Sunday, May 4, 2014

Strange Loop

The Strange Loop - 15,674 miles of walking (cyan lines) and bicycling (magenta)
Well over a month of mapping 8 hrs + a day resulted in 15,674 + miles of my next adventure: Strange Loop.  The Strange Loop involves 8,628 miles of hiking and 7,046 miles of bicycling ( or time travel as I like to call it).  First, why the name Strange Loop?  Lets start with the definition of a Strange Loop:

"A strange loop, arises when, by moving only upwards or downwards through a hierarchical system, one finds oneself back where one started."

As I discuss the nature of my Strange Loop we may see similarities with the above definition.  Interestingly enough, the idea of a Strange Loop also can be an abstraction:

"And yet when I say "strange loop", I have something else in mind — a less concrete, more elusive notion. What I mean by "strange loop" is — here goes a first stab, anyway — not a physical circuit but an abstract loop in which, in the series of stages that constitute the cycling-around, there is a shift from one level of abstraction (or structure) to another, which feels like an upwards movement in a hierarchy, and yet somehow the successive "upward" shifts turn out to give rise to a closed cycle. That is, despite one's sense of departing ever further from one's origin, one winds up, to one's shock, exactly where one had started out. In short, a strange loop is a paradoxical level-crossing feedback loop."Douglas Hofstadter

I am fascinated with time travel ( kind of a joke really, since what I do is so time consuming and anything but fast or efficient ).  The notion put forth above interests me with regards to that.  That we may sense departing and moving further from the starting point only to find out that we have arrived right back at our starting point.  Couldn't be more fitting a name for the Strange Loop.  In addition to that, the Strange Loop also has implications with regards to human consciousness.

"Hofstadter argues that the psychological self arises out of a similar kind of paradox. We are not born with an ‘I’ – the ego emerges only gradually as experience shapes our dense web of active symbols into a tapestry rich and complex enough to begin twisting back upon itself. According to this view the psychological ‘I’ is a narrative fiction, something created only from intake of symbolic data and its own ability to create stories about itself from that data."

I have become aware of the fact recently that what I am really doing with my life is just that.  I am inputting a "dense web of active symbols".  My symbols happen to be landscapes, wildlife and cultures.  It is interesting to note though that my symbols are disappearing.  What I am inputting may not be there the next time I go looking for it.  I am nothing more than a reflection of the very landscapes, wildlife and cultures I have had the honor of experiencing.  Without them my narrative fiction wouldn't be as meaningful to me.  Without them I don't think my life would have any meaning.

MC Escher was all about the Strange Loop
OK so I have clobbered the reason for the name Strange Loop to death.  Lets move on to what is the route of the Strange Loop.  The Strange Loop begins at my front door in Reno, NV.  From here I will walk by a route of my own making up into the Mt. Rose Wilderness.  This will feed quickly into the Tahoe Rim Trail.  Once on the TRT I will make my way along the North of Lake Tahoe to the Pacific Crest Trail.  However, no sooner does my route join the PCT than it leaves it on the old Tahoe Yosemite Trail.  I am walking South for this first leg of the Strange Loop.  I rejoin the PCT briefly over near Sonora Pass.  I quickly part ways again though for the Sierra High Route.  I will not join back up with the PCT again until just South of Forrester Pass.  At this point though until I reach the Southern terminus of the PCT I will stay on the PCT.  When I think of some of the crux moves of this route, the Mojave Desert in July ranks high.  Having walked the first 700 miles of the PCT 3 times now I am not looking forward to it.  It is a good challenge and worth the effort, but overall the scenery and nature of this section of the PCT is lacking.  Let alone it continues to burn more and more.

Micro w/ Reno in the distance.  In 15 miles of pretty urban walking one can access the Mt. Rose Wilderness
Micro in the heart of the Mt. Rose Wilderness looking west into Martis Valley
Micro on the Tahoe Rim Trail with Lake Tahoe as a backdrop...if I am lucky Micro will pace car me into the Strange Loop
Micro on the Tahoe Yosemite Trail which runs west of the PCT
typical view on the Sierra High Route which I prefer over the JMT/ PCT
Pretty much sums up the 700 miles south of Kennedy Meadows along the PCT
which isn't to say there isn't beauty to be found...although that haze to the middle right of the photo is smog.  Imagine breathing that every day while you hump your gear over mountains in 100* weather.
Once reaching the Southern terminus of the PCT I will retrace my route back into the town of Campo, CA.  From here I will ride a public bus into San Diego.  If all goes well I will be staying with friends there and transitioning to the first bike leg of the Strange Loop.  Once mobile by bicycle I will pedal from their house down to the Pacific Ocean and begin my pedal across the US to Maine.  My route is anything but direct, but should provide lots of opportunity to time travel.  In Maine I will pedal up to the entrance of Baxter State Park.  I will then pedal back to a small town and transition back to hiker mode.  This requires the boxing up of the bike and hopefully a hand off to more friends for storage for the winter.

New England in fall on the AT?  You betcha!
At this point I will hitchhike / shuttle out to the point I left off of on the bicycle ( the Southern entrance of BSP ).  At this point I will have a short road walk to a trailhead that will allow me to walk the Knifes Edge to the summit of Katahdin.  From this point on I will be on the Appalachian Trail and I need to push the pace as much as I can to the Southern part of Vermont.  My reasoning for this is so that I get as much of the higher elevation walking behind me before winter hits in New England.  From Southern Vermont on I have all the time in the world actually to navigate the rest of the AT.  The AT in winter is no joke and definitely poses significant challenges.  This would be another crux move on the Strange Loop.  I will break off of the AT after the Great Smokie Mountains National Park onto the Benton MacKaye Trail.  I will take the BMT south to another trail, the Georgia Pinhoti Trail and then the Alabama Pinhoti Trail.  The APT I am taking to a little town in Alabama named Sylacauga.  In Sylacauga I will once again transition from hiking back to bicycling.

on the AT looking south into GSMNP (the Smokies).  The Smokies will be formidable in winter.
Believe it or not mapping a bicycle route through Alabama proved quite difficult.  My initial route option was the Underground Railroad Route, but it proved to be too far west and require navigating around some of the bigger cities in AL.  I tried hard to see if I could get any info at all about better roads to pedal on, but to no avail.  I eventually resorted to somewhat following what may be a proposed route for the United States Bicycle Route System.  Many of the roads in AL have no shoulder whatsoever and are mounded up from the swampy land they traverse.  The route I chose does have the advantage of avoiding all the major urban areas in AL and it keeps me off major freeways.  I will have to be very alert and cautious no doubt about it, no doubt another crux move.  I am just hoping I can navigate this 500+ miles safely without mishap to the Gulf of Mexico where I join the Southern Tier Route.  From this point I am looking forward to much of the final bicycle route.  I am making a short detour off of the route to Big Bend National Park and even a smaller detour yet into Terlingua, TX so that I may enjoy a beer on the porch while I watch the sun set on the Chisos.  Just like old times eh?  Back up from here to the Southern Tier again and pedaling West past the official Southern Terminus of the Contenintal Divide Trail.  I eventually will have to pedal an out and back again in Coronado National Monument to tag what will be my last and final walking leg of the Strange Loop.  I will transition one last time just South of Sierra Vista, AZ.  Mailing the "Champ" home for good.  I will shuttle from here back out to Coronado National Monument and begin my version of the Continental Divide Trail on the Arizona Trail.  One neat fact is that once I begin this last walking leg of the Strange Loop I have 5,100 contiguous miles of walking ahead of me back to my front door!

prolly enjoy an ice cold frosty and take this in... the Chisos Mountains
starting at the border of Sonora and climbing to 9,000 ft day one?  AZT looking north into the Miller Peak Wilderness
I chose my version of the Continental Divide Trail based on my first hand knowledge of having spent quite a bit of time rambling around the part of New Mexico the "official" CDT traverses.  I am making the Strange Loop one of my trips of a lifetime.  I am in no rush whatsoever.  I wanted to maximize the elevation gained, the animals seen and see incredible landscapes.  Slogging the "official" CDT isn't packed with any of that.  I will break off the AZT up where it joins a route I walked a few years back, the Grand Enchantment Trail.  Again this was a huge factor in selecting my alternate to the "official" CDT.  I much preferred visiting Araviapa Canyon, Santa Teresa Wilderness and the Grahams above Safford, AZ.  I also get to traverse the high peaks in the Gila Wilderness.  You know that place I had a mountain lion come into my camp!  Yeah!  Black bear and elk galore too.  Let alone the birding in these riparian areas are superb, but more about that later.  So I will join the CDT just north of the Gila Wilderness.  I am hoping this will allow me to skip Doc Campbells resupply too.  From here to Glacier National Park I will follow the CDT through some of the most wild, remote and high scenery our grand country has to dish up.

On the AZT looking south into Sonora.  Parker Canyon Lake is in the distance.
typical Grand Enchantment scenery... one may walk with their ancestors here
Once I reach Waterton Lake in GNP I will break off onto another lesser known National Scenic Trail, the Pacific Northwest Trail.  I thought it was pretty cool as I was mapping it out that it closely follow some of last years Tippy Top Tour.  I will be on the PNT for roughly 600 miles until I reach the Pacific Crest Trail just South of its Northern terminus with the border of Canada.  If there is one sad thing about the Strange Loop it is the fact it doesn't spend much time in Canada (just a brief jog into Canada near Buffalo, NY).  I am surely going to miss my Tim Hortons! Man the crux moves keep piling on!

Near the Northern Terminus of the CDT in Glacier National Park
Now that I am back on the Pacific Crest Trail,  I will Southbound the PCT back to my front door in Reno, NV.  I am making a detour to the flanks of Mt. Lassen off of the "official" PCT though.  I was finding it real hard to muster a 4th slog of the Hat Creek Rim.  Instead of skirting Mt. Lassen with far off views through miles of burns, my route takes me right through the heart of the park.

some of the scenery I will be inputting near the end of the Strange Loop...PCT in the North Cascades
If all goes well (and there is plenty that needs to go well) late fall of 2015 I will return my home where the Strange Loop started.  I am hoping this will be true:

"and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. " T S Eliot

This will be the first time anyone has connected the 3 major long distance trails ( PCT/ CDT/ AT ) in America under ones own power.  There is a catch and that is the 3 times I will need to use vehicles: San Diego, Baxter State Park and Sierra Vista, AZ.  The entire Strange Loop will connect and be traversed under my own power though.  In addition to these shuttles that are made necessary by the nature of the route, I will most likely need to hitch to some of my resupplies on the CDT.  So, I make the claim to navigating the entire route under my own power, but without the distinction of some of my prior adventures where rides were entirely refused.

What is the reasoning behind the route and the adventure?  I have always wanted to connect the 3 major long distance trails contiguously, but I was confused on how to do so under my own power.  My wife mentioned many times as an idea splitting the PCT into 2 distinct segments based on the location of our home near the midpoint.  After years of pondering possible itineraries, I finally figured out that this route of the Strange Loop was very doable.  Another reason for the route beginning and ending at my front door has to do with my commitment to leaving as small a footprint as possible while here on planet Earth.  I don't need to travel to some exotic locale or fly half way around the world to experience the wildness that beckons right out my front door.  In addition to that, connecting the trails by bicycle and walking proves to be the perfect speed to continue to collect data for science.  I will be collecting data for an additional study too, but more on science and all the technology I am going to lug in another post.

I would also like to take a moment to underscore the reason why I choose to share my adventure with as many like minded individuals as possible.  I am not trying to self promote.  In fact I have taken back seat to what I am observing.  I am simply a vehicle for the story to be told.  I hope I may share with others how quickly our world is changing.  As the years pass by, I am becoming more aware of the fact I am nothing special.  I have been humbled by my experiences as of late.  I hope that comes through in what I share.  I am no more entitled to my planets resources than the very creatures I have been migrating with.  I am no more self important than someone who never ventures further than their mailbox.  In this day in age of social media and what not, it would really bum me out if anyone thought I am just all about the "me" show.

Time to wrap up this post!  Ok, so lets finish off with some fun facts!

How long is the Strange Loop?  How much walking?  How much bicycling?

15,674 miles (give or take a few hundred)
8,628 miles of hiking
7,046 miles of bicycling

What are some of the major long distance trails it traverses as well as bicycling routes?

Pacific Crest Trail
Tahoe Rim Trail
Tahoe Yosemite Trail
Sierra High Route
Appalachian Trail
Benton MacKaye Trail
Georgia Pinhoti Trail
Alabama Pinhoti Trail
Arizona Trail
Grand Enchantment Trail
Continental Divide Trail
Pacific Northwest Trail

Southern Tier
Grand Canyon Connector
Western Express
Trans America
Underground Railroad
Northern Tier

How many states and provinces does the Strange Loop visit?

35 states and 1 province:

New York
New Hampshire
New Jersey
West Virginia
North Carolina
New Mexico

How long will it take to complete the Strange Loop?

16 months

Lastly here is a rough version of the Google Earth route I have made.  Yesterday after I got all the route finished, I about lost it when it proved to be to large to load into Google Earth.  I then took a break and realized that I could simplify the route ( less points ).  So compared to my other maps I have created when you drill way down into it, you will notice the route isn't clamped directly to the true route all of the way.  I just needed it to fit onto one map and load fast so people may see the route.  I hope again to have this linked up like my routes in the past with regards to having it tied to my Spot messenger.  That way the proof is in the pudding, that I am out doing what it is I am saying I am doing.  Got to keep track of the time traveler!  Another note on the map below.  It is interactive.  WOAH!  Yeah I know.  Pretty LO - FI.  So if you want to drill down and look at what trail is what and some of the notes on each route by all means get learned up!

View Larger Map


  1. Curious how you can move to a different position and find yourself in relatively the same place. Also the converse (which you point out) how you can return to the same place, but it is different because time has passed. Always a fan of your adventures and the perspective you share.

  2. Amazing.

    Hard to believe all of that was completed in 16 months.

  3. I am a almosg a freshman and have always wanted to thru hike the CDT, PCT, and AT. As soon as i saw the "strange loop" i wanted to do somEthing like it. What time in your life did you do this? Do you have any tips to i should hold on to.