Guess what? I have just gone over the 400 mile mark on my goal of hiking the Arizona Trail Out and Back…. 1600 miles in total, heading both south bound and north bound in manageable day hikes. 1/4th the way done…..So….. “as I practically start almost every sentence in this blog”….I thought it would be interesting for me to explore my mind and share with you what I have learned over these last 400 miles.
I officially started hiking the Arizona Trail on August 2nd, 2016 and now at twelve months of “days hikes” and over 400 miles, below is what I have to offer you.
1.) The greatest thing I have learned is I have discovered myself.
If you have read any parts of this blog you will quickly notice that I am not a thrill seeking risk taker and in all honesty I am quite the opposite. Doing this trail came not so much from my love of hiking and outdoors, but as a challenge to myself to do something greater then my normal life. Something that I can look back on with a real sense of accomplishment. Not that I set any records or could brag about my physical stature, but that I have overcome a lot of my fears and anxiety, pushing through and even if it took me many years to finish, I succeeded. Everyone sees the world slightly differently. I see the world as a very complex, multifaceted and potentially dangerous uncontrollable place. For me to accomplish anything, I have to take everything one step at a time and I almost always do the easy parts first. Gaining confidence as I go. This is me and it reflects in this blog and how I have approached the AZT. I know this, more so today then 12 months ago. But it’s ok……The most important thing is to push through and accomplish the goal.
2.) The best piece of gear is a good hiking friend.
Of all the gear…. backpacks…. trekking poles….hats, shoes…. etc…. The most valuable piece of gear on the trail is hands down…. a hiking friend. I want to express my sincere thank you to Tom, Eric, Dave and Lenin for putting up with me and the trail for all those miles. Looking forward to the next 1200 miles……
I have also learned a lot about “non-living” hiking gear. Check out my section on what I have learned so far. http://www.aztrailoutandback.com/index.php/hiking-gear/
3.) Arizona is a bunch of mountains.
Ok… so this should have been obvious to me living here since I was 6 but Arizona has a lot of elevation change and mountains. Like they are all over the place. Just look around.. It’s odd to think about the development of the Phoenix area and how it’s positioned related to all the terrain in the state. It’s not only a natural downward collection point for water running off from the mountains, it’s actually the only really flat area that you can easily and cheaply build a huge city. Water too is something I have learned a lot about. Arizona’s water resources come from a enormous system of highly engineered canals, reservoirs, lakes and dams all flowing toward Phoenix. Hike around a bit in Arizona and you rarely ever find water naturally. Even the forest area’s lack easy flowing water. Virtually all the lakes on the AZT and in the state are simply dammed up creeks and rivers to hold water for our consumption here in the valley and other cities. As I travel the state on my journey I see the vast infrastructure of what man has created. Aspects of the world that most people don’t even know or even think about. Its amazing to me to think about the amount of people that built these highways, dams, electrical lines and underground systems that make our lives so easy.
4.) A Tahoe is a great highway car.
If you do this journey, you will quickly find that you spend a lot and I mean a lot of time driving in your car. On a typical day hike, I am driving 2.5 hours, 7 to 8 hours hiking and 2.5 hour driving home. Fortunately for us in Arizona, there are pretty much roads and highways to take us to the trail. To do this “day hiking journey” you’ll need a good highway car….. trust me. So far…. and I feel I have cherry picked the trails up to this point, the roads and trailheads have not been crazy. As I get father in and the trail selection becomes more challenging to find, I might need to swap out the Tahoe for a 4×4. FYI.
5.) Long distance hiking is hard and easy.
Hiking…. well….. Before this venture I had about 5-6 years of marathon running. Although I never ran other then in Junior High School PE prior to 2009, at last count I ran 7 full marathons (5 in 2010 by itself, Had to get the Rock Star Award) and about 20 – 1/2 marathons. Not to say I am a good runner… actually kind of suck and am quite slow. I have had good runs that I am proud of but rarely did I ever finish in the top 40% percent of my age group or even the field. I just did it to stay fit, loose some weight, challenge myself and try to relax and occupy my mind on a single, simple thing… movement. Hiking is similar to that. After so much running, my body started to break and slow down. Tried cycling for a couple years but god…. ride that little bike on the roads of Scottsdale or Phoenix for a while and your nerves will slowing crack. One day I was yeaning to not be in my office, but stuck with a pile of work and no other option… I logged into YouTube and by accident found a video about hiking the PCT.
Here it is if anyone wants the inspiration https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LIvyuazEoaw
After I saw that, I was hooked. It just spoke to me. I soon started researching everything I could find on thru hiking and backpacking. Bought tons of stuff….. much of it silly and pointless…. and I soon I could release myself from my office chair, I started out on every local trail I could find. Quickly discovering that this hiking thing was relaxing but with elevation it could a little bit more challenging than even running.
That, I guess, is a little of the history, but what I have learned now hiking the 400 mile on my journey. Well… the “trail” is actually a thing…. more like a living object. It gives and takes. It can love you and hate you. It changes all the time but it is always the same. On our day hikes , we are virtually walking a marathon, short of a couple miles. We are doing it at 1/2 speed though which means it takes twice the time to complete. At times miles fly by, other times you count every .10 mile and footstep to get back to the car. Music helps move your pace faster and keeps your mind from focusing on the pain of the trail. Not to sound too nutty but in long distance hiking… and you can’t get this hiking in-city, you develop a connection and understanding with the trail. As much as it can hurt you, you trust it and follow it to take you somewhere. You move on it effortlessly without thought. Your feet navigate rocks and obstacles on the trail without consciousness. In other posts I have mentioned a runners high that long distance running can get. I have found this high can occur on the trail too. To sum this up, the trail is pain, pleasure and drudgery all at the same time. A strong sense of commitment is required for this type of thing but the rewards can be ever-present and beyond words. It’s not for everyone but if you do this for anytime, you’ll understand what I mean.
Oh….yeah…. and temperatures over 90 degrees, under 35 degrees and lighting….. suck !!!