While in the midst of an intense, 1,600+ mile double thru-hike of the Arizona National Scenic Trail, my husband of 20 years, Ras, said he had a crazy idea. He said it as if we weren’t already in the middle of just such a thing. As we were making our way through the challenging and beautiful topography of the AZT, he had realized there were three other desert trails in the U.S. that are also approximately 800 miles long, and that no one had attempted to yo-yo. (“Yo-yo” means thru-hiking a trail once in each direction in a single push, hiking from the beginning to the end, and then back to the beginning, like a yo-yo running out to the end of its string and then returning to its start point.) He said this could essentially become a Desert Yo-yo Grand Slam Only Known Time project, playing out over a number of years. We were in the midst of doing something incredibly difficult that no one had ever done before, and here he was laying an even bigger, harder never-before-done idea at my feet, like a proud cat with a ravaged rodent. Unbeknownst to me, this idea had already taken on a life of its own in his mind, and we were indeed doing this.
Attempting to yo-yo another difficult desert route, let alone three more of them, sounded ludicrous to me at the time. Now, almost a year and a half later, Ras and I are gearing up for phase two of the Desert Yo-yo Grand Slam series, the 770 mile Grand Enchantment Trail. We begin the hike on March 4th (as in the command, march forth!). The trail will take us from the outskirts of Phoenix, Arizona to the mountains high above Albuquerque, New Mexico, and back again. We plan to adhere to a strict “feet on the ground” thru-hiker style attempt, meaning we will not hitchhike or accept rides into or out of towns to pick up our resupplies. We will cover every mile on our own two feet, and not set foot in a vehicle from the time we leave Phoenix until the time we return there, victorious. We will accept “trail magic” along the way (unplanned and unsolicited generosity from supporters), but will not have anyone crewing us or meeting us at pre-planned points with support of any kind, emotional or material. Our goal is to accomplish our quest according to a pure Self-Supported ethic.
Most of the projects that Ras and I do together are conceived while already engaged in another one. It makes sense. We are in our element. We are feeling high on life and endorphins. The fresh air and the natural world are filling us up with all the nourishment and sustenance we can handle, both mental and physical. We don’t want to be anywhere else. We have to plan our next adventure to ensure this. This is how it works. Big, Crazy Ideas beget other Big, Crazy Ideas.
Now, just a few days before we hit the trail, Ras and I are busy putting together our twenty-one resupply packages. They are filled to the brim with dehydrated veggie chili & refried beans; rice & potatoes; dried fruits & veggies; dried marinara powder & rice noodles; hummus mix & peanut powder; wasabi peas, chocolate covered espresso beans, and dried soy curls seasoned in a variety of different ways by both Ras and I; oatmeal packets, Honey Stinger Waffles, Expedition Espresso Trail Butter, coffee, hot chocolate, tea, and soups. We have everything we need to fuel the 1,500+ miles we will hike together through Arizona and New Mexico. Putting together these resupply boxes is both daunting and exhilarating. Late last night, Ras was taping together bundles of batteries for our headlamps, loading up our new Mp3 players and making sure we had all the trail beta. I looked at him with my eyes glazed over and said “I still need to bake chocolate chip banana muffins for the road and get my blog posted from my Methow Trails 200k Ski Challenge in January.” Ah, the life of an adventurer. I would only trade it for a life filled with more adventuring.
Our old dog Puzzle and our furry, loveable cat Dodger will stay behind with Ras’ mother. Our belongings will be safe and protected in a storage unit and the guest room of Ras’ mother’s home. Our ultrarunner friend Miguel Moreno, owner of The UltraHouse in Phoenix, will keep our car at his place while we trek to the far reaches of New Mexico and back again to Arizona. My mother will ship our boxes to us for the westbound portion of our hike. An anonymous donor helped us with a few final pieces of important gear. Other friends have offered to meet us on the trail with a warm hello, water, encouragement. An adventure of this magnitude becomes easier with the support of our surrounding community. Ras and I are both grateful for this, knowing that others have helped make a thru-hike of the Grand Enchantment Trail possible for us.
After returning from our last thru-hike yoyo of the Arizona Trail, we worked for fifteen months for a yard care and weeding service to wrap up expenses from that hike and prepare to set out on the trail again for this GET thru-hike yo-yo. Determined to get back out on the trail, we accepted side jobs and sent in proposals for sponsorship funding. Gossamer Gear, Seven Hills Running Shop in Seattle, Honey Stinger and Bogg’s Trail Butter all came through with generous amounts of gear and trail nutrition. Altra Running partnered up with Nathan Sports to provide the crucial support necessary to make this adventure possible, and in so doing made the dreams and ambitions of the second hike in our Desert Yo-yo Grand Slam project a reality. We both feel honored, supported, understood and blessed. Our goal is to inspire others to live their dream, get outside and explore, push beyond perceived physical and mental limitations, and make spending time with those you love a priority. Zero Limits is a mentality and a philosophy we live by and want to spread to others. And thanks to Altra, we have the opportunity to do just that. Give Thanks for Life!
Kathy’s Gear List: Lone Peak 3.0s and NeoShell Mids Nathan Journey FastPack Altra Running Apparel including gaiters, a skort from the new Spring Collection, Altra short sleeve tech shirt, lightweight buff, and the Zoned Heat jacket and tights. Gossamer Gear trekking poles and ¾ length sleeping pad Julbo Zebra lens sunglasses Black Diamond Polar Icon Headlamp Smartwool neck gaiter, arm sleeves and calf sleeves. Injinji toe socks Zensah Seamless Sports Bra, ankle compression sleeves and knee compression sleeve. Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Down Puffy and Montbell Down Puffy Pants Kahtoola Microspikes Camp Corsa ice axe Burton snowboarding gloves
Journey along with Kathy and Ras as they attempt the first known yo-yo of the Grand Enchantment Trail, and the rest of their Desert Yo-yo Grand Slam, by following them on Facebook and Instagram, and by following the hashtags #GETyoyo #GETit and, of course, #ZeroLimits.
Kathy on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Kathy.Vaughan.7 Ras on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JahsonItes Team UltraPedestrian on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TeamUltraPedestrian Team UltraPedestrian on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ultrapedestrian/ Tem UltraPedestrian YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/c/UltraPedestrianChannel
authorbio: Kathy Vaughan and her husband Ras are Team UltraPedestrian. They are ultramarathoners, adventure runners, and thru-hikers who are widely recognized as the progenitors of the Only Known Time movement. Kathy and Ras write about their adventures at www.UltraPedestrian.com.