I get a lot of questions from folks about my hikes, and some are quite common. The questions often reflect something about the asker, and I can pretty quickly tell a person’s disposition towards hiking, the outdoors, being alone, and danger by the questions they ask me. I like this, that the mind is reflected by the nature of the questions it asks.
In acknowledgment of the universality of curiosity, I’m collecting some answers to the more common questions. Enjoy!
Are you crazy?
Not that I’m aware of. But I understand the impulse to ask.
Why do you want to do this?
I posted some of my thoughts on this question here.
What do you eat?
I’ll detour off route every so often into a town to shop for food. The towns that I’ll visit are quite small and most won’t have a full size supermarket. I’ll shop from the small grocery store if there is one and gas stations. This means I eat a lot of processed American food–chips, crackers, beef jerky, candy bars, toaster pastries, instant noodles, Mac n Cheese. Some hikers prefer to send themselves boxes of food before they start a trail, which does allow them to control the quality of their diet. I prefer to shop for several reasons. Mailing things is kind of a pain. I also like to feel as though I’m merging with the contemporary landscape when I hike, a landscape which includes dirt and sky and rocks and wind, and also mini marts and meat sticks. It’s like modern day hunting and gathering, figuring out how to survive on what’s there.
How do you mail yourself things in towns you don’t live in?
The US Postal System allows anyone to mail themselves a package to a post office, care of General Delivery. They hold a package for a month (I think), and you can just pick it up when you are town.
Do you carry all your maps from the very start of the hike?
No, there are too many! It would be quite heavy. I decide in advance the towns where I don’t mind picking something up from the post office. I place all my maps, gear repair supplies, replacement blister treatments, vitamins, and other consumables (besides food) into a bucket, which I mail ahead of myself to those towns. I only carry the maps up to the next bucket town. This way I can have period access to things I might need without having to carry them.
How do you blog?
I carry a smart phone with me and blog using the WordPress app. The posts are stored in my phone. Once I get to a place where I have wi-fi or a really good cell signal, I publish all the saved posts.
How do you get photos from your camera to the blog without a computer?
My camera memory card is wi-fi enabled, and I can create a connection between my phone and my camera in the field to transfer photos to my phone. Once they are on my phone, the WordPress app allows me to upload them into my posts.
How often will you be in town?
On this hike, the length between town stops varies from roughly 2 days to 11. It will probably typically be around 6 days between stops.
How often will you update your blog?
I update the blog every time I’m in town, but I usually write a blog post every night on the trail. That means there will be sometimes be lag times for readers, and then a batch of posts all at once.
How many miles do you walk in a day?
That varies wildly depending on the terrain. The Hayduke trail is not a trail the way the Pacific Crest Trail is a trail (as in, actually a real built trail). The Hayduke is more of a route, a passage from one place to another that travels in canyon bottoms, washes, across slickrock, and sometimes even in rivers. It also makes use of old mining and ranching roads, and the very occasional actual trail. Sometimes the travel is rumored to be quite slow (around 1 mile per hour) and sometimes much faster (around 3 miles per hour). All told, I’m hoping to cover around 15 miles per day on average.
How much does your pack weigh?
All of my gear weighs around 14 lbs. That number doesn’t include food or water, but does include consumables like replacement batteries.
Where do you get your water?
Water is the defining element of the region I’ll be hiking in, both in that it is responsible for sculpting the magnificent architecture of the canyons and arches, and that it is rare to find. I’ll get water from infrequent permanent and seasonal streams and rivers sometimes. More often my water will come from potholes (indentations in the slickrock that, when large enough, hold water for a couple weeks after rains, particularly in the cooler months), springs, and stock tanks. Still, I often won’t find water more than once a day, and in some stretches it will be even longer between sources.
How much food and water will you carry?
Water weighs around 8 lbs per gallon, and I’ll likely typically carry between a half and full gallon. Food, in the quantities consumed on trail (probably 3500-4500 calories per day on this hike), will weigh around 1.5-2 lbs per day. This means that at the high end, at the start of a ten day stretch with a pack loaded with food and a gallon of water, I could have an addition 28 lbs. on my back. But that number will fluctuate quite a bit, dwindling as a section goes on and spiking around the drier sections.
Is it going to be hot?
The desert is quite hot in the summer months, but in early spring it can still be very cold, especially at night. I’ll have nighttime temperatures around or below freezing when I start. Snow is a real possibility. The temperatures will likely be cold for the first half of my hike and hot for the second half (hot like over 100 degrees in the Grand Canyon in May).
Will you see a lot of other people?
The Hayduke trail travels some of the most remote back country in the lower 48. Some places are quite popular–certain parts of the National Parks, for example. When I’m in those places I expect I’ll see lots of people, but for the most part the route dives into untrammeled wilderness where very few make the effort to visit.
Are there dangerous animals? Will bears eat you?
Bears haven’t eaten me yet, and I don’t expect them to try anytime soon. Also, there really aren’t bears where I’m going, not in substantial numbers. There will be mountain lions which I don’t expect to ever see (though I’ve been surprised before ). Rattle snakes are more of a concern in a desert environment. I hope to be lucky enough to see some Bighorn sheep. But ultimately, animals are typically only dangerous when we behave stupidly around them. For example, though I love seeing rattle snakes coiled in ropes on the trail while hiking, I make a point not to step on them.
What does your husband think of this?
He misses me when I go but he knows I am compelled to do this sort of thing. It was a part of our negotiations before we decided to marry, navigating between my need to go and his need to have his partner around. He is very supportive and doesn’t lose sleep worrying about me. That last part sometimes seems to surprise people.
Why don’t you take your goats with you?
I have enjoyed many beautiful hiking days with my goats. One of them even hiked the first 800 miles of the PCT with me when I thru-hiked in 2005. But they are both aging and arthritic, and a long-distance hike is no longer appropriate for them. Even if they were in condition to do it, long-distance hiking with animals requires a lot of extra planning, patience, and time, and I’m not sure the Hayduke would be the easiest to hike with goats (though they might do better than most other creatures, having a closer relation living naturally in that environment already).
Are you going alone?
I’m starting the hike with someone else, a woman by trail name Wired (trail names are an artifact of the long distance hiking community found on trails like the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail). She keeps a hiking blog as well, here: walkingwithwired.com. We will hike together as long as it feels good.
What are the hard parts?
There are body hardships: foot and leg pains, blisters, sunburn, chafing (when one part of the body rubs on another for a long time and the skin becomes raw), hunger, thirst, exhaustion. There are mind hardships: boredom, irritation, frustration, and the constant sweet siren song drifting out of the memory of everything left behind. There are emotional hardships: loneliness, heart ache, fear, anxiety. Sometimes the monotony of the task can wear me down and I struggle to connect with the reason why I am hiking. Still, I just keep walking. Sometimes I miss Dan so much I cry right there on the trail, tripping on rocks through tear-blurred vision. Still I just keep walking. Sometimes I am so riddled with floating anxiety about everything around me and nothing in particular that I feel like I am going crazy inside my own skull. And even so I just keep walking.