Most of the following are questions I’ve been asked before. I’ll also try to update this list with new questions that come up along the way.
Where does “A ragged dance of my own” come from?
It’s a quote from chapter nine of “The Dharma Bums“, by Jack Kerouac, an author with whom I’ve had an ongoing and serendipitous encounter since I first picked up “On the Road” as a wide-eyed teenager hitching from San Francisco after a new year’s run of Dead shows at the Civic Auditorium- now the Bill Graham– down to Tehachapi, for a one-month work/stay at Cesar Chavez’s La Paz community for the United Farm Workers union.
For the interested, see this page from someone named Katie Dutcher, who provides context as well as the excerpted paragraph. When thru-hikers repeat the mantra “hike your own hike,” they’re echoing a similar sentiment.
Who are you?
My name is Michael, though if you know me from a long distance hiking trail you probably call me Max, short for Maxheap. What passes here for my website is just a collection of hiking journals and other bits I’ve gathered from an increasingly uncluttered life. Feel free to poke around, though I can’t guarantee you’ll find anything of interest. I mainly post to capture personal memories, but am happy to share it with anyone interested.
My last long distance hike was the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) in 2019. As of October, 2020 I’m planning to set out again in the spring for another hike. With the PCTA undecided on whether they’ll issue thru-hike permits for the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in 2021, I see the PCT as my first choice but will gladly hike the CDT again if the PCT doesn’t work out.
Who do you hike with?
As is true of many thru-hikers, I am mostly a solo hiker. It’s not a matter of not enjoying the company of other hikers- which we all do. In fact, my very best memories on trail are ones I’ve shared with other hikers, many of whom I now consider “trail family.” It’s just that long-term, back-country hiking can be a high-risk venture where nearly every step is taken under the potential threat of injury, sickness, foul weather, encounters with predators and other mishaps. So while we definitely look out for each other on trail, we’re also conscious of the transience of hiking plans and find the accountability for one’s own safety to be a pretty full plate. So yes, I frequently hike with others but thus far have considered myself a solo hiker on long distance walks.
On the Appalachian Trail I had the great pleasure of hiking long miles with the likes of MAV, Birdie, SlimJim, Hydro, Hero, Swish, Toastface, Stringbean, Ducky, Herc, Forrester Gump, Mellow, Bellows and many others.
On the CDT, I got to hike with MAV again and also made a lot of new hiking friends like O.B., Cougar, Locomotive, Hammer, Impala, T-Pain, ChickenFat, Data, DynoDNA, EagleCow, Wow, Etch-a-Sketch, Roadrunner, Really Sorry, Akuna, Dawn, Cricket, Bootscoot, Toast, Twigsy and many more.
What is a ‘Maxheap’?
- a binary tree data structure used in computing
- a cartoon character my age 10-ish son Oliver drew with a mouse
- the ‘trail name’ I adopted just before my first thru-hike
- this self-indulgent blog site that serves as my hiking journal
- an incorrigible state of mind
- not a prodigious accomplishment left in a cathole
Note: Some hikers dogmatically assert that trail names must be given by others. Ironically, these are often the same people claiming to enthusiastically embrace the “hike your own hike” ethos. Go figure.
As for me, I am Maxheap and I approve of this trail name.
What is a ‘thru-hike’?
Most people use this term to describe an attempt to walk the entire length of a long distance trail in one go, most typically, within a contiguous 12 month period. That is in contrast to hiking an entire trail incrementally over a longer period of time (‘section’ hiking), or hiking small portions of a trail for very short periods (‘day’ hiking).
One distinction I’ve observed has to do with mindset. A thru-hiker tends to carry an attitude throughout their hike that “I am currently living full time on this trail,” whereas a more typical mindset for non thru-hikers seems to be “I love hiking and am trying to squeeze some in without completely disrupting my life.” There’s something in the thru-hiker’s extended commitment (read: lunacy) that seems to me to stand apart.
That said, a thru-hike is almost never a completely uninterrupted nature walk. One occasionally drops back into civilization to snag a new supply of food, repair broken gear, get a shower, sleep in a comfortable bed, reconnect with loved ones, wash those wretched socks, update a lousy blog, travel off trail for a wedding, graduation or other commitment, and so on.
What is a ‘flip-flop’ hike?
The term ‘flip flop’ refers to a thru-hike that includes long stretches of hiking in opposite directions. Most typically, a flip-flop thru-hiker begins at one terminus (like typical thru-hikers) and walks toward the opposite terminus, until some point along the way where the hiker leaves the trail to travel to the opposite terminus, resuming the hike in the opposite direction back to the point at which the directional ‘flip’ occurred. Impassable weather, forest fires, schedule coordination with other hikers and off-trail commitments are all potential motivations for a flip-flop thru-hike. Many of the long distance trails are now encouraging thru-hikers to consider this option to reduce the concentrated environmental impact of hordes of hikers starting concurrently from the same point.
In 2019, I flip-flopped on my CDT thru-hike due to deep snow in Colorado. I walked from Mexico to the Colorado border, then flipped up to Canada and walked back south from there to the same spot. After getting over the initial disappointment of not being able to hike in a single continuous direction, the flip-flop didn’t bother me and definitely helped me avoid some very dangerous conditions in the San Juans in southern Colorado.
What the hell is a “Dead Tour”?
To quote perhaps my all-time favorite film : “Obviously, you’re not a golfer.” A Dead tour, friend, is the annual rite-of-passage concert series for fans of the Grateful Dead. Yes, I’m one of those. And yes, the remaining originals are all now in their 70s and 80s(!!), but their shows are still “…more fun than a frog in a glass of milk.”
If you and I are walking the same direction on some trail and you’re bored and looking for a distraction to pass the miles, prompt me with this topic and stand back from the splash zone.
The “Dead Tours” menu item on this site’s home page gives you access to (PG-rated) road trip blogs I kept for a couple of those tours. Fare thee well!
Where is home?
My wife and I are empty-nesters and live in a small place in Eastern Washington just 3-4 miles from the Idaho border. We mostly raised our five kids in Minnesota. I’m originally from there and Wendy is from this charming old town in England. We met, were married and lived in Japan for about 12 years where all five of our kids were born.
When are you planning to leave for your next hike?
I’m hoping to be on the trail in April of 2021. First choice will be to walk northbound on the PCT, but if the PCTA is not issuing permits due to Covid or wild fires or other 2020 greatest hits, then I’ll probably fall back on hiking the CDT again in hopes of walking completely northbound this time.
Why the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT)?
After completing an Appalachian Trail (AT) thru-hike in 2015 and walking the entire Continental Divide Trail in 2019, I’ve grown increasingly interested in the challenges and rewards of long distance hiking. Here are several of the reasons why I’m now planning a thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail in 2021…god willing and the (Covid) creek don’t rise:
- I was hiking near the PCT in Rainier National Park in 2014 when the idea first came to me to try thru-hiking, so there’s some sentimental value
- as a trail, the PCT is said to present a nice contrast to both the AT & CDT
- the PCT passes through my home state (Washington)
- many thru-hikers consider the PCT to be the “crown jewel” of US long distance hiking
- the PCT passes near or through a number of “bucket list” type national parks, such as Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park, Yosemite National Park, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Crater Lake National Park, Mount Rainier National Park, and the North Cascades National Park
- as added incentive, completing the PCT would also mean completing the ‘Triple Crown‘ of US long distance hiking
Why no advertising or endorsements on this site?
I suppose it’s just a personal preference.
On the advertising front, I prefer information that is free from commercial content- something increasingly difficult to find. I’m not trying to raise funds, have nothing to sell and do not represent any political, religious or social causes. I’ve got loads of opinions on all that stuff- some of which you may encounter on this site- but I have no financial ties or interests in any of that and I like it that way.
With respect to trying to “promote” myself or a particular hike or my site or whatever by soliciting sponsorships or media tie-ins or what-have-you, I don’t mind the exposure (otherwise, why do a public blog?) and in fact I gave multiple interviews related to previous hikes (skip ahead to minute 48 of this podcast if you’d like to listen to one), but I just don’t want to feel pressured to come up with content or cool pictures or whatever to meet someone else’s expectations or deadlines. I value autonomy.
Why not use [social media platform x] for this?
Nothing against them, but I just don’t enjoy most ‘social media’ platforms and how they make me feel (lousy, superficial, envious, judgemental).
And it follows that if my posts ever make you feel like your life sucks in comparison to mine or that I’m a condescending ass or whatever, ditch me immediately and go be with people who don’t do that to you. I mean that sincerely. I hate that stuff and the idea I might be doing it to someone else repels me.
Why don’t you carry a stove?
Another personal preference.
I started the AT with a cook stove, mess kit, fuel, etc. but ended up abandoning all of it after the first 100 miles or so to reduce pack weight and simplify daily trail chores. I always managed to get my fix of hot meals and hot coffee in town and the absence of such never seemed to bother me while on the trail. I did the same on the CDT last year and had no issues. I get sick of the eating the same things all the time, but so do all the hot food folks. If my tastes change in the future, then I’ll modify my approach accordingly. At this point, there are very few edible items I haven’t managed to shove between two halves of a smooshed bagel.