Desert Horned Lizard

Day 10.

horned lizard in IdahoThe 100 mile mark for the ICT is roughly the 130 mile mark for the WWT, as we started ~30 miles south of the Idaho border in the Jarbidge Wilderness.

This was, by far, the farthest I had ever walked and we were only about 5% done.

A local rancher stopped to see what we were up to, as there are not many hikers around these parts.

A lot of the land in this area is owned by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and leased to ranchers. As you leave the Owyhee Desert, there are giant wind turbines to greet you as you enter the foothills of the Sawtooths. We could see them for miles, and now we were there. Progress was slow but steady.

Notice the horned lizards (a.k.a. horny toads); they shoot blood out of their eyes. Nature is something else.

Seeing some signs of civilization makes it easy to forget that this is still high desert. This section was particularly dry, which we hadn’t quite planned on.

Water Diet

Around the 2:52-minute mark in the video, it got to this point:

Joel: “How thirsty are you?”

Me: “Thirsty.”

Joel: “Thirsty enough to drink out of a cattle cistern?”

Me: (without hesitation) “Yes!”

It’s also worth noting that at the beginning of the hike I was drinking a lot more water per mile than at the end. It was a combination of me having more body fat, which requires more water, and also I didn’t quite know how far I could push myself. In my entire life I had never allowed myself to become this thirsty, and so I just didn’t understand it.

The water tasted like it smelled (like cattle), but it was good enough.

We hiked onward.

The dirt road became gravel; then dirt, again.

At the 7:13 minute mark, Dung Beetles roll some poop.

dung beetles in IdahoTowards the end of the foothills, 160 miles into our hike, we catch the best glimpse of the Sawtooths yet. Joel says it best: “NOW we’re hiking!”

Hitching a Ride

Before we got into the mountains proper, we camped near a highway and hitched into Fairfield, where we each had a box of supplies waiting for us at the post office.

Hitchhiking is kind of like a free version of uber or lyft – I highly recommend it.

The hike in its current form (WWT) had been in the planning stages for about 9 months before we left, although Joel had been planning on hiking the ICT for at least 2 years prior (his obsession with Idaho actually began many years before that).

In order to save money and ensure proper nutrition (or so we thought), we decided to buy a ton of food ahead of time, dehydrate most of our own meals, package them into boxes, and ship them to supply points along our route.

These supply points were usually Post Offices. We would write our names on the package along with something like “Please Hold For Thru-Hiker / Approx Date of Pickup”. Sometimes, in more remote places, we would ship our food to a private ranch or ranger station – after we had acquired the appropriate approval.

3 Things to Note About Sending Supplies

    • It’s not always cost-effective to send supplies ahead of time.
    • It’s illegal to send fuel canisters through the mail.
    • When a locale has a Wal-Mart, go there.

Looking back, I would have done it a bit differently. First, the cost savings wasn’t as much as we had initially anticipated because the shipping costs on some of these packages would be around $20-$30. Add that to the base cost and you lose much of the purported savings.

Second, our tastes changed dramatically – as did my understanding of what I “needed” in order to hike. Before the hike (remember, I had never done this before) I went out of my way to dehydrate as many vegetables as I could, thinking that I would need vitamins and minerals. I also went heavy on the beef jerky. This took a lot of time, as we were dehydrating food around the clock for almost 2 months prior to starting our trek.

I came to find that these foods were relatively ineffective. That is, relative to more calorie dense foods.

Hiking Snacks – It’s All About Energy

    • Sugar/Carbohydrates
    • Caffeine
    • Hunger

Over time, I became acutely aware of the “input/output” effect of the calories I would put in my body. The most noticeable positive effects, that is the effects that made me HIKE, came from eating sugars, carbs (essentially more sugar), and caffeine!

I also (somehow) seriously underestimated the value of chocolate.

Hunger itself can also be used as a motivator. I’d come to find that when I would eat a big meal, I became sluggish. This is perfectly fine at the end of the day, but lunch should not consist of a feast because it WILL slow you down. Eat enough to get moving, and then move.

Stoveless Backpacking Meals

For the last few hundred miles of the hike, we made the decision to stop making hot food.

We came to realize that hot food was a luxury we couldn’t afford.

This allowed us to save a few pounds (and thus go farther and faster) by getting rid of the fuel, the burner, and aluminum pot.

It was only after we picked up the last resupply box that we were able to do this, as making that dramatic of a change while we still had boxes to pick up would have resulted in hundreds of dollars of wasted supplies.

A better way, in my humble opinion, would be to only send packages to places where there is no other option. Sending it to a ranch along our route in the middle of the wilderness would be necessary, however sending it to a town that also has a Wal-Mart would not be.

Are Beavers Dangerous?

Leaving Fairfield, we march onwards towards the Sawtooths. Before we get there, however, we must trudge through miles of beaver swamp.

This makes it that much harder for us, as we have to zigzag and bushwack in extremely dense brush, sometimes having to backtrack miles after realizing we made a wrong turn.

Note: GPX Files are available for download, so you can avoid this!

Bring back the hunt, I say! Filthy creatures.

Day 13.

With a storm on our heels, we absconded up and down – up – and then down again. I distinctly remember singing “The River” by Bruce Springsteen. Sometimes singing helps. Actually, it always helps.

Walking 20 Miles a Day

This day was over 20 miles, my farthest – and most painful – yet. Then again, I didn’t know what pain was. I’m stumbling and being dramatic, hoping for this day to end. I was so unprepared – and soft – I didn’t know how good I had it.

We arrived at camp just before dark. It was near a river, on a National Forest campground. It was the first time we saw “regular” people camping, in campers and RV’s, since we started the hike. No time to talk though, we had to set up camp and eat – and then pass out. It was a long day.

Dinner was good, our first time cooking our dehydrated vegetables, and as hard as the day was, I always felt better with a full stomach and hours of rest ahead of me.

The mountains approached, staring at us from a distance. They served as a reminder for why we were doing this. They were the carrot at the end of the stick, and we were the poor mules buzzing towards them like insects in the gravity well of a bug zapper.

If I did this, you certainly can.

Author: @carmenrao

In 2018 we filmed our time on The Wild West Trail | This article is based on Episode 3: Snake River Valley to the Boise River | You can watch the full video HERE

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