Friday, July 4, 2014

Day 9: How to Kill Time

Sunrise over Twin Tanks.
April 21: I found myself in something of a dilemma. I was finally making good time on the trail, but now I had to force myself to slow down. Amanda and I had agreed to meet at Colossal Cave in a couple of days but at the pace I was going, I'd get there too soon. Close to two days too soon! So I started thinking about how I could solve that problem.

I'd been taking long, two or three-hour lunch breaks ever since leaving Patagonia. During the hottest part of the day because hey, that's always the best time to take a long break. =) But that hasn't been enough. I was still going too fast!

I'd been doing a voracious amount of reading on my Kindle during that time. In five days, I had read "A" Is For Alibi and "B" Is For Burglar by Sue Grafton and Never Go Back by Lee Child. I usually read maybe one book per week. Three in five days in unprecedented! Glad they were on a Kindle and I didn't have to carry so many books on my back.

So I needed to kill time. Or.... get off the trail at Colossal Cave without Amanda's help. It was a lot easier to entertain myself off the trail. I love to read, but not for 6 or more hours each day! (I'd also read for a few hours in camp at the end of the day besides the long lunch breaks and shorter snack breaks.) But really, reading was all I had to kill time on the trail. Off trail, there were televisions and Internets and towns to explore.

So that was my biggest, pressing problem when I woke up in the morning. How to kill time.

The morning started clear and beautiful. It would be warm too. Not hot, perhaps, but definitely warm. And as far as I could see were short, stubby cactus. Not many trees at all, and the few that did exist didn't provide much shade.

Tucson suburbs in the distance!
I was surprised when, not ten minutes into the morning's hike, I bumped into two people walking their dog. It seemed a little "out there" for people to be walking their dog. They didn't carry any water or other hiking equipment--they were merely out for a walk. I think maybe they lived nearby, and they were nice enough, but I missed the sign that it was: I'd be seeing a lot of people on this section of trail.

I was approaching Tucson now and as a relatively large city, it had a relatively large population. And many of those people like to get outdoors. All day long I had mountain bikes zipping past me and bumped into a couple of more hikers. They were everywhere! I saw more people on the trail today than the entire rest of the hike combined! It was kind of exhilarating, and I'd happily stop to chat with any of them if for no other reason than to kill time. But I was also happy just to have people around to talk to. =)

Most of the mountain bikers whipped by without much more than a wave, but I talked to most all of the foot traffic I met along the way. And it seemed like every one of them told me about seeing a gila monster recently. One woman pulled out her cell phone to show me a photo she took of a gila monster she saw on the trail just a week earlier.

I was envious. The one thing I wanted to see before I started this trail was a gila monster. If I could see a gila monster, on the trail and in the wild--just one--the entire trip would be worth it. So far, I hadn't seen a gila monster. I know they are rarely seen because they spend almost their entire lives underground and out of view, but I figure walking 800 miles through Arizona is bound to give me a pretty good shot at seeing one. For now, all I was seeing were other people's photos of gila monsters!

Ocotillo hanging over the trail
The trail was mostly flat, passing through rolling hills. The hills were so gentle, though, it felt essentially flat. They didn't slow me down at all!

Fairly early in the morning, I climbed to the ridgeline of a small hill and could see a huge expanse of civilization in the distance. The suburbs of Tucson. Maybe Tucson itself for all I knew. The civilization looked like it was a good 5 or 10 miles away, but I dropped my pack and pulled out the cell phone my sister had mailed to me in Patagonia. If it was going to work anywhere, this would be the place for it.

I tried using the cell phone at least once every day since I had gotten it, but so far it was never able to pick up a signal. This morning, it finally got a signal. One bar. Which wasn't enough to make a phone call. Drats!

I moved around on the ridge a bit, turning in circles hoping another direction might get a better signal than the current one, and lifted my arm high in the air and I got a second bar. That was enough to make a phone call! Of course, it would be difficult to talk on the phone with it high over my head, so I put it on speakerphone and started making calls. A new way to kill time! And... an idea was starting to form....

I called my mom first since I hadn't talked to her at all since I started the hike and I told her about my misadventures. I called my sister to let her know that I was still okay--no search and rescue crews, please!--and that for the first time, the cell phone she mailed to me was working! Then I called Desert Flower--a letterboxer that lived in Tucson.

Mesquite on the trail

She had emailed me her contact information asking if there was anything she and AZ Roadie could do to help on my trip since they lived nearby, and I was hoping they might have the time and inclination to pick me up off the trail a day earlier than I had originally planned. I'd still have to hike slow, but getting off an entire day early would alleviate a tremendous amount of otherwise empty time to kill. I was able to talk to her and we agreed to meet at Colossal Cave the next morning.

With that planned, I called Amanda to let her know about the change in my schedule. I'd be in a hotel somewhere in the outskirts of Tucson when she got into town now. No need to pick me up off the trail. I didn't know which hotel--I'd figure out that later--but I'd call her with more information when I had it.

At that point, I ran out of people to call and I lowered the cell phone. My arm was getting tired from holding it in the air anyhow. =)

The trail was a pleasant walk, and I enjoyed it immensely. It never got steep, it never got unpleasantly hot, and the views were awesome everywhere. I could see far ahead to a mountain range that I had little doubt included Saguaro National Park which I'd be hiking through soon enough, and I could see far behind me along the trail I covered. Fabulous views everywhere! And it seemed like every tree, bush and cactus were blooming with brilliant colors.

The trail crosses under State Highway 83 through a culvert which provided a huge expanse of solid shade, so I took a two hour break under it. An hour into my break, two German mountain bikers showed up and stopped to join me in the shade. We chatted a bit and they told me that they had started biking the Arizona Trail several years earlier but eventually quit after running out of patches for the flat tires that the cactus caused. Over a hundred flat tires in all! They came back this year to finish the trail and, so far, hadn't gotten a single flat tire. They seemed mystified about that. Not complaining, but thought it was odd they'd have so much trouble with flats last time and not this time.

I thought it was curious myself. Maybe they biked in the fall last time and more cactus thorns littered the trail in the fall than in the spring? Maybe this part of the trail just wasn't as prone to flat tires as the part they covered in years past? Maybe this year was just a "non flat tire" year while the previous time they bike was a particularly bad year for flat due to weather conditions. (This year Arizona was in a drought--maybe that caused fewer cactus thorns to end up on the trail this year?)

I don't know the reason, but it was interesting that they'd suffer from so many flat tires last time and absolutely zero this time.

Prickly bear bloom

"Of course," I told them, "now that you've said that, you're going to leave here, go about 5 minutes and one of you will end up with a flat tire!"

I told them that I was hoping to see a gila monster along the hike, and they told me that they saw one just the day before at a picnic area by Colossal Cave then pulled out their cell phones to show me photos they took. I made a mental note to pay special attention for gila monsters when I reached that picnic area. Maybe I'd get lucky and see it to. Maybe.... 

We eventually parted ways. I continued northbound and the two German mountain bikers continued southbound, never to be seen again. (Not by me, at least. I'm sure other people saw them again, though!)

I didn't walk for more than an hour or so before I reached Interstate 10 and another culvert that went under it. This culvert wasn't as large or spacious as the previous one, but I could still use the shade that it provided and proceeded to take another two-hour break. Although I'd be getting off the trail an entire day earlier than planned, I still needed to take it slow!

My data book showed a fairly reliable source of water from the Cienega River and I figured I'd camp there for the night. At least that was the plan until I reached the Gabe Zimmerman Trailhead.

Gabe Zimmerman was one of the people shot and killed during the 2011 Tucson shooting which injured Gabrille Giffords. It included a very nice tribute to the man, but there was also a sign about the area, and it said that camping was not allowed in the Cienega Creek National Preserve. Now what to do...?

Sunset was fast approaching and I wasn't sure how far I'd have to hike to get to the other side of the preserve, so I decided to camp before the river. I wasn't entirely sure exactly where the boundaries of the preserve were located, but I knew the river itself would be in it. Maybe this trailhead was part of it, but I was still some distance away from the water itself so maybe it wasn't. I decided to walk down the trail, not more than a quarter mile or so, to set up camp. I wasn't sure if I'd be in the preserve or not, but at least I would be well away from the water and can honor the spirit of the rules even if I might have technically been in the wrong. Under the current circumstances, it seemed like the best I could do.

And that's what happened. I found a flat area, well away from the creek, just off the side of the trail and set up camp for the night.

Prickly pear bloom

Cholla bloom

Another cholla with a different bloom!

State Highway 83 underpass. I'd take a two-hour break in this shade!

My new German mountain biking friends.

Crossing the Old Sonoita Highway. No culverts here!

I did all of my reading on a Kindle, but some hikers and bikers carry paperback
books. When they're done, they'll put it in a plastic bag (to protect it from the
elements) then leave it on the trail for another hiker to take. I didn't
take this one, but I have read it before! =)

Rabbits were everywhere on the trail! But this was the only
blurry photo I nabbed of one. It hiding in the shade didn't
help the photo any!

Interstate 10 is in view!

I took another two-hour break under Interstate 10. =)

The trail was essentially flat the whole day, but those mountains ahead
promise that the trail won't be staying flat for much longer! Saguaro National Park
is up there somewhere And we'll be going right through it!

A tribute to Gabe Zimmerman at the trailhead named for him.

Coolest bike rack ever!!!

That dark green line in the distance... that's the Cienega River and is definitely
illegal for me to camp! So I suddenly had to find a place to camp near the trailhead
instead. At least it appears to be fairly flat and wide. Finding
somewhere suitable shouldn't be difficult! (And it wasn't.)

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