I leave for this hike in just under a week! On March 21st, I leave Seattle and head for the hills. The brown and red painted sharp desert rock hills of southwestern Utah, where the Hayduke trail and I will meet for the first time and begin our two-month long relationship. Between March 21st and now is a mountain of planning work and other work, but the trip is crystallizing daily, a little more clear and little better defined, and I feel like I can almost reach out and grab it.
Planning a long hiking trip is a bit like hiking a long trail: one foot in front of another, one small task at a time, all while carefully holding the whole project in your hands. Noting how each small part contributes to the whole. Being in the smallness of each task, remembering the reason they matter. Planning means thinking about all the needs of the future, and dwelling excessively on the future has side effects. Like getting yanked right out of the last precious moments of non-hike life.
This is how my moments go these days: wake up and go to work. Love the work, care deeply, get really invested. Be in the work like living on a bus, surrounded by it, time disappearing like asphalt under the tires. That’s how it is around here lately. Which is why it strikes me that it may take a kind of sorcery to get done what needs doing.
I run a company called Math For Love along with my husband. We teach, cajole, proselytize, walk the good path of mathematical teaching and learning. Our efforts are focused especially with elementary and middle school teachers. It’s demanding work. It’s challenging and rewarding. These last two weeks before I go, we are so swaddled up in work that I have hardly a free smidge of time to tend to the other things, like planning.
Planning is a complex task with many interconnected parts. Preparing for a trip involves figuring out route logisitics–where does the trail go, what maps are necessary. Also resupply logistics–when and how will I get more food and fuel? And gear concerns–what kind of weather and temperatures will I be dealing with, and how will my gear adapt? How often will I be able to get water? But preparing for a trip also means preparing the body (training hikes), preparing the mind (attending to doubts, concerns, enthusiasms), and preparing the life I’m leaving behind (leaving work and home in order, being with loved ones). It amounts to a substantial effort and deserves patience and dedication. I’m only barely able to fit it all in.
I’m almost done with this. Mostly I’ve been able to keep the gear I’ve used on previous trips, with some modifications. I switched to a warmer sleeping bag because nights in the desert are very cold in the spring. I’m actually carrying pants on this hike, something I never do, so I can bushwhack without shredding my rain pants or my legs. I’m switching from a water filter (the Sawyer Squeeze) to chlorine drops because the silt loads in the water sources are likely to be quite high and I don’t want to mess with a repeatedly clogged filter. There are strange little details that matter maybe only briefly (waterproof socks for some of the wetter canyon bottoms? reflective umbrella for the scorching sun of the Grand Canyon?), but each requires knowing the conditions and how to get the gear at the right time, which is a resupply issue.
Also mostly done with this. I’m throwing in a number of alternates from the guidebook route, and each requires a little extra effort in the form of research and referencing multiple sources. I hope to have all my maps ready to go in the next couple days.
I have been able to cram in training, mostly by simply walking where I need to go. Working in a school five miles away? Great! Get up a little earlier and walk there, do the thing, and then walk home. Over the last month, I’ve consistently been able to get in 10 to 15 miles of walking most days this way. I’ve also become a master walker-with-smart-phone-doing-important-emails. Stopping just short of phone poles. Dodging buses. Tripping but not falling on curbs. I even reviewed some edits of proofs for the board game my husband and I developed last year (and we are on to our second printing! woop!).
I have slipped away for some day hikes, traipsing up and down the snow-bald mountains of the Cascades, whose exposed rocky tops look strange and early. The unusual lack of winter snow pack, while bad for the region, has allowed access of the high country much sooner than most years. I’ve taken advantage of it when I can.
I even slipped away for a weekend of backpacking on the Washington Coast. It strikes me as offering perhaps the best simulation of conditions on the Hayduke: soft sand, deep sand, compact sand, gravelly sand. Long stretches of hopping from boulder to slippery, seaweed strewn boulder. To-the-knee swift river fords (just one, but surprisingly high where the river fanned out across the rocky beach and was swallowed by the ocean). The days I was there, the tide fell squarely in the middle of the day. High tides at 12pm, 1pm, 1:30. The low tides were just before sunrise and just after, which meant the bulk of my walking hours were spent trying to outrun or outsmart the tides. Turns out it’s hard to outsmart something that doesn’t have a mind and is one of the most predictable things on the planet. The good news about high tides is that they pushed me up off the beach flats, the rocky flats, and into the jumble of large talus broken from the headlands. The car-sized and larger rocks are conglomerate of pebble-sized pieces of sandstone, chert, siltstone, and wickedly angular little bastards. I had some good scrambling time, sprayed by ocean crashing off the rocks below me while I was hugging rock faces and scuttling left and right like the little crablettes in the tide pools. Perfect training for the Hayduke I think. The rocks shredded my shoes, my hands, and even my pack which I’ll fix before I leave.