About My Tired Brain and Keeping On

Escalante, Utah to Tropic, Utah

Hayduke Trail, Days 19-23

Total Miles: 411.7

We spent a restful zero day in Escalante, Utah. The Escalante Outfitters offered a lovely coffee shop (including good coffee and free refills!) to sit, plug back into social media and email, and try to avoid looking at the news. Being in town is always nice (those showers . . .) but can be a difficult balance of connecting and not connecting too much, trying not to break the spell of the trail.

We woke up on Day 19 unsure of how much hiking we would do that day. We had 30-some miles of road to get back to the trail and had no clue how the hitching would go. Our first hitch was from a local rancher who took us about a mile. Then after walking a bit we got a ride from a family with Idaho plates. As we connected about Idaho (my birth state) it came out that they used to live in Forest Grove (near my current home of Portland, Oregon) and the guy knows my supervisor at Outward Bound . . . Small world! A doctor and EMT from Colorado picked us up next, then two girls from Missoula, and finally a young couple from Colorado took us the rest of the way. Five hitch success!

Once back on trail we headed up. It seems like each time we leave town with 6 days of food we climb! Up the 50 Mile Benches we climbed using dirt road and stock trails until we were on top the Kaiparowits Plateau. Moving a few miles across the plateau, we then dropped down a drainage to Monday Canyon. 

The next day, instead of five hitches, we got five canyons – Monday, Rogers, Croton, Navajo, and Reese. We got into Reese Canyon as the weather started to shift and light rain fell as we set up camp. The next five hours we got a mixture of rain, wind, lightening, and thunder. While the wind wasn’t nearly as strong as the previous tent killing incident, we still were bracing the walls a bit hoping it died down soon. While we didn’t get much sleep, it was incredible to hear the thunder echoing off the canyon walls!

Day 21 started off dry but stormy looking. We broke camp and headed down Reese Canyon into Last Chance Creek. We had over 16 miles in Last Chance which was fairly easy walking, compared to other canyons we had walked in! At our lunch break we saw the clouds forming, growing dark and obviously full of rain. We got our gear and ourselves as protected from the water as possible and we’re on our way. The rest of the afternoon was full of intermittent showers (and some biting hail) as we moved out of Last Chance Creek and Paradise Canyon into a section of hills and road walking.

All rain and smiles!

The following day we had some decisions to make. We knew the weather was supposed to be wet and our next section included canyons that the guidebook said not to enter if storms were imminent. In fact the next week was looking cold, snowy and rainy. Part of the freedom of the Hayduke is that there are tons of alternates and nobody hikes the trail the same way. We decided to create the Tim-Tam and Commando alternate connecting part of the section, a road walk, and then head into Tropic, Utah so we could walk through Bryce Canyon National Park. The official Hayduke route just skirts into Bryce near the southern park boundary but I’ve never been to Bryce and want to see as much as possible!

Our alternate included dropping into the Round Valley Draw Narrows, the only slot canyon on the official Hayduke route. For Kasey and I both this was one of our top moments of the trail so far! Dropping into the slot involved a 10 foot chimney climb down and lowering packs. Once in the slot canyon, we meandered between towering walls on a narrow sandy canyon bottom, climbing over some boulders blocking our way. I felt small in the slot canyon but peaceful as I marveled at the years it took to form this narrow walkway. I was super surprised to see another human down there heading the opposite direction, another Arizona Trail/Hayduke Trail hiker piecing together his own version of the trail!

Kasey dropping into the slot canyon after lowering our packs.

Day 23 was a quick 12.2 miles into Tropic, Utah, where a super helpful coffee shop owner and post mistress welcomed us to town. We also hit our halfway point this day and over 400 miles (411.7)! As we went through our resupply boxes, prepped the maps for our next section and researched weather, we had decisions to make. The next week includes some cold, gnarly weather, both in Bryce and where we are heading.

There is so much unknown as we make decisions, sometimes I get overwhelmed with all the possible scenarios. Kasey and I talked through a lot of options yesterday but then at some point we just needed to be done, turn off our brains, and take one thing at a time. We are staying in Tropic for one night. Check. We will hike to Bryce today and check in with Park Rangers at the visitor center. Check. That is the known. One step at a time and then more decisions can be made. A good reminder to me that I don’t need to figure it all out right now. Tami, just rest in the known for a few hours.

This past section was a tough one for me for some reason. I’m generally a very happy and joyful person but I’m sure I wasn’t the most fun person to hike with this week! I’ve been thinking about why that is the last couple days. There are constantly moments on this trail where you have to make decisions, sometimes bigger decisions that involve teamwork and problem solving about how to get around some obstacle or sometimes just simple, split second decisions about which direction to move around a rock in your way. Sometimes the choice you make works out and sometimes it doesn’t and you have to walk back and try another way. Some days I just want to hike. I don’t want to, with every step, try and figure out the way that is best, that will hopefully take us through and not to a road block. I told Kasey at the end of one day, “I could keep hiking for a few miles but I can’t fight anything right now.” Meaning, I know I can roll on a defined trail but I don’t want another tamarisk branch to cut my legs right now or have to backtrack, make even the tiniest decision about a single step.

But reality is this trail is not as defined as I want. There are constant decisions, awareness, and challenge. There ARE times when I get to just roll on a trail or road and unleash my thru hiker legs. I’m learning to take advantage of these moments and enjoy that space. But more often then not, there is unknown, small decisions that may or may not work out, or branches grabbing at my legs when I’m annoyed. This is when the beauty of everything we are doing out here comes together. With each step, my mental fortitude is strengthened. I become more used to making those tiny decisions on the fly. I feel more confident in my abilities.

This reality of the trail is the reality of daily life whether in the backcountry or at home. Some days I can roll on a known “trail” and relax a bit but more often than not, I am unsure of what’s ahead each day. I build on what I have experienced and continue onward, becoming more self-aware and confident. Trusting that, even if one decision doesn’t quite work out, a canyon seems impassable, or I have to backtrack a bit, I will keep fighting . . . even on those days when I want to sit down in the middle of the trail and throw a tantrum.

What a journey we are all on, friends! There is learning each day that makes us kinder, more compassionate people to ourselves and others. I hope today you are able to recognize these moments in your life.

Much love from the land of the best sunrises and sunsets in the world.

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About the Ups and Downs and Everything In Between

Hanksville, Utah/Higheay 95 to Escalante, Utah/Hole-in-the-Rock Road

Hayduke Trail, Days 12-18

Total Miles: 305

After a day of rest and exploration of the tiniest of tiny American west towns, which basically meant visiting the two diners and small market, picking up resupply boxes at the PO, and then introducing Kasey to The Bachelor (Rachelle, aren’t you proud?), we set off from Hanksville on another 6 day stretch into the (mostly) unknown.

We spent our day off also going through our maps and guidebook. After the first 10 days on trail, I wanted as much information possible before diving in again. As Kasey and I are figuring each other out and our hiking styles we have quickly realized my slow, methodical, gather as much information possible before I take a single step personality is different than his get the information you can and then go for it approach. The beauty of how we operate together is a fine balance between pausing and forward movement. If I didn’t have him on the trail I would probably be stuck on a cliff about 5 days in refusing to move and he might be stuck down in a canyon someplace. Both approaches are needed at different times and it is a daily practice of letting go, communicating, and offering grace to each other.

This stretch between Hanksville had some incredible highlights and challenges. The Hayduke is a finicky route. I’ve come to a realization that I should never think I have it figured out because as soon as I do the Hayduke tosses an unknown, unforeseeable surprise our way. This can be exhausting! Part of what I love about thru hiking is getting into a rhythm and rolling the entire day, giving my brain space to think, process, relax. The route does not offer that same space. My brain is constantly on alert as I looked for cairns, footpaths, check the maps, double check the gps. I’m always wondering if we are on the right route.

But . . . In the midst of this uncertainty there is the reminder to look up, be aware of what’s around me and soak in the desert sunrises and sunsets, massive rock walls uplifted from the earth, spectacular arches, and Kasey’s companionship.

The first day out of Hanksville we headed up the Henry’s Mountains, hoping to take the high route over Mt. Ellen. After doing about 4 miles in 4 hours, postholing through ice crusted snow that left ice burn and numerous cuts on our legs, we decided to head back to Wicciup Pass where we had seen a fire ring. Drying out shoes and socks and thawing our numb feet around the fire, we made the call to head back the next day and take a low route around the mountains.

Morning sunrise in the Henry’s Mountains

While disappointed to not take the summit route, we started the next day before sunrise to ensure the snow was hard on our way down. We were rewarded with a full moon and clear sunrise happening at the same time! That same day, as snow and mountains gave way to heat and sand, we ran into the friendliest group of folks enjoying the day on their ATVs. The Hayduke is so remote your rarely run into people. This extrovert was super excited to chat with everyone! The best part was that these trail angels offered water, not just water but COLD water! Who knew how much cold water and tootsie rolls could do for my spirit?

Our first trail angels! Cold water and tootsie rolls hit the spot.

The high spirits didn’t last too long as the day continued. Two dry water sources, a maddening, steep descent into a canyon, and then pushing the miles trying to make it to a water source before nightfall. We made it, found some not so pretty but drinkable water, and called it a day.

The following day, day 14 on trail, was one of my favorite days so far! Mostly straightforward, we hiked into Capitol Reef National Park and were rewarded, after hiking up the Burr Trail Switchbacks, with views, another group of people, and the opportunity to hike through the entire 10 miles of Lower Mulley Twist Canyon. If you are ever at Capitol Reef do this hike!! I spent the afternoon in awe of the walls and amphitheaters around me. That night, after a dry couple days, we got to a water source called Mulley Tanks. For a PNW backpacker who is used to a plethora of water sources, camping near water has become a gift!

Hiking in Lower Mulley Twist Canyon. None of the pictures do it justice!

We continued from here the next day through Halls Creek Canyon, deciding to take an alternate route around the Escalante river wade of 25 miles. This day had its highs and lows. We were by water most of the day but had some bush whacking and route finding that gave way to frustration. The day ended with the pleasant surprise of hiking up and over the Waterpocket Fold on the “old Baker Trail”. We spend so much of our time in canyons on this trail . . . this mountain girl enjoyed the chance to set up camp up high with a view of the Henry’s.

Day 16, we dropped from Waterpocket Fold into Steven’s Canyon. This was probably one of the most difficult days so far, mostly due to the difficulty of finding the route through the canyon. We decided to push reset at lunch and worked together the rest of the day to make sure we were making the best decisions possible about our route. Steven’s Canyon dropped us into the Escalante River where we waded though silty water, quicksand river bottom, and tamarisk branches to Coyote Gulch. A sandy shelf in an amphitheater above this creek provided respite that night.

Hiking through Coyote Gulch on our day into Escalante was quite different from what we have done so far! Flowing water, trees, other backpackers, natural bridges . . . It’s a popular place! We were trying to make it to Hole-in-the-Rock road early enough to get a hatch into Escalante. This is a 33 mile hitch on a dirt road. We had heard stories of people waiting 24 hours for a ride (we saved to instant oatmeal and pop tarts just in case we were there for awhile!). About a mile out from the road, I saw a group of backpackers in front of me. Some of you know I’m a competitive person . . . When I see other hikers in front of me it’s like this instant motivation to pick up the pace just to see if I can pass them within a certain distance or time. It gives me something to work towards and takes my mind off tired legs and feet. I also thought, “that’s a potential ride.” And, so it was! We got a ride with the nicest group of BYU students who very willingly crammed us and our gear into their cars, dropping us in Escalante. What was supposed to be the most difficult hitch was the best!

Jacob Hamblin Natural Bridge in Coyote Gulch

Today is Day 18 on this surprising, unknown, crazy, delightful, difficult journey. We rest today. Our bodies and minds are tired. This rhythm of rest on the Hayduke seems essential. Essential to our well-being, decision making ability, interaction with each other and the world around us. For me today is a “tending to my vital heart” day as Rumi says, “Let the beauty of what you love be what you do. Tend to your vital and all that you worry about will be solved.” Today I’m trying to not worry about what the Hayduke has in store for us tomorrow. I’ll do what I can to prepare today, gather the information needed, and then try to take on some of Kasey’s “just go for it” approach.

Thanks for all the support and well wishes! Much love, friends, from the land of Everett Ruess, slot canyons, arches, lizards, Navajo sandstone, and kind people! Happy Trails!

About the First Days on the Hayduke Trail . . . And Adjusting Expectations

Hayduke Trail Northern Terminus, Arches National Park to Highway 95/Hanksville, Utah

Hayduke Trail, Days 1-11

I’m not sure where to begin describing the experience so far of hiking the Hayduke Trail. It has been some of the most challenging and exhilarating moments of all my outdoor experiences wrapped up into one. Instead of a straight forward trail it is a series of obstacles and problem solving that force you to stop, evaluate, calculate risk, trust your own abilities and your partner’s, and make the best decision possible with the information you have available.

The trail humbled us from the first day as we bushwhacked through the Courthouse Wash in Arches National Park, running out of daylight and not getting as far as we had planned for the day. It slowly dawned on us that this was not your normal thru hike – our pace would be slower as we walked from washes to canyons to 4WD roads to cross country navigation.

The first major obstacle was a massive wind storm that came thru our third night. Salt Lake City reported gusts up to 110mph. After getting pelted with wind, sand, and rocks in our tents for over 5 hours, my tent poles finally gave way leaving me in a flurry of denier fabric and sand swirling around me as I held up the tent with one hand and shoved my belongings in my backpack and sleeping bag with the other. I ran to Kasey’s tent as the snow started falling and we settled in for another 4 hours of restless sleep and bracing his tent with each gust.

The next morning we started the hike back to Moab – 16 miles of walking and 4 unique hitches later we were back in town to breathe, buy a new tent, and figure out next steps. Because of the remoteness of the trail and difficulty of getting back to where we were the might of the storm we decided to skip about 26 miles of the route to our next resupply point at Needles Outpost outside of Canyonlands National Park. The best thing about this decision is that we had the amazing opportunity to get a ride to Needles from one of the Hayduke Trail creators himself, Mike Coronella. We grilled him with questions and soaked in the chance to listen and learn from the person who originally had a dream of this route. One of the things that stood out during that drive was Mike’s comment, “The Hayduke isn’t a thru hike. It’s an experience.” SO. TRUE. I have felt this numerous times the past 10 days.

Returning to the trail, we traveled through the glorious Canyonlands National Park as the afternoon sun slowly turned to dusk. The next day involved maneuvering through Young’s Canyon up and down numerous huge pour offs. I’m still recovering from the excitement and chaos of this section so if you want to read more check out Kasey’s facebook post (which I’m having trouble hyperlinking on the ol’ iPhone so look up Kasey Lawson).

Following Young’s Canyon was a day of hiking the incredible Dark Angel Canyon finding our way along shelves above the river. Getting out of Dark Angel was only possible via a 1200 foot climb in less than a mile. That night we arrived at Hite Marina near Lake Powell. There were bathrooms and running water at the visitor center so . . . We stayed the night!

After holding it together the past few days and feeling out of my element, I had a little freak out moment that night. The mental and emotional exertion of this trail was more than the physical exertion. I know I can physically hike long distances but I questioned my ability to handle the mental fortitude the Hayduke and the desert were asking of me. After a night of good sleep and processing what was going on I knew I wanted to keep going. I actually had enjoyed the challenge of the trail so far but was not used to being pushed out of my comfort zone so much each day.

That day after Hite was tough. Both Kasey and I were battling blisters and different areas of pain from a rolled ankle to cranky knees. Our first challenge was a class 4 chimney climbing out of a wash that involved some creative hauling of backpacks up and over the chimney (again, read Kasey’s description!). We walked across the Red Benches, in and out of ravines, near the old Chinese mining trails, until reaching a gnarly drop into Fiddler Cove Canyon. Once into the canyon we were rewarded with a fairly easy walk along the canyon bottom. Thinking the day would be easy from there on out we finished our day with surprisingly the most difficult part of the day, a climb out of the canyon that we were not expecting. We both slept soundly that night and finished our last day through this section with a 20 mile trek along dirt roads, fording the Dirty Devil River, and through Poison Spring Canyon to Highway 95.

After a hitch into Hanksville, Utah, we are now resting for the next section up and over the Henry’s Mountains towards Escalante. On the PCT I didn’t find that I needed much of a rest in town. I could be in and out in a day and back on trail. The Hayduke Trail is forcing me to stop, breathe, rest, and let my body and mind catch up with what we are doing.

The Hayduke Trail is already transforming me. Having worked for organizations whose philosophy and mission are wrapped up in the transforming power of outdoor experiences I recognize those things taking place – from personal growth, character development, teamwork, leadership development and more. I don’t want to shy away from the challenge or allow fear to control my life. I also know that in each moment I need to be realistic, calculate the risks ahead and make smart decisions. I carry many people I love with me on this journey and most importantly is returning home to share life with them. I’m moving forward recognizing the gifts of this experience, the privilege to do what I love, and the opportunity to explore a world of incredible beauty.

Each night I write in my trail journal what I’m grateful for from each day. Repeatedly so far each day has included:

  • Kasey: I wouldn’t want to do this route on my own! He has been a great hiking partner and it’s been fun to see how our communication and trust in each other continues to be shaped. For people who are used to thru hiking solo this is a transition.
  • Good weather: After that windstorm . . . Sheesh. I’ll take all the sunshine and calm I can get!
  • My support system: From my parents mailing packages to my friends sending me voice recordings that I can listen to on the trail when I need a boost, I don’t underestimate the power of relationships and community in my life!
  • The scenery: I can’t use words to describe what I get to look at each day. I wish daily that I was hiking with a geologist who could explain the formations I’m seeing. The desert landscape is beautiful and I am in awe of the things that survive here.
  • Space: While I had some guilt about being away with everything happening in the world right now, the space to process and step away had been healthy.

A friend sent a message a few days ago and it’s been going thru my head as I hike. In the midst of chaos and contentment, fear and peace, frustration and happiness, I remember these words that she shared from the Prayer of St. Patrick as we continue onward:

Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me. Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

Much love from the desert, friends!