Outdoors Archives

I like to go outdoors a lot. Primarily hiking, occasionally camping, and sometimes other fun activities.

788.7 miles in 53 days

Stephanie and I didn’t come to the Arizona Trail with any predetermined ideas about “zero days”, but the weather was so miserable during our first four days (snow-covered trails, gale-force wind, freezing rain, drizzle, clayey mud) that we took a zero during our resupply in Patagonia, AZ just to let the weather pass. But from that point on, we almost always planned a zero to resupply, and if at all possible, preceded it with a morale-boosting half-day of hiking (or “nero”) on the way into town.

Dinner in Patagonia, AZ after 4 hellish days and 51 miles of backpacking the Arizona National Scenic Trail, NOBO
Two thru-hikers in desperate need of a zero

Over the course of the hike I ended up resupplying 8 times (all but 2 of which were during nero-plus-zeros), which effectively punctuated the trail into 9 discrete sections. I ran into a few day-hikers and backpackers along the way who found the scale of hiking the AZT “in one go” almost incomprehensible. I always reassured them that “thru-hiking is just a series of backpacking trips, glued together with zero days.” I didn’t feel like I was doing anything that special—I just had the “luxury” of going on 9 backpacking trips, back-to-back. While I was hiking, I started to visualize the following infographic to convey how the trail felt for me less like a linear journey, and more like a collection of related but distinct adventures (in no small part due to the evolving role Stephanie played in each).

Infographic of my 2019 thru-hike of the Arizona National Scenic Trail

Of the 53 days I was on trail (from March 9 through April 30, 2019), I slept in a hotel for 13 nights (after neros, zeros, and the last day). Which meant that for 40 days, survival depended on finding a patch of flat, clear, dry, spacious, and wind-shielded ground to pitch my tent. Even though these were sites chosen for their essential utility, I felt compelled to capture each scene—often picturesque only in the contrast of the alien-looking Plexamid against Arizona’s diverse landscape. More than the miles I racked up (788.7, per the Guthook Guides AZT app, though most round the trail to 800), I viewed these nightly rituals as the true measure of my progress.

All 40 campsites from my 2019 thru-hike of the Arizona national Scenic Trail
A visual TL;DR

Remarkably, even though more than 7 months have elapsed since we set off, each of these photos, some with only the slimmest of context, transports me right back to the trail, and to the day that led to that moment in time. What follows are my recollections, stories triggered by 40 photos of my campsites along the Arizona Trail.

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Snowbound in Tahoe

When I wrote that “we’re heading to Tahoe for the bulk of February, fulfilling a dream we’ve both had to be ‘snowbound’” there was no way I could have known that we’d be there during one of the snowiest Februaries on record, and thus, literally snowbound. And when blizzard after blizzard strategically hit right before each weekend, almost no one could come up from the Bay Area (including some friends who made a valiant effort to visit). We felt as though we had Lake Tahoe entirely to ourselves.

With the snow falling so heavily, there were some days that we didn’t even risk going out, so the jigsaw puzzle we brought, a 3000-piece Ravensburger, was our chief entertainment—aside from refilling the pellet stove and watching the snow accumulate. It was particularly therapeutic for Stephanie, who anxiously awaited a positive response from the grad schools she’d applied to. Her tension was released (and our future was decided) when she received word that she’d been offered a spot at her top choice, Fresno State.

Stephanie almost done with the 3000-piece Animal Stamps jigsaw puzzle by Ravensburger
Finishing the puzzle (while on the phone with her maman)

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A Belated Thanksgiving in Death Valley

I was sick the week of Thanksgiving, so we didn’t leave for Death Valley until Friday. Stephanie was instrumental in making sure we got out at all. Tradition! Though I helped with some of the food planning (yogurt, granola, dried fruits, and honey for breakfast; pre-cooked rice and veggies with curry simmer sauce for dinner), she packed our clothing and camping gear and did all of the driving that day.

Death Valley National Park
En route to Death Valley

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Hawk at work

This morning, a hawk chose the ledge outside the window in front of my desk (six stories above Market Street) to hang out for about an hour and a half.

Hawk in San Francisco looking at me
I pulled back the blinds so I could get a better look

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What the end of the world looks like

Sand blowing on to Great Highway in San Francisco, CA
When Great Highway is closed, it’s because of the sand