Monday, July 28, 2014

Day 19: Badwater in the Flatlands

Sunrise was gorgeous!
May 1: The morning started off beautiful but warm. My first stop for the day would be Beehive Well which, according to my water notes, was the last reliable surface water for over 25 miles. My notes did show a public water cache about 8 miles down the trail, but I'm a little leery about depending on public water caches when I have no way of verifying if they still have any water. The only problem worse than arriving at a water cache with too much water was arriving at an empty cache with no extra water.

And the water after that.... I probably wouldn't arrive at until the next morning sometime. Which meant I'd have to carry an excruciating amount of water--enough to hike an entire day in temperatures closing in on 100 degrees, enough to cook dinner and make breakfast the next morning, and finally enough to get me that last bit to the next water source. Basically, I needed to carry every drop of water I could--about 10 liters of it. A whopping 22 pounds of water.

I wasn't happy when I saw what I had to work with, though. The water from Beehive Well looked relatively clear, but it pooled into a small tank with not one, but two large, decomposing birds in it. Bleh.

It was still early in the morning but temperatures were already uncomfortably high, so I ducked in the shade provided by the water tank as I started treating it with my Sawyer filter. The water coming out looked good, but when I tasted it, there was something wrong with it. I described it as a "funky" taste in my journal, but thinking back, it seemed like a generous assessment. I remember it tasting absolutely horrid. However, there wasn't much I could do about it except hike back to the last water source--and that wasn't going to happen!

I started calling it the Taste of Death and hoped it wouldn't end up making me sick, still slightly unbelieving that I'd even consider drinking such nasty water, treated or not.

When I was done, I staggered under the weight of the water until I got my balance and continued walking--albeit at a much slower pace than before I picked up the water.

A hint of my day to come....
From there, the trail went almost completely flat. The contour lines on my topographic map disappeared into nothing and the heat of the day continued to increase. The flatness was something of a relief--it meant no strenuous climbs through the heat. But it also meant no breezes along ridgelines or graceful downhills.

The weather forecast called for strong winds, but those must have stalled at ground level because the air was nothing but stagnant. Even the cacti seemed to wither under the intense heat. The saguaros and ocotillos soon disappeared, and the brilliant blooms on the prickly pears and hedgehog cactus came to a halt.

The day started with terrible air quality--dust brought visibility down to just a few miles--but the air cleared considering as the afternoon progressed. Whatever winds had stirred up all that dust must have come to an end, but I was a little bitter that I never felt any of the wind to begin with.

At first glance, the water from Beehive Well didn't look that bad.

At second glance, it didn't look as good....
At third glance, it looked even worse!

The Taste of Death water I carried has a not-surprising property: It warms up to the outside temperature. When the outside temperature rises to 80 degrees, so does the water I carry. When the outside temperature rises to 90 degrees, so does my water. And when the outside temperature rises to 100 degrees, so does my water. And if there's one thing worse than dead-bird tainted water, it's the taste of 100 degree water when you're already overheating in the heat yourself. Even good water tastes bad at such high temperatures. I had to force myself to swallow a mouthful regularly when all I wanted to do was spit it out.

It was a tough, difficult day. Along the route, I found a couple of unofficial water caches, and I'd trade out 2 liters of my bad water with 2 liters of.... well, less bad water. It didn't have the taste of death, but it was still near 100 degrees and tasted of the plastic from the sun-bleached bottle. The water must have been sitting in those bottles for months as strong as the plastic taste was!

The official water cache, 8 miles from the Taste of Death water, was filled with mostly empty bottles. I refilled a couple of the liters I had already consumed, but felt guilty about taking what little water there was and continued carrying the rest of the Taste of Death water. 

Late in the afternoon, the trail passed a small rock outcropping called "The Boulders." Not a very creative name, but the boulders were tall enough to cast a small sliver of a shade where I was able to find relief from the intense sun.

Near the end of the day, I set up camp by a dry riverbed, hoping the slope of the riverbed would cast a little bit of shade I could use until sunset. I'd take a few extra minutes of shade wherever I could find it!

Despite the flatness of the trail and nothing going wrong, it was the toughest day of the trail for me physically. The brutal heat sapped my energy and the disgusting water left me dehydrated. After sunset, when the temperatures started to fall, I drank as much water as I could. It tasted better and better with the dropping temperatures and I knew my body needed it. I usually read a book until around 10:00 or so when I'd be tired enough to fall asleep, but I drifted off to sleep much earlier tonight. I was just too tired to stay up so late.

The saguaros I saw early in the day were blooming, but it's difficult
to get photos of the blooms when they're 10 or more feet in the air!
So I attached my camera to my trekking pole trick and used a 10-second
timer to get this blurry photo.
At one point, I was walking down the trail when I felt a sudden, sharp
pain on my foot. YEAOWWW!! I looked down and this
was what I found. Before extracting it, though, I took this photo for all of you. =)
This cholla bloom would be among the last of the wildflowers I'd
see for the rest of the day!

That's Antelope Peak in the distance. The AZT runs
just around the right side of it.

Antelope Peak
The official water cache.
Love the footbridge! For a second, I thought I'd
have to get my feet wet crossing this creek! *heavy sarcasm*
Brutally hot... brutally boring....
These powerlines were kind of nice--I could use them to
mark my progress on the trail. It was about the only landmark
along this otherwise flat stretch of land.
This was one of the more interesting gates along the trail
that used gravity to make sure the gate closed behind you.
The gate would open outward (towards where I was standing when
this photo was taken), then the weight at the end of the line
would pull the gate closed once I let go of the gate.
"The Boulders"
I take a break in a small sliver of shade provided by this boulder.
More boulder formations.

Someone took the time to place these rocks around the hedgehog cactus.
(It wasn't me, though! I only took time to take this photo!)
Near the end of the day, I started approaching some hills again.
And even found these wildflowers! =)


Anonymous said...

Did you see the hidden faces in these pictures? In the picture labeled "more boulder formations" I see the head of a turtle, see the eye in the upper right area. In the next picture off to the right is a cactus formation that is lighter in color than the surrounding vegetation, that looks just like a face
Don't Panic!

Unknown said...

I see a puffin in The Boulders; top left of the formation