Winter Hiking in Phoenix, A Guide/Rant

Smiling doesn't mean you're happy.

Smiling doesn’t mean you’re happy.

Looking out my window this morning, I see gray clouds and a wintery-looking Phoenix.

One might think that on a day like today, a Phoenix hiker would be dying to hit the trails. It’s better to hike in the cool weather, right?

Wrong!

​This hiker prefers hiking in the summer.

Yeah, I said it.

I’d much rather trek through the baked dirt in the disgustingly hot evenings wearing practically nothing and sweating like a maniac than hike in the cold — bundled up and clammy with snot dripping from my freezing nose.

Wow. Hiking is not very attractive.

Anyway, as a hater of the chilly outdoors, I’ve come up with a list of tips/gripes to make winter hiking tolerable:

1. Layer with as many zip-up clothing options as possible
With fuzzy beanies, visors, sunglasses and other cumbersome accessories, you’re not going to want to keep pulling something over your head that musses up your hats and glasses. Zippers are your friends.

2. Bring a snot rag
With a cold nose, you’ll start to drip watery snot out of your nose. It’s super gross and it’s really freaking annoying. The only way to avoid this is to keep a snot rag on hand and constantly blow your boogers out of your head. You may as well use an old bandanna. A tissue will just get shoved into your backpack or pocket only to be discovered later. Gross.

Lou...harnessing inspiration from "The Road".

Lou…harnessing inspiration from “The Road”.

3. Bring a non-snot rag bandanna
This is essential. If you find yourself feeling too chilly around your neck or head, this thing can be fashioned into hat, ear-warmer, or scarf. Of course, do not confuse it with No. 2.

4. Cover your ears
This may only apply to me because I’ve got ugly monkey ears that poke out of my head but those things can catch a lot of wind. Then they freeze and I experience the most painful freaking headache in the world. Keep ’em fettered if you can.

5. Bring a tissue and a zip lock baggy (if you’re a girl)
Another thing I hate about hiking in the cold: you don’t sweat out your water consumption so you have to pee in the desert. This is the suckiest. Especially for chicks. And it’s not like there are big bushes in the desert you can effectively hide behind.

Again, if it’s summer, this is not a problem at all. One time I hiked a 10.5 trail in 100 degree weather and didn’t go pee once. It was beautiful. Anyway, you should be able to guess what the tissue and the zip lock bag are for…don’t litter your pee rag.

6. Remember to drink water
Duh, right? But I actually get more dehydrated on winter hikes because it’s so easy to forget to chug water when you’re not at risk of heat stroke. Plus, I don’t like to drink water on the trail because then it brings me to tip No. 5. I can’t win!

7. Bring your camera
Ok, I admit it. The desert is more beautiful in the winter sun … assuming you have time between pee breaks and snot-blowing to notice.

This blog post originally appeared on The Phoenix New Times website way back in 2010 when I had no idea I’d ever write a hiking book. I stand by what I wrote with just one caveat: winter hiking is truly spectacular because, unlike summer, I can plan glorious, 10-15 mile hikes that take all day.

Also, now that I published a book with an entire chapter devoted to safety, I feel it’s my responsibility to mention that my summer hikes only take place in the early morning or at dusk because hiking midday in the summer is too dangerous. Also, if you hike a trail of any length in 100-degree weather, please, please, please be sure to bring plenty of water. I take 3 liters for any trails over 5 miles, no matter what time of year. And when it’s warm, I take 3 liters plus a large water bottle, sometimes two. Okay, I’ll stop now!

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It’s Here! It’s Here! Take a Hike Phoenix is Here!

When your first book arrives, it's time to take a selfie.

When your first book arrives, it’s time to take a selfie.

Big moment, people:

My book, Take a Hike Phoenix, arrived on my doorstep!

It’s been arriving on doorsteps across the country as evidenced by the texts, photos, and tags from friends and family. As painful as it was to receive many of these messages before my own copy arrived, I was beyond touched by the enthusiasm and support. I know it’s just a hiking book (let’s face it, I won’t appear on the New York Times bestseller list or anything) but it’s my first published book and I feel pretty darn good.

(Except for when I think about all the inevitable mistakes that I didn’t catch which is totally freaking me out right now but I’m trying, trying, trying, trying to be gracious about it and enjoy this moment but I can’t help thinking it’s my mistakes that are arriving on doorsteps, not my book, shut up, Lilia, shut up, shut UP!)

Aside from all that noise, I hope other people feel pretty darn good about this, too.

Because, you know, it’s not like I did this thing all by myself. This accomplishment should be shared by everyone who knows me and is nice to me.

So today, my blog features the Acknowledgements page that I wrote for the book but does not appear in this printing because my publishing company tragically forgot to include it.

Acknowledgements

This book is dedicated to my husband, Lou. (It’s all for you, babe.)

I am humbled and touched by all the support from friends, family, and my community during this endeavor. Being my first book, I could not have successfully waded through this project (something that once seemed an insurmountable and lofty goal) without such vital reinforcement. And now, drawing from the momentum of others’ encouragement and care for what I do, I modestly offer my thanks.

First and foremost, my undying gratitude is showered onto my husband, who was literally with me every step of the way. He’s not only my trusted hiking companion but he seamlessly took the responsibility of every other aspect of our joined life while I spent evenings and weekends hunched over my laptop to write about our adventures on the trail. Special thanks to my mother who, during the summer months, braved the heat and the hours of travel across The Valley to sweat through miles of dry, dusty trail in 110+ temperatures. To my dad who saved my butt by helping edit during the final stages of compiling this book when I was so overwhelmed with words, I could hardly see straight. To my three older brothers for telling me how proud they are of their baby sis — fulfilling the lifelong dream of every last-born to finally gain the admiration of their older siblings (and thanks to Alan for hitting the trail with me). Love and pinches to my nieces, Madison and Gracie, who were always up for fun family hikes and who patiently put up with my endless requests for their photos. Huge thanks to Kristina and Craig Smith for re-hiking trails I hiked in the past, alleviating me from repeating miles of trail. I owe Kristina for aiding in the discovery of my love for hiking so many years ago and consider her my very best hiking companion on this earth. And Craig is the only person who has ever convinced me to fight through the tears as I climbed vertical rocks in sheer terror. I send a giant hug to Stephanie Buell for braving some of the most challenging and poorly-planned hikes on my list with a smile on her face the entire time. Thanks to Nate Sauer for remaining calm at the wheel while indulging my requests to push his car to its limits as he navigated tricky roads to reach remote trailheads. Thanks and love to Sam, who selflessly offered the supreme comfort of her high country cabin. Appreciation to the other folks who enthusiastically hopped on the trail with me when I needed company (and, in some cases, 4-wheel drive): Hilber Blair, Starr Preodor, Kelsey Hazelwood, Kate Crowley, and my uncle, Carl Menconi. Hugs and love to the entire Robinson, Menconi, Kummerer, and Gutschalk clans for the endless encouragement and general joy they provide me. Big thanks to Katie Moder and Jill Matejcik who saved me from hours of brutal technical work. Gratitude and love to my in-laws for accepting our absence from dozens of family dinners (and for not being mad at me for using my maiden name for the byline, right?). Love to Lisa Hildebrant, Katie Kucharski, Chris & Amy Johnson, Laurén Hart, Christy Cocchia-Barbaree & the Skrats, Todd Grossman, and Lou’s social circle for forgiving our lack of availability. Thanks to those who regularly read my blog (liliatakesahike.com) and who graciously tolerate my sporadic commitment. Appreciation to my day-job leader and teammates whose professionalism and personal support made me feel capable of chasing many goals at once. Big thanks to the staff at Avalon Travel and my editor, Sabrina Young, who were always available and willing to answer all my questions. Gratitude to my colleague Martin Cizmar for his many trail suggestions. And, without question, I could not have done this without my incredible writing mentor, trusted confidant, dear friend, and half-assed “deadline buddy”, Robrt L. Pela. To anyone I didn’t call out by name but have been a part of this process, thank you for sharing this path with me — each in your own important way.

Take a Hike Phoenix hits bookstores in November and is now available for online order at barnesandnoble.com or amazon.com.

Spousal Arguments and Lightning

Check out photos, gps information, and other details of  the Mt. Elden Lookout Trail in Flagstaff, AZ on my Everytrail.com siteThe Mt. Elden Trail in Flagstaff, AZ is featured as an option my upcoming book, Take a Hike Phoenix, which hits bookstores November 19th and is now available for pre-order at barnesandnoble.com or amazon.com.

The lookout on Mt. Elden was our destination.

The lookout on Mt. Elden was our destination.

“I am having the worst time on this hike!” I said a few weeks ago.

My voice was in that high-pitched place where ladies’ voices go right before they’re going to start sobbing. I was having the worst time because we were hiking at about 8,700 feet elevation in the middle of a Flagstaff, AZ monsoon shower on the Elden Lookout Trail.

This is the part where I sheepishly admit to making a dumb mistake with my hiking plans. I know better. I know that I shouldn’t hike in the afternoon in monsoon season in the Arizona high country. Because that’s how people get struck by lightning.

But when we entered the trail head late that morning, I didn’t mention any of this because I didn’t want to aggravate my husband, Lou.

Just a few weeks prior, Lou and I got in an argument at the Grand Canyon. We got off to a late start on the Bright Angel Trail and though there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, I was already terrified that a lightning-filled monsoon storm would roll in and trap us mid-hike. Lou, who doesn’t share my chilling fear of indiscriminate sky swords that deliver pure death, was frustrated with my anxiety.

“If you’re not willing to take risks then we shouldn’t even leave the house!” he snapped.

For the next 2 1/2 miles into the canyon, we voiced snippy comments between the brief moments when other hikers weren’t in earshot. Other hikers would pass, we’d both smile and say hello, then a few seconds later I’d hiss, “I’m just saayyying I don’t want to be rescued or DIE on a trail a month before my effing hiking book comes out!”

It’s a ridiculous way to have an argument with your spouse.

Even while arguing, we make a great team. Lou graciously snapped this photo of me mid-hike and mid-fight.

Even while arguing, we make a great team. Lou graciously snapped this photo of me mid-hike and mid-fight.

To top it off, we were missing some of the most spectacular views on planet. I finally convinced Lou to turn around just before we hit the 3-Mile rest house.

On the way out, I was wishing for clouds after just half a mile of climbing. It was early August and insanely hot in the canyon. We were soon dribbling water over each others heads. Too hot and miserable to care what others thought of us, we made loud and gross moaning sounds as the cool water trickled down our backs. After we finally crawled our way off the scorching trail, we went on with our happy trip at the Grand Canyon with me repeating, “Yes, you were totally right.” throughout the remainder of our visit.

So when we hit the trail late on Mt. Elden in Flagstaff, I decided to shut up and climb.

Taking a break from the intense climbing on Mt. Elden.

Taking a break from the intense climbing on Mt. Elden.

We saw the clouds rolling in when we neared the lookout tower (our turn-around spot). We pushed ahead, made a quick tour of the structure, then hauled it down the trail. Then the rain started. Our strategy was to descend as quick as possible and the minute we heard thunder, we’d take cover and wait out the lightning storm (this is what the experts recommend).

I was convinced that I wouldn’t hear any thunder because I’d be too busy getting hit by lightning and turning into a dead person. Or worse, I’d be too busy becoming a widow.

After 30 minutes of repeatedly imagining my husband’s tragic death while trying not to slip on the slick trail, my high-pitched, lady-about-to-lose-it voice burst out of me. Lou gave me a reassuring hug and we pushed on.

Ten minutes later, the skies cleared and I was a carefree little hiker.

“We won’t do this again,” Lou said. I assumed he was finally beginning to share my fear of lightning. Then he said, “we won’t do this again because I never, ever want you to have a bad time. Especially when we’re on a hike.”

I win.

Don't worry. We're still crazy about each other.

Don’t worry. We’re still crazy about each other.


The Hike That Makes Me Want to Have a Baby

Check out photos, gps information, and other details of  this trail on my Everytrail.com site. My book, Take a Hike Phoenix, is hitting bookstores November 19th and is now available for pre-order at barnesandnoble.com or amazon.com.

This makes me want to get pregnant.

This makes me want to get pregnant.

Every trail in this town has a unique and personal meaning to me.

As I’m sure you know by now, the Quartz Ridge Trail 8A turns me into a sentimental fool (as evidenced from this post in which I got super gushy over my dear friend Kristina).

The North Mountain National Trail 44, however, makes me want to get pregnant…and possibly buy a dog.

That’s because this trail is filled with families. Families with toddlers, tweens, and adolescents climbing the wide, paved access road that constitutes most of the trail. With the families come the dogs and I’m often cooing over the chihuahuas, Labradors, and baby pit bulls. Sleeping babies are frequently seen with Mom laboriously pushing the stroller up the merciless incline. And we usually spy an old couple holding hands as they shuffle their way to the summit.

On this short trail that has zero flat parts, we’re all flushed and sweaty as we huff our way up the mountain. To see so many people turning this shared struggle into a family event is, well, it’s just nice.

As a rule, I admire anyone (no matter their age, size, or hiking shoe choice) who hits a trail. Especially this trail…it may be short but, man, it can hurt if you’re having an off day.

We climbed up to the summit the other night after a rainy day and the place was packed with the usual suspects. And just as I do every time I hike this trail, I imagined myself as the new mom shedding off the baby weight, the proud parent watching their energetic 9-year-old jog ahead like it’s nothing (seriously, how do they do that?), and the wrinkly old lady hiking with her wrinkly old husband.

It’s reassuring. Especially at a time when women my age fear losing so much with marriage and family (independence, career, identity, exercise, and hot rockin’ body), it’s nice to know there’s a trail that’s waiting for me — no matter which stage of life I’m in.


Finding Friendship on the Trail

Check out photos, gps information, and other details of  today’s hike on my Everytrail.com site.  The Quartz Ridge 8A Trail is featured in my book, Take a Hike Phoenix, which hits bookstores November 19th and is now available for pre-order at barnesandnoble.com or amazon.com.

Ta-daa! That's me and a big hunk of quartz...on the Quartz Ridge Trail 8A earlier today.

Ta-daa! That’s me and a big hunk of quartz…on the Quartz Ridge Trail 8A earlier today.

Now that I’m slowly emerging from the endless evenings and weekends dominated by book editing, I have found my way back to this blog.

And today, I felt inspired by the morning rains to trudge through the mud  and follow one of my favorite trails in town. If you know me or have read any of my other hiking blogs, you’ll know that the Quartz Ridge Trail 8A in the Phoenix Mountains Preserve is my “go-to” trail. And since the proper write-up with all the boring details like, “turn left here…” and, “look to the east for a view of blah…”  will be featured in my upcoming hiking book, I’m telling a different story today.

I first discovered the Quartz Ridge Trail about 8 years ago. Well, actually, my friend Kristina discovered it and dragged me along for a hike one night after work. Back then, our hiking was as casual as our friendship. I was sporting a sad pair of ladies Nikes (with a pink swoosh) that I bought at Mervyn’s for $25 and Kristina was just a girl in the business department at work that made me laugh.

Over the next few years, we returned to the Quartz Ridge trail often. And one summer, we hit that bitch HARD. Every weeknight, we’d sneak to the ladies room at work just before quittin’ time to hop in our hiking clothes. Then we’d rush to the trail head so we could fly up the trail before sunset.

Time sure flies...Kristina and I on the trail about 7 years ago. This is before I had a proper hiking hat or sunglasses.

Time sure flies…Kristina and I on the trail about 7 years ago. This is before I had a proper hiking hat or sunglasses.

The exercise and scenery was addictive, sure. But it was the conversation that really propelled us. With the isolation of the trail, we could speak freely. Kristina is fiery, raunchy, sarcastic, and funny as hell. There were no boundaries to the subject matter and the discussions frequently got downright gross. On more than several occasions, comments like “Oh my God, I have the worst B.O.,” or “Do you think I could pee behind that bush?” were still leaking out of our foul mouths as we’d turn on a switchback and run smack into another hiker. Woops.

We laughed our sweaty butts off about it every time.

Embarrassing conversation aside, our talks inevitably led to fits of hysterical laughter, rage-filled rants, and a lot of tears. Then there’s the physical stuff — we both overheated, ran out of water, tripped, gave up, or were forced to share any other kind of shortcoming that exposed our vulnerability. We relied on one another and that takes trust. By sharing miles of trail, we carved out an intense and intimate friendship.

So while my book might explain the elevation gain, mileage, and turn-by-turn instructions for Quartz Ridge Trail 8A, it doesn’t explain what this trail means to me.

I fell in love with hiking on the Quartz Ridge Trail. Kristina and I fell in love with each other.

It's us! Kristina and I after hiking the 81st trail for my book...champagne in hand.

It’s us! Kristina and I after hiking the 81st trail for my book…champagne in hand.

Kristina recently suffered a foot injury that put her in cast and crutches for months. Last week, I took her on a driving tour of South Mountain so we could still enjoy the desert together. Though the injury is temporary, I think this was good practice for us. We’ll need to know how to continue our friendship forged in the mountains when we’re a couple of foul-mouthed old ladies.


The National Trail

The National Trail in South Mountain is featured in my upcoming book, Take a Hike Phoenix, which hits bookstores November 19th and is now available for pre-order at barnesandnoble.com or amazon.com.

This was just the beginning. On the west side of South Mountain Park, peering into the Estrella Mountains.

This was just the beginning. On the west side of South Mountain Park, peering into the Estrella Mountains.

I’m cuddling up on the couch with my blanket, laptop, and favorite cat right now.

My mind keeps wandering, however, to the National Trail.

The National Trail travels the South Mountain Park from end to end. It’s like walking from 40th Avenue to 40th Street. Except that you have to walk up and down a bunch of mountains to get there. It’s 14.7 miles total. I haven’t yet calculated the elevation gain but it felt like 2,000 feet (cumulative).

This is Lou.

This is Lou.

IMG_1997

This is Stephanie (she’s the best).

Lou, our friend Stephanie, and I met before sunrise at the park’s Central Ave entrance Sunday. After searching for scorpions with a black light, cramming bagels in our mouths, and taking a final bathroom break with the luxury of running water (in most cases), we set out from the west end of the park.

Within the first few miles, we started climbing. And climbing. And climbing some more. It wasn’t until mile 9 when the endless pattern of steep ascents, descents, and then ascents to climb back up the elevation we had just trekked down finally let up.

This was unexpected. I had told my hiking companions that I anticipated just one major climb that would last 2 miles. Oops.

Close to the Kiwanis Trail.

Close to the Kiwanis Trail.

We took it like a bunch of pros. Especially Stephanie. She has joined us on a few hikes throughout this book project and though she’s in great shape, she hasn’t had the 70+ hikes Lou and I have enjoyed to refine her endurance. In spite of this, she pushed on without complaint and stayed at our heels the entire time. I feel funny saying this (because I’m not her parent), but I was so dang proud of her.

In fact, I was proud of all three of us. No one freaked out. No one got angry. No one even got grumpy.

Instead, we joked and chatted (between heavy breathing) for the entire 7.5 hours.

There aren’t very many people who can pull off 7.5 hours of constant exercise with such finesse. I feel lucky to know at least two.

Seriously...what is IN THAT HOLE?

Seriously…what is IN THAT HOLE?

“I almost want to say that hike on Sunday was spiritual,” Stephanie texted to me today.

I completely agree.


Dad Knows Best

And here it is...still limping along.

And here it is…still limping along.

I should not be blogging right now. I should be writing my book.

I’m in the total-freak-out stage of this writing project. Now that I’m settled into my corporate job (I’m very happy there), I’ve developed a new discipline to devote 9-10 hours per week to this book. I can only hope this is enough.

I’m stressed to the max.

But I’ve been writing this blog post in my head for months and it’s time to get it out.

It’s about my camera.

When I graduated college in 2006, this Canon Power Shot A540 was my Dad’s gift to me. I’m going to send the link to this blog to my dad later today so he’ll soon learn that this was so not what I wanted. At the time, I had given my then-fiance very specific instructions to tell my dad that I wanted an iPod.

Instead, I got the camera.

“I figured that, with your new job at the New Times, you could use a camera for your work when you’re out reporting stories and such,” Dad told me.

Then I started my job and quickly accepted the assignment to take pictures of party people once a week for a column called Club Candids. I despised the gig but the money was way too good to pass up. This camera was with me all the way. It somehow survived bars, clubs, and dance nights each week for three years solid.

Today, the lens is missing its cover. The screen on the back is all scratched up. The flash only works if you flick the bulb five times with your finger before you take the photo. The wrist strap is so caked with dried booze and grime, the woven threads are leathery and gross.

I promised myself I’d buy a new camera so I could take excellent photos for my book. I planned to use my sad, sad Canon only for the first few hikes. But I got busy and lazy and I didn’t want to do the research needed to buy a new camera.

Today, I’m more than halfway done with my list of hikes and this beat up little thing has captured some gorgeous photos…some are even good enough for the cover (according to my publisher’s Graphics Coordinator).

Dad knows best!