Week three of our journey: we begin it apart. Michael has retreated to Phoenix for medical treatment. Ben recuperates in Tucson, gorging himself and waiting for that call that may never come…the call to adventure! Will we turn back from the precipice or leap heedlessly beyond?
Day 15: Mile 151.3— Mile 151.3
BH: As Michael busied himself with various medical inspections, I ate a variety of lavish meals and more or less lived in the shower. Were there a way to eat a full meal while in the shower, God knows I would have done so. For your consideration, dear reader, my lunch:
1 smoked salmon salad
1 house salad
1 order of fries
½ Cuban sandwich
3 bloody Mary’s
Dinner was two breasts of chicken parmesan. We had only been on the trail for three weeks, but I had already become completely obsessed with food. And I noticed another change—while I was eating lunch with my girlfriend, I couldn’t even follow our conversation. There was sound everywhere. Other diners at other tables, limp banjo music on the restaurant PA, some fraternity event in the courtyard, a quinceañera…society was overwhelming. Fortunately, as I heard that night, I wouldn’t be staying long. We’d hit the trail tomorrow.
MT: I am ashamed to admit this whole side trip for medical aid could have been skipped if I had not forgotten the duct tape. I needed a way to keep the bandages on to allow my heel to heal. But because of that oversight we made a detour to resupply at home. I got a package of antibiotics, fresh bandages, duct tape, and a hot shower – Everything I needed to be on the trail the next day.
Day 16: Mile 151.3 –– Mile 167.0
We were dropped off at the trail head by Michael’s brother and niece, and we started out in mixed spirits. Both of us were feeling pretty low but trying to put a brave face on it—a symptom of the weird pride that had driven us this far. As we climbed the little rilles and ridges that led to the Santa Catalina mountains, we felt despair—augmented by the dry springs and tanks on which we were relying. Squatting glumly on an inaccessible tank, however, we were visited with a messenger from the gods, another AZT hiker, a man known to us only as “Vocal.” We bitched about the water situation for a while, and he went on ahead of us. We finally descended into Molino Basin Campground—also dry—and ate dinner with Vocal. We shared tales of misadventure, punctuated by his joyous bursts of profanity. “You’re ‘trail trash’ now!,”he told us, and we really felt as if we were. Thirsty but emboldened, we decided to press on to Gordon Hirobayashi, where we were scheduled to meet Ben’s girlfriend, our water-bearer. We hoofed it in the moonlight, arriving and setting up camp at about 1 am.
BH: In terms of the Monomyth, I think Vocal would be categorized as “The Crone.” His tales of discharging firearms while wearing snowshoes and starting each hike 30 lbs. overweight to save on food costs were succor to our weary minds.
MT: It was good to see another long distance hiker on the trail. He gave us some good tips and great stories. It was also discouraging to see another long distance hiker. He covered 25+ miles in the time it took us to cover 16 and when we finally caught up to him at camp, he was smoking like a chimney.
Day 17: Mile 167.0 –– Mile 174.0
We woke up “late” (6:30) and had a long breakfast with Sarah, after which we began the ascent into the Catalinas. It was surprisingly tough, the back route to Hutch’s Pool through Sycamore Canyon. It was dry and hot and rocky, but we made it to the pool in the mid afternoon, whereupon we rested, swam, and ate. Here, we met another traveler, a congenial adventure-bro who shared with us tales of rafting the Colorado on acid and so forth. We decided to pitch camp here and ease our way back into things.
BH: All in all, a fairly relaxing day. Hutch’s Pool is a gorgeous little place. If I were a hermit, I’d move there.
MT: I don’t think I will ever trust river guides after hearing the stories our impromptu camp friend had.
Day 18: Mile 174.0 –– Mile 187.3
We were in the Catalinas proper, and that meant hiking. We ascended about 4000 feet in the morning—the first 2000 quite gradual, the second 2000 punishingly steep, but as we rested near the top of our climb, eating Pay Days and looking out over Marana, we felt accomplished and not so exhausted. At the top, we wended our way through the wilderness of rocks, walking from cairn to cairn in a landscape that resembled, well, over sized cairns. At last, we began the descent. Filled with fear that the one restaurant in Summer haven might close before we reached it, we split up—Ben rushed ahead to warn the town’s inhabitants that two filthy hikers were in need of a beer. Happily, we arrived in time, ate delicious sandwiches, flirted hopelessly with the waitress, and padded our supplies with junk food—chili cheese Frito’s, Drumsticks, and mint fudge (which, as the journey progressed, would become a powerful totem).
BH: Fudge! Sweet fudge! I shall compose prayerful odes to you! I shall propose obscene trysts to you! I shall rub you onto every square inch of my skin!
MT: I tried Wilderness Athlete’s Energy Powder for the first time today and the effects were fantastic. It gave me the second wind I needed to make it to Summerhaven before the restaurant closed and I was alert and talkative the entire time getting there. The Mango Bango energy powder is going to have to become part of my regular routine
Day 19: Mile 187.3 –– Mile 202.9
Descending the Oracle Ridge, we descended out of a verdant Valhalla of ponderosa’s into a burnt-out, rocky wasteland. All that remained of the scrubby forest that must have once been here were a few bleached juniper skeletons. We attempted to siesta beneath one of these, but they offered little shade—and what shade existed had largely been claimed by stinging nettles, which epitomized the region’s “fuck off and die” attitude. Once out of the mountains, we searched for the water source that allegedly existed there, only to find that it was someone’s house, surrounded by fences and “No Trespassing” signs and guarded by a large dog, unseen but not unheard. We filled our canteens surreptitiously before its owner arrived…who then welcomed us to fill our canteens. Restored, we set out into the desert.
BH: From the journals of Ben “Mulius Caesar” Harper: “We’re getting stronger and harder to discourage. Fudge supplies holding out.”
MT: We passed mile 200 today and it felt surreal in doing so. We were moving at a much slower pace than what we set out to do, but we were still making progress. At a quarter of the way through the hike it finally feels like we have a chance at this.
Day 20: Mile 202.9 –– Mile 221.1
Ben’s foolish and haphazard packing led to a fun surprise this morning. About two liters of water burst from one of the canteens beneath the weight of all his other equipment. Maybe it was a blessing—that’s 4lbs. It was a breezy, cool morning, and we hiked the gently sloping trail in fine fettle. We walked along the AZ-71 for a while (Ah! The untamed wilderness! God’s untrammeled majesty!), finally crossed it, and began the Tiger Mine stretch of trail. We rested for siesta beneath a tree in a sandy gulch, and lying in the soft sand felt like an extreme luxury. That day we hiked about 18 miles, ending at Mountain View Tank. The spigot at the water tank had been designed to discourage trail trash, but we were undeterred, maneuvering around the obstacles to overfill our canteens. We staggered a mile or two under the weight, as we were pretty sure we were trespassing, and made camp. Tomorrow would be a resupply day!
BH: My records indicate that this day’s dinner was dehydrated lasagna. They also indicate that it was pretty good. What is there to say about the hike today but that it went well, that we felt accomplished and capable, that we overcame all that opposed us—indeed, that we were men, that we were like gods?!
Day 21: Mile 221.1 –– Mile 236.1
Today’s hike was fairly easy, but it was haunted throughout by a terrible specter: the jumping cholla. These are evil, evil things. Most cactus’s are beautiful plants, in life and in death. The saguaro, tall and spare, leaves elegant ribs when it dies. When the prickly pear dies, its dead pads reveal the intricate latticework skeleton which support them. The jumping cholla, while alive, is a savage son of a bitch, and when it dies its horrible limbs wither into spiny caltrops that lie in wait, in perpetuity, to ambush the innocent. Based on our experiences so far, we’ve decided (improving on Thales) that the universe is composed of three basic elements—rocks, spines, and cow shit—all of which were present at our meager siesta lodgings. But despite the harshness of our surroundings, we made great time, reaching the drop-point an hour and a half early. So we futzed around for a while, and were soon granted beer, sandwiches, and a variety of other beautiful gifts.
BH: In revenge, I pooped on a cholla.
MT:I’m starting to feel like pig pen from Peanuts. I always have a cloud of small flies hovering around me. I’m really looking forward to my next shower.
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