As I thru-hiker, I get to meet some of the kindest people out there, and Dean Krakel, who writes for my local paper, the Denver Post, is one of them. We’ve been exchanging emails for the past year as he prepares for his Colorado Trail thru-hike, and he was generous enough to share some of my tips on mental preparation with the greater Denver Post reading community. I interviewed in person with Dean at a coffee shop in Golden, CO, not far from my work with the Continental Divide Trail.
Long Distance Hiker is a blog that specializes in telling stories about long distance trails, helping other hikers prep and plan, and musing about trail life. I met Beardoh and Sweet Pea in 2011 when I set the speed record on the Appalachian Trail and somehow that experience must have stuck with them (and their cherry disposition and the fact that they had been following my blog astounded me—this was at the time before there were a ton of trail bloggers and I didn’t know anyone but my folks cared about what I was doing).
Beardoh and Sweet Pea were kind enough to interview me about speed records, a topic that is under heavy discussion these days. My AT hike seems so antiquated and stuck in a period of the past when people could do records without media and sponsors and instant time blogging.
The first Saturday of June is National Trails Day, an annual celebration put together by American Hiking Society to celebrate our public lands and national trail system. Each year, 150,000 people from all 50 states, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico participate in National Trails Day events. I was honored to participate in a National Trails Day event held by Backpacker Magazine in the Heil Valley outside of Boulder, CO. The event was fun, completely free, and everyone walked away learning something about trails. It was wonderful to see so many people of different ages and backgrounds all hiking together and enjoying nature.
What I love about hiking, is that it gives me the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life. Hiking is the great leveler—nature is a place where the CEO can be best friends on the guy out on his luck, the elderly can befriend teenagers, the one place in my life where I meet kids, and where Americans can connect with people from all around the world—foreigners here to enjoy the high quality and unique trail and landscape system found only in the US. In my everyday life, I rarely interact with children, and National Trails Day was so heartening to see so many kids getting out to explore the outdoors.
I know for a lot of people, especially families with small kids, the idea of hiking or going outdoors can be intimidating, especially if you never did it as a child or if you grew up in the city. If you’ve ever wanted to adventure, explore, and have fun in the outdoors, but aren’t sure how, I can’t recommend National Trails Day enough. It is great way to get out there in a safe and fun way, with experienced people who want to share their knowledge with you, no matter your experience level.
For seasoned hikers, National Trails Day can be really rewarding because we can start off the summer right by volunteering to work on the trails that we’ll be using later in the summer. By volunteering at National Trails Day events, we have a chance to spruce up trails, give back, and put a little love and sweat into something that we care so much about. Later this summer, when we finally do hit the trail, it’ll feel good to walk past a spot that we worked on and know that we contributed to making a little part of the world a better place.
So whether you’re curious about what this whole nature thing is about or you’re already an outdoors junkie, chances are there is a National Trails Day event tailored to your interest. There are gear demos, guided plant and wildlife hikes, wilderness skills and training—and it’s all free.
Although National Trails Day has passed, there are National Trails Day events all through June.
For years, long distance backpackers who did a lot of nighthiking have been taking their headlamps and wearing them on their sternum straps or waist. The reason? To maximize the amount of light hitting the trail and minimize the chances that your body will create extra shadows between the light source and the trail. Now, GoMotion has come up with an innovative design based on what hikers (and runners) have been doing for years. Backed with a powerful lamp, long battery life, and versatile beams, the GoMotion provides an interesting solution to an old hiker’s problem. Over the past few months, I tested out the GoMotion Fusion, an adjustable sternum strap model that attaches to your thru-hiking pack on backpacking, camping, and multi-day urban hikes, experimenting with the light on hiking trips in several states, climates, and terrains in an attempt to answer whether the model is the new answer to backpacking lights.
The way it works:
The GoMotion Fusion operates as a second sternum strap that runs between your backpack’s two arm straps. The way it works is that you attach two Velcro bands (comes with the headlamp) to your backpack—one to each arm strap (the lamp is attached to one of the Velcro bands). From there, you hook the lamp and webbing from one Velcro to the other so it looks like you have a sternum strap on.
The hook allows the sternum light to be easy to attach and remove
Distance: I used the GoMotion Fusion headlamp on three multi-day urban hikes as an extra level of protection from cars. On the Selma to Montgomery hike, much of the distance covered was along a busy highway with cars zooming past me at 60 miles per hour. When I was in town, I ran into many people who said “I saw you on the road because your light was so visible.”
Lumens/brightness: I have never had a headlamp with seemingly car-headlight quality beam that was able to cover not just myself, but 4 other hikers. I started an early morning backpacking trip with several other hikers who had not brought headlamps. Using the floodlamp option on the GoMotion Fusion, we were all able to hike in car-headlight quality beam that was able to cover all of us.
Battery Life: While many headlamps have a bright life when the batteries are popped in, and then live 80% of their life in a dim gloom, the GoMotion Fusion stayed bright for much longer than I was expecting given that their target customer appears to be ultramarathoners (who, unlike long distance backpackers, have the luxury of replacing their batteries after 24 hours and of aid stations where new batteries can be retrieved). On my test hikes, light seemed steadily bright throughout my battery’s life instead of the dreaded first few hours of brightness followed by 50 hours of dim before the battery finally dies.
External battery pack: This headlamp uses three AAs, which certainly leads into this headlamp weighing more than the traditional lamps that hikers use. On my scale, the battery pack itself without batteries came in at 2.5 oz—almost the weight of a traditional backpacking headlamp. However, to avoid having that heavy weight strapped to the head, GoMotion has placed the battery pack externally, which is one reason why the batteries can last so long. As a backpacker, I put the battery pack in the back mesh pocket of my ultralight Gossamer Gear Pack or in the side water bottle pocket. The battery pack even comes with its own small red LED light to increase visibility from behind when you are running at night. However, finding a place for the external battery pocket and not getting the cord caught on other pieces of gear was not my favorite feature.
Weight: Due to its design, battery strength, and battery life, the GoMotion Fusion is heavier than other light options on the market.
Battery case only
Total weight without batteries
Total weight with 3 AA alkaline batteries
Waterproofness: I’ve spent a lot of time night hiking in the rain—in fact, many of the times I’ve nighthiked have been because it has been raining and I wanted to get to a shelter or better protected area. The GoMotion’s battery pack has a waterproof cover that was even able to keep out sand when I took it backpacking in the sand dunes.
Multi-use: When I’m backpacking, I often use my headlamp as a lantern in my tent. For most headlamps, this simply involves hanging it from a hook in my tarp. The GoMotion Fusion lamp, with its external battery pack, was a little unwieldy when hung from a tarp what weighs almost as much as it does. On subsequent backpacking trips, I brought a separate light to hang from my tent instead.
This headlamp is ideal for ultramarathoning, speedhiking, or Fastest Known Time attempts. It provides a lot of light, is hands-free, won’t give you a headache (and you can still wear a hat), and has a battery that lasts a long time. The downsides of the headlamp have mostly to do with camping—managing to avoid getting the wires caught in items like guylines, setting the light up in a tent, taking off your backpack, adding or taking off a layer, etc.—essentially things that speedhikers don’t spend too much time worrying about. If you’re planning on mostly cowboy camping or not sleeping at all and need to a light that won’t fail you, consider the GoMotion to be an incredibly useful tool in your quiver. For more traditional backpacking where you intend to camp before dark and start hiking after sunrise, the map is probably overkill.
Unexpectedly, the GoMotion Fusion sternum light was incredibly useful for urban hiking. After hearing from drivers and seeing how well cars can spot me with the Fusion on, I won’t do another long urban hike or long distance hike that requires long roadwalks (the American Discovery Trail, North Country Trail, or Mountains to Sea Trail all come to mind) without that light. The GoMotion Fusion provided a great buffer of safety and I felt like I was walking with my headlights on.
It’s encouraging seeing gear like the Fusion on the market as a solution to a problem hikers have been facing and, until now, have only been able to Macgyver solutions for. I look forward to watching subsequent models of the Fusion become lighter, allow for use with 3 AAA batteries instead of AA’s, and have a lighter weight attachment system. Ultimately, this will depend on backpackers and weight conscious gear users becoming a bigger part of their customer base. Keep your eyes out, as I imagine what we’re seeing with the Fusion is the forefront of what could be a revolution in backpacking lights in the next few years.
Disclosure: Liz Thomas received a Fusion from GoMotion to conduct this review.
The Adventure Sports Podcast is an interview-based hour long, Colorado-based podcast that tells stories about all sorts of outdoor adventures. I had a lot of fun taking a break from my Denver-Colfax urban thru-hike to sit down with Travis from the podcast and talk about hikes, projects I’m working on, and why I love hiking.
Lying on the Trail by Just Bill is a new book about the joys and lessons of spending time outdoors
I recently finished reading Lying on the Trail, a series of vignettes and tall tales by Just Bill. It was inscribed with the words “Page Numbers were invented to keep down the man” which went along well with the back cover material “Why waste your time reading some silly blurb on the butt of a book when you could be looking it square in the eye, and reading the words straight in the mouth?”
Sometimes irreverent, often snarky, and with a sort of honesty that can only come with exaggerated stories, Lying On the Trail is an outdoor book that reads like a campfire story. The starting chapters even set up the campfire scene and the end winds the fire down, letting the narrator go along his way with tales from trails and places around the country, infused with humor and lessons.
By taking the strategy that Lawton “Disco” Grinter’s I Hiketakes—to tell single stories instead of taking on one thru-hike chronologically—the material in Lying on the Trail stays fresh and takes the reader to new and exciting places and situations. I love that Just Bill’s book doesn’t even pretend to be always truthful. I frequently think about how a small change in a story could make it even better.
From the reader’s perspective—the truth is less important than an entertaining tale—especially when the tale comes with a wise lesson.
Lying On the Trail is a quick read (I read it on a plane ride) but comes with a profundity that exceeds its brevity. Every hiking book talks a little about how the trail heals, how the trail teaches us that people are good, etc. etc. but some of the lessons in Lying on the Trail have the kind of wisdom that you can only get after thinking and walking on a topic for a long, long time. Despite the exaggeration of his stories, it rings with clarity that usually takes a lot of visits to a therapists’ chair to come to grips with.
Just Bill winds Native American tales and spirituality into the book, at times seeming slightly strange, and at times, insightful. The thing is, he knows that it’s weird and he admits he’s “just a white fella who grew up in the ‘burbs.” He knows that sometimes the words and concepts we use in English just don’t cut it, and can’t really be used to get across an idea that you only get from a lot of reflection.
As with any book of this kind, some of the vignettes were better than others, some of the quotes at the beginning of chapters were better than others. But my favorite vignettes were so good, that I had to take out my pencil and underline the words. And some of the quotes he uses at the beginning of chapters, I am going to steal and use as quotes in the beginning of my chapters. His most profound points in the book dealt with time and attitude and staying present—ideas that are enormously important to hikers, but are so, so hard to learn, even for those of us who have hiked a lot. His vignette about speed hiking and records especially struck me. And his Leave No Trace story was done so logically, so gently, so humanly, that it took a whole different approach to an ethic that can sometimes seem preachy and legalistic.
I’ve never met Just Bill, though I understand from his book that he is quite active on WhiteBlaze.net. Yet, I feel like I have an idea of his spirit and values from this book, and hope that one day, I can honestly say I understand the deeper message behind his book of lies.
“For me, #NationalTrailsDay is really rewarding because I can start off the summer right by volunteering to work on the trails that I know I’ll be using later in the summer. I have the chance to spruce up trails and put a little love and sweat into something I care so much about.” Liz Thomas Hiking, American Hiking Ambassador. Get out and hit the trail on #NationalTrailsDay on June 6. #GetOutGiveBack. Thanks to The Muir Project for producing this video!
I was honored to be chosen to be one of four American Hiking Society ambassadors and to share with others my love of hiking and the need to come together to protect the places we love as hikers.
What I love about hiking, is that it gives me the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life. Hiking is the great leveler—nature is a place where the CEO can be best friends on the guy out on his luck, the elderly can befriend teenagers, and where Americans can connect with people from all around the world—foreigners here to enjoy the high quality and unique trail and landscape system found only in the US.
Trails are also a great healer. I’ve met hundreds of people overcoming loss, disease, heartbreak—people who are out of shape trying to get back in shape. For people of every background, getting out in nature is healing and empowering. Being in the outdoors forces us to be responsible to ourselves and reminds us that one person can climb mountains.
If you’ve ever wanted to adventure, explore, and have fun in the outdoors, but aren’t sure how, National Trails Day is great way to get out there in a safe and fun way.
National Trails Day is a free series of outdoor events on the first Saturday in June. Whether you want to try hiking, horseback riding, trail running, mountain biking, canoeing, or geocaching, each year, you’ll be joining 150,000 people from all 50 states, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico in National Trails Day events.
I know that for me, National Trails Day is really rewarding because I can start off the summer right by volunteering to work on the trails that I know I’ll be using later in the summer. By volunteering at National Trails Day events, I have a chance to spruce up trails, give back, and put a little love and sweat into something that I care so much about. Later this summer, when I finally do hit the trail, it’ll feel good to walk past a spot that I worked on and know that I contributed to making a little part of the world a better place.
So whether you’re curious about what this whole nature thing is about or you’re already an outdoors junkie, chances are there is a National Trails Day event tailored to your interest. There are gear demos, guided plant and wildlife hikes, wilderness skills and training—and it’s all free. Bring your kids, bring your neighbor, bring your friends, bring your grandma—National Trails Day is an all ages event and we want everyone to be there!
Find an event near you at www.nationaltrailsday.org. National Trails Day is the first Saturday in June. See you on the trail!
Playboy Magazine once called Colfax Avenue the “longest, wickedest street in America,” and with good reason. At 53.3 miles long, it actually may be the longest boulevard in the world (boulevard implies a divider between lanes).
The Denver Judgmental Map that was popular a few years ago describes it as being full of “hookers/drunk people/hobos” while a South Park episode shows Jimmy trying to solicit a prostitute on Colfax. Jack Kerouac mentions Colfax in On the Road as the place where Sal Paradise, the main character, lives for a time and gets drunk. Though it’s a major thoroughfare in Denver, no one I talked to could claim to know what was at both ends of Colfax. My curiosity got the better of me, and as one inclined to walk instead of drive, this week, I walked Colfax Ave., end to end.
When I told my idea to any local who has lived in Denver for more than 20 years, the response was usually a cross between “why?” and “that’s dangerous.” Even my most street savvy friend warned me not to go solo. Prior to this trip, my main experience with Colfax was the 3 miles between downtown and my grocery store. The longest I had ever walked on Colfax before this hike was the Denver Pride Parade.
At least one source I read suggested that Colfax starts at Mt. Vernon Road near Genesee County Park (near the buffalo herd, for those familiar with I-70). So, of course I had to start up at the Mt. Vernon Road Park and Ride, and hike 5.6 miles down windy narrow-shouldered Colfax through the mountains past alpaca farms and the much more inviting Apex hiking trail to the T-Rex Parking Lot just outside Golden that is generally accepted as the western terminus of Colfax Ave.
From here, the road continued to be lacking a side shoulder, but I spotted my first sign with the word “Colfax” on it! I also saw my first other pedestrian, a traveler who seemed just as shocked to find a backpacked young woman walking Colfax as I was to see a person walking at all!
Colfax travels next to a minimum security prison and a sign warns drivers “not to stop for hitchhikers.” At the time, I was walking a wider shoulder against traffic and noticed that a cop car was headed towards me and pulled up right behind me—on the shoulder where no car really would have any interest of pulling over. It then hit me: with my neon vest and being the odd pedestrian hiking Colfax near the prison, he thought I was an escapee.
Shortly after, Colfax offered me its first foraging opportunity: a gas station that sells the delicious, cheap and local Santiago’s breakfast burritos. Not half a mile later, the expansive Colorado Mills mall offered me every food item I could dream of, and I stopped for an extensive lunch and to use Wi-Fi.
As I skirted the edge of my second city, Lakewood, I lost my much enjoyed sidewalk. Colfax became residential and I even passed a goat farm. One of the odder sightings on Colfax was a Jewish cemetery, oddly placed right next to the road. I can only imagine how much Lakewood had seemed like the boonies when the cemetery was placed there.
My friend Val met up with me near the Oak Station Light Rail stop, right after I passed the iconic Golden Hours hotel. We passed through a neighborhood where seemingly every other business was a dispensary, grow shop, or head shop.
Colfax is famous for its neon signs, vestiges of a bygone era when Colfax was the only east-west road connecting Denver to the mountains and plains. This area was ripe with shabby neon signs, hokey in a 1950s kind of way.
I suspected we were getting closer to Sloan Lake and Denver-as-I-know-it when I spotted what appeared to be an immaculately kept church on the north side of the road. But, foolish as I was, this was another Denver landmark: Casa Bonita! Although I didn’t stop for lunch, I had to take a photo with the restaurant-cliff-diving-attraction that is featured frequently in South Park.
Val left me at the as I approached an area I was somewhat familiar with—Colfax and Sheridan, where I had taken the bus several times to Sloan Lake. The intersection was under construction and the sidewalk and shoulder was gone leading to dangerous walking. It’s surprising how the gentrification of the Sloan Lake neighborhood did not appear to extend to Colfax.
The only time I was approached by a street person on this trip occurred here. He asked me what I was doing, and I told him “walking Colfax” but it was a very kind interaction, and I actually walked away feeling better about the world.
I took a rehydration and pit stop break at the beautiful new Corky Gonzalez library, which I had yet to visit. It warmed my heart to see how well used the new library is. How wonderful that Denver Public Library has invested in bringing resources like this to previously underserved neighborhoods.
There were a few areas on the walk of Colfax I was concerned about, and the giant double clover highway system between and I-25 and Auraria Parkway and Federal near Mile High Stadium was one of them. I wasn’t sure if I’d have to get off on a frontage road and walk under I-70 or walk the railroad tracks or what.
It turns out there is a nice sidewalk on Colfax throughout this area except for the sketchiest part of the whole hike: on crosswalk right before the on-ramp to I-25. There was another pedestrian on the other side of the crosswalk and we shared out trepidation about darting in front of cars accelerating to get on I-25. I can only imagine how bad it would be during rush hour!
The walk past Auraria and into Civic Center Park was familiar, after seeing so much of Colfax, I was able to appreciate the beauty of this area even more.
I stopped at Lost Highway brewery, where all the beers and the name of the brewery itself reference Colfax Ave. Next, was a break at Voodoo Donuts, which as quickly become a Colfax landmark.
My day ended near there, where I stayed at a friend’s house, ready for more Colfaxing the next day.
The next morning, I had to stage myself near a WiFi for a phone call. Instead of the Starbucks at Krameria, I opted for Blunozer, a cute coffee shop on Ivy and Colfax filled with antiques and the friendliest owners I’ve met anywhere. It was a true highlight of the trip and a break before entering what my friends had warned me would be the sketchiest part of the hike.
Walking forces us to be accept and take responsibility for the Colfax we created. By not just driving past it, but walking through the neighborhoods, we can’t just ignore what Colfax is and what it was. I had no problems walking through E. Colfax through Aurora, but was shocked how much harder off the area is when observed by foot rather than by car. It is the area that the rest of greater Denver has ignored. I can’t help but wonder how life could be better for the people who live in this area if only the politicians and city planners were to walk here.
No one I had talked to knew what Colfax looked like on the other side of Anschutz Medical Center and I-25. I entered the unknown, which ended up reminding me of the wide suburbia strip malls where I grew up. There was plenty of sidewalk, food, and pit stop areas. The area became more fields, more farms, more rural all the way to E-470 near Buckley Air Force base. This is where things became tricky.
Colfax Ave. disappears for a mile in this area as the Colfax as I have been walking turns into an on-ramp. Instead, I walked a frontage road.
Around 2 pm, I realized I had 21 miles left to go and would have to be making 4 miles per hour to finish before dark. Luckily, the terrain and turned to fields and plains with few traffic lights or stop signs to slow down my pace. I saw numerous road kill and for once on my trip, stopped hearing the sound of cars whizzing past me. I switched to a fresh pair of shoes (I carried an extra pair) and was ready to crank miles through a part of Colfax that looked like Kansas. Sometimes, the grain silos of towns 10 miles ahead were the only topography visible on the horizon.
For the next 20 miles, I saw plains, trains, and roadkill. Among the dead, there were prairie dogs, snakes, and a disturbing amount of songbirds. Colfax parallels I-70 here, but is used by local traffic and especially large farm equipment. I walked through the town of Watkins and Bennett—which could not be any different than the Colfax I had started on that morning other than I bizarrely saw Denver police car there.
Colfax ends in Strasburg, a world away from the Colfax of downtown Denver. The Plains Medical Center I had been using as a landmark in Strasburg was not the Anschutz-like campus I had imagined, but just a small building. I was joined by my boyfriend and his family for the walk in Strasburg. Colfax Ave. ends at the east part of town on Headlight Road where it Y’s into 15th avenue and Highway 36 (which goes to Indianapolis).
I finally answered my question: where does Colfax go? Most importantly, I had walked a diverse intersection of Denver metro-area culture from its most iconic to its forgettable and forgotten. Hiking Colfax allowed me to connect the Denver metro area in my mind in a way that cars, interstates, and rushing to work had never allowed me to do.