Far away from my usual habit of posting chronologically, I’ve been meaning to add a hiking trip to this blog that I did with friends over three years ago now in April 2010. It was after Carla and my big 2009 adventure on the Coast to Coast trail when I first starting blogging. It was the next natural next hiking adventure to add. However, it got buried in the many events of 2010 (including the great new Foreign Service adventure) and it never made it on to electronic paper. So, to take a giant dusty leap from the chaos of Kathmandu to the heat of Arizona, here’s a small restropective of our day in the Arizona cactus forest.
In Phoenix for an annual conference, Carla, Michelle, Gretchen and I preplanned the best route to hike in the area in just one day…all we could manage before the start of the event. Most trails we found were “there and back” trails where you could hike to a destination and then turn around and retrace your steps. We really didn’t want to do this and searched around for a hiking loop that would put us back where we started but not repeat the same scenery. However, “there and back trails” have their place in the desert as we later learned.
I insisted in staying somewhere “Arizonian” rather than a motel on the highway somewhere, before we switched to our large hotel chain accommodation for the conference. So we spent two night at the Saguaro Lake Ranch, a dude ranch, with great views of the mountains. It was clean, basic and friendly and I enjoyed experiencing where we were. I hope that, despite the bugs, everyone else felt the same.
It may have been rustic, but it was unmistakably Arizona, and we were sleeping next to the dramatic scenery of the Usery Mountain trail, our planned 7 mile loop for the day. The next morning a good breakfast was to set us up well, but I knew as we enjoyed the luxury of a second coffee cup, that their earliest breakfast service started way too late, and sure enough we didn’t hit the trail until after 9am when the it was probably already 80+ degrees Fahrenheit in the shade.
The trail started among pretty desert scrub and more cacti than I had ever seen in one place. Our packs were filled with almost nothing but water. 2 litres per hour had been the recommendation, which seemed excessive at the time. But we listened and filled our packs with giant gallon jugs. The climb was slow and easy, but the heat soon made everything much, much harder. It was a lot harder to cover a mile in 100 degree heat than in the coolness of the English countryside.
From the higher levels the views were wonderful. But boy was it hot! And we drank vast quantities of water as they warned we would.
We stopped frequently to rest and grabbed shade whenever we could. Around early afternoon we took a wrong turn and wasted an hour doing an unplanned loop back up to the trail that we lost. That wasted energy, water and emotional reserves, but thankfully a French couple were heading home to their car and left us the rest of their water. We’d have made it back without the extra, but it made a great psychological difference and was just the boost we need for the last section ahead.
As I stumbled on through the heat, I decided that “there and back paths” existed for a reason in the desert, offering you the opportunity to turn around at any given point knowing how much time and energy there was left to commit. With loops you just had to keep going into the unknown.
It turned out that the last part of the walk was probably the easiest. A gentle downward or level path in a relatively straight line, that eventually took us back to the car park where we started. But I see this only in hindsight as that last stretch felt like it nearly killed me. I am just not a hot weather hiker, and I wasn’t to feel that kind of intense, brain-boiling heat again until Pinatubo or Pico de Loro in the Philippines.
Thank you ladies for sharing the adventure with me. We never got to blaze Oregon together the following year, but if you want a renunion in the the cooler Himalayas…let me know!