What Kind of Hiker Am I?

Even after living in and exploring the wilderness of Arizona for two years I still consider myself a Michigan hiker. It's only fair, in some ways: my hunger for the outdoors started in the Upper Peninsula and I spent seven years up there hunting waterfalls and old growth and forgotten places. Two years in the desert does not replace that core part of my identity. But how much of me is still in the midwest versus the southwest? How much of a U.P. hiker do I remain? Well, I decided to look at the numbers to find out.

Miles Hiked

Since 2008 I have hiked a total of 2,650 miles, or around 300 miles per year. Which is actually much less than I had originally thought. That's about the length of the Pacific Crest Trail, something that most thru-hikers can chew through in less than half a year. So I'm 20 times less productive than a PCT thru-hiker. Eh, stretch goals. Anyways, here's a breakdown of my actual miles per year per state.

  1. Total Miles

  2. MI AZ

  3. 2008 524 0

  4. 2009 380 0

  5. 2010 358 0

  6. 2011 153 0

  7. 2012 100 0

  8. 2013 179 0

  9. 2014 186 86

  10. 2015 131 299

  11. 2016 0 260

2008 was a stand-out year. I spent months hacking through the wilds of Michigan hunting down hundreds of waterfalls through the summer and fall. The winter of 2009 slowed me down, and then Katie and I moved down to Wisconsin, which began to hurt my numbers. 2011, 2012, and 2013 were all tough years when it was hard for me to get the time off of work (and the extra money for gas) to make the drive north.

The average miles in each state per year doesn't illustrate much, as Michigan had a lot of fluctuation and AZ only has two full years of data to pull from. What is interesting is the recent resurgence. 2015 was the first year since 2010 that I clocked more than 300 miles, and 2016 is on track to do so as well. I think it's safe to say that the proximity of hiking locations (mostly within two hours) compared to the longer haul to Michigan from Appleton (three to five hours) has increased the number of miles I'm able to get under my boots.

Trip Count

Perhaps looking at the total number of hikes I've been on will shed some light. Since 2008 I've gone out 227 times on various adventures that could be counted as a 'trip'. A trip is anything from a day-hike to a backpack to a multi-day (like the few times I crashed at a friend's house during inclement weather). Anyways, these numbers follow a predictably similar pattern as the mile count.

  1. Total Trips

  2. MI AZ

  3. 2008 62 0

  4. 2009 35 0

  5. 2010 15 0

  6. 2011 10 0

  7. 2012 8 0

  8. 2013 9 0

  9. 2014 9 15

  10. 2015 1 29

  11. 2016 0 34

2008 and 2009, when Katie and I were living up in Houghton, was a hiking bonanza. I was going out two to three times a week. Then, the move to Wisconsin meant that monthly weekend trips were about all I could aim for. Now in Arizona I'm back up to more regular outings, though with the kids I'm lucky if I get out a few times a month. The same curve is due to the same reason: accessibility.

However, what about mileage? In 2008 I did 8 times the amount of trips than in 2012 but I only accumulated 5 times as many miles. This means that my miles per trip doesn't follow the same slope that these individual sets do.

  1. Avg Miles / Trip

  2. MI AZ

  3. 2008 8.5 0.0

  4. 2009 10.9 0.0

  5. 2010 23.9 0.0

  6. 2011 15.3 0.0

  7. 2012 12.5 0.0

  8. 2013 19.9 0.0

  9. 2014 20.7 5.8

  10. 2015 131.0 10.3

  11. 2016 0.0 7.7

Well, there's an outlier here. Let's just ignore that little 2015 trip to Isle Royale. So, even though 2010 - 2014, the Wisconsin years, had few trips and few total miles the trips during that span were pretty epic. I mean, in 2010 I would head up for a weekend and hike 24 miles on average. Not all of those trips spanned multiple days, which makes this number even more impressive. I barely hit an average mileage of 10 miles in Arizona last year and won't hit it this year (thanks to more short hikes with the boys). It'll be awhile before my average hike down here gets into the teens.

So what does this all mean? Well, trips per year followed the same general trend that the total mileage did, so there's nothing new there. The accessibility of the trails makes it easier to head out more often. An increased amount of day hikes, shorter hikes with the boys, and desert have all conspired to bring my average distance per hike down. I may be clocking more trips and more miles in Arizona, but the hikes are nowhere as extensive.

Backpacking Trends

What if we looked at one specific type of hike - the backpack. Do I backpack more or less often in Arizona than in Michigan? I'm using this term loosely here - from 2008 to 2014 I would haul my gear in for miles to set up a 'basecamp' and cook my meals and (eventually) filter water, though I am still hesitant on calling true backpacking. I would often leave camp behind and go on looping dayhikes with minimal gear. Nowadays I usually have all my gear in a single bag and set out on a trail, two or more days in a row, and if I'm hiking then I'm carrying the pack. For these stats I ignored that distinction and assumed that if there was a tent involved and I was out in the woods for more than a day it was a 'backpack'.

  1. Backpacking Breakdown

  2. Trips Days

  3. 2008 1 2

  4. 2009 4 9

  5. 2010 9 18

  6. 2011 7 14

  7. 2012 4 8

  8. 2013 4 8

  9. 2014 7 15

  10. 2015 5 19

  11. 2016 10 22

So, a slight uptick in the number of backpacks in recent years. Nothing strong enough to attribute to moving to Arizona. 10 backpacks this year is trending towards an impressive count (and I have 3 more planned ones in the books) but its too earlier to say definitively that I'm a desert backpacker instead of a Upper Peninsula hiker.


Let's get subjective. There are some trips that are just straight up epic. Faith and I first visiting Mulligan Falls, my solo hike around White Deer and Bulldog Lakes, that week on Isle Royale, or even that recent climb of Malapais in the Superstitions. I'll try to focus on trips that were successful (mostly), that had high mileage counts, high payoff (usually in unique views or experience), and that I still sit back and dream about when I'm supposed to be paying attention during a work meeting. Has moving to Arizona given me more epic hiking experiences?

  1. Epic Adventure Counts

  2. Arizona Michigan

  3. Epics % Epics %

  4. 2008 0 - 8 13

  5. 2009 0 - 5 14

  6. 2010 0 - 5 33

  7. 2011 0 - 3 30

  8. 2012 0 - 3 37

  9. 2013 0 - 3 33

  10. 2014 2 13 5 55

  11. 2015 5 17 1 100

  12. 2016 5 15 0 -

This reinforces some of the thoughts behind the miles per trip analysis from above. 2008 and 2009 had a lot of short day hikes, but then 2010 - 2014 involved a handful of long and awesome trips to Michigan. Even if I only made it up there sporadically there were a lot of trips that registered as epic and things were only getting better. Starting in Arizona is back to square one. This may be a subjective measure, sure, but I like it.

Back to the original question - what kind of hiker am I? Should I stop including 'Upper Peninsula Explorer' on my business cards? No. It may have been a few years since I last stepped foot in Michigan and I am now clocking a good amount of miles down here in the desert, yet I was good at hiking up there. My outings were more ambitious, they had more miles per trip, and the payoff was greater. I'm still learning how to do this Arizona hiking thing.