Prep for the Arizona Trail: FAQ, Budget and Training for My Thru-Hike

Do I train for long distance hiking? Kind of. What about budgeting? Yes, heavily. In March of 2019, I’m starting my thru-hike of the 800 mile Arizona National Scenic Trail, or ‘The AZT.’ Here’s a rundown on my finances for the trip, what I do to physically prepare, and other hot topics regarding the trail.  Read all about my yawn-inducing budget practices that let me take half the year off to go adventure!

Hi everybody! I just wanted to start off by saying thank you to everyone who followed along on my second thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail this last year; what a ride it was! As of publication, I’m one of ninety people to have completed two thru-hikes of the PCT.

I’m both excited and a little anxious to be in the process of planning my ‘2400 miles of trails’ for 2019, which includes thru-hikes of the Arizona National Trail, The Oregon Coast Trail, and the Pacific Northwest Trail. Planning logistics for a single long distance trail is one thing, but planning for three is a whole other level of insanity. Thankfully, I’m a freak of nature who happens to love trip planning and research, and I’m looking forward to sharing my experiences with everyone.

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Desert sunrise

AZT Budget

I’m going to begin this post with going over my budget, which seems to be a popular topic among my friends and followers.  I’ve had several people reach out to me on social media, via email, and on this site asking how I can afford to live the lifestyle that I do, so let’s get down to the nitty-gritty on budgeting for a thru-hike.

I wrote in my PCT Budget post about saving no less than $5000 for my 2018 SOBO thru-hike, which I exceeded in doing by saving well beyond that amount. Once I was on the PCT, I really watched my spending in town, and ended up only going through around half of what I had allotted for that hike. I kept the leftover money in my savings account, and it’s now funding my trip up the AZT this Spring. With a good chunk of funds still set aside for thru-hiking this year, I wondered how much I could stretch it. On the PCT, I spent $1.13 per mile. Could I get away with doing less on the AZT? I’m about to find out.

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Getting in and out of town and camping back on trail saves money

My budget, on trail, for the AZT is $500. This number does not include the cost of sending resupply packages, or the food and gear I’ve purchased for this hike. With all of this factored in, I’m looking at a total of around $1350. Here’s how it adds up:

  • $500 for on-trail spending. This will include the occasional diner meal in town, and one Airbnb for a zero day around the halfway point.
  • $300 for airfare; flying into Tucson from Seattle and leaving out of Phoenix. I booked well in advance to save money on both flights.
  • $100 for the food in my resupply boxes, mostly purchased at Costco, the Dollar Store, and with some homemade dehydrated meals.
  • $100 for mailing my resupply boxes via USPS Priority Mail Flat Rate Shipping.
  • $350 spent on gear. I have a bit of a problem with wanting new gear, and pushing the limits of how much I want to ultralight trails.

To keep my on-trail budget in check, I stick to a few solid rules: limit time in town, eat cheap meals (buying a meal from the supermarket is a lot more cost efficient than going out to eat), avoid getting motel rooms by hitching back to the trail and camping there, and asking trail angels for help. I’ve arranged transport to the trail through a lovely trail angel in Tucson, and my friend Gabrielle is picking me up from the state line and taking me back to her home in Phoenix before I go home to Seattle.

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A yucca blooms in the desert

Living Meager to Afford Travel for Half of the Year

Where I live and work is an important factor in how I’m able to afford the lifestyle of working half the year and playing the other half.  In 2018, I begrudgingly went back to work in a culinary trade that I despise for various reasons that I prefer not to get into here (sorry work colleagues, it’s not you, it’s the environment).  It’s a field that I apprenticed in, and it payed well thanks to it being unionized.  Prior to my PCT thru-hike, I had settled on the fact that if I went back, I would just have to suck it up and deal with the agony that this toxic work environment causes me, just so I could afford to take off down the trail further on.  It worked out; I pinched pennies and saved more than enough to quit and go on my adventure.

In order to save, I also moved out of the Seattle area, despite still working there. Even with commuting over two hours daily, it was cheaper in the long run. Why is this? Seattle, and the rest of King County, is insanely expensive. Within the last few years, there has been a housing boom. This is in large part to the tech industry taking over the urban areas, and driving up the cost of living. I’m not mad about this, I’d simply prefer to travel and hike than pay half of my wages in rent or a mortgage. So, I packed up and moved to neighboring Snohomish County, which is much more affordable, but also pretty rural and lacks some of the conveniences and culture of an urban setting.

I’m currently living in a cabin, on 1.6 acres in the foothills of the Cascade Range. I have no cable TV or high-speed internet (it’s not available out here), and I use a mobile hot spot device for when I need to work on my laptop (I now work remotely). My phone signal is spotty most of the time. The well on my property has posed some interesting challenges, with my water testing positive for E.coli this last December, and the well completely drying up in the summer months. Thankfully, I’m gone during the summer, so I don’t have to deal with the stress of having a bone dry well. This isn’t a great situation for my partner, however, who has to go fill a water tank every few days so he can have drinking water and the occasional shower. Long story short, not paying for certain creature comforts makes things a little more affordable. Yes, it is a difficult way of life, but we both grew up in rural areas and are used to certain hardships.

Others things that help me to save money: I do a Costco grocery run every two weeks, rarely go out to eat, and now eat a vegetarian diet. Living out in the middle of nowhere makes these things a lot easier, as it’s a long drive into the nearest town to purchase any indulgences. When I lived in Seattle, going out for meals was easily my biggest weakness, as there was at least a dozen restaurants within a few blocks of my apartment.

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Training for the Trail

This is a hard one for me, but I still try to stay fit and committed to moving around and keeping my muscles limber. Time is always a huge factor, with work and life taking up much of my day. As much as I’d like to maintain my thru-hiker level of fitness, I rarely have the time to hike a 20 mile day.

What I usually do is go for a trail run, even if it is only a few miles. I go early, at the first light of day, so that it’s done and out of the way. If I put it off until the end of the day, after work or errands, I likely won’t go. I’ll find one excuse after another, with the most popular being ‘I’m too tired now.’

During the off-season, also known as winter, I’m reduced to being a weekend warrior. I’ll find trails with no snow pack (not an easy feat here in the PNW) and set out to do longer mileage days with the intention of testing any new gear that I’ve acquired. This helps my muscles stay used to the endurance of big mileage days so it’s not a complete shock going back to long distance hiking, and it works out any kinks in my gear before I head out on the real adventure.

My favorite trail to do a multi-day backpack on is the Rogue River Trail in Oregon.

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Frequently Asked Questions, Arizona Trail Addition

I get asked a lot of questions prior to the start of a new trail. Here are the most popular ones.

How many miles is the Arizona Trail? Where does it start and finish?

The AZT is 788 miles, starting at the Coronado National Memorial on the Mexico/U.S. border, and finishing at the Utah state line. I’ll be traversing several mountain ranges, including the Huachuca, Santa Rita, Rincon, Santa Catalina, Mazatzal, and San Francisco Peaks, as well as crossing through Saguaro National Park and the Grand Canyon.

Which Direction Are You Going?

I’m going northbound, also known as NOBO in hiker lingo.

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A sign in Spanish warms against exposing oneself to the elements of the desert

How long will it take you to walk that far?

I’m guessing it will take me about 5 weeks, with a 23 mile per day average and one scheduled zero day in the town of Pine.

Will you be fundraising again, like you did on the PCT?

Absolutely! I’m continuing my campaign ‘Hiking for Hope and Healing’ with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Last time, I successfully raised over $3000 for suicide prevention and mental health programs. I’m hoping to continue to make a difference in our communities by raising awareness and funds for mental well-being and to put a stop to suicide. This time around, I’m increasing my goal to $4000. Please help by donating now.

You can read up on why I chose AFSP as my charity to support for here.

Why the Arizona Trail?

I’m not entirely sure, but it’s been on my bucket list for some time. I’ve always had a fascination with the American Southwest, from my first visit to the Grand Canyon when I was a kid, to when I first watched that infamous shootout scene at the OK Corral in the film ‘Tombstone.’ I love the history of the West, the rugged landscape, and the foreign (to me, anyway) botany, wildlife, and geology. We don’t have cactus or much dry weather here in the PNW, so perhaps a part of my adoration for Arizona is its stark contrast to what I’m familiar with. I’m ridiculously excited to see some big-ass saguaro cactus.

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What About Rattlesnakes?  Is There Anything That You Fear?

This is truly an AZT question, because people usually ask me about bears. To be honest, I’m scared of rattlesnakes more than I am of black bears. There’s both in Arizona. I had several encounters with rattlesnakes on the PCT, but none were dangerous. I’ll do my best to keep my wits about me on the trail, especially in the evenings when they like to sunbathe on or near the trail before nighttime (they’re mostly nocturnal). It may be too cold for them yet, in the beginning anyway, and they may still be denned up (they also hibernate).

I’m more worried about scorpions crawling into my shoes at night, so I’ll have to be diligent in giving them a good shake in the mornings before I put them on. And rodents, mostly mice, still gross me out simply because hantavirus has me petrified.  I also like seeing tarantulas on the trail because of the novelty of them, but I never want to see them in camp or anywhere near my shelter.  Desert locals like to tell you how harmless they are, but I don’t care.  Oversized, fluffy spiders can just go ahead and stay away.

I had an unfortunate encounter with some cholla, a type of spiny cactus, on the PCT last year, so I’ll need to be careful to avoid it and it’s barbed needles when hiking.  It was painful and not my idea of a good time.

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Just one of the many creepy crawlies of the desert
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Cholla is a real prick

Are You Worried About Water?

Water sources may be tricky since it’s the desert, but I’m using the Guthooks AZT app, which will let me know where there’s water along the way. Since I’m hiking in the early Spring, and there will likely be snow in some of the higher elevations, I’m hoping that most of the creeks and springs will be flowing, and the cisterns and stock tanks will be full. I’ve been cruising some of the forums for this trail too, and it seems that the bulk of thru-hikers go through at this time and the trail angels do their best to leave caches.

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What’s Your Favorite Thing About Thru-Hiking, Since You Keep Doing It?

I had a friend ask me this question recently, because they said the thought of walking all day, braving the elements, being dirty for days on end, and sleeping on the ground sounds ‘absolutely miserable.’

I guess for me, it’s the sense of accomplishment, and always being surprised at what I’m capable of.  I spent a lot of my life in a limbo of self doubt; never having much confidence in myself to do great things.  I don’t really consider thru-hiking to be groundbreaking or world changing, but I like the way it makes me feel about myself.

I love the quietness of early morning, and spending the first several miles on trail to myself, and the way the sunshine washes everything in golden hues just before it sets behind the hills.

Obviously, the scenery plays a huge roll in this answer as well.  Mountain views never grow old.  The way a forest smells fills me with peace.  It all allows my mind to finally be still, and breath deep.

I also love the simpleness of the trail life:  everything I need, as bare bones as that is, it’s right there in my pack.  Trail life can seem monotonous, but I always miss it once it’s over.  It’s certainly type two fun.  A guide I hired in Belize once said to me “the more things you own, the more complicated your life will be.”  That really resonated with me, and I agree with it wholeheartedly.  Every time I go on a long walk, I thoroughly enjoy the lack of clutter that’s in my life, and as soon as I return home, I go about purging my surroundings of unnecessary junk.

And last but not least, if I’m going to be really honest here, eating whatever I want is something that I enjoy immensely.  Want to eat an entire jar of Nutella?  Go for it.  You need the calories when you’re crushing miles.

What gear are you using on this hike?

I’ll be posting a list with descriptions soon regarding my gear choices. At the moment, I’m waiting on my bivy to be completed and in my possession before I start on my gear post. Here’s a sneak peek at my base weight, which sits at just over 8 pounds:

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Make your own gear pie chart at lighterpack.com

What Kind of Food do You Eat on the Trail?

I eat lots of different things, anything that is high in fat and calories are the best: cookies, chocolate, coconut butter, peanut butter, tortillas, ramen, protein bars, instant coffee with cream and sugar, Gatorade mix, potato chips, crackers, etc.

When I’m in town, I usually try to fill the calorie deficit a bit, so my diet usually includes french fries, burgers, ice cream, and some fresh fruit and yogurt to get a little something healthy in the mix.

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Dehydrated hummus with veggie chips and a Cold Snack

Where and How Do You Poop?

I’m always pretty surprised at how often this question comes up, but I don’t ever hold back in divulging in the dirty details. I poop in the ground mostly, following ‘Leave No Trace’ ethics. I dig a cathole at least 6 inches deep with my trusty trowel, poop and then bury it. I always make sure to never go near a water source or campsite, and at least 200 feet away from the trail.

I wrote a blog post about pooping, peeing, and periods, and how to deal with it in the wilderness. You can find that here.

Are You Hiking Solo? If So, What Safety Precautions Do You Take?

Yes, I’m hiking solo again. But if you’ve read my other trail journals from previous thru-hikes, then you’ll know that I’m rarely ever alone.

I always let my family know where I am, and what day I’m expected in the next town. When I get into town, I either call or text. I try to never camp/sleep near roads, where someone might see me in passing, and I never tell people who I meet on the trail (other than some thru-hikers) or in town that I’m hiking alone. When I’m hitchhiking to and from the trail, I tell the people that give me a ride that I’m meeting back up with another hiker, and that hiker is expecting me soon.

I also never post my current, real-time locations on social media.

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I feel pretty comfortable going solo on long hiking trips

How Do You Know Where to Camp at Night? Do You Plan Your Itinerary in Advance?

I don’t plan out my days in advance. Instead, I look at my maps and Guthooks app every evening or morning, which aids me in deciding how much mileage I want to do for the day, and where to camp at the end of it. I try to keep my itineraries open, because you never know what the day is going to throw at you. Over planning will usually just end in heartache.

The only thing I really plan ahead of time are my resupply locations, which helps me stick to my budget and manage my time. If I know exactly which towns to go into, and have a resupply box waiting there for me, then I usually avoid spending unnecessary time and money in town (see my section on my budget for the trail above).

As far as finding a campsite at night, I use the Guthooks app, which tells me of established spots, and how many tents will fit there. Since I’m bivy camping this time, I’ll be able to squeeze into tighter areas. I try to only camp in well established campsites, as per ‘Leave No Trace’ ethics.

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Making camp in already established sites reduces impact on delicate plant life.

How Will You Protect Yourself From Sun Exposure?

I use a combination of things: sun gloves/sleeves to protect my arms and hands, wearing a hat with a brim, using my bandana to shield my neck when the sun is behind me, dollops of sunscreen throughout the day on my face, ears and chest, etc.

I have a reflective trekking umbrella, but I doubt I’m going to use it. I hate carrying it and haven’t found a suitable way of attaching it to my pack to go hands free.

What is Your Start Date?

Again, for safety reasons, I won’t say the exact date. I prefer to keep my start date and projected finish times between myself and my family.

Beyond the AZT

Further down the road, I’ll be making separate posts regarding my other two thru-hikes that I’ve been planning for this year. But for now, I’m focused on my Arizona Trail adventure and creating content for that; please stay tuned for my gear list!

As always, if you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to ask either in the comment section below, or shoot me an email from the contact page.

Happy Hiking Everyone,

-Artemis

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