Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Back from the Arizona Trail: An Ode to Long Distance Hiking

At the Utah border, upon completion of the trail's 800 miles
Here I sit in a hotel room in Anchorage, Alaska, the night before beginning training for my summer job. Reed and I are back from Arizona, where we spent the months of March and April. It was a fantastic time of walking nearly every day, as we only took one full day of rest during the trek. South to north, we walked the state, starting at Coronado National Monument and finishing at the Utah border. In between, we walked at elevations ranging from 3,000 to 9,000 feet. The variety of topography was astounding. We did find the desert that we anticipated, but it still wasn't what we expected it to be. We carried up to 6 liters of water each during the hot and dry areas. Other times, we slept amidst snow and bundled deep in our bags to stay warm. So here we are back to our adopted home state, and my overriding feeling is that of longing to get back to Arizona to explore further in the future. I send out gratitude for the people who made and maintain the trail and for those who helped us walk its miles.
AZ Trail Marker as we walk the Kaibab Plateau

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Long Journey to the Trailhead: Arizona Trail Here We Come

Ready and excited to board Amtrak & get to sleep! 
Our Chariot between San Diego & LA

We're on our way to Arizona now & happy to be steadily making progress towards the American southwest. It's been a long journey already, with a 2.5 hour drive from Seward to Anchorage, two flights that ended up costing me a night of sleep & a 3 hour Express Greyhound bus ride between San Diego & Los Angeles. We've spent the afternoon here in LA, walking across the Arts District, eating Mexican food & waiting here at Union Station for our all night 'Sunset Limited' train to Tucson, Arizona.

Yesterday was a blur of packing up our house, cleaning & trying to remember to pack all the things that will be crucial to our survival & relative comfort over the coming two months. We are grateful for our dear friend, Margaret, in Anchorage, who has made this journey so much more possible, by driving us to the airport & keeping our car for us this spring. There are so many crucial details that go into being able to depart ones normal life for an extended period. We are fortunate that we have generous people in our lives who help us achieve our goals & hopes. Thank you, friends & family!
The colors and design remind me of the Arizona State Flag
Indeed! We were grateful to arrive!
LA's Arts District

Monday, February 20, 2017

Ready for Arizona, while wintering in Seward, Alaska

One of our colder days provided good conditions for run group

Seward, Alaska has been gorgeous this winter, as we move towards spring, we've been getting longer days and even some clear sky days, a real treat. This was our first winter in Alaska, and it's been delightful. We love living in this small town, getting to know the people and places around town. I've been working for Seward City News, an online hybrid newspaper, which has allowed me to get out and about and meet lots of new people. It's been a great part-time job that's given me legitimate reason to be around town, asking questions and reading history whenever possible. Reed was fortunate to get a part-time job working for the City of Seward Parks and Recreation department, mostly in the teen recreation room. He's getting to know many of the teenagers who live here. We have been fortunate to get to connect with the community in these ways. 
Pushing through the snow after we got 2 feet in a day

Today is Monday, President's Day and it's' just 5 days until we depart for the American southwest, Arizona in particular. We're hoping to thru-hike the Arizona National Scenic Trail. This trail's ideal dates and the snow fall this year will hopefully work together to allow us to hike its 800 mile length with the two months that we have available before our summer jobs start. We had struggled to figure a trail that would allow us to hike and still be back in time to earn income this summer. That's the challenge of living in Alaska. The economy has a huge upswing in the summer season, due to tourism. This is great for finding work, and fun work, at that. What it's not ideal for is people who like to hike in the summertime. It's becoming apparent that if we want to live here, we're going to need to find spring, fall and winter trails to hike. 

Seward has been gifted with an extra snowy winter this year

Our plan involves quite a bit of transportation to get to the trailhead at Coronado National Monument in southern Arizona, and a great deal of trust in the goodness of humanity. We will drive from Seward to Anchorage, visit with our generous friend Margaret and then leave our car at her house for two months. From there, we'll board a plane bound for Seattle. Fly half the night, layover in Seattle for 4 hours in the middle of the night. Next morning, board a plane bound for San Diego. After that, we don't have our plan worked out yet. Most likely, we'll get to include Amtrak in our trek to get to the trailhead. I've long wanted to take that drive or train ride across the lower left corner of the USA. Now's our chance. We've been getting kind offers via Couchsurfing and the Arizona Trail Community, to help us with all variety of needs - water caching, rides, a place to sleep. The world is full of generosity. 

Seward's Waterfront Park walkway

The next few days here in Seward will be focused on winding down our lives here, finishing up projects. Reed will continue working on transitioning our shed into an extra bedroom. I will keep working on writing, cooking and making plans for getting to the trailhead and how to resupply once we are on route. It's not yet spring, and already life is speeding up. As the daylight hours lengthen, the fullness of our days also grow. Lengthening of days, thawing of winter, I give thanks! 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

San Diego Trans County Trail 2017: A Trip Across the County

Kelley with the Salton Sea in background
We've been living in Seward, Alaska since October, where we've been settling into the rhythms of small town Alaska life in the winter. We have delighted in the slower pace of life and the walkabilty of our town. We bought a tiny home here in Seward last year, and finally this past fall, we got to move in and stay in the house. It's 400 square feet of luxurious comfort and shelter from the elements. We love it. At the same time, we love long distance hiking and sleeping outside, which is tough to find in an Alaskan winter, without gaining major new skills and buying super winter gear. The search for a place to hike and sleep outside with more than five hours of daylight led us back to southern California, a place we fell in love with last winter. 

Remnants of greenhouses near the Salton Sea
The desert in winter is a wonderland for backpackers! The only major drawback is finding enough water, and that is much simpler to deal with than rain and snow in 20-40 degree temperatures. The group that we hiked the San Diego Trans County Trail with last year had been planning its dates and details for a while, and 10 days beforehand, we found Alaska airline miles that allowed us to jump on board. One of the joys of being minimally-employed is the flexibility to jump on opportunities. Reed booked us a flight for Palm Springs and we began our preparations. The excitement in our little house was huge, as we packed foods and clothing, trying to remember what would be useful in the desert climate. Our crate of summer clothes was dug out of the corner and rummaged through, to find sun shirts and hats. 
Walking in the Arroyo Salada
The drive from Seattle to Seward took us 11 days last February. At that time, we were hauling a trailer full of our belongings, and the day time temperatures were well below freezing for most of the trip. This time, we would be traveling the opposite direction and even farther south. But, we would be flying on planes for most of the distance, and it really is amazing how airplanes have changed our perceptions of distances. Our first step was to get to Anchorage and leave our car with friends. Our flight out of Anchorage was scheduled for the middle of the night, as many flights to the "lower 48" are. We parked our car and decided to walk the 4.5 miles to the airport, because we had plenty of time, it was a reasonable 15 degrees outside and our luggage was our backpacks, and thus portable. We laughingly talked of the walk to the airport as our "approach" to the San Diego Trail. 

Sunrise over the Anza Borrego Desert
Upon arrival in Palm Springs, we began undressing from our layers. We were surprised to find ourselves in a tropical, open air building. The next few days were spent acclimating and eating enormous amounts of fresh produce, something we miss in Seward. I remember particularly well a luscious cantaloupe that we bought and devoured. It was perfect! Additionally, we bought a bag of grapefruit that I tore through. All of this is representative of a couple of changes in our lives these days. First, what I already mentioned, that we don't get as much luscious fresh produce in our lives these days. And second, the balance between time and money has shifted dramatically. We needed to use airline miles in order to get to southern California, and doing so meant that we could arrive 5 days early. Since we're both only minimally working, there wasn't a problem with missing extra days of work. Lodging once we arrived in California could have presented a problem, but we figured that worst case scenario, we would walk and sleep in the desert. As it turned out, we were offered a place to stay with a lovely couple at their home in Indio, California. Reed and they connected via Couchsurfing. They were hikers and we delighted in spending those days with Rod and Fran, going on hikes and, as I said earlier, eating produce. They were amazingly kind and generous with us, taking us into the slot canyons of the Mecca Hills and feeding us well. 

The hike itself began on January 5th, in the warm hours of the afternoon. Our group gathered over a number of hours, coming in various vehicles, including a Uhaul truck. Oh, hikers! It was a fantastic group of kind athletes who use the hike as a kind of hiker "family reunion," as the core group has been hiking the route together for four years now. For Reed and I, it was our second year in a row, and a delight to see familiar faces, especially our friend Girl Scout, with whom we hiked last year. These's lots to say about the hike, but I grow weary here in Seward. As Girl Scout would say, "it's hiker midnight." I'll let the photos speak for themselves and write more in the coming weeks about our upcoming trip, which will be along the Arizona Trail.

Squinting into the sun of the Anza Borrego Desert, east of Borrego Springs

Sunset near Borrego Springs

Early morning light on downtown Borrego Springs

A female Borrego, or Big Horn Sheep

The lure of the high desert trail

High desert burnt cactus

Heading towards the Mason Valley Truck Trail

Rain! and Wind! near Lake Cuyamaca

Walking the connector roads towards El Cajon Mountain
Salt Marsh as we approach Torrey Pines and the Pacific Ocean

Reed and Kelley with one of the Route's Mapping Geniuses, Brett Richey

The Torrey Pines cliffs as we walk our personal finish, to La Jolla

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Almost to Winter Solstice in Seward on a Sunday Night

Alaska Sealife Center's Christmas tree lights the waterfront
Seward's Christmas Tree high on Bear Mountain appears as a distant star above Tony's Bar
Seward's Downtown - 4th Street looking north

We've been taking Sundays as our Sabbath day, a day of rest and recuperation, a day to do whatever we want. We start Sundays with our group run, meeting up at Resurrection Art on 3rd, a cafe that many refer to as Seward's living room. We did that today. Five of us jogged out Lowell Point Road, around the loop at the end of the road, and then back again. On the way out, we saw a pair of sea lions and many birds. Reed jokingly tried to identify them, as yesterday had been Seward's "Christmas Bird Count" and we'd enthusiastically listening as one of our new friends described the birds that his crew had seen the day before. "One crow" said Reed.

After our hour's run we proceeded over to the American Legion with our new friend, Jamie, who's in the Coast Guard. The Legion was hosting a public hot breakfast of eggs, pancakes, bacon and biscuits and sausage gravy. I luxuriated in the meal, breakfast being my favorite combo of food options. We enjoyed a bit of conversation about Seward's Christmas tree, high on Bear Mountain. It had been slow in getting lit this year. I had learned at City Council that the wiring up to the tree had been vandalized, and it took a long-time Sewardite's actions to get it back in operational order. Now it shines down on Seward, casting an encouragement to us in the darkness of winter, where we start and end our days in thick darkness.

This evening I decided to take a leisurely walk around town. The air is crisp and fresh, just 35 degrees farenheit outside. It's warmed up quite a bit in the last few days. Our streets and sidewalks are now a sloppy, slushy mess. The wind has picked up speed throughout the day. I delighted in the fact that I could easily walk to the post office (dropped off a letter), the library (dropped off some DVDs) and walk Seward's waterfront path, all in a leisurely paced 20 minutes. What a fantastic place to live & how fortunate to be home, snug on the couch in our tiny home, with everything that I need. 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

How Winter is Shaping Up: October & November in Seward, Alaska

3 Historical Forces in Seward: WW2 Era Quonset Hut, AVTEC (red building) & Mount Marathon

Winter Night Hiking on the Lost Lake Trail

This winter we've been living in Seward, Alaska, located on the Kenai Peninsula, at the head of Resurrection Bay. It's a deep fjord, with tall mountains on either side. As newbies to Seward, we've been hesitant to get out on the hiking trails since the snows have begun sticking. Even so, it's been fantastic to be able to run around town twice a week thus far, and we've been out on a couple of hiking trails that are closer to home. 

There's not many hours or much intensity to the sun this time of year, and each day gets less light, until December 22nd. We are looking forward to that change, to when daylight hours start to lengthen. Even so, we've been doing all right. In late October & early November, I started to get anxious about the increasing darkness and marked a countdown onto our daily calendar. We started forcing ourselves up and out, even when it was still dark in the mornings. We committed to doing running group twice a week, starting and ending at Resurrection Art Coffee Shop, considered by some to be "Seward's living room." It's helped! As of today, there are 17 more days of increasing darkness and then the cycle reverses itself.
Mount Marathon's Jeep Trail on a snowy day

Alaska Sea Life Center parking lot in winter

Seward has proven to be a friendly small town, just the kind of place for which we hoped. When we left Seattle last spring, we knew that we were headed for Denali, to work the season. Beyond that, we didn't know where we'd be going, or what would come next. Our choice to leave the city was terrifying, and exciting. And then we were on the road, in various incantations, for about 18 months. What a relief that Seward is proving a great place to make our home. So here we are, living and learning the area and the people. Each day has its own chores assigned to it, something I remember was true of the Laura Ingalls family out on the American Frontier. Today is Sunday, which we honor by making it our day of rest. The idea is that we do the things that revive our spirits on Sundays. Today we did running group in the morning, followed by more than an hour at Resurrection Art, drinking coffee and visiting and reading the Anchorage newspaper. Then we walked the three blocks to home, took hot baths and ate a hot lunch. 

Winter life in Alaska has a slower pace, especially for those of us who work mostly seasonally. I'll be starting work at Providence Mountain Haven long term care facility tomorrow, where I hope to work 2-3 days per week going forward. And I've begun writing for Seward City News, an online newspaper / magazine / blog. This has afforded me the opportunity to be out and about around town, meeting, interviewing and photographing people and places. Our life here is developing slowly and steadily, and so far, it's a great life with kind people welcoming us into the community. 

Today it's 20 degrees out, windy with tremendous gusts that shake our tiny home and cause trembling sounds from outside. The sky was clear, the ground frozen and the cafe warm. Life is good.

Third Avenue looking north towards Resurrection Bay

Monday, October 31, 2016

Autumn in Seward: Hike-Running back to Town Along the Seward Highway

Along the Bike Path leading into Seward
Thermostat at Trail Head to Grayling Lake, mile 11

October in Seward has been fantastic, as we settle into our new lives here. My love for hiking and jogging coalesced this past week with my desire to learn a bit more about how Seward is connected together with Bear Creek along the Seward Highway. On a frosty morning, Reed drove me out past mile 11 on the Seward Highway, where I exited the warmth of our old red Rodeo with a shock. I wore my small red and black trail-running backpack full of essential gear, gloves on my hands, a fleece vest and two layers of pants. I didn't look like a runner since my second pair of pants was maroon corduroy and my pace was glacial. The cold and down hill slope exacerbated my shin splint pain, and the cold air was tough on my nostrils. 

That section of the highway is through thick woods, and the sunlight still wasn't touching the pavement after 11am. It became a delightful run after a couple of miles. When my 45 minute timer alarmed, I rewarded myself with ingesting a Capri Sun. The sugar surged me forward to the Bear Creek area, where homes and businesses began to appear, about mile 7 on the highway. From mile 7 all the way into town, there were occasional dwellings and other structures, including the Bear Creek volunteer fire station. I listened to the Fresh Air podcast of Teri Gross interviewing Tom Hanks, learning of his deliberate career move away from playing the role of the washed up baseball coach in "A League of Their Own." I could see his point about not wanting that to be his role for the rest of his career, but I loved him in that film. 

Miles plodded by and I arrived at Spenard Builders Supply, which happens to have an excellent bathroom. Many thanks to them for providing this crucial public service. I rested for a bit while I ordered a stove hood vent for our little house, something that we've been researching for a few weeks. When that transaction was complete, I got back under way and continued jogging into town. My final stop was at Subway, where Reed met me for lunch and we enjoyed their seasonal sandwich, turkey and cranberry. It's just one more mile from Subway to home, and I walked that portion. It was wonderful to find a simple, accessible autumn route for running a decent amount of mileage. I counted my total at 11 miles. 

Settlement near Exit Glacier turnoff

Seward Boat Harbor with Mount Alice in background