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.

More About the Hayduke Trail

Now that I have expressed my reasons for tackling the endeavor of thru-hiking the Hayduke Trail, it is time now for a little history of the Hayduke.  The Hayduke trail is the brain child of Mike Corenella and Joe Mitchell, two intrepid hikers and Colorado Plateau enthusiasts from southern Utah. As mentioned in my previous entry, the founders named the trail the Hayduke after the fictitious renegade character George Washington Hayduke III from Edward Abbey’s novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang.  In naming the trail, the founders wanted to pay tribute and homage to Edward Abbey’s ceaseless and eloquent fight to defend and promote protection of the fragile and ever threatened public lands and wild places of the Colorado Plateau. Coronella and Mitchell tasked themselves with reconnoitering and establishing what is now the Hayduke Trail, pouring over topo-maps, taking multiple backpacking trips over many years before setting the final route.  Studying the route on topo-maps and Google Earth, you would find this is not a track that seeks the path of least resistance or a simple straight line. Instead, you will see that the track purposely meanders for many significant distances, as if to take you on some scenic joy ride. And that is exactly what the intentions of Coronella and Mitchell are, to show-case in 800 miles to the intrepid adventurous hiker the very best of the Colorado Plateau, from Arches National Park to Zion National Park and everything in between.

It is my understanding that after scouting and establishing the route, the founders had intended to register it as a National Scenic Trail, just like what the Pacific Crest Trail and the newer Arizona Trail have become. (There are currently 11 National Scenic Trails. For more info, visit http://www.americantrails.org/resources/info/National-Scenic-Trails.html) After discovering the copious red tape and bureaucracy that entails the task of designating a trail a National Scenic Trail, the founders abandoned their endeavor.  Look at a map of Southern Utah and Northern Arizona and you will see the many public land jurisdictions that the official Hayduke Trail traverses, from National Parks, BLM lands, National Forest and maybe even State Trust and Tribal Lands. It is no wonder that the founders abandoned that monumental task of having to deal with government forces like the Department of the Interior and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Because of the Hayduke lacks National Scenic Trail designation, it has for the most part been under the radar, even from your typical hardcore thru hiker. As a mater of fact, it has just barely begun to be discovered, even after its approximately year 2001 debut. To add even more rogue status to this clandestine trail-route, there are not even trail markers along the way to tell you that you are on the right track.  This fact perhaps is what has kept at bay your average Joe and Jane thru hiker that favors instead the typical, well marked, smartphone friendly National Scenic Trail like the PCT, AT, CDT, and AZT.  Before I rant more, let me explain what I mean by smartphone friendly trail.  Needless to say, we live in an era where our smartphones function like an essential appendage, ever so making everyday task so much easier and convenient.  Being that every smartphone today has a GPS chip in it, rendering it into a navigation tool even when no cell phone signal abounds, your smartphone is the perfect navigation device even in the backcountry.  Hence, there exists thru-hiking apps that essentially have trails like the PCT, AT, AZT, and CDT on them, making the smartphone your perfect navigation device while thru-hiking.  The Hayduke Trail has escaped smartphone navigation app developers until just barely this past year as far I’m concerned.  As the trail becomes more popular, I am sure that will change soon.

Studying the Hayduke Trail Guidebook and official website, http://www.hayduketrail.org,  the founders make a very strong emphasis and disclaimer that the Hayduke is a very rugged, dangerous, difficult, and strenuous route.  Furthermore, they stress that the route is mostly off trail and is not marked at all.  In other words, this is the land of map and compass and route finding skills, where, essentially, skills in cross country travel are a must. Yet, despite the hardships and difficulties of thru-hiking the Hayduke would ensue, the rewards far out weight such challenges, especially to any true peripatetic persona and nature lover.  For the founders and any that aspire to the challenge, just simply skimming the surface was not enough. Skimming the surface, the periphery in a motorized contraption would not suffice.   As Edward Abbey once wrote:

“In the first place you can’t see anything from a car; you’ve got to get out of the goddamned contraption and walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the thornbush and cactus. When traces of blood begin to mark your trail you’ll see something, maybe.”

In closing this blog entry, I thank Mike Coronella and Joe Mitchell for establishing the Hayduke Trail, and in my endeavor to thru-hike the Route, I hope to bring to light and show to the world trough my blog, the beauty of what is the Colorado Plateau and the endless threats and harms it faces from extractive industries, politicians, and developers, especially in the current era where the powers that be seek to shrink our public lands for private interests.  For more information on how you can help protect and defend the Colorado Plateau, I encourage you to visit these websites:

https://suwa.org

https://www.grandcanyontrust.org

For information on the Hayduke Trail:

http://www.hayduketrail.org

Why the Hayduke Trail? Preparing for Hayduke Trail, Spring 2018

Greetings. Welcome to my blog and the first entry. I start this blog preparing you for my next long distance thru-hike in the spring of 2018: the 800 mile long Hayduke Trail. After having successfully completed the 2650 mile Pacific Crest Trail in 2015, my first thru hike, the Hayduke will officially be my second thru hike.  Having lived now in Arizona now for over 16 years, I at first had my mind set on the Arizona Trail, especially being that parts of it are essentially in my backyard here in Tucson.  While my mind was set on the AZ trail, I could not deny that my heart and soul were screaming out for the Colorado Plateau’s Hayduke Trail. Please, let me explain why.

It was the summer of 2003 that I embarked on my first journey thru the Colorado Plateau. Having just been laid off again in late May from my flight attendant gig at American Airlines, I had made it a point to just take the summer off and take a road trip to anywhere. Wherever  I went, I knew I wanted to just hike and camp, explore national parks, deserts, and forest lands, and sleep out of my truck. In 2003, I was 25 years and still felt very green, like my life was just beginning and that I had so much to see and explore.  It was then also that my interest and enthusiasm to explore the natural world was beginning to blossom.  I was eager and full of energy. I could not get enough. I would see a mountain and I wanted to climb it, get to the top. I would see a nature trail and wanted to hike it, see where it would lead me to.  I began to buy and read nature and outdoor magazines like National Geographic Adventure Magazine, Outdoor, Backpacker, and Arizona Highways, which would give me ideas of places I needed to explore, my bucket list ever so lengthening.

It was, however, an article in Sunset Magazine (I actually still have that magazine in my archives) about a quintessential 10 day road trip thru the very best of the Colorado Plateau.  That magazine article pretty much laid out the perfect itinerary for me, which I followed almost exactly, except for some slight modifications that I made along the way.  Seeing the pictures in that magazine of Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, Grand Staircase-Escalante, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, Arches, Goosenecks of San Juan, Antelope Canyon, and Havasu Falls, etc,  it was difficult not to entice 25 year old me.  On this trip is where my love affair with the Colorado Plateau began. I have returned to the Colorado Plateau so many times since my mid twenties to explore and or rediscover new places, wether it be on a backpacking trip, canyoneering trip, pack rafting trip, or even a kayaking trip.  The area is so vast. So much to see and do.  Not even a lifetime is enough.

Needless to say, any hardcore Colorado Plateau lover perhaps is also a fan of Edward Abbey.  You cannot indulge in the likes of Canyon country without indoctrinating yourself with the literature of the conservationist, naturalist, curmudgeon, unapologetic, angry defender of nature, Ed Abbey.  Reading his book Desert Solitaire, not only was I indoctrinated, but I also felt like I went thru a confirmation of sorts of my beliefs. I believed in what he wrote and his writings reverberated thru my core. His literature had me confirm that I am a nature lover, I love the natural world, and the Colorado Plateau had a particularly special place in my heart.

Having read Desert Solitaire, it came fitting that the next Abbey book to read was The Monkey Wrench Gang.  It was difficult to read this book with having a map of the Colorado Plateau at hand.  As a matter of fact, I am pretty sure I read that entire book with map at hand throughout, just so I could obtain a point of reference of the setting. The Monkey Wrench Gang introduced me to one of the four main protagonist, George Washington Hayduke. In essence, Hayduke is the diehard defender of the Colorado Plateau, doing what ever it takes to protect the Colorado Plateau from the encroaching developing world.  Obviously, it is for this reason that the Hayduke Trail is called the Hayduke. It is to honor his name and what he stands for.

So that is why I am thru-hiking the Hayduke Trail. For me, it is not just a trail, not simply another long trail to add on my adventure resume. I guess you can say it is pilgrimage for me, a walk through my beloved spiritual home. It would be a homecoming.  Oh, I forgot the mention that the other reason why I am doing this trail is to celebrate my 40th birthday. Yes, I will be turning 40 years old in March of 2018 when on the Hayduke.  My 40th birthday on the Hayduke will mark 15 years of adventuring in the Colorado Plateau, and what better way than to hike thru the best of that country.