Archives for category: thru-hiking

I love fire. Not in the pyromaniac sense, but in the appreciation for how valuable fire is to this earth’s existence. Fire has played a role in shaping our landscape and society since the beginning of time. Today, in our modern, post-industrialized society we actually take fire for granted. In fact, some members of our species have abused fire.

My first encounter with an actual fire was when I was about 4 years old. Our family would head into the woods on camping trips. I remember my dad, joking around, telling me and my 2 y.o. brother he was going to show me the best way to start a fire. He carefully built this mound of wood, then poured something on top. Then he threw a match and WHOOOSH!!!

I was standing a bit close and it scared me. I have no idea how my brother reacted, but somehow I could tell that my mother wasn’t impressed. The opposite, actually.

I often wonder if my respect for fire began that evening when the smell of fossil fuel immediately combusting became ingrained in my brain. Despite that explosive moment, my father really was a decent outdoorsman and taught us to be vigilant when it came to campfires. Over the years we’d go into the forests and he’d show us how to build the proper base, then gradually add larger and larger pieces of wood until you had a sustainable flame.

Then, the family moved to Colorado. My dad met a commercial hunting outfitter and took on as a lead guide. My mom helped out as the camp cook. Some of the greatest meals I’ve ever had were in those camps. But that’s another story.

My dad was always a very early riser…so am I, come to think of it. Sleeping in was an opulent luxury and when enjoyed, meant sleeping until 8 or 9a.m. Anyway, hunting camps get very early starts, like 6am or earlier. My dad would always get up before the other hunters, stir my brother or I, and we’d make a fire. The paying hunters would always start to come alive as the big, military GP tent would start to get toasty. My mom had coffee and breakfast ready too.

Today, I love fire for myriad reasons. I love to cook over an open flame and coals. There really is a nuance to it, you don’t just stick a piece of meat over a roaring flame, and you have to pay attention to what kind of fuel you’re using. Pine wood is horrible for grilling because it’s so damned pitchy. Your food will taste like pine-char.

I also love fire because of what it has meant to the human race. I saw this movie when I was a kid, called Quest for Fire. It was the story of this population of prehistoric humans (why are they prehistoric; like there was no history for them?) and how hard they worked to collect and protect the ability to make a fire. There was this one scene where the guy tasked with carrying and caring for the ember fell into the water. The ember died, and you could see the absoluteness of the situation in the faces of those affected.

Camping is almost synonymous with campfire. It’s one of the most important thing to some campers. I’ve met more than one person who’s evening would have been ruined if we couldn’t have a fire to sit around.

When I sit around a fire with friends, I’m always struck by the depth of the conversations that emanate from those circles. It’s as if the light of the fire, contrasted with the backdrop of “the wild”, conjures up serious conversations. There’s also that sense of entertainment when I sit by the fire. When I talk to people I usually try to look them in the eye when we converse. However, when I’m fireside I invariably stare into the flames.

Bluebird & Flame

Not a Caveman

Caveman TV.

The best part of Caveman TV is that it also smells great. Everyone’s got their opinion as to the best wood for a campfire and if you don’t think Juniper/Cedar is the best then you’re working off Fake News…i.e. you’re wrong. J/K – pine smells pretty good too. It’s the most common wood in my fire-rings if only because it’s usually the most prolific in the areas I camp. But when I have cedar or juniper I generally bathe in the smoke.

That would make a great cologne – Juniper Fire!

Smoky BearThe problem with fire is when people don’t respect the flame. Sure, we all know about Smokey Bear. He started off as a real bear when a cub was saved by a forest dude, then turned into an anthropomorphic Ursidae to warn people about the dangers of fire. Unfortunately not everyone is as careful or knowledgeable about how long a campfire will remain dangerous.

I’ve seen many people be surprised at how hot the embers are the morning after, when they invariably didn’t actually extinguish the coals. Shit, I’ve been guilty of going to bed w/o properly dealing with the fireplace. Today, I’m far more cognizant about the dangers.

While I’m out here playing the part of homeless gypsy I met the Fire Prevention Supervisor for Coconino County. What I take for granted, fire safety, he has to constantly deal with. Mostly in the summers though, when things are warm and dry. I spoke with him just the other day and apparently there were 34 fires during the fire-ban. One of them was left unattended and it started a small fire. Luckily the fire-crews are on top of shit right now.

And that’s just from some idiots that didn’t respect the potential for fire. The result of this apathy and ignorance is forest fires. Some are easily contained, others aren’t; in fact, sometimes they cost people their lives and property. All because of someone not giving enough of a shit.

I still love fire though. Most, if not all, of the national forests have fire restrictions in place. I don’t mind though. As much as I love a fire, it isn’t just about the flame. It’s about what a campfire does – it brings people together, to cook and communicate.

See you outside.

Pine trees.  Nothing is more synonymous to “mountains” than a pine tree.  In fact, when people wax on about how much they love the mountains, they invariably mention the smell of the pines.  I think that’s why I still purchase live Christmas trees as opposed to a fake one, the smell.

I love the smell of pine trees so much that I even like the smell of pine-sol.  It’s a good thing, too, because when I was in the Marine Corps Pine-Sol was the cleanser we used on every surface.  In boot camp we would somehow get in trouble and be forced to clean our shower area.  The area was probably 20’x20’ but all 70 of us would cram in there with our scrub brushes; the DI would turn the hot water on in the shower and get it all steamy.  Then he’d indiscriminately spread the pine-sol.

Some of us would be crammed up against the walls while others were stuffed into whatever space they could get to while on their knees.  We’d be scrubbing away and the DI would scream “SCRUB, SCRUB, SCRUB!”, we’d reply “SCRUB, SCRUB, SCRUB, AYE AYE SIR!!”.

That’s how we cleaned our entire squad bay and bathroom & shower area once a week.

I still love the smell of Pine-Sol.

But I love the smell of real pine trees even more.  One of my favorite pine trees is the Ponderosa Pine.  This single species is solely responsible for the founding of Flagstaff.  Way back when, before microwaves and telephones “they” were building a railroad.  As the tracks were laid the workers would move their existence along as they went.  Occasionally a town would grow enough to take hold.

Flagstaff was one of those towns.  As the construction came by the San Francisco Peaks some smart guys realized that the surrounding forest was perfect for a crucial natural resource…wood.  That wood was the Ponderosa Pine.  On July 4, 1876 the lumberjacks stripped a huge pine of its branches and ran Old Glory up.  They named the settlement…well, Flagstaff.

The pine tree is also known as the Bull Pine, the Blackjack Pine (on account of its black bark when young) and the Western Yellow Pine.  Older trees take on a copper/black bark that splits, and is layered, almost like someone stacked a bunch of puzzle pieces together.  The bark acts as a fire retardant.  When a forest fire comes through, the outer strata take the heat and burn, but protecting the layers below.  

One of my favorite features of the Ponderosa is the smell of the bark.  Some of you know about this, hopefully some of you will discover this is true.  But the next time you’re in a Ponderosa Pine Forest when it’s warm, pick a large, copper-ish healthy tree and head to the side that’s in the sun.  Stick your nose right up in there like you’re trying to breathe only tree.

It will smell like butterscotch or vanilla.  Some might think it smells like cinnamon or coconut.

I happen to be camping north of Flagstaff staying out of the end-of-times heat that The Valley of the Sun is about to endure.  I have this small pine tree right outside my door.  It says hello to me every single I day.  This is the time of year when it apparently starts to set its cones.  Ponderosa pine regenerates by seed, with cones maturing in a two-year cycle. The tree flowers from April to June of the first year, and cones mature and shed seeds in August and September of the second year. Seeds are relatively small (7,000 to 23,000 in one pound) and fall only about 100 feet from the parent tree.

One of my favorite features of pine trees is that when they fall and are left to decay, the abundant sap sinks toward the core of the trunk.  Over time, as the outer layers of woo fall away, you might find this core of sap-soaked wood.  It is called Fatwood and it’s great for starting fires.  

Collect a decent sized chunk; when you want to start a fire just scrape some “sawdust” onto a hard surface.  Once you have a thimble-sized pile, pinch it to compress it; you can then move it onto a dry flammable pile of something…we call that “duff”.  Take your ferrocerium rod and get to sparking.  The 3000 degree sparks will catch the fatwood on fire, and in turn it’ll ignite your small bundle.  Carefully transfer this to your waiting pile of small twigs, etc, and voila!

As I write this there is a heat-wave and high-pressure system moving through Arizona.  In Phoenix, they’re predicting temperatures over 120 for next week.  The news stations in the high country are also in a panic…it’s supposedly going to set some records in Flagstaff, hitting 95 or higher.

My point forecast for the coming week is telling me that it’s going to be a blistering 87F.  I don’t know how the pioneers ever survived this, what with crappy digital reception, being hunted by Apaches and their famous wooden underwear.

I’ll do my best.  You can bet that I’ll be huffing pine bark though.

See you outside.

I have this coffee pot.  Well, it’s no longer, technically, a coffee pot.  By that, I mean, it doesn’t have its guts.  The percolator and coffee basket are long gone.  But, from the outside, it looks just like one of those old Coleman coffee pots your dad used to have.  I still make coffee with it, only now I am far more sophisticated…I use a French press (insert snobby-nasal “hoh hoh hoh” here).

I got out of the Marine Corp in mid-1991.  I had asked to be stationed in Yuma for my last duty station because it was close to home.  My mom, brother and sister lived in Tempe, or thereabouts.  When I got out, I moved into my mom’s house, until I could get on my feet.  I took various odd-jobs including telemarketing and door-to-door sales.  In fact, one of my favorite post-service jobs was that door-to-door sales.

Fast forward a year or two and I’m staying in a condo in Tempe, working in restaurants and at REI.  I got into camping as a kid on family trips and continued “camping” when in the Marines.  I was hooked.  So it was natural for me to start accumulating camping equipment.  That’s where I purchased this coffee pot.

Most of my first camping trips were car-camping at bike races.  I’d use this pot to make coffee for my teammates.  We were really into coffee…primarily because it suppressed the hunger-pangs.  We were poor and the less we thought about food the easier our days would be.  I remember at one race, I and one of my teammates were coming around this turn and there was Jim Huntley.  He was in a different class so he had some time before his start.

Anyway, he was making a pot of coffee, and the aroma was wafting along the trail for about 50’.  More than a few racers mentioned it later.  “Did you smell that coffee that guy was making?” “Yea man, I almost stopped to have a cup”.

We loved coffee.

Some years later I was on a long, cross-country trip with my future ex-wife.  We decided to drive through California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Colorado and eventually back home to Arizona.  We had stopped at some high-mountain camp in Idaho, right next to a fast running, cold stream.  It was iconic.  I can still see the place in my memories.  I distinctly remember that Idaho was so beautiful that I HAD to come back some day.  I will, someday.

One morning I wanted to rinse out my coffee pot.  I went to the river and dunked it a few times.  At one point I realized that I’d lost the innards of the pot.  I have no recollection of the precise moment they disappeared, but I came to realize it, and I was pissed.  I remember that I threw a bit of a tantrum.  I looked up and down that bank trying to guess how far it might be swept down in the rushing water.

It was gone.

The next trip I took it on was a backpacking trip into the Superstition Mountains.  I was brand-new to “civilian” backpacking and this was my inaugural trip.  We were driving along the AZ-60 and I must have been going too fast because all of the sudden there was a police officer on my tail, lights-a-flashin’.

He saw my wallet and noticed that it had a rasta-marijuana leaf embroidered on it.  He used that as probable cause and asked me if I had any drugs on me.  Instead of lying to him, I volunteered to show him where my meager bag of brown-frown pot was.  His next question was “do you have any meth?”  I immediately said “NO!  I’m going to out there to relax, not clean up the forest.”

Well, he thought I was a good guy, so he wrote me a ticket and sent me on my way.  I was a bit shaken but intent on going backpacking.  We continued on.  I remember this first hike into Angel Basin.  We’d lost the trail at the top of the big descent down into the spot.  We bushwhacked our asses off and arrived at the basin only to find that the Scottsdale Community College Outdoor Club was already there.  The club seemed to be mostly young girls.  Bonanza, right!?  NO – again, I was with my future ex-wife.  The only time I’ve ever encountered a gaggle of girls in the woods was when I was with a girlfriend.

Anyway, it’s not worth dwelling on.

We set up camp, made our (looking back), horrible dinner and retired.  The next morning we awoke to the Girls-Gone-Wild leaving.  We were just getting our day started when a guy walked by, without a pack.  He was one of the chaperones of the trip but had to stay back at the trailhead with a girl that had sprained her ankle early in the trip.  He was trying to catch up to the rest of the party for some reason I can’t remember.

Coffee Pot2I started a pot of coffee.  By now I was going all Cowboy on my Java.  Boil water, add coffee grounds, stir and set; pour a little cold water on the top to sink the grounds and pour gently.  Well, this chaperone came back through and the smell of coffee brought him into our camp.  We shared our magical-black liquid and started chatting.

Within 5 minutes he offered to smoke pot with us.  I looked at Patricia and said “I told you we’d still find a way to get high in the woods!”.

There have been more than one magical moment in my life as a result of this coffee pot.

Today, my backpacking skills have progressed.  I’ve probably walked a couple thousand miles across Arizona’s amazing landscapes.  Deserts, forests, canyons and mountains.  I even tried to do a thru-hike of the AZT.  As part of my learning curve I’ve cut untold pounds out of my pack.

This coffee pot only makes it into a few of my backpacks; it all depends on the trip.  One one annual foray it’s the “water-heater”.  It resides somewhere on the fire heating water for someone.  When you want water, just go fill it up and put it on the flame.

On this sojourn it has taken its place, central on my stovetop.  It sees daily use in making my coffee, oatmeal and evening tea.  It’s a comfortable friend that’s been with me for over 20 years.

Like the Tinman of Oz, it never really needed guts or a heart because it performs its job perfectly as is.

This is my Linus-blanket and I intend to use this pot until I die, or it falls apart, whichever comes first.

Can I pour you a cup?

 

 

I am a mess right now.  In fact, I’ve been crying, off and on, for about 36 hours.  I can’t help it.  For an hour or so, I’m OK, then I think of her and I break down again.

I lost one of my very best friends this past Thursday.  It was rather unexpected too…but on the other hand, it wasn’t.  I had a strange feeling when I saw her for the last time.  As she got into the car I thought to myself – gee, I hope this isn’t the last time I see her.  So I kissed her on the top of her head and watched as they left.  She had a doctor’s appointment in a couple of days and I hoped it wasn’t serious.

Emmie was a chihuahua mix.  Which was odd, because I usually don’t like small dogs.  Or, at least that was my former perception.  It was also the former perception of many friends that, once they got to know her, KINDA’ changed their minds.  Nobody rushed out to adopt a little dog, but they sure loved Emmie.

She was actually a “revenge” dog.  Here’s how it all started…my sister loves chihuahuas.  Well, one day they adopted a new little buddy…my sister let her daughter name the dog.  Well, she named it “Bruce”!  So, when the opportunity to adopt this little bright light I promptly named her Emelia, the name of my niece.  I’ve since heard that my niece changed the pronunciation of her name to Eme-Lia, as opposed to Emelia…I hope you can sound it out in your head.

Emi and MeEmmie was my best backpacking buddy.  She was able to do 15-18 miles a day, day-over-day.  She’d tuck herself into the foot of my sleeping bag, keeping us both toasty warm.  One time, when she got tired I put her on top of my backpack and carried her.  My nephew, Mason, snapped a photo.  I posted it on Facebook and immediately she earned her second trail name…Yoda.  That was the name most preferred by other hikers, because the name I jokingly gave her was “Backup”, as in “backup food source”.

Emmie made friends wherever she went.  She wasn’t your typical chihuahua…she didn’t shake for no reason, and she wasn’t bitchy.  Usually.  Sometimes she’d go all Napoleon on our other dogs, but most of the time, she was just a good little girl.

There’s this backpacking trip that I do, every year, for the last 12 years.  It’s a Thanksgiving potluck in the middle of nowhere.  We all sit around a huge fire sharing stories, playing music and on the Saturday of the event, we chow down on some amazing food.  Well, Emmie used to work her way from lap to lap.  Once one person was tired of having her on their lap they’d dump her on the ground, she’d eventually find the next person in line and they were happy to have her jump up.  When I mentioned her passing, more than a few of the regulars chimed in about how this trip won’t be the same.

Anyway, I needed to write this because right now there is a huge hole in my heart.  I keep thinking about the times she came up to me, excited, and I would push her away because it just “wasn’t the right time”.  I can’t help but look at my other dogs and think that I need to really start pouring on the love.  I’m writhing with guilt because I know I could have been better with her.

But it doesn’t do a soul good to dwell on what could have been; other than to learn how not to do it again.  I’m going to spend time loving on my dogs, cats, friends, family, and above all…my wife.  I don’t want to wish I’d done more when the day comes that we part lives.  I know it’s so cliche but I’m really trying to learn from this.

I have this saying “you’re the only person that you’re guaranteed to spend the rest of your life with; you need to love your own company, but you also need to give the best to everyone you meet”.  Right now I’m really doubting myself and need to figure out how to rise through the hurt, and become a better person.

It’s going to take a while because right now, I’m bawling.

Well, I’m back at my Mogollon Rim Camp…this is the one that I referenced in my last blog (that was apparently 25 days ago), just next to the General Crook road, overlooking the big Green Valley.  I’d spent the last two weeks camped north of Flagstaff at this easy-access camp and, apparently, didn’t write jack-pooey.

Anyway, I’m about here:  https://goo.gl/maps/138RreCiecu.

Lol…”about here”.  With today’s location technology there’s no such thing as “about here”.  It’s more like “Iamf$#@%!&righthere”.  Every time I come to the realization that I’m so damned track-able, I think about the “preppers”.  These are the people that spend their time planning for the next Armageddon…without knowing what brings about the aforementioned Armageddon.

“You’re wearing camouflage, and carrying a Samsung S8″…

But I digress.

I have to say that I’m really excited to be back at this camp.  The primary reason is because I’m just outside the city limits of Pine.  My new, favorite, Arizona town.  Yea, I love Flagstaff, but they get enough press.  And every time I visit Flagstaff I realize that I can go into town, without having showered for days, and not stick out.  That can’t be good, can it?

Anywhooo…this camp is actually pretty cool…the wind rips up the face of the rim, blowing the dust of the UTV/motorcycle/ATV crowd away from me.  I can see for miles and miles (The Who song just evicted all other thoughts and now I’m singing it in my head) and I have a wonderful trail right outside my hovel that I can play with.

In fact, there are some crazy good trails around here.  All along the base of this huge abutment is the Highline trail.  It traverses about 52 miles from Pine to the 260 trailhead.  Legend has it this trail used to connect the homesteads in the area way back in the day.  It has spur trails that join from above and below, making it easy to create a great loop.

I’m sure I mentioned that the Arizona Trail uses the segment leading out of Pine, eventually ascending near Washington Park…which is right below where I’m camped.  It’s a segment that I have not hiked…yet.  Passage 26 is just over 20 miles, making it a great two day trip, presuming you have a shuttle.  Otherwise it’s a 4-day, out and back trip.

In fact, as I type this I’m wondering if I should beg one of you to join me for a two-day, shuttled adventure…hmmm?

Digressing again.

So, my plan for the next two weeks is to head into town on a few occasions to try other restaurants.  My biggest challenge is going to be avoiding Mi Familia, the local Mexican food joint.  I hear it’s pretty damned awesome!

Let me know if you’d like to arrange for a shuttle/hike…my only real opportunity would be the weekend of June 17/18…just a thought.

Remember when you were a little kid?  I do…well, at least parts of it.  I was a pretty shitty kid so I try to block a lot of memories; no – I wasn’t an unlawful or mean kid.  I was just an insecure, hypermotherfuckingactive, in-my-own-world kinda’ kid that threw tantrums.

SIDE NOTE: To all of my close friends, STFU…I’m working on it.

Anyway, I have few flashbacks of my earlier years; hell, I’m so good at blocking out memories I need Google reminders to inform me of my wife’s birthday and our anniversary.  No, I’m not good at remembering things…but I do remember it taking geological time to get from Thanksgiving to Christmas.  I mean, fuck…how long should a month really take (rhetorical question)?

Well, that’s the time-warp-hell I’m living in right now.  I have only two weeks until I’m able to pack up my castle-on-wheels and head up north to play trail angel again.  It actually keeps me up at night…not the waiting, no that just makes me antsy to GTFO.  What keeps me up is how much fun it is, and how much reward I get, to be in a place where a tired, broken down hiker could use just a little love.

What keeps me up is that I’m plagued with trying to find a place that has a strong enough mobile signal to maintain my real façade (a guy that’s living the dream by starting a guide company that now FINALLY pays bills), be close enough to the trail that a hiker is willing to make the trek (SOMEBODY has to eat these oranges and drink these beers), and remote enough that I don’t have to share the space with the diaper-leaving-Bush beer-drinking-turd-burglar-families that seem to permeate our “wilderness”.

I know…you’re probably thinking “what a bitch; this is a first-world, white-person, living-the-dream kinda’ problem”!  Probably because I typed it and you’ve just read it, but you might have pre-thought it…I don’t know.

Anyway, the shortened version of this long-winded, first-world, white-person, living-the-dream kinda’ problem story is that I should be able to get out of hell-oven-Africa-hotville (Phoenix) sometime after May 10th-ish.

I know that my last post indicated that I’d be heading straight to Jacob Lake but two things have transpired since then.  First, is that the people that I was hoping to get in front of are moving fast and will most likely be done by then.  Second, is that I re-realized that there is a 14 day limit for camping in our public lands.

I can only stay in a place for 14 days, then I have to “be gone!”  Each management area is different, AND interprets their rules differently (yea, it’s a commercial-operator permit nightmare…ask me how I know!). What this basically boils down to is that I can’t stay in any 25-mile radius for more than 14 days.

This all adds up to me having to move around quite a bit more than I want to.  Also, I don’t want to piss off the already-overworked-underpaid forest service workers, by June.  I’m hoping to wear out my welcome by, at the earliest, August or something.

The final result is that I might head to Pine or Flagstaff…I don’t know.  I’m going to play it by ear.  Because while a plan is useless, planning is everything.

Anyway, Mousie – The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men, Gang aft agley!

I’ll keep you updated as to my whereabouts…mostly because my mom gets worried.

See you outside…

So, I’m home.  And I’m busier than mustard trying to ketchup.  See what I did there?

In the interim I cut the lawn, catered a wedding dinner, went to a wedding, and rode my big-ass motorcycle to Casa Riviera with some friends.  Those burritos don’t change size…they’re still huge and, in my opinion, are one of the best examples of family Mexican food you’ll ever get in Arizona.

Now, I’m stuck in Phoenix, doing what I love…running my business.  This is our peak season and we’re the proverbial chickens with heads-cut-off, except that we’re in control.  I need a better analogy.  On top of that, we recently lost a couple of guides so now I actually have to do things around here.

But I miss being on the side of the trail.  I don’t miss it nearly as bad as hiking the trail, but it’s still a hole in my heart.  When I was hiking the trail I knew there were things left undone, and ultimately that’s why I pulled off; it wasn’t because of injury or boredom, but because I had a career that needed me to love it back.

This is different.

When I was doing trail magic I was able to continue working at my job.  In fact, a few times, I was more involved in the work than I could be for the hikers.  I think it turned out OK because I had a lot of oranges and those usually kept people enamored.

But I miss being out there.

As it turns out I won’t be able to get back next to the trail until May 8th or so.

I’m thinking that I’ll post up near Jacob Lake because I know there’s this nice little spot, with 4G, just short of the Orderville Trailhead.  Seriously, it’s only a .5 mile from the trail to where I’m hoping to camp.  Here’s the directions:  https://goo.gl/maps/RwShtBM8WrE2

Once I get up there I’ll post again and if I’m not at that spot I’ll let you know where.

Anyway, I figured I’d just let you know what’s up…sorry I can’t be in Pine, where I wanted to be by now.  Trust me, I wish I were…it’s getting hot here now.

See you outside.