Wolverine Hikes

People who know me know that I belong on the Trail. I've thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail (twice),the Pacific Crest Trail and the mighty Continental Divide Trail. I've hiked many of the long trails here in Michigan including being the first to hike both the Ironwood Trail and the Great Lake To Lake Trail. In 2017, I hiked the Israel National Trail and the Golan Heights Trail. I was the first to hike the Baja Divide Trail in Mexico but failed miserably to thru-hike the Bruce Trail in Canada. In 2019, I hiked the TEMBR in Ecuador and now, I'm going to attempt to hike 1,150 miles of the North Country Trail as it runs through my home state of Michigan.

The purpose of this blog is to keep anyone who is interested informed of my progress and to encourage those who are able to support me in these endeavors.

Friday, October 30, 2020

The Easiest Maze



Can you see what it says on my shirt as I’m pointing to a map of the trail? Turned out to be darkly prophetic. 


A guy walks into a bar carrying a giant backpack and smelling like the Devil himself. Server hands him a menu and says, “Everybody got a story to tell. You look like you got a good one.”


I’ve got a story, alright, about a sojourn of the North Country Trail as it runs through Michigan. 1,150 glorious miles from tiny Waldron, MI (at the border with Ohio) to the City of Ironwood at the far western end of the UP. 


The hike started off well enough: My friend Sandy got me to the trail and sent me on my way in a light rain. Almost immediately, that feeling of being back on the trail - of being ‘home’, swept over me and I really enjoyed the whole first week. I happened upon little towns about every other day so resupply was easy and I was making a special effort to visit as many Michigan Craft Breweries as possible (I’m a big fan). In fact, the whole theme of this hike was ‘How far would Wolverine walk to sample a Cold Iron beer?’ referring, of course, to Cold Iron Brewing in Ironwood. 


Somewhere around weeks two and three, I started feeling some serious bilateral foot and ankle pain. There was serious swelling and even some deep bruising that I found disconcerting. This was beyond the usual aches and pains I’d experienced when getting my ‘trail legs’ back under me. At one point, after a failed attempt to hitch into a town, I gimped pathetically along the side of the road, looking much more like a broken down homeless man than Wolverine, Triple Crown Hiker. 


But then I kept hiking and it went away. As does all my pain and woe, eventually. 


Part of my miraculous recovery had to do with spending a full Zero Day (zero miles hiked!) in town with my girlfriend (the lovely Jackie Papineau). After resting, hydrating and stretching, I returned to the trail feeling 100% better. This is when things got really good: I felt great, temps were perfect for hiking and the trail was flat. I started stringing together 20+ mile days with no problems. I also started ‘Platinum Blazing’ (as we Hikers call it): Spending a night in a comfy hotel with Jackie every couple weeks and eating at fancy restaurants every chance I got! Life couldn’t get any better!


But then it got better. I had made it to the Mackinac Bridge way ahead of schedule. Jackie met me there, as well as fellow long distance hiker Brian ‘Buck 30’ Tanzman. This was a big deal for me as he is a way more experienced hiker than I and this was my chance to learn from him. And oh, did I learn. More on that, later. 


I started hiking the 550 miles across the Upper Peninsula like a pro. The miles flew by. The highlight of the whole hike (perhaps of my whole life!) was hiking Pictured Rocks with Jackie. We spent almost a whole week together including a full zero in Grand Marais. It was fantastic. 


At this point, it was ‘all systems go’. I had just under a month to hike the last 250 miles or so. True, it was getting colder out but my gear was solid and I felt unstoppable. I couldn’t wait to see everybody at the end! My calendar for the last week on the trail filled up quickly with dates for doing trail maintenance, meeting up and hiking with Moosejaw peeps and plans for the ‘big finish’ in Ironwood. 


And then it all went wrong. 


Leaving out of tiny L’Anse, Michigan, I was good-to-go. I had a few miles of road-walking to get back to the trail and somewhere along there, I LOST MY PHONE. I walked up and down the mile of highway where I was sure it had fallen out of my jacket SIX TIMES to no avail. The phone was gone. 


A word about modern long distance hikers and smart phones: We love them. They are our (primary) form of navigation (see my previous post about cell phone apps for hiking) and they are how we communicate and coordinate things like dates and locations for meeting people on the trail. Not to mention our cameras, our music and our written and recorded thoughts. Now, I always say not to rely solely on your phone and to carry a paper map and a compass, just in case, and I do. Not a very detailed map, mind you, but enough to get me out of a jam. 


I was in a jam. Without that damn phone, I would only have the blue blazes that mark the North Country Trail. It would be risky and I would never know where I was at. Plus, if I didn’t show up with the people I was supposed to meet and didn’t let folks at home know I was okay, it would trigger a call for Search and Rescue. If I had printed and carried more detailed maps, I could have continued but still not been able to contact people.


I began to panic. Was this hike over for me? After all, this was supposed to be my ‘fall back hike’. An easy thousand miles that I could do if other plans didn’t work out. Now, here I was, freezing in the snow, asking a DNR guy at a campground if I could borrow his phone to call my brother. 


My brother Rob is an Information Systems Administrator but his real job is getting me out of trouble. He’s been doing it for 52 years, now. He told me to stay put for the night and he would be there the next day. That had to be one of the worst nights in my hiking career. Buried in my tent, huge snow flakes falling all around me and tears  streaming down my face. I had let everybody down. I would never make it to Ironwood. 


Rob and I talked about all the options during the long drive home. I crashed at his house for a couple days to dry out and gear up. The priority had to be to contact the people I was supposed to meet on the trail and cancel. Then, figure out a way to salvage this hike. Rob insisted that I get another phone before going back up there. Fortunately, I was able to pick up a used iPhone for $170 and Jackie helped me go over all my gear, making sure that I had what I needed to make it to Ironwood. I would ditch my stove and cooking pot and just eat cold. I added a $30 Frog Toggs rainsuit (good call, Rob) and an extra pair of socks. 


We decided that, because of the conditions (the weather, my shaken confidence and my desire to finish by Halloween), I would just road-walk it into Ironwood. Not the way I had pictured ending the hike but at least I will have finished. Rob drove me all the way back up to the UP and dropped me about 85 miles away from Ironwood. 


As I walked along the highway in the heavy snow, I thought back on my long history of relying too much on my cell phone: During the AT ‘11, I plugged my phone into a bad outlet and killed it. My sister Patti had to mail me a new one on the trail. On the CDT ‘14, I fell into a river and drowned my phone. My friend Martha was able to send me a new one. On the AT ‘15, I left my phone in the truck of a guy who gave me a ride to the trail. He was kind enough to leave it with the Sheriff’s office and it was returned to me. On the very first day of the Israel National Trail, my phone died (again, bad socket) but resurrected itself 12 hours later, Lazarus-style. Then, of course, my phone was pick-pocketed in a crowded bus station in Ecuador in ‘19. And now, I let my phone fall out of my jacket and the punishment for making the same mistake (over and over, apparently) is a long road-walk into Ironwood. This horrible task is a penance that must be served. Snow and sleet all day that freezes solid overnight. Double-trailer logging trucks blasting past just a couple feet away, spraying dirty slush on guilty hikers. No one offers a ride as there are no angels here on Purgatory’s Trail. I was feelin’ pretty low. 


And then it got worse. Temps dropped. The snow got deeper. I ran out of food. My water filter froze so I had to drink foamy brown river water. Road-walking into Ironwood in late October was the worst idea ever. 


I pushed forward into the little town of Marinesco, home of Two Fat Guys Bar and Grill. Not only did they serve up a giant bacon cheeseburger but they GAVE (they would not accept payment) me enough food to make it to the next town! My heart swelled with gratitude. Maybe I would make it, after all. 


Getting back to what I learned from Buck 30: Don’t make the hike more complicated than it needs to be. Brian rarely agrees to meet up with people on the trail. He’s not beholden to any sponsors. He doesn’t even take advantage of the hospitality that Trail Angels sometimes offer - he’d rather just get a hotel room and then keep moving at his own pace and without deadlines and appointments. 


TL/DR: I lost my phone and had to road-walk into Ironwood. 


Got a question or comment? Have any advice? Ideas on what I could have done differently? Click below and start typing!

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Hiking Apps

What follows is only my own experience with a few different apps designed for navigation on an iPhone. It is not a thorough review of all the apps available and all of their features. I’ll also throw in my two cents about how hiking apps and smartphones have changed the way I hike. 


https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1ViIIdX937rGdOA-bjlK26SLVv8LIQ1Hj


Atlas Guides/Guthook’s App

First off, I have to disclose that I have a history with the people who founded this company so, of course I’m going to be a big fan of their products! I wish them all the success in the world.

         https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1SxuIaE0ne1PsJEApJlLeCfi0hGPaDVCI


In preparation for my ‘12 thru of the PCT, I purchased Paul Bodnar’s Pocket PCT Guid

    https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1CsNJYKe5ZLpuE4_LpFZptFNcDFOVENuv


Soon after starting the hike, I’d heard that Paul (Trailname: Tangent) and his wife, Alice (Trailame: Holstein) were also on the trail. I was fortunate enough to meet them and to get Paul to sign my book. 


https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1r7EvhmupBU9auorYckX_aRo99-7VPChu

Since then, Paul and Alice got together with Ryan ‘Guthook’ Linn to create an app that is designed by hikers with specific features that hiker’s want.


I first started using Guthook’s Guides on the CDT ‘14. They were just releasing each state and we were greedily downloading them as we were hiking the trail. Having that information available made my CDT thru so much more enjoyable... Until I fell into Cochetopa Creek. And my iPhone was submerged (and thus, ruined). It was back to paper map and compass for me for about a month. Good to have those skills. More on that later. 


On my SOBO thru of the AT ‘15, Guthook’s Guides really added to the enjoyment. Here’s the thing: With Guthook’s, you’ll always know where you are in relation to the trail. Even with no data signal. Even with no cell signal. Even in ‘airplane mode’. This adds a level of safety and enjoyment to my hikes that is invaluable. Again, you have to have a paper map and compass with you (and be able to use them) in case you fall in a river. But, as long as the phone is working, I check my position a million times a day, just to make sure I’m on track. 


These days, Atlas Guides has tons of trails in their repertoire making this my go-to app for long distance hiking. Just download the Atlas Guides app and buy the Guthook’s Guide for the trail you’re hiking. You’ll be glad you did. 




Gaia

Gaia has to be one of the most popular hiking apps available today. I first used it for my hike of the Baja Divide Trail in Mexico. I had all the GPS waypoints in a file that I got from Bikepacker.com but, actually getting that track to appear on your phone can be tricky. Every hiker has struggled with this. As I recall, I had some late night FaceTime sessions with my dear friend (and tech-genius) Noam Gal in Tel Aviv, Israel. He was very patient with me. 

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1KMYXwa6D6J4shKri0GPtiG_2rF9TYbhw



Once I got the waypoints downloaded, I knew I was good to go. Same as Atlas Guides, I could pinpoint where I was in relation to the trail even offline. Again, still with the paper map and compass but primarily using this app.


https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1jH31w6SaxXjFw5_Lyct0obJ1aXDt--e9



I’m back to using Gaia again for my current hike - 1,150 miles of the North Country Trail as it runs through Michigan. Waypoints were courtesy of friend and badass hiker, Brian ‘Buck 30’ Tanzman. I’m finally getting used to some of the features that Gaia offers and taking advantage of them. 


MapOut 

I only used this app because Bikepacker.com made me use it to get the waypoints for the Trans Ecuador Mountain Bike Trail. I had to pay for it but, once I downloaded  the app, it was pretty easy to load the waypoints. No late night calls to Israel. I remember it being veryeasy to  use. In fact, I was able to load both the TEMBR ‘Dirt Road Version’ and the TEMBR ‘Single Track Version’ so I was able to switch from route to route on the fly. 

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=16lnZ5-UBLYmXMoU5tPQgNfLDEzUgVQsi



Avenza

This app is the only way to get current maps from the North Country Trail Association. Why? I don’t know. They must be in cahoots. If the NCTA wanted more people to enjoy their trail, they would let Atlas Guides feature their trail. Must be a financial thing? Dunno. 

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1HsiXDcyrhbPTv9CEdpwSKK0N7hLx5Ypr


I find this app to be a little bit clumsy in that, you have to download all the sections (So many sections... ) for the hike you’re doing. Once you find what map, what section and what page you’re on, you’ll see a familiar blue dot where you are and where the trail is. This appis really just a million pdf’s of pages of a map. They’ve overlapped your location and GPS coordinates but you still have to ‘leap’ from page to page. I wasn’t a fan but both Buck 30 and Steady (both seriously accomplished hikers) prefer this app while hiking the North Country Trail. 


iMaps, Google Maps , etc...

These apps have a place in long distance hiking. Some hiking apps will have a link to ‘open in Google Maps’ which I always appreciate. Maybe I’m in a town and need more information than just where the trail is. These apps sometimes have that info. Often too, it helps just to look at another version of the map you are primarily using, just to confirm the information. 


The Importance of Land Nav Skills

I learned the right way to use a paper map and compass during basic training in the Army. I learned the fine points of both day and night land nav while testing to become an Expert Field Medic (again, in the Army). Those skills were put to test after falling in the river on the CDT. Here’s the point: Almost anyone can go out, buy some gear, download an app and hike a trail. Good, I say! Get more people out there! The problem is that some folks are completely relying on their smartphones. Then they fall in a river. Or the battery dies. Now, it’s a rescue scenario that didn’t need to happen. Use these apps to increase safety and to help you enjoy the trail but know how to get out of it if your smartphone dies. 


I’ll add this as a solution (but for local folks only): Jeff McWilliams teaches a comprehensive land nav course through the SOLAR Club in Livonia. Get with them. Learn from him. 


I welcome any comments or questions. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The North Country Trail in MI

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1y2WoI0_LNTUJZkQXPRCCBAoCE_HWj_4T

So, coming off a successful hike of Ecuador, I had big plans to fly to Asia and hike Kyrgyzstan. I was about to pull the trigger on plane tickets when The Panic hit. My home state of Michigan was on lockdown for about three months. During that time, as I realized that Kyrgyzstan was not going to happen, I began scheming and dreaming about doing a hike closer to home. As things slowly began to open back up, including trails and campgrounds, I thought about attempting to hike 1,150 miles of the North Country Trail as it ran through Michigan. The entire North Country Trail is a 4,600 mile monster that runs from North Dakota to Vermont. This would just be the Michigan section. I could start at the border with Ohio (way out in the middle of nowhere). My dear friend Sandy Lowe would drive me to the start of my adventure, as tradition holds. And so I did. On August 1st I hit the trail with the intent to hike north up the Lower and west across the Upper to the border with Wisconsin. More specifically, I want to hike back to the town of Ironwood, MI. 

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1u27eOvSPZmsWWG55Pmt4EkpajZPoPCoc

It’s right on the border. I’ve hiked there before. In ‘13, I hiked from Belle Isle in Detroit to Ironwood. I call it the Ironwood Trail. Now they call it the Ironbelle Trail. I had such a reception in Ironwood in ‘13! Very cool people. At the time, they were talking about opening a craft brewery. Well, since then, it’s come to fruition: Cold Iron Brewing opened a couple years ago and I have to go back to try their beers! And what better way than to get there (I haven’t owned a car in a decade) than to hike there?

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1cJU517GHGJ3Q3w6K-k3CZGnsRCY_PNXH

At this point, I’m about three hundred miles into it and I’m absolutely loving it. I struggled with some foot pain early on but I finally have my trail legs under me and the miles are coming easy. It doesn’t hurt that the temps have been fantastic, I haven’t had to use a rain fly in six nights straight  and I’m coming off the best zero day EVER with my girl Jackie Papineau in Big Rapids, MI. The trail, too, has been really sweet. Part of the foot pain had to have been brought on by miles and miles of road walking. That part was not so good. But, since entering the Manistee National Forest here in Western Michigan, the Trail is giving up some easy miles: flat, compact earth covered with about a half inch of pine needles. SO nice to hike on. Well blazed/well maintained trail. Easy water and camping everywhere. I’ve hiked over 1,400 miles of trail here in Michigan but this is truly some of the nicest. 

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1TJgv5vXkBR9OX03_IVc-V-mBCIkmpJR4

I’m hoping to arrive in Ironwood by Halloween (1,150 miles over three months seems doable). It falls on a Saturday this year and, by that point, I'll be tired from hiking and looking for a cold beer! Know what else I’ll be looking for? A new hat. And not just any hat, a Stormy Kromer. And not just any Kromer. I wear mine brimless and backward.

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=10ZNX2cKkWHqek-zaUc3I3IO77v9Jlq8C

 See, they’ve been making these iconic hats by hand, here in Michigan, for years. The company is now run by my friend Gina Thorsen. She assures me that, if I walk more than a thousand miles to their factory in Ironwood, she’ll sell me a new Kromer. I can’t wait! My old one has some serious MILES on it. 

I’m gonna push on and try to make to it the Traverse City area within the next two weeks and I’d better be across Big Mac by the end of September at the latest! The UP part of this trail is 550 miles long. October’s gonna start getting pretty cold up there. I’d better hurry!

Actually, I’d better slow down. Long enough to thank all the folks who are making this hike happen. Starting with Tom and Jamie at Moosejaw Mountaineering. From planning and advice to gear, I really appreciate these two people. Gina Thorsen at Stormy Kromer, Lee-Ann and John Garske, the owners and employees at Cold Iron Brewing. Can’t wait to see you guys! Paul and Missy McWalters at Uderground Quilts. The Trail Show podcast. Sister Carol’s Spices. Trail Angels Barb and Glenn Cazier and Tamera Dean. Treeline Review. Brian ‘Buck 30’ Tanzman for intel and advice. My dear friends Loren, Johanna and Luke Penny. You really lifted my spirits coming to see me in Lowell! Phil and Nan. Sandy Lowe. My friend’s at OBO #133. And last but most important of all, thanks for all the love and support to Jackie Papineau.
Got a question or a comment? Leave it below! I’ll check and respond as often as possible. Thankyou!

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Hiking in Ecuador: The Good and the Bad

I covered about 800 miles over eight weeks  hiking the Trans Ecuador Mountain Bike Route (the TEMBR). I started in Tulcan in the north (near the border with Columbia) and hiked to Vilcabamba in the south (near the border with Peru). These were my impressions:

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1mHkGmqaesV3a2tle6UXI57o8k3uLfj2N

The Good:

- The weather. Ecuador stays about the same temperature year-round and, in the mountains of central Ecuador, it’s perfect for hiking and camping. I had a few chilly mornings (in the 30’s) way up in the mountains and a few sweaty afternoons at lower elevations but mostly, temps were in the 60’s and 70’s. I planned this hike for June through September because I had read that this was the ‘dry season’ but I found that it rained at least as often as it seems to in the States. Sometimes for three or four days in a row. You’ll need a waterproof shell and lots of ziplock baggies if you want to be comfortable hiking in Ecuador. 

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1p3x88x3bIlsmBPIXgOKJsWGR2e8ZsyAd

 - No bears, no bugs. Honestly, not even ants!  I got a few bites from tiny black flies at lower elevations and I saw a few Tarantula Hawk wasps (we have them in the Southwestern United States, too) but, essentially, no bugs. I saw both a skunk and an opposum but they didn’t bother me. I didn’t even see any mice. Maybe it was the elevations at which I was hiking but I was glad for it. 

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1oopUBHqZybIn8IVBrvTbLYvyWdIx3-CA

 - The Currency: Is good ‘ol US dollars! And the dollar goes a long way down here. A small hotel room near the airport was only $31. A liter of water or soda is about $.50. The bus ride from Quinto to Tulcan was $6. I could easily resupply for 3-4 days on less than $10. I would suggest, however, carrying lots of small bills. If you pull out a $20 bill in a tiny tienda, they are not going to have change for you. Also, they are very fond of the $1 coin which, while convenient, weigh a ton. I always had to remind myself to get rid of all my change before leaving town lest I looked like Kramer going to pay for his calzone. Keep in mind, too, that very few businesses take a credit card down here and ATM’s are only located in bigger cities so you have to plan accordingly. 

- The Scenery. Hiking past (or climbing up!) 20K’ asl volcanoes like Cotopaxi and Chimborazo is an unforgettable experience. Central Ecuador is the start of the Andes mountain chain and amazing views are to be had every day. I just wish the camera on my iPhone could have captured them better. 

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1QPEf8EjeSm7-WdNfy848atibUQoPO7Iw

- Navigation. I used the Map Out app with GPS waypoints (plotted by bikepacker Cass Gilbert) that I found at Bikepacker.com. His trail is actually a combination of two routes: one called the Dirt Road Version and one, the Singletrack Version. The TEMBR Dirt Road is easy follow, runs at lower elevations and has a few more towns along the way. The Singletrack version is occasionally more difficult and runs at higher elevations. The two coincide and diverge often enough that you can pick which one you want to follow every couple days. My hike wound up being a combination of the two. Overall, Ecuador was very easy to navigate. I also carried National Geographic maps (just in case) but only used them for ‘big picture’ planning. 

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1ClfCEJ8WhJQIWIO1Hzoc1_8izcSLXDMx

 - The People. Overwhelmingly very friendly. I wrote about them in a previous blogpost but I was humbled by their generosity and impressed by their work ethic. If only I spoke more Spanish, I could have gotten to know more of them better. 

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1ZjgE0fPGsNDDIOt6W7omdFN0uaSygK8h

The Bad: 

- Dogs. I didn’t think any country could have more stray dogs than Mexico but, Holy Smokes, the streets of Ecuador’s small towns are filled with packs (of up to 10 animals) of barking, pooping, traffic blocking, ownerless dogs. They just have a different view toward pet ownership down here so, if dogs scare you or if the sight of  mangy, badly injured dogs bothers you (or seeing dogs feeding upon one of their own), think twice before hiking in Ecuador. 

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=195eUBvgh3M98cNjiX5K2nwRcHOWpxXvc

- Wind. I think this is true if you’re hiking above 10K’ asl anywhere in the world but sustained, heavy winds can make everything more difficult and much of this hike is above 10K’ asl. Winds strong enough to knock you off your feet. Hats blow off, sunglasses blow off, maps get ripped from your hands and setting up your tent can be very frustrating. Be ready for it. 

 - Camping. This topic could go in either category: the good or the bad. Some  nights I was able to find a peaceful, flat spot with four inches of pine needle duff and a fresh water source nearby. I’d set up my tent without the rain fly so I could see the stars and sleep like a baby. Other nights, I’d find myself walking faster and faster, desperately looking for a spot, through fenced-off farmland that seemed devoid of even a few square feet of flat ground, let alone something that wasn’t obviously private property. As the sun sank, I wondered if I’d ever find somewhere to camp. Sometimes I’d settle for lumpy, uneven ground right by the side of the road or sometimes I’d breakdown and ask a farmer if I could camp on his property (I’d offer a few bucks, of course). At least a few times, I’d pick a spot that I thought was ‘stealthy’ enough only to be ‘discovered’ by the property owner. I’d try to explain who I was and what I was doing in my broken Spanish and they’d let me stay. I was never once told to leave. Figit and Neon of Her Oddesy fame used the (more practical) technique of asking for a ‘room to rent’ in the nearest small town. Their hosts were often very generous but, for me, I prefer to sleep outdoors. 

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1iuAiYazRR8ZhA0ARtDG3oMVgyYvJh8Mq

Want to hike the TEMBR? I think it’s a fantastic trail (one of my top three hikes) that could be done by even a novice hiker. If you are comfortable with international travel, speak a little Spanish and don’t mind camping in some weird places, give it a try! Contact me first; I always love to talk about hiking!
https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=16lY5ZUcZu3zk3AH62bjMBpLXsR7U-31y

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

A Stranger in a Strange Land

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1kS-iIwSjTLG8_UnJ5egIcJkDDQAB1pNT
What follows are my obervations of the Mestizo people in rural Ecuador. They are based on only a few weeks of observations and a little research. Your comments are welcomed. 
The Mestizo make up 72% of the population here. They are a combination of Caucasian European Spanish and the indigenous Amerindians. The vast majority speak Spanish with a small minority of older folks speaking Kichwa. They are generally short in stature (making me feel like a giant) and they have dark brown skin. The men don’t grow much facial hair (which makes my beard a novelty - especially with little kids: they all want to tug on it!). They all have black hair and dark brown eyes.

In the bigger cities, you’ll find a mix of contemporary and traditional dress. But out in the country, there is one, very specific way to dress: Everyone wears the traditional, wool poncho; The men wear darker colors, the women, brighter colors. Both genders wear the fedora style hat (which I think is very cool but I don’t think I could pull it off). Men wear jeans or slacks tucked into calf-high rubber boots. Both genders and pretty much all ages wear the rubber boots. Women wear pants with a dress over the top of them and usually a scarf - they are very modest. Adult men usually either carry a machete or have it attached to their waist.

Many can’t read or write. The average level of education is sixth grade and that’s for the younger people.  That fact really trips me up when I have a whole message typed out in Spanish on my phone explaining who I am, what I’m doing and asking permission to camp; I show it to them but they can’t read it! 

They are far and away very friendly folks. And very curious. If they see my tent, they will almost always come over to check me out - even when I’m camped high on a hillside or way off they road. Sometimes individuals, sometimes the whole family. They slowly approach my tent and either whistle (which I dislike) or call out, “Hola!? Buen dia!”. 

This makes stealth camping exceedingly difficult: Since they are outside working on their land (almost 100% are farmers) all day, every day and because they are so curious, I’ve been ‘discovered’ (but not asked to leave) about a half a dozen times now.  

Recreation for them is as simple as packing up the family and most of the animals (typically a few of each: llamas, pigs, sheep, goats and dogs - the horses and cows stay home) and heading for a local pasture for a picnic lunch. Each animal gets a metal stake in the ground and a ten foot rope. The kids and the dogs run around. The parents spread out big blankets and food. Saturday night is for socializing. Sunday is for church - even if it’s far away. 

I’ve only had a couple of negative interactions with them. One older lady who was certain that I camped in her ‘official’ campsite (I didn’t) demanded $4 from me. Another younger girl wanted a dollar from me because I took a picture of her llama - I think she was kidding but I wasn’t certain. Everyone else just smiles and wishes me ‘Buena suerte!’

What I wonder as I look at these folks in their very simple, very small homes and with their very simple lives is this: Are they any better off than we are?  They aren’t glued to their phones. They aren’t upgrading to a bigger TV. They don’t have cars, bills, bosses, insurance or dentists (apparently). The Mestizos have been living like this for perhaps hundreds of years. Our lives rapidly change with each generation. Who has it better? 

Side note: Their restrooms often have the TP dispenser OUTSIDE the actual bathroom. This forces you to take some before you go in, thus announcing your intentions to everyone in the room. Plus, who knows how much TP you’re going to need? I take a LOT just in case. ;-) 

Monday, August 5, 2019

The Murals and Paintings of Ecuador

This post is a bit of a cop-out, I admit. It requires little to no effort on my part since there is hardly any writing to be done. However, I feel I must post it because some of the artwork I have seen in this country is so fantastic that I would be telling a lie of omission with regards to my adventure if I did not share it. Please enjoy and leave me a comment below. Thank you!

My fave. 
https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=17kkUZn6dZoxpgk-MPX3BRYldLeSHu3co

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1BBZyVUEKJXSHEJC-TBp2_LeC3bXLLntR

The next two are half in/half out of the shade. Sorry. 
https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1YH3kvPkhhCQC-VTCdYzLUvspTzqCyGWd

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1EkIuzyFk-v11R3RbFJHLCSSLqqyajr9O

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1s0mHRwFlj0xqeP3jakeUhQyy8LMAw0P1

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1s9poksK2BAXKtzLaiFrAP8zv4VFvyBlk

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1SHaI626cVp8_J33Lj41-_LMOxg7pN3jc

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1GCGyGoJgP1MC6HdtY4I-Z-f8U9mxKbiH

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1tGYqgjKjkq__q3ninZOf--iMOJy9TZty

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=11jgrAja70c9GiumjWWM6oG8uoQCA4B8c

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1Q2i33vtGwRkgjRGYu9XnUfyjswS8U3HG

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=10v2kthvDGQWGxxpJeI4fTQjakM1xiCmB

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1lZkOYV9J3javFeUPiNNZAoFTFSWf7uA4

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1J_TX-az4-aoqNQsK8qB0QXwmd6r6iM8K

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1O3NXAHGcjOzY4_L2-hSv6rAANmZhL68X

Please leave a comment below!

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1ueQHaRU-t_VM-4xkrLUXRlhwXv6mEIqH

Monday, July 29, 2019

Hiking at Elevation

I’ve been lucky so far in my hiking ‘career’ that I’ve never fallen prey to real altitude sickness but I know of many hikers (most more experienced than I) who have. I mostly associate it with folks driving to high altitudes and feeling the symptoms as soon as they get out of the car. I’ve always suspected that hiking to those same elevations gives my body time to adjust and, thus, avoid any symptoms. 

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=18dwDYzSs3IE9HhWcaw1_f9v-RRMvEJsN

So much of this hike is above 10,000 feet above sea level (10K’asl), that I wondered if it would bother me. So far, only one month in, I’ve been (mostly) okay. I do notice that, at altitudes above 13K’asl, my breathing changes. If I stop breathing to take a long drink of water or yawn, I suddenly feel out of breath. I have to take several, deep, rapid breathes to ‘catch up’. I also notice a little bit of dizziness and some tingling/numbness in my hands. These symptoms resolve as soon as I drop back down a couple thousand feet. 

Another issue with hiking at these altitudes is the wind. I suppose it’s true of hiking anywhere above 10K’asl but the wind can be consistently strong and it gets old after a while. It’s knocked me off my feet several times. You can’t set anything down, even for a second, lest it blows off the side of a mountain. Even routine actions like reading a map or setting up my tent become challenging in high winds. Mix in some dust and sand and you feel like your skin is being media-blasted. This can go on for days at a time.  

My previous altitude ‘record’ was 14,508’asl. That was at the top of Mt. Whitney inCalifornia. It’s the highest point in the contiguous 48 states. 

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1vb9_VW9kvrNkmH9yAavy0ezMPg_HCD_e

During my current hike (Ecuador), I climbed three-quarters of the way up the 20,550’asl volcano Chimborazo for a new PR of 16K’asl. There was camping available up there but I decided that I already know what it’s like to camp with freezing winds so I made my way back down to around 14K’asl and found a spot for the night. 

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1DgYFqOHMQVuVAyQWg25duYysrMfP3SEf
I felt pretty good up there - no symptoms at all. It could have been that I was just so excited to be up there that I didn’t notice or it could be that I hiked up there instead of driving. Either way, I feel like I’ve had my fill of super-high elevations for a while. I wouldn’t mind being a little lower, a little warmer and with a little less wind. 

What’s the highest elevation you’ve ever been to? Leave me a comment below!