Friday, September 19, 2014

Day 42: Getting out of Flagstaff

Tunnel under Highway 87 at the edge of Flagstaff.
May 24: My morning started with annoyances. I wanted to hit the trail early and get in as much hiking as I could before the predicted rain hit in the afternoon, but it seemed like everything wanted to conspire against me.

When I arrived at the lobby of the hotel for the continental breakfast, a large group of school-aged girls arrived all at once and basically took over both waffle-making machines. I ate cereal and yogurt and other stuff trying to wait them out, but eventually I just gave up. There were too many of them. Why can't large groups space themselves out better? I was just lucky to even find a seat to sit down!

I didn't check the bus schedule when I left--buses ran every half hour and I figured I'd just wait however long it took until the next one arrived to take me to the edge of town and as close as I could get to the Arizona Trail without walking, but I just missed the bus. I actually saw it pulling away from the stop on the other side of the street before I could run across traffic to catch it.

No big deal, though.... I'll just have to wait a half hour until the next bus arrived. But a half hour later, I was still waiting when I started reading the material on the bus stop walls and saw the schedule. On weekends, the bus only ran once per hour--not every half hour. $#*&! It was Saturday! I still had another half hour to wait for the bus! If I realized that I would have had to wait for an hour for the next bus, I would have just walked all of the way back to the trail. I didn't have an hour to waste. Walking to the trail would have been faster than taking the bus.

But now with only a half hour until the next bus, it was probably faster just to wait for the bus at this point, so that's what I did.

I finally made it back to the Arizona Trail just before 9:00 in the morning--far later than I had expected or wanted. I walked as quickly as I could with the load on my back in the hopes of making up time, but it was largely a futile effort.

Several times throughout the morning and afternoon I heard far-off thunder, and there was extremely light rain on and off. More like a fat fog than actual rain and was so light that I didn't even bother to use my umbrella.

There were a relatively large number of mountain bikers who passed me in the other direction along this section, including a fellow named Chris who stopped to talk a bit. He seemed to recognized me as a thru-hiker and wanted to talk about the trail--which I didn't have a problem with. =) He also told me that it actually snowed on him earlier that morning. Snow?! I only saw rain in the forecast, but that was for Flagstaff. The trail was rising towards the San Francisco Peaks, but I didn't expect it to get so cold as to be able to snow. It was May 24th, after all! In Arizona! It didn't even feel particularly cold to me. I'm not exactly sure where Chris was when it snowed (he could cover a lot more ground on a mountain bike in a day than I could on foot!), but it was good to know that there might be snow ahead.

At one point, I the trail reached the edge of a scenic viewpoint overlooking Flagstaff and I thought, "Here! My cell phone will work here!" I pulled it out to update my friends and family with my progress, flipped open the phone, and tried to start it up... then got a message saying that the battery was low and it shut down again. ARGH! What the hell?!

When this happened the day I walked out of Pine, I wrote it off to having forgot to plug in the phone the night before. Or maybe the outlet I used wasn't working. Or something. But with that still fresh in my head, I made sure the phone was fully charged the day before I mailed the cord for it ahead to the end of the trail, then I made sure turned off the phone so the battery wouldn't drain overnight. And now there's no charge?! The phone, obviously, was defective. It just couldn't seem to hold a charge for more than a day even when it was powered down. And my phone was now a useless paperweight until I could get the cord for it... at the end of the trail!

I stopped at Alfa Fia Tank for the night. For a stock tank, it had remarkably good water. That was where I met a section hiker of the Arizona Trail. He was only hiking from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon on this segment but had covered everything on the Arizona Trail to the south during the last few years. He lived in Flagstaff too and actually walked out to this location from his home. How cool is that? Going on a backpacking trip and literally starting by walking out your front door. =)

Before I started filtering water, I set up my tarp. Although it hadn't rained on me during the day--I didn't consider those brief "sprinkles" rain--the rain looked imminent and I wanted my tarp up before it started. I was a little paranoid about where to set it up, though. The day before, I read a long article about Backcountry Lightning Risk Management on the AZ Trail Association website (it's a PDF file if you follow the link). It was fascinating to read--I learned quite a bit about lightning from it that I didn't know before--but hearing far off thunder and knowing that thunderstorms were in the forecast had me suddenly more paranoid than normal to find a safe place to camp. I tried staying away from the tallest of trees and looked around the shorter ones, but they were all mixed together so it seemed like every small tree had tall trees not far away. Or I could head into the open away from all trees, but that had it's own problems. I was starting to feel like there was no completely safe place to hide from possible lightning strikes--which is probably true, but wasn't very helpful while looking for a place to set up camp.

Eventually I found what I considered the best of my bad options which was near an old barbed-wire fence. One part of the document had a photo of 23 cows dead next to a barbed-wire fence in Idaho. The fence had been struck by lightning and killed all of the cattle pressed up against it, so I was a little leery about the fence I set up next to. However, the photo also noted that this sort of thing tended to happen when the barbed-wire was on wooden fence posts that didn't allow the current to flow into the ground. The barbed-wire fence I was next to didn't use wooden fence posts--it used metal ones driven directly in the ground. And I wasn't actually touching the fence (it's got barbs on it, after all!) And the actual wires had fallen to the ground since maintenance of the fence had apparently long since stopped. If lightning did manage to strike that wire, I figured it probably wouldn't get very far along it before the electricity drained into the ground.

But until I had read that article the day before, I wouldn't have even considered the merits of a barbed-wire fence that was held up with wooden posts vs. metal ones.

After getting my tarp up, I walked to the stock tank and filled up with water. I started treating my water and was about half through when rain started coming down. It was light, but it was also heavier than anything else during the day and I quickly filled up a 3-liter bottle of water with untreated water. I could treat it from under the protection of my tarp instead.

I dived under the tarp just as the rain really started coming down hard. Not a moment too soon! A few cracks of thunder ripped through the air, but that only lasted about 10 minutes before it moved on. The rain diminished but didn't stop, but I didn't care anymore. I was already safe and dry under my tarp for the night. =)

Little Elden Spring
Much of the afternoon had that "misty" kind of rain....

For miles and miles, many of the trees were marked with this orange spray paint.
I never could find any pattern to them, though.

I've never seen a cairn piled around the base of a tree like this before....
Another interesting cairn!

Yet another log that fell across the trail, but instead of cutting it out,
they added more logs (and rocks) to it to make simple steps
over the fallen log. (Cutting it out seems like it would have been easier
and faster to me, though!)

We're getting into aspen country now! I love aspens!

It looks like the San Francisco Peaks got a recent dusting of snow!
Alfa Fin Tank
Tonight was the first time I set up my tarp in a month!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm guessing the logs across the trail with rocks may have been placed by local mountain bikers. They think its more fun to hop/ride over logs. A trail completely free of log falls is boring to them.
california bluefrog (who tried bike hopping over a log once and failed)