Friday, December 29, 2006

Snowy Arizona

Greetings from the public library in downtown Tucson. After 8 straight days on the trail, I woke up to a foot of snow in the Rincons and decided to hitch into town for real food, a warm bed, laundry, and, well, rest. I'm plum tuckered out.

[Whew! The librarian gave me another hour at a sitdown computer. I started this entry standing in the lobby.]

And since I have more time, I will share a few excerpts from my journal. Sorry no photos yet. One of my goals today is put all my pictures on disc and send it home. My card is almost full. But I found the library first.

Dec. 15

May my days be spent in the moment, my nights on memories and working out the details of life. The silent moments are noisy with people, with the past. Just being back in the desert, the smell of creosote and sage, reminds me of 2 1/2 years ago on the PCT.

** I woke before dawn and saw three shooting stars.

**Saw my first illegal this morning, a back and head retreating into the brush uphill. I felt sorry he had to flee on my account. My stealth camp on a saddle off the Joe Canyon Trail was undisturbed. Why would illegals travel it when it goes to the Coronado National Memorial visitor's center?

Dec. 16

I camped last night a half mile off the trail at Bear Spring. By half a mile off the trail I really mean half a mile straight down the mountain. Bear Spring is a beautiful place -- all stately pines and mossy boulders -- but is popular with illegals and full of trash.

Yesterday's hike was a 3,000 foot elevation gain to the summit of Miller Peak. I'm not used to the altitude and had to stop every 100 paces or so to catch my breath.

There is garbage everywhere. On the half mile side trip to the summit I found an unwrapped stick of pineapple chewing gum. On the way down a bag of beef jerky. I ate them both.

I took the wrong trail down the mountain. The guidebook says take a left on the Sunnyside Canyon Trail about a mile and a half after Bear Saddle. The trail came to a T of sorts, but no sign. I went left anyhow -- down, down, down the mountain through thick brambles and menacing agave spears. By the time I think, "This ain't right," I'm too far down to turn back and fight uphill through the thickets. I kept on the trail of Enfamil jugs, Red Bull and Jumex cans.

The trail petered out at a grassy saddle. I consulted the GPS [which, at the time, I didn't really know how to use. I got it in the mail the day before I left], which told me I needed to go a mile north to rejoin the trail. I headed cross country downhill in that direction. I came to a deep thicket and bent down on my haunches to crab crawl underneath them. As I scooted, the camera bag came loose off my waistbelt and I watched it tumble downhill out of sight, and then listened to it fall some more.

I followed its path as closely as I could until I came to a dry creek bed. I took my pack off to use as a home base and spent the next 2 1/2 hours looking for the camera. I roamed up and down the creek bed, followed a closing perimeter pattern up the hillside. I even went back up to the spot where I lost it and "became the camera," walking downhill and trying to follow the natural contours to where the camera might go, but that didn't work. I eventually found it -- not 15 feet away from my pack.

I'm so proud. Not once during all of today's craziness did I lose my cool. Sure, I got pissed when I lost the camera, but looking for it forced me to pay closer attention to my surrondings.

Dec. 17

Last night I took the time to get to know my GPS. We were a little leery of each other at first, but lately have been getting along just fine. Before I left, I printed out GPS waypoint ccordinates from and gave them to Dave. He entered over 250 waypoints into the unit and sent it back to me.

I figured out how to measure the distance from and direction to a selected waypoint. My goal today was to rejoin the rrail at the Copper Glance Trail junction because it was the waypoint closest to me, about 3 miles from camp. I found a forest road and followed it and many others towards my waypoint. The last road dead-ended at a gully up a steep face. Bushwacking got infinitely more difficult.

Up I went into low, scuttling clouds, hand over hand steep at times. My pack caught on a branch and I almost fell backwards into space. I flailed to regain my balance and clung to the scree and roots for dear life. I found a small ledge to turn around and survey: steep slopes, exposed shelves of pink granite, scrub and cacti. In the distance a rolling desert floor and patches of sunlight, the sea surrounding this sky island. This was worth nearly dying to see.



More later. Much more. Long nights and a simple schedule make for many pages.

Tomorrow I hike north out of the city [the Sabino Canyon trail] and plan to take a couple days to get to Mt. Lemmon, where I have a 10-day food supply waiting. Heavy snow up high means colder nights and wet, cold feet all the time. I'm only wearing my New Balance running shows. But the fires are warm and the high desert has a brutal, magic charm that is made all the more beautiful by its inaccessibility.

Whoo hoo. I can't wait to share photos. There's a few good 'uns in dere.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

I'm off...

to the desert and mountain wilds of southern Arizona. I'll be back in about a month with many pictures and stories to tell.

Check out my itinerary at:

Check out the Arizona Trail at:

Check it!
West side, aight?


Friday, December 01, 2006

Snow day birthday!!!

I've never been big on birthdays. I don't send cards, nor expect any. And while I hope family gives me a present (or at least a cake), I expect nothing from friends nor do anything to bring attention to the date. I treat my birthday like Christmas, a day for contemplation and reflection, a time to take stock.

The weather gods agree and gave me the best birthday ever, a snow day birthday!!
Snow days rule. They're powder anarchy, a flat white plain draped over the craggy busy-ness of life. The anticipation of the snow day is almost as much fun. There's a palpable energy in the air as people talk about the coming storm and make fortifications (DVDs, snacks, hot cider) to get through it.

I walked through a blinding storm to get here. The radio said nothing about the university being closed. No matter. I need to be here to write and submit an abstract. Funny thing is the radio said nothing about NIU being closed. Everything else was announced. I figured the university was open. Of course, I doubted this on the walk over. Deserted Lincoln Highway. Thick snowfall. Light flakes. Strong winds. Drifts. Stratified layers around the corners of buildings. Visibility less than 10 feet. Good boots. Layered clothes. Dripping beard. Fleece-lined pants. Cup of coffee in one gloved hand.

Quiet world. Quiet. Quiet and wind. The wind speaks, whispers promises and threats. It's the only sound. Buildings, trees, street lights, mail boxes, and parked cars are obscured, reduced to essential, rounded, elemental forms.

For best work
you ought to put forth
some effort
to stand
in north woods
among birch
-- Lorine Niedecker

This weather reminds me of a character (I think in Rick Bass' In the Loyal Mountains) who tethered a rope from the door of his cabin to the wood shed so he could fetch wood during a storm. The natural human tendency is to walk in circles, favoring one foot over another. This can be deadly in a whiteout. People have died within spitting distance of home.
I am not in such danger, nor so at a remove from society to be so disoriented. Shucks.

The storm should abate around noon. The plows will do their work and the engine of commerce grind back into full swing. But this morning, on this, my snow day birthday, everything's suspended, all responsibilities and obligations put on hold. These are moments of grace. Angels and snow men hold sway. Tongues stick out, flatten to the sky. This is a time of fun and discovery, a red-cheeked return to warmth, hot chocolate, tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, steaming mittens on the heat register.

Which reminds me... I see my boy Jon tonight. Esther's treating me to a birthday dinner. Later, weather permitting, I'm off to Geneva to visit my buddy Arbo at the newly-expanded Little Owl, his family's bar/restaurant downtown. Over the summer, I helped work on the expansion project in its early stages. I hauled scrap, removed nails and timbers, and spent one roasting hot mid-July day digging a hole in the floor. I can't wait to see the finished product. Plus, there's live music.

But right now it's quiet, except for the wind...

People, people--
ten dead ducks' feathers
on beer can litter...
will change all that