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.

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!









Saturday, June 15, 2019

The TEMBR

On June 25th, I'll fly from my home in Detroit, Michigan to Quito, Ecuador. After staying the night there, I'll take a six hour bus ride to the northern terminus of the Trans Ecuador Mountain Bike Route. Here's how it all came about.

I first heard about this trail while following the bikepacking adventures of my dear friends, Neon and Onnamove. They lead me to Cass Gilbert, who helped develop the trail. Along with important intel from Fidgit of Her Odyssey, a plan came together.

Neon and Onnamove hiked with me on the PCT '12
There are actually two versions of the TEMBR, the 'Dirt Road' route and the 'Singletrack' route. They intersect at multiple points along the way and I think my hike will probably be a combination of the two. My gear is in good shape. I'll be carrying my trusty Bandit Quilt from Underground Quilts. I've been in touch with Michael from the famous Nauhal's School and Farm near Quito and I hope to visit them. Travel plans are set. All systems are GO.

I really love this part in the planning process for a big hike when everything seems to be coming together. I constantly remind myself to have a plan and to prepare for contingencies but to be flexible and go with the flow. I also have to be careful to discern between gathering important information from those who have done it before me and not ruining my own experience by knowing full well what to expect on this adventure.

I just came off of a five day stretch out on the Appalachian Trail with my friends from Moosejaw Mountaineering (I've been Loving The Madness since 2011). They went all out with Magic at the trailhead, shuttles to and from the trail, tons of SWAG for the hikers, goofy contests with great prizes (like serious gear from ThermaRest, NeoAir, Eno and Nemo) and beer tokens galore to spend at the Devil's Backbone.

From the Israel National Trail '17.


 I first visited THIS AWESOME PLACE during a SOBO thru of the AT '15. They were so very kind to me back then, it was really fun to return and see how much they've grown. And they were especially accommodating to all the hikers with free camping, bathrooms and hot showers and a $6 hiker breakfast special that filled their bellies. The whole thing was such a positive experience that it filled me with gratitude just to have been a part of it. However, it also left me jonsin' BAD for the Trail. I can't WAIT to get back out there. 



I'm giving myself plenty of time for side trips. I'll be back September 11th. Think I'll make it? Leave me a comment below: