The February 20’s Are Almost Here

A professional lady reflects on her busy professional life on her after-work hike.

A professional lady reflects on her busy professional life on her hike after a long day of being a professional.

Every year, I get very excited for February 20th. Because in Phoenix, this means the sun starts setting after 6 p.m.

And for a professional lady (by position, not personality) like me, this means I get to hike after work.

In the winter months, the sun is sadly setting during my commute home and there’s no realistic chance that I’ll get out on a trail before dark. So I’m limited to weekend hikes only and that is not helping my postpartum body image AT ALL.

But starting at the February 20’s, I can hike every night if I want to!

And you can, too. Here are my tips for getting the most out of evening hikes in the February 20’s (and through the spring).

Start Planning. Circle February 20th on your calendar and spend the next few weeks figuring out which trail(s) will work best for you. Visit them on the weekends so you become familiar with them in advance.

Consider Location. I’ve found that choosing a trailhead that’s close to the workplace (which may not be close to home) is best. This minimizes the drive time while the precious sun is still up.

Don’t Get Crazy. The average hiking rate on a moderate trail for an adult is 2 miles per hour. So don’t get over-ambitious with the mileage because it gets dark quick out there, friends.

Do The Math. Barbara hikes at 2.3 miles per hour. If the sun sets at 6:17 p.m. and Barbara arrives at the trailhead at 5:05 p.m., how many miles can she hike before the sun goes down? (You’ll want to do similar calculations for yourself.)

Get the Gear. When you leave your house in the morning, grab your gear (backpack, hiking clothes, water bottle, and shoes). As soon as you’re off the clock, it’s time to get naked.

Get Naked. Having to change your clothes away from home is the big drawback here. You’re either changing clothes at a workplace bathroom risking spandexed-butt exposure to co-workers or you’re changing clothes in your car at a trailhead risking indecent exposure. Take your pick.

Give It Up. If work runs late and you don’t get out the door in time, abandon your plans. Maybe go for a jog around your neighborhood instead. Hiking in the dark can be dangerous on steep or unfamiliar trails. Don’t get stupid.

Be Safe. I have to say this: Know the trail, pack plenty of water (1L for every 2 miles), and tell someone where you’re hiking.

Don’t know where to go? Leave me a comment, tell me where you work, and I’ll find something for ya.

Like this? Want more? Buy my book!

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Hiking, Birthing, and Bravery

That's ME!

That’s ME!

So I’m in my second trimester and I got extraordinarily lucky: I feel waaaaaay better.

And as soon as T2 hit, I started attending a prenatal yoga class which focuses on preparation for my upcoming natural childbirth. In class, myself and a handful of other pregnant ladies challenge our physical and mental stamina with endless squatting and compromising positions. This builds our confidence to help remove the fear that is often associated with childbirth. It also probably looks hilarious.

After just one class, something clicked.

I was emotionally inspired. So I decided to hike to Tom’s Thumb. Purely because the idea scared me.

I called my most trusted hiking partner and we hit the trail on a beautiful day. She generously matched her pace to mine (a super effing slow pace) and was sure to talk the whole way up so I wouldn’t use precious cardio for chatting. We took breaks, we ate snacks, and I chugged water in spite of my compromised bladder.

It's a beautiful hike, it is!

It’s a beautiful hike, it is!

The hike to Tom’s Thumb isn’t the most brutal in town (I only rated it as “moderate” in my book). But it’s a healthy 4-5 miles with a 1,300 foot elevation gain. It’s not enough to make you sore for days but it definitely makes you crave a beer (or three) after you get off the trail.

As we painstakingly climbed the switchbacks, I struggled, sure. But I also felt strong.

To my surprise, my hiking partner suddenly turned to me and blurted, “This is too much for you. We need to turn around.” She explained that I was breathing too heavy, I was hiking too slow, and that she was really worried.

Never, ever, in the history of our years of hiking together, has she said something like this to me.

I felt afraid. If she didn’t believe I could make it, how could I?

I quickly decided to bury my fear and convinced her I was fine.

But from there on out, the break in resolve wore on me and I wrestled with anxiety. Each time I’d catch a breath wrong, I’d imagine myself passing out on the trail with a dangerous drop in blood pressure. When we stopped to allow a rattlesnake to cross, I pictured poisonous fangs under every rock, ready to strike. On the final leg of the ascent, my balance was blasted by relentless wind so I often saw myself tumbling down the side of the mountain to land in a bloody heap.

I wasn't the only one who had to be brave. Kristina had to believe me when I told her I would be okay.

I wasn’t the only one who had to be brave. Kristina had to believe me when I told her I would be okay.

This is not uncommon for me — these images cross my mind with almost every hike. But dealing with my morbid imagination is soooooo much easier when I’m the only person in my body.

Oddly enough, I coped by thinking about the birth. My fear-filled imagination on this hike was surely childsplay compared to what I’ll torture myself with when I begin laboring.

So the hike turned into a scrimmage of mind control. I practiced ignoring the things my mind was screaming in order to listen to what my body was saying. Lucky for me, my body was saying it was perfectly fine. In fact, it was happy to be outside, moving, and absorbing so much oxygen.

Eventually I made it to Tom’s Thumb. And I felt really, really good.

I haven’t told very many people that I’m planning for a natural childbirth. Because almost every time I tell someone, I see a wide-eyed expression followed by some kind of negative comment. Each time, I feel a small crack in my confidence.

I just have to keep doing what I did on Tom’s Thumb: Ignore the noise and trust my body. Obviously, it knows what it’s doing and it will guide me to the right place.

 

Tom’s Thumb Trail

Distance: 4-5 miles

Elevation Gain: 1,325 feet

Difficulty: Moderate

Pregnancy Difficulty: Strenuous — Probably only do-able in 2nd trimester

Location: Tom’s Thumb Trailhead in McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Online Map & Driving Directions (click the link and scroll to bottom of page for Google map driving directions)

Full trail description is available on page 241 in Take a Hike Phoenix!

Obligatory disclaimer for the pregnant ladies and all other humans: Check with your doctor before engaging in exercise.

My First Full Moon Hike

Hiking by moonlight is my new favorite thing!

Hiking by moonlight is my new favorite thing!

If you haven’t experienced a full moon hike, OHMYGOD do it!

I can’t believe it took so long for me to try this out!

(That’s sort of a lie, actually. I can totally believe it because I’m a nervous ninny. I have an overactive and morbid imagination [which I wrote about here] so when considering moonlit hikes in the past, I always came up with excellent anxieties that ultimately led to my decision to stay home. What if we’re breaking the law and we get arrested and then a local newspaper writes a story about the hiking book author that broke the law while on the trail? What if I trip, tumble down the mountain, break my leg, then start hearing the narration from I Shouldn’t Be Alive in my head? What if dangerous drug dealers/psychopaths/rapists hide out on the trail at night and we run into them and then they shoot Lou/throw me in a van for God knows what/ignore my rape whistle and rape me anyway?

You would think that the many ranger-led moonlit group hikes scheduled at the Maricopa Regional Parks would be good options for me. But I have one for that, too: What if a stranger strikes up a conversation with me and I say something stupid and then things get awkward?  Boom. Just like that. I’m staying home.)

Anyyywaaaaaayyyyy, last week on a full moon night, Lou calmed my fears and we hiked North Mountain.

This was new to the both of us. As we strapped on headlamps and laced up in the parking lot, we kept glancing at the shadowed silhouette of the mountain.

We’ve hiked North Mountain about 500 times but at night, it looked completely alien. We preferred to keep our headlamps off so we could soak up the moonlight. Sure, I caught a toe here and there on an unexpected dip in the wide trail (it’s an access road) but for the most part, my feet were confident.

Instagram in the night! You can barely see Lou on the lower right corner.

Instagram in the night! You can barely see Lou on the lower right corner.

Good thing — I was so distracted by the moonlit sights, I hardly watched my feet. The rocks cascaded new shadows, the surrounding desert plant-life carved mysterious silhouettes, and I noticed small peaks or ridges I had ignored before. And, of course, I saw the lights of the entire city sparkling in all directions. The only thing blocking out the sea of glitter were the surrounding mountains that had lost their depth in the darkness and looked like cardboard cutouts.

I admit it. I was moved.

We weren’t the only ones discovering this darkened desert. We ran into a handful of other hikers in the moonlight. As always, the people on the trail were polite and cheerful (and not rape-y at all!).

And though I’m not yet brave enough to try a rocky or narrow trail, Lou and I are officially hooked. I’ve got my heart set on Shaw Butte for our next full moon hike.

I’d love to hear more trail suggestions!

Dixie Mine Trail in McDowell Mountain Regional Park

Well, gosh, I guess I could write a straight trail review for once, eh?

This hike is filled with quite little desert places.

This hike is filled with quite little desert places.

Dixie Mine Trail in McDowell Regional Park

Distance: 5.4 miles out & back

Cumulative Elevation Gain: 600 feet (or so)

Time: 2 hours-ish

The McDowell Mountains does it again!

This is just the latest trail in the McDowell Mountains that I’ve fallen for. This beautiful hike starts in a private neighborhood, strolls through the foothills of the McDowell Mountain range, and ends at the Dixie Mine. The hike is located on the southwest corner of the McDowell Mountain Regional Park and is accessed via a small park entrance. The trailhead is a small parking lot (with bathrooms) in a quiet neighborhood.

This trail is awesome!

This trail is awesome!

Start the hike by following the well-marked sidewalk path through the neighborhood for the first half mile or so. This idea turned me off at first but don’t let it sway you! It’s a nice little walk and the hike is totally worth it.

See? It's not so bad.

See? It’s not so bad.

After following signs and crossing a residential street, enter the desert and pay the $2 fee at the kiosk to enter the park. Be sure to grab a map. Then simply follow the Dixie Mine Trail for the next 2+ miles. The trail is easy to follow with frequent trail signs.

This is what the mine looks like. Pass by it then take the dirt road up to the top.

This is what the mine looks like. Pass by it then take the dirt road up to the top.

When you encounter a wide service dirt road at about 2.4 miles, turn right to continue along the Dixie Mine Trail.* You’ll pass a large pile of rock and sand marking the site of the mine. Keep an eye out for a sharp left turn to follow another service dirt road up to the mine itself which is a deep hole in the rock floor covered by a metal grate.

(We accidentally followed a shortcut [oops] that was trailblazed which I feel TERRIBLE about so please avoid that small trail and look for the dirt road.)

That’s it! When ready, retrace your steps back to the trailhead.

That's Kristina. Mine-ing her own business.

That’s Kristina. Mine-ing her own business.

This trail is NOT featured in my book, Take a Hike Phoenix, but is a strong contender for the book’s 2nd edition which will be released sometime in the next 4 years or so.

Get an interactive map and more details on my everytrail.com review. Be sure to scroll to the bottom of the page and use the Google map tool for driving directions.

*Optional directions that make this hike 10x more awesome (but aren’t shown on the map above)

Wow, it really pays to have friends on the trail. My darling hiking buddy recently contacted me to describe an alternate route that leads to the mine entrance, petroglyphs, caves, and a waterfall (if it’s been raining). Whatever!

Here’s how to do it: Follow the trail as described above. After making a right turn on the service road to follow Dixie Mine Trail, look to the left for a small trail that enters a canyon and travels under a canopy of riparian-area trees (can’t miss them — it’s the only leafy vegetation for miles). Follow the trail along the canyon floor. Look to the right for the signed entrance to Dixie Mine. Continue and see petroglyphs (and some graffiti…grrr) to your left. You’ll see caves speckled throughout your walk. Though the trail continues, my pal ended her adventure when she reached a sheer rock wall that may or may not be a waterfall depending on recent weather. All of this happens in about 1/2 mile from the turn into the canyon.

Your body is a riparian wonderland.

Your body is a riparian wonderland.

That's a fine friend right there.

That’s a fine friend right there.

Clearly, adding this option is a must-do…and it’s a great excuse for me to revisit this hike!