After receiving a fantastic trail request, we started talking and were inspired by his enthusiasm. Therefore, we are excited to introduce you to Brian, as he enthusiastically shares his experience of hiking the Trans-Catalina Trail through this interview. He grew up in the Midwest and had an excellent outdoor and survival education from his father. Earlier this year, Brian and a mate hiked the Trans-Catalina Trail, and we are thrilled that he wants to share his experience on the trail with us!
*All pictures in this post are from Brian his hike of the Trans-Catalina Trail 😊 . Thank you, Brian, for sharing these with us to make the interview more alive and personal!
Before going into the interview, let’s provide a quick summary of the Trans-Catalina Trail. Just 27 Miles of the coast of California, you find the beautiful Catalina Island. The island is rich in things to do and is also home to the Trans-Catalina Trail. The trail crosses the island's full length, from Avalon to Two Harbors, over 38.5 miles. Wildlife encounters along the way could be with Bison, the Catalina Island Fox, and if you are lucky, you can spot the Bald Eagle. Most hikers walk the trail in 3-5 days, and with a total elevation of 10,000ft and rugged terrain, it is not for the faint-hearted.
With that in mind, let’s dive into the interview!
To start, would you be able to tell us a bit about yourself?
Growing up in the Midwest taught me how to tolerate the elements, appreciate every inch of elevation, and seek extreme adventure. I like to think I am an amateur explorer and sensation seeker. I am constantly trying to do epic things outside. I feel alive pushing the perceived limits. Racing road bikes back in the day fuelled my obsession for speed, exploring new roads, and the great outdoors. Personally, I think the best vantage point is on two wheels! During the week, I am a Recruiter for Mercy Ships in Tyler, TX. On the weekends, I love camping with my dog, hiking with friends, and learning about sustainable ways to eat and farm. My biggest bucket list item is to reach basecamp at Mt. Everest.
How did your passion for hiking and the outdoors start?
I believe my passion for hiking and the outdoors began on my first camping trip with my Dad in 8th grade. My Dad, former Eagle Scout, passed down a lot of outdoor and survival knowledge to me. This may be ironic, but that camping trip to Wisconsin turned into a nightmare. We experienced the worst rain and windstorm overnight. I loved it. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time. Were we going to survive? Obviously, yes. However, this heightened my reverence, awe, and beauty of Mother Nature. Cycling then accelerated my passion for the outdoors. Cycling took me through the flatlands of the Midwest, mountains of California, and the Bush in Australia.
“I am constantly trying to do epic things outside. I feel alive pushing the perceived limits”
You hiked the Trans-Catalina Trail; what a fantastic achievement! Was there a specific reason why you chose this trail? And did your expectations match with the actual experience?
I think the idea to hike the Trans-Catalina Trail was born out of procrastination. My roommate, Brett, and I talked about hiking the Trans-Catalina Trail for a couple of years but never pulled the trigger. Since we lived in Santa Monica, the proximity was perfect and it seemed challenging enough for a couple of beginner backpackers to do over three days. I thought the trail was going to be a “walk on the beach” considering this was an island. I was pleasantly and painfully surprised when we found ourselves hiking up and down 38-degree gradient trails. The trail was much more physically demanding than I expected. I expected some great views, but the 360-panorama view of the Pacific at any point on the trail was breath taking. I did expect better markings on the trail, especially leaving out campsites. I would have studied our entrances and exits a little more. In addition, the ferry ride from the mainland to the island was the coldest part of the weekend! Overall, we lucked out weather wise. It was perfect during the day averaging mid 60s and sunshine!
What is the best memory you have of the trail?
There are so many! My favorite memory of the trail was the last morning waking up to waves crashing on the beach after 38 miles under our belt. We proceeded to do a quick yoga session watching the sunrise over Los Angeles. The coastline was extremely clear from Catalina. We could see from Orange County up to Ventura! We knew the hardest part of the trail was behind us and only had 7 miles to go. The fruit ice cream bars were the most refreshing thing I have ever tasted when we finished at Two Harbors.
It seems like a beautiful trail crossing the full island of Catalina, can you walk us through how you prepared for the trail?
The first step I took in preparation was drawing a map. I knew I had to get oriented with the trail and would only have myself to blame if we got lost! I drew a map of the entire trail, our route each day, and the topography. This does not sound conventional but CrossFit training helped strengthen my legs & bag for the hike. Every morning and night for about a month, I walked my dog in my hiking books. Since Covid began and the closest REI was about 100 miles away, I watched their training videos and hiking blogs so I could learn as much as I could about endurance hiking, jet boiling, and packing the most essential items. I also tried to read about other people’s experiences on the trail to strategize our route, and mentally be acclimated to the trail. I tried to visualize each day the best I could.
Even though you prepared well for the trail, did you come across any (major) challenges that you would never have thought of?
Well on the third day, we ran into a bison sized challenge! We literally encountered a bison standing in the middle of the trail. We were warned to keep our distance from these beasts. On our left was a drop off to the ocean and to our right was a field of cacti. Our only option was to go around, so we chose to trudge through the cacti and worry about the thorns later in our boots. That set us back about an hour, which resulted in us descending the last 2 miles of our day in the dark. Nothing we could not handle!
Before starting on the hike, you must have probably gone through your gear checklist a dozen times. In the end, did you take any gear with you that you eventually felt you could have done without? Or was there any specific gear that you wished you had with you on the trail?
My 35L pack was the perfect size for three days on the trail. I prefer to pack light. Thankfully, I used everything I brought with me. The only item I would have changed was my sleeping bag. I opted for a warm weather bag, but in the 40s/50s at night, I slept in every shred of clothing I brought with me just to stay warm. In addition, moleskin was an item we did not bring enough of which saved my feet during the hike. Also, bringing a pair of sandals would have been nice to use at the campsites instead of my books the whole time. My buddy brought hiking poles, which I may try for the next time!
You mentioned that you are preparing and working your way up to your goal of hiking the John Muir Trail. Can you tell us more about your goal, preparation, and planning for hiking the John Muir Trail?
We were inspired to hike the JMT since we encountered two hikers on the last day that had done the JMT. The JMT is supposed to be one of America’s best hiking trails. John Muir is a legend in my mind! Our goal is to work our way up to the JMT mileage wise. I am sure a lot more training will be needed for that 220+-mile trek. Ideally, we would like to complete it three weeks or less by doing 12-15 miles days, incorporate zero days, hike with a larger group to distribute the gear, and pick out resupply points along the way. Tell Your Trail actually gave me many ideas on other hikes to prepare too. Honestly, I am still trying to savour and recover from the Trans-Catalina myself!
Besides crossing the Trans-Catalina Trail of your list and working towards the John Muir Trail, do you have any other trails on your bucket list you plan to hike in the (near) future?
Since I moved to Texas less than a year ago, Big Bend National Park has been on my list. Next Spring, I am planning to do a bike-packing trip across the park. Ironically, a few of my friends just bike-packed the Trans Catalina Trail the weekend after we hiked it and had rave reviews! Another hike I am gearing up for is Eagle Rock Loop in the Ouchita National Forest in Arkansas. This 28.2-mile hike gains over 4,000ft and is perfect for a long weekend with friends. In addition, the second largest canyon lies in the Texas panhandle outside of Amarillo in Palo Dura Canyon State Park. I am planning to conquer over 30 miles of trails at the beginning of next year with my dog.
"The first step I took in preparation was drawing a map. I knew I had to get oriented with the trail and would only have myself to blame if we got lost!"
For all those inspired by your story and experience on the trail, what is the one tip you would like to give them?
Do not wait to get outside! You will not regret it. You do not have to have all the fancy gear to get started, but everyone has to start somewhere. Start small and work your way up! Mentally, we can all push ourselves farther than we imagine. When you are out there, slow down, and savour every moment. Take in the scenery, sounds, and smells. Every trip starts with a plan and a can do attitude. Positivity before your trip and during your trip goes a long way. Yes, nature demands respect at all times, but there is nothing to fear. I promise you will have a blast on your next hike!
Lastly, when our hiking-lovers want to know more and follow your adventures, where can they find you on social media?
I would be happy to share my information on social media. I encourage anyone to reach out anytime! I am an open book. I love helping others with their adventures. I would love to connect with other hikers. You can find me on Instagram @arfmannb or on Facebook. You can also find me on All Trails! Feel free to share my email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brian, thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview with us, it was an absolute pleasure!
Do you have an amazing story about one of your trail adventures which you would like to share with the community? Please reach out to us via email@example.com as we would love to hear from you.
Jay & Maud