Monday, June 23, 2014

Day 4: Walking In Circles

Morning shadows.
April 16: I got up a bit later than normal. Partly because I went to sleep so late the night before due to night hiking, but partly because it was so cold in the morning, I didn't want to leave the warm comfort of my sleeping bag.

But eventually, I made it up and out of my bag and set off to resume the hike the Utah. I kept my eyes open for the dirt stock tank at Pauline Canyon, mostly out of curiosity than because I needed any water. I still wanted to know why I had so much trouble finding the water! If I knew what had gone so wrong the day before, perhaps I could avoid it in a similar situation later. But again, I never saw any pools of water along the trail. To this day, I still don't know what went wrong. Except that the water couldn't possibly be as close to the trail as my notes would indicate. A little more direction would have been helpful!

The cattle blocking the trail just before Middle Canyon had clearly around moved since I had left them 20 hours earlier, but they were still blocking the trail and I picked my way around them off  trail. I didn't follow the game trail in the wrong direction this time--I do (sometimes!) learn from my mistakes.

When I reached Middle Canyon, it was a milestone of sorts. This was where I had turned back the day before and finally, after nearly an entire day, I was progressing over new territory. I pulled out my camera--I needed to start taking photos again for Walking 4 Fun. It was kind of nice to walk without worrying about photos, bending over any interesting flowers and taking several photos hoping one of them might be in focus and look half decent and keeping an eye open for an interesting perspective on an otherwise boring section. Sometimes getting down close to the ground and looking upwards has an interest effect. Sometimes getting high and looking down has an interesting look. But sometimes, I just wanted to walk and not worry about any of that. Although I hated walking over ground I had already covered, it was a nice break from "working" on Walking 4 Fun.

The next water source was Down Under Tank--a dirt stock tank. Had I not backtracked, this would have been the water I would have needed to reach. It was impossible to miss--right off the side of the trail and it was a pretty large body of water. The trail between Pauline Canyon and the stock tank wasn't even particularly difficult--mostly rolling hills and it was considerably easier to walk than the backtracking I had done. In hindsight, knowing what I do now, I wouldn't have done the backtracking at all, but I still feel like I made the right decision--I didn't know for certain beforehand that I could find this stock tank or that it would have plenty of water, and I couldn't have known that this section of trail would be so much easier to walk than the stuff behind me.

Need to make a barbed-wire fence? I found everything
you need for it here!
However, the water was nasty. Not only was it muddy, but the edges were churned up with thousands of cow prints and surrounding terrain was filled with cow patties. Trap Tank wasn't pleasant, but at least it didn't look like it was abused by cattle.

According to my notes, additional water sources weren't far ahead, and they included notes like "solar pump and spigot" which sounded a lot better than what I was looking at so I skipped by the stock tank without stopping. (Okay, I stopped to take photos. I didn't stop to get water!)

Cattle were everywhere around these parts, and many of them were calves. The calves made me nervous, though, because their parents were clearly nervous when I approached within a quarter-mile of their offspring. More than once I veered off the trail to give a wide birth around them.

Another 1.7 miles after Down Under Tank, I reached the Cott Tank Exclosure and the solar-powered pump with a spigot. Clear, cool fresh water, straight out of the ground. That's what I'm talking about! The trail had very little shade along this section, and the solar panels provided some shade for a quick snack break. The area was fenced off with signs warning that no camping was allowed here to protect the wildlife, but I didn't plan to camp. It looked like there must have been a failure or two in the fence at some point since old cow pies littered the area. Nothing fresh that I could see, though.

Then I hefted the pack back on and kept walking. The trail passed by a small, no-longer-flowing creek. The stagnant water that was left formed pools covered with algae. Better than the stock tank, I suppose, but I was glad I could get water from the solar pump and spigot instead.

I followed the sign posts marking the Arizona Trail as it curved right, then curved right again, and I realized I was now walking almost 180 degrees in the opposite direction as when I left the Cott Tank Exclosure. When I left, the sun was on my left. Now it was on my right. I didn't think much of it except to wonder why they couldn't have just routed the trail northward from Cott Tank instead of meandering needlessly--the trail often seems to do a lot of needless meandering.

Prickly pear cactus
The next data point in my information was Red Bank Well--another solar pump with a storage tank 1.7 miles past Cott Tank. I finally spotted it in the distance to the right. The trail approached a barbed-wire fence with a warning that no camping was allowed within this area, and I stopped in my tracks. This sign and fence looked suspiciously like the last one I had seen just before I reached Cott Tank Exclosure. I took another look at the solar panels and tank in the distance and cussed.

I was back at Cott Tank! How the hell did I get back here?! I just walked in a giant circle!

I completed the circle by walking back to the tank, then sat down in the same shade I had stopped at before to pull out my maps and figure out what went wrong. I hadn't really been looking at my maps--just the data sheet which listed noteworthy points along the trail and their distances, but the map clearly showed no, wide-arching U that I found so suspicious before. The trail should have kept going westward. How did I miss the trail junction? And how did I follow Arizona Trail markers all the way back to the Cott Tank Exclosure? That was the thing that really puzzled me. If I hadn't seen any trail markers for the better part of a mile, I'd have grown suspicious at the lack of them. But I was following trail markers, and they led me directly here!

I followed the trail westward again, retracing my steps. Again. I really needed to stop doing this if I was ever going to reach Utah, mumbling some not-so-kind words about the Arizona Trail Association.

I felt like the trail was trying to buck me off. First, my start was delayed by two weeks due to server issues. Then there was the Brown Fire to scare me off. Then not finding the water source yesterday and having to backtrack nearly 7 miles. And now this. Setback after setback, and I have to admit, I was tempted just to quit. Screw it! I could come back when the trail is more accepting of me! In all my thru-hikes, I'd never run into so many problems so early in the trail.

I passed over the non-flowing creekbed again, then found the trail junction I had missed before. The trail made a sharp, 90-degree turn to the left, and I had missed it. The trail disappeared into a dry creekbed. There was a signpost marking the turn, but it was posted on the right side of the trail so I thought it was pointing to the trail on the left side of the signpost. It wasn't pointing to the trail on the left side of the signpost, however, it was pointing to the left!

And when I looked at the side of signpost, I figured out why I was able to follow trail markers all the way back to the Cott Tank Exclosure--it was the horse and bike route. Horses and bikes weren't allowed in the Cott Tank Exclosure and used a different path between here and there than the hikers did. I followed the hiker trail out, then the horse/bike trail back.

It was an easy mistake to make, but I still slapped myself mentally for walking an extra (and unnecessary) 1.7 miles to make a giant circle. Had I installed that particular signpost, I would have put it on the left side of the trail so when it pointed left, it looked like the arrow pointed to a turn rather than pointed to the trail on the left side of the marker. That small change in the position of the signpost could have saved me 1.7 miles of unnecessary walking.

That, and I should actually look at my maps more. Speaking of which, I should do that now. I kept my maps and data sheets in the right, front pocket of my shirt and I went to pull it out... and couldn't find the map. The datasheet was there. The list of water reports was there. But the map was missing. Damn it to hell! It must have fallen out somewhere in the past half mile! Why does this trail hate me so much?!

I wasn't going to go back to look for it even though it couldn't have been more than half a mile behind me. I'd done more than my fair share of unnecessary walking already and I wasn't going to add to it more. Anyhow, I had already hiked that section of trail twice! I wasn't in the mood to make it three or four times.

It wasn't that big of deal, though. That map page only had about three more miles of trail listed on it before I would have walked off the page. Then I'd be on to the next page of maps, and those I still had. As long as the trail didn't try to do anything tricky--you know, like split between a horse route and a hiker route--I should be fine without a map for the next three miles.

The rest of the day provided no more challenges and I set up camp near Redrock Ranch Road.

As darkness approached, I looked for my headlamp and couldn't find it anywhere. I poured out each of my bags one at a time looking for it--not in the food bag, not with the toiletries, not in my clothing bag. I checked all of the pockets of the clothes I was wearing, but no, they were empty too. I retraced my steps to where I did my thing in the woods thinking maybe I had somehow dropped it along the way, but I didn't find it there either. It was gone. My headlamp was gone! ARGH!

How the heck did I lose that? Maybe some animal ran off with it while I was busy pooping in the woods? I banged my forehead with my hand in frustration and.... oh, there it was! I'd been wearing it the whole time. Don't know why it didn't occur to me to search my head for a headlamp!

Well, at least that problem was solved. Even if it took me about 15 minutes longer to solve than it should have! I went to sleep hoping that tomorrow held no more problems for me....

Much of the trail today went through these rolling hills
with very little shade.

Down Under Tank didn't look like very good water....

You can see the thousands of hoof prints churning up mud along the edge
by cattle drinking from the water. What you can't see
in this photo are all the cow pies surrounding the area.

Silverleaf nightshade

Solar-powered pump and spigot in the Cott Tank Exclosure.

This is the signpost that failed me.... I didn't realize that the Arizona Trail
split into a bike/horse trail in one direction and a hiker trail in the other.
From the direction I came, I only saw the one arrow pointing left, but I
didn't actually see a trail to the left and assumed it was pointing to the trail
on the left rather than a trail to the left.


The Red Bank Well is apparently powered by both solar power and wind power!

The Red Bank Well had water just pouring out of the tank, so I rinsed
my dirty socks in them. =)

There wasn't a lot of shade along this section of trail, so when I found
this, I stopped for an hour-long rest break!

Sunset approaches....

Ants hiking the Arizona Trail!


Sue KuKu said...

Ew! That Down Under Tank looks icky!


Unknown said...

All the bad juju has occurred. Now it's time to enjoy the hike. I did like the headlamp tale, made me laugh.