Saturday, March 03, 2007

Arizona Trail journal (Dec. 16, 2006)

I’m lost. Nah. That isn’t quite true, though I’m not exactly sure where I am.

Today has been one misadventure after another, but I made it. I’m now sitting by a fire near a dry creek bed, full of food, warm, and at peace. But it hasn’t been easy getting here, wherever here is.

I camped last night a ½ mile off the Arizona Trail at Bear Spring. By ½ a mile off the trail I mean ½ a mile straight down the mountain. Bear Spring is a beautiful place, but is popular with illegals and littered with trash. I found a flat spot beneath tall pines and built a fire.

[Note: The nights are really long. Dusk is around 5 p.m. Sunrise around 7 a.m. Last night’s fire was an extended affair, as will be, no doubt, tonight’s.]

n I was surrounded on three sides by mountains, so gave a few whoops for effect. I wasn’t disappointed.
n Son Jon was really in my thoughts today. I can sense his presence now, smell him almost, and look forward to the nights when we can sit and talk by a fire together.
n Yesterday’s hike was an S.O.B. – over 3,000 feet of elevation gain. I’m not used to the altitude and stopped every 100 paces or so to catch my breath.
n Garbage is everywhere! On the half-mile side trip to Miller Peak I found a stick of pineapple chewing gum. I ate it. On the way down I found a bag of beef jerky. Ate that too.
n I saw 7 people yesterday. Four National Park Service trail crew who met me at Montezuma Pass and later on the Crest Trail. The lone female of the crew gave me a spoon. I saw two other backpackers on Miller Peak, but they didn’t see me, and a dayhiker on my way down.
n I saw no one today because most of the day was spent off trail bushwacking. Remember? I got lost.
n This morning, huffing back up the mountain from Bear Spring, I was almost to the ridgeline when I remembered I left my soap back at camp. Back down, down, down….
n Then I took the wrong trail down the mountain. The guidebook says to 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) on a sadde. I went left. Down, down, down through thick brambles and menacing agave spears trailside. Steep, steep trail. And by the time I think, “This ain’t right” it’s too late to turn back. No way could I fight my way back up through the thickets.
n The social, illegal alien-created trail I was on petered out at a grassy saddle. I consulted the GPS, which told me I needed to go a mile north to rejoin the trail. I headed cross country in that direction, downhill, which leads me to misadventure #3.
n As I headed downhill, I did a butt scoot to get through a series of low-hanging branches. The Velcro came loose on my camera bag and my camera went tumbling down the mountain. I watched helplessly as the bag disappeared from sight and listened AS IT KEPT GOING! I tried to follow its path as close as possible until I came to a dry creek bed. I took my pack off to use as a home base and spent the NEXT 2 ½ HOURS looking for the camera bag. I roamed up and down the creek bed, followed a closing perimeter pattern, climbed to the place where I lost it and “became the camera,” following the contours of the landscape to where I thought it might go. I went up from the backpack in a straight line, scanning my eyes from right to left. I found it on my way back down. It was less than 15 feet from my pack, still together, all its contents in one piece and none the worse for wear. Such relief! My plan, if I didn’t find the camera, was to hike down the creek bed for water and camp nearby, resuming my search in the morning. I’ve got a days’ extra food.
n I brought a radio for the first time ever on a backpacking trip. Last night I listened to UFO freaks tell abduction tales on “Coast to Coast,” a national radio call-in show. No FM stations came in.
n I found water at another creek bed, an algae-covered pool with yellow flowers clinging to the rocks above it. I thanked this sacred, cool, hidden place for sustaining my life.
n All this ‘schwackin’ has scraped me up. I count more than 20 lacerations on my right arm and hand. Once today I just put my hand to my side and suffered a puncture wound on my finger from a yucca spear. None of the wounds are deep or even hurt. I just look like I got in a fight with a cat.
n Not once during all of today’s craziness did I panic or lose my cool. Sure, I got pissed when I lost my camera, but, in retrospect, looking for it forced me to pay closer attention to my surroundings.

[POST-SCRIPT: I remember the bushwacking was a lot of fun, despite the scrapes. I followed many dry creek beds and tried to head, whenever possible, in a westerly direction. I knew that if I got hopelessly lost I could bushwack west a few miles and come to a road. I also found an old mine shaft and at one point had to backtrack because the golden sunshine hillside covered in long grasses I was descending stopped at a 30-foot tall sheer cliff. I also found my camp site – complete with fire ring, cow patties, extra wood, and a pool of water about 200 feet upstream – right at dusk. It was one of the most comfortable, peaceful nights of the entire trip. All of the day’s hard work wore me out and I slept about 10 hours that night. I slept so much this entire trip. There wasn’t much else to do during those long, cold nights.]

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