I just finished another hundred and fifty miles of the Arizona Trail. Came in to do my taxes, but still need some documents. I figure I will do another hundred and then pay Uncle Sam his due. This section kicked my butt. It was hot, dry and lots of elevation.
When I came in this time I needed IV therapy. Instead of the normal saline fluid I had two IV tubes. One from Dunkin Donuts and one from Red Lobster. My sugar was raised substantially from the chocolate cream-filled Bismarks, and just the smell of the coconut shrimp revived me immediately.
On my fifth trail day I met an old cowboy from Colorado. He seems to be doing the Arizona Trail on horseback without much advanced planning. I actually met him while filling my water bottle in a nasty dirt pond filled with pretty green algae. His horse was drinking right next to me. Surprising how nasty water can look appealing when you get thirsty enough. I figured it must be good water, his horse was drinking it. I boiled the heck out of it, the floaters were just extra protein.
He also had a pack horse and two lame dogs. He asked me if I knew where he might buy some dog food and horse feed. Trying to keep the smart ass remarks I was thinking to myself, I just said I hadn’t planned on using either on my hike and had no clue where to find such supplies. I did question him on getting through some trail sections with the dogs. I know the Grand Canyon or the Saguaro National Park will not allow them. He said, “I need to figure me a way around the Canyon.” I said, “It’s kind of big ditch to jump.” There are many sections that are not accessible for stock, because of the steep terrain and rocky makeup of the route. I later heard a rancher helped him with horse feed and the authorities made him send his lame dogs home.
My first day took me into Saguaro National Park. I was thinking it was going to be rather flat geography--wrong. It goes straight up through an incredible Saguaro forested area then to 8000 ft. into a pine forest. Like hiking from Arizona to Canada in one day. Off the backside of Mica Mountain it was a rocky trail back to the basement and another day of hiking in the heat. Ahead I could see the Catalina’s and knew I would be climbing the next day to cross over at Mt. Lemmon.
The first day I was supposed to stop at the boundary of the Saguaro National Park. I didn’t have a permit to camp overnight in the park. My original plan was to sleep at the fence and scoot through in one day. It’s about 21 miles from border to border. You start at 3,000 feet, climb to 8,600 feet, then out of the park boundary down the other side at about 4,000. I have been doing 25+ mile days so it seemed like a good plan. When I hit the fence it was early in the afternoon, about 85 degrees. I wanted to do the right thing but Woody Guthrie kept singing in my head, “This Land Is Your Land.” So because of Woody’s bad influence on me I started up. It all worked out fine. I had to change my name to Hayden, but just for one day. I’ll explain the name change. Because it was so steep and rocky, there is no place to camp until you reach the first permitted campsite. To get there I climbed almost two hours in the dark with my headlamp. When I arrived I thought I was all alone. I started to throw my pack down next to a log, then noticed it was a body in a sleeping bag. I quietly walked off into the dark to find another site.
In the morning I met Basa and Norm. They are also thru-hiking the Arizona Trail. I hiked with them that morning, but I will most likely never see them again. They are half my age and half my base weight. At 30+ miles a day they will be freezing up north while I’m still baking in the south.
Three of them started the trail. All veteran thru-hikers of many long trails. One guy has already dropped out in Tucson. His name was, you guessed it, Hayden. They said if anyone were to ask my name, tell them it’s Hayden. He’s on our permit. I never saw another soul. The only place I have run into other hikers has been coming into popular day hike trailheads.
The signature of this trail has to be the heat and the sharp rock trails. I just bought a pair of Dr. Sholls gel soles to try in my boots. Now I’m “gelling.” My feet are getting beat up real bad. You can walk for miles on trail that is basically scree about the size of your fist. My Vasque Breeze boots are already showing signs of cracked tread and I have only done a couple hundred miles. Water was another issue on this last stretch. My guide book gives me some indication of where I can expect water, but it is often not there. Especially since this has been a dry year. Yet I never give up hope, there is always “Trail Magic.”
I arrived at a Forest Service Campground called Moline with empty water bags. The 2014 Arizona Guide book promised a water trailer parked at the campground - NOT. I talked to a Forest Service employee. He said, “There’s never been a water trailer here that I know of.”
Then I met Lance. Actually caught him on the way to the crapper and asked him about water. He turned on his heels and said follow me. Lance and his wife are full-time RVer’s. He said he put his house in the bank and now they live in beautiful places in their Scamp trailer. In the back of his truck he had several jugs of fresh water. I didn’t want to take a whole gallon, but he insisted. He said Basa and Norm came through earlier and he filled them up too. When he headed back for the crapper I could see the halo on top of his head. Lance is a true Trail Angel.
I have been making a habit of hiking until dark and getting back on the trail just before first light. I need to take advantage of the cool mornings and evening. So far the weather has treated me well. It has been in the 80s, but it could be much hotter.
The third night I stopped in rocky switchbacks close to the top of Mt. Lemon near the town of Summerhaven. The whole area burned in 2003 taking most structures with it. I was told by locals that this is the first year in fifty that the ski area did not open. Southwestern winter this year has been more like summer. From my perch I was looking down on the geography of light that spread in every direction on the valley floor. It looks like Tucson stretches its florescent fingers north to Phoenix and south to Mexico.
I hiked into town the next morning hoping with every cell in my body I would find bacon, eggs, hash browns and coffee. First I found a pizza joint, then a new bar/restaurant that must have been opened by relatives of Jesse James. I paid $12.95 for a pulled pork sandwich and a pile of fries. They did fill all my water bags and I was back on the trail and descending all afternoon to the town of Oracle.
I am still getting used to my new pack and other gear. This new light-weight pack in a one compartment model. I prefer lots of pockets but I’m finding this arrangement convenient as long as everything goes into it’s allotted space. At 16 pounds base weight it is almost as if I have a day pack on when I’m not carrying a gallon of water. I forget how small it all packs down into. I’m reminded when I’m telling other hikers that I’m hiking the whole trail and they think I just have a day pack on. Besides the light weight, I invested in compression dry bags that allow me to reduce the foot print that sleeping bag, pad, clothes and tent take up inside my much smaller pack.
After eight trail days I’m already familiar with the whole process of packing gear into the real estate it needs to occupy, and I can do it in the dark. Life is good.