Trail Antsy Wanderlust Junky

It’s mid-February and I find myself sitting in a coffee shop writing about hiking. Talking about moving. Thinking about doing. But not. Idling. Inactive. Dreaming and wishing and wanting and waiting. Waiting for the weather. Waiting for the season. Waiting for the snow to melt.

An unprecedented 18″ of snow fell here at home outside Seattle, adding to the pent-up late-winter antsy gotta-do-something-or-I’m-going-to-explode feeling. Flipping through Cascades and Olympic Peninsula hiking guides reminds me that the season for so many trails is limited here. Trails limited to the far-off months of July through October – or August through September, even. And this is February. February! How am I going to make it though this winter?

This winter. These winter blues. Low Vitamin D. Low sunshine. Reading books about hiking and trails and adventure. Living vicariously until I, too, can fulfill this need to walk through the woods. This need to move. To be in nature. Sleep under the stars, move with the strength in my legs, feel the rocks and dirt and roots underfoot, the warm breezes. Be bleached by the sun. Whipped by the wind. To be hungry and thirsty and tired. Open vistas, mountain views. Trail endorphins.

That old thirst for wanderlust. It’s most noticeable in winter when I’m antsy and cooped up. The fact that I’m currently sans job isn’t helping either. Each day I paint a new wall in our home – aghem, dome – and sew a new section of quilt and that keeps me “out of the bars” as grandma Beverly would say.

Growing up in the New Hampshire mountains I feel certain that it was the air flowing between Owl’s Head and Wyatt Hill in Glencliff and the Mount Moosilauke water that infused my bones with a mountain spirit and a lust for the hills. The geology classes in college and earth science degrees kept me fascinated, outside, and in awe of the natural world. My career in environmental consulting was interesting. But eventually the environmental consulting job meant sitting in a cubicle and reading and writing reports. Which hurt my back and drove me mad. I don’t think I’m crazy when I say that people do not belong in chairs under fluorescent lights and in front of screens. I admit, I’m poorly adjusted to our mode of living – to technology and programming and consumerism and cubicles. For me it’s like wearing an itchy, drafty sweater that’s five sizes too big but really tight around the neck and wrists. I mean it just doesn’t fit. Sometimes I wish it did, but it just doesn’t.

My urge to move and create led me from environmental consulting to working as an assistant brewer at a micro-brewery, which didn’t work for a host of reasons, but it did push me in the direction of my pursuit of long-distance hiking – aka, chasing the trail-dragon. Then I set my mind to hiking the PCT. Since then, sales at REI has tangentially connected me to the outdoors, as has making and repairing outdoor gear.

But what makes me feel most whole is not thinking about the outdoors, but actually being immersed in it. The VT Long Trail, northern PCT sections, around the Cascade volcanoes, the Arizona Trail. Wherever it is – moving and falling in the dirt, pounding my feet against the soil and sand – that’s what gets my wilds fix.

So how do I get through this winter of fog and cold and snow and couches? Just when and where can I get outside and on a long trail? An Oregon section of the PCT in June? Originally I’d been hatching a trip scheme for May, but no there will be far too much snow that early. Rethink the plan. Maybe Northern California late May? There’s a chance it could be a place to go slightly early season, but more research is needed… I envision one or two WA PCT sections for a week here and there in July and August – south of Snoqualmie Pass and north of Rainy Pass. Or perhaps the Colorado Trail from July into August if the cards align? The CT is one of the “triple jewel” trails (or small, beautiful trails that originate from each of the “triple crown” trails – the AT, PCT, and CDT. I’ve hiked 2/3 of the “triple jewels” – the Long Trail in VT and the John Muir Trail in CA. So it’s high time to hike the 3rd).  Or maybe a people-filled-overcrowded stretch of the AT…hiking season could be a bit earlier on the East coast. And it might satisfy my lingering homesickness, having grown up in New Hampshire. The crowds may sound annoying, but with lots of people come trail culture and camaraderie, and less loneliness than I experienced on the Arizona Trail this past fall.

So I’ll keep dreaming and scheming. Plodding through the snow. Training for a 12k in April. Trail running. Distracting myself with painting walls and sewing quilts. That’s how I’ll make it through to the sunshine…

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Arizona Trail Thru-Hiker Survey 2018

The first annual AZT thru-hiker survey results are finally in!

A huge thanks to everyone who contributed to the survey! The information would not exist without your time and helpful answers.

This survey was created in an effort to aid future thru-hikers in their planning and journey. After reading the similar survey results about the PCT conducted by Halfway Anywhere, I was eager to know the same information about the Arizona Trail. (Disclaimer, I am not Halfway Anywhere. I am Double Orca. While I have participated in the past PCT surveys, I did not conduct them.) I wanted to know what the experience of other hikers was like, how they prepared for their trip, where did they stop, what did they eat, etc. The AZT is a much less frequented trail with a lot fewer people on it relative to the PCT, therefore a lot of the specifics seem to be shrouded in darkness and secrecy. In an attempt to cast a light on the thru-hiking community and experience, here are the results from NOBO and SOBO thru-hikers from 2018. At last we have a few answers to some important AZT questions. I was surprised by a few of the answers, too! And hopefully some of these results are helpful to future AZT thru-hikers as they prepare for their upcoming adventure.

Disclaimer: the results and statistics are not extremely scientifically rigorous. More like approximately pretty good. Results are based on the memories of thru-hikers who may or may not have been in Snicker-induced sugar-high states while hiking. I tried to sort out any outliers or obviously bad data to the best of my ability as a thru-hiker.


NOTES

  • The survey was conducted into two parts, I and II. Part I focused on basics and resupply. Part II focused on gear, health, and other details.
  • 30 hikers responded to Part I of the survey. 20 hikers responded to Part II.
  • The survey was created at the end of the sobo hiking season and may be biased toward sobo responses
  • Hopefully 2018 is the first of many years of survey results!

THE DEMOGRAPHICS

First, who hiked the AZT in 2018 and where are they from?

  • 64.5% Male
  • 35.5% Female

How old are the AZT thru-hikers? Average Age: 37.5

  • 20-24: 22.5%
  • 25-30: 22.6%
  • 30-34: 9.7%
  • 35-39: 16.1%
  • 40-49: 6.5%
  • 50-59: 3.2%
  • 60-69: 19.4%

Where do you consider home?

  • Home Country: USA 83.9%, Australia 3.2%, Canada 3.2%, Japan 3.2%, New Zealand 3.2%, Russia 3.2%

US folks – Which state do you hail from?

TOP 6 HOME STATES: Arizona 18.5%, Texas 11.1%, Michigan 7.4%, Montana 7.4%, New York 7.4%, Washington 7.4%


THE HIKE BASICS

Was this the first thru-hike for hikers? What other trails have folks already hiked? Which direction did hikers go? When did they start? How long was their hike? Did they start alone? Did they camp and hike alone?

  • Of the 2018 thru-hikers, a whopping 32.3% were on their first long-distance thru-hike!, while 67.7 had already hiked another long-distance trail.
  • Other trails hiked by 2018 AZT thru-hikers: Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, Colorado Trail, Continental Divide Trail, Long Trail, Te Araroa, John Muir Trail, previous hikes of the Arizona Trail, Cohos Trail, Pinhoti Trail, Northville Lake Placid Trail, Sheltowee Trace Trail, Wonderland Trail, California Coast Trail, and Oregon Coast Trail.
  • Did you begin SOLO or with others?
    • 54.8% began SOLO (so many!)
    • 45.4% began with other(s)
  • Percentage of time solo starters hiked alone: 75%
  • Percentage of time solo starters camped alone: 34%
  • Began with others: with a friend 22.6%, with a romantic partner 16.1%, with a sibling 3.2%, with a friend of friend 3.2%

So NOBO or SOBO?

  • 58.1% of respondents hiked NOBO while 41.9% of respondents hiked SOBO

NOBO STATS

Here are the some numbers for the 2018 NOBO thru-hikers that started their AZT hike in the Spring:

  • NOBO start month:
    • February 12.5%
    • March 50%
    • April 31.3%
    • May 6.3%
  • Average NOBO Spring start date: 3/18/18

SOBO STATS

Here are the same numbers for the 2018 SOBO thru-hikers who started in the Fall. October appears to be the month to start!

  • SOBO start month:
    • September 16.7%
    • October 75%
    • November 8.3%
  • Average SOBO Fall start date: 10/6/18

To train or not to train? Is it actually important? I always make an effort get in shape prior to my long hikes – often so I can “hit the ground running” – but do others do the same? What percent of thru-hikers prepared for their hike by getting in shape?

  • 65% trained for their hike, 35% did not train

Here’s how thru-hikers trained for their hike before hitting the trail:

  • 25% Hike/backpack, 25% walk, 15% lift weights, 10% run, 5% cycling, 5% stair master

Length of a thru-hike is important – are you in a time crunch and can you do it? Are you going to have to hurry your way through Arizona? Can you relax and spend a few days off in town? Here are a few numbers that may help inform how much time you may want to dedicate to your hike.

How much time did hikers spend on trail? How many zero days did they hike (full days off)? How many near-o days (partial days off)?

  • Number of days on trail: average 45 days (min: 23, max: 79)
  • Miles per day: average 19.6 mpd (min: 10.1, max 34.8)
  • Number of zero days: 5.2 days (min: 1, max: 10)
  • Number of near-o days: 4.9 days (min: 1, max 14)

Would you consider hiking the AZT again?

  • Yes 55%
  • Maybe 25%
  • No 20%

Did you finish your AZT thru-hike?

  • Yes 90.3%
  • No 9.7%

Reasons for ending hikes include: injury and lonely/stress/limited time/snow


RESUPPLY

TRAIL TOWNS

So who went where? These are the towns and/or locations that the AZT Association lists on its website – and a few that aren’t listed but are visted. A lot of day and section hikers may visit some of these towns, but do thru-hikers really stop at Winkleman and Dudleyville? Nope! But a few folks did swing by Phoenix, Sonoita, and Sahuarita, which surprised me. Here are the important towns for thru-hikers:

So just how popular are each of the trail towns and trail stops? I broke the trail town popularity down into the following categories, color coded for easy-viewing: hardly visited (0-20%), some people went here (20-40%), visited half the time (40-60%), often visited (60-80%), you gotta go there (80-100%)

Kenab (22.6%)
Fredonia (0%)
Page (16.1%)
Jacob Lake (38.7%)
North Rim Country Store (35.5%)
Grand Canyon North Rim (29%)
Phantom Ranch (25.8%)
Grand Canyon South Rim (77.4%)
Tusayan (45.2%)
Flagstaff (93.5%)
Mormon Lake (48.4%)
Pine (83.9%)
Strawberry (6.5%)
Payson (38.7%)
Tonto Basin (19.4%)
Roosevelt Lake (61.3%)
Phoenix (3.2%)
Superior (67.7%)
Globe (16.1%)
Kearny (45.2%)
Riverside (0%)
Kelvin (0%)
Florence (0%)
Hayden (0%)
Winkleman (0%)
Dudleyville (0%)
Oracle (90.3%)
Mammoth (3.2%)
San Manuel (3.2%)
Mt Lemmon (51.6%)
Tucson (51.6%)
Colossal Cave (38.7%)
Vail (25.8%)
Sahuarita (6.5%)
Green Valley (0%)
Patagonia (93.5%)
Sonoita (9.7%)
Sierra Vista (12.9%)

Trail town favorites

Respondents chose these towns as the four top favorites:

  1. Flagstaff (77.4%)
  2. Oracle (58.1%)
  3. Patagonia (54.8%)
  4. Pine (48.4%)

Why did hikers like these trail towns and why did they top the list? Generally speaking, they were cute, friendly, accommodating, welcoming, had helpful trail angels, good food and drink, good amenities and services, or were easy to access.

Respondents chose these towns as their four least favorite:

  1. Roosevelt Lake (33.3%)
  2. Superior (19%)
  3. Tusayan (14.3%)
  4. Page (14.3%)

Why didn’t hikers enjoy these towns? General reasons these trail towns were not favored among thru-hikers is because they were: expensive, had limited options, few amenities, not much for food, were difficult to access, not hiker-friendly, or somewhat sketchy.

Resupply Strategy

So how did folks get their needed food and supplies? Some sent all of their boxes ahead of time, others sent a few, while others didn’t send any at all. Here’s how the resupply strategy breaks down for the AZT class of 2018. How did thru-hikers resupply?

As far as mailing resupply boxes go:

  • 12.9% of thru-hikers mailed all of their boxes
  • 45.2% mailed some boxes
  • 41.9% mailed no boxes

How would you change your resupply strategy if you hiked the AZT again?

  • No change: 26.9%
  • Send fewer boxes: 23.1%
  • Send more variety: 19.2%
  • Send less food in boxes: 15.4%
  • Send more boxes: 7.7%
  • Send more food in boxes: 3.8%
  • Send healthier and/or better food: 3.8%

Respondents recommend buying food in town over sending resupply boxes generally on the AZT. However, there are a few spots where sending a box ahead may be helpful.

Where would you recommend future hikers send a resupply box? These are the top 5 suggestions (and the percent of hikers that would recommend sending a box there). Note: anything over 10% is mentioned here:

  1. Roosevelt Lake (43%)
  2. Colossal Cave (23%)
  3. Patagonia (20%)
  4. Mormon Lake (17%)
  5. Oracle (13%)

Where would you recommend future hikers definitely BUY food in town and not mail a box? Here are the top 8 answers (and the percent of hikers that recommend it). Note: anything 20% and over is mentioned here:

  1. Flagstaff (50%)
  2. Grand Canyon South Rim (37%)
  3. Pine (33%)
  4. Superior (33%)
  5. Patagonia (33%)
  6. Kearny (23%)
  7. Tucson (23%)
  8. Oracle (20%)

Looking for resupply nuggets of wisdom? Here are a few tips from the class of 2018:

  • Subways 6 for $18.
  • No need to send boxes.
  • FYI Jacob Lake does not accept packages!
  • Mail only the essentials in resupply boxes and pick up snacks in town depending on what you crave.
  • It’s possible to either send 100% of packages or buy 100% of food in town so do what you are comfortable with.
  • Use an electrolyte powder instead of Gatorade powder, and try chia seeds with electrolyte drink.
  • Variety is good.
  • Carry between Roosevelt Lake and Pine – it’s a hard hitch in the middle.
  • Would not use an alcohol stove, HEET was hard to find in Oracle, North Rim, and South Rim stores.
  • Resupplying in towns works well.
  • Skip Payson.
  • If you’re sending bars, mix it up – Clif bars get old fast.
  • I sent hot sauce/mayo/olive oil/coconut oil packets in our boxes which we really liked having.
  • You could get by with never mailing a resupply, but it is hard to find nutritious bars at some locations. We ordered bars through Amazon Prime and had them delivered “general delivery” in areas that had small grocery stores – it was cheaper and turned out to be a good option for us.

Hitchhiking

How did folks get from the trail to town? When asked if they hitchhiked, here’s how respondents answered:

  • 74.2% of hikers hitchhiked at least once, while 25.8% did not hitchhike at all.

As for difficult locations, the following places were mentioned as challenging spots to catch a ride (in geographical order from north to south):

  • Getting to the Northern Terminus
  • Payson on Highway 87
  • Tonto Basin from Roosevelt Lake
  • Out of Roosevelt Lake in general
  • Sahuarita on Sahuarita Road
  • Vail
  • From the Southern Terminus.

Navigation

How did hikers find their way along the trail? Who used the AZT Guthook app? What about paper maps?

  • 85% app only
  • 15% app plus paper maps

GEAR & EXPENSES

Gear is a big part of every thru-hiking experience. Choosing the right gear can be both challenging and fun. And costly! Here’s the lowdown what the 2018 AZT thru-hikers carried. (Note: costs and expenses are extremely subjective to memory unless methodically tracked, which appears to be a rarity. Most responses were approximate. A few answers included “Who knows?”)

  • Average base weight at the start: 16.8 lbs (min: 7 lbs/max: 28 lbs)
  • Average base weight at the end: 15.9 lbs (min: 7 lbs/max: 26 lbs)
  • Average cost of entire gear setup: $1295 (min: $500/max: $2500)
  • Average cost of new gear for AZT specifically: $300 (min: $0/max: $1200)
  • Average amount spent on trail – food, lodging, etc: $1005 (min: $450/max: $2800) – aka an average of $1.25 per mile

What about shoes? How many hikers got a new pair while hiking?

  • Yes, new shoes 70%/No 30%
  • NOBO: Swapped for new shoes:
    • Oracle: 17%
    • Payson: 17%
    • Pine/Strawberry: 33%
    • Flagstaff: 17%
    • Grand Canyon South Rim: 17%
  • SOBO: Swapped for new shoes:
    • Jacob Lake: 13%
    • Flagstaff: 25%
    • Payson: 13%
    • Superior: 25%
    • Oracle/Tucson: 25%

What kind of sleeping bag did folks carry?

  • 95% down/5% synthetic

Average sleeping bag temperature rating?

  • 20 degrees (50%), 15 degrees (15%), 30 degrees (15%) 10 degrees (10%), 0 degrees (5%), and 40 degrees (5%)

Average pack capacity?

  • 54L (min: 35L/max: 90L)

MOST POPULAR PACKS (and the percent of hikers who carried them):

  1. ULA – Circuit or OHM (30%)
  2. Osprey – Exos or Aether (15%)
  3. Deuter – Act Lite 60+10 or other (10%)
  4. Granite Gear – x60 or Nimbus Trace (10%)

(other packs carried include: Gossamer Gear Mariposa, MLD Burn, Mystery Ranch XXX Trance, Pa’lante Packs, Zpacks, Atom Packs)

MOST POPULAR SHELTERS (and the percent of hikers who used them):

  1. Big Agnes – Fly Creek 1 or 2, or Copper Spur, generally UL or Platinum (40%)
  2. Zpacks – Hexamid regular or solo plus or tarp, or Duplex (30%)

(other shelters used include: Ozark Trail, Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo, Nemo Hornet 1p, Tarptent Stratospire 1, REI Quarterdome, and Big Sky Singlewall)

MOST POPULAR SLEEPING BAGS (and the percent of hikers who used them):

  1. Enlightened Equipment quilt (10%)
  2. Marmot – Quantum or Helium (10%)
  3. Western Mountaineering (10%)

MOST POPULAR SLEEPING PADS (and the percent of hikers who used them):

  1. Thermarest mattress – NeoAir or other (60%)
  2. Closed cell foam pad (15%)

MOST POPULAR STOVE (and the percent of hikers who used them):

  1. MSR – Pocket Rocket or Whisper Lite (30%)
  2. Jetboil – Minimo or Flash (15%)

MOST POPULAR WATER TREATMENT (and the percent of hikers who used it):

  1. Sawyer – Squeeze or other (70%) – of these 10% carried backup Aquamira
  2. Katahdin – BeFree, Gravity Camp 6L, or other (15%)

MOST POPULAR TREKKING POLES (and the percent of hikers who used them):

  1. Leki – Corklite, Super Makalu, Journey, or Speed Lock Vario z-fold (25%)
  2. Black Diamond – Trail Trekking Poles, Alpine Carbon, or other (20%)
  3. Cascade Mountaineering (10%)

What was your favorite piece of gear? Responses include: my sleeping pad, Sawyer filter, backpack, Sawyer squeeze, homemade quilt, sit pad, NeoAir, pack, sleeping bag, iPhone, zero degree down bag, tent, 6L gravity water filter, umbrella, and hiking poles.

What’s the next piece of gear you plan to buy? Responses include: rain gear, an enlightened equipment quilt, a warmer sleeping bag, new tent, tent, tent, sleeping bag, pack, maybe switch to a quilt, pack, rain jacket, sleeping bag, a new pack in a few more hikes, down jacket, a pack in a few more years, and a camera.

What GEAR WISDOM would you like to offer future AZT thru-hikers?

  • Wear a full rim hat!
  • You don’t have to break the bank to have quality stuff. Sometimes cheap (inexpensive) means cheap quality – but not always.
  • Use a 20 degree bag. 30 wasn’t really enough.
  • Use a pee pot at night!
  • Beware that thorns on trail will be rough on gear and clothes!
  • Go light, but don’t skimp on water capacity or water filter (aquamira doesn’t get rid of cow poop, it just sterilizes it)
  • Do whatever feels good
  • The lighter the better
  • Dress warmly if you start early (March or February)
  • Windbreaker and sturdy rain gear are important. Have microspikes and winter boots in a bounce box waiting for ya if going sobo when you go over higher elevations. Chances of snow are likely (late season SOBO).
  • In dry desert heat wear a cotton shirt & pants and Darn Tough wool socks
  • Squeeze filters are nice, but a pump makes getting water out of sketchy sources much easier
  • A solar umbrella was nice to have in the afternoon sun.
  • HYOH – Hike Your Own Hike!

FOOD AND HEALTH

Let’s face it, hikers love to eat. And they often hike to eat! There’s no better topic of conversation than food. So let’s talk food…and health.

What cook system did folks use?

  • Canister Stove 51.6%
  • Stoveless 41.9%
  • Alcohol Stove 6.5%

How did you store your food at night/while sleeping? (Note: respondents may have stored food in more than one way, for example: both in an Opsack odorproof bag and inside their tent, or others sometimes stored their food inside their tent and sometimes would hang their food)

  • 74.2% inside tent* (responses included inside tent, as pillow, and under feet)
  • 25.8% inside Opsack odor-proof bag
  • 16.1% food bag hung as bear/critter hang
  • 6.5% inside Ursack
  • 3.2% other

How long was your longest food carry?

  • 4 days: 16.7%; 5 days: 23.3%; 6 days: 26.7%; 7 days: 20.0%; 8 days: 6.7%; 10 days: 6.7%

About how long was your average food carry?

  • 3 days: 33.3%; 4 days: 37%; 5 days 29.6%

What were some of your favorite foods? Responses include: PROBAR, White Chocolate Peanut m&ms, cheese and pepperoni, RX Bars, Larabars, chips, fresh fruit, homemade trail mix, PackItGourmet sandwich meals, cheese/salami, granola, jerky and sour patch kids, Poptarts, bars, cheese, premade dehydrated meals, muffins and GORP, summer sausage and cheese, chips and bars, tuna Mac, dehydrated black beans & rice with Fritos and hot sauce, Mountain House lasagna, m&m, nuts & dried cherries, chocolate, hot chocolate coffee, Almond Snickers, Snickers, creative lunch wraps, mac & cheese, deli stuff, Beaver Mustard, tuna and cheese wraps, dehydrated refried beans, tuna jerky and pemmican, cream cheese: cream cheese with honey on a tortilla or cream cheese with bologna on a tortilla, nuts and beef jerkey, and WildZora meat snacks.

What were some of your least favorite foods? Responses include: Nuts, none, oatmeal and Clif bars, mac & cheese, tuna, Ramen, overeating the same thing, stale trail mix, tuna, endless Clif bars, dried fruit, too much of the same thing, bland/unsalted seeds and nuts, cold Ramen gets old, got sick of Clif bars after a bit, cold soaked instant potatoes, Kind bars are as hard as a rock, bars in general, tuna, none, energy gels, trail mix unless it involves a lot of chocolate, cold soaked Idahoans, none, Teriyaki rice cakes, too much nuts and seeds, and cocao nibs after a week.

Did you treat your water?

  • Always 72.7%
  • Mostly 13.6%
  • Sometimes 4.5%
  • Never 9.1%

Did you get sick?

  • 0% of respondents got sick!

FEAR, REGRETS & ADVICE

I asked hikers if there was ever a time when then felt unsafe while on trail or in town. This is how they responded to “Did you ever feel unsafe on/off trail”?:

  • 66.7% no, always felt safe
  • 13.3% had moments where they felt slightly unsafe
  • 20% yes, did feel unsafe at times

What were the situations that created unsafe feelings? Here are a few other reasons: The most frequent reason was being on trail on during hunting season and/or hunters. The next most frequent reason was being a solo female. Other mentions include: being around traffic and cars, bikes on trail, Globe was sketchy/had a bottle thrown at them while hitching, animal noises, a sketchy hitch with a creep in Hurricane UT, highly trafficked/isolated area south of Cedar Ranch TH, animal noises, and homeless near Flagstaff.


There’s a plethora of amount of information on the interwebs and in books about the AZT, but there’s always something a little surprising about every trail. I asked folks if there was there anything about the AZT that SURPRISED YOU? Here are the answers:

  • How beautiful and diverse it was!
  • The diversity.
  • Two bear sightings.
  • Water sources were surprisingly good given a drought year (spring).
  • How much of it is a forest.
  • Lots of beautiful spots.
  • How remote it is – and how many mountains there were surprised me too!
  • How gorgeous it was – didn’t see a single rattlesnake.
  • Just the beauty.
  • It seemed like there was actually plenty of water sources, even if some were a little gross.
  • It was amazing!
  • How cold and wet it can be! How rocky the trail is in places.
  • Way more mountains – yayy!
  • How different northern and southern Arizona feel.
  • Surprised that most towns were very close to trail and no long hitches were necessary.
  • Surprised by the weather! Rainiest October on record in AZ – plenty of water flowing everywhere. Surprised by the amount of volcanic rocks – very cool.
  • Gotta love those desert sunsets!
  • The variety in scenery. I was expecting way more of just a desert trail.
  • A lot of people with guns.
  • Many, many miles of forest 😦
  • The diversity of Arizona’s ecosystems is amazing.
  • It’s hard.
  • Not really.
  • There was MUCH more walking on two-track roads than I expected. I had read the trail was overgrown in places, but it was more overgrown than I expected.
  • I had heard a lot about the changing environment but it was surprising still.
  • The solitude in some places because of the time of year was a great surprise.

And what ADVICE FOR FUTURE AZT HIKERS do you have? Here are a few responses:

  • Go do it, it’s an awesome trail!!!
  • Have fun!
  • Go hike it! It is a very beautiful trail. You see things only in your dreams! Saguaro cacti colonies, Grand Canyon, mountains, wildlife. Be done with your hike no later than end of May due to heat.
  • Just do it!
  • Bring a water scooper or cut off bottle for scooping water out of troughs.
  • Always be aware of where your next potential water will be.
  • Be prepared for cold weather and rain!
  • Get the paper maps!!! They show side trails to different monuments and parks. A lot of spots are within a 2 mile detour and worth it.
  • Don’t stress about caching water. A lot of people put too much effort into caching and it’s not necessary.
  • Update water availability notes on Guthook to help hikers following you.
  • Be prepared for cold nights, muddy water sources, and being attacked by cholla. Also, be ready to spend a lot of your time in, on, or around cow poop.
  • You HAVE to eat pizza in Pine at the Old County Inn. Sure, get a beer at THAT Brewery, but get the pizza!
  • Guthook is essential for navigation and water report. Stay in close contact with the AZT group for any questions about water cache, safety, help with rides, etc.
  • If you take water from a cache carry out empties!
  • There are incredible trail angels along the trail. I only met some, but really wish I had reached out to more.
  • It’s hard but it rocks

And lastly, MANY THANKS to all of the contributing AZT thru-hikers who responded to the survey, including (but not limited to):

Bear Ryder, Bill, Brooklyn, Cleary, Crash, Cruise, Dakarti, Dan, Data, Double Orca, Farting Owl, Farvehar, Flex, Hiking Solo, Ice Man, Karts, Kremlin, No Butt, Mary Poppins, Mr.Cup, Oklahoma, One Eleven, One Ton, Pebbles, Phantom, QB, Saccrosse, Squirrel, Sweatlines, UOK, Washington

Please leave any comments and questions below!

Bare Burrito

It’s been a little while since my last post – my apologies!

Please enjoy this amazingly delicious trail food recipe – an exciting version of rice and beans with lots of veggies. The veggies give you those important vitamins and minerals that are often lacking on the standard thru-hiker diet. Bonus it’s vegetarian, but easily made vegan by omitting the cheese. I based this on the Mary Janes Farm Bare Burrito, which is tasty but costs about $10 per meal. My goal was to create a delicious and easily prepared meal for a fraction of the price. I made a dozen or so for my AZT thru-hike and was very happy at how they turned out! A meal I never tired of, I ate these every few days for dinner. Hiking companions Mary and Dan tried one too and said they loved it. Try it for yourself and enjoy!

Ingredients
1/3 cup dehydrated rice (I dehydrated my own, but any kind of Minute Rice is great)
1/4 cup dehydrated refried beans (find it in the bulk bins at your grocery store)
3 tbsp dehydrated corn
1-2 tbsp dehydrated bell pepper
2-3 tbsp dried kale
1 tbsp dried zucchini or cabbage
1 tbsp dried carrots
1.5 tbsp cheese powder (I used cheddar, but any will do, even parm – or use real cheese)
2 tsp onion flakes
1/4 tsp garlic powder
dash of dried jalapenos or red pepper flakes
dash of salt and pepper
hot sauce of your choice, to taste (I’m partial to Tapatio packets)

Servings
1

Directions
At Home: Add all ingredients (except for hot sauce) into 1 quart sized or ziplock freezer bags. Shake to combine.
On Trail: Bring a few cups of water to a boil. Remove pot from heat. Pour boiling water into ziplock bag and stir and shake until ingredients are mixed thoroughly and hydrated to the proper level of hydration (tip: add a little more than you think you will need. you can always add more boiling water if it’s underhydrated). Let sit for 5-10 minutes before adding hot sauce to your liking. Eat!

AZT Post-Hike Thoughts: Fitness

My fitness level was pretty good! I may change up a few things for a future hike, but overall I felt I was well prepared.

To prepare for my SOBO Fall 2018 AZT thru-hike, I made an effort to get in shape and be trail ready. My goal was to hit the ground running as much as possible. I wanted to be able to hike 20+ mile days out of the gate without a second thought about an overuse injury.

I prepared by walking, running, and lifting weights – and one backpacking trip. I started getting into shape about 1-2 months prior to starting my hike. I hiked PCT WA Section J 1-2 months prior to hiking the AZT, but did no other backpacking. I walked or ran 3-6 miles/day, 3-5 days/week. I lifted weights 3-5 days/week. Lifting prepared my tendons and fascia for repetitive use. My lifting was as follows:
– Dumbbell Split Squat. Lower down slowly on a 3-count. 3 sets of 5 reps.
– Goblet Squat. Lower down slowly on a 3-count. 3 sets of 8 reps.
– Cook Hip Lift. Push through heel. Hold at top 3 seconds. 3 sets of 10 reps.
– RDL. 3 sets of 6 reps.
(I also did upper body-focused lifting, but it didn’t prepare my legs for the trail, obvi)

How did my fitness prep work out? Quite well. I was able to hike quickly from the start of the trail. My first day of hiking was a 30-mile day, even. My body felt fine. No major issues or overuse injuries to contend with. As my body eased into the long days of hiking and lots of miles on my feet, I felt normal aches and pains (e.g., sore, aching feet), but nothing that I felt I could have better prepared for.

What would I do differently next time? I’ll start by saying, if I followed the same plan for a future hike, I would be happily well prepared. That said, in the future I might like to incorporate more day hikes and backpacking trips in order to get my feet and back accustomed to the weight of my pack.

AZT Post-Hike Thoughts: Water

Water sources were abundant! An atypical year for sure though. Wayy more water than usual was flowing. My longest carry was probably 25 miles and up to 5-6L.

I finished up my AZT thru-hike over a month ago now and I think I’m fully acclimated to “normal life” at this point.

Here’s a rundown of the water situation from my Fall 2018 sobo hike. The weather was much wetter than expected. It was the rainiest October on record in AZ! This meant water sources were fine and there were no droughts to worry about. I went into the hike very nervous about water! I had read that there could be long, waterless stretches and that the only way to make it was by caching water. I reached out to several trail angels in advance with the hopes that they could help me out with water caches – which was stressful in the planning stage but also successful in practice. I had successful help from a few trail angels listed on the AZT website as well as folks on the Arizona Trail Class of 2018 Facebook page. I lined up a few water caches – which were great – but I would have been completely fine without them. Once I realized how much water there was in reality, I stopped stressing and relied on natural water sources along the trail.

A few words of water advice to anyone planning to hike the AZT: don’t stress too far in advance. If you see the entire list of water sources in Guthook and have a mental meltdown, then break it into smaller chunks. One stretch at a time. Before getting on trail, focus on the first 50 miles. Don’t fret about the rest of the trail until you’re on the trail. Then just deal with it as it comes.

That said, I managed to hike the northernmost 100 miles of trail without having to filter water at all! I relied on existing caches, filling water in town, and personal caches. It wasn’t until I was in the bottom of the Grand Canyon that I had to use my Sawyer Squeeze for the first time!

My longest water carry was between Picket Post (leaving Superior) and the Gila River – a 21 mile carry. Another Long stretch was on the way into (north of) Roosevelt Lake between Shake Spring and town – a 20 mile carry. Each of these water carries was about 6L. Both of these sections – for me – were extra heavy because I chose to dry camp between the water sources (I carry an 1.5-2L of water for cooking). However, these – and other – “long”, dry stretches can easily be lightened by camping at the water sources and hiking the distance between in one day.

 

 

 

AZT Post-Hike Thoughts: Food & Resupply

All of my food prep efforts for my 2018 SOBO AZT thru-hike paid off! The meals themselves worked pretty well – many were delicious, a few questionable. The locations also worked mostly – a few errors but mostly without a hitch.

Tasty food I never tired of:

Breakfast:

  • Oats with coconut milk powder + freeze dried strawberries and blueberries + brown sugar
  • Grits with cheese powder, bacon bits or bacos, veggies
  • Ramen with veggies and/or seaweed
  • Trail mocha: instant coffee, hot chocolate, coconut milk powder

Lunch:

  • Tortillas with cheese and hot sauce
  • Tortillas with salmon, olives, and hot sauce

Snacks:

  • Snickers (I didn’t have too many, maybe why I still like them)
  • Salt & Vinegar chips
  • Variety! Something continually different is always good

Dinner:

  • Bare Burrito: rice, beans, cheese powder, veggies, hot sauce
  • Thanksgiving-on-the-Trail
  • Hot chocolate

Food failures:

  • Falafel oats – what was I thinking?!
  • Dehydrated potato pieces. They really don’t rehydrate = potato rock bits
  • Falafel mix as falafel. I added too much water which was a mushy mess. However, when executed properly – rehydrated well and fried in oil – it’s delicious.

A better resupply strategy:

If I did it again, I probably would have sent a little less food to most locations. It’s nice to have food pre-prepared, but it’s also great to get that Snickers or chips or whatever snack I’ve been craving and also not have too much food. Generally I overpack food and have too much anyway. In the future I’d pack less, on the skimpy side, and buy extra in town as needed.

A better SOBO resupply strategy
(including mileage and how many days it took me to get there):

START – Northern Terminus

SOBO mileage: 0
Miles to next resupply: 21.7

Pack food for 1-2 days on the trail. Don’t forget the FUEL CANISTER!

Jacob Lake

SOBO mileage: 21.7 (2.5 mile roadwalk to “town”)
Miles to next resupply: 33.3-44.8 ish to the North Rim Country Store

I enjoyed going into Jacob Lake although most hikers skipped this town. It’s less than 30 miles from the start and a 2.5 mile road walk each way. I ended up sending a box here, which was later returned to sender (turns out, there’s no post office! Although you can send a package to the campground if you have the correct address). If I did it again, would buy enough food here to make it to the North Rim Country Store. The store has a good snack selection with some meals. I ate dinner (a burger) and breakfast (egg casserole) at the restaurant which was tasty. The restaurant is also well known for it’s pastries and milkshakes.

North Rim Country Store

SOBO mileage: apx 55-66.5 depending on access point
Miles to next resupply: apx 33.8-45.3 depending on how you get here

The North Rim Country Store is great! They are very hiker friendly and super helpful. I sent a box here and would again. I actually sent myself too much food here and ended up mailing ahead (which only worked because I had a preprinted UPS label). If I did it again, I would send enough to make it to the South Rim. There was a fire closure when I hiked through, making it convenient to walk to the store. However in a normal year, the store is out of the way and isn’t as convenient to access – it can be accessed by walking the dirt roads mostly (but then you miss a pretty stretch walking along the north rim), or hitching from the south.

Grand Canyon Village – North Rim

SOBO mileage: 76.3 (1.5 mile national park road walk)

The store here at the North Rim Visitor Center is a great place to get snacks.

Phantom Ranch

SOBO mileage: 90.7 (on trail)

In the bottom of the Grand Canyon you’ll find Phantom Ranch. It is also a great place to get an expensive snack. It’s well known for it’s lemonade which is refreshing on a hot day.

South Rim of the Grand Canyon (near Mather Campground)

SOBO mileage: 100.3 (0.6 miles off trail)
Miles to next resupply: 4.7 to Tusayan/105.7 to Flagstaff

The Canyon Village Market here is actually one of the best stores along the AZT – everything a backpacker could want and more – plus it’s very close to trail. I picked up a few snacks and meals here when I stayed at Mather CG for 3 nights. If I did it again, I would buy resupply food at the store instead of sending myself a box to Tusayan.

Tusayan

SOBO mileage: 105.0 (about 0.5 mi off trail to visitor center)
Miles to next resupply: 100.0

I mailed a package to the National Geographic Visitor Center, which was fine. However if I did it again I would just buy food at the store near Mather Campground before getting to Tusayan instead. Besides, the “town” is a collection of overpriced touristy things anyway.

Flagstaff

SOBO mileage: 205.0 (mileage varies on urban route vs equestrial/original route)
Miles to next resupply: 50.0

I bought food here (the most convenient option while I had vertigo was just to supplement what food I already had with snacks at the Walgreens, which worked). There are lots of options to buy food I suppose, so buying instead of mailing seems like a good plan. Mary and Dan sent a package to Flagstaff, but there are several post offices and they sent accidentally to the wrong one, so heads up on getting the right location.

Mormon Lake

SOBO mileage: 255.0 (1.1 mi on spur trail to “town”)
Miles to next resupply: 72.6

I sent a package here, which worked well. If I were to do it again, I’d likely do the same. The hike off trail to Mormon Lake is a mile, so it’s not that bad. The post office is run through the small store and I believe they will get your package any time the store is open. It’s also a decent place to get a greasy burger, but the restaurant is only open Thursday through Sunday (or was when I was there) so if you’re planning on a hot meal it has to be the right day. You can make do if you want to buy food here for resupply.

Pine

SOBO mileage: 327.6 (0.5 mi roadwalk to brewery)
Miles to next resupply: 113.4

I sent a package to THAT Brewery which worked well. Would do again. Many hikers resupplied at the store in town, which worked for them too, but they don’t have the widest variety of options.

LF Ranch

SOBO mileage: 350.9, but don’t go here

Originally I planned to send a box here, but never heard from them, so I didn’t. The owner is nearly impossible to get ahold of, so don’t count on sending anything to or staying at the LF Ranch.

Payson

SOBO mileage: 396.7, but not worth the effort

While planning, I thought I might stop here, but ended up not bothering. Instead I went with a long resupply from Pine-Roosevelt Lake which was the way to go. Technically you can hitch to Payson, but it’s a difficult hitch on a fast highway.

Roosevelt Lake

SOBO mileage: 441.0 (1.6 mi roadwalk to marina)
Miles to next resupply: 45.4

I sent a box here to the marina, which was a good plan (otherwise you have to hitch to a mediocre place to get food). The marina is as described – not hiker friendly with only a few expensive snacks. I actually sent two boxes here, but for some reason the person looking for my second box (with my new shoes) couldn’t find it at the time even though it was there – kind of odd. They returned it to me once I got home after the trail.

Superior

SOBO mileage: 486.4 to Hewitt Station Rd TH or 487.6 to Hwy 60 (then a hitch), but you’ll probably get back on trail at Picket Post at mile 488.2
Miles to next resupply: 37.7 to Kearney, or 95.3 to Oracle

I sent a box to the post office, but once I realized I was going to arrive late on a Saturday, I called and they brought my packages to the Copper Mtn Motel which was super nice! If I were to do it again, I’d probably buy food instead of sending – the Family Dollar and Save Money Market are good and easy spots to resupply.

Kearney

SOBO mileage: 525.9 (hitch to town)
Miles to next resupply: 57.6

I didn’t stop here, but it’s possible to resupply in Kearney – although it’s pretty close to Superior, so I’d recommend either one or the other. However, Old Time Pizza delivers pizza to the trail which is mindblowingly amazing to any hiker. Sadly Tarek, Andrea, and I mistimed our hike in this stretch so we missed out the pizza 😦 I hear it’s great though.

Oracle

SOBO mileage: 583.5
Miles to next resupply: 86.0 to Colossal Cave

I met Jared here and we spent a few days in Tucson where I picked up food at Sprouts for the next stretch. If I wasn’t meeting someone but still planning to stop in town, I probably would have sent a box to the Chalet Village Motel or bought food at the Dollar General. If not stopping in town, I would have sent a box to Summerhaven on the top of Mt Lemmon.

Summerhaven – Mt Lemmon

SOBO mileage: 604.9

The Mt Lemmon General Store and Gift Shop is a great place to get snacks and freshly made fudge. You can resupply or send a box here, too. It’s a half-day hike from Oracle.

La Posta Quemada – Colossal Cave

SOBO mileage: 669.5 (1.2 mile slightly confusing road walk)
Miles to next resupply: 68.0

Old info indicated that La Posta Quemada Ranch was the place to send a box. They no longer accept hiker packages. What I did, which is the way to go, is to send a package to the Colossal Cave Gift Shop. Hitching is not super reliable around here, so I would recommend sending a package.

Patagonia AZ

SOBO mileage: 737.5
Miles to the end: 51.2

I sent a box to the post office here, which was fine. If I were to do it again, I’d maybe send a box or maybe resupply at the Patagonia Market or Red Mountain Foods natural food store.

Southern Terminus – END

SOBO mileage: 788.7

AZT Post-Hike Thoughts: Terrain and Trail SOBO

The terrain was about as expected: easier in the north, more challenging in the south. Some portions are a little harder than the PCT but some are easier, I would say that in my experience, the overall difficulty is probably on par with the terrain of the PCT.

The highest points on the AZT are over 9,000 feet. The lowest point around 1,700 feet. The Arizona Trail is divided into 43 passages (which can be somewhat confusing as they seem to be a tool designed for day and section hikers) which are numbered from low to high, south to north – or backwards if you’re SOBO. Southbound, the elevation gain is 110,683 feet and the elevation loss is 111,597 feet (total 222,000+ feet). A few overview maps can be found through the aztrail.org website. A profile can be found on the Guthook AZT app. I used the Guthook AZT app and carried the paper maps as a backup, but never once used them. If I did it again, instead of the paper maps, I would download the GPS track to my Garmin InReach as a backup to save weight.

Most trail descriptions are oriented for those hiking south to north, or NOBO. I’ll break down the trail for you north to south, or SOBO.

North to south, the AZT starts at the Utah-Arizona border on the edge of the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument. You traverse across the Kaibab Plateau and reach a high point over 9000 feet on the north rim of the Grand Canyon. Down and then up, you climb into and out of the giant gash in the earth that is the Grand Canyon. From the south rim of the Grand Canyon you traverse across the Coconino Plateau. North of Flagstaff you climb up onto and then down off of the flanks of the San Francisco Peaks then south across the San Francisco Plateau. South of Mormon Lake you will “come down off the rim”, the Mogollon Rim, and begin the transition from high desert to low desert. South of Pine, you alternate descents to rivers or low spots and climbs into mountains. Down to the East Verde River, up into the Mazatzal Wilderness, down again, then up into the Four Peaks Wilderness, down to Roosevelt Lake, up into the Superstitions, then down into Superior. South of Superior you will briefly climb near Picket Post, then descend to the low point of the AZT – around 1700 feet – at the Gila River. Continue across the Sonoran Desert from here and into the “sky island” terrain. First you’ll go up into the Santa Catalinas, northeast of Tucson. The next sky island is the Rincons, southeast of Tucson, where you will enter into Saguaro National Park. Then down into Rincon Valley near Colossal Cave Park. Up into the Santa Ritas and onto the flanks of Mount Wrightson. Then traverse south and east into and out of the Huachuca Mountains, then at last you’ll find yourself at the US-Mexico border! You did it!

The easiest parts of the trail tended to be in northern AZ, where the trail is flat. There were several harder parts of the trail. The Grand Canyon was challenging, especially since I did it in a quick 2 days. It would have been easier if I had camped first at Cottonwood Camp and then a second night at Bright Angel campground. Although either way, the uphill has to be tackled in one go so be prepared. The stretch south of Pine, getting into the Mazatzals and before the East Verde River was more difficult than expected, mostly because the footing was rocky, largely volcanic, and unstable. Hiking through the Four Peaks Wilderness was also hard because the trail is a lot of up and down as it hugs the steep mountainsides. I also found hiking up into the Rincons difficult as portions were very steep. The trail is quite steep on the stretch into the Huachucas, too. Some portions of trail are a bit overgrown with cats claw and other rough vegetation, but not totally impassable.

I’m happy I hiked the AZT SOBO because my body was able to get used to the miles on my feet before having to push my endurance levels up and down mountains. It’s also nice to be able to hike on the north side of mountains, often in shadow on the uphill – definitely a SOBO advantage. I felt that mostly the downside to SOBO was the decreasing light levels every day.

PS for pics see my Instagram