My objectives: explore the desert, get acclimated to the heat, build back some running stamina without aggravating injuries, continue to condition the feet. The goal isn’t to overdo things, but still to do a lot, and this requires an aggressive tempo of operations: breakfast, run or hike, dinner, plan the next day’s activities, bed — repeat. The planning is time-consuming: there’s an overwhelming volume of information on the internet, and not all of equal quality. My best source turns out to be the motel clerk who’s been exploring this area with his wife for the last ten years.
Arriving in Moab, Utah toward the end of July, car thermometer reading 100 F, windows down and a/c off (to help me acclimate), yellow sand and orange cliffs swimming in late afternoon haze. After a quick beer at a local brewery, it’s time to check in at the motel (the cheapest available), and begin planning the next day’s hikes at Arches National Park, located a couple of miles north of town and thus every tourist’s first destination.
En route from Capitol Reef to Bryce Canyon National Park, stopping at the visitor center in Escalante, Utah (population 797) to meet a friend who by coincidence is traveling in the reverse direction, wondering how to spend the afternoon, and the Ranger here has a suggestion: hike in along the Escalante River. It’s not one of the trails marketed to the tourist crowd, in fact it’s not an official trail at all, not shown on maps, and remarkably not even listed in the popular apps. Just be mindful of flash flooding.
My friend arrives, we spend a hour catching up, compare notes on the best hikes in the area, and then resume our separate journeys. I stare at the map on the wall and ponder a place called Death Hollow, whose creek flows into the Escalante about seven miles in.
I find two maps to download on my phone and a vintage topographic map to buy (it’s paper and needs to be folded to fit in a pocket — how quaint!), fill out the necessary back-country permit, lay out gear and pack it up, charge my phone while eating a hamburger and baked beans, and head off to the trailhead, one eye on the clouds massing in the west….
What caught my attention after the four-hour drive from Salt Lake City, once I’d reached Moab and was motoring along Route 191 through the center of town, passing all those restaurants, curiosity shops, and tour operators, was the line of mountains rising in the southeast.
The next morning saw me hiking out to the Delicate Arch in Arches National Park (isn’t this every tourist’s first stop?) — when here were those mountains again, with a mushroom cloud bubbling above, as if the peaks had pierced the winds and cast the atmosphere into turbulence.
And then a day later, from the high point in Hidden Valley, here they were once again, gazing at me with curiosity across thirty-five miles of hot sand and haze.
* Partial traverse including Mts Webster, Jackson, Pierce, Eisenhower, Monroe, Washington, Clay, Jefferson, and Adams, but not Madison
With a trip to the Grand Canyon on the horizon, the question is how to prepare for the big 4,000-foot descent from the rim to the Colorado River — and the big 4,000-foot climb back up. An idea comes to mind: hike the highest peak in the northeast, New Hampshire’s 6,289-foot Mt. Washington.
While studying the map, this idea morphs and expands and eventually crystallizes into a plan to hike the Presidential Traverse, a 23-mile crossing of the enormous exposed granite ridgeline that features Mt. Washington and nine neighboring peaks. Memories surface from August 2004, when I’d completed the Traverse with my friend Andy and his wife Erin: we’d had a great time, except for the final descent through an unrelenting field of rocks.
It’s thirteen years and eleven months later as once again I pull into the AMC Highland Center in Crawford Notch, after a six-hour drive from New York. It’s a struggle getting out of the car, thanks to an inflamed piriformis (a muscle in the butt) — the result of too many squats earlier in the week. As I hobble across the parking lot the other issue weighing on my mind is the weather. I’ve been watching the forecast steadily deteriorate over the last few days, until it now calls for “Thunderstorm” with 100% probability of precipitation and winds from the west at 37 MPH. . . .
Barefoot running is so different from shod running that it’s practically a new sport.
— Ken Bob Saxton, “Barefoot Running Step by Step”
Running on pavement without shoes is tricky, according to barefoot guru Ken Bob Saxton. The uniform surface may feel smooth at first but offers less feedback than a rocky trail. You might think you can get away with bad habits developed while running shod, like slipping, skidding, or scuffing your feet. But if you do so while barefoot — even by a tiny degree — that friction will accumulate over a few miles until your soles are too sensitive to continue (think of rough pavement as a kind of coarse-grained sandpaper and you’re dragging your feet across with the full weight of your body. . .). Some people can run barefoot on smooth surfaces, like sand, grass, sidewalks, the surface of a track, or super-slick asphalt, Ken Bob observes, but rough pavement or gravel defeats them. And that, I’m afraid to say, is a good description of me.
To practice my form and hopefully improve it, I showed up at the Gardiner 5k Classic Run/Walk a few days ago, to attempt my fifth barefoot race on a course that includes both smooth and rough asphalt and also a mile of gravelly trail. . . .
A long weekend, five peaks, and a few scratches. . . and the July Grid is done.
Going shirtless, in shorts, and barefoot is not the recommended uniform for summer bushwhacking in the Catskills, but it keeps you cool when the temperatures head into the 90s, and not only that, it teaches you to be “mindful,” which is yoga-speak for paying attention. Better pay attention to where you step!