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October 5, 2013

DODD: Desert life is bittersweet

It was only his second day on the Arizona National Trail. The two gallons of water Steve Voelker had been carrying in his 50-pound camping pack was completely gone.

Although he had only been out of water for a little over an hour, this was the Arizona wilderness where one can dehydrate in a short amount of time. His last urine was already a rusty brown/red color. He told me when hiking such conditions, “Water is always an issue.”

In a stroke of good fortune, he had found a water cache which also included two ginger ales and a Shasta lemon-lime drink. The can had a small hole and he began to drink from that hole for an immediate thirst quencher. He then popped the top and saw them running out.

“Hell, I had been drinking ants!”

Voelker was making a sojourn that few people will ever undertake. He was hiking alone in what can certainly prove to be some very unforgiving terrain. Most would believe it to be even more of a calculated risk for a man who is 68 years old.

JOURNAL ENTRY 8/18/13

“Just had a big scare, deputy sheriff outside my tent named Bundy. My In Reach that had not been tracking properly emergency beacon had gone off. He hiked 3 miles to find me.”

To train he had walked 10 miles per day on a treadmill and hiked in local park trails carrying his pack; 50 pounds of food and supplies that did not include the two gallons of water. One day on the Arizona trail, he hiked 23 miles.

Kim, Cameron and I have hiked some of the national park trails — always on a day trip. Carrying snacks and adequate water are not luxuries. Our hikes had always been for a few hours.

Voelker often spent days alone and slept by himself in a lean-to set up overnight in a land full of bears and mountain lions among the unwelcoming nocturnal wildlife. He spent one evening watching bats catch insects at eye-level responding to the night light attached to his head. On another evening, he was sure he heard a bear’s grunting close to his camp. After some anxious moments, the growls and whatever was making them disappeared into the night.

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