Archive for July, 2012

Checking in from Salome, AZ …

We didn’t realize as we planned this trip that we would arrive in the desert and mountain areas of the southwest during what the locals know as the monsoon season. I always thought that “monsoon” meant simply torrential rains. The true definition, however, is a seasonal change in wind direction that brings with it a change in precipitation. That is what happens at this time of year from west Texas through New Mexico, Arizona and the desert area of southern California. The wind shifts from a predominantly southwesterly direction and comes from the southeast bringing with it moisture from the Gulf of Mexico. The humidity in this normally arid part of the country rises, afternoon thundershowers become commonplace and there are occasional days of rain, sometimes heavy.

We’ve experienced some amazing afternoon thunderstorms while on this trip. Today, we had the first day in a long time when the rains continued from overnight. The rain was spotty, on and off, light to heavy, in the valley where I walked today. It must have been much heavier in the mountains that are visible through the low hanging clouds to our east. All the way back into Texas, we have seen dried up river and stream beds and washes. As the water moved west off the mountains this morning, we saw turbulent water rushing down through the washes. This was a light day according to the locals with the moving water staying within stream banks and basically flowing through the designated washes. It was easy to see, however, why this area is subject to flash floods. And frankly, it was a little scary. Wouldn’t want to be around when the torrents hit. We don’t quite understand why the sandy desert floor doesn’t soak up the rain before the big runoffs occur. Finding high ground is recommended, however, when rain is heavy. After the raging waters pass, the land dries quickly enough and the waterways return to their normally bone dry appearance.

I encountered a small rattlesnake on the shoulder of the road today. Since it didn’t move, I assumed it was dead. But just to be sure, I poked at it from a distance with my trusty trekking pole (normally used just to fend off aggressive dogs). Thankfully getting no response, I took out a small knife and cut off the rattles for my granddaughters to see after this trip. A good rattlesnake is a dead rattlesnake.

I mentioned in a prior blog that I had met a new friend, Myron Hartline, who walked a ways with me as I was leaving the Phoenix area. As Myron pointed out, it was actually last Thursday, not Friday as I reported (the days sometimes blend together out here). Well, Myron got inspired. He informed me today that he walked 1.3 miles on Friday, 1.8 on Saturday, took a rest day on Sunday, but both he and his wife were planning to walk on Monday. As Myron stated, he had to let his “body know that walking is a now a part of his new reality.” The mantra is 45-60 minutes of brisk exercise, 4-5 times a week to improve cardio health. Way to go Myron! Great start, now keep it up. Hope others get similarly inspired. You guys inspire me when you embrace heart health.

Over the next few days, our path heads northwest toward Parker, our last stop in beautiful Arizona. We hope to visit Lake Havasu and the London Bridge while up that way.

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Checking in from Wickenburg, AZ …

The walk from Sun City and Surprise toward the town of Wickenburg was long, flat and hot. Temperatures continue to approach 100 during my time on the road and rise to 106-108 later in the afternoon, when I’m holed up in the RV or somewhere with AC. I got a nice surprise late in my walk on Friday. A friend of a friend showed up with ice cold water bottles and a desire to participate in the trek. Myron Hartline is a friend of my good friend and former colleague, Kevin Nickson. Now he’s a friend of mine also. Myron was a trooper, walked a little more than a mile with me at a very good pace in hot sun. It was good to have the company and good to get to know Myron. Meeting great people has been a real highlight of this trip for both Brenda and me.

Leaving the Valley of the Sun, the road gradually inclines toward the town of Wickenburg, AZ which bills itself as “where the West is still wild.” The town certainly looks the part with an historic and well maintained downtown that could be right out of the late 19th century. Along the fertile plain of the Hassayampa River, farmers and ranchers began to settle this area following the end of the Mexican-American war in 1848. Then in 1863, a group of miners led by Henry Wickenburg discovered gold at what would come to be the Vulture Mine. They formed the fledgling community of Wickenburg and survived ten years of attacks by hostile Yavapai Indians during which some 400 settlers and 1,000 warriors were killed. Not until the US Army intervened, was the future of Wickenburg assured. Meanwhile the Vulture Mine flourished, with over $30 million in gold taken from the ground. At today’s prices, that would equate to almost $400 million in value.

The downtown area of Wickenburg is vibrant with almost all the buildings occupied by cafes, saloons, western wear stores, and Indian art and souvenir stores. Sidewalks are lined with remarkably realistic sculptures consisting of eight works and sixteen “linking pieces” all in bronze such as a miner walking with his mule and a cowboy talking with a saloon girl. There is an interesting “jail tree” where prisoners were manacled before the town built a jail. The centerpiece of the historic area, however, is the Desert Caballeros Western Museum. This is a first-class facility dedicated to the culture, history and art of the area. There are outstanding collections of western ranching and mining equipment, clothing and furniture. Cowboy paraphernalia including hats, chaps, saddles, bridles, quirts, boots, holsters and guns of all types are on display. A downstairs area recreates exactly how Wickenburg looked in 1880. Additionally, the museum currently has a wonderful special black and white photograph exhibit that traces 100 years of Arizona ranching.

From the 1920’s through the 1980’s, Wickenburg was also known as the “dude/guest ranch capital of the world” with as many as twenty ranches attracting city slickers over the years. Several ranches like the Flying E and Kay El still attract tourists wanting to experience ranch life with varying degrees of comfort. Other dude ranches like the Rancho de los Caballeros have evolved into a golf report while one of the original ranches, the Remuda, has been converted into the nation’s leading eating disorder treatment facility utilizing horses as part to the therapy.

As we leave the nice little town, we will travel west on Hwy 60 through Aguila, Wenden and Salome and then turn northwest through Bouse on Hwys 72 and 95 to Parker on the Arizona border. California is just a week or so away.

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Checking in from Surprise, AZ …

Boy, it’s easy to get lazy. That’s one of the reasons that a regular exercise program is so critical to heart health. Brenda and I had a couple of down days at the fabulous Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale since my last blog, and I have had to be retrained both on walking and on keeping up this chronicle of our trip.

Before walking into metro Phoenix, we were parked at an RV park on the Fort McDowell Indian Reservation. As is typical in the desert, there was absolutely no grass. This has been a big problem for Zuzu, who has been used to doing her business on grass. So we went to REI to buy her some leather booties that we had seen on other dogs who hike the Arizona desert. We were warned that it might take some time before Zu would take to something on her feet. Sure enough, she hopped around like a rabbit and then tried to bite the booties off. No business got done. Jury is out on whether she’ll keep struggling on the sand and gravel or will learn to handle the boots.

This RV park was in a fairly developed area, but we still encountered some Arizona wildlife—a roadrunner that seemed unconcerned with us and a stray cow who apparently felt right at home around the park. We’ve also encountered several pretty big tarantula spiders in the desert. Fortunately, no snakes or coyotes yet.

On my early morning walk into Scottsdale, I encountered scores of bicyclists, many of which who shouted encouragement to me. Three stopped to visit and discuss my journey. Erik, Pete and Scott explained that the riders were preparing for the Arizona Ironman Triathlon to be held in November. I am in awe of what they have to do—a 2.4 mile swim, a 26.2 mile marathon run and a 112 mile bike race—and they seemed impressed with my walk across the country. Personally, I think their feat is more difficult; mine just takes longer.

As I walked into Scottsdale proper, the affluence of the area was obvious. The street markers, sign posts and overpasses were unique and attractive. The homes were generally extremely nice and some even had grass yards. Canals make Scottsdale an oasis in the desert. Despite the heat of the desert, it is easy to see why Scottsdale is one of ten “most livable cities” in the US.

We hope you have checked out some of our photos on this website or on Facebook at Heart Trek USA. Between Brenda and me, we have snapped almost 6,000 photos so far. Some of them are actually pretty good, though they don’t adequately capture the great views we have experienced. With so many photos, our I-phones and even our computer were getting pretty full. Thanks to a knowledgeable and patient new friend, Bernard Ibardolaza, at the Apple Store, we were able to backup and store the photos on an external hard drive, and clear capacity for more photos. Hope we’ll find a few more sights that will peak your interest.

While in Scottsdale a television crew filmed an interview about my walk. The footage is available to the ABC, CBS and Fox affiliates. (Bankers never cooperate that way.) Don’t know yet if anything will air. I also surprised by a contact from the Road Runners Sports store in Tempe. Jonathan Woehl, their grass roots marketing manager, asked me to come by to pick-up a pair of new shoes to help me complete my trek into Santa Monica. Coupled with the new shoes provided by my AHA friends and Fleet Feet in Raleigh, which also arrived while I was in Scottsdale, I just might make it to the end with some tread left.

We had a great visit at the Phoenician. Thanks go to many people—our friend Kelly Hurter; Lauren Gray, Allee Harrell and Sloan Garner at American Heart Association in Raleigh; Jessica Brown at AHA in Phoenix; and Denise Seomin, Sheryl McCormick and Beverly Skripsky at The Phoenician. The property is first-class and five-star. Brenda got some rest. I was treated to a massage, which my tired feet and legs truly appreciated. And Zuzu had maybe the best time. Since dogs are allowed in the Castinas at The Phoenix, Zu was in high cotton. She had plenty of lush grass to run on, a big room to explore and other dogs to play with. We were spoiled and pampered and are very appreciative.

Now it’s back to the task at hand. From Surprise, we head west to Wickenburg with California only about 150 miles away and Santa Monica less than 500.

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Checking in from Fort McDowell Indian Reservation, AZ …

My Spanish speaking friends will have to forgive me—I think one of those terms means hot weather and the other means hot women. Regardless, it is very caliente, very, very hot in the Valley. As in 108 degrees in the afternoon. Yes, we know it’s a dry heat; so is a furnace. But I am being careful and am walking only in the morning when temps range from the upper 80’s to the upper 90’s with plenty of liquids for hydration. Then we hold up in the RV with the air conditioner struggling to keep it tolerable. We now understand why we met so many residents of this area who were summering in the higher elevations back on our path.

The trip down into the Valley of the Sun has been anything but easy. It is not a steady downgrade as I hoped but is a series of steep up and downgrades of up to 6 degrees that sometimes run for two to four miles. As runners/walkers will attest, uphills test one’s stamina while steep downhills stress shins, knees and quads. The scenery coming into the Valley, however, is terrific. Mountains, rugged hills, boulders, canyons, ravines and washes. Our pictures do not do the vista justice. Both Brenda and I are fascinated with the saguaro cacti that dot the landscape. When most people think of cacti, they have an image of the saguaro. Actually, however, the saguaro cactus grows exclusively in the Sonoran Desert of central and south Arizona and western Mexico. This species grows up to 25 feet in height, is tree-like and columnar, covered in needle-like spires, and it grows upward tilting branches (properly called arms) as it ages. Check out Heart Trek USA on Facebook and website for lots of photos of saguaro cacti.

Once the heat builds up, late afternoon weather can be a little frightening. On our second afternoon in the area, we encountered one of the famous Phoenix dust storm which we almost outran in our little car. The sight of a sky-high, seemingly solid wall of golden dust headed your way can be somewhat disconcerting. High winds push the wall forward, to be followed by hard rain, thunder, lightning and often hail. With little grass in the area, except on golf courses, the dust storms are a frequent hazard. Not to be taken lightly.

For the next two days, I will be making my way across the Valley, mostly on Camelback Road through Scottsdale. Then we take a day of rest at the fabulous Phoenician Hotel. We’ll probably feel like GSA employees on a taxpayer-paid boondoggle. Stay tuned.

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Checking in from Payson, AZ …

The rim country, with Payson at its center, is a beautiful part of America. Rugged and ever changing, the area is a destination for hikers, horseback riders and ATV enthusiasts. As a walker, I can hardly wait to see the view around the next bend. Leaving Payson and headed toward Mesa, the rolling terrain is on a general downgrade through the Mazatzal wilderness into the desert and the Valley of the Sun. With each mile covered, the elevation goes down while the temperature goes up. The cool nights will soon be behind us. Forecasts in the upcoming days indicate consistently high temperatures in the 100-110 degree range with lows at night sometimes not going below 90.

Payson has several claims to fame. In August of this year, Payson will observe and celebrate its 128th consecutive annual rodeo, the longest running such event in the country. Payson is also a center point on the Hashknife Pony Express Ride. Each January for the last 54 years, members of the Navajo County Sheriff’s Posse and their invited guests have reenacted a 200 mile pony express ride along the majestic Mogollon Rim and the wilderness of the Mazatzal range from Holbrook, AZ through Overgaard, Heber, Payson, and Fountain Hills to Scottsdale. They actually carry US Postal mail with a special $1 postage. The term “Hashknife” originated from the cutting tool that chuck wagon cooks used to cut beef into hash while on cattle drives. The Sheriff’s Posse owns the Hashknife brand, which has come to be the official emblem of the modern Pony Express. Neither rain, snow, sleet nor dark of night…

The prolific Western novelist Zane Grey also called Payson home. Grey was an Ohio dentist who came to love the rim country after being influenced by the western “dime novels” of his youth. Until his death in 1939 at age 67, Grey penned 96 novels of which 80 were set in the rim country and vividly described cowboy and pioneer life. Among his titles were Riders of the Purple Sage, Under the Tonto Rim, Code of the West and To the Last Man. His novels were adapted into 110 movies and a television series from the 1950’s called Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theater.

Thanks to new friends, Daren Fry of the Oxbow RV Park and Phil Ryder of the Hike, Bike and Run Shop, my walk got some publicity while in the Payson area. Daren contacted the local newspaper, The Payson Roundup, and arranged an interview and photo shoot. Phil got us an interview on the dominating local radio station, KMOG 1420 AM. Both Brenda and I had some on air time with DJ Ron Gibson. We really enjoyed the visit with Ron and the opportunity to share our story (and talk classic country music).

By the weekend, we should reach the Mesa and Phoenix area. Being ahead of schedule, we hope to take a rest and sight-seeing day or so while in the Valley.

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Special thanks and appreciation to Fleet Feet in Raleigh, NC for the gift of a pair of my favorite walking shoes, Asics Kayano . I have only 5 pair of shoes left and the tread is almost gone and they sent me a pair to Phoenix, AZ. Please go by Fleet Feet at 3532 Wade Ave. (Ridge Road S/C) and tell them you saw my blog/Facebook page and thought they made a great gesture to benefit Heart Trek USA and the American Heart Association in Raleigh. Check them out at

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The end of my trek is in sight (just under 500 miles left) and we are making plans for the celebration in Santa Monica, CA. If you are planing to join us Labor Day weekend, please let me know as we have a deadline of tomorrow, Thursday, 7/19/12, evening to secure hotel rooms at a discounted price. Email me if you plan to attend,

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Checking in from the Tonto National Forest, near Forest Lakes, AZ …

As my walk took me through the high country of the White Mountains of Arizona, we were in an area called the Tall Pines region. And tall pines there are; mile after mile of ponderosa pines. Somehow it looked familiar. With just a little imagination, you can see Adam, Hoss and Little Joe headed over the next ridge to meet Ben (Pa) Cartwright at the big cabin in the pines.

We spent a couple of nights in the area at a very homey RV park in Overgaard. The folks there were very friendly and interested in our journey. Most of the residents are there for the summer, enjoying the cool nights and escaping the heat of what they call the valley—Valley of the Sun or Phoenix area. They have a recreation hall and make their own entertainment–cards almost every night, pot luck dinners, special events. We enjoyed one of their twice monthly rituals, a country jam session. Eight musicians played and sang old standard country and western and gospel songs. Tunes from way back made famous by artists like Hank Williams, Don Gibson, George Jones and even a Dale Evans yodeling song. Can’t say the entertainment was world class, but the spirit was there and the audience including us had a good time. Simpler pleasures.

In the neighboring town of Heber, we experienced an authentic Mexican restaurant (as opposed to what passes for Mexican back east). The food at Casa Rosa was plentiful, spicy and very good. Brenda enjoyed the enchiladas while I had the grilled fish tacos. And, yes, we each had a margarita. Our treat for the week.

Leaving Heber-Overgaard, my path went on a steady climb from 5,200 feet elevation back up to 7,700 feet on the Mogollon Rim. The rim is a huge cliff area that extends for many miles, rising several hundred feet above and overlooking a wide and beautiful valley. The area is named for the Mogollon culture and people who lived in the southwest from approximately 150-1450 AD. The Mogollons were mostly annihilated by and somewhat assimilated into the emerging Apache nation. The views from the rim were truly spectacular. Be sure to check out some of the photos on Facebook at Heart Trek USA.

I am headed next to Payson on the center of the Rim on Hwy 260 with much of the walk downhill for a change back to an elevation of roughly 5,000 feet. After Payson, we tackle another tough part of our journey as we make our way down Hwy 87 through the Apache Indian Reservation and the Mazatzal Wilderness to the Valley of the Sun. Tough because there is very little parking or development for 80 plus miles.

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Checking in from Overgaard, AZ …

While in Show Low, Arizona, we stayed in an “age qualified” RV park. That means you have to be over 55 years of age to stay in the park. This was perhaps the nicest park we have visited to date, but for me it was depressing. The average age seemed to be approaching 80. I’ve never seen so much white and blue hair in my life. Don’t get me wrong—these were very nice people, and they seemed to really enjoy the community. I was the one out of place. I’m just not ready for bingo, shuffleboard, bridge games and square dance lessons. I’m sure my sons and many others would agree that if I want to see old people, all I have to do is look in the mirror. Just don’t make everyone around me look like the guy in the mirror.

While Show Low is a very pretty and apparently affluent resort town, it does have a downside that was particularly frustrating for Brenda, who logs many miles ferrying me to and from starting and ending points for my walks. The town is an absolute speed trap. We had been forewarned that traffic cameras were everywhere and that speed limits changed frequently with no logical reason for the changes with many of the cameras located on pretty steep downslopes. No tolerance – one mile over, you get ticketed. So we crept through town watching very little other than how fast we were going. Who needs that stress? Apparently, Arizona drivers feel the same way since once outside the city, they drive like there is no speed limit. Something about those “A” states—worse drivers to date have been in Alabama and Arizona.

I get questioned frequently about how many pairs of shoes I am using on this walk across the continent. I started with seven pairs, two of which were used in training. I wear support/comfort running shoes which have a life of three to four hundred miles before the midsoles are so compressed that they no longer offer either support or comfort. This generally happens long before the outsoles are worn though. So after having logged 2,600 miles, you can imagine that my shoes are on their last legs. So my friends, Lauren and Allee at the Triangle American Heart Association, have come to my rescue. They approached Amanda at Raleigh’s Fleet Feet Store and brought her up to date on my trek. Amanda generously has donated a pair of my brand of shoes, Asics Kayanos, plus a shirt and some electrolyte tablets which are being shipped to Phoenix for me to pick-up. Now I won’t have to walk into Santa Monica in my flip flops. Thanks, Lauren, Allee and Amanda. For my hometown Raleigh friends, please visit Fleet Feet at the corner of Wade Avenue and Ridge Road. Fleet Feet is the premier running/walking store in the area and a big proponent of cardiovascular health.

Brenda and I have been on the road for 136 days, of which 130 have been spent in the RV (the other six were in the homes of friends and family). While the RV is nice enough, it gets a little old after a while. So our friend Kelly Hurter, formerly with the American Heart Association, decided that we needed a night of luxury. When we reach the Phoenix area, she has arranged for us to stay for a night at the fabulous five-star Phoenician Hotel in Scottsdale. She even talked them into letting Zuzu go with us. Kelly, we really appreciate your thoughtfulness and look forward to a escaping the RV and enjoying our night at the Phoenician.

As we plan for the end of my walk, we are having trouble finding an affordable hotel to house ourselves, friends and family who want to help us celebrate the completion of this journey. Also, we need a safe place to park the RV for the last couple of days. Since my walk will be finished on Labor Day weekend, RV parks are booked and hotels have jacked rates. If anyone has a suggestion or contacts in the Santa Monica area, we would greatly appreciate any guidance or assistance.

Over the next week or so, I will be walking on Hwy 260 to Payson, AZ and then on Hwy 87 to Mesa in the Phoenix area. Hope to see you along the way.

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Checking in from Show Low, AZ …

My normal day starts at 5:15AM when I arise to get the kinks out of the old body and prepare for my morning walk. Out of the RV by 6:00 and on the road by 6:30-6:45. So on the first day of starting my walk in Arizona, I was just keeping with my normal routine. But I was the only one up and moving, and Brenda was at McDonald’s for a morning coffee before the employees had arrived. In fact, the entire town of Springerville was buttoned up tight. We had been in the Mountain Time Zone since we’d entered New Mexico three weeks ago, and Arizona was in same zone, right? So I checked my I-Phone and asked Siri (who gets things right once in a while), what was up and what time it was? Come to find out, Arizona is in the Mountain Time Zone but is one on two states (Indiana is the other) that does not observe Daylight Savings Zone. I had inadvertently gotten up at 4:15AM. How will I ever get that hour of sleep back?

Now just about 50 miles into Arizona, Brenda and I are amazed at the terrain. Not only is it beautiful, but it seems to change every few miles. Mountains, forests, valleys, plains, sometimes something that looks like a moonscape. To get a little feel for what we are seeing, please check out our latest portfolio on Face book at Heart Trek USA. Or better still, come visit the White Mountains area of Arizona.

Meeting people remains one of the great parts of this journey. My latest contact was a lady who stopped to hand me a bottle of cold water, always appreciated. She had braided hair, an elaborate necklace and a friendly face. Turns out she was a full-blooded Apache Indian named Wandering Cloud. She said she was a regular supporter of the American Heart Association and really appreciated my trek for heart health. As we will be in or skirting the Fort Apache and San Carlos Indian Reservations for the next week or so, Wandering Cloud told me that if we experienced any problems we should simply tell everyone that we were her friends. It pays to have friends in high places (or on reservations).

On advice from Arizona natives, we have made a major change to our route from Show Low to Phoenix. We had planned to travel through the Salt River Canyon but were advised that it just was not safe for either a walker or an RV. Too many hairpin turns, too much rise and fall to the terrain, absolutely no shoulders and no pull-offs whatsoever. So we are diverting our path to the Mogollon Rim and the Mazatzal Wilderness. After Show Low, we head to Heber and Payson before heading south to Mesa and Phoenix and the 110 degree heat.

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