Marana resident John Officer had the Arizona Trail on his "things to do" list for about five years. On May 19, he was able check it off.
The Arizona Trail, much like the Appalachian Trail, is a system that begins at the Mexican border, and takes hikers 820 miles north to Utah. Unless you hike it in the fall, when you go the opposite direction.
John started on April 2 and hiked the 43 different segments of the Arizona Trail, each anywhere from 10 to 33 miles long, stopping to rest on Sundays. He finished in mid-May.
"I remember as a kid reading in a National Geographic, this had to be in the late '60s, about the Appalachian Trail," recalled John, who is a native Arizonan. "Then later I really realized 'hey, we got one right here, I don't have to leave the state, I can do the Arizona Trail'."
John, who will be 50 years old next month, was prepared when he set out, but really didn't know what to expect or how long it would take. He hiked a few trails here and there, then got a little nervous about the task just before it began.
What was his favorite portion of the hike? "I liked the piece between Mexico and Utah," he quipped.
Throughout April and well into May, John got to see some pretty magnificent views across Arizona, along with areas that are less than desirable.
John said he would like to return to some areas near the Superstition Mountains in the fall, particularly an an old apple orchard near Reavis Ranch, "just to see what the apples look like when they are still on the trees."
He also enjoyed the Grand Canyon, and the area south of Flagstaff near Mormon Lake and Blue Ridge Reservoir.
White Canyon near Florence was beautiful, too, but he did have trouble finding water. John settled upon stagnant water he filtered to the point where he could drink it.
During his journey in a nice wildflower blooming season, he got to see things only visible along the Arizona Trail. And he lost 32 pounds over his 41 days of hiking.
"I lost my pack weight," he laughed.
People who hike the Arizona Trail usually have a sponsor who sets out water and supplies, or sends packages to general pick-up at local post offices. For John, that sponsor was his wife, Kathy.
His plan was simple. They would meet up at some pre-designated location Saturday nights, then rest on Sunday. She would bring a pair of shoes, which he switched each week, new food supplies, and the companionship that was missed over the course of six days without each other.
"One of my biggest concerns out there, or worries, was other people," John said. "Because I would tell her 'meet me over here at such and such a time'. How do you know how long it is going to take you to walk from here to here over that mountain? I have never done that before. I'm guessing.
"She gets there at 5 o'clock, and I told her I would meet her there at 5 o'clock, and if I am not here at 5:30, what do you think she is doing? She is about to call 9-1-1."
John learned to give himself and his wife a bit of a buffer. Even though he knew he could get to a location by 3 p.m., he would tell his wife that he would be there around 5 p.m.
"I'm really proud of him," Kathy said. "He's my hero. I wouldn't be able to do this."
Hiking through the mountains, desert and snow, up hills past rattlesnakes, blooming flowers and scarce water supplies, John got to meet people from around the world who, for what ever reason they had, were attempting to hike the Arizona Trail. From them he learned that every ounce counted. He recalled a woman from Germany telling him, "You know, there is a sleeping bag that is a pound lighter? There is a tent that doesn't weigh this much. You should get one."
John was sure to soon purchase a sleeping bag that was smaller, lighter and warmer.
He learned to rest every four hours, whether he needed to or not. He learned to take his boots and socks off when he stopped for lunch to let his feet air out and cool down, and to rotate his socks, too.
The lady from Germany also suggested that, "if it can't be used for two purposes, you don't need it. If it's only good for one purpose, and that's a luxury you want, that's the weight you are going to have to carry for it."
One essential John had to carry was his food.
He could get by eating oatmeal with cinnamon in the morning for breakfast mixed with some dehydrated berries, which he soaked in water the night before. Throughout the day, John would eat energy bars, then finish the day with a Mountain House dehydrated meal. He later found that dehydrated mashed potatoes, butter and ham made for a nice meal as well.
Not too many people have the opportunity to take a couple months off from work like John did. Luckily for him, he is a supervisor for the Central Arizona Project, which allowed him to accumulate and carry over his vacation time.
His suggestion for people who are looking to follow suit, and possibly don't have the same opportunity that he did, is to do a segment each weekend and to take your time. He suggested spending a Friday, Saturday and Sunday hiking one segment.
"I just did it for me just to say I did it, and the challenge for me," he said.
"Stay overnight and enjoy it. I enjoyed it; I had a plan for it. But for people who are wanting to go out and do it, don't do it as fast as I did."
In order to go hike the trail, you have to make it a goal, just like John did. "It's not a goal until you write it down," he said.