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.

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!