Training has begun

Remember when I said in my last post that I was planning a DIY hiking event? Well, it’s (still) on and I did a training hike yesterday which felt really good and I’m still feeling kind of proud of myself for doing it.

This weekend is a long weekend for me, as Monday is Columbus Day/Indigenous People’s Day (choose your preferred name), so my first thoughts were “when should I hike?” and “what should I hike?” I was suffering from indecision until late Friday night, when I decided to do a solo hike of a loop trail in South Mountain: the Pyramid–National trail–Bursera (PNB) loop. Total distance is about 11 miles/18 km and total elevation gain is almost 2500 feet/762 m.

My thought was that if I finished that hike and could walk somewhat normally the next day, I would probably be able to finish my DIY hiking event. Well, I did finish my hike yesterday and I can actually walk normally today, so I’m cautiously confident that I will be able to finish the 7 hikes in my DIY event in one day. (I’ll continue training over the next month, though….I don’t want to assume anything!)

(FYI, the statistics for the PNB loop hike are just under half of what I would complete if I successfully climb all 7 summits in my DIY challenge. I suppose one could consider my PNB loop hike a test of my current fitness. I would say that I passed.)

I really enjoyed my PNB loop hike and REALLY REALLY enjoyed the cooler temperatures! The high temperature yesterday was only 28C / 82F….I started hiking at 7:45am because I didn’t have to start my hike at some awful early hour to avoid the heat….there was a nice breeze….the ocotillos were so green because of the recent rains we’ve received….it was just a nice morning. I even brought a baby Coke with me as a “halfway point” reward. As usual, it tasted AMAZING. It’s the little things in life!

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It’s still too hot!

Happy September, my dear readers! I hope your September is cooler than mine; although the calendar indicates that it is now autumn, here in Phoenix, the average high temperature is still hovering around 105F (40C), which sadly is lower than last month.

GO.AWAY.SUMMER.

Despite the summer-in-fall temperatures, I’m managing to look ahead to winter-in-Phoenix, i.e. November, and all of the lovely opportunities to play outside ANY TIME OF THE DAY. It will be SO NICE not to wake up at some unearthly hour just to breathe fresh air and not get baked/fried by the sun.

(Can you tell I am tired of the heat?)

One opportunity to play outside is Phoenix’s annual “7 summit challenge,” which occurs in mid-November. This event challenges hikers to hike 7 different summits in the Phoenix metropolitan area in one day. If successful, hikers will have hiked about 25 miles (40 km) over the day, achieving about 5000 ft (1525 m) of elevation gain. My SAT (self-appointed trainer) and I were on holiday in Canada when registration opened up, so we missed our chance….or did we? I really wanted to do this event and thought that I may as well organize my own DIY 7 summit challenge. (Why pay good money to hurt yourself when you can do it for free?) I’m currently in the initial stages of finding other willing “hiker-victims” and mapping out logistics.

Of course, in addition to planning my actual DIY summit challenge, I have to train for it. A friend suggested hiking Camelback mountain yesterday, a very popular local hike. Hikers can use 1 of 2 trails to the top, both of which are short (each trail is about 1.25 miles long) and steep (~1700 ft gain for each trail). However, instead of hiking up one side, she said we should do Camelback “over and back,” i.e. hike up one side and down to the bottom of the other side, then back up and over to where we started. “That sounds good!” I said.

The reality:

  • Start hiking at 5:50am, i.e. before sunrise. Temperature was in the low 70s/25C, so was bearable. Not having the sun beat down on you was also nice.
  • Watch sunrise! This was pretty and (almost) made the ridiculously early start (almost) worth it.

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  • Become hot, sticky, and sweaty. Remain hot, sticky, and sweaty for the rest of the hike.
  • Worry about the possibility of falling and not being able to get back up due to leg cramps, fatigue, and general crankiness.
  • Cry with joy (internally) when we reached the car.

As a post-hike treat, I packed some baby Cokes into a little cooler bag. THAT WAS AMAZING. Do not underestimate the power of sugary carbonated liquid….magical.

I’m happy to report that my legs are still in working order and I’m looking forward to getting myself into better hiking shape so I can conquer the 7 summits….stay tuned. 🙂

Exercising to exorcise (memories)?

On Saturday, my hiking trio (my SAT–self-appointed trainer–Ian, and myself) drove up to Payson to hike the Barnhardt trail. My longtime blog followers may recognize that name; it was only in January when we summitted Mazatzal Peak. Part of that hike included the Barnhardt trail, but unfortunately, we only got to experience the trail at the end of our hike, which meant a lot of what we saw looked like this:

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My memories of Mazatzal Peak are not warm and fuzzy. They are cold, painful, and bring tears to my eyes. In an attempt to exorcise those unpleasant memories and to create new, positive ones of the Barnhardt trail, I suggested we hike the Barnhardt trail in daylight.

We started on the trail around 7:45am and the temperature was in the mid 70sF. It was still fairly humid, though, so I wasn’t feeling as cool as I would have liked. The trail is very pretty and we saw lush green vegetation all around us, due to the recent rains. We even saw some gorgeous butterflies enjoying the breeze. For the record, we did NOT see any gorgeous butterflies the last time we hiked this trail.

 

I’m not sure how far we went, as there is no summit point for the Barnhardt trail (this trail connects up with numerous other trails but does not lead up to Mazatzal Peak or any other peak), but according to Ian’s phone GPS, when we were almost at 6000 ft, the humidity was gone, leaving nothing but fantastic temperatures with a lovely breeze. Don’t forget the pretty views! I think we probably hiked about 4 to 4.5 miles when we decided to stop for a quick snack break before heading back down to the car.

 

 

Did this hike erase my previous memories of the Barnhardt trail? No, not really. While hiking, I couldn’t help compare my previous and current experiences:

  • darkness vs light;
  • cold vs warm(er);
  • painful vs pleasant;
  • lost vs not lost;
  • no Coke vs Coke;
  • no one read the hike description vs I read the hike description; and
  • angry/in despair/scared vs happy knowing that our lives were not in danger (that is not a joke).*

In any case, I enjoyed THIS hike on the Barnhardt trail and am looking forward to Phoenix’s winter and all the great hiking that awaits us!

*I suppose I still harbour some bitterness.

I felt cold yesterday!

It’s August in Phoenix, which means it’s still hot….and muggy….basically, July and August in Phoenix is like living in a desert sauna. Sure, we Phoenicians get a fantastic winter season, but our “tax” for that glorious winter weather is that “dry heat”/monsoon sauna each summer.

What do Phoenicians do to escape the summer heat? One of the most popular things to do is to drive up to Flagstaff and camp, hike, or bike. Flagstaff’s elevation is almost 7000 feet, which makes for drastically cooler temperatures compared to Phoenix. That said, yesterday, my friend Crystal and I drove to Flagstaff in order to hike the highest point in Arizona: Humphrey’s Peak. (Apparently, we were not the only ones with that idea, because we saw a lot of people on the trail). Also, I just learned today that yesterday (i.e. August 4) was the inaugural National Summit Day–what a serendipitous piece of news!

The weather was pretty much perfect: sun, no chance of thunderstorms or lightning, a brisk 46F/8C at the summit. Humphrey’s Peak stands 12633 ft/3851 m high and is actually not a difficult hike; total round-trip distance from the Arizona Snowbowl trailhead just outside Flagstaff (the easiest trail of the 2-3 different trails to the summit) is almost 10 miles and total elevation gained is 3303 ft/1006 m. The biggest variable is whether altitude sickness will hit you. Crystal and I had hiked Humphrey’s before, but it had been a few years for both of us. We were both out of hiking shape too, so we agreed to hike at a moderate pace with breaks, if necessary (of course breaks are necessary!).

I’m happy to report that we successfully summited Humphrey’s and got to enjoy being cold! No altitude sickness for us, although we did experience the expected shortness of breath and leaden legs as we neared the summit. We got to the top in 3 hrs and 50 minutes and completed the descent in 2 hours 50 minutes, i.e. going downhill was much easier and faster. One of the best things about hiking is the food afterwards and we celebrated with some Chick-fil-a and Starbucks. Yay for cold summer temperatures, good company, successful summits, and FOOD!

 

Blogging sabbatical is over?

So. It’s been a year since I last posted a blog on this neglected site. I wish I could say that the reason I haven’t blogged the past year was because life was so incredibly exciting! Nope. I’ve just been preoccupied with work and doing the regular home improvement stuff that first-time homeowners tend to get caught up in. However, this winter, there are a few good changes as compared to last winter. First, I’ve taken this season off from accompanying my choir, which means I have weekends off! Second, it’s winter in the desert, which means it’s safe to go outside! (Remember that “winter” in the southwest means “awesome weather” and “summer” in the southwest means “death due to heat exhaustion and dehydration.”) Third, because of reasons one and two, I’ve been doing some more hiking lately.

Two weekends ago, my SAT (“self-appointed trainer”) and I teamed up with our friend Ian to hike Wasson Peak, just outside of Tucson. This hike is considered to be a moderate trail hike: 7.5 miles (round-trip) and 1900 ft elevation gain. It was an overcast day, so temperatures were on the cool side. I enjoyed stretching my legs out and remembering what it felt like to do a long walk.

 

(1: pretty cactus pattern; 2: SAT and Ian near beginning of hike; 3: view of what we have hiked; 4: view from top; 5: view from top; 6: summit selfie)

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Yesterday, SAT, Ian, and I successfully summited Quartz Peak in the Sierra Estrella mountain range. The top of this peak is made up of white quartz boulders, thus, the (unimaginative) name. This hike is a workout! It’s almost 6 miles long and gains about 2,550 feet in elevation (my legs hurt yesterday). From the top, you have great views of the Phoenix valley while relaxing on the pretty quartz rock. Two extra cool things about this hike include the scrambling that you have to do to reach the top and the many pieces of mica available near the top. The drive to the trailhead is a bit of a chore: the last 5-7 miles is on a dirt road that requires a high-clearance vehicle (preferably 4×4).

 

(1: our goal is the white peak!; 2: SAT peering at me through a transparent piece of mica; 3: sitting on top of the peak; 4: peek-a-boo!; 5: view from the top; 6: another view from the top; 7: I made vegan Oreos to enjoy at the top….and they were GOOD.)

What’s next? Well, my SAT and I are planning to visit White Sands Monument in New Mexico over Thanksgiving weekend, which should be really cool. Stay tuned for the trip report!

“She’ll be comin’ ’round the mountain with her bike…”

Thanks to work (daytime, full-time) and work (nighttime, part-time), I don’t have a lot of free time to play outside. But when I do, I play hard. 🙂 Over the past month, I have managed to hike my mountain bike up and down a trail with unicyclists, hike up a local peak without my bike (i.e., the “conventional way to hike!”), and ride my bike with my “self-appointed trainer,” i.e. my SAT.

My SAT is an enthusiastic proponent of mountain unicycling, or muni. The Arizona Unicycling Club hosted a mini muni-fest a few weekends ago that saw about a dozen unicyclists gather together to ride the trails in the Phoenix area. My SAT and I joined them one morning at the Dreamy Draw Recreation Area; he rode his one-wheeled steed and I rode, but mainly pushed, my two-wheeled steed up and down the rocky trail. The trail the unicyclists rode was way too difficult for me to ride, so I ended up getting more of an upper body workout than anything else. I joked that I was the “support vehicle” for any unicyclist who may incur injuries during the ride. Watching the unicyclists ride down the steep trail was pretty impressive and they got a lot of comments from the hikers we encountered along the way. The next day, I decided to hike Piestawa Peak with my friend Diane. After all, my leg muscles were primed for hiking thanks to the previous day’s hike-a-bike! Piestawa Peak, or “Squaw Peak” by which it is known locally, is the second-highest point in the Phoenix Mountains after Camelback Mountain and the third-highest point in the city of Phoenix.

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(Top left: the unicyclists before their ride; top right: Steve, the unofficial spokesman for Starbucks; bottom left: Olof getting some air; bottom right: Diane and I at the top of Piestawa Peak.)

To get a sense of what mountain unicycling is, check out this video. Yes, that’s my SAT and his friend Chris. Both are crazy.

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For the past 3 weeks, my SAT and I decided to set bike training goals for ourselves. His goal was to ride at least 10 hours each week for 3 consecutive weeks. My goal was to ride 8 hours each week for 3 consecutive weeks. My SAT met his goal. I was pretty close. The first week, I hit 8 hours and 7 minutes. The second week, I rode for 9 hours and 23 minutes. In week three, I managed to eke out 7 hours and 4 minutes. In my defense, I had rehearsals and 2 concerts in that third week! Overall, I rode 24 hours and 34 minutes, which results in an average of just over 8 hours per week. I can live with that. May I also add that the so-called highlight of week 1 was a 33 mile mountain bike ride? That was hard. It’s a lot more challenging to ride a mountain bike for 33 miles than a road bike. Those things called rocks and sand really make forward progress difficult.

Why did we decide to set those goals? Mainly to kickstart our fitness. We were both feeling lethargic and old and yucky and gosh darn it, we needed to change that NOW. I noticed that my coughing and wheezing and panting — and I am not exaggerating! I really sounded like I was a pack-a-day cigarette smoker riding a bike — is much better now. Instead of feeling like I was going to cough up a lung, I can almost utter a sentence or two without gasping for breath. My bike handling skills are obviously getting better and tonight, I successfully navigated all 3 tricky spots in our normal route for the first time. The most important thing? The more I exercise, the more I can enjoy eating!

(Left: big boulders on the Pemberton loop in McDowell Mountain Regional Park; center: mountain biking bling [that means “showy jewelry!”] on my gloves; right: pretty sunset)

 

Another cool little hike

Yesterday, my SAT and I hiked up Picacho Peak with our friend Julia. Picacho Peak is located in Picacho Peak State Park between Casa Grande and Tucson just off of the I-10. The summit is 3,374 feet (1,028 m) above sea level and the name means “big peak” in Spanish. Total distance is about 6 miles (9.7 km) and total elevation gain is about 1780 feet (543 m). Near the top, there are short steep sections that hikers have to climb with the help of steel cables and handrails . When you arrive at the summit you are rewarded with a beautiful 360 degree view of the surrounding Sonoran desert. Fun facts: Picacho Peak has been used as a navigational landmark for hundreds of years, was the site of Arizona’s only Civil War battle, and sits on top of an ancient volcanic lava flow!

(Top row, L to R: early morning light; Picacho Peak is in the top right of the photo; Julia and my SAT at the base of the first set of cables. Middle row, L to R: Julia and I posing on the first set of cables; more cable-assisted climbing; signage. Bottom row, L to R: many Saguaro cacti near the top; can you see the black, volcanic rock in the middle of the photo?; another photo from the summit.)

Beautiful day, beautiful hike, beautiful company…and sore legs. 🙂 I’m glad we did this hike in February; Picacho Peak is NOT recommended in the late spring and summer months, as there is no shade along the entire trail. Bring lots of water, snacks, sunscreen, and hat.