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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Maternity Hiking: Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Things get super pretty right away on the Marcus Landslide Trail.

Things get super pretty right away on the Marcus Landslide Trail.

On the heels of my recent hiking accomplishment to Tom’s Thumb, we made another visit to the area to explore a decidedly less challenging, less popular, and just as beautiful trail called the Marcus Landslide Trail.

This interpretive 4-mile jaunt was stunning. With only 575 feet in elevation gain spread over 4 miles, it feels flat for most of the trail. We looked at rock formations, read the educational signs about the landscape, and enjoyed a clear-shot view to Four Peaks during the entire hike.

No snakes, no wind, and no fear-filled fantasies this time around. Just good hikin’ and good conversation. Bring a friend or a kid on this hike to really enjoy it. You won’t meet many other people on this one!

Shrooms.

Shrooms.

Marcus Landslide Trail

Distance: 4 miles

Elevation Gain: 575 feet

Difficulty: Easy/Moderate

Pregnancy Difficulty: Moderate/Strenuous

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)

Easy enough, eh?

Easy enough, eh?

Description:

From the Tom’s Thumb trailhead and parking lot, enter the trail system at the signed Marcus Landslide trail, located on the southeast end of the parking lot (before you reach the shaded structure with the bathrooms).

Follow the trail east as it traces a wide, flat path. The many trail signs along the way will keep you on the right path as you pass Caballo and Feldspar Trails in the first half mile. At about 0.5 mile, the trail will veer right (southeast) and continue this direction until it bumps into the McDowell Mountain Regional Park border.

Simply stay the course and follow the signs for Marcus Landslide Trail heading south until 1.7 miles when you reach the Marcus Landslide Loop Trail. Trace the loop for about half a mile and it spits you right back out onto the Marcus Landslide Trail where you can begin your return leg.

You’ll encounter a few spurs here and there where you will discover informative signs like the one pictured below. Soak it up. Education is a good thing.

Excellent question.

Excellent question.

Like this? Want more? Buy my book!

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

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.

People Are So Nice: Ryan & Denise Photography at Take a Hike Phoenix Book Signing

Image courtesy of Ryan & Denise Photography (ryananddenise.com)

Ryan and Denise (the ones holding books) are waaaaaaaaaay nicer than me and Lou (the ones not holding books).

I consider myself to be a nice person. But then someone does something nice for me and I realize I have some room for improvement.

Last Friday at Changing Hands Bookstore as I was blabbing through my presentation to a healthy crowd, I heard the unmistakable sound of camera shutters clicking.

And it wasn’t the fake sound an iPhone makes. It was the sound of real cameras.

I scanned the crowd and saw our pals Ryan and Denise crouching in the aisles, snapping photos. These two generous people (and fabulous photographers — they shot our wedding a few years ago — look at their website and hire them immediately) surprised me by documenting the event.

I really couldn’t believe it. Talk about the nicest people in the world!

Here are just a few images they so expertly captured that night.

Image courtesy of Ryan & Denise Photography (ryananddenise.com)

In case there’s any confusion about the location.

Image courtesy of Ryan & Denise Photography (ryananddenise.com)

PacMan mouth.

Image courtesy of Ryan & Denise Photography (ryananddenise.com)

I made those!

Image courtesy of Ryan & Denise Photography (ryananddenise.com)

My captive audience…these people are friends and family so they have to pay attention.

Image courtesy of Ryan & Denise Photography (ryananddenise.com)

If I’m overly-cheery, maybe people will like me?

Image courtesy of Ryan & Denise Photography (ryananddenise.com)

My hair appointment was the next day. Please don’t judge me.

Image courtesy of Ryan & Denise Photography (ryananddenise.com)

This one’s my favorite. It makes me feel real good about myself.

Enormous thanks and lots of hugs to Ryan and Denise! Here’s their website link again.

I’m not kidding…hire them immediately. They are the BEST!

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!

Best Solitude Hikes for Beginners in Honor of National Take a Hike Day

This Sunday (November 17th) is National Take a Hike Day!

I’m excited. But given my pathetic blog stats lately, I very much understand that not everyone is a hiking nut like me.

I get it. Exercise — an activity that requires you to wear tight clothing, grow sweat rings, and potentially expose your lack of cardiovascular endurance — is not something everyone wants to share with other humans.

So for those of you who hate getting sweaty in front of others, I propose you give one of these trails a shot. Each is easy, short, and offers plenty of privacy so you can try out this hiking thing without feeling too self-conscious.

Tip: Click the hike title for a link to its EveryTrail review and be sure to scroll to the bottom right corner of the EveryTrail page for driving directions.

You can so totally do this. I promise.

You can so totally do this. I promise.

South Central Valley: Judith Tunnell Trail in South Mountain

This is a barrier free trail. Which means it’s wheelchair friendly. I was sure to include wheelchair-friendly hikes in every chapter of my book and I regret that I did not feature this one (2nd edition, here we come!) because it really is lovely. The trail is beautifully paved and was totally deserted when I explored it with my family a few weeks ago. At just 1.3 miles total with only a few small inclines (inclines that would totally make my arms fall off if I were in a wheelchair, btw), this hike amounts to a leisurely stroll if you’re a walking person. It also features plenty of benches and shaded structures with educational plaques to help pass the time.

West Valley: Black Rock Loop in White Tank Mountain Regional Park (Free admission on National Take a Hike Day!)

Flat. Short. Deserted. Easy. There’s not much holding you back from trying this trail out. And it has two options: The Long Loop at 1.2 miles and the Short Loop at 0.5 mile. Yes, you can take as much time as you want on this little-known trail that simply walks through the flat desert around a couple large black rocks. Your biggest challenge will be avoiding the cholla that surrounds the trail.

Central Valley: Mohave Trail 200 in Phoenix Mountains Preserve

Okay, so if you haven’t been to the gym lately (And why would you? Too many judgmental eyes!), this one might be a little tough. But who cares when you can openly curse your burning lungs and take as many breaks as you wish because there’s no one around to silently mock you? I’ve hiked Mohave five or six times and I think I’ve seen one other person on the trail. I assume it’s because everyone else is busy killing themselves by hiking up the neighboring Piestewa Peak. Mohave is only 0.6 mile up a mere 300 feet to a tiny perch that offers a spectacular view to South Mountain and the city below. After soaking up the scenery, you make an easy descent back to the trail head to total a scant 1.2 mile.

Blevins is so beautiful, it's CRAY.

Blevins is so beautiful, it’s CRAY.

East Valley: Blevins to Cat Peaks Loop in Usery Mountain Regional Park (Free admission on National Take a Hike Day!)

I recently took my sister-in-law on this hike in the east valley to prove to her that I wouldn’t force her into anything too hard-core. It worked. We enjoyed a breezy, 3-mile walk on the flat terrain of this desert trail that is off the radar for hikers. If you can walk across a parking lot, you can easily manage this trail. The only human contact you’ll have is with the locals who choose to enjoy this trail on horseback. So even if you’re working up a sweat, there’s no shame. At least you’re not making an animal do the heavy lifting.

North Valley: Sears-Kay Ruin Loop in Tonto National Forest

This one requires a bit of a drive. But consider the distance your insurance policy against the peering eyes of health elitists who might cruelly judge your muffin top (jerks!). At just 1 mile total, this little loop is one of my all-time favorites. You’re out in the middle of nowhere, climbing a small hill, and touring the ruins of a 900-year-old Hohokam village. With plenty of informational plaques, you’ll have all the excuses you need to take breaks between breaths (this one’s great for kids, too).

Have a happy National Take a Hike Day, everyone!

Hike from the Heart

I hearted the heck out of this hike.

I hearted the heck out of this hike.

A few weeks ago, my bookshelf exploded.

Had you walked into my office, you would have seen a 32-year-old woman on her knees, desperately rummaging through a messy pile of unfolded trail maps and dog-eared hiking books.

I was trying to pull together my anniversary “gift” for Lou. And I only had 45 minutes before the guy got home from work.

Leather? Crystal? They can suck it. I give you the desert.

Leather? Crystal? They can suck it. I give you the desert.

Lou and I decided that instead of purchasing leather or crystal gifts for one another, we would celebrate our 3rd anniversary with a hike. This is a part of our strategic effort to form special experiences and sentimental memories together. This is also indicative of my many child-of-a-divorce hangups but, whatever. It’s worked pretty well so far.

So there I was, flipping through maps, failing to find any trails remotely resembling a heart (how about a hike shaped like a pickle instead?), and beginning to believe that I should abandon this whole idea.

Dear City of Scottsdale, Thanks for this. You've done well. (Brown's Mountain)

Dear City of Scottsdale, Thanks for this. You’ve done well. (Brown’s Mountain)

Then I found it. And I’ve never been so grateful for the City of Scottsdale.

Just a couple weeks prior, I attended Scottsdale’s Brown’s Ranch Trailhead Grand Opening Event in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve Northern Region. True to Scottsdale style, the trailhead is gorgeous, shiny, and well-equipped (running water and real bathrooms woo-hoo!). They even provide free, paper trail maps.

See that? Aw YEAH!

See that? Aw YEAH!

On this particular trail map, I found my “Hike from the Heart”. At 5.5 miles, the loop was the perfect length — time enough for solid conversation without hitting my six mile grumpy hour.

Because the City of Scottsdale is so generous, I had grabbed multiple maps at the Grand Opening. I quickly cut one up, traced the heart shape in red marker, then glue-sticked that sucker to the front of some other crummy card. It worked. On the morning of our anniversary, Lou thought I was a darling wife when I presented it to him.

Go me!

If you want to see photos, a trail map, and other details about the Hike from the Heart, check out my EveryTrail entry. If you want to know more about the area’s Brown’s Mountain Summit Trail or the Cholla Mountain Loop, click those links for write-ups from one of the best hiking blogs in AZ.

And, as usual, if you want the ultimate guide to Phoenix hiking, order my book, Take a Hike Phoenix.