The Wilds Project is the latest in a string of long-term projects involving hiking, nature, and art. Here’s a brief history of some of my previous projects.
The 100 Hikes Project (2009)
As a way to escape myto and an ever-growing waistline, the 100 Hikes Project was born. On May 5th, 2009, I set out to hike one-hundred times by the end of the year. Attached to this seemingly-impossible task were a few rules: A hike must be at least two miles long, it must have a beginning and an end (he couldn’t hike four miles and call it two hikes), and the hike must be on a designated path (I couldn’t ‘hike’ to the bar). I wanted a way of physically capturing each hike. Using magician’s playing cards, where the face of the card was blank, I drew the number of the hike on each card then took a ‘selfie’ with the card while on the hike. At first, I had difficulty hiking the two miles per hike, raising concern in other hikers when I stumbled back to the trailhead breathing heavily, drenched in sweat, and covered in dirt. However, with every step, I became stronger and more determined.
I explored areas of the country that I had never heard of previously! The challenge took me to Oregon and Utah. I was amazed by what amazing landscapes my eyes could see the more my feet carried me. So I ventured further. I hiked on muddy jungle trails in Chile and through surreal deserts in Bolivia until finally, on a foggy evening in late December in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains of California, I hiked my one-hundredth hike. Over a dozen friends joined me on this last hike, many I had first met during the 240-day project.
The 500-Mile Project (2010)
By the beginning of 2010, I was addicted to the trail. I found that hiking offered me what I had been looking for: A way to have a happier, healthier, outdoor-based, adventurous life. When the 100 Hikes Project concluded, I wasted no time in creating my next project: to hike even more in 2010 than I had previously done. I set out to hike 500 trail miles by the end of the year, a task that I knew would be pushing my limits again. And they did. I climbed up mountain tops and down into valley bottoms, explored terrain I never had seen before, and discovered that my passion for nature was growing with every mile. By the first week of December of 2010, in the Southern Alps of New Zealand (and on my birthday), I hiked my 500th mile of my journey. (photo above)
Mt Whitney (2011)
I no longer recognized the person I was before that day in May 2009. I had grown a beard, wore more plaid, and spent as much time as I could in the woods enjoying the feeling that came from being surrounded by wild things. And I was just getting started.
In 2011, I began the year with a new challenge: to climb Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the contingent United States at an elevation of 14,505 ft. I trained for months, climbing local mountains to prepare for such a climb. However, all my plans would change with just four words: “We’re letting you go.” The position I filled at eHarmony was no longer. I was told I had until the end of the day to clean out my desk. While packing up my collection of pens and coffee cups that accumulated in my desk for six years, I had already hatched new plan, a new goal that would test my limits more than anything else I had done previously.
The Pacific Crest Trail (2011)
When I left the offices of eHarmony for the last time, I had laid out a plan that would change my life forever: to move out of my apartment of nine years, hike as much of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) as possible, and then move to Bend, Oregon.
On May 1st, 2011, I found myself just outside of the dusty town of Campo, California, only feet from the Mexican border. From there, I walked north. After a day of hiking, I turned around and looked at the hills and valleys I had just walked through. After a week, I could no longer see beyond where I had hiked. I enjoyed the act of walking through incredible scenery that changed every day. For the first 500 miles of hiking, I was pulled by an invisible rope, one that kept tugging me north, as far and as long as I could every day. I hoped that eventually I would get to the Canadian border. Through blisters and cuts, sunburns and cracked lips, weight loss and incredible thirst, and both mental and physical anguish, I hiked. The heat of the desert baked my skin and the strong winds pushed me around – but with every step brought strength. I began dropping weight off my pack and and my skin began hanging loose off my bones.
By July, I had walked from Mexico to the top of Mt. Whitney. I thought about how my original goal to summit Mt. Whitney on a long weekend seemed like such a huge goal not four month earlier, but here I was, on top of the world after hiking almost 800 miles. It was nearly incomprehensible to me, but I had done it and no one could take that from me. When I came down off of the mountain and back onto the PCT, every additional mile felt like a victory lap. I no longer felt a strong pull towards Canada. Instead, I concentrated on enjoying every day on the trail, finding joy in being somewhere rather than trying to get somewhere. However, I continued to get somewhere, albeit much slower than thru hikers far ahead of me on the trail. By September, it had been weeks since I had seen another thru hiker. In one memorable week, I went five days without seeing another human being, two of those days without speaking a word. I was in tune with myself and found comfort in trail life, despite the physical pain. When a late-summer storm hit the Cascade Mountains of northern California, I knew my time on the trail had come to an end. I left the trail on October 6, 2011 near Etna, California after hiking for 159 days, covering nearly 1,700 miles of trail, and losing over 90 pounds.
The 100 Hikes Project (2012-2013)
After finishing my long hike of the PCT, I did indeed move to Bend where I found happiness living again in my home state of Oregon. As a means to explore my new surroundings and to have an excuse to hike, I launched a new 100 Hikes Project. This time, I set out to hike 700 miles on 100 hikes before 2014. Uncertain on the ability to hike in an area where the trails are covered in snow a few months every year, and knowing that I was still in need of employment, I gave myself 16 months to complete the project. I liked the aspect of drawing the number of the hike, as I did during the first 100 Hikes Project, but I found that a collection of one hundred playing cards with a number on them wasn’t very interesting to look at. Instead, I would make the numbers on the trail using natural materials found during the hike. The project took me on many day hikes and backpacking trips in Oregon and California, through ancient redwood forests and solidified lava beds, alpine lakes of the Cascades and misty hills of the Oregon Coast Range. On December 31st, 2012, I completed the project on a snowshoeing trek to a hut in the Deschutes National Forest with the company of friends.
Oregon Master Naturalist (2014)
Despite all of the miles of hiking I’ve done, I consider myself more of a naturalist than a hiker. In fact, I started hiking just to get closer to nature. I still do. It’s not unheard of to find me laying in the dirt photographing a small mushroom or sitting on a log sketching a flower. Most of my knowledge has come from guidebooks and self-education so in 2014, I decided to go back to school. The moment I heard about the Oregon Master Naturalist program through Oregon State, I was sold. I took the East Cascades Ecoregion course in the summer and the online curriculum in the fall semester and, by late November, I successfully completed the coursework to become an Oregon Master Naturalist!