Figure it Out

The other day I noticed someone crowd-funded a movie about the Hayduke Trail. (Reading what I just wrote made me puke in my mouth.) Actually, it’s worse. let me rephrase that: someone crowd-funded a movie about his hike of the Hayduke Trail. I suffered through the movie, then I wrote my thoughts in a 1-star review:

First of all, I have solo thru-hiked this trail more than twice and cannot believe how hard these guys make it sound, nor how much they complain. I could hardly watch it, and could not believe I’d drank half a bottle of wine by the finish. I also cannot believe how terrible long-trail hikers are at route-finding, and how much damage they do to the area with their inability to take their noses out their phones/cameras, stop, look around and find the TRAIL. The Hayduke has been hiked since the 90s (and much of it for thousands of years before then), and at this point *is trail nearly the entire way*. If you are not in a wash and cannot find a trail, you do not belong in the backcountry, and you certainly should not be filming your misery, embarrassing yourself. If you cannot be bothered with occasionally carrying up to ten liters of water, or if not have an understanding how water stands in Utah, you probably do not belong in the Utah backcountry.

This trail is easier, in my opinion, than several of the shorter local thru-hikes where I live.

This movie could have done the area a huge service by profiling its history, geology, and its current plight, rather than only focusing on its privations compared to the Pacific Crest Trail and Appalachian Trail. It’s a shame how selfish and self-absorbed long trail hikers can be, and I’m almost ashamed to have served them as long as I have. At first I thought hiking long trails would turn them all into stewards and activists. It seems to turn many of them into ego trippers, willing to turn a job if it allows them to hike (and make a movie about it).

One service this film might provide is discouraging folks from going out by stressing how difficult it is. NOT! Basic psychology informs us the human mind doesn’t work that way. Tell an idiot how hard something is, and he will want to try it (because he is an idiot). Good job welcoming in a whole new class of folks to hike the Hayduke. SAR will love you for it.

I created more accurate GPS tracks of this trail a couple years ago and share them online, because immediately I recognized the existing tracks had been created by fastpackers and folks interested in shortcutting and sightseeing over ecology. I was shocked how Hayduke trail “alternates” (pretty shortcuts) have contributed to the decimation of cryptobiotic soil in NATIONAL PARKS, where cattle haven’t already done it for us. My maps are now passworded because I saw a sea change and my ethos is shifting. I am shocked by how many people request the password every week. This once-quiet backcountry jaunt is soon to be overrun by a new type of backpacker. Watch out!

PS. I’m a woman and I have now hiked >2500 miles solo across Utah. My worst incident was a couple of bark scopion stings, and getting a stomach ulcer from taking electrolytes. Anyway, I carry a slingshot, and if I ever find someone with a drone out there… there will be an incident.


I was incredibly irritated by this movie. I had cautiously high hopes for it and was scared to actually watch it. Then when I had watched it, I wished I had not. This is a movie that should not have gone public. It is a young man’s rough diary of travels… through a land he never bothered to get familiar with. The land is the interesting part, yet we are left more with a diary of travels through a man’s rough, young mind. It is watching someone discover ideas most of us have already pondered. It is awkward.

“I’ve found that life is a lot like hiking”
~Alex Maier

Frankly, Maier’s comments are often so banal it’s tough to listen. I guess it’s sorta cute in that “Aw look, baby had his first burp!” kind of way, but when seeing that sort of scenery, I’d like the chance to think my own thoughts, or be provoked by open-ended narration into pondering new ideas. The constant narration is almost exactly like being stuck hiking with a dogmatic youth who just. won’t. shut. up. Not once does he use open-ended narrative, or allow silence for anything longer than 45 seconds. One reviewer said the movie was more tolerable with the volume muted, and though the narrator seems pleasant and harmless, unfortunately I might agree. If we’re forced to come along with you on your hike, why make us listen to your “deep thoughts” and life advice? Show us the incredible scenery, and tell us about it. It’s a shame Maier never bothered to put the scenery into context. A shame the only local he interviewed is the author of The Hayduke Trail, and it’s not clear he even bothered reading or carrying the essential book on his trip*.


Honestly, I think the only part I did like about this movie was the man called “Scoops.” One, because I’m a Raisin Bran addict and I totally get what he’s saying about two scoops vs. one scoop. Some brands of Raisin bran are better than others as far as raisin content, and some brands have raisins that sink to the bottom, while others somehow magically make theirs float to the top. Anyway, I digress. Secondly I like Scoops because he seems like he’s actually thinking when he makes comments about the route.


Question: what the hell is he doing burning campfires on the red rock? And does he really think I believe him when he says he won a Wave permit? No because when you have a wave permit, they make you stick a NEON flag on your backpack. If you’re gonna break the rules, don’t film yourself doing it.

How is it that with maps (and hopefully compass) AND GPS, these guys managed to take so many wrong turns and make so many obstacles so difficult for themselves? I’m just shaking my head. I know heat stroke plays a factor, and I’ve been there, but it’s just terrifying to me how wrong they got it and how many times. It truly is gambling with your life when you take the Hayduke the hard way. When in doubt, look down, watch for concentrations of footprints (whether human or cow) and follow them! Always be on the lookout for cairns. It’s not that hard!

* If Maier had The Hayduke Trail with him, he would not have struggled with obstacles they way he did. One obstacle he claimed was not mentioned is very clearly described in the book. He spent so much time getting lost and struggling with obstacles, he truly endangered himself. I’m not sure he realizes how lucky he is to have survived at certain turns.

Also, for the record: I’ve never had giardia. And had those kids any clue what was upstream from them in Rogers Canyon, they wouldn’t be giggling when talking about how the water gave them runs. They’d be calling the BLM office, like I did. Calling a dugout a “pond,” then drinking straight from Last Chance Creek is probably the most naive thing I’ll see all week. These hikers haven’t noticed they are 100% surrounded by cattle nearly 100% of the Hayduke? Do cows poop? You bet your explosive buns they do: in your water. With all the information available about the Hayduke, this stuff just shocks me into drinking… wine.

Do Better

There is a short film similar to this one, but it’s less annoying than “Figure it Out” because it shows sensitivity to the history and culture of the environs, exceptional camera handling, brevity, humor that is actually funny, and survival over truly difficult terrain. It’s called “Surviving the Outback.” Though this short film has some issues of its own, they are conversation-provoking, and ultimately Mike is worth watching. If you want to knock me for my slamming review of “Figure it Out,” please first watch “Surviving the Outback,” then try telling me how great “Figure” is. No comparison.

Another film to watch before getting excited about films like “Figure it Out” is called “Gorging,” also on Amazon. Perhaps Maier got excited about being “the first” to make a Hayduke movie, but perhaps he was missing the point on why there wasn’t already a movie. Some things are better kept quiet, cards held close to the chest, and Gorging makes the case for this (while showing some great Southwest footage and interviews with some big names who woke the sleeping canyoneering giant in the 90s). Ironically enough, so did Ed Abbey.

Bottom line

Figuring it Out has somehow gotten 113 5-star reviews. 5-star reviews of a 4-star-at-best film must be from family, friends, and possibly folks who have not even watched this film.

1. Ignore the Amazon reviews.

2. Stop rewarding mediocrity — it is dangerous.