Sunday, August 11, 2013

To Aravaipa

To Aravaipa:
Dates: 8/3-8/6
Section Mileage: 112.5m
VL Mileage: 2302m
GET Mileage: 618.5m

The skunk scurried through the underbrush of an oak tree. I flicked on my light to see the skunk's eyes shining back and its tail standing loosely straight up as if trying to hypnotize me. The tail waved in the air as the skunk foraged for food, about 10ft from me. I thought: 'Oh shit! Please...please don't spray me...please'

I tried to stay as calm as possible so as not to rile the little stinker up. But I was nervous and kept pleading in my thoughts. It got nearer to my bed roll. I shushed at it and scuttled my tarp. Silence.

A few minutes later the scurrying came back. I stayed in alert mode, nervously flicking on my light every time I heard a noise. The odor oozed under my tarp. It wasn't quite thick enough for me to get away but it was enough for me to say: 'the hell with it.' I turned my head in a sleepy defiance and buried my head in the blackness of my down jacket. I could smell the skunk's musk through my head nest but I didn't care anymore. I succumbed to my surroundings, absorbing what nature was giving me.

The Vagabond Loop has succeeded in giving me challenges at all times. I've not had many moments to chill, especially on the GET during the monsoon season. The skunk fiddling around my camp just topped it off. I am so far into this VL and immersed in nature even a skunk's musk doesn't bother me. So, why would a 6,500ft climb out of blazing hot Safford into the Pinaleno Mountains affect me? Nor should a bushwhack ramble through non-existent trail flagged only from the GET inventor himself through thickets of catclaw and other thorny bramble bother me either?

The Santa Teresa Mountain Wilderness is the most rugged range I have had to traverse this summer. Catclaw, bramble, gambel oak, manzanita, and other long thorny brush dominated the rocky, steep slopes that I trodded through. My shins became shredded and bloody. At one point, after losing flagging and submerging in a dark canyon only to re-find the route, I stood on a ridge above a chasm and yelled out in a warrior fashion. I am a wild man, a savage. And nothing will stop me.

After the invading skunk, I hiked in a misty morning. Rain fell in a consistent manner, steady. I tumbled over rocks in the shoddy trail, I kept a stern focus so as not to bust an ankle. Up into Holdout Canyon I went amid huge slabs of granite pinnacles and rounded, enormous granite outcrops.. The scene was other-worldly. Clouds hunkered low over the mountainous ridges. They fell precipitously over the edge, reminiscent of a damp sheep's wool tumbling over a loom. The sun's rays poked out of sky pockets illuminating a desert expanse. I felt a cool tingle while walking in the morning rain.

Everything felt refreshed. And I did too. I worked hard throughout the day which, on the way down out of the Santa Teresas, had turned muggy and hot. On my way down a rocky ridge I visualized the cool waters of Aravaipa Creek. I could see the creek gorge knifing its way through the nearest mountain range west.
On a dirt road near the creek's bosque I encountered a ranch hand. He looked at me strangely while squinting his wrinkled eyes on his sun burnt face. He asked, "Where ya headed?"

I replied, "To the canyon." He looked at me in surprise. "Ya know it's flooded. Water is muddied and all."
"Where ya plannin' on campin'" "Dunno..."

"How ya gonna find drinkin' water." He looked at me in perplexity. "Dunno," I calmly stated.

I entered Aravaipa Canyon. The walls shot straight up around me, cottonwoods, giant willows, and massive sycamores lined the wide creek bottom, and exotic bird noises of all sorts blurted out in cacophonous tweets and wails. Muddy water flowed rapidly and bits of organic matter flowed within the swirly waters. Some spots where I crossed the water reached my waist. I couldn't see the bottom so I inched across each time. I wouldn't say that I was afraid but I was on high alert and took cautious steps. The dirt road petered out 5m in the canyon. After that I had a wilderness tromp through the scenic and pristine oasis of the desert. I gaped at the walls around me, some hollowed out with ancient dwellings. I forded the creek some 100-odd times. The bush trail would lose its shape, for recent flooding in the canyon had destroyed what foot path had trodden there before, as well as the many user campsites. I kept plodding along through treacherous water, some spots still waste deep and flowing swiftly and powerfully. I hiked on till dark and camped under a large grove of sycamores. I had to sweep away the large crinkled up leaves littered around my camp with my shoes.

 The next day was more of the same: fording in an amazingly wild river scene in a desert environment. In the end I gained a hitch from an old timer with a grizzled beard who said he had met Doug Peacock (the character in which Hayduke is based after) in Oracle, AZ, not to far from where I was at, on the year anniversary death of Ed Abbey. We go so enthralled in our brief conversation he drove passed the town of Mammoth and had to turn around to drive back the 5m overshot.

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