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Reflections on the Selma to Montgomery Trail

Walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where it all started
Walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where it all started

There is an old saying that one can never truly understand another person until s/he has walked two moons in that person’s shoes. This month, I had the opportunity to come closer to grasping a world very different from my own by walking the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail in Alabama. The Selma to Montgomery hike, although not the most scenic or topographically exciting hike I’ve ever done, showed me the power of walking to absorb a bit of what it is like to live in another region, to live in another era, and to care about something enough to walk for it.

I had the great opportunity to meet Ranger Tina, whose grandmother marched from Selma to Montgomery 50 years ago.
I had the great opportunity to meet Ranger Tina, whose grandmother marched from Selma to Montgomery 50 years ago.

My impetus to hike the Selma to Montgomery Trail was the 50th anniversary of the date that 25,000 Civil Rights marchers started their journey to the Alabama State Capitol to demand, among other things, the right to vote. As an Asian American girl who grew up in one of the most racially diverse cities in the US and now lives in Colorado, I can’t help but feel like my life is far removed from the Civil Rights movement. Indeed, many young people have a hard time relating to the Civil Rights movement, or really any part of history that doesn’t involve what was consumed for lunch. Because I am an experiential learning, I knew that if I was ever going to really start to learn about the Civil Rights movement, I would have to walk to even start knowing the right questions to ask.

The Alabama River as seen from the Edmund Pettus Bridge. From this view, the S2M almost looks like a nature hike.
The Alabama River as seen from the Edmund Pettus Bridge. From this view, the S2M almost looks like a nature hike.

As I headed on the S2M, I was admittedly a little worried about my safety. Before I headed on trail, I read and researched the history of the Selma, and admittedly, this trail looked dangerous. For one thing—the entire trail is a roadwalk along a highway with cars going at least 60 miles per hour. But more importantly, I didn’t know how Alabamans were going to treat me as I marched. I was equally concerned that White Confederate sympathizers would throw beer bottles or swerve at me with their cars as I was concerned that African Americans would be offended that an Asian American girl from California/Colorado would walk a trail honoring African American voting rights in the South. Call me naïve or ignorant, but essentially, as someone who had never been to Alabama before, I was imagining a world that looked like the 1950s.

I didn’t sleep at the historic campsites (in fact, I’m not sure it is legal), but it was incredible to pass them exactly 50 years later to the day.
I didn’t sleep at the historic campsites (in fact, I’m not sure it is legal), but it was incredible to pass them exactly 50 years later to the day.

When trail runner hit pavement, traveling at 3 miles per hour from Selma to Montgomery showed me that some things haven’t changed from the 1950s. Much of downtown Selma looks the same. In some ways, the poverty in Selma and the rural communities around it seemed worse than I could have ever imagined existing in the United States. I saw children with the worst dental care I’ve seen anywhere in the world. Yet I didn’t see a Confederate flag on my entire walk (save at the Alabama State Capitol) and everyone I met—regardless of their color—was excited and enthusiastic about the march.

The Lowndres County Interpretive Center run by the NPS was a huge inspiration.
The Lowndres County Interpretive Center run by the NPS was a huge inspiration.

A man who was missing quite a few teeth offered to buy us drinks once he learned what we were doing. We didn’t have the heart to ask a man who lives in one of the poorest counties in one of the poorest states to purchase us drinks. But maybe we should have accepted. Even those who couldn’t walk wanted to contribute to the movement.

By the end of the first day, my feet were telling me that this march sucks. Road walking sucks. But you know what else sucks? Not being able to vote. Not being able to use public restrooms. Fearing for your family’s lives or for your job just because you want to speak your mind. Like a true pilgrimage, there were aspects of the Selma to Montgomery march that felt like each step was payment for the rights that we as Americans take for granted.

The last few miles into town had beautiful murals made by kids that commemorated the march. They were placed over boarded up homes and buildings, which did beautify the area, but also seemed like a bandaid on a much bigger wound.
The last few miles into town had beautiful murals made by kids that commemorated the march. They were placed over boarded up homes and buildings, which did beautify the area, but also seemed like a bandaid on a much bigger wound.

What struck me the most is that the original marchers were not the type of people who went on long walks for fun. They were people who worked so hard they didn’t have time to exercise. They were people who were afraid to go out at night because of the KKK. At the S2M National Park Service Lowdres County Interpretive Center, I saw the shoes of a woman who had marched the whole distance. They were fancy leather sandals. People marched in their Sunday best—in wool and suits and bowler hats and collared shirts and ties—because they wanted to look good to emphasize the seriousness of their cause.

After walking through so much poverty, the Capitol and downtown looked especially fancy and European.
After walking through so much poverty, the Capitol and downtown looked especially fancy and European.

There’s something profound about walking a trail that was not created because people wanted to have fun and highlight cool natural features—a trail that people walked because they had to. While the physical walking on the S2M was not difficult, the emotional impact of walking the trail still hurts.

We all have big shoes to fill. The crosswalk commemorating the Selma to Montgomery March taken 50 years ago.
We all have big shoes to fill. The crosswalk commemorating the Selma to Montgomery March taken 50 years ago.

It became clear by the end of my hike that Selma to Montgomery is every American’s march. Not every American has to thru-hike or backpack or even dayhike. Not everyone needs to enjoy walking. But the S2M march allowed me to see the power of walking, not just to transform an individual, but an entire society.

“We all have big shoes to fill”- Super Dave
“We all have big shoes to fill”- Super Dave

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

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everything you need to know about Women’s Hiking Issues

The Trail Show’s Women’s Issues episode is now out–featuring 50,000 miles worth of female-powered experience
The Trail Show’s Women’s Issues episode is now out–featuring 50,000 miles worth of female-powered experience

Whether you’re a hiker, hiker to-be, or friend or family of a hiker, there’s no more fun place to get all the information you need than from the people at the Trail Show. TTS is a podcast that’s been around for over two years with a well-respected repository of all news, tips, and tricks related to hiking.

After numerous requests, TTS finally put together a women’s issue show, the Red Tent Show (yeah, they really did call it that). Instead of the usual hosts, the Red Tent show utilizes the wisdom of 5 accomplished female long distance hikers with more than 50,000 miles of experience. I was lucky enough to be part of that crew (along with Angelhair, Trainwreck, Salamander, and our host, Princess of Darkness) so can give you a sneak peak at some of the topics we covered:

-Safety on Trail

-Women’s Outdoor Gear

-Women’s Hygiene (including dealing with “that” time of the month while on trail and sex in the woods)

– How Men can act better on trail

-Could birth control lead to hiking injuries?

Even though I’ve been hiking-while-woman for 29 years now, I honestly can say I learned a lot of tricks and tips from talking with these other accomplished lady-hikers.

I went into the Red Tent show expecting that we would all have the same advice, and was blown away by how different hikers have developed different ways of addressing the same issues.

To learn more, download the Red Tent show from the Trail Show.

 

The women’s issues specialists