Idaho and Montana, dodging fires closures and eating entirely too much food.

I walked into Glacier National Park on the first of September, and finally finished the CDT on the 4th, after 148 days on trail. 

Later in the month, I did a version of the Uinta Highline Trail with a few bells and whistles...

...and hiked the Lowest to Highest of Salt Lake County.

In October, I hiked the Lowest to Highest Route from Death Valley to the Sierra Nevada...

...and a lovely little route in the Escalante area of southern Utah. 

In November, I explored the lower end of Dark Canyon...

...and began an extended road trip and car camping extravaganza, beginning in SE Utah.

It's always a challenge to recognize just how good you have it.. But I can say with some confidence that this has been the year of a lifetime. I am very, very blessed. And Lord willing, 2019 should bring even more adventures. 

See past "Years in Review": 2017, 2016, 2014