Why I Thru Hike. 

Well I’ve been home now about 2 weeks and it has been pretty nice. Shelter from the wind, rain and cold, all the food I can eat, water at the flip of a faucet and I don’t even have to worry about carrying it! No primal fear of waking to the sounds of footsteps around your shelter in the middle of the night while you’re alone and probably miles and miles from the next closest human being. 

I think we all forget how easy and safe we have it here in this country. Even the poorest of the poor can get into a building if their life depended on it. A building. It’s so simple, a hollow cube or stacks of cubes that separate out there from inside. How I occasionally wished for a building to appear on the AZT and the PCT when the wind was too much or the rain was so cold. Just to be in still air and dryness. I remember a talk with Carrot on the PCT last year when we knew we were about to be in a hotel. “Can you believe there are such things as cubes where it doesn’t rain and they’re filled with warm dry air?” Or something along those lines. The point is, until you can’t have one when you want one so badly, I don’t think you can appreciate how wonderful a building is. 

That being said I also think that to get too used to this warm, cozy, safe way of life robs us of our sense of wonder and what it feels like to really live and be alive in the world. Coming down from Mt. San Jacinto on the PCT I learned what it’s like to be really, really thirsty. To be so thirsty your mouth is sandy feeling and you start getting wobbly and start to see things in a slightly warped reality and know there isn’t a drop of water in your water bottles to help. Just keep walking until you get to the water. Nothing else in the world matters. Then finally getting to quench that thirst when we reached the water fountain at the bottom of the decent there was a wave of emotion in me I’d never felt before. Almost like I wanted to cry, but with elation and appreciation. Appreciating that water exists and will make me be okay. Also when you’re hiking anywhere and get somewhat thirsty, water tastes like the most delicious nectar of the gods. It’s so satisfying. I never want to drink water at home, I want juice, milk, etc. but out in the wild you want water. Besides some nasty ass stagnant water sources, water that’s flowing in creeks, rivers and springs tastes so much better than tap water.   

  Ice water!

Food is another essential to life that becomes maybe more than anything else, a driver on a thru hike. Everyone loves food, if they didn’t they’d be dead or very sad. The first couple weeks of thru hiking I’m not usually that much hungrier than normal until it hits… Hiker hunger. It’s so big it’s got it’s own terminology. Maybe it’s when my tiny amount of stored fat has been burned away and my body needs food NOW. I can eat almost twice as much as I normally would be able to stomach and I want weird things like lots vinegar on French fries. Also even ordinary food begins to taste way better.  

 The thought of this burger at Paradise Valley Cafe made me push my first 30+ mile day on the PCT with my buddy Dust and I almost passed out a mile from the place because I was saving my appetite for it and ran out of energy.

I remember thinking just before I started the AZT when it was in the negative degrees here in Ohio frequently, how frail an individual  human is without all our ingenuity. A lone naked human without any tools would certainly die overnight during winter in Ohio. Yet I look out the window of my car during work and see deer, geese, raccoons, coyotes, squirrels and all kinds of little birds going about their daily lives in sub zero temperatures like its no big deal. Just think about all the places humans wouldn’t be able to live without our making shelters or fire or wearing other animal’s skins! Most of the globe would be human free other than the tropics! Humans have spent the vast majority of their existence as nomadic tribes, walking wherever the animals they hunted walked. We got so good at walking we could literally follow an individual animal so long that it would collapse from exhaustion. Check out this neat link. Persistence Hunting. Walking long distances and seeing the world in which we live is engrained in what we are. To me at least, sitting in an office doing computer work as a career, something you plan on doing for decades, sounds absolutely miserable. The urge to just up and leave I know must be in anyone in this situation. This article from the onion cracked me up. Health Experts Recommend Standing Up At Desk, Leaving Office, Never Coming Back

We were hunters and foragers. The frontier was everywhere. We were bounded only by the earth, and the ocean, and the sky. The open road still softly calls.    – Carl Sagan

Thru hiking brings out the highs in life that we are programmed to crave. The joy of looking at a beautiful landscape, the joy of quenching your thirst, the joy of eating food, the joy of reaching a mountain top or high pass, the joy of being safe and sound in a shelter,  the joy of seeing all the other animals and plants enjoying the same things I’m listing here, relishing the opportunity to exist, and most of all the joy of doing all this with people you care about. It makes you really appreciate things you might have taken for granted. It’s humans being human. This is what drives me to keep hiking, and I have no intention of stopping. 

 I have thru hiked about 5300 miles in the 3 years since I graduated college. That’s farther than the distance from San Francisco to Tokyo. It’d be a long boring aqua blaze though.

1 year ago today I started my Pacific Crest Trail thru hike at the Mexican border. I quit my job, moved out of my place in North Carolina and set off alone on the 2660 mile path through the wilderness. But I wasn’t alone for long. It’s out here that I met some of the craziest, funniest, and most inspirational people I know. We all were thrown into situations that would test our resolve and overcame. 4 months later we walked out of the forest in Canada with robot strength legs and a hunger to explore more of the world, often by foot. It’s been a blast watching everyone go off on their own adventures since then. In October I got to join Twinkle for 40 miles of his Appalachian Trail hike. Crazy guy did PCT and AT back to back. So jelly. 

Then just this March and April I thru hiked the Arizona Trail. 800 more miles under my belt for a grand total of 3500 miles backpacked in one year. That’s farther than the distance from New York City to London. It amazes me how far we can go and how much we can see in just one year. I miss all of you who made this 1 year period so great. There are too many of you to list but you know who you are! Until we meet again!

Day 34. Done! Oh Arizona, it’s Been Real.


Mile 773 to 801. 2 miles on highway 89, 28 on trail. 30 miles. 

Woke up early and was out of my room and waking down highway 89 at 6:10. 2 mile a road walk to the AZT trailhead. It was very cold. Maybe upper teens? My hands and face were painfully cold and as I walked, moisture from my breath collected on my mustache and froze into little ice balls that I occasionally picked off.   


The morning finally warmed up a bit as the sun rose among the ponderosa pines. I was just smashing the miles again. Another flat day for the finale. I walked down a wash for most of the morning and it finally opened up into a sagebrush flat with a view of the vermillion cliffs off in the distance. That is Utah! I can see the end!  

  Original gangster trans fat

Original gangster saturated fat

Oh my god cholesterol!!!

 Utah in the distance!

For the rest of the day these beautiful rocks got closer and closer. I thought the AZT ended in some scrubby desert in the middle of nowhere. But the trail began to head down a hill and then some switchbacks with an insane view of the beautiful vermillion cliffs the whole way. It was so beautiful. Birds were chirping and the wind had stopped. It was dead still and I was in awe of the last of the AZT.  


As I made it to the terminus I looked around for a monument like the mexican border one but never saw one! Maybe I’m an idiot but I didn’t find one. As soon as I reached the parking lot I heard someone say, “Woody!?” It’s Coughee! He’s been hiking around the area and says its just insane everywhere. I got to the terminus much faster than I had expected. I told Coughee I’d be there 4-5 PM so I was surprised to see him when I got there at 2 PM. 30 miles by 2. The last half of the trail is a moving sidewalk. I’m done! I can’t believe it! It seems so long ago I started but at the same time not. The terrain was so different along the way that it seemed I was in totally different places than just Arizona. 34 days. 1 day faster than my goal, but since I had to skip the snowy area on the north rim I was spot on with my goal. 
We’re heading over to Zion national park to meet up with Twinkle, Rice Krispies, Big Sauce and Guthrie who we hike the PCT with last year. A bunch of them are doing a 100 k race tomorrow. As we pay the fee to get into Zion we have no idea what we’re about to drive through. The place is just out of this world. Massive pink and red monoliths, thousands of feet high. It’s like a gigantic red Yosemite valley. I had no idea this place existed. I have to get back here some day just for this park. Coughee and me both just looked out the windows with our mouths agape. The layered rock was decorated and had pines growing very sparsely among the cracks in the cliffs. It’s a park like no other.   


Meet up with our buddies at a sick campsite in BLM land next to a river lined with cottonwoods and surrounded by beautiful mesas. What a way to end this trip!

 Left to right: Coughee, Guthrie, Big Sauce, Twinkle, Me, and Rice Krispies.

Thanks so much for following along with my adventure! There will surely be more to come. If anyone has any questions about the AZT please feel free to ask me on this site or by emailing me at mberger3@mix.wvu.edu

Day 33. Out of the Grand Canyon and Tough Decisions.


Mile 715 to 732. 17 trail miles but I took the road which is longer, about 20 miles.
Coughee and me both woke up about 2 in the morning to a bright moon lighting up the whole canyon, you can see every layer of the rocks its that bright, but what woke us up was the sound of stuff rustling in the bushes. I look over and he says, “You hear something over there too?” Yea! I get out my headlamp and shine it over near the noise. I see a red reflection in the trees maybe 70 feet away. Wtf is that. We’re both thinking lion. We keep shining the light over there and finally there is a white light. It’s some freaking guy messing with his food bag or something at 2 in the morning making a rustling sound and knocking the metal food storage container over. He had his headlight set to the red color for a bit and we thought it was the light reflecting back from an animals eyes! Oh well. I guess he saw our lights shining at him and he switched it back to normal. 


We get up around 6 and eat a quick breakfast. Then Coughee says bye and heads back toward the south rim and I head towards the north rim a little after 6:40 am. I mix in a bunch of maltodextrin into my water and the flavor it with crystal light. Coughee gave me a big bag of the stuff to try. It’s essentially pure carbohydrates that is soluble in water and tastes like nothing. It’s one of Handy Andy’s speed hiking tricks. 
As I start up the rim a lot of dark clouds start rolling in and the wind is howling as usual these days. It gets colder and darker as I go up the first 1000 feet and I start to get nervous I’m going to be rained on. Rain and wind at the north rim would be serious trouble for me because it’s at an elevation of 8300 feet and then goes up another 1000 feet after that. I start to smash up the canyon. It’s otherworldly beautiful though. The south rim follows ridges down most of the way but the north rim trail just is carved into the side of the the cliffs. It is wild. And a bit freaky for me. I’m not a fan of being close to cliff edges and the wind is just tossing my pack and me all around. The trail is 4-5 feet wide with hundreds to thousands of feet straight down to my right. I pass 3 rim to rim to rim hikers who stayed on the north rim last night and said it snowed a little on them. They also said there was a thru hiker ahead coming my way. I ran into him about a mile from the top and he said he hiked from Tucson to the Grand Canyon and not border to border just because. Seems a popular route out here, lots of people do that or just Tucson to Flagstaff. He has no trail name, just Jack and he was going to finish at the north rim and hitch out but he didn’t know the north rim doesn’t open for over a month so he has to walk all the way back across the Grand Canyon and hitch from the south rim.  

    See the trail?!      So badass  That rock landed in a crazy spot 

I made it to the top of the north rim just before 9 AM. 7 miles, 4000 feet up in just 2 hours and 15 minutes with no breaks and less than a liter of water drank. I feel like a hiking monster, legs of steel. I let out a yell of joy and success. Made it up and no rain! Actually the clouds started clearing out and it got sunny as I ate a big snack. There is snow all over the ground here though and the wind is just brutal.  


A ranger pulls up next to me as I eat and chats with me. I tell him I’m thru hiking the AZT and he kind of laughs at the fact I’m going north from here. “Uhhh should I?” He said he HIGHLY recommends against walking the actual route of the AZT up here because much of it is under a couple feet of snow and it’s hard to follow. He was walking part of it the other day and said he just post holed nonstop and got real cold and said it sucked. “Well what do you suggest?” I asked him. He said I can take the road I’m currently on down to Jacob Lake. A 45 mile road walk. It’s also a road that is closed until May except to the park staff so hitching isn’t a good possibility. He says if something comes up or if you need any help the last chance you have is at the park entrance building 13 miles down the road. There is a phone there you can use to call the rangers. 

I look at the AZT and it just all snow covered in a shady forest. I also checked the weather yesterday and took a screenshot of it so I can get an idea of the next few days. Today’s forecast for the south rim is a high of about 51 and low of 15 with 20-30 mile winds. The north rim is 2000 feet higher so it will be in the single digits with wind chills around -20. I can’t tolerate temperatures that low in my 19 degree bag even with my clothes on. I’ve been very cold the past few days with lows in the 20s. This makes me very nervous. My plan is walk about 25-30 more miles in the road, camp in the woods and then finish the rest of the road walk to Jacob lake. That would be a huge day up and out of the Grand Canyon plus a long road walk. It’s going to be brutal.   

 Yah it’s Wednesday. And I’m 2000 feet higher than Tusayan 


As I walk the road towards the Grand Canyon park entrance I am getting really really cold. It’s also full sun and I’m walking a 4 mph pace so you would think I’d be warm but the wind is just so strong it steals all the warmth you generate right from you. Now I’m getting even more nervous. If I’m this cold right now in what should be the heat of the day, while I’m exercising and not sweating, how cold will I be at night? Over the next 3 hours I weigh my options as I head towards the point of no return. When I make it to the entrance station I decided that it wasn’t going to be safe for me to try and camp out here tonight. The next 30 miles to Jacob lake also stay above 8000 feet and have snow deep in all the shady areas. I thought I might be able to just make it all the way to Jacob lake if I just walked the road all night and maybe get to the hotel there around 8 pm. A 50 mile day out of the Grand Canyon… That may be enough to actually injure me and then I’d be stranded in the freezing cold. I say to myself, I’m not even on the actual trail right now, I don’t feel like risking getting frostbite or having a miserable sleepless night or worse out here so close to being finished. I’m out here to have fun and enjoy the great outdoors. I know this situation isn’t worth it.  


I pick up the phone there and it auto dials to what I thought would be the park rangers dispatch but instead I hear “911 what’s your emergency?” Uhhh well I’m not really in danger at the moment… I explained to her my situation and that the ranger there told me to use this phone if I thought I’d be in trouble. She said she would find somebody to get me a ride into town if possible and to stay where I am until the park officer on duty was done helping some lady who was being pulled out of the Grand Canyon who has pneumonia. Damn. Poor lady. 
I sit around for about an hour and a half gorging myself on food and putting all my clothes on. I sit inside the porta potty that is for the Rangers to get out of the wind. I’d rather smell shit all day rather than freeze. Then the ranger comes flying up and says he’s gotta go take this lady out of here and I say go go! I’m not in the situation she is. 5 minutes later a fire chief comes by and starts chatting with me. He calls one of his guys and he says he will drive me down to Jacob lake no problem! Wow I’m going to get out of here. My anxiety is relieved for the moment. 
The guy picked me up and we chatted all the way down. He’s got a cool set up, he was a hotshot fighting fires all over the west the past few years. Says he’s driven lots of hikers down over the years. Said one guy came through doing a section about a month ago when the roads hadn’t even been plowed yet and got in some serious trouble walking through miles of snow and used the same emergency phone and they took him into Jacob lake too. Said I was probably the first person to come through here since him. No footprints anywhere on the AZT in the snow. We finally got to Jacob lake which is just a hotel and a chevron gas station with nothing in it. I thanked the guy and walked in the lodge. There is a big fire going and they have some good cookies for sale. They also have a little restaurant. I chat with a kid who works there and get a big tasty cookie and sat by the fire as I texted Coughee my new situation. A lady comes up to me and says she overheard I was on a big hike and wanted to know if I wanted some extra fruit she had. Sure!!!! Is always the answer to those questions. She brings a couple bananas, 3 clementines, 3 larabars and a kind bar! Damn! Good stuff!!! Thanks so much!!! 
I rent out a room which I try and talk the guy down in price because $85 seemed like a high price for one kid in the off season. Says all they have are rooms with 2 queens. I don’t need 2 queens! Oh well. Anything to not be outside tonight. I head over to my room and shower. Then I grab a burger and fries and head back to watch some tv and fatten up, and prepare for the final day now that I’m only 30 miles from the border. Every thru hiker wants to do every mile but sometimes trail conditions are beyond your control. Like fire on the PCT, snow on any trail can make a section dangerous. I have a plane ticket bought and can’t wait for it to melt. Tonight I rest.

Day 32. The Grand Canyon!

Mile 685 to 715. 30 miles. 

Woke up earlier than usual because I got real cold at night and didn’t feel like trying to sleep. Ate breakfast and was walking on the trail at 6 AM. It was a cold an beautiful walk through ponderosa pines with the moon still bright in the sky. I heard 2 coyotes howling back and forth and was able to catch their conversation on video! The sound of it at least. About 10 minutes later I tried my best coyote impression and they all started howling and calling back!!! I got their return call on video too and they were very close this time. I tried calling back to them again only this time the stopped because the could see me! They noticed I was an imposter. I walked right through their little pack. One coyote on my left and I saw the other two in my right just 100 feet away. They walked a few feet then sat down and watched me. The look on their face wasn’t fearful of me, they looked intrigued, very curious about me as I walked on by. Probably wondering why the hell this tall, two legged pillar like primate was imitating them. One if the coolest moments in my thru hiking career. Coyotes Howling Back and Forth
I made it to the road about 7:45 and immediately saw the Golden Arches of a McDonald’s. I walked over there and text Coughee where I was. As I stood in line he showed up! We ordered some food and caught up on stuff since we last saw each other. We cruised around the Grand Canyon village and I picked up my food from the post office and supplemented it with chips and baked goods from the market. We sat and charged phones for about an hour as I ate a pint of ice cream. We got to talking with the couple next to us who were from Israel. The guy, Abraham said he knows Israel better than anyone and said we should come hike the Israel national trail and give us a call and he will tell us what to visit and help us out. He gives us his business card.  


I buy my airline ticket back home from Las Vegas to Cincinnati and it’s only $152! No layovers and on Sunday night. I’ll be home this weekend! Crazy. The line for the shuttle bus is crazy so we try hitching. About 5 minuets later two girls pick us up. We cram in their small car and they offer us cantaloupe. Yum. We get chatting and we ask where their from. Israel again!  We tell them about the trail I’m doing the driver says she knows someone who just did the Israel national trail. Apparently it’s littered with trail angels too. Looks like there could be a new trail in my future. They’re super cool and take us right to the south kaibab trailhead. 
This is where we start our hike into the grandest canyon of them all. We cruise down passing hundreds of tourists in the first mile or so, taking many stops for pictures. People are loving the shorts as usual. Once we make it about halfway down people become sparse. The views just keep getting crazier though. Near the Colorado River there are only a few people within the last 2 miles. We cross the bridge and head towards phantom ranch for we hear there is beer. Once we make it there we hear we are just in time to get some since the place closes at 4 pm and its 3:30. We get a beer each and relish it. Then we go outside to eat some food and talk to the guy next to us who is long time hiker from British Columbia. He had had a few encounters with bears in his days and even had to pepper spray one that was following him. Crazy! Then we took off for our next 7 miles up the canyon to cottonwood campground. After 5 miles we both start to bonk and get tired. We take a quick break and eat some food then push on to camp. We arrive about 6:30 and throw our bags down. Cowboy camping in the canyon. The low here tonight is 52 degrees! That’s about the high temperatures I’ve been dealing with recently. We eat a big dinner and Coughee even gives me a mountain house to eat. Mmmm cooked warm food. A rare treat on the trail. We get in our sleeping bags and talk about space and deep stuff like that until we get sleepy. 85 miles to go. 

        Coughee        Going down!  Climbing snapdragon?   

My phone ran out of photo space near the bottom so I have more pictures on my canon that I’ll add to this later.

  Heading towards cottonwood camp     

Day 31. Ride Like the Wind Bullseye!

Mile 643 to 685. 42 miles.
One month in the Arizona wilderness. Yesterday I thought to myself, tomorrow will be a good day to do the big one. Flat almost all day, I don’t have much food to carry, but I do need to carry a bunch of water. This morning I decided to go for it. I pack up my stuff and eat a good sized breakfast of pastries, Rice Krispies and Cadbury chocolate eggs. I take a swig of my Hawaiian punch and start walking at 6:20
  Sunrise in the flats. 
The morning was beautiful as usual and I saw dozens of jackrabbits running around the flats. Also saw one lonely pronghorn. I was down to just that last liter of Hawaiian punch so I was holding back on drinking it until I got to upper Lockwood tank. When I finally got there it was bone dry. First stock tank I’ve seen dry. This worried me a little as almost all the water for the rest the trip is stock tanks. I can hold out until the larger Lockwood stock tank a few miles down the trail. I can see it from almost a half mile away. A big dirt wall, one of the deepest tanks I’ve seen yet. There’s cow patties and hoof prints everywhere, good signs I say to myself. I walk up the dirt wall and look into the tank. Bone dry. Now my heart sank. The next possible water is 14 more miles. I could see still moist cow poop and fresh prints so there had to be water here! I followed a well trodden cow path beyond the high tank and low and behold there is a little cow trough on the other side full of water. A steer is drinking away when he spots me. I rush down there and he walks away. Fresh cold water! Lots of it and it looks very clear! I’ll be good for the day. It takes me about 20 minutes to filter 3 liters since my filter has been clogged with foul water. I eat some food then back to hiking. As soon as a drink some of my newly filtered water I find it was too good to be true. It tastes awful. It tastes like musky cow drool. I guess it makes sense. It’s just one small trough that dozens of cows dip their drooling snotty faces into all day, day after day because there is no other water for miles. It leaves the taste of cow spit in my mouth for a minute or two. I then put crystal light into all these bottles to try and mask the flavor but the cow drool aftertaste remains. 

  There is supposed to be water here.  There it is!  The water. I use the sawyer squeeze as a sawyer sit.

I pass the “Russell” tank, a metal tank with Russell painted on it and a ladder up the side. There is also a trough nearby it so I check them out due to curiosity. The trough has about 2 inches of water in it but it also has 5  dead and rotting squirrels in it. They’re also leaking what appears to be blood. Not any water I want to drink. Ever. Apparently they hopped in to get a drink and found it’s much harder to jump out when you’re standing in water so they were trapped and probably died of hypothermia in the night. Next I check the big metal tank. I climb the ladder and look in. Bone dry again. Also if you went down into the tank, you cannot get out, there is no ladder on the inside and the walls are about 15 feet high. You’d be trapped and end up like the squirrels. Don’t go in the tank!  

     If you’re very very brave, there is some water here.

Later I came up the Russell dirt stock tank and saw someone else there. Another backpacker! The guy’s name is Chris, he’s been working at the Grand Canyon for awhile and saved up money to backpack for a few weeks. He just hiked all over the canyon and decided on a whim to backpack from there to Flagstaff. He also thru hiked the PCT in 2013. Seems like an interesting guy! He is carrying almost 2 gallons of water and I tell him Lockwood had water and he is very relieved, he says he has too much so he gives me a liter of water! Cool! Saves me filtering time and saves him 2 lbs. We chat and eat for about 25 minutes then we part ways. I did also grab a liter from this stock tank which does have water but not very much! It will be dry soon! There are little red shrimp looking things swimming in the muddy water and in my water bottle. Hopefully I won’t need this water. 
The rest of the day was walking through ponderosa pine forest that had all been burned recently. For 20 miles or so it’s all been burned, many trees survived however. Even some the plastic AZT signposts have melted into pools of reddish plastic on the ground. Then I get a glimpse of the north rim of the Grand Canyon through the trees. There it is! I can see it! I’ll be there tomorrow!  

  AZT sign melted in the fire

typical pretty ponderosa forest 

I walk until about 6:30 when I decide I’ve accomplished my goal of doing a 40 on the AZT. 42 miles in fact! Just over 12 hours of walking. My feet are sore but that’s about it! The recipe for big days is just walk as long as there is sunlight and have a light pack. That’s about it! Oh and lots of junk food. I set up my tarp and I realize somehow one of the guy lines has snapped off and I can’t find it anywhere. I try using dental floss as a guy line but it’s not quite strong enough. Oh well, I can still set up the tarp, it just won’t be as roomy. I’m 7 miles from Tusayan where I hear there is fast food! I’ll be there for breakfast! Will be a relaxing day tomorrow! Just 13 miles to the south rim. 

Day 30. From the Mountain to the Flatlands.

Mile 608 to 643. 35 miles.

Slept very nicely in the rental car, stayed nice and toasty and didn’t have to worry about condensation or wind. I ate some pastries for breakfast and then Michael woke up a bit later. I’m also packing out 3 liters of Hawaiian punch instead of water.  We drove up to where the snowbowl rd and the AZT intersect and we said our goodbyes. The mileage down the trail took a jump because I took the Flagstaff resupply route instead of the walnut canyon route because I needed to resupply of course and I’ve never been to Flagstaff and wanted to be in town! The whole trail mileage is for the walnut canyon route so when the two routes reconnect the mileage jumps for people who took the resupply route. I chose to get on trail at the snowbowl rd because I had already hiked a bunch of the connecting route when we hiked up the trail to Humphreys Peak. So instead of doing some of that again I just got to the first road the rental car could get to, and it’s only a few mile difference.
Started walking at 8 am, a later start than normal because we felt like sleeping in and letting the sun rise some. The morning was freezing and the ground was solid. I crossed many patches of snow but no continuous snow for miles like the hike up Humphreys. There were also beautiful aspen groves that had a very uplifting atmosphere to them. It seemed like a happy place to be with white bark, blue sky, and sunlight hitting me. This is contrasted with the dark, cold and almost creepy conifer forests that was much of the morning. Not a real big fan of solid conifer stands. They are not very biodiverse, they’re dark and nothing much grows on the forest floor there. The soft pine needles are a plus I’ll give them that, and it would be a nice place to be if it were 90 degrees out, but it’s 20 something out and it’s not a fun place to be then. It’s also very windy again today so it’s chilly even when you’re moving. I did finally see a turkey running around on a snow patch today too. I’ve heard them gobbling but haven’t seen one until now. 


more snowwww stahp. 

I’m also in kind of a funk I think, I haven’t been in my normal routine of smashing miles and getting closer to finishing for a good while now. With grad school approaching fast, just a month away, a lot has been on my mind! I need to find a place to stay, pack my stuff up and prepare for school. I’m very excited for this and it is a driver to help me finish sooner rather than later. I also can’t wait to get to the Grand Canyon. I’ve never been and Coughee will be around to hike it too!
It’s Easter so I eat hard boiled eggs, Cadbury chocolate eggs and the baby food. Eggs are always on my high craving list out here and so is chocolate but the baby food is new and I approve greatly of it! It’s real cheap, and most of them taste super delicious. One or two were okay, but most were like eating a freaking smoothie.  

 This was the best one. Super tasty. 

I carried boiled eggs for 3 days and didn’t get sick so there you go, take eggs. It was pretty chilly most of the time though so I don’t know how they’d last somewhere hot. 

The afternoon went by pretty quick. It stayed chilly most of the day because of the wind and high altitude but I finally took off my long johns around 2 pm because it was warm enough in the open juniper hills. The environment changed exactly as I suspected. The morning started out with white pine, bristlecone pine, Douglas firs and other high elevation, cold loving species, down to ponderosa pine forests a little lower and then into juniper hills. Even the junipers gave way to a vast open desert plain for much of the evening. They then occurred only on hillsides it ridges. This left me walking into the most immense, open area I have ever been to. Nothing but grasses, and small shrubs here and there all the way to the horizon in some directions. Behind me the San Francisco Peaks loom in the distance, getting smaller and smaller as the miles tick by. It never ceases to astonish me how far you can walk in a day. I was up there on some of the snow parts of that mountain this morning! Now I’m miles away in the flat desert between there and the Grand Canyon. I think I see the north rim of it in the distance, covered with trees. I know it’s in front of me somewhere but you can’t tell where because it’s flat and then all down from there! But it’s in sight alright. I’m just 55 miles from the south rim and should get a peak of it tomorrow at grandview tower! I didn’t see one single person today other than Michael, this has become more and more common as I’ve gotten farther north. Also the combo of wind and high elevation has kept me cool and I’ve drastically reduced water consumption. Just 2 liters of Hawaiian punch took me the full 35 miles. And of course some big critter is walking around my tent as I write. Me no likey.
   Now that’s a pretty one! 

  Near the end of the ponderosa forest  sometimes road walks are okay.

  I was on the side of that mountain today… Isn’t it crazy how far you can walk in a day?

Now that’s far out. 

Day 29. Meteor Crater and Two Guns.

Miles 0. 
Living like our group’s motto on the PCT, big days, big stays. 4th day in Flagstaff. Been so antsy to hike but Michael’s flight isn’t until Monday so we’ve had to stick around town. Luckily there are plenty of cool things around Flag. Today we decided to go check out meteor crater once we got our rental car. 
We lazed around the hostel again until check out time. The hostel had a kitchen for guests to use so last night I boiled 9 eggs I bought at Safeway and kept the other 3 for scrambled eggs for today! I had scrambled eggs and 4 pieces of toast covered in butter and jam for breakfast. I plan on packing out the other 9 eggs because I crave eggs out here and want to try something new to me. 
We walk over to the main street through flagstaff with all the stores and fast food. I go to Dairy Queen and get a banana and chocolate milk shake. The girls there ask if I want hot fudge or chocolate syrup mixed in. I say both. It’s so delicious. The we walk over to a nearby barnes and noble and we read books for awhile. I’m looking at books about wiring stuff because I want to learn how to put a solar panel on a car to power a fridge like Guthrie’s. I don’t understand much of it. I also look at field guides as usual. 
We call a cab to come get us from Barnes and noble and take us to the airport 6 miles away so we can get our rental car. No public transport at all to the airport in Flagstaff. Can you believe that?! The guy comes and takes us there. We wait around for our car to show up because they guys renting it before us aren’t back yet and they have no other cars. Once they arrive, we hop in and head towards meteor crater!
On the way out there the plant life changes abruptly. Starting off as trees and larges shrubs near the city, then a juniper flat with grasses mixed in and then just a vast expanse of grassland. As far as you can see its flat! I’ve never seen anything like it! No plant life above 2 feet tall, no mountains in the distance, just flat! Wild. Off to the right of the highway there is a round raised area in the middle of the flatness I suspect to be the rim of the crater. As we got closer this is confirmed! There is a big building on the rim too. We arrive and pay for our $18 per person ticket. Kinda lame but I think it’s worth it. The crater is owned privately. How bizarre is that?! You can personally own a world’s natural wonder? Just seems like it’s something the national park service would own. Anyway, they’ve done a good job with the place. There is a cool meteorite museum with specimens and photos of meteors that have crashed through people’s homes and even a guys car. There are also other space related artifacts and monuments to astronauts.
Finally we head over to the rim of the crater and look out… It’s just… What?! It’s exactly what you expected, a gigantic fricken hole in the ground, but holy shit! A meteor, a fucking 150 foot wide piece of iron and nickel that had been floating through outer space for billions of years, before any life on earth ever existed, came tearing through our atmosphere at 40,000 mph and smashed into our world 50,000 years ago. That is just incredible. It’s amazing. The hole it made is almost a mile wide and over 500 feet deep. It’s huge! It’s would have been very bad news for any critters in a few mile radius but it wasn’t big enough to cause any world wide damage. I just can’t get over the place. It’s so cool. I just wish we could hike down into it.  


It’s too big to fit in a picture! It’s also super windy. 

We hang out taking lots of pictures and videos and even convince a guy who works there to give us a private tour on a different path even though the private tours were closed for the day. We walk over and get a much better view with the sun more behind us. He talks to us for a bit, seems like a cool guy and he has a good gig going. He lives in the museum and runs around the crater daily. He gets to go all the places you normally can’t. We walk back down into the building where there is a subway sandwich shop and get foot longs. 
On the way back to Flagstaff we stop by 2 Guns, a ghost town on old Route 66. It’s pretty cool and post apocalyptic. A run down gas station, old water towers and buildings just falling apart in the strong desert winds. Everything is vandalized and insulation is blowing in the wind. Then we walk over to Diablo canyon and check out some old ruins. Pretty cool. When we get back to Flagstaff we hit up Safeway again so I can buy my resupply until the Grand Canyon. I try some new stuff like baby food that Michael suggests as a joke but then we both agree it’s probably pretty good. I get 5 squeeze tubes for about $5! All kinds of good and healthy sounding flavors. I’ll report how they turn out as hiking food! We drive up the Arizona snowbowl road and find a dispersed camping area where we camp. I’m too lazy and hate the cold here so I am sleeping in the car. I eat a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream for dinner and wash it down with Hawaiian punch. Living the healthy life.  


Day 28. Fresh Prints of El Bear and Attempt to Summit Humphreys Peak.

Miles. 10. Some on AZT some off.
We slept in until about 7:30 because it was really cold and I wanted to wait for the sun to warm the area. It sure did get very cold last night. Enough to completely freeze the top of a small pond that was liquid last night. I stayed pretty warm until about 4 AM when I started getting chilly even with all of my clothing on.  

 Oh the aspen.

We ate breakfast pretty quick, jammed in the Guthmobile and drove to the trailhead. It is about a 9 mile hike one way to the summit of Humphreys Peak at 12,637 feet. We leave all our camping gear and only take cameras, food and water so we can cruise up the mountain. It’s easy hiking up the trail almost all the way until we hit snow. In the first large patches of snow we see some relatively fresh paw prints from a very large black bear! 


We get to a trail register and were only the second group to hike this trail this year. The last group was back in mid February. Then the trail gradually becomes completely snow covered, occasionally snow free on the south facing parts of the tail. The whole area is covered in many feet of snow. It’s early in the morning so it’s hard and crunchy so we can walk on it like a smooth rock free path. Hopefully it won’t get all soft and become posthole city like the Sierra Nevada did in the afternoon on the PCT. 


As were walking on the snow we hear a loud fluttering sound and in a tree is a big dusky grouse! Also called a blue grouse, they live on the north rim of the Grand Canyon and were introduced into the San Francisco Peaks back in the 70s! Apparently that was a success because they’re still here! And beautiful birds! This guy was flaunting his tail feathers and stayed put so I could take lots of pictures! 


We finally get up to the saddle that looks down into the eroded caldera of the stratovolcano that is the San Francisco Peaks and the views are amazing. It’s looks just like the Sierra Nevada on the PCT except instead of being a chain of mountains, it’s a ring of mountain peaks with lots of tiny volcanic hills off in the distance. You can also see flagstaff way down there, pretty small city really!  


The saddle is mostly open and free of snow in an area where we take lots of pictures and eat some food. It’s also covered in Rocky Mountain bristlecone pines! A distinct population, the only one in Arizona, the next closest place they grow is hundred of miles away in central Colorado! I always wonder how the hell such populations of alpine plants get so far apart. Maybe they grew everywhere In between during the ice age and got stranded at colder areas as the world warmed up? Or by some miracle the seeds got carried hundreds and hundreds of miles by some extremely serious wind, or a very alpine loving seed carrying bird that didn’t feel like eating the seeds but dropped them 500 miles later? Sure pine seeds have a little wing on them so they flutter around in the wind but they’re really a short distance dispersal kind of seed. Anyway, somehow they’re here and it’s amazing!  


We start walking across the mountains towards the peak and it didn’t take too long to figure out this was not looking very safe. The trail is buried in 6-8 feet of snow in some areas and it is crazy steep snow. Almost sheer drop. One slip and you’re sliding down the mountain a slamming into trees on the way down. There’s no way you could stop yourself. A little farther and we can see where a recent avalanche has plowed through some sorry looking trees. The trail goes right thorough this avalanche chute. On top of this the snow has a crust about half an inch thick and underneath it’s all dry powder for feet. I can stick my trekking pole all the way down until it’s buried with little resistance. This seems avalanchey to me. Easily moved powder feet deep. We unanimously agree not to keep going towards the peak. We really all want to be on the highest mountain in Arizona but we don’t feel like risking ourselves to do it. We made it up to 11,000 feet and got some killer views so we are satisfied! It’s okay to turn around. We eat a bunch of food and hang out at the saddle for an hour or so.  

 Avalanche wiped out some trees down thar.  

That sign be buried! 


 The snow is deep and steep! 


We head down the mountain and are postholing regularly but nothing as bad as the PCT. The snow has all become soft and it takes much more energy to walk on. We pass where the grouse was and he’s still flaunting sassily in his tree. We make it down the mountain with soaking wet feet and pass a few day hikers near the bottom of the trail. We cram into Guthrie’s car and head into town for a celebratory feast at McDonalds. Big Mac, 2 pies and an ice cream cone for me! Guthrie takes off to find a place to camp and Michael and me hit up the grocery store. I get a dozen eggs and an angel food cake. We book a room back at the Motel DuBeau after the Grand Canyon hostel messed our reservation up. I eat more than half the angel food cake and write this! What a kick ass day! ALSO! My amigo Coughee may be coming around soon to hike the Grand Canyon with me! Hell yea!  


Day 27. Zero With a Plan.

0 miles.
I wake up at 6:30 against my will. The internal clock is now set early. We lay in bed and watch TV until breakfast is ready in the hostel lobby. We gorge on food there and come back for more TV until we have to leave at 11. 
We then pack up and head over to the Grand Canyon international hostel where Guthrie stayed and where we had a reservation for tonight, but they messed up and had us reserved for Friday night and tonight was all booked up. Whatever. We have a new plan. 

   Ponderosa pine bark. Smells delicious!
We walk to a Jack in the Box and get some cheap tasty food. Ohhh the churros. Guthrie joins us and we make a plan to camp near the San Francisco Peaks tonight and then try to summit Mt. Humphreys tomorrow. It’s an 18 mile round trip and goes up to 12,600 feet! The tallest mountain in Arizona and I think the highest peak I’ve been on since Muir Pass. 
We cram ourselves into his loaded car and drive to the trailhead area. We set up camp on a forest road and hang out all afternoon. A lost dog runs up to us and we tie him up to a tree until his owner finally showed up 10 minutes later. Cute little fella!    

Guthrie cooks some hot dogs and we fatten up for our cold climb tomorrow. We’re at about 8000 feet right now and it’s cold and windy! Hopefully the wind will calm over night. The low temperature here is supposed to be around 20 degrees. Coldest yet!  



The Guthmobile. I want one so bad. Has a solar panel on top to power a refrigerator inside, it also has a bed. It’s like a mini RV!  

Day 26. Speed Hike into Flagstaff.

Mile 538 to 575. 37 miles.
I got up around 5:30 and packed up all my gear. I ate in the laundry room because it was nice and warm. Breakfast was chocolate covered espresso beans, rice krispe treats and chips. 
I give my bag of nonessential gear to Michael and hit the trail at 6:10. I am really feeling a power walk today. The terrain looks super flat and water plentiful so I only take 3 liters. Michael is going to get some much needed sleep and then hang out in the area until his ride at 4 pm.
I watched the sunrise over Mormon Lake as I started the hike. The morning was beautiful. I like waking in the morning the best, it’s chilly but walking keeps your warm, the light is beautiful and makes for some cool pictures. Right off the bat I see lots elk roaming around eating grasses.  



The trail then moves up a big hill and I see a herd of pronghorn in the Douglas fir forest. They seemed kinda out of place, I always imagine them in big open areas. The trail followed an old defunct railroad who’s rails had been reclaimed and just the wooden cross beams remained all rotten. Soon after that the trail opened up into a huge field with San Francisco Peaks in view! Amazing!


I listened to music all morning, “Days of Future Passed” by the Moody Blues is one of my all time favorite thru hiking albums. Nights in White Satin is such a beautiful song for waking in a forest. 
I took a break at noon to see where I was and eat some food. 22 miles down by noon! That might be a record for me in the western US. Setting a great pace to make it Flagstaff early and eat some food! The afternoon walked past a bunch of big lakes that were being whipped up by the strong winds. It’s super windy today! The San Francisco Peaks keep getting closer and closer! 



Finally got a photo of an elk from about 400 feet away. 

After about 30 miles my thighs started feeling sore and feeling tight. I think it’s because I wasn’t using them very much, it had all been dead flat for so long. Whenever there was a small hill or a step up over a rock it felt amazing. So I’d stop and sit every now and then to stretch the leg muscles.  

  A pronghorn’s… Well… Pronghorn!

Hollow and made of keratin. Just like your hair and fingernails and reptile’s scales and bird’s feathers. 

When I was about 6 miles out of Flagstaff I saw a lot of smoke coming from a nearby ridge. I knew they had done a controlled burn the day before but now it was super windy and the smoke was filling the the area I was walking so I got worried maybe the wind had revived the fire and it was now spreading this way. I called the nearest ranger station and they said it was just the remnants of the controlled burn and I was good. Okay… It actually kinda smelled good, nice burnt piney scent everywhere. 

Oh I like dat. It’s pretty. 

The last few miles I had so little water and gear it made jogging down the trail possible. I put my trekking poles away and ran on and off into town. I passed a waste water treatment plant and then went under a bridge into town. I’m immediately greeted by a Sam’s Club and a Taco Bell! But I’m not that hungry yet so I walk down the busy street in my american flag shorts.  


As I walk towards our hostel I see the one that Guthrie text me he was staying in and I called him from outside. He pops out and says hey Woody! 37 miles by 4:15. Averaged 3.7 mph even with breaks. I even beat Michael to town. Now I’m hungry! I chat with Guthrie for almost an hour and then check into our room at Motel DuBeau. Not a bad set up! 
I take a hot shower and a bit later Michael arrives. We both clean up and then Guthrie comes over and we all walk to Diablo Burger for dinner. I got a big and tasty burger with seasoned fries and an IPA. We eat an chat an hour or so and then go back to our rooms to relax. We watch tv until we get too sleepy.