He's back at it!

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. My next goal is to be the first person ever to hike the Baja Divide Trail.

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 this endeavor.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

My Three Favorite Pieces of Gear

Lots of hikers have written about the ‘big three’: Backpack, tent and sleeping bag (I’m currently carrying this tentthis pack, and this quilt instead of a sleeping bag). Those  items are certainly important but, for me, they change from hike to hike depending on where and how far I’m hiking.  I want to tell you about three pieces of gear that not everyone uses but I’ve carried them with me on every hike I’ve ever done. 

First is my handy piece of Tyvek. 

I use it mostly as a ground cloth - especially if I’m ‘cowboy camping’ (that is, sleeping under the stars with no tent) but it’s super versatile. During heavy snow, I’m more likely to put it over my tent rather than under. Or even, between the tent and the rain fly for extra protection and warmth. During my thru-hike of the PCT in ‘12, my sister sewed a huge piece of Tyvek into kind of a pocket. Perfect as a makeshift bivvy.  The piece I have now is about 8’X 4’ and it has about 2,500 miles on it. Super durable.  

Next, is my Thermarest Z-Lite pad. 

I’ve been through about three or four of these over the years. Not that they’re not durable but it gets used a lot - I sleep on one every single night. I sit on it when the ground is wet or I even use it like a picnic blanket to stop and cook up a meal. When it’s really cold, I combine it with an inflatable mattress to keep me warm at night. 

Finally, I always bring bug netting.

Bug, sun and bullet proof!

Especially handy when the black flies and mosquitoes are swarming, I use this even if the gnats are getting in my eyes. Or on the Appalachian Trail, early in the morning when your face is breaking every spider web strung across the trail. Or even in the winter when the blowing snow is stinging your face and getting in your eyes. Put on your bug net for temporary relief.  

So, what say you? What do you bring that other hikers might not? Leave me a comment below!

Friday, March 16, 2018

The BDT: Deep Sand!

“Piscado por tacos!” he exclaimed. 

Damn. This sand is so deep I can barely push this stupid cart through it (I knew I should have sprung for the 3” tire). The sun is dropping like a rock and there is absolutely no where to camp. People who have hiked with me know that I’m willing to stealth camp in some pretty risky places but this whole area is just flat with no trees and just enough fences and houses to make even the stealthiest camping impossible. I’m so tired. Sweat is pouring off my face and stinging my eyes. I keep pushing the cart through the deep sand. Still no where to camp...

But suddenly, I spy a little used trail that heads down to the water. I find the quiet shoreline to a bay off the Pacific. Nice and flat. No one around. Small waves gently lapping at the shoreline and perhaps a dozen species of shore birds. Perfect! Sometimes, I just get lucky. 

I spent a peaceful evening on the shore of the Bay of San Quitin and even met some local fishermen the next morning (as in the picture above). 

Since that night on the bay, the trail took me inland. WAY inland. A long (116 miles) of nothing: No roads, no other people, no water...  Just me and my cart and a rough Jeep track. I was OUT THERE like I’ve never been ‘out there’ before. I’ve got lots to write but I need to get it all sorted out in my head. Until then, more pics from the trail!

That was a baby nurse shark above. Think about that next time you get a ‘fish taco’ from a roadside stand. You could be eating a baby nurse shark. It’s okay with me, of course. 

Can’t help taking pictures of sunrises (as above) and sunsets. Each one seems to be more spectacular than the last!

With the recent rains, the desert seems like it’s just about ready to burst into bloom. 

I’ve named my cart ‘El Fuego’ because I hate this thing with the burning heat of a thousand suns. It’s all the problems of a mountain bike without the speed! A necessary evil, I guess. 

Fishing troller on the coast. 

Sunset on the Pacific. 

Most pics and posts coming soon. In the meantime, leave me a comment!

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Baja Divide Trail: Pinned Down By Rain and Snow!

Despite the security warnings (and the concerns of friends and family), I made it out of Tecate with no trouble. In fact, I found Tecate to be a very friendly town with lots to see and do. All the same, I was eager to make big miles and get as far south of town as possible. 

By about 2pm, I found myself safely in the middle of nowhere and really enjoying the trail. By 4pm, I started to keep an eye out for a good place to camp. For both security reasons and out of habit, I wanted to be far enough off the trail so as not to be seen. This was easier said than done because of that stupid cart; I had to ‘park’ it on the trail while I went cross country looking for a spot. Then, I had to come back for the cart and push it through the thick scrub to get back to the spot. Bike riders, I suspect, deal with this all the time. 

I finally found a great spot to camp, enjoyed a good meal and another beautiful sunset but soon the temp started to drop and it got pretty cold. I slept under my quilt that night with every stitch of clothing that I brought with me. Then came the rain...

Only my sixth day on the trail and I found myself pinned down by wave after wave of heavy rain, sleet and snow. I had plenty of food and water so I just sat tight and let it pass. It turned out to be a good decision. 

The next couple of days I put in some big miles to make it to Ojos Negros.

It’s a cool little town with a campground, a decent store for resupply and several restaurants where you can get an authentic Mexican breakfast. 

That’s a bowl full of shredded lamb with gravy, beans, tortillas and coffee. Fantastic!

Next was a quick stop into Santo Thomas to load up the 24 liters of water (that’s almost 53 pounds of water!) that I would need to get me to Colonet. 

It was a steep climb out of Santo Thomas but I was rewarded with a beautiful view of the town from above. 

After a couple of days of dusty dirt roads, I finally made to the beautiful and rugged coast of the Pacific Ocean. 

Found a great place to camp with my own private beach. 

Enjoyed an amazing sunset and a good night’s sleep. 

I’ll post more soon but, for now, I’d love to see some comments below!

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The First Few Days on the Baja Divide Trail

“WAIT!” I exclaimed, loud enough to cause everyone in that part of O’Hare Aiport in Chicago to stop and stare at me. I had sprinted for what felt like the length of the entire airport, knocking over old ladies and hurdling small children the whole way. I did NOT want to miss my connection to Los Angeles. As I approached the employee at the gate, sucking for air like a marathon finisher, he asked me (with subtle confidence), “Just fly in from the East coast?” It hit me like a ton of bricks: My new phone didn’t update for the new time zone; I still had an hour before my flight took off. Embarrassed, I sneaked off to a corner to hide my shame.

Aside from my airport freak-out, my travel to LA went smoothly. My niece Dayna and her girlfriend, Laura, got me to the trailhead (which is the San Diego Airport, oddly enough) as they did for me on the PCT in ‘12 (love those girls!).

 I admit that I was filled with apprehension the first morning (you can ask Manuela). There were way many more unknowns about this hike than anything I had ever done before. And, since no one has hiked it before, I had no one to ask. My dear friends Neon and Onnamove had just done the trail on bikes and gave me lots of good intel but there were still plenty of variables. First and foremost was this stupid ‘haul my water with a cart’ idea. What was I thinking?

I started off from my motel room a little shaky; I had to stop and re-pack the cart several times before I got it properly balanced. Then I had to endure the many strange looks I got from people as I walked to the airport. One guy even took a picture of me! But once I got going, I was blown away by the beauty of San Diego and the bay. The trail takes you all along the waterfront and it’s pretty cool. I wished I had time to check out some of those cool things but I needed to get as far out of the city as possible to find a place to camp. 

Eventually, after walking through a million neighborhoods and fighting with a lady about why her two rabid dogs should be on leashes, I found the perfect spot: Just off the main road and under some power lines, there was a nice flat spot with enough trees and bushes to keep me out of sight - IF I was careful. 

My first night in my new tent was a pleasure. That thing is a marvel of engineering! And with my new quilt to keep me warm, I slept like a rock. It felt so good to be back on the trail!

Day two was filled with more neighborhoods, a stop at Lowe’s to tweak my cart set up and a steep climb halfway up Mt Otay. 

And Dear Border Patrol: Can you please get your helicopter’s spotlight off my tent? I’m trying to get OUT of the US, not IN. Just kidding, I know they’re just doing their job.

Finally, I made it to the border with Mexico. I had my passport ready and I needed to buy a ‘tourist visa’ that would allow me to stay on Mexico for up to six months. Sadly, there was NO ONE at the border crossing. Not a soul. Just walked right in. The plan now is to re-supply, hydrate and get out of here as early in the morning as possible. The Baja Divide website issued a security update that recommends getting as far south of town as possible before camping. 

Wanna see if I survive the next 77 miles with only the water I can carry? Then click on ‘follow’. Lots more pictures and stories to come!

I need to give a quick shout out to Tom and Andrew at Moosejaw, Paul and Missy at Underground Quilts, all my friends at OBO #133 and the good folks at Lombardi’s. Thanks, everyone!

Now, leave me a comment!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Underground Quilts

What a sincere pleasure it was to spend the day at UGQ Outdoor (aka Underground Quilts) as a guest of the owners, Paul and Missy McWalters. 

I just want to say, sooner rather than later in this post, that UGQ is an outstanding example of a successful, Michigan-based company. I am absolutely thrilled to be working with them. 

I reached out to them through the Michigan Hiking and Backpacking Facebook page (The MHB was started in 2013 by myself and Jeff Kindy and now boasts more than six thousand members). I wanted UGQ to build a special piece of gear for my upcoming hike of the Baja Divide Trail. They said they could help. 

I wanted to try a lightweight quilt on this hike instead of my trusted Marmot Helium sleeping bag (weighs in at 2 lbs, 4 oz and reeks like feet and butt). I needed this quilt to be sturdy enough to handle four months straight of Mexican desert, beach and mountain. We talked about sizes, materials and fill, constantly comparing weight vs durability. I could tell straight away: These guys knew what they were doing. 

Paul and Missy graciously invited my trusted friend Sandy Lowe and me to visit their facility in beautiful Jackson, Michigan. The plan was not only to see how my top quilt was being made but to actually participate in making it! 

After a short drive, Sandy and I were welcomed by the owners and their small yet amazingly efficient crew (Aaron, Chad and Alyssa). A tour of the facility revealed a well-considered business plan incorporating a smooth manufacturing process with room for reception, customer service and shipping/receiving. And a little space for the dogs!

Paul and I reviewed the specs and the process began: Carefully assembling a quilt with painstaking attention to detail. From measuring, cutting, sewing, filling, more sewing and finishing, I tried to ‘get in where I could fit in’.  They were very patient with a novice as I was nervous about screwing up!

What we came up with was a thing of beauty. Easily comfortable in temps down to 50 degs, tough as nails and weighing in at a mere 17.8 ozs. We (I helped!) built a Bandit model top quilt with a Membrane 10 inner, a 1 oz HyperD ripstop nylon outer and 850 fill down. Trust me, these guys can make anything: Any fabric, any color (even prints and pics!), any fill, and even any modification (draft collar, foot box, drawstrings and snaps, storage sacks, etc...).

After lunch, Paul and I had some interesting conversations about hammock hiking. He’s a firm believer and an amazing hiker in his own right. He’s been out (and comfortable) in temps way colder than anything I’ve ever experienced. But once he explained the difference between convection and conduction, it all became crystal clear...

I’m thinking about attempting the Bruce Trail up in Canada next winter. Plenty of trees. Maybe use a hammock? I’d have to consult my bro Mudsocks...

Thank you so much to Paul and Missy McWalters for inviting me to UGQ and helping me with this hike. Meeting them and getting to see my quilt being made and getting to help (even a little bit) was a very positive experience. 

Can I please get a shout out for a great Michigan company? Leave a comment below!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Moosejaw and Mexico

I am on cloud nine right now. I thought about holding off writing this post until the excitement subdued but I don't think it ever will.

I just left from Moosejaw Mountaineering's HQ in Madison Heights, Michigan.  My friends there are as excited for my upcoming hike of the Baja Divide Trail as I am. I have their full support for this endeavor and I am beside myself with the pride of partnering with a great Michigan company like Moosejaw.

My relationship with Moosejaw Mountaineering began in 2011 when I returned home from my first thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. A friend of mine took me to the Birmingham, Michigan store and introduced me around. That night, I bought a Granite Gear pack and I met a ton of cool people. I was impressed that the staff there had actually used much of the gear they sold. The folks who work in the stores, at the warehouse and in the offices of their Madison Heights headquarters helped me plan for my thru-hike of the PCT in 2012 and every hike since then. They even turned me on to the Shore to Shore Trail.  Good people, all of them.

I've worked with them on projects like this in the past and they have always come through for me when I needed them. Thank you, Moosejaw, for times like these:

Early on the PCT in 2012

In the Goat Rocks of Washington

Finishing my second time through the AT

Finishing the Israel National Trail

Gotta give a shout-out to Underground Quilts. They are another great Michigan based company that I'm working with on a super light (22oz!) quilt to use on this hike. Really excited to see what they come up with.

In the meantime, gotta stay focused on the goal: Being the first person to conquer the Baja Divide Trail on foot.

The Baja Divide Trail starts in San Diego and finishes in Cabo San Lucas
Got a comment or wanna wish me luck? Please leave a comment below.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Hiking Talks

I've got a couple of speaking engagements coming up that I'm really excited about.

The first is on Thursday, August 31st at 6:30pm at the Berkley Public Library. You have to register online here. I have presented here before at the invitation of Matt Church and had a really good experience.

(Photo by Gary Zaborowski)

Next is at the SOLAR Club on Tuesday, September 26th in Livonia, MI. They are a bunch of very  cool people. I have great relationships there with Jennifer Tislerics and Jeff McWilliams. C'mon out to their monthly meeting to learn more about the club and listen to me blather on about hiking in Israel.

I'm also happy to be working with the guys at Shvilist.comin helping to encourage Americans who are interested in hiking the Israel National Trail.