April 16, 2019
Miles hiked: 11.6
AZT Mile: 190.8
Campsite Elevation: 6,555 ft
I wish it were already tomorrow morning, but it’s not. It’s going to be a long night. I wish I had a camp stove instead of being stoveless. I wish my down jacket were drier. I wish I had my Western Mountaineering bag. But, hey, I don’t have any of that. I got myself into this.
The day started out lovely enough. The plan was to meet my Mom and Todd in Mt. Lemmon/Summerhaven at noon and they were going to be bringing sandwiches so we could have a picnic. This was definitely something to look forward to!
I slept well next to the sound of the creek and was in no rush to get going this morning. My favorite kind of morning indeed. When I peeked outside I saw it was slightly overcast. It would have been a nice morning for a hot coffee, but since I’m stoveless, I had no choice but to use that as motivation to get to town.
By the time I’d finished packing up, the sun had come out and it was positively lovely out. I couldn’t resist a morning yoga session there in the great grove of pine trees. It felt so wonderful to stretch and breathe and absosrb the sun as it wore away the chill from the night.
I started walking at 9:10 and had a mere 4.5 miles to get to town. My plan was to get there early enough to get a cup of Joe and browse the General Store. The morning hike was beautiful, reminiscent of Big Bear, with great rock formations and giant conifers mixed with decidous trees and oaks. The trail often crossed creeks and it was easy to rock hop them. The presence of burbling waters over rocks making that soothing noise was more than welcome. How can nature make that sound so perfectly? It truly is the best music. That and wind in the pines, which I also got to experience this morning.
Within a mile of the trail head near Mt. Lemmon I started seeing lots of day hikers, par for the course. My stomach was growling, as I had eaten quite lightly so that I could enjoy my lunch. I made it to the small town of Summerhaven by about 11:15 and went straight into the first establishment I came upon, the Cookie Cabin. I ordered a coffee which cost me $5 including the tip. Okay, small town, I can hang with that I guess, but it was just a drip coffee. It wasn’t much to write home about at all, but you know what? It was hot and hit the spot. I slurped on it as I walked up toward the General Store and it spilled all over my hands and I licked them.
WhenI got to the General Store, they told me they give free coffee to AZT thru hikers. Well, how about that! I finished the one I had and gladly refilled the awful styrofoam cup with more of the hot liquid gold. I took a walk up to the Community Center to use the bathroom and bumped into none other than Biker Robert. That’s what me and Flyby decided to name him. It was an endearing name. He waved to me from across the street calling out “Mary Poppins!” Now, how has he only made it this far? I just wondered….
I used the clean bathrooms at the Community Center, which were also heated, oh how lovely. I could have hung out there for a while and it was then I understood why I’d heard about so many thru hikers sleeping in them in snowstorms!
I went back to the General Store and plopped myself down outside in the sun. Within minutes, my Mom and Todd pulled up. Hooray! We drove back down to the trail head where there were picnic tables to enjoy our lunch. It had gotten quite chilly and the sun was now hiding behind clouds. We bundled up while we ate and enjoyed the silent surroundings of pine, dirt and rock, with the occasional jay calling out in alarm. The weather was clearly deteriorating and I needed to get my resupply done, so we headed back to town, hoping we could hole up in the Community Center. Maybe it will have heat! I thought….
The Community Center was all locked up tho, so we went to the only other place, the Sawmill Run restaurant. They had a fire place and we grabbed a table right next to it. Heaven! My Mom and Todd ordered coffee, and believe it or not, I was coffee’d out so I ordered french fries. We got warmed up and I organized my resupply food from my resupply box. The waiter was sure to let me know that “health department does not allow any outside food or drinks in here.” I told him I understood and that I wouldn’t eat any of my dehydrated food while in the restaurant. Ha!
Once we warmed up and I got my resupply food organized, it was time for me to hit the trail. Apparently there was a storm coming in from the coast of CA and they told me I may get rained on tonight. That’s fine, I thought. That’s fine.
We said our goodbyes and I returned to walking along the road out of town by 3:00. They passed right by me in the car and waved goodbye. My Mom called out “I Love You” from the car, her voice lingering on the tail of the car and away they went. It’s the wierdest thing, I deliberately choose to walk into the wilderness alone as a means of gaining personal improvement and inner peace. Yet, it is hard to say goodbye to comfort and especially your Mom or Dad. I’ve done this so many times, I am a pro at really. Yet, it is always hard and I cannot control the lump that forms in my throat as I hold back tears, walking away.
I linked onto the Oracle Ridge Trail #1 which was a long meandering string down the exposed ridge. The sky behind me was darkening and looked quite ominous. The AZT follows this ridgeline for about 5 miles before it finally starts to drop in elevation and my goal was to make it 10 miles to the next water source, and much lower in elevation where the weather would be “nicer”. I figured I could “outwalk” this storm if I set my mind to it.
Ha! Let the adventure begin. The clouds kept building behind me at the top of the mountain, then they started turning murky like a muddy pond, indicating to me that it was already precipitating up high. I pushed on faster, I’ve got to make it down as low as I can, and fast! Inevitably, the storm caught up with me. At first it was a drizzle and I walked onward, hoping maybe it wouldn’t materialize to anything of consequence. I learned quickly though, that rain in AZ means business, and before I knew it, I was caught in a downright hail storm!
I stopped under the protection of a Juniper tree with a sudden halt and dropped my pack on the ground, thud. I needed to get my pack waterproofed. I yanked all my gear out and lined the inside of my pack with the good ol’ trash compactor bag. Surprisingly, I managed to do that fairly quickly, and then I put on my rain skirt, my wind jacket and popped open my Umbrella.
Walking along the exposed ridge in the hail was adventurous. The light was sort of magical as I dipped back into the vegetation, the colors began to pop from wet saturation. I even saw an animal in the brush that looked like a fluffy white ghost. It stopped me in my tracks. Full of curiousity, I stood completely still, what was that thing? It seemed to float through the shrubbery and disappear. Then, I saw it again. All I could make out was pure white fur about 3-4 feet off the ground and it moved with silence and grace. Later, when I would google it, I discovered it was most likely a Pronghorn Antelope. So cool! I wish I could have seen more of this magnificent creature.
As the rain came steadily down, my plan was to get down down down off this ridge, where there was a water source and where I hoped I would have a warmer, drier night. By then I was already wet. At least, my feet were sopping wet. I passed a tent in the trees off to the side of the trail which had a bike next to it. Biker Robert? I didn’t stop, I just wanted to get down.
The wind was picking up more on the exposed ridge and the trail would alternate between single track and dirt roads. The dirt roads were sloppy and wet. The temperature was dropping as well and by 6:00pm I was losing my patience feeling like I wasn’t making nearly the progress I had hoped to make.
It was time for a decision. It was 6:00pm and I had 4.5 miles and 1,300 ft down to get to the water tank. Between here and there it was all exposed ridge walking as far as I could tell from my map. I crossed a road junction and shortly noted a spot under some Oak trees that looked like it was fairly protected. Done. I’m going to just camp here I thought. It was way earlier than I normally prefer to stop, but I wanted to get warm and dry if possible. It’s just going to be a long night…..
As I got myself dressed in all my dry layers, including (thankfully) dry socks, I was better but still quite chilled, especially my feet. I tucked into my sleeping bag and pulled it over my head, trying to get warm. I still had to eat my dinner and wow did I ever wish I had a camp stove. The rain poured heavily and I was really glad I’d decided to stop and camp. I thought about how nicely the day had begun, warm sun and yoga under the pine trees, hot coffee in town, our family picnic (even if it was chilly) and sitting by the fireplace eating french fries…all that comfort, all that niceness, only hours ago. How funny this thing I choose to do is, yet, it’s what I love, and I have to embrace all the faces of trail life, rain or shine.