I spit the toothpaste mixed with blood out of my mouth and then I spit again. Each time I tried to rid my mouth of the blood, I would just spit more. I figured that after a couple of months on the trail with not enough attention paid to oral hygiene, I might be experiencing some gum issues. I spit again and more blood spewed out. It seemed like an unusual amount.
Little did I know, my pancreas had stopped producing insulin and I had become a Type 1 Diabetic. My blood sugar levels were very high, dangerously so. Bleeding gums was only one of the symptoms I had been experiencing. My vision had become blurry, but since most of my time was spent hiking, I hadn't tried to read anything in weeks. I did not realize how my vision had deteriorated as the sugars flowed through my blood stream, causing it to change even the lenses of my eyes.
My thirst was out of control. I could not quench it, no matter what or how much I drank. I was not surprised that during a long desert thru-hike my thirst would be so intense. With these three symptoms being classic signs of diabetes, had I had access to Google, I would have probably known I was diabetic months before my diagnosis.
I had been hiking with Ras since March fourth. We were nearly 1,300 miles into a thru-hike yo-yo of the Grand Enchantment Trail. We were just 300 miles shy of completing our journey, a goal we had been working very hard towards achieving. I was feeling relentless nausea. I had become quite thin. The heat was becoming intense as we got further west, closing in on Phoenix and the Sonoron Desert. Ras and I didn't understand the entirety of what was going on with my health. We attributed everything to the hike and the physical and mental toll it was taking on both of us.
We had been hiking about 20 miles every day since we began from Phoenix in March. We hiked from after our breakfast and morning routine, until between 11 and midnight. We stopped for breaks, filtering water, and shade-time if needed, but for the most part, we were hiking. The terrain was not easy, by any means. The Grand Enchantment Trail is an East/West Route that begins (or ends) in Phoenix, Arizona and travels through deserts, washes, sky islands and mountain ranges, as well as forests to reach Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 740 miles. The trail is very remote and the resupply options are few and far between. Hikers either begin in Phoenix in the Spring and hike towards Albuquerque, or they begin in Albuquerque in the Fall and hike to Phoenix. No one has ever hiked the trail both directions in one push, and that is what Ras and I had intended to do. We set an Only Known Time for this on the Arizona National Scenic Trail and our goal was to complete it on the GET as well.
The universe had other plans for us. Our hike was an adventure from the beginning. We welcomed it with open arms, though. I journaled through the highs and lows of it all. Ras navigated through all the varying types of terrain, following the GPS and setting forth a daily goal for us, based on water sources, places to camp and what lay ahead on the trail.
We hiked in snow pack and had fresh snow fall come down on us. We hiked through canyons, working our way along creek drainages filled with ice cold snow melt. We traveled endless miles on dirt roads. We camped amongst cow pies and drank water from their water tanks. We also shared a water source with a young cougar. We saw wild turkey, horned toads, black widows, Big Horn Desert Sheep, a baby rattler, elk with impressive racks, fish in the streams and scorpions in the washes.
There is nowhere that Ras and I would rather be than on the trails together. We have worked for nearly 5 years to make this happen, full-time, for ourselves. Completing this thru-hike was going to be a step in the right direction for us in achieving this goal. We had sponsorship help from Nathan and Altra Running. We had Trail Butter pouches and Honey Stinger waffles. We had tons of ultra light backpacking gear from Gossamer Gear, including our trekking poles, the Deuce of Spades, Ras' pack, our ¾ length sleeping pads and cuben fiber gear bags.
But the heat and the nausea and the bleeding gums and the weight loss wouldn't let up. My final night of hiking, I had a meltdown. I cried and panicked and wondered how I could go on, but also, how I could stop. It was rough and ugly. Ras and I stopped for a break on some flat rocks, the full moon casting it's glow down on us. The tears wouldn't stop coming. Ras had no comfort for me; it had to come from myself and I couldn't muster any. From behind us, echoing off of the jagged cliffs, an eerie cry resounded in the otherwise quiet night. Ras suggested I listen to a book and that the carefully crafted words could pull me out of my funk. I resisted at first, but finally settled on listening to a book I had already listened to many times on this hike, “Pioneer Grit”. This was a story about a number of strong, pioneer women who had overcome amazing adversity. It was just what I needed. I spoke not a word, but listened for hours into the night. The trail was exceptionally challenging with route finding, overgrown brush, downed trees, narrow trail and a sense of being never-ending. It was one of the harder nights I've experienced.
At dawn, Ras filtered watered from a dank spring, while Harvestman spiders crawled from the old cottonwood trees that lined the water source. I ate something, I don't remember what. Ras and I were still silent with each other. It was a dark time. We continued on the trail with our water bottles full now. The sky continued to lighten and it felt good to have covered some miles in the night. We had another canyon to work our way through before we got to Eagle Creek, where we had over 40 fords awaiting us. Beyond the creek, our friend Gary Householder planned on meeting us with fresh food, water and in the back of our minds, we knew this would be a way to get off the trail if we so decided. This canyon was rugged and scenic, mysterious piles of horse poop led the way, and something dead created an overpowering stench and a feast for a half dozen vultures.
When we reached Eagle Creek, I thought our plan was to find some shade and pitch our tent to sleep. We had hiked all through the night, and now it was time to have a proper meal and rest. Ras had other plans. He wanted to find a really nice shade spot, but only after covering a couple more hours of hiking. I didn't have it in me without a meal. I had come through that middle-of-the-night meltdown and now I felt another one coming on. I was so hungry. I could not believe we were this far off on our needs and plans. I tried to hold it together, but to no avail. I broke down once again,
Ras could now see that I indeed needed to address some of my needs and so we found a decent place to set up our camp alongside Eagle Creek. We had 14 miles and the 40 fords in the warm, cow impacted water, before we reached the spot where Gary planned to meet us that night. We had enough time to eat and nap. But it was hot, triple digit hot. We ate and crawled into our tent, lying just on our sleeping pads. We didn't even bother to get out our sleeping bag, knowing there was no way we would need it. We fell asleep immediately.
I awoke in a pool of sweat. It felt awful. I didn't want to wake Ras up, but I had to get out of the tent and get to the creek. I had to wet myself down. It felt so good to take a dip, get my hair wet and wet down my bandana to put over my forehead when I went back to the tent to try to catch some more sleep. In the time I was gone, my sleeping pad had been exposed to the hot sun and warped. I could not believe it. Ras began to stir. He looked at me and said, “I'm worried about you.”
We went back down to the creek and began to soak in the water. It wasn't the most refreshing water, but it was there and it saved us from the stifling heat. The sound of the rapids was soothing. Ras and I looked at each other and tears began to stream down our cheeks. We knew. We could not hike 300 more miles in these conditions, with my mental and physical health having deteriorated, and the sun melting our gear before our very eyes. (It has taken me five months to even write this, and I'm crying now as I type.) This was hard.
When Gary met us late that night, he informed us of a forest fire forcing closure of the GET beyond Safford, several days of hiking ahead of us. Indeed, our hike was over and the Grand Enchantment Trail Yo-Yo attempt was coming to a close after 98 days and 1,300 miles.
After picking up resupply boxes we had shipped ahead, visiting with our southwest friends, and driving the long stretch from Arizona back to Washington, I finally got in to see a doctor. My A1C was above 14, a number that was immeasurable. I was diagnosed as a Type 1 Diabetic at that appointment and given the myriad of prescriptions needed to begin insulin therapy. I weighed 106 pounds. I had been peeing out all the glucose and nutrients my body so desperately needed to survive, let alone hike in challenging terrain day after day. So many questions were now answered, and so many new ones had now arisen.
Fast forward to five months down the road. For three months, Ras and I spent the summer together getting out on some weekend adventures. I started back with the weeding service I worked for right away, having accumulated some debt during our thru-hike and needing to get started on repaying that. Plus, I was hungry and thirsty and I wanted some cash flow to get nutrients in myself and Ras. Needless to say, after being on insulin, which is a weight gain hormone, and having the luxury to satisfy my nutrient needs and cravings, I have gotten back up to a healthy weight. My A1C was down to 9.2 at my last appointment, and my daily readings are almost always in range. I am getting used to this and I am beyond ready to get out on another extended hike.
My biggest accomplishment post diagnoses, was to summit Mt. Adams, a 12,000 foot volcano in the Cascade Mountain Range of Washington. It was amazing. I now want to climb Mt. St. Helens, Glacier Peak and Mt. Rainier in the Cascades as well. I felt so strong and did well in the high elevations. Ras and I did this together to celebrate my 51st birthday. It was challenging to ascend the steep and rocky North Cleaver. We traversed the summit and descended the South Spur route, steep snowfields all the way to the base. We then had a 25k run back to our car. It was the highlight of my summer.
The summer ended with Ras traveling to South Africa, where he was able to complete the Drakensburg Grand Traverse through the Maloti Mountains of Lesotho. He then continued on to Madagascar to visit our daughter, who is serving in the Peace Corps there. He will be putting together a photo book to document his travels in Madagascar.
I spent the remainder of the summer continuing my yard work job with Mary's Weeding Service and spending as much time as possible on the local trails, as I continued to adjust to my insulin therapy. I am blessed to live only a short distance away from a wonderful network of trails in the Fort Ebey, South Whidbey and Deception Pass State Parks. I stopped at one of these parks on my way home from work each day to run for an hour or two. These miles were for maintaining fitness, creating space for mindfulness each day, and pondering what path my life was taking. To live a healthy life as a diabetic, I need to continue to prioritize these times on the trail, whether I find myself alone while Ras pursues other adventures, teamed up with him, or partnered with other adventures. I will continue living a life of inner and outer exploration.
The short days and long nights of winter can be a dark and challenging time. Below I share some of my favorite techniques for keeping the Light in winter.
Get Natural Light Each Day – Go outside each day and find what it is that you love doing. Run or hike trails; breathe in the fresh air; take notice of winter birds and other wildlife; notice how the foliage changes around your home or on the trails.
Practice Daily Affirmations — Create positive statements for attracting good into your life. Use language that reflects this positive affirmation is happening in your life already. “I now go beyond other people's fears and limitations.” “I am flexible and flowing.”
Stretch or Practice Yogaeveryday. Releasing the tension in your body will help to release the tension in your mind.
Bring the Outdoors In — Adorn your kitchen table, fireplace mantel or other area with fresh and seasonal greenery. Create a nature table that honors nature's gifts that are available during the winter months. Gather Rose hips, cedar boughs, pine cones, dried flowers and berries, shells, bark, moss, dried grasses or other items, to create a nice display. Wildlife figurines, spiritual figures, wool or felt creatures, can also be added to the arrangement to help bring joy and light to the scene.
Make soups and stews and allow to simmer on your woodstove, in a slow cooker or on your stove top. The homemade meal is nourishing and the culinary fragrance is peaceful and soothing on a cold day.
Embrace the Dark — Run or hike trails in the dark, using a good head lamp. The daylight hours are shorter, but allow your time on the trails to go into the dark, or plan on starting your run or hike in the dark. Use chemical hand warmers if you will be out in the extreme cold, or out for a couple of hours or more. Wear warm layers and cozy fabrics to feel the comfort that comes with the light. Wear a hat to keep the warmth in, tuck in your bottom layer, use wool fabrics and always take time in choosing your layers carefully. It will help ensure you have a pleasant time and will want to make it a part of your regular routine.
Take in Uplifting and Energizing Nutrients — Eat seasonal fruits and veggies everyday: nuts and seeds, homemade soups, stews and casseroles; foods that will provide good energy for the darker months. Stay away from foods that will literally weigh you down during the months when motivation to get outside and exercise can already be an issue. Dairy products, seasonal cookies and other baked goods, alcoholic beverages, sweetened coffee drinks, and creamy dips can all contribute to a feeling of bloat and heaviness. These seasonal treats can be replicated in healthy ways. Trade ranch dip for hummus, to serve with veggies instead; baked sweet potato fries instead of potato chips; seasoned and mashed avacado or guacamole instead of heavy cheese dips; gourmet trail mixes with a large variety of nuts, dried fruits and chunks of dark chocolate instead of tins of fudge; molasses cookies instead of sugar cookies.
Create a Rhythm for Your Days — Having a plan helps to eliminate stress in our lives. If there are areas where you can have a routine that you follow, such as a weekly running or workout schedule, this helps you go with the flow and takes the day to day planning out of the picture. Easy flow and lightness in our lives help keep the darkness of winter from affecting us in a negative way. Establishing a way to celebrate life on a daily basis is a nice mindfulness activity. Using candle light, a special lantern or lamp, the sun, or the flames of a fire, are all sources to use for your ceremony. You can recite a verse, sing a song, say a silent prayer, or just reflect on the light, the season , or whatever feels meaningful.
Set Challenges for Yourself that Reach Beyond Winter Months — Use squat or ab challenges to help you to focus on core work or train for a late winter or spring race. Decide on a decluttering project, a craft or handwork project, or any physical, mental or creative pursuit that will help bring focus and joy to your life on a daily basis. The goal or challenge will help you to see beyond the dark months and into the light of spring, while accomplishing something at the same time.
Be Patient Toward Yourself and Others — The struggle is real for some folks during the shorter days of winter. The return of the light can seem so far away. Offering a small gesture towards others during these months is nice. Sending a quick email or facebook message; sending a note card in the mail; dropping off a soup or seasonal arrangement of fresh greens; a phone call. This can mean so much to someone feeling down and needing some brightness in their lives.
Add to this list with your own ways to stay merry and bright, living a full life in the winter, while feeling healthy and vibrant.
On June 11th, 2017, Team UltraPedestrian achieved the biggest fail of our careers. After 98 days and 1300 miles on the trail pushing our minds, bodies, gear, finances, and relationship far past their limits, we were forced to admit that we would not be able to complete our goal of becoming the first people ever to yo-yo the Grand Enchantment Trail. (Yo-yoing a trail means traveling it from one end to the other and then back again, thus completing the trail twice in a single push, once in each direction, like a yo-yo running out to the end of its string then returning to your hand.)
The GET runs east and west between Phoenix, Arizona, and Albuquerque, New Mexico, for approximately 770 miles. But the GET isn’t an official trail: it’s a route that links together existing trail, unmaintained trail, two tracks, roads, bushwacks, and cross-country sections that traverse both vast deserts and vertiginous mountain ranges. It’s an incredibly difficult and indelibly rewarding route. Being in the heart of the American Southwest, the Grand Enchantment Trail presents a very limited window of opportunity in the spring and fall, between the freezing snows of winter and the blistering heat of summer. On our final day on the trail, when Kathy inadvertently left her sleeping pad in the direct sun and it melted we knew that our window of opportunity had slammed shut.
Our GET Yo-yo attempt was the second in a series of four desert trail yo-yos that we planned as part of our multi-year Desert Yo-yo Grand Slam project. This included the Arizona National Scenic Trail, which we had successfully yo-yo’d between September 18th and December 20th of 2015, the Grand Enchantment Trail, the Oregon Desert Trail, and the Hayduke Trail. Each of these trails is approximately 800 miles long in a single direction and traverses some of the most challenging and unforgiving terrain in North America. We were attempting them in order of ascending difficulty, and we were under no illusion that our success was a given. These are extremely challenging routes, and there’s good reason why no one had ever yo-yo’d any of them before.
Not only did we aspire to being the first, but we planned to do it in “Feet On The Ground” style, not hitchhiking into resupply towns, not accepting rides of any kind, and not using public transportation or any other form of conveyance (we even avoided elevators in motels). Our goal was to cover every step of the way under our own power and on our own two feet. In or minds this would be the highest ethic we could attain, the best style, the fairest means, but it could also be summed up rather simply as, “cray cray is as cray cray does”. We had invested months evaluating the physical, mental and logistical challenges involved in the overall project and had concluded that it was Humanly possible. We wanted to find out if we were the Humans to do it.
When Kathy and I realized that the tide was turning against us, we knew it was more than just this one project that was on the line. We had announced our Desert Yo-yo Grand Slam project all across the state of Arizona during a speaking tour in February of 2016 and had called our shot on the interwebs for all the world to see. We had pitched proposals to sponsors to garner the support necessary to make it happen and had signed contracts promising results. We had put everything on the line, personally and professionally, for all the world to see, and now it was crashing down around our ears.
Kathy and I had seen the end coming, and it didn’t necessarily catch us by surprise. It could even be argued that failure was the most likely outcome from the start. Our progress had been slower than we had hoped from the very beginning, and the weather never cut us even the slightest bit of slack. We began in triple digit weather and ended in triple digit weather, but the time in between was filled with postholing through knee deep snow, sheltering in culverts to wait our blizzards, hundreds of icy creek fords, painfully cold fingers and toes, and wind, wind, wind. I’m sure Mother Nature had other elemental forces with which she could have confronted us, but I’d be hard pressed to name them off the top of my head.
By day 98 Kathy had lost a drastic amount of weight and was suffering an unslakable thirst which no amount of water or other beverages was sufficient to quench. Kathy is a pancreatic disease survivor who had 40% of her pancreas removed ten years ago, so she is even more susceptible to dehydration than the average person would be even under normal circumstances, let alone when living in and moving through the arid deserts and mountains of the Southwest for nearly 100 days. This adventure took a heavy toll on her physically, and on both of us mentally, as we watched our goals slipping further and further into the future as we struggled to cover ground.
We were constantly evaluating our progress and adjusting our plans accordingly, yet slowly but surely the math turned against us. Our goal of 70 days had been backed off to 80 days fairly early on. Then 80 days was bumped back to 90. Once 100 days became our target not only was the math becoming bleak, but the weather was as well. We couldn’t keep stretching out our finish date because we could feel the hot breath on our necks from the impending maw of summer.
Finally, we had the discussion that we had hoped never to have; at what point we had to call it quits, and if that time was now. As we neared the mining town of Morenci there was the opportunity to bail out before committing to another multiple day stretch of blistering heat before the next chance to drop. We devised a couple of if/then statements and litmus tests to apply over the next twenty-four hours and agreed that if they didn’t go the way we needed them to, we would make the call we didn’t want to make and drop off the trail. And it didn’t go. The next day and night were brutally difficult, and we were both additionally burdened with the tension of sensing our impending failure. We hiked through the night to maximize movement in the cool hours, but then couldn’t find proper shade deep and cool enough to rest in. Then Kathy’s sleeping pad melted. Then we sat in Eagle creek and talked out the horrible reality of choosing our well-being and health over the drive to stubbornly solder on. We cried and hugged and held hands as we sat in the water, that being the only tenable place to wait out the heat of the day. A friend had messaged us to say he and his son would be surprising us along the route that evening, and we decided that instead of simply thanking them for their kindness, we would ask for a ride back to Phoenix.
As fate would have it, that tortuous decision had been entirely unnecessary, and all our agonizing over whether or not to give up was in vain. Wildfires sparked by lightning in the Pinaleño Mountains had closed a key section of trail, and, as it would turn out, would not be extinguished for weeks. Regardless of what we had decided earlier that day, our Grand Enchantment Trail Yo-yo attempt would have come to an end no matter what. We thought we were making a decision, but, in fact, the Universe had already decided for us.
Neither Kathy nor I consider ourselves extraordinary athletes in any way. Our UltraPedestrian ethic promotes not what superlatively trained and supremely talented athletes can achieve, but the amazing and extraordinary things of which ordinary Human Beings are capable. (While the immediately obvious meaning of UltraPedestrian would be, “covering distances greater than that of a standard marathon on foot,” an ancillary interpretation could be, “exceedingly commonplace”.) Whether it be ultrarunning, fastpacking, thru-hiking, mountaineering or some agglomeration thereof, our quest is to explore the boundaries of Human endurance. Our goal is to find The Thing That We Cannot Do. In a sense, failure is our highest aim. Ticking off doable adventure after doable adventure doesn’t capture our imaginations, doesn’t cause our hearts to sing, doesn’t make the blood thrum in our ears. Guaranteed success is just a training run for the kinds of challenges that truly engage us on a deep and resonant level. The question marks are the entire point of our adventures, not just punctuation.
While I’m as impressed with and inspired by the accomplishments of elite athletes as anyone, I’ve long understood that their best performances are beyond the ken of the vast majority of bipeds. Our lives are the accumulation of the stories we live, and, “I had a great day, everything went perfectly, and I won,” is neither a very engaging nor a very resonant story. The challenges and the struggles and perseverance through adversity are the key ingredients of the Hero’s Quest. It’s the relating of weaknesses, foibles, and stumblings to which the mass of Humankind can relate, and it’s exactly those moments, when everything seems to be going wrong, wherein one most completely experiences his or her Humanity.
That’s why I love the word fail. That’s why Kathy and I have made it part of our value set to be open and public and even explicit with our failures. It’s not a matter of self-denigration or melancholic brooding or self-flagellation, nor is it fishing for comfort or compliments. It’s because the fails are where the Humanity is, and experiencing and connecting with our fundamental Humanity is the goal of adventuring, as we see it.
Our GET Yo-yo attempt was a fail of grand proportions and in full view of the public. It was a belly flop off an Olympic high dive with the gold medal on the line. It was Vinko Bogataj’s cataclysmic ski jump wipeout in the opening sequence of ABC’s Wide World Of Sports as Jim McKay intoned, “… and the agony of defeat.” It was a failure so big that it negated our previous AZT Yo-yo completion, took our planned ODT and HDT Yo-yo projects off the table, and nullified the multi-year Desert Yo-yo Grand Slam project we had been brainstorming, planning, and working toward for more than two years. And failing our Grand Enchantment Trail Yo-yo attempt was the biggest, most brutal, most beautiful, and more wonderful adventure Kathy and I have ever done together. With fails as epic and rewarding as this, who needs a win?
Ras and Kathy Vaughan are Team UltraPedestrian.
Gossamer Geat Ranger 35 - prototype 35 liter pack
Gossamer Gear Pack Liner
Gossamer Gear Nitelight Sleeping Pad
Gossamer Gear LT5 trekking poles
Gossamer Gear The One tent
Gossamer Gear Tent Stakes x 10
Gossamer Gear stuff sacks, assorted sizes x 5
Gossamer Gear Q-storage bags x 3
Altra Running Shorts
Altra ¼ zip Shell
Altra Full Back Stash Jacket
Altra Zoned Heat Tights
Altra Men’s Hoodie
Altra Lone Peak 3.5 trailrunning shoes
Altra Trail Gaiters
Altra Lightweight Gloves
Western Mountaineering Down Sleeping Bag
Western Mountaineering Flash Pants – Down
Mont Bell Synthetic Puffy
Injinji Midweight Tetrasox x 2 pair
Smartwool socks x 1 pair
Black Diamond Mountaineering Gloves
Wrangler Pearlsnap short sleeved shirt
Bandana x 2
Synthetic Earflap Hat
Fleece Hat bought at minimart years ago
Sawyer Squeeze Filter
Nathan 2 liter hydration bladder x 2
Nathan 22oz water bottle x 2 (not pictured)
Snowpeak Titanium Spork
Watertight plastic Soak-Eaze container
Down Slippers made from the sleeves cut off an old down jacket
GoPro Hero 3+ Silver Edition x 2
extra GoPro batteries x 2 plus charger
EVO GP-PRO 3 Axis Gimbal
Batteries for gimbal x 2 + charger
Nokia 930 phone with 18 megapixel camera (not pictured)
LG Android phone with Gaia App & maps & tracks loaded
Vodacom WiFi Hotspot
Garmin eTrex 20 GPS
SPOT satellite transponder
Black Diamond Polar Icon headlamp
Black Diamond headlamp (backup)
Battery charger x 2
Sony Walkman mp3 player
GoPro head mount
Charging cables x 6
AA batteries for Polar Icon headlamp and GPS
AAA batteries for backup headlamp and SPOT transponder
Gossamer Gear Cuban Q-Storage Sack
Leather Sewing Needles x 3
Upholstery Thread x 1 spool
Super Glue x 2 tubes
Tenacious Tape x 1 roll
Tenacious Tape Precut Patches x 1 package (I often cut each precut patch into two smaller patches – perfect for mending small holes in puffy gear)
Fly Fishing Leader x 6 feet
Duct Tape x 10 feet
Gorilla Tape x 6 feet
(remainder rolls, flattened, with most of the cardboard core pealed out)
MSR Aquatabs x 8 (water purification for 16 liters)
Tinidazole (Giardia Medication) x 2 adult doses
Caffiene Pills, 200mg x 12
Safety Pins, Large x 2
Zip Ties From Turkey Bags x 4 (these were in my MacGyver kit from the Grand Enchantment Trail and I forgot to remove them)
Backup Earbuds & Earbud Tips for Mp3 player
(These last two could easily be argued to be unimportant, in response to which I have three rationalizations: 1. The component parts, i.e. wires, gummy tips, are a very useful resource with many potential applications should they need to be cannibalized from the earbuds in an emergency; 2. Mood and brain chemistry management are one of the very few Human behaviors that distinguish us from other mammals and primates, and music and audiobooks are very effective for me in this regard; and 3. The FM radio band of my Mp3 player can frequently pick up weather reports, which has in the past provided important information, such as in Culvert Camp during our Grand Enchantment Trail Yo-yo attempt)
Deejo Linerlock Stainless Steel 37Gram Knife
Homemade Firestrarters (cotton balls impregnated with petroleum jelly)
Malaria Prophylaxis Medication
By Ras Vaughan
My Double Drakensberg Grand Traverse was a no-go. The morning of Day Six I awoke to pummelling winds that lasted all through the day, at times threatening to lift me off my feet and blow me off the high ridges. The wind continued to build into the evening, blowing in storm clouds, into which I had to climb. Getting drenched, I was forced into my tent before dark to take shelter and hope for better weather in the morning, about 12 miles shy of my turnaround point goal.
Instead of sunshine I awoke to 1/4 inch of ice coating my tent. Freezing cloud had turned my environs into a beautiful but inhospitable icescape, complimented by drizzling rain. Descending the steep gully from Thamathu Pass was treacherous and slow, and as the day warmed slightly everything became sodden. I knew then that either the weather would have to clear and dry me and my gear out, or I would have to bail at Bushmans Nek. The rain not only continued but increased, and my decision was made. There's a reason it's named The Dragon.
Going fast and light on these adventures necessitates a balance between what gear you carry and what conditions you can endure. I had exactly the right amount of gear to survive a few days of this weather, but not to move efficiently and safely in it endlessly. I couldn't rationalize climbing back up into a storm above 10,000 feet with wet gear and very limited bailout possibilities. The continued rain and additional lightning after I arrived at Bushmans Nek only confirmed my decision. So my grand ambitions to leave my mark on Africa ended much the way Humankind began: huddled in a cave. But Africa has certainly left its mark on me.
Even though I’m not necessarily known for making prudent decisions, in this instance it was the right one. The storm continued all through the next day. It was the tail end of a cyclone that struck Durban sown at the coast, knocking out power and internet all the way up to the Drakensberg. The Drakensberg Escarpment rises drastically and dramatically to the highlands of Lesotho, so weather rolls in off the ocean and over the savannah until it suddenly hits a wall of rock 3000 meters high. This produces the sort of extreme and quick-developing storms for which the Drakensberg is famous, and which ended my Double Drakensberg Grand Traverse attempt, leaving me stranded in an unfamilar part of a foreign country with no friends or connections I could contact. But that’s another story.
It was an amazing Blessing to complete a single Drakensberg Grand Traverse. Aside from the weather, I had exactly half my food supply left and half of my batteries charged, so I was in perfect shape to finish in 12 days. I feel good about what I accomplished, and it would be an understatement to say I had a life-changing experience. Meeting the Herd Boys of Lesotho was amazing, and I have a lot more to share about them. In the end, the story of my failed Double Drakensberg Grand Traverse is about the Herd Boys, more so than about me. And my failure to achieve my first world athletic goals only makes for a better story. “White Man Triumphs in Africa” is a headline on the wrong side of history, and an overused one at that.
I shot almost 60 gigabytes of GoPro footage during this adventure which Joel Balleza and I will be making into a film about the project in the coming months, so there are plenty more details forthcoming.
Below are the stats for my single solo DGT.
Special Thanks to Altra Running for making this project possible.
Thanks also to Gossamer Gear for their substantial support.
And thanks to Nathan Sports, Seven Hills Running Shop, Trail Butter, and Honey Stinger for their support.
START AT SENTINEL CAR PARK: Day 1, 9:45 AM, Monday, September 11, 2017
WAYPOINT #1 THE CHAIN LADDERS: DAY 1, 11:15 AM
WAYPOINT #2 MONT AUX SOURCES: DAY 1, 2:25 PM
WAYPOINT #3 CLEFT PEAK: Day 2, 6:25 PM
WAYPOINT #4 CHAMPAGNE CASTLE: Day 3, 2:58 PM
WAYPOINT #5 MAFADI: Day 3, 9:51 PM
WAYPOINT #6 GIANTS CASTLE: Day 4, 6:50 PM
WAYPOINT #7 THABANA NTLENYANA: Day 5, 5:08 PM
WAYPOINT #8 THAMATHU PASS: Day 7, 8:15 AM
FINISH AT BUSHMANS NEK: Day 7, 2:47 PM, Sunday, September 17, 2017
6 days, 5 hours, 2 minutes
Beginning the morning of Monday, September 11, 2017, I will attempt to complete the first ever completely unsupported solo Double Drakensburg Grand Traverse. I will carry all of my food and gear from beginning to end with no resupply and no accompaniment and only take water from natural sources. My goal is to complete the DDGT in ten days.
The Drakensberg Grand Traverse is a route across the main range of the Drakensberg Escarpment from Sentinal Carpark at the north end to Bushman’s Nek in the south. The route crosses back and forth over the border between South Africa and Lesotho, “The Kingdom In The Sky”. The DGT is roughly 220km (137 miles) long with more than 9000 meters (30,000 feet) of elevation gain, although those numbers vary, because it is not a set trail. The standards for the DGT were established in 1999 by Gavin & Lawrie Raubenheimer. In addition to maintaining a purely unsupported ethic of no resupply and no pacers or crew*, the following checkpoints must be achieved:
You can follow my SPOT satellite tracker at:
I will be posting updates throughout the project to my personal Facebook profile and Instagram (although opportunities to do so may be few and far between):
You can also follow the hashtags:
#DoubleDrakensbergGrandTraverse #DDGTOKT #MamaAfrica and
#HominidHomeland as well as #ZeroLimits.
Special Thanks to Altra Running for making this project possible.
Thanks also to Gossamer Gear for their support.
And thanks to Nathan Hydration, Trail Butter, Seven Hills Running Shop, and Honey Stinger.
What a Blessing to be a Biped!
Give Thanks for Life!
What a Blessing to be Alive!
* In January of 2017 Jonathan Newman and Mike van Wyngaard did back-to-back Drakensberg Grand Traverses in 15 days 7 hours 50 minutes, however, their accomplishment would be hard to construe as a Double Drakensberg Grand Traverse, according to the accepted standards. Andrew Porter, holder of the solo FKT, joined them for the return journey, violating a truly unsupported ethic. With all due respect to what they accomplished (and respect is the reason I cite it here), my goal is to complete a true Double Drakensberg Grand Traverse, completely unsupported and in Good Style.
On July 31, 2017 Ras Vaughan and Kyle Pease completed the RAS Traverse establishing an official Only Known Time of 8 days, 1 hour, and 47 minutes.
They began at 9:45 AM on July 23rd at White River Campground in Mount Rainier national Park, summited Rainier via the Emmons Glacier, did an emergency bivouac in the summit crater due to Kyle’s cold fingers, descended the Disappointment Cleaver route the following day, and continued on the Mount Adams via the Wonderland, Laughing Water, and Pacific Crest Trails. At Adams the summited via the North Cleaver and descended the South Spur, then connected via the Round The Mountain Trail to the Boundary Trail to take them to Mount Saint Helens. At St. Helens they summited via the Worm Flows Route and descended Monitor Ridge, reaching the Climber’s Bivouac parking lot at 11:32 AM on July 31st.
They completed the project in fairly good style, adhering to a strict unsupported ethic of carrying all their gear and food from beginning to end and only taking water from natural sources, with the exceptions of Kyle stashing two pickets after the Mount Rainier traverse to pick up later and foraging berries along the way. The project covered more than 180 miles of trail and roads, and accumulated approximately 42,300 feet of elevation gain.
OFFICIAL START 9:45 AM 7/23/17
OFFICIAL FINISH 11:32 AM 7/31/17
OFFICIAL COMPLETED TIME 8 Days, 1 hour, and 47 minutes
View Route on CalTopo
OFFICIAL ONLY KNOWN TIME ATTEMPT ANNOUNCEMENT & YOUTH FUNDRAISER: Beginning the morning of Sunday, July 23rd, 2017, Kyle Pease and I will begin a traverse of the summits of Mount Rainier and Mount Adams and ending with a summit of Mount Saint Helens, all linked on foot completely unsupported, unresupplied, and only taking water from natural sources. The route is approximately 190 miles long with 41,579 feet of elevation gain. We hope to complete this Rainier-Adams-StHelens Traverse in eight days or less, but the main goal is simply to complete it. And in so doing, we are raising money for The Mountaineers Youth Programs, to help more Young People fall in love with the outdoors.
Last year when I was doing my solo Mount Adams Infinity Loop, I had the distinct sensation of Mount Rainier watching me as I ascended the North Cleaver of Adams. Whenever I would turn around and sit for a moment facing north, Rainier would be right there staring me in the face, begging for a linkup. And once on the summit, Mount St. Helens was there to the west. This potential linkup with Rainier and Adams and StHelens was bouncing around in my head for a few weeks before I realized that the first letter of each mountain spelled RAS, so I dubbed it the R-A-S Traverse. From that point on it wasn’t matter of IF I was going to attempt it, but WHEN. And now is the time. I’m joined on this adventure by Kyle Pease, and you can follow our progress here:
We are doing this not just to test our mettle and test the boundaries of Human endurance, but to raise fund for The Mountaineers Youth Programs to help introduce more Young People to the Natural World. Please click the link below and click on the gold CONTRIBUTE button on the right and make a donation. Whether it be $5, $25, or $500 every little bit helps get more kids outside and helps build the foundation for a lifelong love of adventure. Find out more here:
I will be posting updates throughout the project to my personal Facebook profile, the Team UltraPedestrian page, and Instagram:
You can also follow the hashtags #RAStraverse #OPYA and #OurParksYourAdventure as well as #ZeroLimits #RunLonger #TakeLessDoMore #BeTrailReady #Team7hills #HShive #Ultraneering.
Special Thanks to Altra Running and Gossamer Gear for making this project possible!
What a Blessing to be a Biped! Give Thanks for Life!
After 98 days and over 1300 miles on the trail, on June 11th, 2017 Kathy and Ras had to quit their attempts to become the first people to yo-yo the Grand Enchantment Trail. Below is a collection of trail dispatches, photos and video links that document some of the challenges that lead to that decision.
Watch for upcoming blogs on the Altra Running and Gossamer Gear websites documenting more of that amazing adventure.
In the spring of 2018 Kathy and Ras will be releasing a photobook collection of their complete trail dispatches from this adventure entitled 98 Days Of Wind with additional information not made available anywhere else. Sign up for our mailing list at the top of the page to be notified when 98 Days of Wind is available for purchase.
DAY 03 '- Walking the wilds in wonder at the rugged beauty of Creation! This natural arch in Rogers Canyon was just one of a host of wonders, including an amazing amount of delicious water; such an especial Blessing in the desert.
DAY 08 - The best Life isn't one where you sip champagne, but one where you guzzle water.
DAY 13 - WANDERING THE SANTA TERESA MOUNTAINS. Lots of wash-walking, bushwhacking, and route finding in this segment made for slow going. But that's part of the fun of an Only Known Time attempt. And the goal of our yo-yo projects is to experience the trail as completely as possible, so more immersion in the environs only helps us toward our goal.
DAY 29 - Asterisk number one: We made the difficult decision to take the High Country Bypass and High Water Bypass routes around the Mogollon-Baldy trail and the West Fork Gila River.
Climbing up from Alma, NM, we had to ford Mineral Creek numerous times. It was swollen with snow melt and the water was frigid. We had to stop numerous times to make coffee and warm up our painfully cold feet, so much so that we burned through all our stove fuel, which we had been unable to resupply in Alma.
We then climbed out of Mineral Creek up to 9,000 feet, our shoes never fully drying. As we started to climb up the Crest Trail to top out at 10,400ish feet, it began snowing, and it increased as we climbed. With wet shoes and no stove fuel, we decided we needed to take the bypass routes in order not to jeopardize the entire project. So, this will add an asterisk to our OKT, but it's what we had to do to salvage the overall yo-yo attempt while adhering to our feet-on-the-ground ethic.
DAY 33 - "Help me! Please, help me! Please, help me!" Kathy screamed over and over, her hands clutched to her face. We had been hiking our 20th mile of the day, it was nearing midnight, and it had just started to rain. We had just stopped to put on our rain capes and started hiking again when Kathy's steady footfalls were suddenly interrupted with a catch and a whump. Kathy had caught a toe on a rock, her arms and feet had hung up in her cape, she had faceplanted on the side of the trail, and she began screaming in pain and fear as soon as she hit the ground. I ran up to her thinking, incorrectly, that one of her trekking poles had hit her in the face. But understanding dawned as she turned her bloody, spine-studded face up to me and the full horror of what had happened was revealed: she had landed in a prickly pear cactus.
Nothing makes you feel more worthless and powerless than having your favorite person in the world crying out to you for help in fear and pain as you stand there dumbfounded with no idea what to do. Eventually I snapped out of it, pulled her up out of the cactus, sat her down nearby, and pulled the spines nearest her left eye out with my fingers, Kathy still screaming for help the entire time. I don't know how long she cried out like that, but it felt like an eternity.
When I thought the immediate peril to her eye was past, I moved her over a few feet under a Juniper and out of the rain, dug the tweezers out of her pack, and began plucking the cactus spines from her lovely face, reassuring her the entire time that I was there to help her and that she was going to be okay, even as she winced and cried out in pain with each clump of spines I pulled free.
When the pain got to be too much for her, I let her work on her own hand as I removed her rain cape and puffy pants, which were pincushioned with spines and had taken the brunt of it. I took off her waist pack, then removed some spines from her arm, hip, and leg. I covered the spines in Kathy's waist pack and puffy pants with duct tape and bundled up her cape and wrapped it with tape so the spines wouldn't migrate into other pieces of gear or clothing.
Kathy began to get cold, mostly from shock I think, so I got my puffy pants out for her. I removed a few spines from her jacket, but it was otherwise okay. I worked on her face a little more, as we figured out what to do.
We were on a ridge, with no workable tent sites, so I got Kathy ready to hike until we could find a spot to set up for the night. Within a mile I found a suitable spot, set up our tent, and got Kathy out of her clothes and into the tent. Then, with the tweezers, Kathy's reading glasses, and my headlamp on high, I painstakingly removed all the spines I could find from my Beloved's face, arm, hand, hip, and leg. She had also landed on rocks, suffering bruises to her hip and knee, the latter of which causing her much pain during the short hike to our tent site.
About three hours from the time of her fall, Kathy was finally comfortable and calm enough to lay down to sleep. I settled into our shared sleeping bag next to her, thinking how much worse it could have been, and thankful that her eye had been spared. Seeming to read my mind, as we drifted into a traumatized sleep, Kathy said, "I guess it could have been a lot worse. It could have been a Cholla."
DAY 45 - Our food stores held out remarkably well over our 189 mile unresupplied push from Gila Hotsprings to Magdalena, NM. However, a couple of challenging, slow, low-mileage days stretched our caloric resources thin at the end.
With just over 60 miles to go we found ourselves with half a baggy of instant rice and refritos, plus a few small portions of hummus, vegan chili, and potato shreds and flakes, along with two portions of oatmeal each.
Despite our meager 400ish calories per day per person, we were able to grind out three 20 mile days, including a midnight scramble over the high shoulder of North Baldy with the kind of exposure that leaves everything not in your headlamp beam disappearing into a black, indiscernible void. We slept just inside the Cibola National Forest boundary, then hiked the four miles into Magdalena lightheaded and with light packs, fueled by just coffee and perseverance (or, if you prefer, dew and universe juice). I estimate we were each metabolizing a pound of stored fat per day each of those last three days, and when your body is operating in that mode, life takes on a surreal clarity, all the modern illusions of civilization and societal constructs collapsing, movement and hunger starkly highlighting the few fundamentals of existence, like a chalk outline at a crime scene.
Now we are taking a zero day to make up some of our calorie debt and to switch our minds and bodies back out of "imminent threat" mode and allow the more sophisticated aspects of our psychology and physiognomy to reemerge. But I have to admit, I love those ancient moments of simple animal drive to persist. Somehow, when I feel most bestial and most ancient is when I feel most Human, my mind most clear, my heart its stoutest, my goal most clearly defined.
Day 55 - Just as we reached Upper 4th Of July Spring at around 10:30pm it started to rain in earnest. We put our capes on as we were pelted with large drops. I filled one water bladder from the spring-fed trough. As I turned back toward Kathy to fetch the other bladder my headlamp beam swept the trail downhill of us (where we would be continuing on) and it stopped on the dumbfounded face of a young cougar. He stared back at me agape for a moment before he turned a black-tipped tail to me, then scrambled up the rock face beside the trail and peered down at us. The rain had obscured our noise and scent, so we surprized him by being at his water trough. I was unnerving to walk below those rocks, but we saw no more of the big cat.
Day 56 - After hiking a quick seven morning miles we hit Ray's One Stop in Tejique for a few quick calories. We were warned of an approaching snowstorm and offered a place to stay, but we decided to push on. Eight miles later, after numerous brief showers, as we were hiking along the shoulder of NM377, it began to rain in earnest. We stepped into a culvert running under the highway to have a snack and wait out the squall. We then watched the rain turn to snow, and the snow begin to accumulate. We were dry and our gear was dry, so it made no sense to go out into the storm. I jerry-rigged a tent set, and we spent the night in what we came to call Culvert Camp.
Day 57 - We awoke to about a foot of snow on the ground, and more falling, and realized we weren't leaving Culvert Camp anytime soon. I found the local public radio station on the FM band of my mp3 player and heard the forecast of snow tapering off overnight and mostly sunny with highs in the 50s the next day. A full day and second night in Culvert Camp was dry and protected from the wind and snow, but relatively boring. I did some gear repairs and made a stove from two energy drink cans, as well as building two small dikes and a water channel to protect our tent site in case of massive melt during the night.
Day 58 - Bright sunshine awakened us before our alarm and we knew it was time to get heck out of Culvert Camp, as grateful as we were for it. We climbed out of the culvert, up onto the shoulder of the highway, and straight into a 20+ mph headwind which we battled for the next 16 miles. We enjoyed brief respites at the Ten Points General Store a little north of Escabosa, and the Morning Star Market in Ponderosa Pine. From there we pushed on to the Turkey Trot Trailhead and camped in the parking lot, since it was snow free and gravel, which had drained well. A young bowhunter named Andrew, out after turkey, told us it had snowed 14 inches there. A little later a nice guy named Josh (a fellow thruhiker we lived nearby) invited us by for coffee and breakfast the next morning. So many people have been so generous and kind to us.
Day 59 - We awakened to find Andrew had snuck by early in the morning and left us two apples, two bananas, and a giant avocado. We headed toward Tijeras under bright sun.
DAY 67 - Waiting out a sudden snow squall, our heads tucked into our rain cape, pellet snow pummelled us as we hunkered down. We sat out some of the worst of it, but still spent most of the day hiking through snow, wind, and rain. Wild turkeys, Aberts Squirrels, deer, and rabbits were out and about, leaving the hieroglyphs of their tracks in the snow for us to decipher.
DAY 70 - Gobsmacked, William Shatnered, dumbfounded, Whatever you wanna call it, I’m at a loss for words. The last 36 hours have been a mind-bending blend of striving, frailty, achievement, failure, and the humility born of receiving unwarranted kindness.
Beginning Friday morning Kathy and I were attempting to complete a 43 mile push by 11:30AM Saturday in order to pick up two boxes of food and gear from the Lemitar, NM, Post Office during their limited weekend hours. After 27 miles the math was turning against us. We laid down to nap for an hour or two in a small cut at 5:30AM Saturday, mentally making back up plans for missing our parcel pick up.
We woke up and began beating against a brutal headwind, our hearts despairing as we struggled to pound out our final 16 miles. At 11:30 I got a cell signal and was able to call the Lemitar Post Master just as the Post Office was closing. He generously agreed to meet us at 2:00PM with our packages, sacrificing hours of his afternoon to help two thru-hikers who were complete strangers to him.
Then, in the cafe in the Phillips 66 truck stop, as we were organising our food into our packs, a waitress came over and pointed out an older couple who were leaving and told us they had paid our bill for us.
It is humbling and inspiring to be the recipient of such kindnesses, and it makes me proud to be a Human Being.
With all of the negativity and conflict and division portrayed in the media, these experiences remind me that there is a Kind American Heart, and that it is a very real thing, even if it doesn't make headlines.
DAY 89 - Hitting the west end of the middle fork Gila river trail in a downpour, we found a camp of multiple tents and tarps. A friendly man stepped out and offered to let us shelter under one of their tarps. We took refuge from the storm and cooked up some food while chatting with the three leaders of what turned out to be the SUNY Potsdam Wilderness Education Program. They invited us to camp nearby and give an impromptu talk that evening under one of their tarp shelters as the rain pelted it.
DAY 97 - And after almost 100 days of struggle it's becoming difficult to balance the risk of one versus the other.
As a pancreatic disease survivor having had 40% of her pancreas removed, Kathy is more susceptible to dehydration than the average person. Since numerous rain and snow storms have repeatedly delayed us over the last three months, we are now faced with the triple digit temperatures of an Arizona June, and it is taking its toll.
Kathy's performance has been compromised over the last couple of days, and she woke up feeling queasy and low energy this morning. After only 1 1/2 miles we had to stop in the shade to wait out the heat of the day. We plan to nap until evening and then try to move through the cool of the night and make some progress toward Safford, AZ, our next resupply some 64 miles distant. For now, that is our only goal and everything else is up in the air.
We may have to zero in Safford. We may have to abandon our feet-on-the-ground ethic and hitchhike into Morenci before that for rest and recuperation. Or we may have to bail on our entire GET Yo-yo OKT project. I'm worried about Kathy's well-being.
The problem with our quest to find the limits of Human Endurance is that if we succeed in so doing it will feel more like a failure than a success.
DAY 98 - Our grand enchantment trail yo-yo okt attempt is a fail: it's over, finished, kaput; and it's one of the greatest things team ultrapedestrian has ever done. After nearly 100 days of struggle, the math and weather have turned against us so dramatically and definitively that we are left with no option but to call it quits about 40 miles shy of Safford, AZ, and approximately 300 miles short of our goal of Phoenix. Not only has the weather window of Spring slammed shut, but Summer has very suddenly made itself known with debilitating heat, making continued efforts to progress unsustainable. We tried to transition to the graveyard shift to avoid the heat, hiking through the night, but were unable to find a cool enough place to rest during the day, to the point where Kathy accidentally left her sleeping pad unattended in the direct sun for a few minutes AND IT MELTED.
Confirming our decision, when our friend Gary Housholder met up with us at the southwest end of Eagle Creek to surprise us with ice water, juice, soda, tabbouleh, hummus, veggies, apples, and a bevy of other caloric blessings, he also informed us that Mount Graham was on fire and the official GET route was closed by the Forest Service outside of Safford. Whether we wanted to accept it or not, our adventure was over.
We can (and WILL!) torture ourselves with hypotheticals about zero days we should or should not have taken, approaches we may or may not have modified, and other variables we could have potentially varied to complete our journey, but our goal was not simply to arrive at a destination, but to get there via a methodology, an ethic, a standard of comportment that we were unwilling to sacrifice, even if it endangered the entire project.
In mountaineering, this ethic is called Good Style, or Fair Means. This was expressed in our GET Yo-yo OKT attempt in our Feet-On-The-Ground ethic. Yes, if we had hitchhiked into resupply towns we could have saved time, eliminated mileage, and carried much smaller loads; meaning we could have completed the project. But it would have lacked the awkward grace and sublime brutality of covering every inch of our route on foot. To our minds, that OFF trail mileage in a vehicle would have demeaned the hundreds of thousands of footsteps we had invested ON the trail. It would have, very simply, violated our FOTG ethic. And that was never our goal. We set out to do this project in Good Style, and we never sacrificed that, even though it meant failing to reach our intended end point on the map. But Kathy and I, as Team UltraPedestrian, would rather fail according to our highest standards than succeed having sacrificed what is of importance to us. And so, alas, we have failed to complete our GET Yo-yo attempt.
I'm sure many people are wondering, and, no, we are not okay with this. It will haunt us for years to come. It will be a bugaboo prowling the periphery of our psyches for decades. We will never fully accept it. And years from now, when you see us grinding out another implausibly grueling adventure and think to yourselves, "What drives them on?" this fail will be one of the answers. And that is part of what makes it such an amazing investment. It may not have returned the immediate profits for which we had planned and hoped, but we will reap the rewards of this failure far into the future in our Life, in our Love, and in the Grand Adventure that is our time on this planet.
What a Blessing to fall short of an implausibly lofty goal! What a Blessing to be a Biped and a Hominid! What a Blessing to be a Human Being! What a Blessing to be ALIVE!
Ras and KathyVaughan are Team UltraPedestrian. They are fastpackers, ultramarathoners, adventure runners, thru-hikers and mountaineers who are widely recognized as progenitors of the Only Known Time movement. Ras and Kathy write about their adventures at www.UltraPedestrian.com
By Kathy Vaughan
While in the midst of an intense, 1,600+ mile double thru-hike of the Arizona National Scenic Trail, my husband of 20 years, Ras, said he had a crazy idea. He said it as if we weren’t already in the middle of just such a thing. As we were making our way through the challenging and beautiful topography of the AZT, he had realized there were three other desert trails in the U.S. that are also approximately 800 miles long, and that no one had attempted to yo-yo. (“Yo-yo” means thru-hiking a trail once in each direction in a single push, hiking from the beginning to the end, and then back to the beginning, like a yo-yo running out to the end of its string and then returning to its start point.) He said this could essentially become a Desert Yo-yo Grand Slam Only Known Time project, playing out over a number of years. We were in the midst of doing something incredibly difficult that no one had ever done before, and here he was laying an even bigger, harder never-before-done idea at my feet, like a proud cat with a ravaged rodent. Unbeknownst to me, this idea had already taken on a life of its own in his mind, and we were indeed doing this.
Attempting to yo-yo another difficult desert route, let alone three more of them, sounded ludicrous to me at the time. Now, almost a year and a half later, Ras and I are gearing up for phase two of the Desert Yo-yo Grand Slam series, the 770 mile Grand Enchantment Trail. We begin the hike on March 4th (as in the command, march forth!). The trail will take us from the outskirts of Phoenix, Arizona to the mountains high above Albuquerque, New Mexico, and back again. We plan to adhere to a strict “feet on the ground” thru-hiker style attempt, meaning we will not hitchhike or accept rides into or out of towns to pick up our resupplies. We will cover every mile on our own two feet, and not set foot in a vehicle from the time we leave Phoenix until the time we return there, victorious. We will accept “trail magic” along the way (unplanned and unsolicited generosity from supporters), but will not have anyone crewing us or meeting us at pre-planned points with support of any kind, emotional or material. Our goal is to accomplish our quest according to a pure Self-Supported ethic.
Most of the projects that Ras and I do together are conceived while already engaged in another one. It makes sense. We are in our element. We are feeling high on life and endorphins. The fresh air and the natural world are filling us up with all the nourishment and sustenance we can handle, both mental and physical. We don’t want to be anywhere else. We have to plan our next adventure to ensure this. This is how it works. Big, Crazy Ideas beget other Big, Crazy Ideas.
Now, just a few days before we hit the trail, Ras and I are busy putting together our twenty-one resupply packages. They are filled to the brim with dehydrated veggie chili & refried beans; rice & potatoes; dried fruits & veggies; dried marinara powder & rice noodles; hummus mix & peanut powder; wasabi peas, chocolate covered espresso beans, and dried soy curls seasoned in a variety of different ways by both Ras and I; oatmeal packets, Honey Stinger Waffles, Expedition Espresso Trail Butter, coffee, hot chocolate, tea, and soups. We have everything we need to fuel the 1,500+ miles we will hike together through Arizona and New Mexico. Putting together these resupply boxes is both daunting and exhilarating. Late last night, Ras was taping together bundles of batteries for our headlamps, loading up our new Mp3 players and making sure we had all the trail beta. I looked at him with my eyes glazed over and said “I still need to bake chocolate chip banana muffins for the road and get my blog posted from my Methow Trails 200k Ski Challenge in January.” Ah, the life of an adventurer. I would only trade it for a life filled with more adventuring.
Our old dog Puzzle and our furry, loveable cat Dodger will stay behind with Ras’ mother. Our belongings will be safe and protected in a storage unit and the guest room of Ras’ mother’s home. Our ultrarunner friend Miguel Moreno, owner of The UltraHouse in Phoenix, will keep our car at his place while we trek to the far reaches of New Mexico and back again to Arizona. My mother will ship our boxes to us for the westbound portion of our hike. An anonymous donor helped us with a few final pieces of important gear. Other friends have offered to meet us on the trail with a warm hello, water, encouragement. An adventure of this magnitude becomes easier with the support of our surrounding community. Ras and I are both grateful for this, knowing that others have helped make a thru-hike of the Grand Enchantment Trail possible for us.
After returning from our last thru-hike yoyo of the Arizona Trail, we worked for fifteen months for a yard care and weeding service to wrap up expenses from that hike and prepare to set out on the trail again for this GET thru-hike yo-yo. Determined to get back out on the trail, we accepted side jobs and sent in proposals for sponsorship funding. Gossamer Gear, Seven Hills Running Shop in Seattle, Honey Stinger and Bogg’s Trail Butter all came through with generous amounts of gear and trail nutrition. Altra Running partnered up with Nathan Sports to provide the crucial support necessary to make this adventure possible, and in so doing made the dreams and ambitions of the second hike in our Desert Yo-yo Grand Slam project a reality. We both feel honored, supported, understood and blessed. Our goal is to inspire others to live their dream, get outside and explore, push beyond perceived physical and mental limitations, and make spending time with those you love a priority. Zero Limits is a mentality and a philosophy we live by and want to spread to others. And thanks to Altra, we have the opportunity to do just that. Give Thanks for Life!
Kathy’s Gear List: Lone Peak 3.0s and NeoShell Mids Nathan Journey FastPack Altra Running Apparel including gaiters, a skort from the new Spring Collection, Altra short sleeve tech shirt, lightweight buff, and the Zoned Heat jacket and tights. Gossamer Gear trekking poles and ¾ length sleeping pad Julbo Zebra lens sunglasses Black Diamond Polar Icon Headlamp Smartwool neck gaiter, arm sleeves and calf sleeves. Injinji toe socks Zensah Seamless Sports Bra, ankle compression sleeves and knee compression sleeve. Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Down Puffy and Montbell Down Puffy Pants Kahtoola Microspikes Camp Corsa ice axe Burton snowboarding gloves
Journey along with Kathy and Ras as they attempt the first known yo-yo of the Grand Enchantment Trail, and the rest of their Desert Yo-yo Grand Slam, by following them on Facebook and Instagram, and by following the hashtags #GETyoyo #GETit and, of course, #ZeroLimits.
This article originally appeared on the Altra Running blog