Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Bonus Miles on the Arizona Trail

4 AM. The sound of screaming. Or is it barking? Is it coming closer? Frozen, I strain to hear. Nothing. Maybe it went away. I poke my head outside the tent, but the weak headlamp does nothing to penetrate the darkness. The milky way stretches across the sky.
Wait, what was that?!? This is not a hammock! Can that be right? Have you lost your mind?
If I were in my hammock, I know I would immediately fall back asleep. If I were in my hammock, I probably wouldn’t have even woken up.

Instead I lie awake. Turning from side to side. Waiting. Flipping over. Waiting some more. Maybe my other side will be better. Nope.

Whose bright idea was it to try a tent?! Oh, yes, me. It seemed like a good idea. Stretching myself, learning new skills, breaking out of my rut. Attempting to be a more versatile backpacker.

Maybe I should stick to my old ways. Old ways are there for a reason.

Plenty of people sleep on the ground. How hard can it be?

I have plenty of time to contemplate all this in the hours that I don't sleep.

At first light I walk along the Arizona Trail, back towards the trailhead. The sky is pink, the maples are pink. Just a mile back and then I am to my car.

I think of these as bonus miles because I know I will have to retrace these steps when I backpack through this section. For now, this is a good spot to spend the night on my drive south to hike a little section hike of the Arizona Trail.

My mission for the day is setting up water caches. The trail steward told me water is scarce this time of year.

The dirt road climbs steeply and my little hybrid car strains in first gear. Will I make it up the hill, I wonder. A friend has this same car, and I remember one time we had to all get out and push her car up a dirt road to get up a mountain to our trailhead. Only I have no one to push. I lean forward and try to use my momentum. Mostly, I dislike driving. Mostly, I am worried the road will get worse.  Every tenth of a mile seems like an eternity.  I make it 3.8 miles up the road.
This is the non-steep part. But I was too scared to stop for a photo on the steep part.
Finally, I have had enough. I abandon my car at a wide pullover. The gallon jug of water goes into my pack. I start hiking up the road. Much better. The climb feels good after the long drive. The dust and the sun and the wind. A couple hours later I’ve climbed 1800 feet and a van comes up from behind me. The driver is instantly recognizable as a hiker. I hop in without hesitating.  He will take me the rest of the way up.

Turns out he is a triple crowner (and perhaps somewhat of a hiking legend) and just hiked one of the sections I’m planning on doing! How cool!

He drops me off at a good stop for my water cache and I tuck the gallon jug under a bush. Thanks so much for the ride and more importantly for the good conversation, Seiko!


In the afternoon, there is enough time to check out Tonto National Monument. The Arizona Trail passes just a few miles from here, but there’d be no way to get here easily. When I walk up to the cliff dwelling, I’m the only visitor and the awesome VIP volunteer ranger tells me all about the Salado people who lived here 850 years ago.
Cliff dwelling at Tonto National Monument

The sun is setting as I set up my tent near the Picketpost Trailhead.  I lie in the tent and listen to the traffic sounds. It’s a struggle to fall asleep again. I try to imagine what it would have been like to live in a cliff dwelling. I try to imagine all the countless backpackers on all the long trails sleeping on the ground. Maybe it will be easier after a long hard day of hiking. Maybe I’ll just need to keep practicing until I get used to sleeping on the ground.

(Or maybe this is stupid and I should give up and stick with what I know works for me.)

But I left my hammock back home. Like it or not, I'm committed to this experiment.


  1. Ha, and I can't imagine sleeping in a hammock. Maybe I should become more versatile too.

    1. Well.. now I'm thinking being versitile is overrated. Going back to being specialized and set in my ways. :)

    2. I tried a hammock when I was in Costa Rica and it sucked. HOWEVER, I compare that experience to the difference between a crappy bike and one meant for riding.