Friday, April 26, 2013

To Flagstaff

To Flagstaff:
4/23-a.m. 4/26
Section: 110m
From Mexico: 575m
VL Mileage: 347m

I left the cabin in Pine early in the morning. From the Pine trailhead I encountered the Highline Trail, my line of destination for the next 17m up to the Mogollon Rim. The Highline was used by early settlers to travel from settlements and villages to deliver goods and trade. Immediately, within the first mile, the sign of care and maintenance were evident in special consideration, a vast difference form the other side of the highway. Signs and trail markers were either tacked up against a tree or arrowed into the ground on a Carsonite post. The feeling of 'wild' left me and I felt a feeling of haste.

I walked under the rim that rose a 1,000ft above me. Sometimes the forest enveloped me and my views were stunted. Other times I was treated to elongated views of the rim that stretched for miles in the blue, hazy horizon.

A little bit after lunch I attained the top of the rim. A sense of giddiness overwhelmed me as the trail suddenly became easy to walk. In fact, I was whistling, and singing, and leaping. But the coma-zombie-walking soon became boring. My positivity went into a negative rut. The terrain was so easy I just wanted to get it over with. The tall, sturdy ponderosas stood individually strong all around. At first, I was ecstatic to among the really giant ones. Then my mood, and my drive, zeroed in on my next target: Flagstaff.

So, I mashed it, peeling off a 33m, 35, and 36m days. But on the last one at the end of the day, with a lot of to-dos on my mind for Flagstaff, I realized how foolish I had been acting, downright irresponsible. The third day I had been by-passing water sources that were a tad off trail. If the source wasn't on trail I wasn't going to it. I felt a tad arrogant and I began to chastise myself for being so hasty.

The last morning with about 6m to Flagstaff, after freezing my ass off again, I plodded along into Flagstaff. I thought long and hard about my last 3 days. Here's my assessment: I NEED TO CHILL!

Anyways, along this section I ran into again a mountain bike rider named Max. I was zombie walking the second evening when I heard him yell out my name. "Dirtmonger," echoed in the huge swale and meadow I was in. I turned back and shouted out in disbelief, "Max!?"

He was leading the Arizona Trail Mountain Bike Race. We chatted quickly and he rode strongly away. Maybe I'll see him again in Colorado as he bikes the Colorado Trail Race and I walk the CT.

To Pine

To Pine:
p.m. 4/17- p.m. 4/21
Section: 116m
From Mexico: 465m
VL Mileage: 237m

I left the marina after eating. Up and up I went into the Four Peaks Area of the Mazatzals. I climbed up and looked down on the Salt River Dam and bridge, Everywhere around me shown verdantly green on a deep red rock tierra. I kept looking over my shoulder, for the Tonto Basin and Roosevelt Lake were majestically splattered with shadows of clouds that made for an amazing light display. This was the most scenic landscape I had seen yet on the AZT. Like a sky mobile the clouds held the Tonto Basin in transfixation while the infusion of swirly movement of the puffy cumulous clouds morphed shape incongruously, as almost shapeshifting oafishly. The scene seemed stilled, as though art manifested through life.

There comes a section in every trail where the rumors fly. This section was no different. This section was supposedly overgrown with sharps and pokes and trail lacked in structure and direction. But there also comes a section in every trail that tests you, pushes you with all the elements and it will eventually dictate the personality of your whole hike. The Mazatzals were it for me. It brought out the most 'wild.'

The Four Peaks came into a massive view, smothering up the landscape all around me. I trudged up and up and became surprised about how much water spilled from the ravines. I hit the dirt road the trail follows in this section. I met a backpacker who didn't even notice me in front of him on the road, for his pack was so big his head was forced downward. He told me, "You better wear pants!" "Bah!" I responded back to him. I sallied forth almost at a trot and hit the Boulder Creek drainage. I met 7 other section hikers, all with gigantic packs and layered with clothing. They told me the same thing as the previous mule. I left them and slithered my way through the drainage trail whisking aside the overgrown scrub oak, catclaws, and other thorny plants.

At the highway, I assessed myself and I was unscathed. I firmly believe it is the ultralight weight of my pack that provides maneuverability and flexibility as I am walking. Also, I believe if the shit gets too thick, move faster, or more agile. It is like a Band-Aid, you pull it off slow and it smarts, you pull it off and the pain is fleeting and negligent.

I camped that night with the streamline of commuter jets falling in place to land at Phoenix International Airport one after another. The roar was so consistent it lulled me to sleep.

I ascended the Mazatzal Divide. Fire scarred the mountainsides and the trail got steeper and tougher. In fact, some trail went right up a gully or was non-existent due to the giant wash-outs from the fire ravaged slopes. Eventually, I made the top switchback at Mt. Peeley and I could see at least 10m of trail in the meandering, jagged crest. This was rugged and wild country.

The days slowed and I became a part of the wilderness. For the first time on the AZT I felt utterly alone. My safety net was gone and I felt exhilarated the whole time I was there. Yeah sure, places were overgrown but who the hell cares. There was enough trail to follow and I zigzagged between the young prickly oaks and stubborn cat claws.

In the mornings, I was stirred awake by tiny songbirds. There harmonious trill much more soothing than their corvid counterparts, like the magpie who squabble and squawk at the most ungodly hours.

Bear with me: Figuratively, I was orgasmically engulfed in emotion and spirit. Only me and the mountains, my fellow rock and dirt counterparts, orgiastically fulfilling everything I craved and desired. This was wilderness in full romance.

The 'zone' or 'runner's high,' even the 'paincave,' are essentially a wilderness type of experience except they are fleeting. Even a big boozy bender ends. You wake up feeling hungover but the feeling is over. In the wilderness, whether you are there or not, it always is. At the same time I wanted to walk through the Mazatzals, I didn't.

In Pine, I felt really guilty washing off the grime and dirt of the Mazatzals, as if the act of cleaning was sacrilegious, as if I was sinning, or being violated, assaulted.

I had a zero day in Pine. It was tough not moving but I knew that the sensible thing for me to do would be to rest. The VL is one tough ass loop, kiddies!

THAT Brewery and Pub was graciously hospitable. Thanks Y'all!

To Roosevelt Lake

To Roosevelt Lake:
4/16- p.m. 4/17
Section: 48m
From Mexico: 349m
VL Mileage: 121m

I left Superior alone. I walked on down to the Farmer's Market and found a breakfast burrito and a hitch in less than five minutes. Then, in 15 minutes later I was at the Picketpost Trailhead taking my first steps north since I met Lint in Rawlins last July.

We had to part ways. Our paces and our goals were in different places. The day before fattening up at the water cache he turned and said to me, "I'm out here on vacation while you're on a mission." There was a lot of truth in that comment. But that's okay. Lint has been a big, impactful influence in my life. Till the next trail...

Alone, the miles came easy. The first 6m easily lulled over desert hills though my concern for water was still on alarm. Then I entered the narrows of Whitman Canyon. Huge cottonwoods in bloom and a small running creek greeted my parched eyes. I kind of stood in disbelief at what I was witnessing.

More miles flew by and I climbed up Reavis Trail Canyon to the crest of the Superstition Mountains. The higher I went the larger the trees became. Enormous oaks lined the Rogers Trough Trail. At a small, woody junction The GET split off from the AZT.

A short climb later, up and over a pass, massive pine groves followed Reavis Creek all the way to the ruins of Reavis Ranch. The valley greened up and the air became fragrant. I wasn't sure where the aroma was coming from, as I walked into the apple orchards with my nose in the air. The apple trees had white fragrant blossoms and I sat under a big one and ate dinner. After, with my olfactory senses sloshed with fervor, I lumbered up and over another small pass. Eventually, I made Walnut Spring and made camp after 30m.

The next morning I met Hardcore, another AZT thru-hiker. This was significant to me as this was my first trail encounter with another hiker in some time by myself. It was refreshing.

The trail became a jumbled rock mess and once I hit Cottonwood Creek the trail became a bushwack. From the crest I could see the Four Peaks Range, the next leg. By noon the trail spilled me out onto a highway and I found my way to the Marina. A strange feeling to be walking down a 100yd pier to get my food package. The scene was quiet with nothing but the wind blowing, ending an easy section.

Monday, April 15, 2013

To Superior

To Superior:
4/12-4/15 p.m.
Section: 97m
From Mexico: 301m
Vagabond Loop Mileage: 73m

By the time the evening came I thought I would have nothing too much to say about this section. We ambled over gentle desert hills, up an over, wide sandy wash after wide sandy wash. The miles breezed on by. At Cowhead Tank, after 20m, we bedded down in a Bloodsucker Wash along one of the tendril sandy arms.

The grumble came from afar in the darkness. I turned over on my stomach and raised my beanie above my ears. The grumble turned into a groan. I perched up in my bedding. I could hear the groan curling toward me while trying to separate the snores from Lint. Down the wash the groan began to roar. And lights began to flash on the surrounding small ridges. Suddenly, a strong vehicle came tumbling into our view and stopped with lights aflame. Lint popped up quickly and pssted at me. We waited in stilled silence. The vehicle made a u-ie and went back up in the wash. We eased our way down into our bedding. But the strong noise of the vehicle cam back down another tendril. The vehicle ravaged its way through the wash and blackness. The lights lit up the whole area. Through the tanglement of mesquite the vehicle plowed over a sandy bank and into another tendril. Their line of destruction was headed straight towards us. I swallowed up my gear and moved from out of the middle of the wash and near the coverage of a large mesquite. Lint held his ground. We looked at each other frantically in the darkness.

"Quick! Put down your water bottle!" I exclaimed at Lint in a hushed, harsh whisper. We held firm.

The strong vehicle turned and roared over another bank and into the wash next to us, the lights beaming amazingly into our faces. "Shit, this is it!" We rose to our knees in a crouched position ready to scamper into the night.

The strong vehicle turned up-wash and within seconds the grumble tapered into silence and the lights waned into the black.

Our nerves jingled, we chatted up war stories of times passed and tried to figure out what they wanted. They seemed to be looking for something, or someone.

An half an hour later I awoke again, this time the grumble from Grant Camp Wash to the east of us. I sprouted up to get Lint awake and ready. The strong vehicle stopped by a large tree 100 yards from us.

Clack clack clack! A gun fired. We figured them to be on a joyride. But we also figured to meet anyone in the desert this far out was up to no good.

With the lights silohuetting the large tree in the dark for about an hour, I got tired of waiting and fell asleep.

The morning rose much rosier and we marched. We made Beehive Well, where the GET will intersect in my Vagabond Loop, and marveled at the nastiness of the water. The large rusted tank sported a sheen of birdshit and a clump of a lifeless bird, an owl.

We skoaled the heavens and mashed through rolling desert terrain. The desert scene became greener and greener as spring obviously showed itself in fecundity. Plants and cacti became more dense and crowded. The tentacles and spikes of the flora reached out to greet us. As Lint rounded a sharp switchback a cholla cactus, or teddy bear cactus, reached out and tried to give Lint a special embrace. He hollered out in pain and I quickly made my way back to him. Blood speckled his sleeve with red dots and I helped him disrobe his shirt. He grimaced as he pulled out a couple of spikes.

Thirty minutes later, a 3 inch cholla arm secretly stuck to my right shoe. As we climbed a knoll I clipped my right shoe with the front of my left one and licked the barb into my inside portion of my left ankle.

I shrieked, "Yeow!! Lint come get this thing outta my ankle!" I began to turn on my phone to get a photo of it. I looked down and saw the 3 inch arm loaded with 1 inch spines plunged into my ankle. I thought, "Cool!" "Lint, come get this shit out!"

"What are you doing?! Gonna take a pic?! Goddam it," in replied exasperation. "Come here!"

"I can't, my muscle is seized up!" Lint rushed back and found 2 sticks. He began to pry the barb loose but the sticks snapped. He found sturdy rocks and pried the barbs loose clean off my ankles. The punctured holes rose in a concave fashion and spurted droplets of blood. Jazzed, I mashed up the hill following Lint.

The day became hotter and drier and we camped near a cattle trough near Ripsey Wash.

The next day was rather uneventful. No water yet good tread to follow. We crossed the Kelvin-Riverside Bridge spanning over the muddy Gila River, then headed in a westerly course along the river corridor in meandering trail tread. A long dry stretch, we took only 2 liters to cover what we thought would be 13 miles to water, according to our maps and water information. But as we came to our road in Walnut Canyon wash the signs pointed to go through it. We did so.

Minutes earlier we were in good spirits. Lint led the way and suddenly stopped and reached down to pick up something. I couldn't quite see what it was and he shouted into the hot wind, "Aha! I've been looking for one of these for some time!"

"You have!? What the fuck is it?" I noticed something purple and resembled a Livestrong bracelet.

He quickly turned around and said "This!" "Why, what for?!"

He pulled the rubberband back and snapped it my direction in a flash. I curled up my arms in flinch and retracted my left leg. The rubberband thwacked my left hand. Lint almost died in laughter.

Fast forward and hour later and we are laying on the side of the trail hot and thirsty. We are not sure where the trail is taking us. I am sure the river canyon sweltered in the mid-90s. Our brains boiled as we tried to decide what to do. Ultimately, with confusion addling our melted brains we stayed on trail. I heard rumors about the AZT going around Walnut and White Canyon but I disregarded the rumor for some stupid reason. Our waterless stretch went from 13m to more or less 20m. We slowly ran out of water and were forced to drink out of the muddy Gila. It wasn't the fact that the Gila River resembled poop water but rather we knew that Mineral Creek Mine drained their tailings a few miles upstream from where we stood on the riverbank. We begrudgingly took 2 liters each. We complained and bickered with each other like savages. I turned and hiked quickly away. We spoke nothing for a couple of hours. Why would they re-route this section from a beautiful area on trail with reliable water sources to a detour where non-reliable sources existed? We stewed over this in our minds after vocalizing out loud how we disproved of the detour.

We knew of a water cache some 6m away but we doubted there would be water. But lo and behold, there was water. We calmed down and our demeanors changed. We even ended up walking another 3 more miles up Martinez Canyon which arrowed steeply up a wide ravine with magnificent red walls. I reveled in the beauty and embraced with the desert taught me that day. With patience I marveled at the approaching magenta-colored dusk turn to peach, then fade to black. Stars twinkled and winked at me saying, "Tsk tsk..."

The next morning we mashed waterless 18m on 2L to the Picketpost Mountain trail head.

Friday, April 12, 2013

To Oracle

To Oracle:
4/8-a.m. 4/11
Section: 83m
From Mexico: 204m

We walked away from the cowboy camp into the early evening darkness and found a camp spot in the sandy wash running through the ranch. I laid on my back and stared at the massive black, starlit sky above me. Lint quickly plunged into sleep and I couldn't attain a wink. So, I meditated, staring intently above with no care in the world. Beetleguese, the left shoulder star in Orion, shown a flickering red. Lint began to snore softly and I slowly dozed. I awoke shortly after, for I couldn't sleep, and I gazed heaven-wards again. As Lint's snoring roared louder and louder, I zoomed my focus into space narrower and narrower. Funny, being that the world is so big and that sandy wash just a speck of a microcosm in the wide world, and with Lint storming away in dreamland, that I come to an epiphany where I feel unto myself I know all that I need to know at that very moment for the rest of my time.

I hardly slept that night. I meditated deeply throughout the night. We made for an early start to beat the horses on trail and began the Saguaro desert crossing. The trail made like a spaghetti noodle across the gritty slopes, which made for frustration. This section would be great on a mountain bike but it wears in the mind set of a thru-hiker where we are geared for the relentless urge to move forward and not in pointless weaves and meanders.

We then began the 5,000ft ascent into the Rincon Mountains. The Saguaro cacti accompanied us throughout the day until the elevation dictated life other wise. They had been somewhat of a companion along the way for the passed 25 or so miles. It was a fascinating juxtaposition to see them standing tall amid the looming skeletal power line towers. They looked eerily similar.

The biospheres changed rapidly as we went from Saguaros, ocotillos and other desert flora unto the altitudes where mesquite, oaks and cedars hold their own, and eventually to the aerie home of the ponderosas and firs on top of the sky islands. The land here is so mysterious. The Rincons once seemed so dang far away but all of a sudden we are in them and the desert valleys looks so far down below. We trudged on up the steep, precipitous climb. Lint held his own despite his rotund shape and off-the-couch fitness level. I quickly stepped on up; I love mashin' up mountains.

Towards the top a cold, fierce wind rushed on the landscape. It chilled my bones through my sweaty shirt. At the top at Manning Camp, around 8,000ft, Lint bonked. We ate dinner and I convinced him to give me another couple of miles, but within a 1/2m of Manning Camp, Lint could give me no more. So, we set up camp early and I finally decided to set up my Yama Stratiform, for the nights have been to spectacularly clear to set up shelter. Since I had daylight to kill I set up the shelter to get more privacy. Lint fell deep asleep immediately. I laid in my sleeping quilt trying to stay warm. The cold got colder.

Around 10p.m. the hail started. Harder and harder it fell. Lint awoke confused as the pencil-eraser sized hail bounced into his face. He ugh-ed and huh-ed and furiously began setting up his shelter while I hunkered down. The wind incessantly howled in the tall canopy of the ponderosas around us and the hail turned to snow. We woke up to about 2 inches of snow. We were both befuddled by the recent turn of events. Here we are in snow and freezing cold when the morning before we were in 85 degrees.

The polarity of the AZT balances my extremes in temperament. I feel composed and snug in the violent up-swings of change in the environments here; the extremes keep my polarity more stable.

We quickly packed camp and mashed trail to keep warm. Down and down we went. We ended up in a connective piece of hilly terrain between the Rincons and the Santa Catalinas.

The day enveloped in cloudiness and temperatures stayed cool. The more we mashed the more Lint's feet began to hurt. He took off his Altra Superiors and noticed the tread and sole had been ravaged by the ruggedness of the AZT. We ambled into Molino Campground and Lint struck up conversations with some campers in desperate need of sole cushioning. One of the campers, a creepy one at that, had some blue foam pad that Lint was able to shape and cut into the form of the shoe. Crisis averted miraculously.

My Vasque Velocity looked hardly used and have been bombproof so far on trail.

We camped in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness at the bottom of the confluence of the forks of Sabino Canyon Creek. Another 4,000ft climb awaited us the next morning.

The Santa Catalinas have to be one of the most rugged and steepest mountain ranges I have ever been in. Steep, 90 degree gulches, ravines and canyons splay across the range in menacing fashion. They forebode a grueling day and it proved to be so, however, when you stop and look around the views held your breath and awe. Lint fared better on this climb.

At the top, we ate quickly lunch at the resort of Summerhaven. In the evening walk, we barked the whole way from the fillings of our stomachs. Farting and belching along Oracle Ridge, we espied our destination far down the ridgeline. We camped along the ridge with the wind whipping up the icy cold again. The sun dwindled down into the west and I felt to be on an island and the deserts below my ocean. The distant archipelagic ranges were the quintessential horizon of the sky islands. The haze and dust settled into a deep ocean blue. The cold fell deeper into my quilt. I ended up burrito-wrapping myself with the Startiform to obtain more heat as my quilt is basically non-functional out here. I ended up ordering a new sleeping bag, the Marmot Plasma, in Oracle.

We stayed at the Chalet in Oracle. The town is spread out but the Casa de Riviera restaurant served up some of the best and biggest Mexican food I have ever tasted. It was nice to finally shower and scrub off 8 days of glorious filth.

It is fitting to be in Oracle. Ed Abbey died here. I sometime feel my progress to be that of a fool's but there is no other life I would rather lead.