On the third weekend of May 2018, two men completed their quests to hike the entire 800-mile Arizona National Scenic Trail (AZT). Each started at different times and in different places. They finished in different spots, too.
Fact is, they had met previously, but didn’t really know much about each other. Nevertheless, each conquered what many hikers consider one of America’s most challenging, and rewarding, hikes.
Hiker Profile: Art “Karts” Huseonica, boomer (67) – All business
Art “Karts” Huseonica was a 67 year-old retired veteran of the U.S. Navy and academia when he took on the challenge. His approach to hiking the AZT was “all business.” On February 27 he got a ride from Patagonia, AZ to Montezuma Pass by Ken Morrow’s shuttle service. Then he hiked 1.8 miles southward to the trail’s starting point at the Arizona-Mexico border. From there, Karts headed north with a 42-pound (19 kg) pack on his back.
So business minded was Karts that he even lined up a few sponsors. He provided periodic updates on Twitter with snapshots of his views, campsites and noteworthy landmarks. On March 2, he woke up surrounded by snow. A week later, he struggled to find enough water to stay hydrated in 100-degree (F) heat. In an odd twist, he got snowed on again April 24th and May 4th. That’s Arizona for ya.
Hiker Profile: Patrick Fuchs, millennial (38) – Work hard, play hard
Patrick Fuchs was a 38 year-old millennial working five days a week at a pizza restaurant. His approach to completing the trail was “work hard, play hard.” He chipped away at one or two passages on the weekends, often celebrating at the end of each segment with an adult beverage or two.
Like Karts, Patrick faithfully shared his AZT journey via social media, especially on the Arizona Hiking group page on Facebook. Patrick’s pics from the trail were more numerous and intricate. Close-ups of animals are his specialty. Sure, they slowed down his pace, but the guy appreciates detail. Patrick posted plenty of interesting stories, too; often mentioning other hikers he met through the Arizona Hiking Group.
Patrick is as serious about socializing as he is hiking. During the 11-month span that he covered the AZT, he posted numerous invites for others to join him on different segments of the trail. As if time in the great outdoors wasn’t appealing enough, he’d sometimes sweeten the offer with perks like post-hike beers on the deck of a high country brewery, and at a tribute band concert in Tucson.
A couple of Arizona Trail hiker Patrick Fuch’s Facebook posts:
Patrick began hiking intently six or seven years ago as a means to cope with losing his job and his marriage.
“I was sort of forced into starting over from scratch,” Patrick said. “Things are not perfect. My 401(k) is pitiful. So I’m trying to keep a balance. But I have something I didn’t used to. Funny, I thought AZT would possibly be a capstone to this hiking type of life but it wasn’t. It made me want more.”
What is so special about the Arizona National Scenic Trail?
The Arizona National Scenic Trail — AZT for short — ranks up there with the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and a handful of other trails in the U.S. coveted by serious hikers. Perhaps the most distinguishing feature of the AZT is that goes through the Grand Canyon.
Perhaps the most distinguishing feature of the AZT is that goes through the Grand Canyon.
The idea for the trail was originally developed and promoted in 1985 by Dale Shewalter, a Flagstaff, Arizona, teacher. The Arizona Trail was designated as a National Scenic Trail on March 30, 2009 by the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009. It forms part of the 6,875-mile (11,064 km) Great Western Loop.
The AZT runs mostly north and south through Arizona’s rugged desert and high country terrain – from Mexico at the southern end to Utah in the north. Drinking water is very hard to come by and temperatures can be extreme.
Arizona National Scenic Trail quick facts
- Length: 800 miles (1,287 km)
- Terrain: Ranges from nearly lifeless desert to high alpine
- Lowest elevation: 1,700 ft (520 m)
- Highest elevation: 9,600 ft (2,900 m)
- Extreme temps: Below zero in the winter to 120º F + in summer
- Highlights: Santa Catalina Mountains, Mogollon Rim, San Francisco Peaks, Grand Canyon
- Uses: Hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, cross-country skiing
Karts is no stranger to grueling challenges. Aside from all the adventures he experienced in the Navy, Karts is a reality TV star of sorts for surviving a Bear Grylls challenge. In fact, the longest break Karts took from the trail was a 5-day stopover in Flagstaff so he could watch and promote the episode of Bear Grylls FACE THE WILD in which he was featured and quoted as follows:
“I’m terrified of growing old. I’m terrified of dying. So, I’ve been pushing myself almost all my life. I want to go with a clear conscience knowing that I’ve done everything in my life that I could. You’re never too old to have an adventure.” ~ Karts Huseonica
I gotta hike down there and then up the other side? Made it to the Grand Canyon but taking a few days off in Flagstaff so I can watch my episode of Bear Grylls FACE THE WILD on May 9. — Karts Huseonica (@karts999) May 8, 2018
After his commercial break, Karts hit the trail again in pursuit of the Utah border on Arizona’s northern edge. He hiked the entire 800 miles of the Arizona trail in 80 days — an average 12 miles per day if you factor out “zero” days, when he didn’t hike.
“I came close to quitting during some very rocky trail sections that lasted for miles,” Karts said.
“I tried to think about sections of trail that I’d be coming to that were smooth. Basically, I’m not a quitter. “
“I ran into Karts twice,” Patrick said. “Once on Oracle Ridge (Passage 12) and once on Kaibab Plateau (Passage 41). He looked great both times I saw him. Both times I knew based on his updates that I would be seeing him. He never knew to expect me. He lost a lot of weight in between my first and second sightings.”
“It’s cool to see retired folks thru-hiking,” said Patrick. “Positive energy coming off them.”
Why did you hike the Arizona Trail?
Karts: I solo hiked the AZT for several reasons. First, was to prove to myself that I could be successful at my first long-distance hike. Second, was to prove to my son and grandchildren that grandpa was pretty amazing. Lastly, admittedly to bolster my ego.
Patrick: Doing the Arizona Trail only on the weekends was my way of reclaiming my freedom, in whatever way I could. I still have to work, I still have responsibilities, but it’s only 40 hours a week worth. That leaves a lot of time.
Most people who hike the Arizona Trail are older than me. A lot of them are retired and this was their goal. I’m proud of those people. They made it all the way to retirement, they have the money to travel, and their health is good.
For me, someone who’s never seemed to have much money, and who has had some serious health problems in my past, I cannot take the risk that at age 65 or 70 I will not be able to do the things I want.
What was the greatest challenge you faced on the AZT?
Karts: Water was the main concern or challenge. Having to carry up to six liters of water on some passages and not knowing if your next reliable water source is actually going to be reliable. The quality of the water was not of much concern because I knew how to treat it quickly.
Patrick: As a section hiker, my biggest challenge was always having a second vehicle so that when I finished, we could drive back to where I started to get my car. A couple times I hiked back to my car. Once I hitchhiked, but usually I got a ride somehow.
What was your favorite experience on the AZT?
Karts: When my wife Karen was able to visit me at three key trailheads along the trail.
Patrick: My favorite section was Mazatzal divide #23. I had been hiking the Mazatzal mountains for years but spending 20+ miles walking along the spine of the mountain range was incredible.
Two men with the same mission: hike the entirety of the 800-mile Arizona National Scenic Trail. Each went about it his own way. They started at different times but finished the same weekend. As fate would have it, they crossed paths with each other a couple times. No matter where they go from here, their spirits and their footprints will forever remain a part of the AZT.
Update: After thru-hiking the Arizona from south to north, he took a few months off and hiked it again from north to south. During his break from the trail, he went through knee replacement surgery and rehab. By hiking the entire AZT in both directions, Karts set a record as the oldest person to “yo-yo” hike it.
If you’re feeling inspired to hike the Arizona National Scenic Trail, you would be wise to educate yourself first. The Arizona Trail Association website (aztrail.org) is a good place to start. Here you can find interactive maps, as well as trailhead and water source locations. There’s even a discussion board where you can ask questions of trail veterans.