Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Kayaking: First experience, with New Mexico Kayak Instruction

I'm still working on my hiking, swimming and public speaking merit badges, but tonight I will begin working on requirements for another badge - kayaking. I'll be attending a "pool party" hosted by New Mexico Kayak Instruction where I will have a chance to learn from kayaking expert Kelly Gosset the basics of kayaking to fulfill the first few requirements of the kayaking merit badge.

Before meeting with Kelly I will be reading up on kayaking in the Boy Scouts of America Fieldbook. Then, after my first experience with kayaking tonight I will be blogging about what I learned. Specifically I'll be talking about requirements merit badge requirements 2 and 3, which are:
  1. Do the following: Describe various types of kayaks and how they differ in design, materials, and purpose. Name the parts of the kayak you are using for this exercise. Demonstrate how to choose an appropriately sized kayak paddle and how to position your hands.
  2. Do the following: Tell what precautions must be taken for a safe trip afloat. Demonstrate how to select and properly fit a PFD. Explain the importance of safety equipment such as PFDs, air bags, grab loops, and helmets.
I will be meeting Kelly at his storage facility prior to the event to help load the kayaks and deliver them to the pool. Then, while at the event, I'm not sure yet if I will actually get into a kayak or not. I'm the kind of person who tends to over-think things, and I still have a bit of anxiety regarding my weight and buoyancy, but if I feel confident in the moment I will go for it.

Stay tuned for more on my kayaking adventures here on the Man of Merit blog. Also, read about my story of overcoming super obesity at MyFitLife2Day.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Public Speaking: Finding synergy between Boy Scouts and Toastmasters

I've been working on the Public Speaking Merit Badge requirements for a couple of months now. I joined Toastmasters International this summer and began working toward the Competent Communicator designation, and it turns out some of the requirements of the CC match the Boy Scouts Public Speaking Merit Badge, which are:
  1. Give a three- to five-minute introduction of yourself to an audience such as your troop, class at school, or some other group.
  2. Prepare a three- to five-minute talk on a topic of your choice that incorporates body language and visual aids.
  3. Give an impromptu talk of at least two minutes either as part of a group discussion or before your counselor. Use a subject selected by your counselor that is interesting to you but that is not known to you in advance and for which you do not have time to prepare.
  4. Select a topic of interest to your audience. Collect and organize information about the topic and prepare an outline. Write an eight- to 10-minute speech, practice it, then deliver it in a conversational way.
  5. Show you know parliamentary procedure by leading a discussion or meeting according to accepted rules of order, or by answering questions on the rules of order.
To date, I have finished the first, second and third requirements of the Public Speaking Merit Badge by participating in several Table Topics sessions and completing the matching CC requirements (specifically speech #1 - the Ice Breaker - and speeches #5 and #8 - Your Body Speaks and Get Comfortable with Visual Aids). I have also completed the fourth requirement by having served as General Evaluator of one Toastmasters meeting.

I am currently working on writing speech #10 - Inspire Your Audience - which would fulfill the fourth Public Speaking Merit Badge requirement. Finishing Toastmasters speech #10 will coincide with my completion of the Boy Scouts Public Speaking Merit Badge.

NOTE: For anyone just tuning in, check out my mission with this blog, On Becoming a Man of Merit.

Going for Goals and Conditioning for "The Year of the Big Trails"

I will be heading back to New Mexico to complete the 20-mile urban hike I blogged about last month. I didn't get a chance to do it then because of scheduling, but this time around I'm going to make sure it happens. I'm ready to finish the final requirement of the Hiking Merit Badge!

I'm conditioning for the hike here in Southern California's Coachella Valley, which means I'm losing the advantage of being accustomed to the 5,000 ft. elevation in Albuquerque where I'll do the 20 miler. So this week I plan on doing a day hike to Tahquitz Peak in the San Jacinto Mountains, which starts at 6,500 ft above sea level and ascends over the course of 4.5 miles to nearly 9,000 ft.

The primary reason I'm doing the Tahquitz Peak hike this week, besides the fact that it will help me progress toward my goal, is that I will get to hike along a section of the Pacific Crest Trail, one of the three powerhouse scenic through-trails of the National Trails System. When I get back to New Mexico I hope to backpack along a section of the Continental Divide Trail (probably in the San Pedro Parks Wilderness). Then, in the late spring to early summer, I am planning to do a four-day backpacking trip along 42 miles of the Appalachian Trail in Maryland.

I'm calling 2013 "The Year of the Big Trails". As I prepare for the longer hikes and backpacking trips I'll get a chance to pursue the requirements for other Boy Scouts merit badges on my list, including Wilderness Survival, Emergency Preparedness, Camping, Cooking, Backpacking, Orienteering, Personal Fitness, Swimming, Kayaking and Photography, among others.

I also will start working on Photography, Public Speaking and Citizenship in the Community as I meld this blog with other projects I'm working on.

But before I get ahead of myself, I need to focus on getting this 20-miler done. When I finish it, of course I won't be getting any external recognition for doing it, but I will be getting the satisfaction I always get from setting up goals and knocking them down! And of course I'll give myself an image of each merit badge I complete here on this blog.

Monday, October 15, 2012

BSA denies Ryan Andresen Eagle Scout award because his is gay

Ryan Andresen, Boy Scout denied his Eagle award for being gay
The Boy Scouts of America recently denied 17-year-old Californian Ryan Andresen the Eagle Scout award on the basis that he is openly gay. Based on all reports, the boy worked hard for years, showing dedication to his troop and to the organization, and to me it seems unfathomable that in 2012 this type of discrimination still exists. (Sign the petition his mom started to help change the BSA's position here.)

First, let me say, as someone who grew up in the scouting tradition and chose to leave the scouts voluntarily at 14 because I was conflicted over my burgeoning understanding of my own sexuality and the blatantly discriminatory stance of the Boy Scouts of America organization, this recent turn of events troubles me deeply. On the one hand, I feel that society is finally coming to the realization that gay people are no different than straight people. But as we push for and are winning our rightful inclusion in all aspects of the law, including marriage and adoption rights, the Boy Scouts of America is still somehow allowed to discriminate.

I started this blog because I share many of the core values of the Boy Scouts organization. I sincerely believe that the ills of the world could be solved if young people were allowed to be themselves as they pursue the challenges laid out in a learning series like the Boy Scouts merit badge curriculum. An Eagle Scout must complete a rigorous journey through 21 merit badges - 10 core merit badges and 11 of their own choosing. This blog started with my quest to complete the hiking merit badge requirements, and after nearly a year I still am stuck on finishing its final task because it is so great a fitness challenge that it has taken me this much time to work up to accomplishing it.

And this is just one badge! Can you imagine what it must feel like for Ryan Andresen right now, having completed all of this hard work only to be denied his dream because he chose to be honest with himself and the world!?!? The policy of the Boy Scouts almost seems to prefer that boys and men remain closeted and testify to the beliefs they lay out with regard to moral uprightness in order to participate. According to the Scout Law, a scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. I'm sure Ryan Andresen is all these things, and I hope his mom Karen is successful in helping him fight the Boy Scouts ruling to deny him his Eagle Scout award before the boy turns 18, the cut-off age for receiving the honor.

Meanwhile, I will continue my quest to pursue Boy Scouts merit badges simply because I recognize the value it brings me as an individual to do so. It's not to actually get the Eagle Scout award - obviously - since at 41 I'm 23 years older than the cut-off. But I will learn and grow from the experience, and that's exactly what I set out to do. In a way, every time I check off a merit badge from my list I feel it will be somehow vindicating.

Just like after 9/11 when we were told not to change the way we lived our lives because then the terrorists would win, I'm not going to let the Boy Scouts bully me, and I'm going to fight against their bullying of others. I'm going to put my voice along the likes of Eagle Scout Zach Wahls, the founder of Scouts for Equality, who is fighting for the inclusion of gays into the Boy Scouts organization. And I hope you will, too. Sign the Scouts for Equality petition here.

Watch Ryan on the Ellen show:


Monday, October 8, 2012

Hiking: 20 mile trip plan to complete merit badge requirements

I have accomplished all requirements for the Boy Scouts Hiking Merit Badge except one, which is to hike 20 contiguous miles in a single day. This summer I laid out on this blog an ambitious plan to hike 20 miles from Palm Springs to San Jacinto Peak and back to the upper tram terminal. After careful consideration, however, I have determined this is just not do-able considering my current weight and fitness level. I am still planning on working up to this amazing hike, but in the interest of checking this Hiking Merit Badge goal off of my to do list I have decided to make a new plan.

Old Town Albuquerque will be one of the sights along my 20-mile hike
Currently, I'm back in Albuquerque enjoying Balloon Fiesta week and supporting my partner Khizer as he completes his final two weeks of training for the Duke City Marathon. I thought I would take advantage of the beautiful and crisp fall days here at an elevation of nearly 5,000 feet to do my final 20 miler as an urban hike. As such, I have mapped out a suitable route using MapMyWalk.com and will plan to accomplish this hike Thursday, October 11.

I will start at Khizer's place here in Barelas and begin my hike by heading east, up Coal Avenue to Nob Hill. This first leg of the trip is three miles and has an approximate 300 foot elevation gain (the only true gain on the hike). I'll get some coffee at Starbucks and then head back down the hill via Central Avenue and follow it west through University Heights and Downtown all the way to the Rio Grande, nearly eight miles into my hike.

From there I will take the Paseo del Bosque Trail north for about four miles to Montano Road. At just over 12 miles into the hike I will stop to get lunch at Flying Star on Rio Grande, where Khizer will be working. It will be nice to see his smiling face as I'm more than halfway to my goal.

After lunch I will take Rio Grande Boulevard south, passing Central Avenue, and then take a network of local streets, including Tingley Drive, to Bridge Boulevard, at 18 miles. I will then go east on Bridge to Broadway, then north to Coal Avenue, then back west to 3rd, and finally south to arrive home at the 20-mile mark.

I estimate this hike will take about 10 hours, considering I will average a pace of between two and three miles per hour and take breaks whenever I find something interesting to look at and photograph - like balloons floating overhead, the gorgeous Rio Grande and cottonwood trees of the bosque, and of course Old Town.

I will wear plenty of sunscreen, wear my wide-brimmed hat and carry snacks and three liters of water (I'll need more but I'll be able to re-fill at the halfway point, so no problem).

Stay tuned for the hike report on Friday. Hmmmm, I wonder how I'll celebrate finally accomplishing this goal. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Boy Scouts must change to become inclusive of all

The Boy Scouts of America say they exclude gays on moral grounds. This is ridiculous for so many reasons, not the least of which is that the arguments' underlying presumption is that gay people cannot live moral lives. Beyond this morality smokescreen, however, there is something more deeply disturbing about the anti-gay policy that the Boy Scouts organization continue to promulgate. It is really nothing more than a cover for the covert indoctrination of young people by fearful adults who fight against progressive cultural change.

As a former Boy Scout I can tell you this has always troubled me. Fortunately the boys in my troop were not the kind to go around calling people "fags" or anything like that. But the leaders were a different story. I remember not being that great at some of the more "manly" activities scouts are supposed to excel in. Plus, I didn't exactly like getting sweaty or dirty - and if an activity involved both of these, forget it! While not one called me a "fag" for my aversion to things other boys thrived on, they did comment that I was "acting like a girl".

This always seemed so strange to me. I knew lots of girls who loved to get sweaty and dirty. My sister - although very feminine - was certainly one of them! The fact that they called my behavior girlish implied that my sister was acting like a boy. This just blew my mind. Perhaps I was too logical for these men.

When I dropped out of Boy Scouts when I was 14 it had nothing to do with the "moral" policy - I knew I was gay even back then, and I was quite comfortable in my ability to hide this part of who I was. Besides, I had no intention on having sex until I was married, or at least until I fell in love and was sharing my life with the man of my dreams. It was simply that the arrogant hyper-masculinity to me came of as inauthentic, almost like these men were hiding something, a loathing driven by a deeper fear of themselves as being less than what they are expected to be as men in our society.

Theirs is a rigid intolerance. But the point of this rant is not to bash the intolerant, but rather to say that the real travesty of all this is that the men who continue to deny gay men and boys the ability to participate in the Boy Scouts are doing a great disservice to us all. We need the Boy Scouts, perhaps now more than ever. The Boy Scouts has a great curriculum where boys can learn so many amazing things that aren't taught in school, or even by many parents in this busy day and age.

The Boy Scouts teaches boys to be self-directed learners, how to seek out mentors from people in the community, how to be creative when coming up with solutions to community problems and how to plan, organize and implement those solutions through community service projects.

Furthermore, Boy Scouts are encouraged to be fit-minded. They are taught to respect their bodies and their minds, and not to pollute them with things that will cause harm to themselves or to others. In this age where childhood obesity is being talked about as an epidemic poised to topple our already crippled healthcare system and irrevocably damage our ability as a country to defend ourselves, we need the Boy Scouts to be inclusive, because by remaining exclusive they are acting in ways that defy the intention of the organization altogether. The model of building up fit boys for the future of our country must be salvaged, wrestled away from the bigots for the common good!

Let's not forget that, according to the Boy Scout Oath, a scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. These qualities are not reserved for straight folks. In fact, they are not reserved for any of us. We must each choose to strive to be these things every day - regardless of sexual orientation or any other determining factor for that matter!

For those of you who wonder why, in light of the Boy Scouts of America's continuing prejudice against gays, I would continue to align this blog with the mission of the Boy Scouts, pursuing the merit badges I missed out on when I dropped out the Boy Scouts organization sometime during my early teen years, please know this: I will not let anyone keep me down, and I will not back away from the challenge of becoming the best man I can be just because someone says I am not "morally" fit to do so. I am committed to living my life as a man of merit today and everyday - and I'm not going to let a few, narrow-minded traditionalists at the top of the Boy Scouts organization push me out again. 

Just like Gandhi said: "First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win."

As always thanks for reading, sharing and tweeting!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Swimming: Assessing skills and setting goals

From its inception, the Man of Merit blog has focused on my fulfilling the requirements of the hiking merit badge, since hiking has been my exercise of choice for the past year of my fit life journey. I have decided, though, that since I am still working toward completing the capstone of the hiking merit badge - completing a 20-mile hike in one day - I should up the ante on my fitness pursuits by taking on another goal. As such, starting today, I will begin working toward the swimming merit badge as well.

How could I not go for the swimming merit badge with access to this?
As many of you know, I am an adult who, upon turning 40 last year, took up the goal of spending the next 10 years trying to accomplish my dream of completing the requirements for the Boy Scouts Eagle Scouts rank. I dropped out of scouts when I was younger because I had low self-esteem and felt I couldn't keep up with the other boys. Now that I have the confidence, I may not officially be able to earn the Eagle Scout rank but I'm sure as hell going to benefit from the experience I missed out on all those years ago.

Achieving the Boy Scouts of America Eagle Scout rank requires that scouts earn a total of 21 merit badges. Ten of these are considered core requirements, and among the 10, only nine are mandated. For one, scouts are given a choice among three options - hiking, swimming and cycling. So I will probably plan on taking up the cycling merit badge once I have lost a bit more weight, too.

While I have wanted to add swimming to my fitness routine for a while, it just wasn't convenient. But I recently moved to the sunny and hot desert region of the Coachella Valley in Southern California, and the community where I live in has a pool that's perfect for taking on this new challenge. So here I go!

My friend Dan will help me with the requirements of this merit badge that require two people. He recently gave me a swimming lesson that helped me improve my breathing while doing the crawl stroke, and he said he'd be glad to help me further my swimming goals.

The requirements of the swimming merit badge can be found on the Boy Scouts of America web site. I already know I can do many of the requirements and will get with Dan soon to check these off my list. Meanwhile, I will begin with requirement five - the strokes - since these are the fundamentals that I still may need a little work on. Here is what is stated in requirement five of the BSA swimming merit badge:
Swimming: Req. 5. Swim continuously for 150 yards using the following strokes in good form and in a strong manner: front crawl or trudgen for 25 yards, back crawl for 25 yards, sidestroke for 25 yards, breaststroke for 25 yards, and elementary backstroke for 50 yards.
For the past week I have been swimming a little over 150 yards each day of both the front crawl as well as the breaststroke, so I'm good with these. The elementary backstroke and sidestroke I know are easy for me, so this will not be a problem. But the back crawl might pose some difficulty for me, so I think I'll head out to the pool in a little bit to practice this.

Based on the size of the pool I have access to - which is approximately 50-feet long in the center lane - I will plan on doing the following to complete this requirement by swimming the following continuous progression:
  1. Front crawl - two lengths
  2. Back crawl - two lengths
  3. Sidestroke - two lengths
  4. Breaststroke - two lengths
  5. Elementary backstroke - three lengths
For the first four of these strokes I will actually be swimming 33 yards instead of 25 because of the length of the pool. This is good, I figure, since I am older than the typical scout who would be doing this and possibly in greater need of the extended aerobic exercise! Plus, some of the other requirements of the swimming merit badge include lifesaving and survival skills, for which I will need to be in better shape than I currently am in.

As always, I appreciate all my followers for reading, commenting and sharing my blog with others. This blog is my way of tracking my progress and creating accountability for myself as I pursue my goals. You're a big part of that! Thanks!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Thoughts from the hiking trail to San Jacinto Peak

Out on the trail, a man has a lot of time to think. This past weekend, I spent 7.5 hours in the San Jacinto State Park Wilderness. While I did say "hey" to a few of my fellow hikers, and I even stopped to chat with a few, the majority of that time was spent with my thoughts.

Collection of maps and guides for San Jacinto and Southern California
I'm a map guy, so I had several maps with me to help me find my way from the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway's Mountain Station to the summit of San Jacinto Peak, looming 10,834 feet above the Los Angeles Basin. I picked up the free state parks map from the ranger station, and I bought the $2 map available at the tram's gift shop. I even brought along two hiking guide books with maps of their own. I was well equipped to find my way.

Sign near the San Jacinto Peak trail head in Long Valley
Still, as I walked from the lush forests of lodgepole pines at the bottom of Long Valley to the sloping fields of enormous black-speckled white boulders above, my eyes took constant notice of the trail and its many signs, made by nature as well as left by man.

A ridgeline rises from the mostly dry stream-bed leaving Long Valley
Trails have a way of following the easiest route, much like water. In fact, many old trails follow the paths of the flourishing and green riparian environment, close to streams where travelers and their animals would find refreshment and cool respite away from the blazing sun. Other trails follow ridge-lines, where the elements of land and sky come together to aid onward navigation. At least that's how it is here in the desert southwest, home of grand mountains.

From Round Valley, Cornell Peak, rises to 9,721', still 1,000' below the goal
Along the well-worn path to San Jacinto peak, I followed the low trail, along a creek bed whose springtime rush had calmed and collected in near-still pools among the leaf litter of the forest floor, a vibrant riparian canyon. The trail signs led me, sometimes steeply up the sloping canyon walls, to the popular wilderness campground at Round Valley. From there I could see the various smaller peaks within Mount San Jacinto State Park, which lead northward toward the mountain's high point - San Jacinto Peak. Even these smaller peaks seemed so far off. Later, though, as I reached the top, I was humbled by the realization of how small they actually were, and by knowing that I was that much smaller still.

Rain over lower Coachella Valley and Salton Sea, seen from Wellman Divide
Continuing on, I struggled a mile or so more to reach the popular resting point Wellman Divide, a saddle where one catches the first glimpse of the sweeping Coachella Valley below, and of the Salton Sea many miles to the southeast, that disappears into the shimmering grey horizon.

Tall pines thrive among a field of black-speckled white boulders
The trail rises gently to the east en route to San Jacinto Peak
From Wellman Divide a number of trails branch off, which at first glace is confusing, but fortunately a clearly marked junction sign post was there to spark me off again in the right direction. The trail from the divide is more gentle, slowly climbing through a boulder field - more impressive than the one before - and rising finally above treeline to reveal carpets of low-lying alpine shrubs. The shrubs were teeming with bees, so much so that as I sat silent on a rock amidst them their buzz sounded almost mechanical and techno, like I was inside a factory of some sort as machines droned on to do the work of man.
Gently beauty on upper portion of San Jacinto Peak trail from Long Valley
The bees love these alpine shrubs on the trail to San Jacinto Peak
The upper reaches of the trek became less well-signed and I had to rely more on informal forms of finding my way. The final ascent led to an emergency cabin, constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, and from this point any sense of an official trail all but disappears. The remaining climb becomes a free-for-all scramble. Cairns, or piles of rock left by hikers who have come before, give a general idea of which way to turn. Everyone seems to pick their own best way here, as the trail spreads out and you are suddenly joined by folks who took other routes up to the peak. Eventually you find yourself maneuvering among a cap of loosely fitting large boulders, one of which is higher than all the others on this great mountain.
Emergency cabin, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s
Cairn marks the way to the final reaches of the San Jacinto Peak trail

Pulling myself up onto these huge behemoths of rock made me tense as I could not ignore the question of how I might make my way back down. But the call of the summit was great, and capturing it was the only thought imminent, and I was sure that reaching it was the only way to make sense of all the effort I'd put into finding my way to this point in the first place. So I tucked my maps and my camera in my backpack, took my time boulder by boulder, and finally made my way to my destination on top of Mount San Jacinto.

The end of the trail, San Jacinto Peak, elevation 10,834 feet
Peace and victory, at the top of the world on San Jacinto Peak
Flush with joy upon reaching the summit, I almost lost my balance and fell off the slanted pile of boulders as soon as I'd topped it. Fortunately, I maintained balance, and so I hopped on the capstone boulder for just long enough to have a 360-degree view and let a fellow hiker take my picture to mark the accomplishment. There were others waiting for their own photo opp, so I shimmied my way back down, and as I stepped on a boulder just under the one on top, I noticed that tucked beneath it was a little box apparently holding the remains of a mountaineer who never made his way back down.

Unfortunate reminder that not all who make it to San Jacinto Peak return
From here I snapped a few shots and finally had a great look around, making my way from 2nd-tier boulder to 2nd-tier boulder, to identify the surrounding peaks of the Transverse Range and the small mounts of Catalina and the Channel islands I could make out far to the west. Then I made my way back to the main trail to begin my descent to the trail head.

View of Diamond Valley Lake and Laguna Mountains from San Jacinto Peak
What I thought about during all that time out on the trail is hard to put it in to just one simple sound bite. But as you read through my blogs and follow me on the adventures yet to come, you'll probably get a good idea of what's going on in my head as I ramble round the wild places of the world.

And please know, I really do appreciate you reading my blog and joining me on my adventures. It's great to be alone sometimes, but friends are what truly make living worthwhile!

For more info on the hike to San Jacinto Peak, check out the blog HikeyHikey! For info on hiking and other fit-life activities, check out MyFitLife2Day.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Conditioning hikes, mindfulness and your encouragement

I set a goal recently to complete the 20-mile Cactus-to-Clouds (C2C) hike. In terms of day hikes, it's massive. In fact, it's been called the most challenging day hike in the lower 48 states. The hike starts on the desert floor, just outside of Palm Springs, California. From there, the trail climbs unrelentingly more than 10,000 feet over the next 14.5 miles to reach the peak of Mt. San Jacinto. After catching your breath - and enjoying the breathtaking views (on a clear day it's said you can see the Channel Islands) - you have to make your way back down the trail, 4.5 miles, to reach the upper terminal of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway before it closes.

My first SoCal hiking book - will look for more guides once I'm there!
A goal like this would be huge for anyone. I feel it's even huger for me. I'm a larger guy - weighing in at 275  pounds on a good day - and rigorous hiking like this would require a level of physical fitness greater than where I am today. Don't get me wrong - I'm in fairly good shape, and physically I am confident I could handle this hike. But I would have a seriously hard time getting it done during one day's light unless I can become quicker on the trail. For this, I'll need to lose weight as well as do more frequent conditioning walks and hikes.

Climactic extremes make this hike an even greater challenge. Late spring after snow caps melt and late fall, before the first snow falls, offer limited windows of opportunity to do the C2C hike comfortably. The probable weekend for me doing this C2C hike is the last weekend in October - a week after my buddy Khizer runs his first marathon here in Albuquerque.

I'll have to set out on the trail at first light, perhaps a bit before, and I will need to get back to the tram before dusk - if possible. I will obviously carry the proper emergency equipment for night hiking and the possibility of an unexpected overnight stay on the mountain. But really, I should be proactive and focus my efforts over the next two months on shaving off time by shaving off some of this excess weight.

That I need to lose weight is not news to me - I have weight loss goals and have lost a significant amount of weight already just to make even these last six 10-milers I've hiked possible. The extra weight will be remedied in large part by certain portion size and food choice modifications. I am also working on getting back into my former medicine ball and plank habit, which has helped significantly during my fit life journey. But for August and September, I am focusing more than ever on conditioning - preparing and carrying out hikes that will get me ready for the big hike to come.

The book 101 Hikes in Southern California, by Jerry Schad, says conditioning hikes for the C2C hike should "include 5,000 feet or more of elevation gain, plus exposure to elevations of 9,000 feet or more."

Descending from Mt. Taylor Peak on the Gooseberry Spring Trail
So far both of my conditioning hikes have climbed above 9,000 feet - Sandia's La Luz Trail to the crest (10,678 ft. elev.) and Mt. Taylor's Gooseberry Spring Trail to the peak (11,301 ft. elev.) - but neither fits the bill with regard to elevation gain (3,600-ft. and 2,000-ft. gain respectively). My next few conditioning will  be:
  1. Humphrey's Peak, tallest peak in Arizona, San Francisco Peaks (12, 637 ft. elev./3,333 ft. gain)
  2. Sandstone Peak, tallest peak in the Santa Monica mountains (3,111 ft. elev./1,400 ft. gain)
  3. Old Baldy, tallest peak in the San Gabriel mountains  (10,068 ft. elev./2,300 ft. gain)
  4. Old Greyback, SoCal's tallest peak, San Bernardino mountains (11,503 ft. elev./4,000 ft. gain)
  5. The "easy" and "middle" ways to San Jacinto Peak (10,834 ft. elev.), 2,600 ft. elev. gain from Palm Springs and 4,400 ft. gain from Idyllwild)
I will also be doing more conditioning walks throughout the week, as well as working out at the gym and swimming regularly to increase my cardio performance.

To be honest with you, the C2C feels out of reach right now, but I have faith that my hard work and mindfulness I will be ready to do it when the time comes. As always, I appreciate my readers and their encouraging comments, as feedback of all forms helps me to reach higher each time I try something new. Thanks!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Lessons Learned on the La Luz Trail

NOTE: This blog post talks about achieving goals, technical and day packs, and riparian ecology in the Transition Zone (among other things). Follow MyFitLife2Day and ManOfMerit for more interesting articles on everything that has to do with "setting up life goals and knocking 'em down".

ALBUQUERQUE - Yesterday I finally conquered the La Luz Trail - the holy grail of Albuquerque hiking and a goal I've held ever since I heard my uncles speak of hiking it more than 30 years ago. If you include the connector trail from the lower tram terminal to its trail head at the mouth of Juan Tabo Canyon, the La Luz hike is a 10-mile, 3,600-foot ascent up the steep western-facing slopes of the Sandia Mountains. It's a great hike for many reasons - not the least of which being that the views are spectacular. Also, it's the one trail on the mountain that you can hike all the way up to the top and not have to hike back down. The trick is, though, it's one hell of an ascent; Physical fitness and preparedness are paramount.

Chock full of optimism in the foothills as my 280 lbs sets out to tackle La Luz
SETTING IT UP

A cool chick friend of mine had set up this hike and invited a few friends. I was glad to have someone to do this hike with me - honestly, I've been intimidated by the thought of doing this hike alone ever since I challenged myself with the thought of it two years ago. Besides, because I'm still struggling with obesity, being nearly 100 pounds overweight, I figured going it alone was probably not a good idea. Still, having never hiked in a group and not wanting the pressure of keeping up with the pack, I had a bit of trepidation. My friend assured me, though, that someone would stick with me throughout the hike, and fortunately, that was the case.

The cool chick and her cool friend enjoy the Upper Sonoran Zone view
In our group were two guys in their 60s, three women, a toddler, and me. That's right! One chick actually brought along her toddler and lugged him all the way along the trail in one of those Kelty backpack baby carriers. Besides this being very cool, it was also encouraging. This and the overall diversity of the group made me a lot more at ease and confident that I would be successful on this much-anticipated trek.

AND THEY'RE OFF!

We parked at the lower Sandia Peak Tram terminal and set out on the Tramway foothills connector trail around 8 a.m. It took us about an hour to reach the actual bottom of the La Luz Trail. When we arrived close to the lower switchbacks, one of the guys in our group who's an avid hiker and knows many of the mountain's secrets, told us of the more scenic route along the Old La Luz Trail. Apparently, the forest service re-routed the old trail when it became so popular that it was endangering the delicate plant life of the canyon. The new trail has dozens of tedious switchbacks while the old trail is much more challenging and should only be taken by experienced hikers who are mindful to be minimally invasive to the riparian ecology.

Hiking through the riparian Transition Zone along Old La Luz Trail
We decided to take the old trail. This was a thrilling choice - as it was a way to avoid the crowds that have become common on La Luz. And it gave a chance to truly experience the amazing changes in plant life as we made our way from high desert in the Upper Sonoran Zone (full of juniper and piƱon trees, prickly pear cactus, and cholla cactus, according to Wikipedia), through the alpine Transition Zone (with ponderosa pines, blue spruce trees, and assorted wildflowers), and into the Canadian Zone (with quaking aspen and assorted pines). 

UNEXPECTED CHALLENGE

Locals call this boulder field we avoided the scree slope switchbacks
Along with the immense beauty of the old trail came a much more intense hiking experience than I was expecting. Still, I was prepared. I've been on many steep hikes to date - not the least of which being the White Cross and White Dot trails on Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire and the CCC Trail here on the eastern slopes of Sandia's south mountain - so I know the techniques of hiking on 20 to 30 percent grade. But the focus on technique kept me from stopping frequently for water breaks. Plus, the pack I was using was too large for the hike and was not convenient for the frequent stops on steep inclines that would have been necessary for proper hydration. As a result, I had only drunk three liters of water by the time we reached the top - a fact I would pay for later that evening.

Duck Rock and the scree slopes, home of 20-something switchbacks
I continued to hike hard, in my good old spurt and rest fashion, and after just more than seven hours I reached the top of the tram. I'm so thankful I took the alternate old trail on my first trip up La Luz - the multitude of switchbacks in the shade-less scree slope that plagues most hikers just over half the way to the top would have ruined the hike for me. Thanks, Old Timer!

HIGH CELEBRATION AND THE CHILLING PLOT SPASMS

I'd rather eat this Ponderosa Pine tree bark than food at High Finance again
I walked in to the  High Finance Restaurant, which reminded me a lot of the top of one of those globally important towers we all try not to forget (but without the red carpet). As a group, we celebrated at a table near the windows of the restaurant at the top of the tram, from a spot where you can see - on the observation decks, posing in successive posed pics backed by the remarkable view of downtown, the volcanoes, and everything west of the Rio Grand Rift, all the way to Mount Taylor - the non-hiker folks who could only fathom taking the tram both ways, not making it to 10,600 feet on foot.

Almost there - top of the tram in view!
We then made our separate ways back home, and in all of the excitement I failed to do my customary post-hike stretching. And I still was too distracted to remember to drink the rest of the water I had packed, which I had calculated to the letter of all sensible recommendations and so knew I should be drinking. Later that evening while I was resting in bed I learned the price I would have to pay for not drinking enough water all day - my inner thighs went into spasm, and just as I was at the height of pain I began to get intense chills. This was the result of intense muscle exertion without sufficient hydration. With a buddy's help, I treated it by taking some ibuprofen, chugging water, jumping into a hot shower and doing some stretches.

PACKING LESSONS 

Not the right pack for the job - Brian with the Gregory Z40 on the La Luz Trail
The pack I used on the trail is the Gregory Z40, a technical pack. I had chosen it because I was trying to save money in the long run by buying a pack that would fit multiple needs - 10-20 mile day hikes and a little light wilderness camping. The 40-ounce pack fit the bill perfectly, in theory. But in reality, the technical pack proved to be too big, the wrong tool for the job, as some previous old-time in my life might have said. So I took the Z40 back today and opted for the CamelBak Explorer Alpine Hydration Pack. It's smaller, but it's not so big that I won't fill it for a day hike, so it will be easier to adjust perfectly to my stride.

I'll take the CamelBak for a test run on Tuesday, with a hike of the Crest and La Luz connectors to the tram and Crest House, including the brief jaunt to the CCC Cabin, a place for celebrating with a shout as if you're on top of the world. Two buddies will join me on the hike, one of whom I'll be introducing to the joy of hiking with that very outting. Fun will be had by all! And pics will follow.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Seeking mindfulness along the La Luz Trail


Mindfulness is a concept that has helped me over the past few years to accomplish things I previously thought were impossible. According to Buddhist writer James Baraz:
“Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).”
At the top of the La Luz Trail, near the upper tram terminal
I have applied this concept to eating, though not as consistently as I would like to, and to exercise. Tomorrow, I'm going to challenge myself to apply it to hiking.

I have been working toward a goal now for a couple of years that I am planning on accomplishing tomorrow - hiking the La Luz Trail in Albuquerque, NM. The path from the lower tram terminal to the upper tram terminal is about 10 miles long with an elevation gain of well over 3,500 feet, so it will take much of the day to complete. I'm excited about this opportunity, too, because I feel physically and mentally prepared, and I will be hiking with friends.

The last time I hiked with friends, I ran into some trouble because of my pacing. I tend to hike quickly in short energetic bursts and then take frequent breaks when I come winded. This can be annoying to more experienced hikers who pace themselves appropriately to be able to continue on with the ascent with fewer breaks. Tomorrow, I will apply the principles of mindfulness to modify my hiking style so I can hike more in rhythm with the other hikers but also so I, too, can enjoy a more zen-like experience.

What does this mean? Well, I'll hike more slowly and methodically, focusing on the rhythm of my steps and how my pace influences my breathing and the beating of my heart. I am going to listen to my internal sounds and patterns as well as those I hear outside, along the trail, above, below and all around me. And as long as I know that I am well, I am going to accept temporary discomfort rather than wishing to change it by taking so many breaks when they really are not needed.

I'm excited about trying out a new technique to hiking. I've improved so much over the past year, but I still have so much farther to go if I'm going to accomplish the goal of doing the 20-mile Cactus-to-Clouds hike in Palm Springs within the next year. Actually, I shouldn't say if, because I'm confident mindfulness will help!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Hiking: Training for 20-mile Cactus-to-Clouds Hike

I've decided I am ready to set a goal for the final 20-mile trek I must accomplish to complete the requirements for the Boy Scouts Hiking Merit Badge. I realize the easy way to reach this goal would be to map out a fairly level hike that I could complete in the shortest time and with the least difficulty possible. However, I am going a different way. I'm going all out. I'm planning to do the Cactus-to-Clouds hike from Palm Springs to San Jacinto Peak and back to the upper tram terminal.

To be honest with you, it is with more than a bit of trepidation that I set such a lofty goal for myself. I am still obese - weighing 270 pounds with a BMI of 35. I'm about 80 pounds heavier than "normal" for my height, and I'm carrying around 29 percent body fat. I will have to lose some weight if I want to make this hike possible - especially considering that I must complete it in one day, no overnight.

The hike starts at just 560 feet elevation and climbs 10,600 feet over 14.5 miles to reach San Jacinto Peak. According to the guide book, 101 Hikes in Southern California, this is the "greatest elevation gain of any dayhike in the Lower 48." Fortunately, though, it's not complete wilderness. At the 9-mile point, you reach the tram terminal, an excellent place to refuel. There's a restaurant and a place to refill water bottles, but I will need to carry plenty of rations in my pack. And I will need to set off before dawn if I plan to make it back down from the peak before sunset.

Planning for this hike is of utmost important, as is training. Based on weather conditions, 101 Hikes author Jerry Schad recommends taking this trek in late spring or early fall - to avoid snow at the upper elevations and excruciating desert heat at the bottom. Also, Schad recommends taking conditioning hikes to prepare for the distance and elevation. He says you should train by including hikes of "5,000 feet or more of elevation gain, plus exposure to elevations of 9,000 feet or more."

I will be moving to Southern California in September, so I will be able to do conditioning hikes in the San Jacinto Mountains as well as in the San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountains. While I'm still in New Mexico, however, I will practice on Sandia, which reaches an elevation of 10,678 feet. The elevation gains on Sandia are significant, but because all the trail heads start above 6,000 feet, I will not be able to experience the 5,000+ gains until I'm in SoCal.

My first conditioning hike will be next week. I plan to hike the La Luz trail, starting at the lower tram terminal and hiking to the upper terminal. This hike will be 10 miles and will have an approximate 3,700-foot elevation gain. I will do the hike alone, but since this is a heavily trafficked trail I know I will be safe.

Even as I write this, I feel nervous about the goal I am setting. I am very goal-oriented and I like to set goals that are achievable. I believe this one is, but it will take much more physical will, focus, determination and perseverance than I have demonstrated up to this point in my life. I am definitely practicing what I preach, both in the classroom to my applied psychology students and in private sessions with my life coaching clients. I often quote Tony Robbins and tell people that it is their decisions, not their conditions, that determine their destiny. I am sure that this decision is,  from this moment on, determining mine.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Hiking: Fifth 10-mile report - 10K and Sandia Crest Trails

This past weekend I completed a strenuous 10-mile hike in the northern Sandias. It was my fifth 10-mile trek, meaning that I am one final step away from completing the requirements for the Boy Scouts Hiking Merit Badge.

For my final task, I have to plan and carry out a 20-mile hike. The hike must be done contiguously - not in parts - and it must be done in one day. But before I move on to deciding when and where I'll finally complete this major undertaking, let me first report about the final of my five 10-milers.

I took I-40 from Albuquerque to the exit for NM 14 and followed the Turquoise Trail north about six miles to the turn-off for the Sandia Crest Scenic Byway. About 11 miles up the back side of Sandia, I arrived at the 10K Trail Head around quarter to 9 a.m. The Trail Head has an outhouse, but no water. Fortunately I had packed 5 liters.

From this trail head, the 10K Trail leads to the north and the south. Following the blue diamond signs, I headed north and enjoyed a cool Alpine environment, replete with rolling hills, for about 2.5 miles before reaching the Osha Trail.

From there, I followed the Osha up the hill for another half mile or so to reach the North Sandia Crest Trail. This was one of the more strenuous stretches of the day's trek.

There were lots of birds hanging out in the understory along the first three miles of the hike. The landscape, while lush with a thick canopy, was littered with downed trees on the forest floor. The hill was steep, but the trail followed the elevation lines for the most part. There was a lot of up and down but nothing too strenuous. The trail was dark brown dirt - quite different from many of the other Sandia hikes I've taken where the trail was a mix of lighter dirt and chunky granite pebbles. In places, the earth was even spongy, though not much water was present in the soil.

Arriving at the Crest Trail I was treated to one of the highlights of the hike as a wildflower-lined path led to a precipice with a breathtaking view of the Rio Grande Valley below.

I continued north on the Crest Trail for another couple of miles to reach the Crest House. The trail here led to many more amazing view points. My favorite moment was seeing the back side of the famous "Needle", the most prominent feature of Sandia Mountain, which can be seen from anwhere in the Albuquerque area.

The trail splits just before the Crest House. I took the one that goes in front of the collection of electric and communications towers based on the peak. It was not very well maintained, the trail was thin at spots and I kind of regretted my choice halfway through. But I'm glad I did it in hindsight - the views were incredible! I imagine the back side of the towers would have been just more of the same.

I took a short break at the Crest House, which was about 4.5 miles into the hike. I refilled two of my water bottles there and pressed on.

The Tram Terminal was another 1.75 miles along the Crest Trail. This was the worst part of the trek. The trail was trampled by non-hikers who really did not seem to respect the idea of Leave No Trace. There were children throwing tantrums almost the entire length as parents who drove to the top or took the Tram or ski lift seemed to force their kids to exercise for the first time in their lives. I was annoyed. But still, I was happy to see these folks out there. Most of the children and many of the adults were visibly out of shape or obese; so whatever it takes to get them out to exercise I'm supportive of it!

Beyond the Tram station, I continued on the South Crest Trail for another mile or two. The trail was basically empty. I began to get nervous that I would miss the turnoff for the 10K trail when I got to a crossroads of trails that had no trail signs - which was odd since every other intersection I'd passed was well-signed.

The map I was using made it look like the South Crest and 10K Trails met. I saw a cairn there, so I turned left hoping I was on the right trail. Then about 40 feet down the path there was another intersection of trails. I kept to the left, as this seemed right given the curvature of the trail on the map, and soon I came to well-signed point that showed the beginning of the 10K Trail.

The map inadequately described this section of the trail, which makes me worry for those who are not as good with trail navigation as I've become over the past year. I think I may contact the map publisher to see what can be done to correct it.

From this point, I knew I had between nearly three miles left to complete the 10K Trail, and I was running out of steam. I took this as a sign that I needed to hydrate. I drank another liter of water and rested for a bit, then I set out to complete my trek. It turned out that this was the most remarkable part of my hike.

Along this section of the trail I crossed paths with a skunk, a mule deer and a family of wild turkeys! Also, this part of the trail crosses the ski slopes, and I provided a bit of surprise for a family of tourists that was taking the ski lift to the top. They laughed at me for going up to the top the hard way. Meanwhile, I felt sad for them that they were missing out on the best parts of the mountain.

I made it back to my car a little after 5 p.m. This hike took longer than usual for me, I think because I took more breaks along the way. It was very hot that day, so I listened to my body and took breaks whenever I needed to. Also, I took lots of little pit stops along the crest to enjoy the amazing views!

Now that I've finished my required 10-milers, I'm excited to begin planning my 20-mile hike. I'm going to try to lose about 10 or 20 pounds before trying it, though. My current weight weighs me down and I know that every pound I lose will help me hike more efficiently. Meanwhile, I will keep hiking, possibly doing longer hikes to work up to the 20 miler. In any case, I'll keep you posted whatever I decide!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Hiking: Fifth 10-mile trip plan - 10K and Crest Trails

On top of Sandia 400+ pounds - I only dreamed of hiking!
This is my fifth and final 10-mile trip plan. After this trek, I will begin planning the capstone 20-mile hike as part of my goal to complete the Boy Scouts Hiking Merit Badge requirements. In case you're just checking in to this blog for the first time, I should mention that I'm not currently a Boy Scout. I quit when I was 14, but I believe strongly in the Boy Scouts Merit Badge curriculum and this is my way of finishing something I gave up on before I even got started.

In any case, on Saturday, Khizer and I will take I-40 west from downtown Albuquerque, begin to drive north from Tijeras on the Turquoise Trail and then take the Sandia Crest National Scenic Byway up the east side of Sandia Mountain to reach the trail head for the 10K Trail. This is the first 10-mile trek I'll take witha partner, so I'm excited about that. We plan to set out on the trail by 8:30 a.m. to begin our 10-mile hike.

Starting out heading north, we will hike a loop that includes the 10K Trail and portions of the North and South Crest trails. This will be a moderately strenuous hike, but much easier I think than my previous 10-mile trek along the South Crest and CCC trails. For the most part, the trails we take will be going along the elevation lines. At most, we will hike up and down about 600 feet of elevation. I'm not sure what the net elevation gain would be, but I'm sure it will not be anywhere near the 3,000 foot gain of last week.

We will pack lunch, snacks, and about five or six liters of water each. If we need to we will be able to refill our water bottles at the Upper Tram Terminal or the Crest House, as we will pass by these at around the mid-point of the day's hike. I expect the total time spent on the trail will be around six hours, and as always I will keep extra snacks and water in the truck in case we end up spending more time and energy on the trail than planned.

I'm extremely excited about this hike. The last few times I was on Sandia Crest I drove there or took the tram. I dreamed of hiking there, but at more than 400 pounds I could barely walk from the car to the lookout point without losing my breath - especially at the 10,000+ altitude, so I know I will feel a great sense of accomplishment once it's done. I think I'll also be excited about the prospect of now planning a 20-mile trek. I've been considering options already, but I think the time spent out there on the trail this Saturday will help me make up my mind. On that topic, I'll write more on Sunday. Until then...wish me luck!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Hiking: Trail Food - It's better safe than sorry!

"Be prepared!" The Boy Scout motto could save your life!
I get questions about hiking all the time these days, and one of the most common questions is "What do you pack to eat?" Well, on every day hike (planned for up to 8 hours on the trail), I pretty much pack the same snacks. I actually only eat about a half or two-thirds of what's listed here, but as I learned in Boy Scouts, it's best to be prepared. And since I hike mostly in mountain wilderness areas, I've got to be ready to stay overnight in case of a sudden change in conditions or in the event I become injured while out on the trail.

Here's the list:

  • 2 bananas
  • Trail mix (unsalted)
    • 2 tbsp. sunflower seeds
    • 2 tbsp. pumpkin seeds
    • 2 shelled walnuts
    • 4 raw almonds
    • 4 prunes
    • 2 figs
  • 1 organic apple
  • 1 orange
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 2 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
    • 2 slices whole wheat bread
    • 1 tbsp. no-sugar-added preserves
    • 1.5 tbsp. no-sugar-added, unsalted crunchy peanut butter
  • 1 granola bar
  • 5 to 6 liters of water (I live in the desert southwest and hydration is key!)

This list may seem like overkill to more experienced hikers - admittedly I've never needed all of what I carry (so far). But like I said before, I'd rather be safe than sorry! Also, I drink one liter of water as soon as I get up in the morning and another liter of water on my way to the trail head. Oh, and I keep a gallon of water in my truck for post-hike, too. The worst thing that can happen out on the trail is to become dehydrated. Food, you can live without. But lack of water can lead you to making poor decisions that can be fatal.




Hiking: Fourth 10-mile report - South Crest and CCC Trails (Albuquerque's Sandia Mountains)

Starting off on the South Crest Trail
A year ago, when I first started hiking, planning a two-mile hike into the woods would have made me nervous. But yesterday I hiked 10 miles through the Sandia Mountain Wilderness in the Cibola National Forest - with a 3,000-foot elevation gain - to nearly reach the mountain's South Peak Summit.

This was my fourth 10-mile trek since I started this mission in November 2011, and it was by far the most difficult. Besides the distance and elevation gain, my weight - at 270 pounds - also added to the difficulty. (Going up wasn't so bad, but coming down I felt like I was carrying another person on my back.)

I started out on the South Crest Trail at 8:15, just after arriving at the Canyon Estates Trail Head, located just off Interstate 40 in Tijeras, New Mexico. The South Crest Trail is a through trail that starts in Tijeras and winds the entire length of Sandia's Crest to reach Placitas some 26 miles later. The trail begins by climbing steadily through the densest forest I've seen since I began hiking the Sandias in January.

Trail markings on the South Crest Trail
Located on the mountain's lush eastern slope, the trail for the first two miles follows several switchbacks that take you up through Hondo Canyon. Early on, the trail passes by the Travertine Falls, a nice fresh water feature - not to be confused with the amazing falls of the same name in Arizona.

At this lower section, I encountered two pairs of hikers, apparently enjoying a quick hike to the falls and back; They had no packs with them and didn't even appear to be carrying water. These were the last hikers I would encounter for a very long while.

En route to the Sandia's South Summit
At about the one-mile mark, the South Crest Trail passes the junction with the Faulty Trail, which rises quickly to the north. After another mile, the South Crest Trail reaches a clearing where the Upper Faulty Trail and CCC Trail head off to the north and west, respectively.

The CCC Trail is a very steep trail that my guide book recommends taking down from the crest, which I did (more on that later).

Just after passing the Upper Faulty Trail spur, the South Crest Trail makes a big loop around to the south, with sweeping views of Tijeras Canyon and the Manzanita Mountains. Then it heads back to the north again, where it follows the ridge line for a while, featuring even more amazing views of an unnamed wide canyon below.

My lunch spot
Two switchbacks from the ridge line took me into some very interesting terrain. It was a mix of desert with lush forest, dotted by large pines and reddish brown stones. After the switchbacks, the trail follows the ridge line for some distance.

The views from the approximate four-mile mark are breathtaking, so I decided this would be a good place to stop and have some lunch. I took a small spur trail to the rock face and found a nice spot on a rock overlooking the canyon and enjoyed the cool breezes flowing up from the canyon.

Looking out at the expanse of mountains to the west and the city of Albuquerque in the distance, I recognized the canyon below as being the place where I had hiked the Three Gun Springs Trail two times this spring while waiting for snow to melt at these upper elevations. I remembered being impressed at how much higher those rock faces were than the ridge those shorter five-mile hikes in the foothills. Now, as I was standing there on the precipice some 1,000 feet higher than I'd ever climbed before, I was elated, and a swell of accomplishment came over me.

About 20 minutes of rest, some food and hydration is all I needed to regain some energy. Then, I decided it was time to get going again.

The lush variety of Sandia's plant life is surprising
Once back on the main trail, I trekked on another half mile or so and soon came into an entirely different type of landscape. This one was dense with scrub trees - I think scrub oak mostly - and was dotted with only some pine bushes, juniper perhaps, and some smaller trees. The trail in this section was spectacular, as it was lined with five or six types of wildflowers and had sweeping views of a huge valley to the south and the Ortiz Mountains to the north and west.

This section of about a mile or two was listed on my map as moderate hiking, but it was pretty challenging due to the narrow width of the overgrown path. Beyond this stretch, though, things leveled out for a while as I reached what seemed to be a plateau at the top of the mountain. This gentle plateau led me to Deer Pass and the junction of the South Crest and Embudito trails.

I wanted to continue hiking to the summit at this point, but I surmised that this could add as much as two miles to my hike, and my legs were already feeling the burn! Besides, my planned route down along the CCC Trail made me a bit anxious. The grade on that trail, and the fact that it was a historic, non-maintained route, made me think I needed to have my wits and my strength about me in case I should run into any problems on the way down. In hindsight, I'm VERY glad I made this decision.

Winding toward Sandia's South Summit
I continued on just about another minute until I saw the CCC Trail. I wouldn't have noticed it if it weren't so well described in my guide book (The Sandia Mountain Hiking Guide). The trail actually had some timber lain at the entrance - a brush in.

I have never crossed a brush-in before; I typically stick only to official and maintained trails because I figure whoever did the brush-in had a reason, probably to remediate some problem like erosion or because it is in some way unsuitable for hiking. But since the CCC Trail was listed in the guide book and listed on the map I was using, though, I figured it would be okay. Besides, I have a fondness for the Civilian Conservation Corps and have taken many CCC trails before, in Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Massachusetts.

The top of Sandia reminds me of forests back east
Just over a crest to the east, the CCC Trail begins an unrelenting descent. I estimate that the grade was between 20 and 30 percent for much of this two mile section of trail. There was quite a bit of erosion, with loose rocks being the typical trail surface for at least 80 percent of its length. The CCC trail often built trails by placing small rocks and boulders along the route. This works great when the soil is sturdy enough to keep these rocks in place. But in the dry climate of the southwest, the soil over time has allowed this trail to deteriorate.

The CCC Trail is definitely a dangerous hike, and I would not recommend it for anyone who is a novice. In fact, I doubt I will ever take it again. By the time I reached the bottom of it and reconnected with the South Crest Trail for the final two miles of my descent, I felt totally and utterly spent.

I took several breaks in that last portion and found myself having to convince myself to keep going. I really just wanted to take a nap - but from experience I learned that this is a cue to drink more water. So I downed a half liter each time these thoughts entered my mind and I was given extra bursts of energy which allowed me to reach the end of the trail safe and sound.

This 10-mile hike took me about 7.25 hours. I started at 8:15 a.m. and plopped into my truck at just after 3:30 p.m. I took several breaks along the way, but I guess I was hiking for at least 6.25 hours in total. I'm so glad to have finally accomplished this amazing hike! As I look to complete my fifth and final 10-miler before then beginning to plan my capstone 20-mile hike, I'm not sure if I'll look for something easier or just something different. I'll be posting more on that in the coming week.

One thing I know for sure is I need to lose some weight before doing the 20-mile hike. I'm going to focus more on weight loss in the coming weeks so I can get back down to 255 by the end of August. I'll plan to do the 20-mile hike once I reach that goal.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Hiking: Fourth 10-mile trip plan - South Crest Trail to Sandia's South Peak

While living in the Boston area last fall, I set a goal to complete five 10-mile hikes to be followed by a capstone 20-mile hike, each to be done contiguously in one day. I started mid-November, and within just three weeks I had completed three of my 10-milers (Blue Hills, Kendall Green to Concord, and Middlesex Fells). I originally had decided I would complete my final two hikes immediately after moving to Albuquerque in January. But once here, I realized quickly that hiking at a mile's elevation was much different than hiking near sea level. So after some considerable delay, tomorrow I will finally complete my fourth.

My first setback after arriving to Albuquerque was the altitude. Then, after planning three possible 10-milers at the end of January, I got discouraged that the nearby mountain's best hikes would remain snow-covered until spring. I planned a couple of low-elevation 10-mile hikes, and though I never got around to completing them for one reason or another, I continued conditioning for the big hikes, focusing on several intense hikes of between four and seven miles.

The snow's long gone now, and I'm ready to get back at it. Picking from one of the previously planned 10-mile hikes, I have decided to to a hike in the southern Sandias up to the mountain's South Peak. I will drive to Tijeras in the morning to arrive at the Canyon Estates trail head by 9 a.m. From there, I will take Trail 135 about two miles through Hondo Canyon to the junction where the South Crest Trail heads east and breaks away from two other trails (the CCC Trail and the Upper Faulty Trail).\

From the junction, I will follow the South Crest Trail for a little more than four miles to the Embudito Trail. From there I will take a spur that leads north to the South Peak (where I will jump for joy - in lieu of shouting out  "I did it!" - if I can find stable footing). Then, after doing my happy dance, I'll follow the spur back to the South Crest Trail and go slightly further north to where it meets the top of the CCC Trail, which I will follow down a steep slope for about two miles to reach the 135 Trail again and follow it two miles again to the trail head.

This hike is more than 10 miles, though I'm not sure exactly how much more because the spur to the peak is not an official trail and mileage is not available for it on the map I'll be using (DHARMA Maps, Sandia Mountain, NM01). If I remember, I'll count my steps for the final ascent to get an approximation.

By the way, I post these trip plans for several reasons - one is to set personal goals and keep me accountable to following through on them and the other is to leave a trace of where I'm going in case I run into some trouble out there in the wilderness and need to be looked for. I am telling several people locally where I'm going, too, and when I plan to return. I'm also packing plenty of food and water and will practice safe hiking! Check back in with me tomorrow night for a follow-up trip report replete with pictures galore!