This website is a window into my trips. I want to take you as close to the adventure as I can, without getting your shoes wet and putting blisters on your feet. Read the journals, look at the pictures, watch the videos. I’m happy you are along for the ride.
If you have any questions, advice, comments, or just want to say hi, contact me. I don’t bite, unless you are made of ice cream.
A long time ago, in a parking lot on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, my mom and I were about to begin a hike that would take us down to the bottom of the canyon, across the Colorado River, and up the other side. In four days, we’d be on the distant South Rim.
I tried to quit before we started. I didn’t want to leave the parking lot. My mom handed me the keys to the car and $100.
“I’m going,” she said. “If you don’t want to come with me, here’s some money for food. Sleep in the car. I’ll be back in a few days.”
I was eleven years old.
So I went. I followed my mom beneath the canyon’s rim. I remember the heat most of all. It felt like an oven and wrung sweat from my skin. We joked about baking cookies on the rocks. I vomited from exhaustion halfway through and the taste lingered in my mouth for hours.
My mom carried my pack on top of hers as we climbed switchbacks up the south wall of the canyon. I trailed behind her with my legs burning and my lungs sucking air. Then we were there; we’d made it across. My mom grabbed me in her arms and gave me a huge hug.
I remember looking back at the North Rim from the South. The gaping maw of the canyon opened up before us with specks of buildings clinging to the far edge. I thought about where we had been four days earlier and our car parked among those distant specks. We’d done more than hike a trail. We’d moved across the earth.
Perhaps it was then that I became a long-distance traveler.
Ten years later, I took my first steps on the two-thousand mile the Appalachian Trail. Next came the Pacific Crest Trail (2,650 miles), Continental Divide Trail (3,000 miles), and Hayduke Trail (only 800 miles, but nasty ones!). Now I want to use the skills I learned from America’s greatest long-distance hiking trails to travel some of America’s greatest waterways. My current adventure is to paddle a kayak from the top of the contiguous United States to the bottom (Minnesota’s Northwest Angle to Key West, Florida).
ORIGIN OF OUT OF ORDER:
If I had waited until my law school’s graduation, I would not have made the end of the Pacific Crest Trail before winter buried it in snow. I had to start early. I walked out of law school halfway through the my last semester intending to carve out the first three hundred miles before coming back to take exams and graduate. I printed out a few class outlines to study with and got on a plane to San Diego.
By 2 a.m., everyone had deserted the San Diego airport except for a lone security guard glancing at me as he made his rounds and a Charles Lindbergh statue bathed in electric light. I walked out of the terminal and slouched against the statue’s base to wait. I should have been there hours earlier, but a snowstorm had shut down the Northeast and sent me racing across airports to chase planes and beg gate agents for a flight that would take me west.
A dark blue Dodge Caravan pulled up and a cheerful face peered at me through the window.
“Bob Riess?” I asked.
The man nodded.
“You’ve had quite a day, haven’t you?” he said.
I first spoke to Bob on the phone from Philadelphia after a gate agent told me I wouldn’t arrive in San Diego until 2 a.m. I told Bob to just let me wait in the airport until morning, but he refused to listen.
“You call me right when you get in,” he said. “I don’t care what time it is. I’m coming to get you.”
Charles Lindbergh would tell you that picking up strangers at 2 a.m. is not unusual for Bob. He has met hikers at that statue for years. It is the first step in helping them get from San Diego to the beginning of the Pacific Crest Trail on the Mexico-U.S. border. The last step is a pre-dawn drive to the trail’s start so he can get back before his high school classes start at 7 a.m.
“Why?” I asked him once.
“Because I love doing it,” he said.
Bob looked at me standing alone next to the statue.
“Where’s your pack,” he asked.
I shrugged. My pack was gone along with all my equipment. It could be anywhere between San Diego and New Haven, Connecticut. The storm ruined the airline’s baggage system. When I called, they told me they had no idea where the bag was and it wouldn’t arrive for at least a week.
“At least you made it,” Bob said. “Let’s get some rest and work it out in the morning.”
The next day I met Pea Hicks, or “Girlscout” as he’s known among hikers. He got his name from eating Girlscout cookies as he hiked the Pacific Crest Trail a year earlier than I did. He heard about my lost bag and spread every piece of equipment he owned on his kitchen table.
“Take whatever you need,” he said. “Let’s get you on the trail. When your bag comes, we’ll figure out how to get it to you.”
Tent, clothes, sleeping bag, rain jacket, everything. In a single afternoon, Girlscout replaced a year of planning with a thousand dollars worth of gear. I shoved it all in an old external frame backpack Bob had used decades earlier to climb Mt. Fuji. I day earlier, I wouldn’t have recognized either of them walking down the street. We had never met.
“One last thing,” Girlscout said. “You have to take this.”
He handed me a large, round button with blue letters on it.
“Temporarily Out of Order,” the button read.
Turns out, it’s not so temporary. The button is wrong. It should have just read, “Out of Order.”