The Arizona Trail: North from Oracle

Southern Arizona day 3 014.jpg

An off-day rejuvenated me and I headed north. Finally I got to see the fabled Saguaro; they were taller even than I’d imagined. On the second or third day I started cursing the climbs again. Maybe I thought that my magical quest would fail, or I was questioning whether this was the way to break through: After all, what exactly did a parched throat and hot, sticky body and legs burning from all this exertion with thirty pounds on my back have to do with success, either spiritual or material? What did it have to do with anything, really? Had I made some absurd detour in my life’s course? Or maybe I felt it’d all been a long series of detours and now I was trying to penetrate to the heart of why that was.

I got dropped off at the Tiger Mine Road trailhead. Preparing for another long water-less stretch, I made myself drink a liter before heading out with three full bottles. Within the first day’s hike I got a sight I’d been waiting for: The great Saguaro cacti. They’re numerous in this area, sometimes dotting the hilltops. This stretch involved less grueling climbs than the route to Summerhaven. And because the ground was more often flat, the search for campsites was easier.

A snatch of poetry written on the trail:

Days quicken in

the pursuit

Lengthen, deepen, in

the lanquor of

fulfillment

Water-rich dreams or

desert climes

Slow tug of

memory

inventing stories as

it goes

Stretching moments to

encompass lifetimes

The House meets its

architect and

both are

altered by the

exchange

This was also my first experience of rainfall in the three weeks since I’d come to Arizona, which unfortunately lingered - ebbing and flowing - over the next four days. It forced one zero day. One can’t complain too much, though, because such rains are also responsible for the profusion of colorful wildflowers in the area, miraculously blooming in early December.

Also encountered the biggest washes I’d seen on the trail, and camped one night in an area that looked and felt like a beach. Nights continues to be sub-freezing, and I’d awaken to thick frost on my tent and on the ground. My sleeping bag is rated at thirty degrees, which I thought would be adequate for the warmth of the Southwest desert, but the nights tested my theory.

I discovered that, more even than the overall exertions of a hike, it’s the minor inconveniences that can gradually takes their toll on you: The extreme temperature fluctuations between day and night; never being able to sit or lie down (unless you’re sleeping - otherwise, virtually everything in the terrain is either rocky or riddled with thorns); the awkward positions you’re always forced into even when performing simple tasks. My body was feeling ready for a break. But the beauty of the land is well worth paying such prices.

Good-bye Arizona. It was getting into December and the nights were frigid. During the day you sweat in seventy degree temperatures and after the sun goes down it dips below freezing. I was in my sleeping bag with my blue puffy jacket pulled snug over my head and face, so essentially I was inside a cocoon. Any little exposed part would get frigid. You sleep great out there, though, despite the slim padding, with that fresh air and after twelve hours of exertion. You drop like a stone to the river bottom. One day I camped an extra day before getting into town. I signed the ledger the guestbook at the Chalet, said good-bye and eventually caught a bus that took me back to Albuquerque…