Archive for the ‘Roughin’ It’ Category

Dennis Does Arizona

Tackling the Arizona Trail, firefighter to hike 800 miles in 30 days


All 800 glorious miles in 30 days!

In honor and remembrance of the firefighters that fell on September 11th  2001, my friend Dennis set out to hike the entire length of the Arizona Trail on the tenth anniversary  of the attack.  Dennis is a firefighter from Sierra Vista, Arizona who relocated from NJ with his girlfriend Jessica, who is a police officer.  Guess that makes him the Badge Bunny!  Jessica and I were teammates on my first deployment to Iraq and Dennis is an all-around good guy.

According to the Arizona Trail Association, the route is a “continuous, 800+ mile diverse and scenic trail across Arizona from Mexico to Utah. It links deserts, mountains, canyons, communities and people.” Just sounds plain awesome to me. I’ve driven from Utah to Mexico through Arizona,  and the description is too modest — to say that it’s diverse and scenic is like saying Paris is a pretty city.  I am jealous, because I know the changes in terrain and elevation that he is about to experience.

In support of him, and all his brother firefighters that run towards danger, Northern Virginia Outside is making a donation to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.  Please join me in support of  fallen American firefighters , in recognition of Dennis’s undertaking.  Also, you can live vicariously through Dennis, from  your cubicle  like me,  at Spot Adventures.  When you visit the site, play “spot the Glock” in the photo of his gear!  Good luck Dennis!

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Southern Arizona Outside

Remembering the Buffalo Soldiers at Fort Huachuca

My wife and I are both in training for our respective Army and Air Force Reserve commitments at Fort Huachuca in Arizona for two weeks and we decided to spend our Sunday break on a short road trip to the restored mining town of Bisbee. In the late 1800’s, Bisbee was once the largest town between St. Louis and San Francisco.

Our plans changed temporarily when about five miles out of Sierra Vista we saw foothills a few miles to the north of Highway 92 that looked they would be fun to poke around in. We decided Bisbee could wait and hooked the first left towards the short, rounded peaks. How lucky we turned off the highway when we did!

Murray Springs Clovis Paleo Indian Site

After a few minutes of driving we saw a sign for the Murray Springs – Clovis Paleo Indian site, administered by the Bureau of Land Management area. Four canteens of water and an iPhone stuffed in my satchel and off we went!

The trail head led down a sandy path that cut through mesquite, yucca, cacti and thistle. It seemed like all the plants were blooming in either red, yellow, white or pink. And none of them wanted

Even the plants are tough out here!

to be touched – they all wore some sort of thorn, spine or briar. Life in the desert is tough – and so are the plants.

The trail was strewn with coyote scat and a Gambel’s quail scampered ahead.  Every few

Gambel's Quail and Chicks

yards a den of some sort was dug into the overhanging banks of bone-dry arroyos which paralleled the trail. What looked like wasteland from the road was in fact teeming with life.

After only 30 minutes or so, we had each drank a liter of water and a dry wind coated us in dust. The foothills we had seen from road were now clearly several miles away – too far for a spontaneous day hike with a pregnant lady. A quick glance behind us, to the southwest, and we saw

Monument Fire Grows

smoke billowing out of the canyons of the Coronado Memorial forest.  A forest fire threatening Sierra Vista for the past few days was gaining momentum and our hotel was hosting several families that already been evacuated.

A very tall and wide solitary tree rose above the brush about 700 yards ahead of us. My wife and I had a “what would Bear Grylls do?” moment and reckoned that if Bearwas trying to cross the high desert on foot, he would head straight for that tree. That became the new goal of our short trek. A thin line of greener and brighter brush leading to the old giant hinted of Murray Springs.

The Old Giant by the spring

Cold, Clear and Clean!

Sure enough, as we approached our oasis the dirt got a little darker and I poked my finger  into mud.  Ten feet further down a steepening incline and the dark soil transformed into green reeds and trickle of cold water! Further “downstream” the trickle widened and deepened running close enough to the massive old tree to water its roots year ‘round. The tree so big that five people wouldn’t be able to wrap their arms around it and it grew at least 100 feet into the sky.

Dozens of game trails led to the spring and I spooked my wife by telling her that many a deer had probably met its fate while it drank from the cool stream from a stealthy mountain lion lying in wait. Down in this little canyon, the air was at least ten degrees cooler than it was in the plains above.

On the way back up to the main trail we saw two hummingbirds hovering over the pink flowering nettles and tried to catch a fleet-footed lizard that evaded us by darting in and out of cracks in the rocky walls of the arroyo.

We did make it to Bisbee eventually, but the two hour “detour” we took gave me, my wife and our little biscuit in the oven an appreciation of the land, its beauty and its wildlife that just can’t be bought in a store.

On a less happy note, as I write this I am looking out my hotel window at tongues of fire in

The Monument Fire from Route 92

the night, licking up the sides of the mountains south of Sierra Vista. On our trip back from Bisbee going West on 90, we met dozens of folks who lost their homes to the fire we’d seen gaining strength behind us earlier in the day. To a person each one of them was grateful to be alive and didn’t blame anyone for their misfortune,  but accepted nature’s indiscriminately heavy hand with grace and concern for their neighbors.

It’s Spring When the Spring Peeper Says It Is

Spring Peeper

It’s official, Springtime is officially here! Despite what the calendar may say – it’s not for another two days – the spring peepers in the woods along the Potomac River say otherwise.

After my wife and I went grocery shopping at the commissary at Fort Belvoir last Friday after work, we drove past a cul-de-sac that looped into a small wood that bordered the river and we heard them – thousands of spring peepers – chorus frogs  – chirping away.

This time of year in the mid-Atlantic states just after nightfall, the little (less than an inch) male Pseudacris crucifer hangs out in leafy bush or tree, near water and peeps his heart out trying to find a mate.

To me, their cheerful mating call means the end winter and its short, cold, gray days. Spring peepers mean being enveloped by the earth’s surge to life in the Blue Ridge, as I sit against a tree turkey hunting at dawn in a few short weeks. Or feeling the warmth of the sun and being amazed by the sudden greening of the shoreline,  as I fish for delicious, hard-fighting crappie in the Potomac.

The spring peepers are making their beautiful music, telling us all within earshot that it’s time to chalk up the turkey calls, put some fresh line on our fishing reels, dust off our bicycles or clean the spider webs out of our kayaks and get outside!

SGT Jason Gets His Spurs

SGT Jason catches a seven-minute nap during hour seventeen

Just wanted to share with NVO readers a few words on my buddy SGT Jason, from Charlottesville, Virginia (you just knew there was going to be a Northern Virginia connection!).  SGT Jason is a great guy -he’s a father, a husband, and an accomplished hunter. He’s a mobilized Reservist in Iraq with me, and every time we chat, our conversations revolve around our families or what we are going to hunt when we get back to the States – and  what guns we are going to use.

He first joined the Army in 1986.  He had a long break in service, but he couldn’t stand seeing his brothers-in-arms having all the fun to themselves any longer,  and jumped back in a few years ago.

Since we are attached to Third Armored Corps (Black Knights!), he was eligible to put his body through a 19-hour torture test to earn his “combat spurs”.   Cavalry Soldiers who complete a “spur ride” in a combat zone earn the right to wear gold spurs, on certain occasions, in uniform.  It is a great honor, and connects the modern-day Cav Soldier to those troopers who rode west in faded blue uniforms back in the 1800’s. The test is a mental and physical endurance event that relies on teamwork and intestinal fortitude to complete.

Earning the spurs entailed almost twenty-four hours of timed events that had to be completed in full body armor, helmet and carrying a rifle – in 100 degree heat.  SGT Jason’s day started off with an hour of calisthenics followed by a six-mile road march with a 42 pound rucksack, plus body armor – while wearing a gas mask, three-second rushes up and down Camp Slayer’s Signal Hill, a marksmanship event interspersed with even more calisthenics, and a simulated hostage-rescue staged in the ill-named “Victory Over America” palace. And they were just the warm-up.

SGT Jason called it a grueling “non-stop smoke session”, but in the end he now has the right to wear his spurs, along with his combat patch and jump wings. Congrats to Jason and all the Third Corps Soldiers who “earned their spurs” this tour in the sandbox!

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