Get me to PINE!

Having a foot injury really made me question the continuation of my journey. One one hand, I could quit this hike and return home to heal, hopefully before any long term damage took place. On the other, I knew that failing to complete the AZT would drive me insane and I would regret it. I Googled “stress fracture” and seemed to be showing all the signs and symptoms, but an injury like that is so vague, it takes X-ray images to positively diagnose. I decided to continue my forward progress and evaluate my foot pain as I went.

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The Mazatzal Wilderness stood before me, and 115 miles would put me in Pine, AZ. Setting off with enough food to allow 20 mile days, I began hiking this notoriously overgrown section. Catclaw shrubs tore at my legs, and the scrub oak cloaked the trail into obscurity, but I was determined to push on. Pine AZ marked the end of the low desert, and would put me into higher elevations away from the excessive cactus country I had been walking through. By starting my day earlier and hiking into the evening, my mileage actually increased, and those 20 mile days I expected to hike turned into 30s. The Altra Lone Peak shoes kept my injured foot enveloped in a protective layer of cushioning, and was a vast improvement over the shoes I started in. My foot pain had subsided! Arriving in Pine a full day earlier than expected, I was grateful for the comforts of a cheap cabin.

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Limping to Superior

This last stretch between Oracle and Superior really tested my standards for ingestible water. Those who have hiked on the Continental Divide Trail know that cattle tanks are often the only source of hydration, and that dirty cow-water is a filthy blessing of H20 in an otherwise arid world. I expected the Arizona Trail to have questionable water, but I drank from sources that I cannot begin to describe. Sources that make the CDT cow tanks look like pristine springs! Luckily, there were a few water caches put out for hikers. An artificial oasis of plastic jugs containing water cannot be relied upon, but stumbling into one sure lifts the spirits.

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I also made a bit of a mistake with planning for this hike, and it nearly put me off trail for the season. Instead of sticking with the Altra Lone Peak shoes that treated me so well on the Continental Divide Trail, I decided to test out the new Superior model. These shoes fit VERY well, and they seemed to work for me until the incredibly rocky terrein of the Arizona Trail shredded them to pieces. I was still maintaining 25+ mile days, but my shoes lacked any cushioning, and I felt a twinge of pain developing in my foot. My resupply team had sent me a new pair of Lone Peaks in Oracle, but by then the damage had been done and I was nearly limping into the town of Superior AZ. Knowing that I needed a rest for my poor feet, I decided to take a zero day in town. My hiking partner, Dirtmonger, decided to press on without me, so I sat in a hotel room alone, questioning if further progress would do long term damage.

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Oracle, AZ

lint

These last 200 miles have been a real kick in the pants. Dirtmonger and I started our AZT hike on April 3rd, and the trail wasted no time showing how challenging Arizona can be. Water sources are few and far between, and the relentless desert sun beats down with intense heat. Steep, rocky tread brings you up and over steep mountains, while the desert flora tries to scratch and tear your skin from every angle. Everything out here sticks, stabs and pokes, making a casual bushwhack feel like a herd of cats are clawing at your legs. Pristine springs bubble out pure water in one section, while 20 miles later the only source of hydration is a fetid cow tank. waterOn one section we tramped through Saguaro Park, surrounded by towering cacti and baking desert sands, only to climb 4000 feet and camp amongst conifers. I awoke in the middle of the night being pelted by hail, and after quickly setting up my tarp, watched in amazement as the surrounding area was dusted with a layer of snow.

The Arizona Trail is full of surprises. After a 25+ mile day last week, we camped along the trail as dusk set in, and not 10 minutes after stopping were surprised to hear someone yell out “BORDER PATROL!” as they tromped into our camp. After their labored breathing slowed enough for a conversation, we learned that these agents had been tracking us for miles, thinking we were immigrants. Our quick pace kept them chasing at our tails, and although it was a tense situation, I did my best to keep it comical by asking which restaurant they recommended in town! (They recommended the Mexican place!)

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All my gear is holding up well. For this hike, I’m trying out the Gossamer Gear Kumo backpack, which is a change of pace from the Mountain Laurel Designs pack I usually hike with. I’m also trying out a new trail runner shoe from Altra called the Superior. The wide toebox is AMAZING, and they have prevented any blisters from forming. Unfortunately all this great gear doesn’t offset my complete lack of pre-hike training, and while my hiking partner has been running 12+ miles a day at 7000 ft elevation, my sea level strolls around the block have left me soft in the middle. Sheer determination and stubborness have allowed me to keep up, but I just gasp with oxygen deprivation on the steep uphill routes above 6000 feet.

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When one thru hike isn’t enough.

I’m not very good at planning. You’d think I would be meticulous with logistics–being that I spend months on end hiking across the continent–but the truth is, I just kind of jump on into adventure. Sometimes my plans change overnight, and this year is no different.

The last few months, I’ve been toying with the idea of another Pacific Crest Trail thru hike, since I have such fond memories of both my other PCT treks. Everything leading up to my trip was going as planned until my good friend Dirtmonger casually informed me of the hike he was conjuring up. His plan was to hike a huge loop combining the Arizona, Hayduke, Colorado and Grand Enchantment Trails…and he invited me to tag along!

Instead of joining him for the entire way, I figured I’d backpack the AZT portion with him (800 miles) and then jump over to the PCT (2650 miles) and head north from Mexico. That means this year I won’t be settling for one thru hike, but two! Maybe this way I’ll end up starting the PCT minus the huge beer gut that usually accompanies me for the first leg of my journeys. An 800 mile warm up should have me in rippin’ good shape!

I’m stoked to be trying out a new model of footwear on this hike. Last year I wore the Lone Peak model of trail runners from Altra, and they performed extremely well. The wide toe box allowed my feet the space they need to prevent blisters, and the Zero Drop construction was perfectly suited to thousands of miles in the backcountry. Altra recently debuted a new model called the Superior, and I’m eager to put them through the wringer this summer! Lighter in weight than the Lone Peak and featuring a removable rock plate, the Superior should help me keep my feet in prime condition and the rest of my body comfortable. Well, as much as a shoe can, when you’re hiking 30+ miles a day for 4.5 months!  http://www.altrazerodrop.com/fitness/en/Altra/Men/superior-men

 

Montana? Already?

Updates on this site have been lacking, but it isn’t due to a shortage of amazing events. As one of the few hikers out here without a smartphone, gaining access to the internet can be challenging.

This past month has been chock full of adventure, mayhem, and glorious trail randomness! I finally caught up with the footprints I’d been following for 2 months and met Dirtmonger, another CDT hiker who started a few days before me. Check out his blog here; postholer.com/journal

The Great Divide Basin, the Wind River Range, Yellowstone…so many spectacular areas, and lucky me, I get to soak it all in while hiking a steady 3.5 MPH pace. The trail is a cleansing place, and every night I get to quietly reflect on all I saw during the day. Dusk turns to night, the stars spin their patterns above my simple camp, and I fall asleep eager for tomorrow.

 

 

 

Colorado!

I’m getting a little behind on my updates, since internet availability isn’t as often as I’d prefer, but I can assure y’all that I’m still out here hiking away! Crossing the border into Colorado meant lingering snow, and the postholing was terrible at times. Sinking up to your thighs in snow makes for low mile days, but there isn’t any point in complaining…you just keep pushing forward.

I’m currently in Leadville, CO doing some food resupply after a much needed shower. The trail in this section is splendid, since the CDT and the Colorado Trail are one and the same. Very well maintained, so 30 mile days are a snap. My pack is light, my spirits high, and the mountains just flow under my feet. Birdsong wakes me in the morning, and a canopy of stars sees me off to bed. In between…I walk. I think about everything and nothing, both at the same time. The sun rolls across the sky, shadows play off the dirt and trees, my eyes take it all in and the mobile meditation of hiking soothes my mind.

After 15,000 miles of hiking the long distance trails, I finally saw my first mountain lion! It was only a 3 second viewing, but there was no mistaking that huge cougar tail as it bounded into the forest. I was very pleased to finally see this elusive creature, and would be lying if I didn’t admit to casting a few backwards glances the rest of the day. Didn’t want that kitty sneaking up on me!

Backwards on the CDT

Well, not backwards really, but this year I’m hiking in the opposite direction of my 2007 hike. I left the Mexican border at Antelope Wells on the evening of May 3rd and have been hiking north ever since. It’s been interesting to see the landscape in a different season, and I’m constantly reminded how different my emotions were back then. In 2007, New Mexico was the end of my hike, and each step was closer to completing a 2800 mile walk across the continent. My brain and body had been in hiking mode for 4 months! Now I’m walking the same path, but I’m seeing my surroundings with a fresh perspective and the realization that my journey is just beginning.

The quiet meditation of solitary hiking has been wonderful, and I’m already feeling the stress of urban living melt away. I pop into town every hundred miles or so for food resupply, and am reminded that civilization is a nice place to visit, but I don’t want to dwell there longer than need be. My day starts with the break of dawn, and the chirping of birds is a gentle alarm to nudge me out of sleep. I’ve been sleeping under the stars without my tarp most nights, and I love watching dusk fade to black as the stars make their appearance. Coyote barking in the distance tells me that while my day is done, others are still awake with business to attend to.

Water sources are far and few between, so I must pay close attention to my maps and stay hydrated in this harsh desert environment. The desert flora is beautiful, but everything has defenses to either stab or scratch the unwary traveler. My shoes fill with sand, and lips dry and crack in the arid air. Fierce winds try to snatch the hat off my head, rattlesnakes shake their warning at my approach, and the circling buzzards remind me that my life is of no importance here. My demise, however, would fill a hungry belly and these bones would become more white artifacts amongst the debris of animals who perished out here.

Food!

A few folks have asked me about my diet on trail, so here is a sample menu. I shouldn’t be writing this on an empty stomach, since the grumblings are distracting me something fierce.

Breakfast consists of dry cereal almost every morning. I prefer granola, but will eat just about any cereal I can purchase in town. Cracklin’ Oat Bran is one of my favorites! Instead of mixing in powdered milk, I like to eat the cereal a handful at a time and wash it down with water.

Instead of taking a dedicated lunch I prefer to snack throughout the day. I feel this allows my body to remain fueled with a steady supply of nutrients, instead of one big meal. Bread products like bagels and pita pockets make a good base for peanut butter or cheese. Dried fruits and nuts are always present, as are food bars (Pro Bars, Skout Bars, etc) and those foil packages of tuna fish. I’d eat beef jerky everyday, but high costs prohibit that and I eat it sparingly.

Dinner is the only meal I cook. I like to prepare buckwheat groats (kasha) or quinoa and add whatever random extras I have to make a “chaos stew”. Packing out fresh vegetables from town and cooking them the first night or two is a nice treat. Carrots, broccoli, and cabbage often find their way into my bag. For a flavorful sauce I’ll add dehydrated coconut milk, peanut butter or miso soup packets. After those supplies are exhausted I turn to dehydrated vegetables. My recent partnership with Hungry Hikers will expand my vegetable intake to many new freeze dried foods, and I’m looking forward to that!

When resupplying from a small grocery store that doesn’t offer healthy grains or vegetables, I’ll turn to boxed mac-n-cheese, dehydrated potatoes or ramen noodles. I’ve even developed a taste for those single serving foil packets of SPAM! Living in a city that gives me access to healthy food has spoiled me a bit, and I find it sad to see how many people only have heavily processed junk food lining the shelves of their neighborhood grocery store. But then I eat a sandwich containing a Snickers bar and a hunk ‘0 SPAM and remind myself not to worry about these things.

 

Oregon Field Guide

Tonight, OPB is airing an episode of Oregon Field Guide that features yours truly. Here are all the details:

Episode:

Kite Festival, Trees and Pollution, Ultralight Hiking

When:

8:30pm March 1st, 2012

Synopsis:

Clint “Lint” Bunting came to backpacking late in life, but once he took to it he went “all in”. He has hiked over 14,000 miles, including all of the big American Thru hikes: the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, Ice Age Trail and the Continental divide Trail, some of them twice! What’s more, he now hikes for weeks at a time with an 8-pound pack, significantly less than the 40-50 pounds many backpackers typically carry.

Producer:

Ed Jahn

Videographer/Editor:

Todd Sonflieth

View Online?

Many of the Oregon Field Guide videos are available to watch on the OPB website. If/when it becomes available,  you should be able to watch it here: www.opb.org/programs/ofg/segments/view/1821