MARY SUPS IN OUR “COTTAGE BY THE LAKE”
Geographers and geologists call Nevada’s alternating mountain range and valley topography “basin and range.”  It’s quite striking really.  To see a 3-D layout of the state, which I did at a vistor center, it looks like the welted back of a British sailor who has received forty lashes and has the scar tissue to prove it.  Scores of north-south running mountain ranges divided by nearly flat basins ten to twenty miles wide comprise nearly all of Nevada.

From the ground, along US 93, which runs roughly from Las Vegas in the south to the Idaho border, the flat basins form an ideal route the length of the state allowing 93 to weave its way northward with few serious inclines.  The highway is well maintained and, especially on the southern half, nearly devoid of vehicles.  We often found ourselves with a clear view both forward and aft to the distant horizons with no cars or trucks in sight.  There are NO towns on the 116-mile stretch between Pioche and Ely.  Cross-state US 50 calls itself the “Loneliest Road” but US 93 is that title’s rightful claimant.  North of Ely snow-clad mountain ranges sparkled today against a blazingly blue desert sky.

We’ve driven this route home to Chelan from Arizona before after wintering in our RV.  It’s much shorter than I-15 through Utah and it has no traffic jams – hell, it has no traffic whatsover.  I-15 near Salt Lake City, by contrast, seems always to be a 50-mile long traffic jam.  

This year we purposefully stopped early in the day at the Pahranagat National Wildlife Reguge which is about 100 miles north of Las Vegas.  One reason was a ferocious headwind that I feared would wreak havoc with our fuel consumption (which turned out not to be the case: 8.7 MPG vs. 10.5 MPG in still air).  The refuge’s lake is a pleasant (and free) campground (see photo above).

I love that photo!  I think it perfectly catches the best thing about RVs – how you can stop any old place and have all the comforts of home at your disposal.  

As for wildlife, I can’t say we saw an abundance.  We took a 3-mile hike around the lake but saw only a few hawks, a swan, and a muskrat hole in the moist bank of the lakeshore.

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Lief and the Evil Peleton

Just a little fantasy that played out in my mind as I raced through the last eight miles of today’s ride.  I, of course, was the valiant lone rider.  

There is a wonderful, paved, 34-mile bike trail here (Lake Mead) that we have ridden several times.  Last time out, I did it in almost exactly three hours.  That day there was a strong wind, but since the ride is a loop, the wind was both a headwind at times and at other times a tailwind so it both helped and hindered me.  I set out today to see if I could better my last time.  With eight miles to go today I was at two hours and thirty minutes – thirty minutes left to beat my old record.  That may seem like a tall order for a man on a bicycle but the last eight miles is all downhill.  A quick mental calculation and I figured if I could average 20 mph or better I would make it in under three hours.  

The trail snakes down the slope and I felt like a slalom skier as I rounded each bend.  My windbreaker jacket was flapping behind me in the on-rushing air.  The miles were adding up.  The minutes were adding up.  I pedaled harder.  Could I make it?  

At stake was nothing more than a minor personal goal – beating my old time.  But what if there was a lot riding on my efforts?  What if I were one of those lesser-known, daring lone cyclists that occasionally makes a break for the finish line during a stage of the Tour d’France?  What if this was my once-in-a-lifetime chance for glory?  

The mere thought of it sent a surge of new power into my legs.  My speedometer registered 20, 21, 22, 24 mph!  I briefly went airborn over a bump in the pavement.  I imagined the peleton was closing in, as they always do in such cases.  My heart was pounding, my legs were burning.  If only I could sustain my pace for the last few miles.

The slope of the hill lessened in the last mile and my speed dropped under 20 mph.  Did I have enough reserve to fight my way through the pain and fight off the peleton attack?  My mother would be watching, the whole world was watching – YES!  I crossed the line with three minutes to spare.  Oh, and…… and I beat the peleton!  


MARY RIDES THE RIVER MOUNTAINS TRAIL


ARIZONA TRAIL GATE

Here’s my bike at one of the fancier gates along the trail.  More common than this sturdy edifice is a section of barbed wire fence that is detachable at one end.  They are numerous and a pain for a lone cyclist such as me because my bike doesn’t have a kickstand and I have to keep it upright and stretch the fence/gate closed simultaneously.

Notice the cacti in the background. Many miles of yesterday’s ride went through a cactus jungle of cholla – the worst kind of cactus.  They’re called “jumping cholla” because you so much as touch one barb and they cling to you or anything softer than steel.  I am amazed that I didn’t get a flat tire riding along the narrow path surrounded by these things.  My tires have liquid sealant in them but apparently they never suffered so much as a puncture because I checked and couldn’t find any barbs.  My legs and shoes were not so fortunate.  And don’t try to pick a cholla ball out of your shoe with your hand – your hand becomes stuck to the shoe.  Reminds me of the story of Br’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby.  (I carry pliers for cactus barb removal.)

The trail was all work and no play.  Ravine after ravine.  Up and down.  Up and down.  Must have been a hundred of them.  Most of the ups were a matter of pushing the bike.  It was exhausting and not much in the way of scenery unless you’re fascinated by cactus.

The two passages I did yesterday are notorious for lack of water when the weather is hot.  Lucky for me the day’s high was in the low 70s.  The one spring along the way was producing – a trickle.  I was able to refill my water bottles.


THE SPRING

The spring was down a cliff from the trail in a wash.  Near the spring was a small tent.  That may not sound significant but any sign of human habitation is unusual along this trail.  I typically see one or two people at most each day. Why would a tent be erected in the middle of the day with no sign of anyone around?  The thought that someone was sick or dead in it crossed my mind.  I approached cautiously.

“Hello, anyone home?”

No answer.

“Hello, anyone there?”

I could see two naked legs inside the tent begin to stir.  I pulled back, not wanting to violate someone’s privacy.  A ponytailed man’s head appeared.  He told me he is a thru hiker and was “taking a zero” (not hiking for the day).

At 4:30 I crossed Freeman Road which divides Passage 14 from Passage 15 and shortly came upon a parked RV.  I stopped to ask if I could refill a water bottle.  The RV’s occupant was a trail angel – a volunteer who assists thu hikers/bikers.  In addition to water he offered beer and oranges.  He said eight other thru hikers had passed through in the past week.  I thanked him and moved on.

I noticed on my map that a dirt road paralleled the trail for the next five miles.  Having had my fill of cactus-lined trail through ravines for the day I thought it would be great to ride the road for the next five miles and then rejoin the trail.  So down the road I went, exhilirated to be traveling at 15 mph instead of the 5 mph I had been averaging on the trail.  After what seemed like about five miles but no sign of the trail, I stopped to check my GPS.  It showed that I was a full five miles from the trail! – not parallel to it.  Holy crap!

I was about to retrace the last five miles when a weathered ranch woman pulled up in a battered pickup – the only moving vehicle I had seen all day.

“You OK fella?” she asked.

I hadn’t realized my panic showed.

“Does this road go to Kelvin?” I said with as much aplomb as I could muster.  (Kelvin was my rendesvouz point with Mary for the next day.)

“Well, it does – sorta.  You gotta go down it fifteen miles to the Florence Rd, take a right and then another fifteen miles to Kelvin.”

So great was my loathing of trail riding at that point that I willingly rode the extra fifteen miles that the roads entailed rather than backtrack to the trail.

About the GPS map:  it’s installed on my new iphone8..  That phone does everything.  It has replaced my Garmin navigator, my mp3 music player, my camera, my e-reader.   It’s great.

After camping along the Florence road overnight, I pedaled into Kelvin at 9 am this morning and Mary picked me up.  Kelvin marked the 248th mile from the border and probably my last on the Arizona Trail.  Mary hasn’t been finding her support role on this endeavor quite as fulfilling as she expected and we agreed that we will spend the rest of our winter sojourn taking short hikes and bikes together – and that’s fine with me.  I have always been amazed by how supportive of my adventures she has been and I hope I have made her aware of my gratitude.  Besides, hiking and biking with Mary is more fun than hiking and biking by myself anyhow.


HOODOOS ALONG THE TRAIL

A cold front moved into the Tucson area the day after my latest foray along the Arizona Trail.  I decided to wait out the bad weather in our RV.  The Catalina Mountains, which form the eastern backdrop of Tucson and reach to 9000 ft, received about six inches of snow.  Snug in our RV, I thought of the thru-hiking couple (Quirkus and Carly) I had met on Mica Mountain, who had only their tent and how they must be hiking in the snowstorm.  I doubt their passage through the Catalinas was pleasant.

After the storm had cleared, Mary and I went back to Patagonia to complete the passages down near the border – passages I had skipped over in order to habituate myself to trail life closer to home.  The scenery on that stretch reminded me of Wyoming’s Great Basin:


Then it was back to Tucson to get back on the trail where I had left it several days earlier.  I hoped the relatively warm weather in recent days had melted most of the new snowfall.

The weather is perfect for hiking now:  sunny all day with morning temperatures in the thirties and afternoon highs in the seventies.  

Because we hadn’t anticipated me doing this long hike when we came down here, I didn’t bring my backpacking gear from home.  I’ve had to buy a whole new set of gear but I gotta say my new Osprey backpack is the most comfortable pack I have ever owned.  I can hike all day and not need to take it off.

The recent rain/snow has set the creeks aflow.  On the first few hikes I took when we came here they were all dry.  There is nothing like a babbling brook in a desert canyon to add just the right touch.  Here is an oasis-like pool I passed yesterday called Hutch’s Pool:

HUTCH’S POOL

The sun went down and forced me to make camp at the 8000 ft level (as on my previous outing) but the temperature at night only dropped to about thirty so I didn’t get cold in my sleeping bag.   At 8000 ft ponderosa pines grow in these mountains and I found a nice dry, needle-covered patch under the big pines for my camp.

I struck camp at dawn, hiked through the mountain village of Sumerhaven, past the ski hill of Mt Lemon, and started down the Oracle Ridge trail for the town of Oracle, 25 miles north of Tucson.  Even though the trail was mostly downhill to Oracle, it wasn’t all downhill and a ferocious wind blew up the mountainside and across the ridge all day. I saw this scary looking tree on the way down:

I might just take a day off from hiking tomorrow.  That hike down the ridge really took it out of me.


ABOUT TO START PASSAGE 6

After I took a day off to take care of some errands in town, Mary drove me out to where my trek through the Santa Rita Mountains had ended.  The next three passages (6,7, &8) are comprised of “rideable” terrain so I was eager to try out my new mountain bike – a replacement for my stolen one.  Sections of the ride were indeed well suited to a bicycle and I made good time on those.  I rode a total of 40 miles that day, 30 of which were atop rolling wheels but probably ten of them were spent pushing my bicycle over impossibly rocky or steep trail.  I suppose hot shots could have ridden some of those miles but having catapulted over my handlebars at least once on a steep trail I thought it best to exercise a little caution.  One consideration that favored this conservative approach is the knowledge that I am often many miles from civilization, alone and if I were to be injured, it might be a serious problem getting assistance.  Even so, I crashed three or four times, though always at low speed so I suffered no more than minor scrapes.  I did have one encounter with a trail-side cactus, one of whose spines penetrated my boot and impaled my foot.

I met one hiker on the trail and a group of hunters.  Two of them had bagged javalinas, the wild pigs who live in these parts:

It was a long, hard ride and I was very glad to find Mary waiting in the Dodge at the X9 Ranch Road, our pre-arranged meeting point.

After a restful night back in Tucson at our trailer, Mary drove me back out to X9 Ranch Road and I started hiking toward Mica Mountain, its 8500-ft peak looming 5500 feet above me.  At the base of the mountain, I passed a spot identified on the map as Hope Camp.  It proved to be nothing more than a water tank and windmill but of note to me is the name on the windvane: “F Rondstat HDWR CO, Tucson.”

The rock star Linda Ronstadt grew up in Tucson and I remember reading in her memoir that her father or grandfather had a hardware business there.  (Linda Rondstadt’s albums made the short list of albums that I purchased back in the day.)  Sadly, I read recently that she suffers now from Parkinson’s disease and no longer sings.

I met my first thru-hikers along a delightful section of a creek streaming off Mica Mountain.  Quirkus (trail name) and Carly, they hail from Connecticut and have been on the trail about a week.  I was most impressed by Carly who can’t weigh more than 100 lbs but was able to carry a pack at least as big as mine up the mountain just as fast as I:

CARLY AND QUIRKUS

It was my birthday and I stopped for a lunch of sweet rolls – sweet rolls that Mary had purchased as my birthday “cake.” Carlorie-rich, they were just what I need for the the 5000-ft climb still to go.  I also came across this unfortunate gila monster who had apparently drowned in the recent rain when he was swept by the stream against a barbed-wire fence:

It took me the rest of the day to reach Manning Camp – the only camp in Saguaro National Park (the location of this portion of the Arizona trail). I started seeing snow at the 6000-ft level and by the time I reached the camp at 8000 ft it was pretty much everywhere and about six inches deep.  A guy from Tucson named Larry  had already set up camp when I got there and Quirkus and Carly arrived soon after I did.  That was just about the time the sun went down and it was so cold that all anyone wanted to do was get in a sleeping bag to get warm.

THE TRAIL OUT OF MANNING CAMP

It proved to be a long night.  I was warm in my bag but thirteen hours is a long night even for a tired hiker.  Long before dawn I was ready for the night to end.  At first light I hit the trail.  The trail on the mouintain top was covered by snow but luckily a previous hiker’s footprints showed the way.  Of course, I was betting that he knew where he was going.  If not, we’d both be lost.

The trail on the north side of the mountain appeared to be rarely used and it was overgrown in many sections.  Fallen logs had to be negotiated.  Cat claw acacia thorns tore fabric and exposed skin.  The snow ended, as expected, at the 6000-ft level amid intriguing rock formations:

This was Monday morning and I had deemed the 21 miles to the rendezvous point of Molino Basin too much for a single day’s hike.  Consequently I had arranged for Mary to meet on Tuesday at noon.  But as the day progressed and I made good time across the valley floor I began to think I might be able to make Molino Basin by nightfall.  I kept checking for cell service so that I could make new arrangements with Mary but not until 3:17 in the afternoon did I have a signal.  I left a voice mail and hoped Mary would get it.  Cell service soon disappeared.

A brutally steep 800-ft climb on the next-to-last mile was the last thing I wanted after 20 miles that day but that’s what I got.  As I topped the saddle I could see the highway below and what looked like a silver pickup parked beside it – Mary?  Fingers crossed, I hurried down, all the while hoping she had received my voice mail.  She had.


LIEF LEARNS A NEW DANCE STEP?

German lessons are out this year; long-distance hiking is in.  

Arizona has a trail that follows the mountains which snake through the middle of the state from Mexico to Utah.  It’s called The Arizona Trail and I intend to do as much of it as I can this winter.  For the last two days I have been hiking a section of the trail from Patagonia north.  I’m doing the parts near Tucson because that is where we are now.  Next on tap is to go back to the southernmost sections before picking up where I left off north of Tucson.  If all goes well, I should get to the Grand Canyon by early April.

The trail is 800 miles long which would take longer than the roughly six weeks remaining until we return to Chelan.  However, much of the trail is open to mountain bikes and I intend to ride those sections.  Whereas twenty miles per day is a good distance for a hiker, a mountain biker can usually do two or three times that much (terrain permitting.)

The sections (called “passages”) that I just completed were an interesting variety of desert scrub, grassland, and connifers mixed with desert oak trees.  The elevation varried from 5000 to 6500 ft which, even in southern Arizona can be chilly this time of year.  My tent was 25 degrees inside this morning and caked with frost.  As soon as the sun comes up, however, it’s a whole different world.  When ascending in the afternoon I was stripped down to just a t-shirt.

Recent rains have filled the normally dry creek beds and I had to cross water at least twenty times.

I met no other hikers on the trail but I noticed at a trail register that several other people are thru-hiking – one only a day ahead of me.

Mary has kindly volunteered to ferry me to and from trailheads – an encore of her supporting role from 2011 when I did the Pacific Crest Trail.

Some trail scenes:


CUT THROUGH THIS YOU S.O.B.!

Rudy started barking in the night a few days back so I got up and looked around outside.  I didn’t notice anything amiss so I assumed one of the plentiful feral cats in the neighborhood had aroused him.  I went back to bed. Some time later he started barking again so Mary looked around.  She didn’t see anything.

In the morning she looked out the window and said “Lief, your bike is gone!”  Sure enough, all that was left of my $1500 Specialized mountain bike was a piece of the cable lock with which I had secured it to the trailer.  This was a cable about the diameter of my little finger and it was sliced off as clean as a butcher cuts sausage.  Mary’s bike was untouched.  I guess Rudy’s barking scared the thief off.  Know what? – from now on Rudy gets our full attention  when he barks in the night.

The very next day I went to REI and bought a new bike, racks, cargo bag, and Kryptonite locks of hardened 3/4″ steel that no bolt cutters can breach.  (As every boy who read Superman comics knows, even Superman cannot overpower Kryptonite.)  They’ll have to bring a cutting torch or grinder – which we would certainly hear so I’m confident the bikes are now safe.  What scumbags!  Taking my dear bicycle on which I rode the Great Divide.  

I’ve been watching the bicycle listings on Craigslist, hoping to see my biycle for sale.  Thoughts of employing the thief’s own bolt cutters on various parts of his anatomy have been crossing my mind in the unlikely event I see my bike advertised.

Safely locked to the trailer frame with Kryptonite locks we feel our bikes are now safe but this morning Mary noticed that either a very big dog or a human had pissed high up on the tarp she covered her bike with.  Could it be that the thief returned and, angered by his inability to steal the bikes, pissed on them?

THE PEEING THIEF

I rode The Loop trail around the city of Tucson yesterday to try out my new bike.  That was about 60 miles.  This new seat isn’t nearly as kind to my butt as the one that was stolen so there was no more riding today.  To give my bruised hiney a rest, Mary, Rudy, and I took a little hike up Sentinel Peak which provided a great view of the city:

FROM SENTINEL PEAK


Yes, the heat here is dry and dry heat isn’t as oppressive as humid heat but after spending an afternoon walking through the desert when the temperature was in the low eighties, I can tell you that dry heat isn’t exactly benign.  One thing to consider other than humidity is the intensity of sunlight.  When the sky is clear blue sunlight can give you the feeling you’re in a solar oven.  

I hiked up to a place called Seven Falls today with my aluminized parasol to see if the sun would be less oppressive than it was the other day when I wore a sun hat.  The “sunbrella” has several advantages over a mere hat: It shades one’s entire upper body – not just the head.  It also allows free air circulation which eliminates the “sweaty head” problem from which I suffer.  And, should the weather turn rainy, it can deflect raindrops.

THE SUNBRELLA

The sunbrella definitely helps but reflected light off the sand still managed to give my legs a heat rash.  I used this sunbrella on the PCT but never saw another hiker with one.  On today’s hike I saw quite a few hikers who, judging by their  flushed faces and sweaty brows, were feeling the heat but no one else sported a sunbrella.  Go figure??

Seven Falls is an 8-mile hike popular with University of Arizona students according to my hiking guide.  Because of the current drought, the falls were dry today but when the water is flowing and the pools at the falls’ bases are full of clear water I can understand the attraction.  The stream bed in many places is long expanses of water-smoothed bedrock that is dotted with shallow pools that are warmed by that intense Arizona sun.  

(NOTE THE HUMAN FIGURES AT THE POOLS FOR SCALE)


SITE 71

Tucson is a nice little city.  The air is clear, the moutains are near, and the pace of life is not so hectic as to get on one’s nerves.  Summers here are said to be unmercifully hot but as it is now February, that’s none of our concern.  They say Tucson weather has been unusually warm since our arrival a week ago (high 70s-low 80s) but even if it were to dip back down in the 60s, the nearly constant sunshine would make for pleasant weather.

The Crossroads RV Park where we have established ourselves warrants description.  We stayed here last winter and found it enough to our liking that we have returned.  It is centrally located with a full complement of shopping facilities nearby, which pleases Mary greatly.  There is free camping on BLM land just outside the city limit but the amenities of power, water, sewer, and cable available here were attractive enough to overcome even my legendary frugality.  Our site is on the perimeter of the park, facing a modest residential neighborhood, and very little traffic passes by making it a refuge from the traffic noises on the far side of the park..

Crossroads is presided over by Carol, the resident manager.  On the one hand, Carol is in her mid-to-late 60s and just barely ambulatory.  On the other hand, her sovereignty at Crossroads is absolute and exacting.  Crossroads is not a high-class RV park.  Many of the trailers here are fifty or more years old and well past their prime.  As an example, several of our neighboring trailers have roofs that are covered by a thick layer (or perhaps several layers) of waterproof sealant as residents fight a never-ending battle against the abundant and destructive ultraviolet radiation so generously supplied by the Arizona sun.  Most of the residents are elderly and rarely venture outside their modest dwellings.  Considering what Carol has to work with, one might expect Crossroads to be on a downhill slide to trashiness and ruin.  Not so. Carol tirelessly monitors the situation to keep the grounds shipshape.  Several times a day she can be seen making the rounds in her electric cart, casting a careful eye for bits of litter or accumulations of miscellany around the trailers.  Offending residents are brought into compliance.

On the language front, my tutor search is not going well.  Despite inquiries sent to the possible tutors supplied by the university, no one has responded.

I have been exploring trails in the nearby Catalina Mountains atop my newly purchased Keen hiking shoes.  The hikes are preparatory for a planned hike along the Appalachian Trail this fall.  I don’t expect the physical training to carry over to September but I need to test my equipment ahead of time so that all is ready in that regard.  I also bought a new backpack the other day at REI – an Atmos 50 AG by Osprey that is state-of-the-art.

I did a hike in the Catalinas a few days ago over a steep, boulder-strewn trail using leg muscles that apparently have lain dormant in recent years.  The result was a few days of painful hobbling about.  Yesterday’s hike went much better in Sabina Canyon.

SABINA CANYON TRAIL


READY TO ROLL

Here we are early this morning in Quartzsite, Arizona, ready to move on after two weeks of BLM camping.  What do the old sailors say? – “Red sun at morning, sailors take warning”?  Other than the fact it was a record-setting 82 degrees in Tucson today (which wasn’t half bad) I’d have to disagree with the sailors.  It’s been a nice day.

The plan was to sniff around Phoenix today and maybe spend some time there but when we drove in a brown fog of air pollution obscured the city and the traffic was unnerving and we couldn’t find a place to park and so we just drove on down to Tucson in disgust.  We’re holed up in Catalina State Park north of Tucson for the night.  There is a mighty fine view of the Catalina Mountains from our dining “room”table:

I’m going to ride my bicycle into Tucson tomorrow to try to find the nice secretary at the University of Arizona who last year was so helpful in hitching me up with a German tutor.  If that works out, we will probably do a repeat of last winter when we stayed in a trailer park within the city limits.  If not……….?  We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

We’re enjoying the warmth.  And should we ever start taking this weather for granted we just need to look at this photo that was taken a few days before we left Union Valley:

Mary is lobbying for new tires for the trailer and if we needed encouragement to spend the cash for the tires, boy did we get it today.  We were being swept along the Phoenix freeway today by the inexorable flow of traffic like a pair of drowning swimmers in a raging river when we heard a loud “bang!”  I thought some debris had hit our truck but then we saw a black cloud slightly ahead of us, one lane over, swirling up from under a concrete truck.  Shards of rubber up to several feet long were spiraling through the air.  One of his tires had blown.  Lucky for him, his truck had about thirteen other tires to take up the slack so he managed to make it to the next off-ramp without losing control.  Not so, another truck we had passed a few miles earlier; this big rig was upside down facing the on-coming traffic.  Rolling over I can understand but how he wound up facing backwards I find beyond comprehension.