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Thru-hike in a Weekend: Denver urban hiking the Highline Canal Trail

 

Urban hiking: the new frontier. Photo courtesy <a href="https://instagram.com/thejcarr/">Johnny Carr</a> (instagram: @thejcarr)
Urban hiking: the new frontier. Photo courtesy Johnny Carr (instagram: @thejcarr)

Despite my declarations that the Selma to Montgomery Hike took me over my Pavement Walking Quota for the year, this past weekend, I headed off again on another hardpacked adventure. This time, I completed my first significant urban hike in the town where I live, Denver. I’ve done a fair amount of walking in Denver before, but nothing to this scale and magnitude.

Highline Canal Trail sign in Aurora.
Highline Canal Trail sign in Aurora.

My long distance hiker friends Steven “Twinkle” Shattuck, John “Cactus” McKinney, Johnny “Bigfoot” Carr, Samantaha “Aroo,” and Nathan “Cookie” Harry, Swami and I started off on a two day, 66-71 mile long hike from Waterton Canyon—the start of the Colorado Trail—to near Denver International Airport.

The canal/trail starts in Waterton Canyon. Photo courtesy Steven Shattuck
The canal/trail starts in Waterton Canyon. Photo courtesy Steven Shattuck

The Highline Canal was created more than a century ago to bring water from the South Platte River to settlers and farmers. Now owned and operated by Denver Water (who even puts out the guidebook for the trail), it is now open to hikers, cyclists, runners, and equestrians. Because the irrigation ditch was leaky, an entire ecosystem sprung up around it.

On trail shenanigans. This rope swing that Aroo is playing on goes over the canal.
On trail shenanigans. This rope swing that Aroo is playing on goes over the canal.

Until 40 years ago, there was no public access to the canal—even as it remained a skinny natural park in the middle of the city. With the hard work of residents who lived anywhere near the 71 miles of trail, the canal opened to the public and is now listed as a National Landmark Trail. Now the trail is protected by the Highline Canal Trail Preservation Association.

Large cottonwood trees more than 100 years old line the canal. Photo courtesy <a href="https://instagram.com/thejcarr/">Johnny Carr</a> instagram: @thejcarr
Large cottonwood trees more than 100 years old line the canal. Photo courtesy Johnny Carr instagram: @thejcarr

Although this is an urban hike, the Highline Canal Trail ecosystem boasts 199 species of birds, 28 mammals, and 15 reptiles. I was expecting the trail to be mostly paved or gravel, but a majority of the miles were on dirt or had a dirt path next to it.

Although the route is mostly straightforward, many intersections require a map and guidebook. Photo courtesy <a href="https://instagram.com/thejcarr/">Johnny Carr. </a>instagram: @thejcarr
Although the route is mostly straightforward, many intersections require a map and guidebook. Photo courtesy Johnny Carr. instagram: @thejcarr

Our wildlife highlights included seeing a bobcat (a first for me and many of the other serial hikers with us!), great horned owls, two types of snakes, numerous deer, squirrels, praririe dogs, and rabbits. The HCLT underscored that though humans have claimed significant land from animals, that we don’t own it completely. Our habitats coexist.

Much of the trail is very pedestrian friendly. This crosswalk even had a two buttons to stop traffic–one for pedestrians to press and one higher up for equestrians to press!
Much of the trail is very pedestrian friendly. This crosswalk even had a two buttons to stop traffic–one for pedestrians to press and one higher up for equestrians to press!

The HCLT was such a cool way to see the city and general metro area of the place that I’ve called home for the past few years. We ventured through neighborhoods I didn’t even know existed, and places I had never been before. The route finding was not as straightforward as one would think for a bike path in the city.

Utilizing a beaver dam during a cross country route. Photo by Johnny Carr. instagram: @thejcarr
Utilizing a beaver dam during a cross country route. Photo by Johnny Carr. instagram: @thejcarr

There were intersections that required navigating, and we were happy to have our map and guidebook. Additionally, certain sections went through private property, and we had to navigate—sometimes even cross country through fords and swamps—in order to keep the route on open land.

Fording a creek during the cross country part.
Fording a creek during the cross country part.

The HCLT ended up being not just educational, but a lot of fun, providing some clear bonuses, especially compared to most other thru-hikes. We had pizza delivered on trail and actually had to pass up many restaurants and convenience stores because we were too full.

On trail pizza delivery! PC: S. Shattuck
On trail pizza delivery! PC: S. Shattuck

It was easy for friends to join in for a few miles and Twinkle even met a friend randomly who was going for his morning run right on our trail. Because we could take advantage of the limited amount of gear required for an urban hike, we packed heavy food and beverages and ridiculous luxuries like Frisbees. Traditional trail towns rarely have ethnic food, but on the HLCT, Cactus and I had Pho for lunch—a first for both of us on a long distance trail.

Time for frisbee on trail. PC: J. Carr.
Time for frisbee on trail. PC: J. Carr.

Much like my Selma to Montgomery hike last weekend, I was struck by the level of economic inequality the trail highlights. In the Cherry Creek Village area, we woke to houses that I didn’t even know existed in Denver—Hollywood-esque mansions, castles, villas. By the end of the day, we were walking through immigrant neighborhoods in Aurora and Section 8 housing in Green Valley Ranch.

Easy resupply along the HLCT. PC: J. Carr
Easy resupply along the HLCT. PC: J. Carr

 

In my everyday life, I would never visit either of those neighborhoods, and yet the HLCT brought me through both. No matter how much our modern society tries to insulate social classes from one another, that such disparate places are close enough to walk from one to the other underlined for me that Denver is one community and not just a collection of rich and poor neighborhoods.

Walking for hours with friends. PC: J. Carr
Walking for hours with friends. PC: J. Carr

The best part of the Highline Canal Trail was the opportunity to have 48 hours to talk with, laugh, joke, and accomplish something cool with friends. For two days, we set aside the distractions of the modern world and just lived. I’ve enjoyed urban hiking for a couple years now, and it was so cool to expose the idea to some of my thru-hiker friends. I was so touched that they not only took it seriously, but had a great time. At a time of the year when long mile days and thrus aren’t as possible, we got to feel like we were back on the PCT again—if only for a weekend. On Monday, we all woke up and went back to our spreadsheets, but even as we squirmed in our desk chairs, relished the memories of a weekend well spent.

For more info on the High Line Canal Trail, check out these links:

Twinkle (Steven Shattuck)’s write-up about our hike

Denver Water’s High Line Canal page

Highline Canal Trail mapped in Googlemaps

Walkride Colorado Interactive Map of the Highline Canal Trail

Highline Canal Trail Guidebook (this is available at multiple locations of the independent Tattered Cover Book in Denver Metro)

Highly informative Wikipedia Page

Greenwood Village’s Trails Map

Douglas County’s Highline Canal Map

 

Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail: Databook, Tips, and Resources

 

We all have big shoes to fill. The crosswalk commemorating the Selma to Montgomery March taken 50 years ago. Pun by and photo taken by Dave “SuperDave” Mullins.
We all have big shoes to fill. The crosswalk commemorating the Selma to Montgomery March taken 50 years ago. Pun by and photo taken by Dave “SuperDave” Mullins.

I have a lot of emotions and thoughts related to the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail hike/march I just completed. It’s taking a while to type them all out—the experience was very powerful and I need some time to digest all the things I’ve seen and learned. In the meantime, for those of you, like my friend Sym, who intend to hike the Selma to Montgomery Trail, I am including below a databook for the trail. Like other longer urban hikes, here are some tips that apply to the S2M route. Transportation: There is public transportation bus run by West Alabama Transit available that will pick people up anywhere between Montgomery and Selma for $20 (regardless of how close or far to Selma or Montgomery your pick up may be). It runs on a schedule and requires calling ahead and making advanced arrangements with the driver. The number to call is 334-289-5789. If you tell them what you are trying to do, they will direct you to someone who can help. My hiking partner said the service doesn’t have a website and the number was hard to find. Camping/Hotels: For sleeping arrangements, there are no hotels or motels that I remember seeing between Selma and Montgomery with the exception of one or two that you pass a few miles from the start and a few miles from the finish. There may be a chance that the Interpretive Centers or churches along the way will allow camping. We utilized the bus system to return to our car after Day 1. The NPS may let you camp at the historic campsites as well if you give them a call. The databook below does not include the mileage from the Brown Chapel (the Real Mile 0.0) to the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The reason is that there are several ways that you can march depending on whether you want to recreate the March 7, 1965 Bloody Sunday route, the March 9 Turn Around Tuesday route, or the March 21 Voting Rights March route. The map for that section of the route–really, the map that explains all the details, is available from the National Park Service Interpretive Site in Selma or Lowndes County or here.

 Databook for Selma Montgomery

Mile Mark Landmark and Notes Notes
0 Edmund Pettus Bridge
0.4 Curb market Food, Restroom, Water
0.7 Citgo conveneince store (R) Food, Restroom, Water
2.3 Two diners (R) Food, Restroom, Water
2.4 Dollar General  (Right) Food, water
3.1 Subway (L) Food, Restroom, Water
4.7 Bar and Grill (Right) Food, Restroom, Water
5 Chevron and Marathon conveineice stores Food, Restroom, Water
6.9 Marker for Historic Camp #1 (Right)
11.1 Post Office (Right)
11.2 Electric servicing shed where one can pee (L) Restroom (kind of)
14.7 Approximate County Line
15.6 Highway 40 intersection
16.9 Jct with Highway 9
17 Citgo conveneince store (L) Food, Restroom, Water
(maybe 19) Some construction along a new bridge. There will be an unlocked port-o-potty available. After crossing the bridge, there is an unused road that can be walked traffic free for a small period of time Restroom (kind of)
19.7 Historically Significant Mt. Gillard Church
21 National Park Service Lowndres County Interpretative Center (Left side, restrooms, no snacks) Restroom, water
Approximately 22 Historic Marker for Camp #2 (Left Side)
25.9 Viola Luizzo Memorial (Right side)
27.9 Junction for 97
28 BP convenience store Food, Restroom, Water
Approximately 29.5 Some construction along a new bridge. There will be an unlocked port-o-potty available. After crossing the bridge, there is an unused road that can be walked traffic free for a small period of time Restroom (kind of)
32.4 Historic Marker for Camp #3 (Right side)
33.8 Marathon Station (Right side) Food, Restroom, Water
34.5 Store (Right side) Food, Restroom, Water
35.6 Enter Montgomery County
36.8 Two churches
39.9 Montgomery City Limits
41.3 Citgo convenience store (Right side) Food, Restroom, Water
41.7 Chevron convenience store (Right side) Food, Restroom, Water
43.8 Exit to Highway 31 (note: you can continue to walk against traffic, go over a bridge, and then walk against traffic using the Westbound onramp to Hwy 80. This is probably safer than trying to cross Hwy 80 to get off at the Eastbound onramp like car traffic is required to do)
43.8 Narrow bridge
45.3 Dairy Queen and Raceway convenience store, Peddler’s Inn Food, Restroom, Water
46.5 Family Dollar (L) and Dominos (Right) Food, Restroom, Water
46.7 Library (L) Restroom, water
47 Road makes a big bend, stay on Hwy 31/Fairview
47.2 Petro Station Food, Restroom, Water
47.4 Historic Campsite #4: St Jude Educational Institute. Make a left turn on Oak after the Institute
47.8 Family Dollar and Calhoun Food supermarket (Right) Food, Restroom, Water
48.7 Make a Right on Jefferson Davis after the school
48 Holt
49.2 Right on Day Street
49.3 Left on Mobile street
49.7 Five points traffic circle. Turn on Montgomery Street (it should be the second street as you walk counter clockwise)
50 Fountain at a roundabout. From here you should be able to see the Capitol
51 Historic Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church
51.2 Montgomery Capitol Steps

Check back for some staggering work of profundity that will be my reflections on the S2M.

Leaving for the Selma Montgomery Trail

I’m increasingly coming to realize that there is more to walking than seeing pretty places and challenging oneself physically. There’s a power to walking that can change people’s lives—society in fact, and there is no better example of that power than the Selma Montgomery National Historic Trail.

Tomorrow, I will be starting the 54 mile hike on Saturday, the 50th anniversary of the march. Although this trail is a roadwalk with almost no elevation gain, to call it a hike seems almost like it will trivialize it. The walk itself will be walking in the exact footsteps of giants.  Unlike the marchers 50 years ago, I will be walking the trail in two days (I have to get back to work). Yet, that the march originally took five days brings to home the sacrifice people were willing to make for a cause greater than themselves—to leave work and their families for that long plus transport mostly by bus (add on a few days) for equality and the right to vote . How idle and silly my self-absorbed thru-hikes seem in comparison!

 

 

Unlike other hikes I’ve done, I’m not worried about resupply. I am worried about getting to my sleeping spot. But more than anything, I’m enormously grateful that when I walk this trail, that unlike the original marchers, I will not have to fear for my safety from attackers. Our society has changed enough that instead, I anticipate that Super Dave, Steven, and I will be one of thousands out on the trail celebrating the event this weekend.

I see the Selma Montgomery Trail more as a religious pilgrimage than a hike. It will honor one of the most significant cultural changes in our country—and as a hiker, what better way to honor something than by walking? Traveling on this trail will feel like going back to the very roots of what it means to be human—to understand just a bit the sacrifices that others have made for our freedoms. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who marched in Selma, reflected that “when I marched in Selma, my feet were praying.”

I first learned about the trail five years ago at Hike the Hill and thought “I’ll never walk that. Why would I want to walk a highway between two towns in the south?” As a kid who grew up in California, far from the South, the marhc in Selma seemed so far removed, so long ago, so not applicable to my own life. I’m glad that now I know the answer to why I want to hike that trail. Today, I am humbled to walk the trail and can’t read enough about the history and meaning of this walk.

How to Train your Feet for Hiking Season

Altra Zero Drop shoes have quickly become a hiker favorite.
Altra Zero Drop shoes have quickly become a hiker favorite.

If you’ve ever thought about switching to Altra Zero Drop trail running shoes for your backpacking season, now is the time to start getting your foot accustomed to the shoe. I find that switching to hiking in the Altra Lone Peaks has increased my stability, reduced my strike impact, provided comfort for hours of hiking, eliminated long term hiker issues like plantar fasciitis, and increased my efficiency. That being said, hitting the trail with a brand new pair of Altras if you’ve never worn them before may not be the best idea because there is a transition time associated with switching over to a Zero drop shoe.

Lone Peak 1.0 in Escalante. Photo by <a title="Rocky Mountain Ruck" href="www.barefootjake.com">Barefoot Jake Morrison.</a>
Lone Peak 1.0 in Escalante. Photo by Barefoot Jake Morrison.

Fear not, though—the benefits of switching over are HUGE for long distance hikers. Zero drop shoes help align the feet, reduce the impact of each foot step, and increase your stability. The foot shaped toe box—increases balance and efficiency, while reducing blisters and chaffing, maximize shock absorption and allows toes to spread out naturally. What this means for hikers is day-long comfort, increased stride efficiency, and less foot pain.

Baileys traverse in the Lone Peak 1.5s. Photo by <a href="www.barefootjake.com">Barefoot Jake.</a>
Baileys traverse in the Lone Peak 1.5s. Photo by Barefoot Jake.

So, why should you start transitioning to Altra shoes now instead of say, a few days before my hike most thru-hikers (myself included) do the bulk of the trip planning? Because we’ve all spent years wearing high-heel like elevated trail runners, our feet have been trained to be lazy (in scientific speak—has neutralized our Achilles and lower calf muscles). If you hit the trail doing 15s, 20s, or 30 milers in a zero drop shoe when you’ve never worn zero drop shoes before, your Achilles and lower calf muscles are going to feel the burn. The muscles in your feet are going to be confused. It’s best to give yourself at least three weeks to strengthen your legs and feet before your hike.

Bobcat, Malto, and me on the Wonderland Trail in the Lone Peak 1.5s. Photo by Swami at <a href="www.thehikinglife.com">the Hiking Life.</a>
Bobcat, Malto, and me on the Wonderland Trail in the Lone Peak 1.5s. Photo by Swami at the Hiking Life.

Pre-hike training schedule:

Before you get your shoes (or during week 1): Walk around barefoot in the grass or the beach or your bedroom for 30 seconds, adding a 30 seconds per day. Week 1: Wear Altras around the office and running light errands (they sell a “work appropriate” show called the Instinct Everyday that has many of the same features as the running shoe, but looks like it’d work with a suit). At first, the Toe Shaped footbox may feel too roomy and weird. After a few days, your toes will start relaxing and will start spreading out naturally.

Sandstone in Moab in the Superior 2.0s Photo by the <a href="http://therealhikingviking.com/">Tom Gathman.</a>
Sandstone in Moab in the Superior 2.0s Photo by the Tom Gathman.

Week 2: Do a very short hikes (whatever that means to you). Start without your backpack and give yourself a rest day to assess how your feet, joints, Achilles, foot muscles, and lower calves feel. If everything seems great, slowly increase the mileage and add weight to your backpack, being sure to build in days in between for rest and recovery. On a thru-hike, it’s near impossible to take zero days every day, so let your body take advantage of rest days between hikes to build muscles and strength. Let your body also take advantage of the muscle building fuels that you can get from living off trail. Building muscles on trail when you’re living on instant mashed potatoes and ramen is going to be a little bit more difficult.

Escalante in the Lone Peak 1.5s. Photo by<a href="www.barefootjake.com">Barefoot Jake</a>
Escalante in the Lone Peak 1.5s. Photo byBarefoot Jake

Barefoot Jake. Week 3: Up your mileage slightly, being sure to take days off in between. Take note of any excessive soreness or discomfort and rest up more. Week 4-6: Do a few hikes of the approximate length that you would wish to start a thru-hike. Take some days off between. Assess how you feel. Try doing that distance with a full pack of gear.

Glacier walking in the Lone Peak 1.5s in Olympic National Park. Photo by <a href="www.barefootjake.com">Barefoot Jake.</a>
Glacier walking in the Lone Peak 1.5s in Olympic National Park. Photo by Barefoot Jake.

With this training system, your feet will get stronger and reduce the chance of getting bone fractures. Your lower calves will be ready to hit the trail (relatively speaking). And you’ll enjoy the natural alignment benefits of wearing a Zero Drop shoes. Wearing Zero Drop shoes is like long distance hiking: once you start doing it, you’ll have a hard time thinking of life the same way. If you’ve ever thought about it, I highly encourage starting now before hiking season gets into full swing so that you can maximize the benefits when you’re on trail.     (P.S. I’m not a doctor. Legal says that you should consult with your physician before doing anything physical or changing your life in any way).

Rocky Mountain Ruck

ALDHA-W and the CDTC held the Rocky Mountain Ruck on March 14th at the American Mountaineering Center in Golden, CO
ALDHA-W and the CDTC held the Rocky Mountain Ruck on March 14th at the American Mountaineering Center in Golden, CO

Get to the hills! The Colorado hikers are in Ruck! This past weekend, ALDHA-W and the Continental Divide Trail Coalition (CDTC) completed their first Rocky Mountain Ruck attracting 85 people from as far away as Salida, Vail, Portland, and even LA! This all-day event attracted hikers in all stages of experience—from dayhikers to seasoned veterans to the long trails. No matter what level of expertise, everyone walked away having learned a trick or two, and the fellowship, fun, and beer made the event the closest Colorado has gotten to a Gathering yet (besides maybe Lawton “Disco” Grinter and Felicia “POD” Hermosillo’s wedding).

Outside demo
Outside demo

Held at the historic American Mountaineering Center in historic downtown Golden, CO, the event kicked off with speeches by CDTC Executive Director Teresa Martinez and ALDHA-W President Whitney “Allgood” LaRuffa. To acquaint everyone to the terms, quirks, and nuts and bolts mechanics of a thru-hike, Ryan “Dirtmonger” Sylva and ALDHA-W Secretary April “Bearclaw” Sylva presented a funny and lighthearted intro to What is a Thru-Hike.

Pack shake down with Allgood and Annie
Pack shake down with Allgood and Annie

After a break with food and snacks provided by Great Harvest Bakery and Whole Foods Golden, the event jumped into the ever-important ‘Everything that Can Go Wrong on the CDT’—with applications for the Colorado Trail, PCT, and pretty much every other trail. Disco and POD used their humor and wide breadth of hiking experience to present a spectrum of safety techniques for various tribulations of the trail—from grizzlies to giardia.

Outdoor fording demo
Outdoor fording demo

From here, it transitioned to winter hiking teacher Pete “Czech” Sustr’s hands-on (read: powerpointless) clinic on fords and snow travel. The troop of hikers traveled outside to a park outside to enjoy the four surrounding mountains of Golden, the 70 degree temps, and a little lightning safety position practice.

Czech demonstrated walking on a not-snow-covered hill and then gathered everyone to Clear Creek where he and a lone brave volunteer forded the creek. Passerbys from downtown Golden stopped to witness the crazy.

The view of the ford from the bridge over Clear Creek. The downtown passerbys were gathered on the bridge watching these two.
The view of the ford from the bridge over Clear Creek. The downtown passerbys were gathered on the bridge watching these two.

The morning concluded with backpacking gear presentation by expert and ultralight guru Glen van Peski. Throughout the day, hikers had the opportunity to explore manned booths and touch, try on, and otherwise drool over gear from Montbell, Gossamer Gear, Katabatic Quilts, and the CDTC. Lunch outside transitioned into pack shakedowns with experienced hikers and trail Q&A in breakout groups. Those who brought their backpacking gear for one-on-one consultations were stoked at the level of attention, helpfulness, and insight the hour of gearheading provided.

Dirtmonger heading up a pack shakedown. What a nerd!
Dirtmonger heading up a pack shakedown. What a nerd!

Corralling people back to the classroom on such a sunny day was a chore, but well worth it. Paul “Mags” Magnanti gave a highly informative presentation on navigation on the CDT with a robust Q&A. Mags proved a hard act to follow, but Allgood and I came on stage to discuss serious business: pooping in the woods. We discussed Leave No Trace trail ethics and Trail Town Etiquette—two very important topics that to-be hikers need to know before stepping foot on trail. The session concluded with a cathole digging competition with participants using their shoe, hiking poles, sticks, tent stakes, rocks and potty trowel to dig the best hole they could in 45 seconds. Needless to say, the trowel got the job done.

Cathole digging competition
Cathole digging competition

The evening ended with a killer presentation by Junaid Dawud, who thru-hiked all the Colorado 14ers as a continuous hike. A minor Front Range celebrity, as well as a seasoned thru-hiked himself, Junaid’s photos were jaw dropping and his description of pioneering a trail and the suffering that actually doing it entailed somehow just made me want to hike it even more. Junaid told us during Happy Hour that it was the first time he had given a talk about the 14ers Thru-Hike. Everyone who heard that could not believe it—his talk was so well-polished that we had all assumed he had given it to numerous clubs around the Front Range. I’m going to do everything I can to make sure Junaid has an opportunity to give his talk again sometime soon.

Cathole competitors put on their game face.
Cathole competitors put on their game face.

The night ended with a raffle of gear valuing thousands of dollars including backpacks from Gossamer Gear and others, numerous pairs of Altra Zero Drop shoes, DVDs of the Walkumentary and Embrace the Brutality, downloads of Guthook’s trail guide apps, Sawyer filter, a Montbell jacket, Katabatic gear bivy, a Hennessey Hammock, and much more. Nearly everyone walked away with some schwag (and everyone who came to the event walked away loaded down with giveaways from Probar, Whole Foods, Tecnu, and Dr. Bronner’s). We all gathered for a Social Hour and Q&A with beer provided by Colorado Native Lager.

The Gathering is about food, fun, and fellowship.
The Gathering is about food, fun, and fellowship.

It’s the end of Ruckin’ Season. Soon, hikers will hit the trail. But with the help of the Rocky Mountain Ruck, we hope that everyone will set foot on trail—whatever that trail may be—feeling more prepared for the journey ahead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interview with Gear Institute

I don’t know where they got this photo, but it looks like I need to get a few more hours of sleeping in my MLD poncho-tarp.
I don’t know where they got this photo, but it looks like I need to get a few more hours of sleeping in my MLD poncho-tarp.

 

Nathan Borchelt from Gear Institute interviewed me to discuss important topics like what’s in my pack and how much ice cream I eat. Nathan is a great interviewer who was fun to work with—he’s hiked part of the Appalachian Trail and writes for National Geographic on adventure topics.

He also gets the truth out of me as far as how much ice cream I eat on and off trail. The truth will shock you!

Check out some of my favorite gear that I carry in this surprisingly-fun-to-read gear article!

It’s Ruckin’ Season!

 

The Ruck was a great chance to reunite with old friends and make new friends. Photo by She-Ra
The Ruck was a great chance to reunite with old friends and make new friends. Photo by She-Ra

If you wish you could’ve made it to the Cascade Locks Ruck, don’t despair! The Colorado Ruck is happening March 14th in Golden, Colorado. Come re-experience all the fun documented below…at a higher altitude!

This past weekend, ALDHA-W ran the Second Annual Cascade Ruck in the beautiful PCT Trail Town, Cascade Locks, right in Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

The long distance hiking community has always been about giving back—and in some ways, because the Ruck is centered around getting people new to long distance hiking on the trail, the Ruck was even more fun than the much-beloved ALDHA-W Gathering.

The formal photo of attendees of the ALDHA-W Ruck. Photo by Nabor J.
The formal photo of attendees of the ALDHA-W Ruck. Photo by Nabor J.

The Cascade Ruck may have even ended up being an even bigger event than the Gathering, with attendees traveling up to 15 hours from California, northern Washington, and even Colorado to make new friends and reunite with the old.

The day kicked off with bagels and lox smoked by ALDHA-W member and chef extraordinaire, Scott “Shroomer” Williams. President Whitney “Allgood” LaRuffa welcomed and recognized everyone in the room as an important part of our vibrant, sometimes zany, and incredibly fun trail community and encouraged everyone—no matter how many miles they had under their toes, to ask lots of questions, feel comfortable, and learn as much as possible.

Pack shakedown and gear demos
Pack shakedown and gear demos

A great introduction to any pre-hiking season prep is figuring out what gear to use and how to use gear that is comfortable, won’t drain your body with weight, and won’t drain your wallet with price. The Ruck was lucky enough to score as a speaker ultralight guru and founder of Gossamer Gear, Glen Van Peski. He gave an awesome presentation on what he carries in his backpack and how he is able to lighten his load with a few tips and tricks.

Glen’s talk was immediately followed by a one-on-one personal pack evaluation (aka “a shakedown”) where anyone—no matter how experienced they were—could bring their backpack and get advice on how to carry a lighter load from well-traveled long distance hikers. I noticed that some hikers who had already hiked the AT and PCT still were looking for pack shakedowns; in the sport of backpacking, the more knowledgeable a hiker is, the more likely a hiker realizes what s/he can learn from others.

Allgood and I bought an insane amount of food for this trip, and that was supplemented by what Shroomer purchased. Photo by Allgood.
Allgood and I bought an insane amount of food for this trip, and that was supplemented by what Shroomer purchased. Photo by Allgood.

During breaks and lunch, attendees were free to explore the booths of our sponsors and partner non-profits. Attendees were given a few minutes to talk about some of their gear that thru-hikers love. Because ultralight gear is usually only sold on the Internet, it was incredibly helpful for hikers and hikers-to-be to get an opportunity to see, touch, and test out hiking gear before buying it. A real treat for events like this, Montbell brought out down jackets and sleeping bags from their Portland store for hikers to try on. Because Montbell has only two US stores, this was a great opportunity for hikers to try on gear they can usually only buy online.

The Continental Divide Trail Coalition and Pacific Crest Trail Association manned booths and spoke to the group about importance of giving back and encouraged hikers to volunteer on the trail systems. Many new and even experienced hikers don’t yet realize all the work required to get a trail built and well-maintained, so it was great having trail organizations at the event to remind us all that trails don’t grow on trees.

So Far trying out some gear he never even considered before. Hikertrash enjoying the reunion in the back of Nabor J’s truck.
So Far trying out some gear he never even considered before. Hikertrash enjoying the reunion in the back of Nabor J’s truck.

The event was also filled with great nuts and bolts information about how to prepare for a thru-hike. PCT Hiker Hops spoke about the maps, apps, and other navigational tools that hikers can use on the PCT. As someone who hiked the PCT in the days before smartphones with ubiquitous, it was interesting for me to see how many more options hikers have to get into the backcountry.

In the afternoon, Drop & Roll presented on trail food, nutrition, and resupply for a long distance hike. Since food choices can be so personal, it got interesting when Triple Crowners joined in on a Q&A panel which revealed how different the eating habits of hikers can be on trail. Like an Oprah episode, all the attendees looked under their seat and received a free meal replacement bar donated by Probar. Well, actually, they came up to the front and got to choose their own flavor, but you get the idea.

More fun with the Hikertrash girls. Photo by She-Ra.
More fun with the Hikertrash girls. Photo by She-Ra.

After what felt like should have been a $30 lunch—complete with home-smoked pork, grilled tri-tip, and Porcini tofu made from mushrooms collected in the Wind River Range on the CDT—the attendees listened to a Leave No Trace and Trail Town Etiquette talk given by Allgood and me. With the increased numbers of people hiking, both of these issues are important to ensuring the scenic quality, ecological health, and continued services along the trails. The highlight of this event was a cathole digging contest where attendees competed in digging poop holes by using different tools—a stick, a shoe, a rock, a tent stake, a hiking pole, and a trowel. (For those wondering: the trowel worked the best, followed by hiking pole and tent stake).

The event ended with the talented speaker, Erin “Wired” Saver, who for the first time, shared her presentation about walking the Triple Crown. Her photos and candid stories of her experiences on the PCT, CDT, and AT made everyone in the room start dreaming of getting on trail.

Drop & Roll was ecstatic to win a Montbell Therawrap vest in the gear raffle. Photo by Drop & Roll
Drop & Roll was ecstatic to win a Montbell Therawrap vest in the gear raffle. Photo by Drop & Roll

The event ended with a raffle that featured many big ticket items including down jackets and windshirts from Montbell, backpacks from Gossamer Gear and Six Moon Designs, Altra Zero Drop trail running shoes, a Purple Rain Adventure Skirt, a brandnew Hyperlight Hennessey Hammock, a Stumptown Kilt, Guthook app download for guidebooks for any trail, copies of Hikertrash: Life on the Pacific Crest Trail by Erin Miller, shirts by Hikertrash, and gift certificates and goodies from local gear stores.

The night concluded with social time and Q&A around a keg, donated by Thunder Island Brewing.  It was so wonderful to reconnect with old hiking friends while also introducing new people into our hiking family. No matter how many miles a hiker has under his or her hipbelt, the Ruck was a great place to feel at home with other people who love trails and want to be hiking.

Friends She-Ra, Lint, and Luigi reunite during the Q&A after the event.
Friends She-Ra, Lint, and Luigi reunite during the Q&A after the event.

No matter what trail and what distance you’re planning on hiking this year, Rucks are the West Coast pre-hiking season go-to event to get stoked about (and back in the mindset for) covering some miles. If you didn’t make it out to the Cascade Locks Ruck and wish you could’ve been there, I would highly recommend coming out to the Colorado Ruck on March 14th where the fun and shenanigans will continue for ALDHA-W and CDTC’s Rocky Mountain Ruck.

You can register for the Colorado Ruck directly here: