Day 13: choosing my own adventure

The day dawned so clearly and full of hope. I had no idea what the day would bring. This was going to be, unbeknownst to me, a watershed day in so many ways.

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Sun hits the wilderness area

Our first order of business was to get an early start. We got up at 5:30 so we could be on trail at first light. We had a 16 mile, 4000 foot climb kind of day ahead of us. It was, to be honest, overly ambitious.

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I really felt like I was hiking through “real” western mountains. It was spectacular.

What I didn’t expect were all the fords. We came across two within the first mile or so. The first was easy. The second required getting decently wet after seeking a better crossing (and failing to find one). Fords take up lots of time.

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Scratch on the second ford

Then things got even more interesting.

While Tikimon hiked ahead of us (Tiki=fast), Scratch and I took a wrong turn at a very confusing junction. The signage within Pusch Ridge Wilderness is kind of terrible. I don’t mind lack of signage in wilderness areas, but the problem is that the Pusch Ridge Wilderness has signage — and it’s unhelpful. You know it’s bad when someone graffitis the signs and you think “oh, good,” because the graffiti is better than the sign itself.

Alas, no one had graffitied the junction where we went wrong. Scratch and I hiked nearly half a mile uphill before I got the heebie-jeebies, checked Guthook, and realized we were off trail. We backtracked, found our mistake, found the trail, and came to a water crossing that was brown and fast.

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There was no obvious way across. It totally made sense that it would be so bad: we’d waited out the storm, and now we were in the bottom of the canyon where all the rain and snow we’d waited out was congregating. Of course it was high, dangerous water.

We met two trail runners: one who couldn’t find a way across the water and bailed back to civilization via Sabino Canyon, and one who ran through the water and nearly got swept downstream. He claimed that it wasn’t the worst crossing he’d encountered. That did not inspire me.

The water was too brown and too fast. I didn’t want to cross it. I had flashbacks to the AT in ’09 when everything was dangerous and people got swept downstream. The irony of being stymied by water in the desert was not lost on me.

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I made sure Scratch, who is DETERMINED and braver than I am, got across. I didn’t know I wouldn’t hike again with Scratch after that point. I would have given her a big hug.

Then I returned to the wrong-way path we’d taken. I knew that trail led out through Sabino Canyon and to a place where I could meet up with Bangles on the edge of Tucson.

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I didn’t know if I was making the right choice to hike out that way. But it was the only path forward I could see. All other trails would likely have similar water crossings.

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At least the path forward was lovely and interesting.

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Looking back towards the AZT

I managed to get in touch with Bangles and arranged a pickup at Sabino Canyon. It was going to be pretty easy: the trail itself was only two or three miles, and then I was going to take a tram to the visitor center.

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Near the tram stop, I was informed by another hiker that the tram wasn’t running today due to high water. So that added nearly four miles of walking onto the day, but it was an extremely pleasant walk through stunning terrain. I really enjoyed it.

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And the high water over the hazardous bridges was at least easy to walk through.

It was the most enjoyable walk. Really. I’ve rarely had a more pleasant couple of hours.

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Bangles, bless her heart, showed up to the meet-up point just 10 minutes after I arrived. It was pretty incredible timing. We roadtripped up to Summerhaven, which was fun but tinted with sadness, as I wanted to be out there, suffering all the way up that mountain. I wanted to climb it. I wanted to be outside.

Bangles and I hung out in Summerhaven and discussed life, the trail, and everything. Bangles had been planning on rejoining us at Oracle, but decided to go home in light of foot problems and the corona virus situation. She is from Washington, which is really suffering, and it’s hard to be away. I may do a whole update on hiking in the era of corona virus.

We waited at the trailhead for Scratch and Tikimon. It was dark when Tikimon arrived. Scratch, meanwhile, couldn’t find the trail at Lemmon Creek and decided to camp out. We were all glad she made the choice to hunker down at twilight, but sad that she couldn’t join us. Bangles didn’t get to say goodbye in real life, and that was hard. Those two had planned this trip together, so the departure of Bangles was a big deal. For all of us.

Tikimon and I got to the post office where the kind postmaster allows hikers to sleep (she even leaves the heater on for us!) and we said a sad goodbye to Bangles.

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It felt like the end of an era for me, to have Bangles gone. I know I didn’t hang out with this trio for all that long, but bonds form quickly on trails, and seeing her leave was really sad. In retrospect, I know now that the era ended when I chose to not ford that crossing with Scratch earlier in the day, but at the time, I still didn’t know that.

During this sadness, I met 800 Smiles. This amazing human being was camped out in the bathrooms and we invited him to the post office. Both places are okay for hikers to crash, but the post office is preferable due to there being a rug.

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800 Smiles solved a huge mystery for me — it was this guy who joined me in the snowstorm at Bathtub Spring. I’ve been wondering for 2 weeks who the mystery hiker was who showed up at 9PM at Bathtub Spring, and it was him! How I managed to not run into him before now is a new mystery, but I’m so happy we finally connected. More than that: I’m happy he survived! That was a gnarly night.

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Tikimon, 800 Smiles, and I had a great night in the post office.