Wolverine Hikes South America

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. I'm heading for Ecuador to attempt to hike the TEMBR.

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.

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!

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Lots-O-Pics

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1x3AwbxU4LBcvzdb43pRi1i6RThU3DA_T

But first, a couple of shout-outs:

- To Tom and all my friends at Moosejaw Mountaineering. I buy all my gear at Moosejaw.com and you should, too!

- To Paul, Missy and the crew at Underground Quilts. Check out their stuff at UGQoutdoor.com

- To Kelly O’Brien at Obriensales.com

Now, as promised, pics with stupid captions!


https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1CAK2xqv0KCPXrRRwAAMWqrcqOO4uJ28H
This majestic cow. 

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1eV-jQryYxm5CbPzwPxgPsW01ErcB5iZN
This spider bite.

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1PbigdBnKLQ6s4dl3QTdyDHIG4AUA6wFu
This almost perfect shot of Cotopaxi. That volcano is constantly surrounded by clouds.  

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1-Ojlk95Y5jW2k1JnIp_8WxftMc1e0_hV
A poor hummingbird with a broken wing. 




https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1zY1X68EAXXGV6yrvJFDiA3fcRalo79Bw
This warning not to dump trash. 

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1rQY5z2x-_XFcDvCdipqwAsjSmYtRknLt
This furry burro. 

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=11blRjx501MI_arjmLdMYqi1x_RjjtzpV
How to dress for a sandstorm in Ecuador.

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1QEag_NbC058UMan_h6ef4jp7yZi63Igc
This entire hillside on fire. 

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1savRmdoZ2RwH2O1fuCzaoG4e0WpSugTC
This butterfly. 

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=16vSdTX4qAwyb0pObhTt1IdLyru85Laew
“Well I’m standing next to a mountain
I chop it down with the edge of my hand.”  - Jimi Hendrix

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=13c1LkKMXrrb5be8V4Xf_FR7KSQaOnEgn
Looking out over Laguna de Quilotoa.

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1qQXVgO-2px3vDPYlkL989_jC_eZjYsGx
The perfect campsite. 

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1fLS87pdP3OjSjWDEYXgrYOeRlQFvKzzX
My new friend. 

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1LdOF-x_Uu4cigDOc8BgvhCosu0rjzoV9
My new friend (and her skinny dog) leaving. 

And now, I must leave, too. Wanna know what you can leave? A comment below. Thank you!







Saturday, July 13, 2019

The People I Meet in Ecuador

Not even a month into my hike of the Trans Ecuador Mountain Bike Route (the TEMBR) and already, I’ve met some pretty memorable characters. 

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1vTbdnIW8PaGUwOIHW301qEeRf-svoFkx

Gotta start with the Dammer brothers (Michael, Mathius and Thomas) and their families. They have just been so charming and generous that I will forever associate them with this hike. They have all worked very hard to create a bucolic slice of heaven right here on earth. Picture acres of green pastures filled with cows, pigs, sheep and alpacas and buildings made from local stone and wood. Laughing children running around in homemade clothes, classrooms filled with books and art work and happy workers that smile and wave. I am fortunate to have visited twice so far

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1CchCPOHq1rolf4GQRcWTxgDvTjuQZjNi
Then there was this family. 
https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1ss79oAD9MarJ36AmRVDkpgZ7gRfSp2JX

They caught me trespassing on their farm but, instead of calling the police, they invite me in for breakfast! Turns out, Karina (pictured above) is a cousin of the Dammers. They gave me some great advice about what else to see in Ecuador and even gave me a hunk of dried, smoked pork to take with me (it was delicious!). 

I can’t forget this guy.
https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1tuI0rZ_OI6TBztombUElVJM_gECjv4-k

I hiked into the tiny town of San Isidro early on a Sunday morning. Everything was closed but Fernando was just opening his tiny tienda. I’m afraid I came across as desperate when I said, “Nessicito cafe!” to him. He didn’t have any coffee to sell but instead, he insisted that I come in and join him and his wife for hot coffee (he served it black with tons of sugar in a small metal cup) and fresh baked bread. The conversation was lacking because of my poor Spanish but I was extremely grateful and I hope I conveyed that. 

Watch out for this guy.
https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1ZpfesKAMJEwYPO1nTgEWWTLEj6Nr15t0

I met Jose and his buddies just outside of Guayllabamba. He insisted that I have a pull or two of what they called ‘puntos’. 
https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1nZOpIDxpy1dp5EiTpFKRkPeSPNPnRJ0W
It was some kind of fermented fruit juice that really packed a punch. They all laughed as I winced after each sip. I thanked them for their generosity and kept on hiking. 

Then there was this group of crazy Americans.
https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1kgb8a8svPYQem72kWLwrtp5F57YUE-U3

They are doing some horseback riding down here and they were very kind to a hungry Wolverine. It was good for my soul to sit with people from back home. We swapped stories and enjoyed a big picnic lunch. Very nice folks. 

I don’t know why I’m lucky (blessed?) enough to meet the people that I do. Maybe they’re curious about the conspicuous American with a giant backpack? I simply smile and say, “Hola! Buen dia!” to everyone I meet. Almost all respond. Some are very kind just for he sake of being kind! I think the world could use more of that. 

Hiking in Ecuador - The First Week

The flight(s) from Detroit to Quito, Ecuador took forever. I got zero sleep the night before I left so I mostly stumbled through the airports like a zombie. I didn’t arrive in Quito until very late at night. Fortunately, the hotel I was to stay at had someone waiting to give me a ride. 

It’s ‘i-e-r’ but that’s okay. I’m just glad for the ride!
https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1os-oMcbFUEuEZco9rog6oue2KcmDTYRG

I slept solid for a few hours but I was anxious to get up and get going on my adventure. While I enjoyed a simple breakfast at the hotel, the clouds slowly cleared to reveal tall mountains all around me. This is, after all, the beginning of the massive Andes mountain chain that stretches clear down to Cape Horn at the southern tip of South America. 

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=19NXu4Jrthxe70gInT6ZlIQtkJ9bDQ2TZ

I took a short cab ride to the Nahual Farm and School just outside the city. This fantastic place teaches organic and sustainable farming techniques to people from all over the world. It’s run by the Dammer brothers and has a reputation for being friendly to bikepackers. I’d have to see how they felt about hikers. 

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1gdGd_o5F3I3yzv6GwVQBdtI23sEQ81xI

I was greeted warmly by Michael Dammer and given a tour of the farm. What an amazing place!

One of the classrooms at the Nahual School:
https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1iJNvzht-Tnhe5e3BW2CBmetWz3lH43IS

Michael speaks perfect English (and Spanish and some French) and he let me stay the night in a very comfortable loft in exchange for completing some simple chores (work-for-stay). I used my free time to gather some last minute things (canister fuel, batteries, etc... ) from town. 

Work-for-stay means turning this:
https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1XRpKQHER-TVww98x98PEwbElKs4lZ2LA

Into this:
https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=10SSUhiksYxrfWBn-3b4PYotJf9T5gnxw

I set off early the next morning for Tulcan,near the border with Columbia. That trip took about six hours and a couple of different buses. Even with Michael’s help, navigating a busy bus system when you don’t speak the language can be tricky. Somehow, it all worked out and I made it to Tulcan. Since I didn’t get there until later in the day, I was anxious to get out of town and find a place to camp. 

I made it to Tulcan!
https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1NkCmg0XxJDYGDiNh2ijhDkXmaPkYtWgG

The route out of town seemed to climb relentlessly. I was soon up over 10,000 feet of elevation and I was feeling it! Exhausted but thrilled to have even made it to the start of the hike, I found a quiet spot to camp and crashed. Hard. 

Finally home:
https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1suEQNSWRmocNhdDY2FPZ18jeyEiKAdWE

Between all the travel and excitement of the last few days and the fact that I sleep best in my tent far away from towns and people, I slept solid for ten hours straight. I woke to a light rain but giggling with joy to be back where I belong: On the trail. 

In my element:
https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1hOh0kiwPHW5VSpScp4_tfEIHeM8GNVQM

The next few days were just what I had hoped for: Beautiful mountains and rolling,  green farms, charming people and a trail that was mostly old dirt roads and two-tracks. It was easy to follow (thanks to the GPS tracks laid out by bike packer Cass Gilbert) and stunningly beautiful. 

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1i_CFvt-hAqqHfJD7DIRxt8VYCv_sRrjZ

I stopped at little towns like El Angel and San Isidro to get a cup of coffee or to buy more rice and hot sauce (the staples of my diet so far). I met some really cool people but my lack of Spanish kept me from really getting to know them. 

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1TZuL729D6Fqg078xAt1KgBBxfvkzngBJ

My new friend Fernando:
https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1F5rRNFlfkwl1ht5yaQfsWhB_AmTf_VKa

Every little town has a church:
https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1BrGeCsgPsMZ5EG8fvRnh8q9IOaRIYodD

The St. Peter’s Parade in El Angel:
https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=10wZJ7GbhKXWiYZJFeSurO7y62OlVkT-d

Quiet streets on a Sunday morning:
https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1k2XhZqMmXI0qOIfpKDjf0gJFWOgA5Wd1

Typical breakfast in Ecuador:
https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1euyqxohzcLvQ3P1AhSK2KhzZVkUk4pqr

Lots of statues and murals depicting Jesus as a creepy farmer:
https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=16yh_bgqpty9N8Rm7Uo0CgXfW4d3v9ZEP

Giant hog ready for slaughter (trekking poles against the wall for scale):
https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1E6-YYfCgwKYKvDPksaB4K5GhixspKtiB

Bigger towns like Cotacachi are cool, too, as they offer more choices for food and drink. I find I’m also more likely to meet people who speak English in these towns - there are a surprising amount of American ex-patriots down here. 

Sunday open market:
https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1tS4FCB4553r-qZ-IvXUiuZyvnXyj8a8F

My goal, for now, is to make it back to the Nahual Farm. There, I have clean clothes and a new pair of hiking shoes waiting for me. It probably wouldn’t hurt to take a shower as the layers of sunscreen, DEET, dirt and sweat hide my actual skin. 

I stink:
https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1oa6uz1ytYZgoQOcNIpARGApwJuEtx7m7

After that, I’ll just keep hiking south until Ihit Peru or until I have to fly home (September 10th), whichever comes first!

Got a comment or a question about hiking in Ecuador? Click below and start typing!