Friday, September 12, 2014

Day 39: A Flagstaff Arrival!

Sunrise on the trail!
May 21: When I woke in the morning, I looked towards the southwest and could still see a column of smoke blowing across the horizon. I didn't expect otherwise--large fires rarely put themselves out overnight--but I studied it for any additional insights about the fire. I had none. Exactly where it was, how large it was and when it started were still all mysteries to me. I knew it wasn't far away, was located to the southwest of myself and was big--but I had already figured that out the evening before.

In the meantime, I had most of my attention focused on getting into Flagstaff. It was time to go into town! Resupply! Take a shower! Eat food that I hadn't been carrying on my back for over a hundred miles! And I was looking forward to it! =)

The hike.... was.... this is getting boring, I know, but it's true.... the hike was, once again, uneventful. I had 11.1 miles to reach where the trail crossed Highway 89--the shortest route into the town. (At least the shortest route from the equestrian bypass--obviously, following the resupply route would have been even shorter!)

The trail passed under Interstate 40 through a tunnel, then under a busy set of railroad tracks parallel to it. There was a lot of trash on the trail after that--the kind of stuff that looked like it was left by a homeless encampment although I didn't actually see any homeless or encampments at the time. And there was a remarkable number of plastic bags caught in bushes and trees which I started picking up along the way. They were easy to carry and seemed like the kind of thing small animals could get caught up in or choke on. Both my hometown of San Luis and my adopted town of Seattle have bans on plastic bags, which I was ambivalent about. I didn't really need them, but I didn't think banning them would save the world either.

But it was pretty shocking to me how much of the trash on the trail were just plastic bags. Yeah, there was a lot of trash all over the place where it looked like people had camped, but the plastic bags were well out of range of those. The plastic bags had blown far from where they had been released in the wild. A can or old tire thrown off on the side of the road stays there and eventually gets picked up by "adopt a highway" programs or something. That kind of trash tends to pile up in localized heaps. Plastic bags just blow hell and gone, though--deep into the wilderness or far out over the water where most of the time, nobody ever picks them up.

And suddenly, over the course of just a couple of miles of walking, I was suddenly glad for the bans on plastic bags. I don't like seeing any litter, but I suddenly recognized that some litter is worse than other litter and plastic bags are definitely among the worst. It was kind of a remarkable realization for me--the sudden about face I had on the subject when I finally recognized what I was seeing. I'm solidly convinced that bans on plastic bags are going to start becoming a lot more common and eventually become the norm rather than the exception. They're wind-blown pests with no sense of boundaries. If people just disposed of them properly, it wouldn't be such a big deal. But obviously, many people don't--and it's because of them that these bans are popping up.

I finally reached Highway 89, hands stuffed with empty plastic bags (plus a few stuffed in a side pocket of my pack when my hands became full), and started walking into town. My data book said that services started two miles down the road, near Flagstaff Mall, but I knew I wouldn't have to walk that far because Flagstaff has a bus service. I just needed to walk to the nearest bus stop which I figured was less than a mile away. (I had looked up the bus routes in Flagstaff when I was in Pine.)

About 15 minutes later, I was at a bus stop, waiting--as people often do around bus stops. =)

Several minutes after I arrived, an apparently homeless man approached me. I had seen him at the edge of the Circle K behind the bus stop when I first arrived but didn't pay him any attention at the time, but as he approached me I took a closer look. He looked as unwashed as I did--maybe even more so. The dirt in his clothes looked several layers deep. I figured he was about to hit me up for money, but no, he didn't do that. Instead, he offered me a sandwich. Did I really look that bad?!

Then he explained that he had just purchased the sandwich at the Circle K not 5 minutes earlier for a friend, but his friend hadn't arrived and he didn't want the sandwich to go to waste. He'd already eaten a sandwich for himself and therefore wasn't hungry, so he wanted me to take the sandwich.
It seemed a little weird to be taking food from this guy, and I said that wasn't necessary. Save it for later or something. I was heading into town anyhow and planned to enjoy the cardinal sin of gluttony already. The sandwich he offered really wasn't my first choice to begin my gluttonous ways.

But he kept insisting that I take the sandwich, whether I wanted it or not, so eventually I took the sandwich. It was still warm from whatever heat lamps it had been sitting under at the Circle K and showed no signs of having ever been opened so I had no suspicions about the food being tainted or anything. Well, I'm always a little suspicious of hot food from convenience stores--probably reheated multiple times and a cesspool of bacteria--but in this case, I wasn't suspicious of the man pushing the sandwich onto me. =)

The apparently homeless guy foisted this Big Az Spicy Chicken sandwich
onto me. I must have looked worse than I thought!
So he went back to his corner and I did what I figured I should do--I took a photo of the sandwich then opened it and ate it. I ate it fast, though. They probably wouldn't allow me to bring food onto the bus once it arrived!

I arrived at the bus stop with about 2 liters of water--far more than I really needed now that I was in town so I dumped a liter of it on the sidewalk at the bus stop. Only after I dumped it did it occur to me that it looked like I might have peed on the sidewalk. Ooops....

About ten minutes later, the bus pulled up and I stepped in. I paid the $1.25 fair--amazed at how cheap it was. (In Seattle, during non-rush hours, it's $2.25.)

I'm riding the bus the rest of the way into Flagstaff. Woo-who!
Go buses! =) And check out that beard! That's what 5 weeks
in the wilderness can do to a guy!
When I was in Pine, I had made a reservation for the Super 8 in Flagstaff, but it wasn't even noon yet. Check-in time was still hours away, so I figured I'd waste the time away by first stopping at the main post office to pick up my mail drops. I got off the bus a few blocks away from the post office and walked the rest of the way.

The smoke in the air from the fire was heavy now--the main column of smoke seemed to be blowing directly over this part of the city. All of my hike I could see the smoke on the horizon to the west, but now I was directly in its path. The air had that "sunset" quality to it, orangish in color and I could even see ashes floating in the air. Without a doubt, the outside air quality had to be horrendous at the moment.

I picked up the laptop I mailed myself and a small box from my mom with dehydrated ground beef and maps covering the rest of the trail--the entire rest of the trail! I felt like I was getting close to the end now. Just another 200 miles or so and I'd be done!

Then I walked towards the Super 8. It was still too early too check in, so I stopped at a Taco Bell along the way for lunch. I put myself next to an electrical outlet and proceeded to plug in my cell phone with the charger that I shipped with my laptop, then called Amanda, my sister (I'm okay--don't send out the search and rescue just because there's a fire nearby!) and my mom to update everyone about my progress. I also powered up my laptop and managed to get a wifi connection to a nearby bowling alley and wasted a couple of hours with that.

It's hard to actually see the smoke in my photos when I was actually
in Flagstaff since there was no contrast to anything that wasn't
smoky, but from the trail at a distance, you can clearly see the smoke
blowing over the town. The mountains at the edge
of Flagstaff are almost invisible through all that smoke!

That's when I learned details about the fire outside of Flagstaff. It started the afternoon before at around 4:00--it had only been burning for a couple of hours when I first noticed it--and it was being called the Slide Fire since it started in Slide Rock State Park. It was burning wildly out of control, lots of people had been evacuated, and even in the Taco Bell everyone was talking about the fire. Given its proximity and direction, I had thought that maybe it was burning on the Arizona Trail, but it was not. It was burning to the southwest of my location (like I thought it was), but further to the west than I had figured--between Flagstaff and Sedona. The road between Flagstaff and Sedona had even been closed due to the fire.

It was still an hour before check-in time at the hotel, but I figured I'd wander over there anyhow to see if they might be able to check me in early. But no, the desk clerk said that all of the rooms matching my reservation still needed to be cleaned. He disappeared in back to ask one of the maids to clean a room for me--or at last that's what he told me!--and maybe get something cleaned before the official check-in time.

No problem, I told him, I'd just wait in the lobby where the continental breakfast was held. (I was pleased to note that they had not just one waffle-maker, but two!) I could even plug in my laptop and catch up on more email.

About 20 minutes later, the desk clerk got my attention and said that one of the rooms was now ready and he checked me in--which is where I stayed for most of the rest of the day.

By dinner time, I wandered next door to the Village Inn where the desk clerk had told me that if I showed them my keycard, I'd get a 10% discount on anything I ordered and that today was "free pie Wednesday" and even if I ordered nothing more than a cup of coffee, I could get a free slice of pie. Sounded good to me!

So I navigated the increasingly smoke-clogged streets next door to the Village Inn and ordered a hamburger with fries that left me absolutely stuffed. But I didn't let that stop me from ordering a slice of the strawberry rhubarb pie. =)

Then I headed back to the hotel for the rest of the night.

Interstate 40--I'm a little curious what this big rig was carrying!
Passing under Interstate 40
The Arizona Trail heads under these busy railroad tracks through another tunnel.
You can see more smoke from the Slide Fire on the horizon behind the small hill just ahead.
A creative use for barbed-wire!
I probably saw hundreds of rabbits on the trail, but only managed to get a photo
of maybe four of them. This photo, however, is the best of them. It was fully in the sun!
More smoke on the horizon ahead.
The trail went around the side of this apparent quarry. (I have no idea
what they mine here.) I'm also getting closer to the smoke!
The trail came right up next to the quarry, but none of this equipment
appeared to be in use at the moment. Just stored off to the side.

The water in this creek (Rio de Flag), my data book warned me, was "unpotable"
because it ran through downtown Flagstaff. Ironically, it looks a heck
of a lot nicer than a lot of water I've had to drink from stock tanks!
Do you recognize this flower?
This is something I really love about Flagstaff--they have some of the most
stringent lighting laws in the country to help preserve their dark nighttime skies.
For a city of this size, it's truly remarkable just how many stars you could see
in the sky! I wish all cities were so progressive....
Smoke billowing over Flagstaff in the distance.
I found these little guys outside of a Mexican restaurant I walked by
while walking from the post office to the Taco Bell.


Geneislucky said...

Hi Ryan, the flow looks like Yellow Goatsbeard. It has a large round seed cluster like a dandelion. I am from the East so it may have another local name in AZ.

Squatchis said...

Pretty sure the mine is the Red Pit Mine. It primarily mines cinder (a pebbly slurry of rock, the result of volcanic activity) which is what that mountain (and lots of other mountains in the area) are made of. So, in reality, the intention of that mine is to demolish the mountain.

Sue KuKu said...

Bunny! Cute bunny!

Umm .... hmmm ... glad the fire was not too close to you!