One Man Walking

2008-08-28 Back to the start

August 28th, 2008 · 1 Comment

On our way into San Diego I took a little diversion to show Tania a place that is going to stick in my mind for a very long time. The PCT’s starting monument on the border of Mexico and the USA is up a dirt road near the town of Campo. Last time I saw this I was walking away on the trip of a lifetime. Though I like to think of myself as totally unprepared for what happened next I had done a fair bit of reading and research. It’s been hard to return to that state of mind, the optimism of heading into something unknown and pushing the limits of what I know I can do versus what I want to do. The walk across Japan never had the same feeling. It was only about 80% of the distance and civilisation was never going to be far away like it was in the High Sierras. I read the trail register and saw a few names I recognised from the email list and some hikers from last year giving it another go. The comments were a familiar mix of nerves and bravado. A few hours later while talking to Scout and Frodo I got updates on quite a few of those hikers. Having only just read of their beginnings it was strange to hear who had already given up or been forced off the trail by injury.

Scout and Frodo (also known as Barney and Sandy) were the San Diego couple who hosted me before I set off last year. Along with a few neighbours they helped 117 hikers get starting in April ‘08 and have earned their Trail Angel wings several times over. 120 if you count Rolling Thunder and us two. We caught up over a big salmon and pasta dinner. I’m apparently the only one still on hiker metabolism and munched my way through two full servings as we caught up on the latest PCTA efforts to maintain the trail. Scout is now chairman of the fundraising committee and after the sad loss of another board member the only thru-hiker on the team.

on a bicycle built for two 

The next day was spent circling Mission Bay on a tandem. It’s a lot harder than I thought but it made for one of the most fun days of this trip, along with blowing up close friends in the computer game Halo 3 :). While singing along to “Daisy, Daisy” we dodged rollerbladers, errant children and a family expecting everyone to walk through the shops while they took up the entire boardwalk to play catch (umm, hello! Go play on the beach!).

That evening we caught up with Jan and Jim, the neighbours who picked me up from the train station after multiple delays and the longest traveling day I’ve ever had to deal with. Jan has the distinction of hiking the entire PCT downhill, by completing each section at a lower elevation than she started it, and Jim has climbed Denali (Mt McKinley, the USA’s highest peak) several times) so they are both accomplished adventurers.

2008-08-26 Like a Phoenix

August 26th, 2008 · 1 Comment

Many years ago on a very different journey of discovery I met two girls from New Jersey at Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls. We spent nearly 24 hours awake and talking (and running). It was the first time I’d made friends en-route and I can only wish they’d all worked out so well. I met them a few more times across Europe and in America. It’s been over 4 years but these last few days I have had the chance to renew that friendship with Brie who has since relocated to Arizona with her boyfriend Colin (a professional private detective. Cool).

Brie’s job is pretty cool too. She’s an elephant handler at Phoenix Zoo and used one of her days off to take us backstage. Tania and I both got to feed one of the three elephants that Brie looks after and watch as someone else gave one a shower. Have you ever wondered why our world is so normal and animals like those Dr Seuss drew don’t exist here? Then take a step back and imagine hearing of elephants for the first time, their rough skin with a few short tough hairs. Ears bigger than their heads and a nose they can pick things up with. That’s pretty strange to me and seeing them up close and personal was a privilege. Next on our list was a personal favourite of mine. The gorgeous little orangutan called Kasiah was just 2 years old and enjoying the cheerios the handler was feeding him. I got to shake his hand and watched with interest has he immediately withdrew and took a sniff of his hand to better understand what he’s just been in contact with.

Tania feeds the elephants  If you squirt me one more time.... 
Kasiah the baby orangutan  What's going on over here? 

On our first night in town Colin and Brie had recommended a drink at the local brewery. But it’s a popular place and parking is hard. Check out this shot of Colin’s excellent 45 point turn. Our troubles weren’t over then though because some genius in the state government decided that foreign drivers licenses are not valid ID here, in Arizona. Oh it’s valid in California and lots of other states, all of them I think, but not here. Plus even a 90 year old wouldn’t be allowed into a pub without ID because the offense is not to let in underage people, it’s to let in those without documentation. So we had to drive back to the house and get passports instead. Frustrating but worth it in the end.
Austin Powers parking 

They’re getting married in July 2010 so Levi, we might have to move forward that plan to climb Independence Rock.

2008-08-25 Viva Las Vegas

August 25th, 2008 · No Comments

Despite Rigatoni’s pleas we decided to go to Las Vegas. I can see his point, it’s not a pretty part of humanity, but it is fascinating and worth a look. We drove straight to The Stratosphere hotel which was pretty easy, given its dominance over the skyline.

The Stratosphere 

As is traditional in sin city Las Vegas, access to everything within a hotel involves walking across the casino floor trying to eek out another few bets from people just trying to reach the restaurants. I think $5 is an acceptable amount to throw away on fairly dumb entertainment. Speaking of which we ate in Roxy’s Diner where the staff karaoke their way through the 50s and 60s.
The Forum. Shopping in Las Vegas 
The Belagio 

The hotels along the strip are really quite spectacular and we took a couple of hours to walk just a few miles down through places like The Forum and past The Belagio. Along the way we got to watch the inhabitants, some permanent and some temporary, doing their thing. Some handing out leaflets to various venues off The Strip and some trading insults with each other like…

“Wassup a******”
“Wassup b****”

A wonderful town, but we weren’t done yet. Before leaving for good I simply had to go up that tower, and when you’re up that tower I really had to have a go on one of those nutso rides at the top. The one I chose was called Insanity and that’s a pretty fair description of a rotating set of chairs 900ft above the ground and pulling 3Gs. Check out this video of someone else having a go.
Like I said, nutso. But it had to be done.


2008-08-24 Roadtrip part 2

August 24th, 2008 · 1 Comment

From The Noodleheads’ we headed south through winding valleys, stopping for treats like great apple pie and free gondola rides, working our way to Mesa Verde. This was the first U.S. National Park to be dedicated to “the works of man” and the works in question are stone and mortar houses built in steep valleys under overhanging cliffs. As we watched sunset over Sleeping Ute Mountain (it does look like a sleeping Ute chief with full feathered headdress) we were approached by Paul Phillips Jnr. He’s the first Navajo I’ve met so I was kind of disappointed that he didn’t make a good impression. First he acted as if he was forgiving me for being rude and ignoring him. I’d been typing out my travelblog and paid no attention to the voices of the minivan load of locals that I thought were talking to each other. Then he was slurring his words. I know it’s a stereo-type and I don’t want to perpetuate it but really did seem drunk. He dismissed the Cherokee tribe as ’small time’ but the thing that really bothered me was that he laughed at the idea of the guy at the entrance asking him to pay. It’s not a view I can subscribe to. The families that built these houses moved out 1400 years ago and headed south, they are not ancestors of the Navajo tribe and since he was using Park Service roads and facilities I reckon he should contribute to their upkeep just as I did.

Sunset from Mesa Verde 
Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde 

Anyway. We left the park to sleep in a town not far away and once again got woken by a policeman checking the van at some horrible hour during the night. There was never any suggestion we were doing anything wrong, he was just making sure the van wasn’t abandoned. In the morning we returned to the park and visited a couple of the houses. They’re really quite cool and Sleepy Joe (our tour guide who blinked and talked so slowly I thought she’d start snoring during her own speech) couldn’t explain why they left.

That afternoon we found an oasis in the form of Lake Powell. Formerly a massive canyon. it has been dammed up and now serves as a recreational area for boat lovers in land-locked Arizona. The rocky shores, previously hundreds of feet up cliffs, now see tourists like us sunbathing and swimming once the heat of the day fades a bit.

Taking a dip in Lake Powell 

Down stream from there is The Grand Canyon. Presumably named so because The Huge, Long, Deep and Generally Beautiful Canyon was a bit pretentious. We saw it from the higher and more shaded North Rim and I took the chance to ignore the barriers for a fun photo above a massive drop. Tania wasn’t as keen on the heights but did love the wildlife which included the first bison I’ve seen in the flesh. That night we camped in the woods just outside the park. It was the quietest night we’ve had yet, and the clearest. Though we’d seen a storm blowing across from the South Rim it didn’t reach us and I was please to hear Tania exclaim out loud the same way I had when I had really seen the stars for the first time.
Buffallo or Bison 
Barrier, what's a barrier? 
Tania and Craig at the Grand Canyon, north rim 
Camping near the Grand Canyon 

I’d been to Zion Canyon before, but the red rock formations still blew me away. It’s so alien to me and so amazing to think all this was buried under sand and sea. After dropping by the emerald pools, now mere puddles after a long hot summer, we went to The Narrows. It’s a canyon that gets down to just 20ft wide in places and a shallow river fills it. We waded upstream for quite a way, enjoying the cooler air that comes with running water and walls so steep the sun isn’t down there for long. Since it was too hot to stay there much longer we headed back to the car and got moving again. Next stop: Las Vegas!
Zion Canyon 
The Narrows, Zion Canyon 

2008-08-20 Rocky Mountain High

August 20th, 2008 · 2 Comments

For the past few days we have had the good fortune to stay with friends near the Rocky Mountains. An amazing landscape of mind boggling size and eye-popping beauty.


First port of call was Boulder to visit Levi, Sarah and bunny #3 who is expected to make her appearance on Halloween. Also visiting them were Dominique and Patrice, two Swiss guys I met in 2003. As is tradition when I visit Boulder, Levi took me rock climbing and I was left shaking with fear/adrenaline. We didn’t climb all that high, but with no ropes or soft ground to soften the blow, even a 30ft drop could put a serious dent in my head. Dom and Pat wisely stayed below.
The only way is up 

The next day we drove to Rocky Mountain National Park and tried to see moose. We did see elk, lots of them, but the moose were more elusive (eloosive?). What we also saw was a stunning set of peaks frosted with snow from the same storm that had dumped over 2 inches of rain on Boulder the day before, and taught us that the truck is not waterproof. I threw a couple of snowballs at Tania just because I could, but all she’d do was dodge them and refused to return fire.


At The Continental Divide 

Dom, Sarah, Levi Tania. Craig 

Good food and good company, along with a many rounds of shoot-em-up games on the big screen and I felt right at home. Eventually though we had to move on. As sad as it was to leave I was also excited to be heading towards a place I have heard so much about but I doubt any of you would recognise it. Crested Butte (that’s pronounced “beaut” by the way) is home to Angelhair and Rigatoni with whom I walked most of Oregon and Washington last year. Lucky Joe was there a lot too but he’s in California now so his truck took his place in the reunion. The quiet little mountain town is everything I’d imagined. Walking or riding your bike is the norm, traffic is slow, shops feature local artists’ work, and there were a pile of kids’ bikes outside the small library. The Noodleheads, the correct collective noun for our hosts, showed us around town and their house at the train depot. That night Larry Keal and his band were playing in the garden and we got our first Bluegrass experience. It was the best setting for it with a soft grass seating and relaxed locals.
Welcome note 

Craig and Tania in Crested Butte 

Wednesday concert in Crested Butte 


Before reading on take a guess at what you think is the largest living organism on earth.

Unless you thought the aspen grove just west of Crested Butte you’d be wrong. I don’t know quite how big it is but with all the roots connected across miles and miles of hillsides it is one humungous things, so Tania and I went for a walk in it. More live music that night, first the final of the free Wednesday concerts at the skifield, then Rigatoni and his friend Pierce played at The Princess bar. He played us out with “My home is on my back” in tribute to our PCT days.

Aspen grove 

Shortly before midnight, just as I was getting into a deep sleep, there came a strange rumbling sound from Tania’s side of the combi-van we were sleeping in. I thought she’d had too much hot chocolate, but she thought it was me. When we’d established it was neither of us I started digging under the bed for the bottle of engine coolant Rigatoni had replaced there earlier. I found it, and a remote controlled speaker with an Off switch which I used before waving up at the Noodleheads’ window incase they were up there watching :)

2008-08-15 Roadtrip part 1

August 15th, 2008 · 8 Comments

A.k.a. Internal combustion engine FTW (that’s For The Win).

In just 3 days we’ve driven from San Francisco, CA to Boulder, CO, which is a long way. It’s a good thing that I’m trying to show Tania some cool places I know otherwise I’d probably have driven faster and seen less. Our first stop was Sonora Pass, where the road crosses the PCT, so I took the chance to do a few minutes on the trail recalling without doubt the greatest summer of my life. That afternoon we took a refreshing dip in Lake Tahoe before finding a spot in a parking bay away from the road. Everything was going fine until about 3:15am when two cars pulled up beside us and a pair of flash lights got out and started circling the car. Through the muffled voices I heard “looks empty” and then a hand reached for the latch to the back door. Not cool. Still a bit drowsy I put my hand up against the tinted window so they knew we were inside and as I wiped away the condensation I saw a utility belt and gun.

It was a cop, two of them, and when I cracked the window to politely ask what the hell they were doing trying to open my car door they apologised and left.

Back to the PCT 

An ivory tower by Horns-a-plenty   Road works 

The next day was mostly driving east through increasingly smaller towns and into the Nevada plains between small mountain ranges. We stopped in Eureka and visited a real American diner and came away pleased. Our goal for the night was Great Basin National Park and within that Lehman’s Caves. During the tour in the morning Ranger Roberta came out with a fantastic quotable line I’ll share here. Hopefully the cave managers will start putting this on t-shirts.

In dark places lie great discoveries

~Ranger Roberta

Inside Lehman's Cave 

Inside Lehman's Cave Stalactites forming 

More driving, more desert. So much of America’s landscape is hostile to life you’ve got to wonder how things would change if the west had been fertile and creating oil millions of years ago.

Arches National Park has some weird and wonderful landscapes, most of which are rock arches, some of which are balancing rocks. We toured the park and stayed well after dark. Around dusk as the car park cleared of humans the local wildlife started to reappear and Tania can now add bats, foxes, chipmunks and prairie dogs to her tally of new animals. Chipmunks are by far her favourite. We caught sunrise at Landscape Arch (which lost about 160 tonnes of rock in 1991 and is surely not long for this earth) saw a few more formations and drove east towards The Rockies. We started off below the imposing walls of Castle Canyon, a truly remarkable place. The layers of rock slope up steeper than the road which gives you the impression of driving down hill despite the river to the left flowing the opposite was. Definitely a bit disconcerting but I preferred it to the flatlands of the past few days.

South Window 
Arches National Park (near delicate arch) 

Lucky Joe’s truck continues to serve us well, though new SUVs and semis were passing us as we crossed the range in heavy rain. The ground changed again with steep rock walls now covered with dense fir forests and tiny sprinklings of snow. And so after a while we came to Boulder and found Levi, Sarah and The Bump, where we’ll rest for a few days. Starting with a giant helping of spaghetti!

2008-08-10 Yosemite

August 10th, 2008 · 2 Comments

I’ve been here many times before, and I hope I’ll return many times later because Yosemite has a very special place in my heart. We were first introduced through my father’s photos of a misty barren mountain top and a grinning father of seven in shorts and a T-shirt. Clothes more suited to this cloudless weekend in August I think.

Half Dome summit route 
Tanya overlooking Tenaya Creek 

Driving the truck that Lucky Joe (last seen hitching a ride out of Manning Park after completing the PCT last year) leant us, Tania, Caitlin (ex-PCTer too) and I headed east to Yosemite Valley. We even managed to score a campsite in the valley itself which I’ve never done before. The three of us walked up the route I’ve done with Dad a few times. We got to the saddle before the steep steps to Half Dome’s cables before turning back and taking a dip in the Merced River in Little Yosemite Valley. On the way down I stopped to talk to a guy wearing an interesting shirt. On the back it read “twice the age, half the time”, he was the father of a duo just completing the John Muir Trail which at 230ish miles is the only long distance trail I think I’ll ever walk again.
JMT hiking duo 
Vernal Falls 

The wildlife was pretty active, Tania has fallen in love with squirrels, but there were no bears to be seen. Plenty of people though, and this morning at Glacier Point we could have been back at Fuji except the Japanese tourists here were noisy, yelling something like “heeeeey yaaa!” in to the 3000ft valley below.
Pines Campground 
Half Dome from Glacier Point 

Tonight has been a good dose of American culture hanging out with Caitlin’s family and watching the Olympics. We ate homemade hamburgers and homemade apple cobbler (a.k.a. apple crumble) and cheered through diving, swimming and gymnastics.

2008-08-08 Taking a break

August 8th, 2008 · No Comments

A.k.a. “I’m melting, I’m melting”

It is seriously hot in Tokyo, and most of Japan for that matter. So we’re taking a break and flying to America for a road-trip! Updates will still happen, but expect sausages and hot dogs instead of sashimi and hot springs.

Homerandpuffer    Simpsons_Donuts-l 

2008-08-06 Mt. Fuji

August 6th, 2008 · 5 Comments

Though I had thought of moving to Japan for many years, and I did a long distance hike last year. It wasn’t until I heard of ‘Kintaro Walks Japan’ that I thought of putting my two interests together. Kintaro, or Tyler as he’s known in real life, was inspired by Ayumi whose dad still holds the record for the longest unbroken walk, going from the tip of southern America to the top of Alaska and taking 7 years. So it was obviously a pleasure for me to be invited along on a climb of Mt. Fuji with Ayumi, her father George Meegan, her brother Geoffrey (who walked across India when he was 14!), boyfriend Paul, a bunch of Japanese friends plus Lisa, a reader of Ayumi’s blog who happened to be in the area.

Fuji-san has many mountain huts, each with names but also numbered 1-10 on each route roughly corresponding to altitude. Most walks start at the fifth level (or station) and so did ours. It was quite warm to start with, going steeply uphill helped, but the sky darkened and thunder came rolling in and was soon directly above. Last night at the hostel it had been so intense that the thunder from one strike was still going when the next one hit. It was not going to be a good night to camp. We pushed on up as the rain began. Soon I was drenched through and cursing the stupid MacPac jacket that fits like a glove but absorbs water like a sponge and poor Tania wasn’t much better off. I’ve never been outside in a storm like that. We had to keep moving to keep warm so we began passing slower hikers and were surprised when the first building we found turned out to be the hut Geoffrey had booked.

Dinner time at Subarishi 7th station 

We were shunted through into the darkness (later found out the generator is disabled during storms) and made to place all our wet clothing in plastic bags. What they didn’t say was we couldn’t hang things up to dry. One couple found this rule out when one of the workers yelled at them and refused to let them finish the rather short question of “why?” without him yelling more. He was even more abusive to George, swearing away in Japanese, apparently unaware that he was well understood by the majority of George’s friends. So if you ever go to the 7th station on the Subarishi Line, don’t try to dry your socks.

Otherwise it was a pretty fun, though cramped night. The multilayer bunks and continuous mattresses made for quite a unique place in my experience of Japan. Our plan had been for setting off at midnight to see sunrise from the summit, but as the storm continued well into the night we decided against it.

At 4am Tania woke me and told me to take a look outside. I’m glad she did because it was the only time I’ll ever be halfway up Mt. Fuji and see the lights of towns below and the huts above. To the north I could even see lightning in the clouds but it faded with sunrise and not seen again.

Sunrise from Subarishi 7th station 

We set off about 5:45am and soon it was so hot I couldn’t walk with my Icebreaker shirt on. So I took it off and it stayed off, to the shock and awe of many passing Japanese who were dressed up as if leaving Everest base camp. Clouds came suddenly and left just as quickly as Tania and I climbed the next 800m to the summit. Since I’ve been training pretty much all day every day for 3 months I had a slight advantage but Tania carried on despite the pain. She’s not one to give up on a challenge like this and I like that about her. So, around 3.5 hours later we reached the rim and admired the epic view while trying to ignore the hundreds of other hikers, the shops and even the post office.
The crowds descending Fuji 
Torii on the ascent   Conquered 

Summit Photo 

Going down was harder than expected. Tania’s excellent Keen sandals worked well on the rocky climb, but it was a slightly different descent and the ground was now loose grit that got wedged under her already sore feet. While Paul was having trouble keeping his face off the rocks (tip: don’t off-piste down Fuji’s loose grit unless you’re looking well ahead) we swapped shoes and my leathery soles and callused toes saw me safely to the bottom in sandals at least two sizes too small. The ’sand slide’ is really soft grit that can be fun to run down if you’ve got the energy and the guts to get completely out of control. It does however drop at least 600m and is very tiring no matter how you approach it. We’d been walking with Paul and Ayumi most of the way and with a bit of luck they’ll be another couple that someday we’ll be able to host in Auckland.
Ayumi, Paul, Tania and I atop Mt. Fuji 

Fuji route As tough as army boots 

hiking  ·  movie  ·  photo

2008-08-02 Bon bon, Matsumoto, bon bon bon!

August 2nd, 2008 · 5 Comments

By chance we happened to be passing by Matsumoto (and thus Charles and Yuko who I saw at my half-way point two months ago) during a festival. As the rather repetitive song explained it was “bon bon Matsumoto, bon bon bon!”. Played on a loop through loud speakers it got the parade of groups ranging from 5 drinking buddies to hundreds of school kids, companies and dance troupes. All were doing the same moves and relatively in time too.

Mastumoto Castle 
Old and new    Dali Chocolate 

Charles, Yuko and a few more from the party I attended were dancing too, but Tania and I just stayed in the crowd, and it was very crowded. We decided to leave a bit early because it had become so packed that it was almost as hot after dark as it had been during the day, which is to say it was stifling. We taken full advantage of the free breakfast in Nagano and then taken a slow and hot walk around Mastumoto Castle, nicknamed The Crow because of its black and white colour scheme. It’s one of the oldest castles in Japan (400+ years old, not a rebuilt replica) and has the interesting trick of appearing to have 5 floors from the outside, but actually having 6. Well worth a look if you’re ever in the area.
Kimonos on parade 
school exchange group