To Solo or Not to Solo

More often than not, when describing my thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), people have asked me if I hiked that trail alone or with a friend(s).  They find it unbelievable and surprising that I did hike that trail solo and that the majority of thru-hikers hike the trail solo. However, there is a disclaimer to that fact.  The PCT is a very popular trail, even more so in recent years, that it is very easy to befriend other hikers and eventually find yourself with proper accompaniment that suits you and your taste of personalities.  In other words, it is easy to have company on the trail despite being solo.

That was one of the beauties of PCT trail life, the freedom to hike solo with the safety net of the trail community of other thru-hikers available to you at all times when you felt the need for human connection.  I, for one, found that I did enjoy hiking solo most of the time, but more often than once, admitted to myself that I needed that social connection. This was especially true during the difficult and miserable parts of the journey, adding credence to the old saying, “misery likes company.” This credence was so true while hiking thru Washington, the last 500 miles of the trail, where I found that company was essential for my emotional and psychological well being while trudging thru rainy, wet weather. Washington was indeed that wild card for mostly all of us thru-hikers and definitely the crux of the journey for me in the sense that the weather was getting worse, the terrain more tough, and amount of thru-hikers less and less. In other words, the trail was weeding out the finishers.

Hence, when deciding to thru-hike the Hayduke Trail, I found myself asking myself weather I wanted to solo it or have a friend or two joining me.  The reason for the question was because of the fact that the Hayduke Trail is not like the PCT where you are guaranteed to encounter another thru-hiker at least 2-7 times per hour.  Furthermore, let us not forget that the Hayduke Trail is barely even a trail, being more of a route where you must be on guard at all times, keeping track of your where about’s.    While I can definitely easily handle the navigation and tougher terrain trials, I acknowledge to myself that I probably would not be able to handle the daily solitude for 60 days straight. God forbid that the devil appears to me during those 60 days and tempts me throw myself over a cliff like he did to Jesus Christ during his 40 day fast in the desert wilderness.  I am not divine enough to fight off such an onslaught.  Fortunate for me, I have two friends that have vowed to join me for 60 days on this journey, relieving me of the anxiety of roughing it solo for 60 days in very gnarly country.

So who exactly are these people crazy (or stupid) enough as me to partake in this journey?  First and foremost, I will introduce Pete.  Pete, has always been the go-to friend, that friend that almost always says yes to what ever adventure I conjure up. No matter where and when, he is game for getting his ass-kicked by mother nature.  I have lost count how many times I thought he was gonna kick my ass for putting him thru some very miserable conditions on a trip.  I swear he has this very scary look on his face when he is suffering, a look that steams with anger and screams to me, “I hate you”.  But some how I know that anger has helped him pull thru and conquer that mountain, conquer that canyon, and even helped him paddle  thru five foot swells, 50 mile per hour head winds in Lake Meade on his first ever kayaking trip.  We have been lost together in the labyrinths of what is Copper Canyon in Chihuahua Mexico, only to eventually be guided by a machete waving indigenous women.  I don’t know.  Pete either suffers from amnesia or has selective memory, or he is just as masochistic or macho and craves adrenaline as much as I do.

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Pete photobombing while canyoneering Waterholes Canyon near Page, AZ
CA-OR border
Making it to mile 1700 or so with Cuban B on the PCT, the CA-OR border.

However, I will acknowledge, that despite Pete’s prowess and ability to endure pain and suffering, I was at first weary about having him tag along. I mean, this would be Pete’s first ever long distance hike, and most sane folks do not decide to do the Hayduke Trail as their first ever thru-hike. Most savvy thru-hikers start off with the AT, PCT, or AZT, testing their chops on those trails before moving to big-game like the CDT or Hayduke.  Watching Pete do the Hayduke, I will be bearing witness to him test his limits like never before.  In the end, I am sure he will prove to himself and me that he is one bad-ass son of bitch or…..shit, i’d rather not say.  Either way, I owe Pete big time. I want him to join me. He keeps me moderate and sensible.  What I mean that I owe him big time, is that he introduced me to my current wife, whom I recently married this past summer.  Hayduke trail is my thanks to you, Pete.  Now make sure I come back alive and in one piece.

Now, about Cuban B.  Cuban B is actually a nickname.  Cuban B’s real name is Doug.  So how does someone get the name Cuban B.  Well, when you ever do a long distance hike, you somehow end up with a trail name, a name based on a funny event that occurs on the trail or a particular characteristic about you.  For example, I was christened with the name BearLee after a close encounter (almost combative event) with a black bear in the southern Sierra.  I encountered a bear on the trail, 30 yards away from me. The bear did not want to budge off the trail, instead proceeding to amble towards me.  Instead of turning the other way, I began clapping my hiking poles and walking towards the bear in defiance. After a stare down and me yelling at the bear and charging, the bear backed down and got off the trail, down climbing the slope.  So my trail friends joked that I Bearly got away with my life.  Another friend coined the term Bear Lee because she said I got all Bruce Lee on the bear.  And, hence, I became BearLee. Cuban B on the other hand got his name while thru hiking the Appalachian Trail.  Apparently, his trail companions thought he was Mexican, and Cuban B had to keep correcting them, reiterating the fact that he was Cuban.  Hence, he became Cuban B, in reference to that movie Half Baked that starred Dave Chappelle (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BChMEKf300Q).

In case you hadn’t inferred by now, I met Cuban B while thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in 2015.  I had actually met him around mile 600 or so. We became acquainted then but never really hiked together consistently until Northern California.  He was hiking with a different crew and I another that would occasionally coincide.  We both eventually left our original crews because of change of pacing and scheduling.  Cuban B and I eventually were on the same pace and ended up hiking for about 450 miles until we reached Ashland, Oregon.  From Ashland, we split due to scheduling differences. I had planned to stay in Ashland for four days with my girlfriend (now wife) while he had proceeded on after staying in Ashland for just two days.  As fast as Cuban B hiked, I was never able to catch up to him.  Despite that we kept in touch.   Cuban B and I got along very well, making a good team.  The funny thing about our duo was that other hikers would confuse us apart. They thought I was Cuban B and that he was me.  Everyone would say we looked alike. I guess to folks not accustomed to seeing brown people on the trail, we all looked the same, hence difficult to distinguish. Mexican and Cubans, what’s the difference? We are hispanic, right?  In my opinion, despite our similar stature and build, I don’t see how we could be confused apart.   I mean, I am the better looking one.

When it comes to questioning Cuban B’s aptitude for the Hayduke Trail, there is no reason to doubt at all his fitness and qualification for such an endeavor.  With his Army background as a medic and two long distance trails (the AT and PCT) under his belt, there is no better companion.  I am looking forward to hiking the Hayduke with both Pete and Cuban B, all 800 miles.  So stay tuned and enjoy this journey with us.  Either you’ll be inspired, amused, simply entertained, or live vicariously thru us.

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