The 817-mile Arizona Trail, officially completed in 2011, runs from the U.S.-Mexico border to the Utah state line. It’s an imposing trek, and while many people use various sections of the trail for day hikes, only a hardy few attempt to hike the entire trail at once. Despite the trail’s designation as a National Scenic Trail, many people don’t even know it exists.
Sirena Dufault (pictured) would like to change that. This Friday (March 14), Dufault, 40, will begin hiking the entire length of the Arizona Trail, a trek that she expects will last until May 31. She’ll stop at events in trail “gateway communities” along the way, and hikers can also join her for sections of the journey, but in other places, Dufault will be on her own. In doing so, she hopes to increase awareness of the trail and generate funding for the Arizona Trail Association, where she has been a volunteer since 2007. Last week, we spoke with Dufault about her upcoming Arizona Trail Trek. For more information about the trek, click here.
Tell us a little about your background.
I am originally from the suburbs of Chicago and moved to Tucson to attend the University of Arizona’s anthropology program. I’d never visited Arizona before moving here, and it was like being dropped on an alien planet! Of course, now I’m a total desert rat and wouldn’t live anywhere else. My work as an archaeologist showed me many interesting and diverse parts of the state.
How did you become interested in the Arizona Trail?
I became interested in the trail while on a day hike in 2007 near the town of Oracle. I finished my hike, and at the trailhead was a map with a trail going all the way up the state. On the map, there were many of the iconic wild places in Arizona — Saguaro National Park, the Superstition Wilderness, the San Francisco Peaks and the Grand Canyon — and this trail that I was standing on connected them all.
It inspired me to learn more and get involved volunteering with the Arizona Trail Association to help build the trail. Those were great days, working together to make this trail — the dream of a Flagstaff math teacher named Dale Shewalter, who pioneered the route in 1985 — a reality. I was part of the crew that built the last piece of connecting trail in 2011. I am also a trail steward, responsible for maintaining 5.5 miles of the trail along the Gila River.
In 2011, I became the gateway-community liaison for the Arizona Trail Association. I have cultivated a relationship between trail users and the 33 gateway communities along the trail while promoting area tourism to stimulate local economies. In working with many of these small towns, I grew to enjoy spending time in the communities as much as the trail itself.
Where did the idea for this hike come from?
I’ve had this idea in the back of my head for years, to have people both join me on the Arizona Trail and share in my journey through photos, videos and journals that show the beauty and diversity of the trail. I helped write a new guidebook, Your Official Guide to the Arizona National Scenic Trail, that came out in December, and I pitched the idea [for the hike] to my executive director as a book tour … on foot!
The 14 gateway-community events are a natural extension of my work within these communities. The events are a chance for all users of the trail — hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians — to get together to talk trail while enjoying live music, good food and Arizona Trail Ale, brewed by That Brewery in Pine.
Have you done any long-distance hikes like this previously?
I hiked the Arizona Trail in sections, mostly solo, over a period of 15 months in 2008 and 2009. I hiked to raise awareness for fibromyalgia, a chronic pain condition I have had since being hit by a car as a pedestrian in 1997. It was an incredible learning experience; I had only gone on two backpacking trips before starting the trail, and I was alone for days on end. The journey was challenging and breathtakingly beautiful, and it hooked me on the Arizona Trail forever.
What will the logistics of this hike be like? Will you be alone, or with other hikers?
The Arizona Trail Trek will be a mix of day-hiking and backpacking, plus stops in towns for the gateway-community events and for rest and resupply days. Some parts I’ll hike solo, but I’m highlighting some of the best parts of the trail by inviting people to hike with me for a day or two. I can’t wait to go backpacking; one of my favorite things about the Arizona Trail is that you can camp just about anywhere. I love sleeping under a star-studded Arizona sky!
I will have support during my two-and-a-half-month hike, including my wonderful husband, who is not interested in hiking with me but will meet me with food and supplies. My dad will also be coming out from Chicago to shuttle me around; he was a big help during my first hike and loves Arizona as much as I do. There is also a large network of people who are assisting with shuttles for the public hikes and with the events all up the state. For safety, I will carry a DeLorme inReach, a satellite communicator that can be used for emergencies.
What will you eat?
I’ve packed up resupply boxes for the whole trip that will be sent to me along the way. I’m not a fan of packaged meals and bars. I make and dehydrate a lot of my own meals for the trail and try to eat healthy. I’m half East Indian and half Italian, so lots of curried lentils and pasta dishes for dinner; oatmeal, couscous or quinoa for breakfast; and lots of snacks for throughout the day. You burn 3,500 calories a day backpacking, so it’s tough to get enough calories.
How can people offer their support, and where can they learn more about your journey?
All the details on the Arizona Trail Trek and hike registrations are at www.aztrail.org/azttrek, and I will be posting updates on the Arizona Trail Association Facebook page, on Twitter @AZTRAIL #AZTtrek and on my blog, Sirena’s Wanderings.
I am lucky that so many generous businesses in the gateway communities have donated their time, space and resources to the Arizona Trail Trek to make this a reality. Outdoor outfitters Gossamer Gear, Peace Surplus in Flagstaff and Summit Hut in Tucson were extremely generous with gear for the trek.
Starting March 28, I will be kicking off an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign for the Arizona Trail Association. There will be unique incentives and one-of-a kind experiences offered to reach my goal of $20,000 for the protection, maintenance and promotion of the Arizona Trail. If you just can’t wait to donate, I have an option on the Arizona Trail Trek website to donate directly to the Arizona Trail Association.
I just can’t wait to experience the Arizona Trail as one continuous journey and celebrate the trail with others who love it as much as I do. Along the way, hopefully I’ll inspire others to be a part of this trail that links deserts, mountains, canyons, communities and people.