Monday, September 22, 2014

Day 43: Evidence of a Thru-Runner

By morning, the weather was partly cloudy.
May 25: Only the lightest of sprinkles dell during the night. I was glad the tarp was up--if it hadn't been, I'd certainly have been running around trying to set it up in the dark before anything heavier started falling.

I expected another easy day of walking. The chance of rain still lingered, but the trail was--quite literally--all downhill the entire day. The elevation dropped a few thousand feet which sounds like a lot, but the drop extended for nearly thirty miles and averaged maybe 100 vertical feet per mile of trail. It was practically flat--the downhill slope was barely perceptible most of the time. The trail didn't go over any overgrown trails, or scree, or anything else that would slow me down. This section of trail was perhaps the easiest section I had seen on the entire trail thus far.

Which might explain--partly--why I pulled off a new trail record for myself and covered 27.1 miles from morning until dusk. Despite blowing my previous best miles in a day of 23.9 out of the water, the day still ranked as #3 in step counts with 53,133 steps according to my pedometer. (My biggest day for step counts was when I covered 22.5 miles with 56,052 steps the day I walked through Summerhaven while my previous best day of walking 23.9 miles got me 55,339 steps.) Which just goes to show how incredible easy day of walking the trail provided today. =)

I didn't see as many people on the trail today as I did yesterday either. Just two mountain bikers and a few cars on the gravel roads that I followed for much of the day.

Originally, I intended to stop at the trailhead for the start of Passage 35--there was a water source there and the small gravel road I followed looked like it became a much bigger and well-used gravel road. As I neared my destination for the night, however, I noticed a truck pulled over to the side of the road. I was too far away to see what was going on there, and it pulled out and left before I arrived.

But I did see some orange ribbons tied to a bush and blowing in the wind. As I got closer, I saw a bottle of water, a container with Diet Mountain Dew, and what looked like a wrapped up package with unknown contents. When I got even closer, I could see that there was writing on the orange ribbons which said the cache was for Shane, an Arizona Trail thru-runner. Which, according to the ribbon, he would pass through sometime between May 25th and May 31st.

The bush with orange ribbons flying in the wind.
A close-up view of the ribbons told me that a thru-runner was hot on my heels!

A cache left for Shane. (There was another package behind these that didn't
fit in my photo well.) My first thought was, "Really? Diet Mountain Dew?"
If you're traveling from Mexico to Utah on foot, you don't have to do diet anything!

It's another thru-hiker! I hadn't heard anything about Shane since John mentioned a "thru-runner" somewhere behind me over 200 miles earlier. This guy would have started after me--probably weeks after I had started--but he was closing in on me. I wondered if that was what the truck had just dropped off--Shane's resupply package. I was a little envious. I wished I had someone to drop off water and food for me along the route to lighten my load. =)

The first day listed on the ribbon was today, and I assume the last date of May 31st probably had a cushion, but if Shane were to pass this point halfway through the date range, that meant he was three or four days behind me. Of course, in three or four days, I'd be even further up the trail. But conceivably, he might catch up to me within the week. My first thru-hiker sighting!

Even if he doesn't call himself a thru-hiker, he'll still be the only person I'll have seen that plans to cover the entire distance from Mexico to Utah.

In another bush, I found a few more gallon-sized water bottles for hikers that weren't reserved for Shane. Two of the three bottles were new and unopened, and it occurred to me that I could just take a whole gallon. The whole bottle. I've taken empty bottles with me to throw out when I got into town, but they were already empty. I've poured some water out into my own bottles and left the rest. But since these bottles were unopened, I could put it into my pack whole and not worry about the flimsy caps coming off and soaking everything in my pack. I didn't have to transfer the water into new containers--a time saver to say the least!

I grabbed one of these gallons of water in its entirety!

And I didn't even have to treat water from the nearby water source either. I had intended to spend an hour treating water, and now I didn't have to treat any or even transfer the water to new containers. I dropped my pack and stuffed an entire gallon of water in at the top and kept hiking. I had an extra hour of hiking time that I hadn't expected to have!

So I kept walking for a few more miles which propelled me to my new 27.1-mile Arizona Trail record. Shane would probably laugh at that. His worst day was probably better than my best day of hiking. =)

The gravel road I now followed had gotten much larger and was clearly more used than the smaller one I had been following. During the next hour, three different vehicles drove by which made it a busy road by AZT standards.

The ground was largely flat, as I said before, but thick forests early in the morning had now turned into empty grasslands as the trail descended and there was nowhere to stealth camp. I didn't like the idea of camping on the side of the trail where I'd plainly be visible to every vehicle that drove by, but I was starting to think I wouldn't have much alternative. Nearly an hour after I picked up the gallon of water, though, I noticed what seemed like a "hole" in the ground off to the left side of the road which I walked over to. It looked like a small quarry, an obviously man-made hole dug perhaps 10 feet deep. I had no idea why it was there or who created it--maybe somebody needed some dirt to fill in something somewhere else--but it had a flat bottom and, most importantly, provided protection from the prying eyes of passing motorists. That's where I'd camp for the night.

Love the aspen....

We're closing in on Utah!

While walking the trail, I couldn't help but notice that this particular
view ahead looked like it was nearly a mirror-image on both sides!
Two aspens, about the same size and at the same place on both sides of the trail.
The cut logs on each side. It was kind of eerie once I noticed it. Obviously,
a closer look shows it's not a mirror image, but at a glance, it could fool you!

This made me laugh. A tree had fallen across the trail, which a trail crew
had cut out. But it's as if the trail really wanted to stop people from crossing
here because then it threw another tree into the same gap! (Which, obviously,
has not yet been cleared.)

I saw a lot of birds on the trail--the red flash of the cardinal was one of my favorites.
But they have a bad habit of being hard to photograph because they're fast
and so far away. This bird, however--an American robin, I believe--was
unusually cooperative and picking at stuff in the ground while following the trail
in my direction. And he let me approach to within about 10 feet, so
I could actually take photos of it that are more than just a dot.

The San Francisco Peaks, fading off in the distance behind me. It
looks like it got some recent snow, but I never saw any snow on the trail itself.

The road walking begins....

I just love the patterns that mud makes when it dries and cracks. =)

The San Francisco Peaks, continuing to fade off behind us.

It's an anthill, churning with thousands and thousands of ants.
This gravel road was particularly busy--three different vehicles drove
by during the hour I walked on it!
Not a lot of places to stealth camp out here....
It hasn't rained, but those clouds certainly looked capable of it. I didn't
set up my tarp tonight, but I did gather some large rocks around the bottom
of the quarry so I could set one up quickly if it became necessary.
I really like the "layering" of ecosystems in this photo. Up front, lots
of grasslands. On the small ridge behind it, it's thick with shrubs. And
the mountain behind it is thick with full-sized trees (and snow!)


Karolina said...

Did you notice that those aspens have eyes?

Ryan said...

The trees are watching you.... they're ALWAYS watching you.... =)