I I Started the Seattle urban hike today at the crack of noon. It was raining (no surprise), and I started at a random West Seattle neighborhood. The rain was on and off and after a mile, it took a lot of willpower to avoid stopping at the first coffee shop I saw (which also sold homemade ice cream). But I knew I had miles to make, and at this time of year, the daylight doesn’t last for long.
A real highlight of the day was walking in the neighborhoods looking out on the ocean. Towards the end of the day, I looked from West Seattle towards downtown at the Skyline.
The most memorable stairway was the multi-streeted Genessee stairs. Miguel “Virgo” Aguilar is filming my urban hike and he told me stories of running in the neighborhood nearby.
The sketchiest road crossing I had to do was right as cars were coming off the West Seattle Bridge during rush hour. It was getting dark and there was a turn in the road. Despite a stairway on either side of the road, there was no crosswalk. Who designed that???
We walked the West Seattle Bike Trail from West Seattle into downtown and it felt so cool to walk on a route that I know so many people commute on. The City had even installed a bike counter that showed how many people had bike commuted the route per day and what that added up to in a year. We tried to set off the bike counter with our feet, but nothing happened. It’s so cool to see that many people to opt out of driving that distance and keeping that tailpipe pollution out of the air.
I still had a few stairs in the Pioneer Square area to hit up, but decided to wait until the morning. Walking downtown during the Sounders game was an experience—a real highlight—and I didn’t want to look for stairs in the dark. As we walked past the stadium, we could hear the crowds cheering. I finished the night at restaurant where we watched the game finish with people from the City. Although I have only been in the city a few hours, the experience of walking 23 miles through it was enough to make me feel like the victory was mine as well.
So I’m starting an urban-thru-hike of Seattle today.
Seattle is the #3 most staired city in the US after Pittsburgh and LA. I’m expecting to cover 650 stairways in the city boundaries alone. Unlike my urban hike of LA and stairway hike of SF, I’m anticipating that locals in Seattle will have a lot of knowledge about the stairways and use them frequently for outdoor training. It’ll be interesting for me to see the differences in the cities and their attitudes towards pedestrianism.
This route was designed to include all stairs that connect a public road to a public road. This means some stairs that connect to buildings, pathways, a pier, or the shore are not included. This means some park stairways are not included, though I generally kept park stairways if they were big ones that didn’t make me go too far out of the way. Stairways 10 steps and below were not included. I based my data from the Seattle Stairs website as well as a 100k stairway trek put together by Michael Yadrick.
I’m aiming to start hiking around 6:45 am (I know it will be dark still) and go until I finish/it gets dark. I will eat along the way at restaurants and also carry snacks. I will be on-call for work, so expect to be spending some time in coffee shops with my laptop–but that’s one of the joys of urban hiking—if it gets cold, wet, or I have to make a phone call, it will be easy to do.
How to Join A Hiker on an Urban Trip:
It’s very hard to intercept hikers on an urban route, so it’s easier for the person who wants to join to wait somewhere along the route and wait until the hiker runs into them. Usually, a friend who wants to join will call me and tell me they can join in 30 minutes. Then, I look at my map and guess where I’ll be in 30 minutes–somewhere ahead on the route.
Where I’m sleeping:
I’ll be staying overnight with friends for most of the nights. Urban hiking is a great way to reconnect with people I haven’t seen in years. I am so excited to see friends new and old who live in the city.
I’ll be speaking at Seven Hills Running store at on Monday, September 2nd at 7 PM. The following day (Nov. 3rd), I’ll be walking with a group meeting at 7:30 am at Le Fournil French Bakery. I will also be speaking at the Mounatineers on the 3rd. Details TBA.
I haven’t had some quality time to wander Seattle for more than 10 years. Food, friends, and coffee….I’m expecting an awesome next week on the urban trail!
It turns out that Americans are not the only folks who want food whose instructions are “just-add-hot-water.” For hikers, this opens up a variety of new tasty options for those who have had their fill of ramen, instant mashed potatoes, and Knorr sides this summer.
Every time I’m back in California, I check out the International Market in Rancho Cordova to top off the international flavor in my food bag. Here are a few things that make it into my shopping cart and then into my pack:
Dehydrated coconut milk:One of the best calorie-weight ratio drinks you can find anywhere, international markets always sell this for a much better price than general grocery stores. I add it to granola to eat as cereal. You can also mix it into noodle dishes with almond butter to make a richer dinner or drink it with chia seeds as a quick calorie-heavy drink.
Another item that is a bargain at international markets compared to specialty grocery stores. Most dried mushrooms rehydrate well with hot water and can make most hiking dinners seem meatier and more fulfilling. Plus, there are probably all sorts of nutritionally good things associated with mushrooms that we haven’t yet discovered.
I love Pho and especially like to eat at Pho restaurants after especially hot and dehydrating hikes (like the Highline Canal Trail) to replenish salts and liquids. Now, I can have that same rejuvenating effect with instant Pho broth. Most vermicelli rice noodles (same as the rice noodles in Thai Kitchen Instant Ramen popular with hikers, but available much cheaper in bulk or at an international market) rehydrate easily with hot water and a soak. Add some dehydrated veggies, freeze dried tofu or meat, and this Pho broth, and you’ve got a cheap and delicious dinner.
New flavors of “ramen”
Instant noodles in flavors besides chicken, beef, or ….uh, that’s it. Spaghetti flavored? Cheese flavored? Chili Citrus? Green flavored?? (Actually, that chorella noodle ramen is AWESOME and a really great hiking food). These tend to be around the same price as typical ramen with the spendier ones still being less than a buck and comparable to Thai Kitchen’s hiker favorites.
Calorie-loaded hot beverages
I’m not sure how this tastes, but it’s got a decent calorie to weight ratio.
Allgood’s backcountry barista on the Sierra High Route turned this into a favorite treat on cold mornings or mid-day snow storms. It’s a great pick me up and it feels downright luxurious drinking a fancy coffee with all the fixings while far away from a Starbucks.
Lighter than actual honey with a lower glycemic index than table sugar, powdered honey can be added to beverages or desserts. You can make your own pineapple chicken by taking bulk freeze dried chicken, instant white rice, freeze dried pineapple, chicken flavoring, and honey powder.
I haven’t tried them, but am intrigued. They look like a creatively gourmet-flavored seed-based alternative to Nutella for people like myself who are allergic to hazelnuts. I imagine it tastes like halvah, which has one of the highest calorie-to-weight ratios of any food I’ve seen besides straight oil.
For a decadent dinner, add this seasoning along with some powdered sour cream to instant rice (maybe throw in some freeze dried chicken or veggies, too). I remember discovering this meal on the CDT and being really impressed by the delicious flavor I could get out of a no-cook meal. I cold-soaked the ingredients it in a peanut-butter jar. That impromptu meal made of everything left in a few hikers’ food bags was one of the best and most memorable trail meals I’ve had anywhere.
Dehydrated Whole Milk Powder
Many hikers know about Nido, which is dehydrated whole milk from Mexico. Nido can be mixed in with creamy dinners to add calories or consumed with cereal. There are other milk alternatives out there, too. I love Milo, which is a tasty malted milk with vitamins. It makes a great breakfast drink and cheap alternative to the hiker favorite Carnation Instant Breakfast. Anyway, the canned bulk dried milk from the international part of the store is way cheaper than gourmet dehydrated gourmet milk.
For those trying to get their greens on trail who want a lightweight, inexpensive, and healthy vegetables, look no further than adding a bit of seaweed to all your meals. Dried veggies tend to be expensive or heavier than many seaweeds. Seaweed is light and helps to add bulk and nutrients to your meals. Remember to add some extra water to each store bought meal (Ramen being the least weird) to give the seaweed plenty of liquid to rehydrate. You can find Eden brand Wakame Seaweed at Whole Foods, but it is 4x the price of what I paid at the international market!
Back in July, I visited Japan for a week to visit my elderly grandparents, but was able to slip away from family obligations at night. Instead of hitting the karaoke bar, my sister, cousin and I went to climb Mt. Nantai, an active stratovolcano and the tallest of the Famous 100 “peakbagger’s list” in the Canto region.
Nantai-san is considered a holy mountain and is guarded by Shinto monks who close off the trail all year—until midnight on August 1st (in fact, I had tried climbing this mountain several years ago and was thwarted due to the monks’ regulation). Shinto is an ancient religion that, among other things, reveres nature and finds gods—big and small—in the outdoors.
I expected that the three of us would be among the only people who would climb Mt. Nantai at midnight as soon as the gates opened. After all—how many people really want to climb 4,000 feet over 3 miles in the middle of the night???
1500 people! Shinto still informs some Japanese consciousness and that is why the annual opening of Mt. Nantai—the highest peak in the same region as Tokyo—was a big deal. The town of Nikko where my grandparents live, is booming with UNESCO world heritage sites and areas of historic and cultural significance that everyone in Japan learns about in school. On top of that, but the opening coincided with a full moon. Old, young, and middle-aged, we crowded by the closed trailhead gate, waiting for hours in line on the shores of Lake Chuzenji (the highest alpine lake in Japan).
According to legend, in 766 AD, a priest named Shōdō climbed Mt. Nantai to pray for the country’s prosperity. The peak itself, the shrine at the base of the climb (aka “the trailhead”) and a UNESCO world-heritage shrine down the mountain in the town of Nikko all are connected by that monk’s climbing story (he had some trouble with a ford that a god ended up helping him on by building a sweet bridge).
At midnight, the monks struck the gong and the first wave of 100 people went through. A priest blessed them. Then, in a line that recalled childhood visits to Disneyland, or more recent visits to some Denver brunch spots, we slowly ascended a steep stone staircase.
The hike itself is broken into 8 different stages. Separating the stages are break areas. Monks dressed all in white were spaced out along the route to offer encouragement and help for those in need. Between the first and second stage, there is a wooden miniature shrine. From there, the trail becomes an Appalachian/Long Trail-esque dirt and root path in the woods.
The third stage is marked by a paved road, which we followed up via switchbacks until we came upon food and drink carts set up particular for the mountain-opening festival. After a snack, we headed up to 4th stage: the steepest part of the trail—a rock climb that recalled the White Mountains of New Hampshire. This climbing was particular difficult in the dark and done while waiting for others. Nonetheless, I felt good about “going as fast as I could” but not leaving my little cousin in the dust.
Covered shelters mark the cut-offs between the 6th to 8th stages. Although you could certainly sleep in these in an emergency, they were pretty dingy.
After the 8th stage, the trail became dirt again and became less steep. Once we hit treeline, the hike became fantastic, though, and the type of hike I rarely get to do in Colorado and that makes hiking in Japan such a hoot for me.
We walked on loose volcanic soil—red, black, yellow and grey. The paths were lined with funky rock formations. And the top of the mountain was home to shrines. The true summit of the peak had a large katana on the top of the mountain, although there was a huge summit area replete with a ramen vendor (which I took advantage of) and additional shrines. Although it was warm enough to hike the trail in a t-shirt and 1.5 oz Montbell windshirt (Japan, afterall is fairly tropical), the summit was cold enough that my cousin started shivering and we all pulled out our hats and down.
One of the coolest parts of the hike was walking alongside actual pilgrims—students training for their mountain monk qualifications (as it was explained to me in dumbed down Japanese). These pilgrims were dressed all in white and gathered together to the shrine on top to pray and blow a ceremonial horn. This practice has been going on for centuries. Its inspiring to think that while we may think making lists of mountains you want to climb (called “peakbagging” by some) is actually an ancient affair practiced by many cultures.
As a hiker, there is something so powerful about knowing that climbing mountains and witnessing the gods underneath them is something that people have done for centuries. There’s such power in knowing that even hundreds of years ago, people knew the more mountains you climb and the more time you spend in nature, the closer you become to wisdom and spirituality. That an entire country could see the value of time in the outdoors and even find a little wisdom from the experience is a miracle.
So for those reasons, I’ll forgive the crowds. I’ll thank them for the awesome miso soup I had half way up the mountain. And I’ll return to the US, happy to see some wild places with no ramen on the summit, too.
For a lot of outdoorspeople—even long distance hikers—the question of “where my gear comes from” doesn’t expand much more than “from the store or website.” If we do think about where our gear comes from, images of crowded factories overseas come to mind—and then we quickly try to block that image and think of something more pleasant. A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be invited by Aaron Martray and Kris Diers from Katabatic Gear to visit their factory in Lakewood, Colorado. Getting to visit Katabatic’s headquarters and floor space (“factory” makes it sound way bigger than officespace in a stripmall) gave me an insider’s look at how gear goes from raw materials to what is in my pack—and what an American-made “factory” looks like. It also gave me an idea of some of the challenges of running a small company, and the innovative tricks that have allowed Katabatic to provide customizable options to their users, while also allowing for a quick turnaround time.
For those unfamiliar with Katabatic Gear, they are a small, cottage company that makes high quality down sleeping quilts, bivys, down hoods, and cuben fiber backpacks. During his planning for a thru-hike of the Colorado Trail, Aaron had a hard time finding a quilt that could keep the draft out while still being warm—so he designed one himself. His quilt went on to become the popular Katabatic Palisade Quilt, which he used to thru-hike the Hayduke Trail, bicycle to Alaska, and packraft in Alaska. Since he first started working on designs in 2007, Katabatic has gone on to become “the gold standard of ultralight sleeping quilts” and is carried by elite thru-hikers, like Cam “Swami” Honan, who introduced me to the company in 2012.
As I entered Katabatic’s office, the first thing I noticed was a large table. Aaron and Kris explained to me that this is where Aaron personally inspects every quilt before it’s shipped. This is where bags are fluffed to make sure down is evenly distributed and where I was able to examine a fresh-off-the-sewing-machine Palisade Quilt. As a small, American-made company, Katabatic has built a niche for themselves in a market of foreign-made bags by emphasizing a quality and design that justifies the price.
Next, we passed Kris’s office—where she uses her CPA background to run the business side of the company. This includes everything from what happens when a hiker makes an order to making sure shipments of raw materials happen on time. A few months ago, Katabatic noticed that one supply of their stuff sacks had some issues. Their Customer Service response was to email all their customers who ever got a bag and offer a free replacement. That’s the sort of diligence that is usually only seen in government-mandated car recalls. But unlike cars, no one is going to die over a stuff sack and no government cares about a few off stitches. I could never imagine the North Face or any other big company caring that much about their customers or reputation for quality (or even having a way to track all their customers).
The main area of the factory was about as different from the factories I’ve seen abroad as anything. The sewers (or sewist—much debate on this topic) mostly looked like they were the hip, craftsy crew that sell stuff on Etsy—talented people who love sewing and make the rest of us feel dumpy in mass-consumer clothes. Each lady had a robust toolbox of different sewing machines to tackle whatever fabric or stitch they needed for whatever piece of gear they were working on.
Aaron and Kris explained Katabatic’s rigorous sewing test for would-be sewers. “People who have worked in bridal tend to do well,” Aaron explained that many bridal fabrics tend to be similar to Pertex Quantum. But their test, he told me, is rigorous enough that even people who have tailored for 20 years and have had formal training haven’t been able to pass it.
As someone used to seeing gear as finished products, it was especially exciting to see raw materials—bolts of fabric, cuben, and down feathers shipped from Allied Feather. A box of down half my size weighs only 15 pounds! Starting next year, all Katabatic Quilts will be part of the Track My Down program and will come with a number where you can find out where the down in your quilt comes from. A highlight of the trip was getting to see Katabatic’s patented, proprietary down insertion machine. If you’ve ever wondered how a factory can get all those feathers into such a confined space, know that there is something better out there than the mumble-your-prayers method that I learned when I tried to make my own quilt. Aaron’s machine gets rid of the inefficiencies, waste, and the mess. The sewers first make the sleeping bag shell—baffles and all—and down gets inserted last. This allows Katabatic to make their bags to order, allowing customers to special order extra fill and still get their bags quickly.
Lastly, I got to see where Katabatic is headed in the future. This year, they launched their backpack line, and my friend Johnny Carr was the first to take a Katabatic pack on the CDT. I’m not going to lie–it was weird and a little creepy to see what a pack looks like before it’s all stitched together—like looking at a tortoise without its shell. Aaron puts cuben pack parts together by hand himself. It was encouraging to see the founder of a company working on the floor alongside the staff. Aaron joked that up until recently, he was the only male sewer in the building.
This is what American-made small factories look like. Nothing dirty and industrial. Just real people like you and me—outdoor enthusiasts—making gear they actually use. Everyone knows everyone’s name in the building. For ultralight backpackers and long distance hikers, there are a lot of small, cottage industries that make gear. For these companies, it takes a lot of attention to detail and quality to compete with the big boys. Whatever company’s gear I go with, as a long distance hiker, I know that cottage industry gear tends to be higher quality and better designed that even the high-end mainstream stuff. Backpacking is my passion and my life, so it’s worth it to me to do some extra research and pay a little extra for gear I feel awesome about carrying.
“It was so fun, I’m having a hard time getting back to my job.”
This past weekend, the American Long Distance Hiking Association- West annual Gathering drew a record number of people to Mt. Hood, Oregon to reconnect with lost trail friends and be inspired and humbled by other’s experience and love of nature. To properly celebrate the hiking social club’s 20th anniversary, we were honored by hikers new and old, especially by the return of some “lost” members to the organization and visits by younger self-proclaimed ALDHA-W skeptics.
The event kicked off with a grand spectacle— a live recording of the popular Trail Show hiking podcast. For fans, this was the first time they got to see the real people behind the voices on their favorite internet radio show. As usual, the irreverent Trail Show hosts made jest of all things within our community, nicely setting up for that night’s screening of Squatch’s new movie, Flip Flop Flipped. In HD film, Squatch’s documentary recorded his travels on the northern part of the Appalachian Trail—arguably the most beautiful part of the trail. His cinematography was so beautiful I couldn’t watch too much because it made me want to return to the AT so badly…
Luckily, instead, I found the 8 kegs donated by Hop Valley, Base Camp, and Thunder Island Brewing. Additionally, there were two kegs of Eva’s Herbal kombucha and a 30 year supply of chocolate milk, coffee, tea, and apple cider for those seeking non-alcoholic beverages. After the day’s action-packed set-up with 15 other volunteers who came to the camp early, it was excellent to relax and spend time learning about new trails and retelling funny stories from hikes with my friends new and old.
The next day, was a busy schedule of speakers, hiker Olympics, tie-dying ALDHA-W shirts, and the POD Memorial Soccer Game. The morning kicked off with Jeff Kish, who spoke about the Pacific Northwest Trail using photos, video, and slides in a multi-media presentation that showed a level of professionalism never before seen at the Gathering. In a talk tailored and targeted for long distance hikers, Kish considered how the PNT is even better than the much beloved PCT. For those of us who had previously written off the PNT, it was a presentation that made you want to drop next year’s plans and check out the PNT.
The next speaker was Bernadette Murray, who thru-rode the PCT as a child with her family in 1969-1970. The family home-schooled their kids along the way, building trail and learning from nature as they headed north into uncharted territory. Her presentation included beautiful vintage photos and memories of a childhood of freedom and adventure that made many of us in the room downright jealous. As an audience, we got to experience just a snippet of Murray’s adventurous life, and hear a few stories of her other adventures as a teenager such as canoeing down the Yukon and hitchhiking across Canada to a helicopter.
For the past two years, ALDHA-W members have been anticipating Jean Ella’s much awaited presentation on her experience as the first woman to thru-hike the Continental Divide Trail. Jean was on the schedule for last year’s Gathering, but injured her back in a kayak shortly before the event and was unable to travel. This year, in a presentation that brought strong men to tears, Ella’s talk exemplified the importance of planning, perseverance, and friendship on the trail. Ella showed us how different the CDT was in 1970’s and the grit, determination, skill, and true love of nature it took to complete it. She did an impeccable job of documenting her trip and shared records and journal entries from her time on the Divide. The presentation even included scans of her letters to sponsors. Her ability to secure a 6-month supply of Cadbury chocolate must have intrigued many a hiker in the audience, especially the last two speakers…
For many people, the big draw of the event was Shawn “Pepper” Forry and Justin “Trauma” Lichter’s presentation about their winter PCT thru-hike. In a talk given by two shy guys who will likely never address another audience anywhere, Trauma and Pepper recounted the details of their hike in a way that was tailored to a long-distance hiking audience well-versed in the PCT: an audience who wanted to hear every gritty detail about what hiking looks like on the next level. This past winter, the trail community followed Trauma and Pepper’s journey intently and came out in droves to give them support by offering rides, local information, sending food, and securing places to stay indoors overnight. In a world and time where a trip of this nature would have likely otherwise been completed by bigtime ski athletes with big money backing, watching these humble thru-hikers speak made it clear that their success was also a success for our community, a victory for thru-hikers. The ALDHA-W audience loved their opening slide which contrasted a Reno Gazette story from early in their trip that called their endeavor a “death sentence” with one in the New York Times calling it the most “daring and foolhardy wilderness expedition since Lewis and Clark.” The presentation was followed by a Q&A, where Trauma and Pepper’s good natured sense of humor and fraternal nature in our community allowed them to play off all our jokes as well as answer the few serious questions that made it into the pile.
That night, we welcomed 27 new Triple Crowners to the family and I realized that one of them was my friend Eric, who I had not seen or heard from in 4 years. Eric was the one person I hiked with for multiple days during my AT speed hike and when I took a zero and he went ahead, catching up to him became a huge motivator for me. That night, I got to sit and discuss trails until the wee hours with Eric and my friends Whynot and Shroomer—who hiked with him for half the CDT. A friends who had all hiked together, at different times and places, I couldn’t help but feel like we were family, all of us cut from the same cloth.
ALDHA-W also honored Nita Larronde, the trail angel of Pie Town, NM as this year’s recipient of the Martin D. Papendick Award. As the first CDT trail angel to receive the award, the kind lady from the Toaster House shared her photos of hikers and trail registers dating decades back. Thanks to the Wolverines of the PCT, hikers this year were able to donate to bring Nita and her daughter to receive the award. Joe “Tatujo” Kisner presented the award and read a tear-jerking letter from her daughter, Autumn. Nita is truly an angel in our community and her recognition was long-awaited and well-deserved.
After Saturday’s dinner, to celebrate ALDHA-W’s 20th anniversary, ALDHA-W President Whitney “Allgood” LaRuffa called up Steve Queen, Brice Hammack, Roger Carpenter, and Alice Gmuer (the first woman to solo the Triple Crown). These four people attended the first ALDHA-W Gathering 20 years before. Allgood asked them as a special honor to blow out the candles on the ALDHA-W birthday cake. When they looked at the cake, they were shocked: printed on the frosting was a photo of Steve, Brice, and Alice taken in 1994 as they received their Triple Crown plaques. Our founding members were thrilled.
Within the hiking community, I have heard rumors that ALHDA-W is an organization for washed up retired hikers or that it is an elitist organization. After the Gathering, some of these skeptics—many at the Gathering for the first time—apologized for having their doubts. ALDHA-W is back from the ashes and while there were many “hiking celebrities” present, you would have never known it from the way people at the Gathering act. The ALDHA-W Gathering is the family reunion you look forward to, where everyone “gets” what your passion is in life, and everyone wants to help you succeed in your dreams, no matter your level of expertise.