Thursday, November 24, 2016

Arizona Trail- Passage 21

Sunflower (hwy 87) to near Shake Spring
21.8 miles

Headlights shine through the dark parking lot. My ride! Last minute gear decisions are hastily made and the trunk of my car slams closed with an echo of finality. Ready or not this is happening: a solo section hike of the Arizona Trail. With tent.

K. is a hiker from Phoenix who kindly offered to give me a shuttle to Sunflower. Her cheerful hiking stories brighten the morning as she navigates the highways around Phoenix. It’s great talking to someone who knows this area. She points out the Four Peaks- a well-known mountain range (featured on the Arizona license plate!) that the Arizona Trail crosses. Before I know it, we are at the Bushwell Tanks Trailhead near Sunflower and I am waving goodbye and then she is gone and its just me and the trail.
I wind down to Sycamore Creek. Sunlight blazes through the yellow leaves and the creek merrily babbles along. Breathing in the sweet scent of fall, my shoulders relax and my pack settles down comfortably against my back, part of me again.
My plan is to make it to my water cache before dark, and with the short winter days, there is a time crunch. I keep checking my watch and readjusting my speed- faster, faster. Squeezing energy from my legs. I forget to look around, focusing instead on foot placement on the rocky trail. When I do look up, the sycamores are already a ribbon of yellow snaking through the valley.
Ribbon of yellow
Dark shapes scurry up the far slope. My heart rate skyrockets, adrenaline rushes over me.  Then I remember I’m not in Montana anymore. No moose, no grizzlies here.
After more climbing, the roadwalking begins and I stop focusing on foot placement and look around.
Expansive views, delightful rock formations, and rising peaks ahead all make for an entertaining hike. Higher still, a grove of ponderosa pines provides a sweet rest break spot.
Soft pine-needle ground, birds fly back and forth above. Everything here is so alive.
Trail friend.
By late afternoon, I arrive at my water cache. Two miles later, Pigeon Springs does have a few inches of soupy stagnant water but I was glad to have taken the time to leave my own water just in case. None of the other water sources had water, so if Pigeon Springs had been dry, I’d have been in trouble.

Crossing into the Four Peaks Wilderness, the forest changes rapidly. Scat, so much scat on the trail. Two deer. A bird’s nest, birds everywhere. Trees, so many trees. I try not to look at the trees, but I can’t help seeing all the well-spaced trees that would accommodate a hammock. It’s what the mind does at the hour before sunset. But I have a tent, not a hammock. What was I thinking?!?!
Plenty of trees. Trees glowing in the sun. Oh Trees.
Flat ground. Look for flat ground. But I don’t see any, just sloped spots and trees that would be perfect.

I walk into the sunset. The distant peaks are hot pink. There must be a flat spot soon.
Roosevelt Lake glistens.
Finally, a small cleared spot past dry Shake Spring. I set up the tent in the dark, serenaded by a chorus of crickets. My body is used to sinking into quick sleep in my hammock after a day on the trail- I typically sleep like a rock without even waking up at all. While I’ve spent a handful of nights in my tent after short dayhikes, this is the first night after backpacking serious miles.

On the ground, I toss and turn, unable to settle. My muscles yell angrily. My arms flop around, my legs feel too low and strait, my spine is all misaligned. I try to imagine being one with the ground. How do other people do this? What am I doing wrong? I flip and flop and rearrange everything, and flip flop.

Eventually a restless sleep comes.


  1. Ut oh experiment as a ground dweller gone awry. What pad are you using? I bet it was so hard leaving the hammock behind. It's your home sweet home, almost makes me want to try it.

    1. The pad was plenty soft and nice- a thermarest neoair from ages ago so it doesn't make noise. It's the flatness, not having feet elevated and supported, and not having the snugglily feel of the hammock. Really not much worse than sleeping in a bed. But I don't like beds either after a long day of hiking when muscles are sore.

      But I think it was a good experiment. I'm less reluctant to take the tent if I'm doing shorter miles or carcamping-- did more nights with it in campgrounds and that was fine. Where it makes the biggest difference is when my body is sore. So now I can really say that it's worth the extra time it takes to find a hammock site on these longer trips. And I also feel more comfortable with setup and takedown in the dark. So at least there is that.

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