Stepping out the front door of our home early Jan. 1, 2009, I embarked on a formidable task I had set for myself near the end of '08. I would walk to Denver, Colo.
No, not actually walk from Tucson to the Mile High City, but cover a comparable 1,000 miles before Dec. 31, 2009. With an average of three miles per day, the year's total would be 1,095 miles.
Establishing a few simple guidelines would secure near daily commitment. Completion of a minimum of one mile would assure a concerted effort. Beyond the first mile, half-mile increments would count. At the end of each walk, distance completed would round down to the previous half-mile. Packing a GPS device guaranteed accuracy.
Quickly I ascertained my pace was 3 miles per hour on a level surface. Each tenth of a mile required about two minutes and close to 205 steps. At the pace of 2,050 steps per mile, the 1,000-mile experience would require 2,050,000 footfalls. Running shoes would wear out. Hiking boots would fall apart.
Including Arizona, I walked in 11 states: Nevada, Utah, California, Arkansas, Texas, Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota. The state high point was reached in both Dakotas and Nebraska. Some of the animals and birds I saw included deer, antelope, buffalo, bobcat, coyote, javelina, snake, skunk, gila monster, mountain goat, hawks, pheasants, egrets, herons, and flocks of ducks, geese and cranes overhead.
I walked beside clear, tumbling waters of Bear Creek near Evergreen, Colo., the ground blanketed under a deep April snowstorm. In November I followed a trail beside the San Pedro River in Arizona near Sierra Vista, the ground blanketed in golden cottonwood leaves. In September, the wide Arkansas River flowed by in Little Rock. During January the concrete-walled Los Angeles River passed by.
Tucson in January also found me wading across and through Sabino and Bear creeks in Sabino Canyon Recreation Area. March found me at a small creek at Douglas Springs Campground in the Rincon Mountains. Through the year I walked along the Canada Del Oro Wash, Santa Cruz River and the Rillito, rivers seldom with water actually flowing between their banks.
I hiked in the furnace of a Tucson summer and below freezing temperatures in North Dakota. Through the year I returned sunburned, windburned, soaking wet, unfortunately once severely dehydrated, and a few times concerned about frostbite. Escaping the scalding July desert for the far more pleasant climate of Prescott, I climbed Granite Mountain on a glorious day, just a few white, whispy clouds floating against brilliant blue skies.
During March, the journey took me to stunning natural sandstone formations on the Arizona / Utah border. Mount Rushmore was visited in April; I marveled at the vast open skies of the upper Midwest and found pure joy in the shadows of Colorado's Rocky Mountains. Trails were well maintained, poorly maintained, sometimes the trail vanished completely.
Murphy, our quirky English springer spaniel, accompanied me most, logging more than 300 miles at my side. Simply speaking the word "walk," his head would snap up, staring at me as I retrieved his leash. Other companions included my wife Kris, and our sons Kevin and Randy, other relatives and close friends, as well as strangers met along the trail. Mostly I walked alone, surroundings I truly enjoy.
The most miles covered in one day were 14 on a March hike in the Rincon Mountains. Shutouts were recorded 35 times, many in late September as I dealt with health issues.
On the flipside of that coin, I covered at least three miles on 215 occasions. A strong start in January with 116 miles, February with 100, and March with 99 put me 15 days ahead as I averaged 3.5 miles per day. The extra effort early would prove beneficial later in the year.
From mile 1 through 1,000, the quest was one joyous outing after another. It was exciting. The bar had been set. Throughout summer and into fall, many various walking activities were accomplished and the enthusiasm held. Entering December there remained 65 miles. Slightly over two miles per day would meet the goal, but not until 12/31.
That would cut things a little too close. I became more dedicated, driven, focused. Journey's end was in sight. The last couple of weeks, knowing the goal would be met, were almost like I had a deadline. I'm retired. I don't do deadlines. But I embraced this one as the final miles were checked off and mile number 1,000 lay just ahead.
Via my hiking column that appears in this newspaper, I've had the pleasure of sharing dozens of these miles with our readers. On the afternoon of Dec. 24, joined by close family and Murphy of course, the goal was achieved. Continuing to walk through the end of the year, I reached a final total of 1,020 miles. An unexpected benefit found me losing 12 pounds, slightly over a pound for every 100 miles. At my established pace the adventure clocked nearly 350 hours. Completion in one continuous activity would translate to just over two weeks, 24 hours a day.
Regularly setting ambitious goals for myself, including running a marathon, riding a full El Tour, climbing high peaks and deep canyons, I'm proud to have achieved another one.