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.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Reflections on the Baja Divide Trail




I broke this topic down into two simple lists: Things I liked about the Baja Divide Trail (BDT) and things I hated about the BDT. ‘Hated’ may be a strong word but it’s accurate.  These were things that really tipped the scale from having an easy, fun hike to a difficult (but rewarding) journey. 

Things I liked about the BDT:

The Coasts. Both the Pacific and the Sea of Cortes offer fantastic hiking. The Pacific Coast features huge, crashing waves and cool breezes. The Sea of Cortes is like the Gulf of Mexico in that the water is warmer and the waves are smaller and there’s always weird but cool stuff swimmin’ around in there. Always something to see.  Both coasts frequently had miles and miles of deserted beach and great camping. 

The People. I found the residents of the Baja to be friendly and fascinating. I met loads of them on this hike but I was often held back from learning more about them by my lack of conversational Spanish. The expatriate community was a different story. Mostly friendly but with a bit of attitude. They can’t wait to tell you how long they’ve lived there and almost every one of them seems to claim to have been the first American to have moved there. 

The Wildlife. I saw many species of birds that I’ve never seen before. Plus seals, whales and dolphin... All matter of flora (none of which I could identify)... All sorts of insects and reptiles.... Coyotes and jack rabbits.... Part of it is just being outdoors 24/7 (I only spent four nights indoors this whole trip). You’re bound to see more wildlife wherever you are just because of increased exposure. 

No Bears. No need to tie your food up at night. Even eat in your tent, if you like. There were still plenty of mice, though, and they can be just as bad!

No Rain. I always try to see the beauty in all kinds of weather but heavy rain really slows me down. A wet pack is heavier and wet feet are more prone to injury. I didn’t see so much as a cloud the last two months of this hike. 

Easy To Hitchhike. I often judge a community by how easy it is to get a hitch into town for resupply. I never had my thumb out for more than a few minutes before someone pulled over. Even when I was road walking part of the trail people would offer me a ride. My favorite hitch was jumping in the back of a pickup truck (which is perfectly legal in Mexico). No need to worry about the language barrier or offending anyone with my horrific body odor. Just make sure your hat doesn’t blow off and enjoy the ride. And they never took the money I offered for gasoline - they were just being kind for the sake of being kind. I love that. 

The Food. The stuff I carried with me on the trail got old pretty quick (plain white rice splahed with hot sauce almost every night) but the food in the towns was pretty awesome. Ceviche, menudo, birria and tacos de pescado, carne, tripitas... even cabeza(!) were all amazing. Sweet fruit sprinkled with spicy chili powder and cold horchata made for tasty treats on hot days. 

Things I hated about the BDT:

The Heat. This may seem obvious but toward the end of the hike, the heat was so severe that I couldn’t even sleep at night. It wouldn’t cool off until about 4am so I would only sleep from 4am to 7am some nights. Makes it really hard to hike 20 to 30 miles a day when you don’t get a good night’s sleep. Plus, my water was always warm (sometimes downright hot!). I would stash a couple of liters deep in my pack early in the morning so that it would stay cool but that didn’t last long and warm water is super unsatisfying - especially when you’re really thirsty. 

The Flies. Luckily, they weren’t biting flies but they were often relentless; constantly trying to get into my eyes, ears and nose. I could wear my bug netting but that made it even hotter. I just had to do my best to get used to them. 

The Unchanging Scenery. The first quarter of the trail did feature some interesting landscapes and different deciduous trees but after that, it was nothing but rolling brown hills and cactus. Every time I saw on the map that the trail turned inland, I knew it was gonna be miles and miles of plain dirt roads running through the desert until I got back to one coast or the other. 

The Language Barrier. This one is my own fault for not learning (and remembering what I had learned years ago) more Spanish before I left. I knew enough to get what I needed but I dreaded that awkward point where someone would ask me a question and I could not answer. Interesting that way more people in Israel spoke English than in this part of Mexico.

Dogs. Lots and lots of stray dogs in Mexico. I used to brag that I didn’t carry a weapon when I hiked because I didn’t need one but I found myself wishing I had some pepper spray with me on several occasions. I experienced packs of threatening dogs with me in the middle fending them off with a two-foot piece of hose that I found on the ground. Not fun. Never got bit but still, not fun. 

The Cactus. I often joke that “every plant down here wants to hurt me!”  While that may be an exaggeration, there are cactus with solid three-inch needles that will poke right through the sole of your shoe and into the arch of your foot. I met two Canadians in a van who were looking for ancient cliff drawings. One poor guy hopped out of the van, took two steps and got stabbed by a cactus. He showed me the bloody flip flop to prove it. He also vowed never to get out of the van again!

The Beer. I’m a beer snob and proud of it. Part of the joy of travel to me is trying all the great beers from the places I visit. The Baja features nothing but mass produced lagers. No ales. No ‘craft beer’. Just loads of bad beer in cans. This aspect of the hike really made me miss Michigan. 

The Deep Sand. This was a problem because of the cart I had to push to carry my water. Every time the trail got sandy, my heart would sink. I knew it was going to be difficult and time consuming to push that cart through the sand. Even when I finally got rid of the cart, hiking in deep sand is no picnic. There were times when I’d trade anything for just a few feet of nice, compact earth. 

The Trash. One American expat that I met down here told me that the main reasons American pack it up and move home are the dogs and the trash. Most of the Baja does not have formal trash pickup. Folks down here just take their garbage to the edge of town and dump it. So, there I am with my gallon-sized ziplock baggie stuffed with empty wrappers and used wet wipes, carefully obeying the Leave No Trace principles when, all around me are mountains of trash!  Even when I finally got to a town and responsibly put my trash in a can, I knew that it was going to be taken right back to that dump on the edge of town. The Baja Peninsula is sparsely enough populated for now but, eventually, they’re going to have to figure something out. 

So, having read this, what do you think? Would you hike this trail? Leave me a comment below and let me know. Thank you!




Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Thank You!





No way I can do crazy hikes like this on my own. A ton of people helped me accomplish my goal of becoming the first to thru-hike the Baja Divide Trail and I am filled with gratitude and joy to have had so many friends and family with me on this hike. 


First of all, I am deeply grateful to my friend and AT ‘15 Trail Angel, ‘Camping Nancy’ Smith. I dedicate this hike to the memory of her son, Steven T Smith. 


Huge thanks, as always, to Tom and Andrew and all my friends at Moosejaw Mountaineering. They have been with me since the early planning stages of this hike and I am grateful for all their help. I hope you’ll visit Moosejaw.com whenever you need gear. 


Big thanks to Paul and Missy McWalters and all my friends at Underground Quilts. They built a very special quilt for me to use on this hike and it was not only super comfy but super durable. Check out their stuff at UGQOutdoor.com


Thanks to George ‘Neon’ and Onna ‘Onnamove’ Voellmer for hiking with me on the PCT ‘12, the CDT ‘14 and for all their help with planning and intel on this hike. They rode this trail (and much more!) on mountain bikes a month or two before I hiked it and they guided and encouraged me the whole way. Check out the blog of this globe-trotting couple at TheRedHeadedNomad.com Love you guys!


I am grateful for my friend (and computer genius) Noam Gal from Tel Aviv, Israel.  He helped me a ton with planning and navigation for this hike. Noam, Orna and Cupcake were also very good to me on my hike of the Israel National Trail in 2017. 


Thanks to all my friends at OBO #133 but especially to Roberta McCoy and Ruth Schenk. 


Huge thanks to the entire Wolverine Lake Crew: Susie Hollyer and Drew Chinarian, Traci Rink and Ron Foon, and especially Marlyss Hollyer for keeping up the website. Check out her handy work at HillierHikes.com


Thanks to my beautiful nieces, Dayna Hillier and Laura Marquez for welcoming me back to California and for getting me to the start of the trail in San Diego. Love you, both!


Thanks to my friends and Trail Angels, Jerry and Becky Patterson of Virginia who welcomed a tired hiker into their home in 2015 and have been good to me ever since. 


Thanks to my friends from the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life, Dustin and Tiffany Newman. We spent many hours walking together to raise money for the fight against cancer and they’ve always been very supportive of my hikes. 


Thanks to my Trail Angels from the CDT ‘14, Keith and Mary Schwarzer who took great care of me then and again on this hike. Because of them, my stop in Loreto was the highlight of this hike. Thanks to both of you!


Thanks to Bob ‘Beaker’ and Chris ‘Dragonfly’ Turner for all their help. I’ve known them since the AT ‘11 and enjoyed every mile we’ve hiked together since. 


Thanks to my friends Jenifer Tislerics and Carol Rogers from the SOLAR Club.

I hope to get together with that bunch again soon and talk some trail. 


Thanks to my dear sisters Pat Vineis and Carol Machak for helping out and following along. And for practically raising me since birth. Guess I should mention that. 


Thanks to all my friends at the Michigan Hiking and Backpacking Facebook group, especially Eric Choi for his help. 


Thanks to my friends POD, Disco, D-Low and PMags at The Trail Show for their encouragement. Listen to their podcast at TheTrailShow.com


Thank you to Nicholas Carman for mapping out this magnificent trail in 2016. I used notes and maps from his website, 

BajaDivide.comextensively to prepare for this hike as well as the Baja Divide Facebook page. The folks in that group were very welcoming and a great resource. 


Thank you to Graham Mackintosh for being a hiking legend on the Baja and inspiring me. Check out his website, GrahamMackintosh.com.


Finally, to my friend since forever, Jeff Weiner and his wonderful family for helping me celebrate the big finish in style. Knowing that Jeff and Lori were waiting for me in Cabo with a cold beer really gave me something to look forward to during those last, long days in the burning desert sun. Thanks, Jeff!
























Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Earl Shaffer Fantasy






In 1948, Earl Shaffer was the first person ever to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. He wrote a fantastic book about it called ‘Walking With Spring’. Since his historic hike, Earl has become a legend among long distance hikers. Hundreds of people hike that trail every year and they all know who Earl Shaffer was. 


In 2013, I was the first to hike both the Ironwood Trail (now called the Ironbelle Trail) and the Great Lake to Lake Trail (both are in Michigan). With a little luck, I’ll be the first to have thru-hiked the Baja Divide Trail here in Mexico. 


The problem is that I will be the first and most probably the ONLY person to have hiked these trails. That leaves the fantasy unfulfilled: Earl Shaffer is only a legend because subsequent hikers remember him. 


The feat is further diminished by the fact that these trails are already changing away from the version that I hiked. The Ironwood Trail, for example, has since been split into two different trails: One for bikes and ATV’s and one for foot-traffic only. The latter is essentially the North Country Trail as it runs through Michigan. Even the name has been changed; When I first hiked it, it was referred to as ‘the Governor’s proposed but as yet unnamed trail’.  After the amazing reception I received upon finishing it, I promised the City of Ironwood that I would forever refer to it as the Ironwood Trail. Months later, Michigan’s DNR had a naming contest and the winner was the ‘Ironbelle Trail’.


As far as the Baja Divide Trail is concerned, I’m pretty sure that, in it’s current configuration, no one else is going to want to hike it. If I reported back to the long distance hiking community that this trail was fairly easy and lots of fun, some may try it. But I have to be honest when I say that it was difficult (yet rewarding) and had lots of highlights but wasn’t exactly fun. It was intended to be a mountain bike trail and many have reported that as such, it’s both challenging and fun to ride. Not so much doing it on foot. 


In the end, I guess I should just be thankful that I am able to get out and hike these trails. I should be less concerned with ‘who did it first’ and just enjoy it. I freely admit that it’s incredibly narcissistic to wonder if I’ll ever be remembered as having hiked these trails first. Maybe I should do as Thoreau suggested and “Be mindful of each step.”


It is just walking, after all, and I suspect I’m not the first person to have done that. 


Got a thought or a comment? I’d love to see it posted below. In the meantime, mo’ pics!



This might be me if I don’t get out of this desert soon. 



I was able to get >1000 miles out of these shoes by switching to crocs when the trail was easy. 



These guys work at (what I call) The Water Store. Almost every town has one and for just a few pesos you can get plenty of clean, cool, purified water. 



Possibly my new avatar or Facebook pic. 



The beach north of La Paz. 



Feelin’ that cool breeze. 


And, of course, the obligatory sunset shot:










Friday, May 4, 2018

The BDT: Loreto




First things first: A sincere ‘Thank you!’ to everyone who clicked on that ‘donate’ button. The amazing outpouring of generosity was really heartfelt and now I should have plenty of funds to get me to the end of this crazy hike. My heart is full of gratitude and my spirits are soaring!

I’m also fresh off a great zero day with my dear friends Keith and Mary in Loreto. They were very kind to me and sent me back to the trail with a belly full of good food, clean clothes and a well-rested body. They blessed me with a head full of memories that will last a lifetime. 

I can’t tell if I liked Loreto so much because it really was the coolest town that I’ve visited yet on this hike or if it’s because Keith and Mary took such good care of me. 

Loreto sits on the Sea of Cortés and has a population of about 18,000 people (including many Americans). It’s actually 20 miles off the trail but it’s an easy hitch and the city has everything a thru-hiker needs including a well-stocked grocery store, several coffee shops with WiFi and some cheap motels.

The waterfront is fantastic. It goes on for miles and miles and features loads of ‘palapa’ which are little grass huts that you can use to get out of the sun. There’s a thriving town square with shops and restaurants and a good mix of locals and tourists. 

I would have liked to have stayed longer in Loreto but I’m excited to get back to the trail and see what new adventures await me!

In the meantime, mo’ pics!


Best food, so far, on this whole hike. Keith raves about this place and now I know why. 


What would you order at El Rey? Leave your answer in the comments below!


I can smell this picture. 



The town square was busy including these kids practicing for a formal dance. 


Miles of empty beaches and the Sierra de la Giganta mountains in the background. 


Loreto has a really nice marina and some beautiful (but expensive) hotels along the waterfront. 


Huge thanks to Keith and Mary for such a wonderful visit!








Friday, April 27, 2018

The BDT: The Home Stretch


Blood? Check. Sweat? Check. Tears? Check. 

I’m giving everything I’ve got to complete this trail and I’m getting close:  I can almost see the finish line but I need a little help to get there. If you’re feeling generous and you want to see me finish this insane journey, please click on that ‘Donate’ button. Note: If you’re reading this on your phone, please scroll down to the botttom of the page and click on ‘View Web Version’. The yellow donate button will be on the upper right. Thank you!

And now, more pics from the trail!

(The pic above, BTW, was just a superficial scratch I received from not being careful around cactus. It barely hurt and healed quickly.)



Made it to Mulegé. Very cool little town. 



The locals seem fascinated by my cart. 



I include this picture because that’s what most of this part of the trail is: rolling brown hills and cactus. Lots and lots of cactus. 



Typical hot sauces available at a Mexican restaurant. See your favorite? Message me below. 



I love when vultures do this. So dramatic!



South end of the Bahia de Conception. Really beautiful beaches. 



Call me gringo, guero or chico blanco. Just don’t call me late for dinner!



Camping on this trail has been a joy. Most every night is dry and quiet with temps in the 50’s. Occasionally, I get stuck having to listen to loud trucks or barking dogs but most often, it’s just the sound of the wind and a few crickets. It’s usually very easy to find a private, flat, sandy spot. Pretty much wherever I am at around 6pm, I just walk 50 yards off the trail and I can find a great campsite. 




And the obligatory sunset shot. 










Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The BDT: Bird Nerd Edition

Warning: Unless you’re a total bird nerd like me, do not read this post. If you have to click away from this page to look up the word ‘ornithology’, then you should just stay away. If you’re not fascinated that a woodpecker’s feet are zygodactyl while a sparrow’s feet are anisodactyal then get out of here while you still can! I said beat it, hipster!

Anyone left? Didn’t think so. Ahhhh.... Time for some totally self indulgent writing about the birds I’ve seen so far during my hike of the 
Baja California peninsula. Ima do this as a ‘top ten’ list: 

10. Gila Woodpecker

These guys are loud and fun. They have a classic pattern to their flight that makes them easy to spot. 

9. Roadrunner

The cartoon roadrunner looks kinda like an osterich but really, they look, sound and act like a skinny chicken. They are very fast and very fun to watch. 

8. Pacific Loon

When I first saw one of these on the ocean, I thought it looked like a loon but I didn’t think they liked salt water. Then I heard that familiar call and I thought I was back in Maine!

7. California Quail

These things are everywhere and when a flock of fifty or more takes off, it sounds like thunder in the distance. 


6. Burrowing Owl

I love all the strigidae family but these little guys are especially cool. They have bright white eyebrows and unusually long legs. 


5. Turkey Vulture

It’s not their fault that they have weak feet! Otherwise, they’d be killing live prey like other raptors. Instead, they circle endlessly, looking for something dead to feast on. Tell this one at your next cocktail party: What did the flight attendant say to the vulture with two dead rabbits under his wing? “I’m sorry, sir. Only one carrion allowed.” Ha! See what I did there? I kill me...


4. Humming Bird

Ima let you down here (who am I kidding? no one is reading this!) when I say that I couldn’t really identify the different species of humming birds that I’ve seen. I looked at several lists of the species that are down here but they all seem to be in some kind of ‘winter phase’ where their plumage is darker and much plainer than usual. 

3. Prairie Falcon

One of the few species (other than humming birds) that can truly hover. If I spot one of these, I’m stopping until he is far out of sight. It’s like I can’t NOT watch. 

2. Brown Pelican

One of my new faves. They are so graceful, gliding just inches above the waves. When they spot a fish, the fold their wings in and dive bomb hard into the water at breakneck speeds. And that plumage.... I could go on forever about these birds. 


1. Harris’ Hawk

One of the only species of raptor to hunt in groups. I often see three or four of them, each perched at the top of a cardon cactus, scanning the desert floor for movement. Really beautiful, really aggressive...


If you’re still reading this, you should be embarrassed. And, if you dare leave a comment below, Ima call you out as a NERD!



Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The BDT: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly


A clean Wolverine


If I had summarize my experience on this trail thus far, I could break it down into three parts. 

 The good part is anytime the trail goes to or along the coast. Both the Pacific Ocean (to the west) and the Sea of Cortez (to the east) have their own special kind of beauty and this trail bounces back and forth between both of them. I LOVE hiking by the ocean. There is always something to see (like the grey whale I saw coming up for air) and there’s usually a cool breeze coming in off the water. And camping by the ocean is the best; I always sleep well to the sound of crashing waves. Also, the coasts are where most of the people are. Sometimes just sleepy little fishing villages, sometimes bigger cities. I’ve met loads of really cool people here in Mexico and I’ve become enamoured of the culture. 


I love hiking along the coast.


The bad part is pretty much anytime the trail heads inland. I know right away that it’s going to be substantially hotter and that I’m going to need more water. The scenery is going to become, for the most part, monotonous rolling brown hills and cactus. Lots of cactus. There will be no people, there will be no water. These are tough stretches. I find myself staring at the map, longing for the trail to take me back to the coast. 


Heading inland means nothing but cactus and rolling brown hills. 


The ugly part of this trail is that damn cart. True, it does what it’s supposed to do: Carry tons of water and some gear. But the worst is when the trail turns to deep, loose sand; That’s when it’s really ugly. Pushing that cart through the sand, especially with a full load of water, is exceedingly difficult. It slows me way down and it takes a ton of energy. Sometimes the sandy stretches can last for miles - I have no choice but to literally push through. I swear, when I get home, I’m never using a cart again. I’m never using a wheelbarrow. I’m never so much as pushing a shopping cart down an aisle! I’m done with carts. 


And I’m absolutely NEVER hiking with a cart again!


I’m really only halfway done with this trail so stay tuned to see if the second half gets any better or worse. And please leave a comment below!