Sorting Trail Life Out at the Second Mail Drop

Cottonwood Trees and Creek

Chapter 7

It was time to get my electronics in order.

I passed underneath the unending fury of Interstate 10 before finding quick seclusion in a desert oasis. The AZT passes through the Cienega Creek Natural Preserve, just north of I-10 and east of Tucson, where a beautiful and clear creek feeds hundreds of cottonwoods in a small sandy canyon. The temperature was at least 10 degrees cooler in the shade of the grove of trees. The saguaros were all of a sudden gone. Snow drifted through the air. "Arizona snow," as one visitor called it. This cute ignorance of Arizona’s landscapes was easy to laugh off, but farther ahead on the trail, the thought of it would ignite fury in my frozen veins.

The "snow" in question, however, wasn’t produced by cold weather. It was the seeds of all the cottonwood trees being released in the confines of the oasis, drifting silently and lazily through the air, and piling up on the ground, very reminiscent of snow actually. But while snow brings water across the land, these seeds were being brought across the land in search of water.

After days of increasing heat and little change from the northern foothills of the Santa Rita Mountains, this was a very welcome respite. I took the blatantly obvious opportunity to get more water and have a snack from my fading reserve. Fortunately, just several miles up the trail, a package was waiting for me. In fact, I was expecting to find three packages.

More food was the most important box. After that was another box that was shipped to me from the manufacturer of my solar panel which would finally get my electronics in good working order.

Cottonwood Trees and Creek

The day before hitting the trail, I decided that that was the most opportune time to test out my electronics. As expected, Murphy’s Law kicked in and my brand new camera battery charger completely failed. This was of course the solar panel’s fault, so I called up the manufacturer and frantically pleaded my case wondering how they could sell me such a worthless device right before I hit the trail. The kind tech support agent had me do a simple test to make sure it was the solar panel, to which I reluctantly obliged. Sure enough, I was completely wrong. The solar panel worked fine. It was my extra cheap third-party camera battery charger that was at fault. Who could have guessed that? The tech support agent, holding no grief against my panic, decided to ship me a rechargeable battery pack and camera battery charger to Colossal Cave Mountain Park since Patagonia would be cutting it too close. He also did so at no charge. I didn’t want to add any weight, but I was eager to get a better solution to my phone averaging 20% power for the entire trip thus far. Especially since I hadn’t had any cloudy days yet which would test the panel’s power.

The third box would be a bounce box with potential essentials that I resent from Patagonia.

As tempting as it was to stay in the coolness of the preserve, I got what I needed after a short rest and proceeded on my way. The trail climbs about 40 feet or so on its way out of the little oasis, at which point I felt a blast of heat overcome my body, not unlike the blast of heat you feel when you open an oven that’s been cooking food. During my break in the shade of trees, late in the morning of the day, the sun continued its arc through the sky intensifying the desert heat, and it was turning it up. I was now in the warmest day I had felt thus far.

Thankfully, despite being in completely exposed terrain, the trail took a relaxing stroll through some excellent examples of Sonoran Desert scenery, all the while gradually climbing uphill. With little elevation gain, the heat was there, but not as bad as it could have been. A couple of miles later, it culminated at a small pass that overlooked the La Posta Quemada Ranch nestled in a rugged desert valley. On the other end was the Colossal Cave Mountain Park Visitor Center, where my supplies awaited my arrival.

Rincon Mountains Above Foothills

I pushed on, fascinated at the stark change in scenery. Where I had just been meandering through a few rolling hills, I was now dropped at the foot of gorgeously rugged and commanding desert mountains. The scenery was simply jaw-dropping. This was starting to look like the Arizona I remembered.

A couple of miles more into the trail, and I found the road that led up to the Visitor Center. I started on my way, cringing as I looked up a few hundred foot high hill at the Visitor Center above. It was mid-afternoon, hot, and I was tired and hungry for something other than cold trail food. The thought of climbing up a steep road intended for cars weighed heavier on my mind than my pack.

As I grudgingly started up, a ranger pulled up and asked me if I wanted a ride. Did I?! I graciously jumped in and enjoyed the easy ride in the air-conditioned truck up to my destination. While I was being a stickler for hiking every mile on the trail, I decided that every mile off-trail was now fair game.

I got to the Visitor Center and was surprised to only find two boxes there. My bounce box was missing. Either I had beat it there or sent it to the wrong place somehow. Fortunately, that decided that my box of potential essentials was now a box of non-essentials.

I headed outside under a canopy where many other tourists were waiting for a tour of the cave, the majority of them avoiding me. I hadn’t showered in nearly a week so I think that had something to do with it. I sifted through my new supplies, packed away my food, and began to get my electronics into a more logical and practical setup.

When I took the time to look up and acknowledge other people, I noticed many of them had food. Cooked food. Hot, fresh, cooked food. I left my pack to find the source of this mysterious substance that I hadn’t experienced since my last shower. A small stand was offering burgers, hot dogs, and pizza. The lady warned me it would be a bit of wait, and I warned her I wasn’t going anywhere without some cooked food. I ordered a pizza, and continued arranging my food and supplies.

Saguaros Above Rincon Valley

I noticed one family staring at me rather intently, but didn’t think much of it. Hungry and impatient, I scarfed down a few sweet treats I had packed, as the dad of the family seemed to delight in it. It was ironic. I embraced every opportunity to chat with people on the trail, but in a crowd of people I just wanted to be left alone.

I kept to myself and before I knew it, I had my pizza. It was easily the sweetest, most delicious, most nutritious tasting generic food I had ever had. I ate every last bite, and only after finishing did I notice that my body was craving every bite of it. It was the first time I had ever had that much food and felt good about eating all of it. This sensation would only intensify to nerve-wracking levels farther down the trail.

The friendly onlooker that I was avoiding finally asked me what I was up to as I went to throw away the remaining trash.

"I’m hiking the Arizona Trail," I informed him.

"What’s that?"

"It’s an 800 mile trail from Mexico to Utah through Arizona."

That about floored him. He asked a number of questions that I discovered I was actually happy to answer. They would be the standard questions I would wind up getting asked, but I hadn’t heard them much yet. How was I doing all of this with just what’s in my pack? How do I get food? What about water? Where do I sleep?

We caught the attention of another visitor who had done a fair share of backpacking as well, and offered me a foam pad to put under my air pad. This was actually the perfect solution that I was looking for and would save me miles and miles of frustrating hiking looking for a non-rocky spot.

So I turned it down, using weight as the excuse. To this day, I still can’t believe I did that. My pad had already sprung one leak the night before, and unbeknownst to me, but should have been obviously knownst, it would only get worse.

Noticing the sun starting to get low, I got my gear together, bid farewell to the friendly conversationalists, and started back down to the trail where a nearly vacant campground waited at the bottom of the hill, complete with clean running water!

Saguaros on Rocky Outcropping

I found a site, got my camp setup, and headed over to the spigot to get some much needed water to end my day. Water that I wouldn’t even have to wait for! Just turn a knob and there it was. There was a line though. Dozens of thirsty bees had claimed the dripping spigot. I waited my turn. And continued to wait.

The wait was getting tiresome. I was thirsty. I started to try to use some common sense that I suspected was in my head somewhere. The spigot’s dripping. Maybe it’s not off all the way? I snuck my hand into the bees, frantically praying that weren’t concerned with a large animal’s hand interfering with their duties, and gave the nozzle a good twist to the right. There was a little give before tension. The drips stopped, but the bees remained. I headed back to my tent to write a blog post for the night in the hopes that the bees would be gone by the time I was done.

Before leaving for the trail, Eric had told me that I would not want to blog every night. The simpler solution to documenting the trail was to just record a quick five minute video saying what I did for the day and be done with it, rather than spending 45 minutes typing a poorly written blog post on my phone. That made sense. But by this point in the trail, I had pretty much all but abandoned the video posts. I was actually enjoying the 45 minutes each night writing out my experiences. I was even jotting little notes each day to help me remember minor details. It wasn’t ideal for trying to keep my phone charged, but it was working, and I was enjoying it. Plus, when I went back to the spigot after writing that day’s post, the bees were gone.

I got my water, and more importantly, my phone was now happily charging for the night. My electronics were now squared away.

I now knew how many days I could get out of a camera battery. I knew roughly how many days I could get out of the GPS unit battery if I left it on all day. Things were clicking. I was learning what was working and what wasn’t. Armed with my new battery pack, I felt a little puzzle piece click into place that had me ready to take on the trail in a refreshed way. I was looking forward to tomorrow with anticipation. I’d be hiking into the beautiful and magical Saguaro National Park. Today felt like a wonderful success, and I was thirsty for more.

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