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.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Hiking in Ecuador: The Good and the Bad

I covered about 800 miles over eight weeks  hiking the Trans Ecuador Mountain Bike Route (the TEMBR). I started in Tulcan in the north (near the border with Columbia) and hiked to Vilcabamba in the south (near the border with Peru). These were my impressions:


The Good:

- The weather. Ecuador stays about the same temperature year-round and, in the mountains of central Ecuador, it’s perfect for hiking and camping. I had a few chilly mornings (in the 30’s) way up in the mountains and a few sweaty afternoons at lower elevations but mostly, temps were in the 60’s and 70’s. I planned this hike for June through September because I had read that this was the ‘dry season’ but I found that it rained at least as often as it seems to in the States. Sometimes for three or four days in a row. You’ll need a waterproof shell and lots of ziplock baggies if you want to be comfortable hiking in Ecuador. 


 - No bears, no bugs. Honestly, not even ants!  I got a few bites from tiny black flies at lower elevations and I saw a few Tarantula Hawk wasps (we have them in the Southwestern United States, too) but, essentially, no bugs. I saw both a skunk and an opposum but they didn’t bother me. I didn’t even see any mice. Maybe it was the elevations at which I was hiking but I was glad for it. 


 - The Currency: Is good ‘ol US dollars! And the dollar goes a long way down here. A small hotel room near the airport was only $31. A liter of water or soda is about $.50. The bus ride from Quinto to Tulcan was $6. I could easily resupply for 3-4 days on less than $10. I would suggest, however, carrying lots of small bills. If you pull out a $20 bill in a tiny tienda, they are not going to have change for you. Also, they are very fond of the $1 coin which, while convenient, weigh a ton. I always had to remind myself to get rid of all my change before leaving town lest I looked like Kramer going to pay for his calzone. Keep in mind, too, that very few businesses take a credit card down here and ATM’s are only located in bigger cities so you have to plan accordingly. 

- The Scenery. Hiking past (or climbing up!) 20K’ asl volcanoes like Cotopaxi and Chimborazo is an unforgettable experience. Central Ecuador is the start of the Andes mountain chain and amazing views are to be had every day. I just wish the camera on my iPhone could have captured them better. 


- Navigation. I used the Map Out app with GPS waypoints (plotted by bikepacker Cass Gilbert) that I found at Bikepacker.com. His trail is actually a combination of two routes: one called the Dirt Road Version and one, the Singletrack Version. The TEMBR Dirt Road is easy follow, runs at lower elevations and has a few more towns along the way. The Singletrack version is occasionally more difficult and runs at higher elevations. The two coincide and diverge often enough that you can pick which one you want to follow every couple days. My hike wound up being a combination of the two. Overall, Ecuador was very easy to navigate. I also carried National Geographic maps (just in case) but only used them for ‘big picture’ planning. 


 - The People. Overwhelmingly very friendly. I wrote about them in a previous blogpost but I was humbled by their generosity and impressed by their work ethic. If only I spoke more Spanish, I could have gotten to know more of them better. 


The Bad: 

- Dogs. I didn’t think any country could have more stray dogs than Mexico but, Holy Smokes, the streets of Ecuador’s small towns are filled with packs (of up to 10 animals) of barking, pooping, traffic blocking, ownerless dogs. They just have a different view toward pet ownership down here so, if dogs scare you or if the sight of  mangy, badly injured dogs bothers you (or seeing dogs feeding upon one of their own), think twice before hiking in Ecuador. 


- Wind. I think this is true if you’re hiking above 10K’ asl anywhere in the world but sustained, heavy winds can make everything more difficult and much of this hike is above 10K’ asl. Winds strong enough to knock you off your feet. Hats blow off, sunglasses blow off, maps get ripped from your hands and setting up your tent can be very frustrating. Be ready for it. 

 - Camping. This topic could go in either category: the good or the bad. Some  nights I was able to find a peaceful, flat spot with four inches of pine needle duff and a fresh water source nearby. I’d set up my tent without the rain fly so I could see the stars and sleep like a baby. Other nights, I’d find myself walking faster and faster, desperately looking for a spot, through fenced-off farmland that seemed devoid of even a few square feet of flat ground, let alone something that wasn’t obviously private property. As the sun sank, I wondered if I’d ever find somewhere to camp. Sometimes I’d settle for lumpy, uneven ground right by the side of the road or sometimes I’d breakdown and ask a farmer if I could camp on his property (I’d offer a few bucks, of course). At least a few times, I’d pick a spot that I thought was ‘stealthy’ enough only to be ‘discovered’ by the property owner. I’d try to explain who I was and what I was doing in my broken Spanish and they’d let me stay. I was never once told to leave. Figit and Neon of Her Oddesy fame used the (more practical) technique of asking for a ‘room to rent’ in the nearest small town. Their hosts were often very generous but, for me, I prefer to sleep outdoors. 


Want to hike the TEMBR? I think it’s a fantastic trail (one of my top three hikes) that could be done by even a novice hiker. If you are comfortable with international travel, speak a little Spanish and don’t mind camping in some weird places, give it a try! Contact me first; I always love to talk about hiking!

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

A Stranger in a Strange Land

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. 


The next two are half in/half out of the shade. Sorry. 













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