I’m Mudhole. It’s the trail name given to me a few years ago by fellow backpackers who had watched me filter some pretty gross and muddy water sources through my Sawyer Squeeze filter and then drink it without hesitation. When you’re thirsty, you do what you have to do. The name stuck. I’ve lived in Arizona my entire life, not because I never wanted to live anywhere else, but I just find it to be a very suitable state to live in if you do love the outdoors. From desert lakes to snow covered peaks and every biome in between, there is always multiple enjoyable outdoor activities across the state any day of the year.
I’ve been an outdoorsman since my grandfather taught me how to fish when I was 6 years old, and my desire to spend time and learn more about nature was ignited. My passion for spending time in the outdoors continued when I was in Scouts, where I could spend time with like-minded boys my age who all found something inspirational about being in the wilderness and learning more about increasing our outdoor IQ. Other family members and friends taught me how to properly hunt and handle firearms. I soaked it up like a sponge, and have always enjoyed fishing, car camping, off-roading and just exploring. Later in life when I realized a career wasn’t everything and my health was failing, I took up hiking and then moved into more serious backpacking.
I discovered that the only way I could maintain an exercise routine was to start something enjoyable and outside. One small hike turned into another, and within a relatively short time I wanted to go further and higher each trip and challenge what my “new” body could do. Once my body began to work right and get stronger, I put on a larger pack and filled it with gear and spent some weekends living out of what I could carry on my back. As I continued to challenge myself physically and learn more about the hobby I had fallen in love with, I took up longer thru-hikes in amazing places.
And then in late 2018 I had a significant stroke. My balance was destroyed. Fatigue is insanely high. My vision is off. Part of my body is weaker than the other. So I was physically reset back to the learning how to walk again and even how to swallow right. Cognitively I stayed intact, but things are tough now and hopefully with more physical therapy, I can get to a point where I can backpack again. It’s a long process that I have to stay diligent at, but I’m not giving up.
So, this site used to be just a place to share my adventures with family and friends and is now my own bit of therapy. I like to look back at my photos and videos and reminisce, as it motivates me to still want hike more. I still enjoy all that the hiking and backpacking world entails, I just have a body that doesn’t want to cooperate for now.
Mudhole Outdoors – a place for me to share what I’ve learned from my own experiences. Not just where to go, but how to prepare for it. From what gear to bring, how to choose the right gear, what to eat, how to cook it, how to provide comfortable shelter, navigation and use of outdoor tech, etc., I find I really enjoy honing each of these skills and studying every way to improve my outdoor experience. I found it is so critical learning to establish efficient camp routines, training for the physical difficulties of backpacking and other strenuous activities, and countless other ways make the outdoor experience more fun than work. After all, it’s not therapeutic if it’s more of a chore than a reward.
Oh, and I’m obsessed with gear. I’m still always comparing new solutions to gear challenges. Does it have more uses? Is it smaller and lighter? Does it make my camp routine faster and easier? Is the cheap option as good as the expensive one? So I have hordes of lightly used or new gear in my gear room that others may want at a good price. I’ll list them up in the Store if they’re up for grabs.
So, Why Did I Hike?
I get asked this question a lot. Well, I guess it really got started in 2013 when I was suffering from some back pain and went to my physician for treatment. While sitting in his office, the nurse took my vitals and called the doctor into the room to look at my blood pressure reading, which was 185/120 at rest. I wasn’t able to leave the office with those numbers unless it was in an ambulance, so I was started on blood pressure medication on the spot. Further testing from that visit confirmed even more bad news — I was diagnosed with uncontrolled type-2 Diabetes. I also weighed my heaviest at 263 pounds. I was devastated.
I have never felt my own mortality as much as I did that week. Hell, I wasn’t even 40 yet and I was already on the path to an early death. I had been a pack-a-day smoker for 21 years, never got any routine exercise since my 20’s, had a desk job, and my eating habits were out of control. So, I made a commitment to quit my bad habits and do something about it instead of just popping prescriptions and waiting to die.
Getting started with a consistent, productive and enjoyable exercise was the hardest part of my recovery. I knew that I would never stick with a routine that wasn’t fun for me, and we all know how tedious it is to keep up a regular schedule at the local gym. I knew I had always been an avid camper, hunter and fisherman who had a passion for just simply being in the outdoors, and I was always envious that there were people who hiked and explored for many miles at a time on a single trip. Long hikes were completely inconceivable to me at the time, but I craved being on the trail more than I knew. Regardless, I knew that I had to start somewhere.
There some amazing backcountry locations in the U.S. that I haven’t seen, hidden in our own national forests, parks, and public recreation areas. Millions of acres of lands available to us in our own backyards that are barely seen by even a small percentage of the population. That was my motivation to use getting outdoors as my way of finally getting healthy and surviving my chronic illnesses. Thus begun a journey of better habits, exercise, and the birth of a strong internal competition to challenge myself to be stronger and healthier than I had ever been in my life.
So, I started walking. Walking around my neighborhood streets in the evening is where it began. That lead to trying to hike a local 3 mile trail close to my home, which I failed at. On my second attempt to climb this small mountain, I reached the summit and felt that rush of accomplishment which grew into a desire to do it again. And again. And again. Before I knew what was happening, I was looking for other local trails to test myself.
Within 2 years, my wife and I set foot on my first section hike of the John Muir Trail with a full pack of gear and food on my back and 28 miles of alpine wilderness ahead of us. I had never felt so physically fit in my entire life after that adventure, and I was hooked. Training continued with local hiking, and the following summer we set out on another section of the JMT again, conquering Mt. Whitney in a 48 mile trip. I came back to the JMT in 2017 and finished the final 160 miles in the solo adventure of a lifetime.
In the process of all of my hiking to this point, I have naturally brought my blood pressure down to manageable levels, almost to the point of being removed from my medication. My Diabetes a1C reading after my 2017 JMT hike was at completely normal levels without taking any medication at all. I have naturally lost over 45 pounds in these past 3 years simply by eating better and hiking. When I came off the JMT in 2017, I weighed 215 pounds. My back pain is gone, my legs are the strongest that they’ve ever been, and my old creaky knees are pain-free.
These significant improvements in my health inspired me to push things to the next level. How can I make sure that I don’t lose progress on my health now? How can I improve my numbers before my next doctor’s visit? I just keep walking, and it works.
And then I had a stroke. Just 2 days after a 19 mile cross country hike that gave me literally no feelings of illness. Actually, I felt at the top of my game. I spent a month in the hospital after having a total of 3 stroke events that affected my left cerebellum and part of my medulla oblongata. I lost my good balance, lost some coordination on my left side, some weird temperature and pain sensitivity confusion, and it gave me new permanent issues with heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing patterns. Cognitive abilities and memory stayed intact, as well as the ability communicate. Some may say that they’d rather have me shut up, but I’m just thankful I can get the words out and that people understand me. I’ve seen other stroke victims in my support groups that are in horrible condition, and I am thankful every day for the abilities that I still have considering the damage that was done. Doctors told me that was most likely due to my history of hiking and getting in shape which is a significant advantage in physical therapy. Yes, I was in shape and had a stroke. My past bad habits finally got me, but if I wasn’t in the shape that I was in from hiking, who knows how bad off I’d be today. Stay active and take care of yourselves, folks.
All I can think about now is “what’s next?”. I used to use the experience of hiking and backpacking to keep me exercising without it ever feeling like a burden. The freedom of walking through incredible scenery, and the feeling of accomplishment after each hike, is what drove me to keep going for more. Now, the stroke adds immense fatigue, and the risk of falling makes backpacking a distant thought at this point as I continue physical therapy to get stronger and in better control of my coordination again.
It’s never too late to start taking good care of yourself and to accomplish great personal feats. What better way to do it than with an activity that you love? Think about what you enjoy, and make a physical activity out of it. Get out there and see the world, but do it differently than you ever have and truly challenge yourself. Ditch the pavement and the crowded tourist traps, and let your own two feet to take you somewhere special. Who knows — it might just save your life.