Two weeks ago I asked in a post if you were paying attention. Apparently, you aren’t, or at least most of you aren’t.
I had only one response in the comments to the “poll”. That one vote came from Bel at RoadsBelTravelled. Thanks for paying attention and playing along! So, since she was the only one to vote she wins the vote by default. She chose “something personal”…
Now the question is…what to share? How about I climb into the “way back machine”?
Once upon a time I used to hike and backpack quite a bit. That is, until I got married and had a child. It slowly decreased after that and over the last few years I am lucky if I get in one hike. I actually did two last year, but they were fairly short. I am hoping to work back into more this summer! Anyway, on to the details of the desert trek.
It all started in college when I decided to go on a one week backpacking trek with some college friends and two professors from the college I was attending. I had never done this before, but I had a good friend who had done it a lot so it was fun to go to REI and purchase the essentials that I would use for years to come (I finally unloaded some of that old gear – though it was still good – two years ago).
We trained for the hike, during the winter months, in the nine story tower on campus. Up and down the stairs we went, walking, running, and at first maybe even crawling. Then with extra weight, in our hiking boots, etc. It was a good way to build stamina and leg strength. Most people don’t know, but going downhill and maintaining balance takes a different set of muscles than going uphill, so the walking down the stairs slowly and methodically was essential to the training too.
After months of preparing, we all piled into a 15 passenger van the professors borrowed from the school and we loaded up our gear. It was a little cramped in that van, but it was fun as we road-tripped it from Chicago to the Superstition Mountains of Arizona. There isn’t much I specifically remember about the road trip other than I do know that we realized we were going to be going through Winslow, Arizona, so we played a lot of The Eagles’ “Take It Easy” in the van and when it came time…yes, we jumped out of the van and took some moments “…standin’ on a corner in Winslow, Arizona” and “it was such a fine sight to see…”
It ended up being perfect weather in the desert. We hiking in the sun. We relaxed next to a brook. We swam in the brook (the water was really cold!). We played Rook sitting around a camp fire or in the sun on a giant boulder next to the brook. I can’t describe what it felt like to be out there, feeling like you were the only people on the Earth. It was glorious!
Again, I don’t remember the particulars except on experience did leave an impression on me. There were some lessons to be learned one particular day.
We used camp as a base and took different hikes from there each day. So, one day, we decided to take a hike. It was supposed to be about a 10 mile round-trip hike and it was going to go near some of the Anasazi ruins in the surrounding valleys. The day hike started out rather normal but as we got farther into it, the guide book that the research was done from didn’t appear to be as accurate as we though. We were on Mile 6 and we hadn’t gotten even half way to the destination. So, part of the group decided to turn around and head back and part of the group decided to continue on.
We found the ruins and they were SPECTACULAR! It was really cool to see that kind of history and imagine what life would have been like at the time. It was hard to imagine, quite frankly.
I should mention that the ruins were about Mile 12 of the hike that day. Now we are well past mid-day and we have to return back to base camp. There are five of us (our group was a total of 12) and we have to make a decision – return the way we came or find another way back to base. This decision was key because we know what we just went through to get to this location and returning the way we came would be difficult to say the least.
We gathered around the map and saw there was another route back to base and it appeared that if we kept going ahead, instead of turning around, it would only be about 8 miles back to base. Mind you, we haven’t been on the trail and the sun is well past the high point of the day. We are all in pretty good shape and there was definitely some hill climbing to be done as we left the valley we were in, but we thought we could do it if we kept up a good pace. We refilled out water bottles in the creek through our filters and off we went. Through the bottom of the valley for a while and then…uphill.
The uphill part was not as steep as the route we came down through. There were no switchbacks and the trail, at least at first, was pretty clear. Yeah, you read that right – “at first.”
In many places, the trail had markers or signs to help point you in the right direction instead of just using the map. Up to a certain point, it was pretty useful until we came up to a spot where the trail split from one to three. The signs had been pulled out of the ground and thrown in a pile slightly off the trail. Great! Let’s hope our map reading skills are better than we realize because now we are solely relying on a compass and a detailed map that didn’t show a 1-3 transition. Really great. We knew where we were, approximately, and the three options didn’t really offer any sure-fire sense of which was the correct trail to take.
So, after studying the map and looking at the different trails, we decided that we would take the one that looked the most traveled, and by that I mean that there were hoof marks on the trail so we knew a mule or a horse had followed the trail. We assumed they knew where they were going…yeah, not so much! We followed the trail for about 45 minutes until it just kind of petered out and there was no trail to be found, just cacti and scrub. Super awesome! Not only did we pick the wrong trail, but we just wasted at total of an hour and a half of light going the wrong way! It was now late afternoon and we knew we were not getting back to camp before dark.
This was not a good situation since we were not prepared to hunker down for an overnight and our supplies were limited since this was just supposed to be a day hike. It left us no choice but to power on and hope for better results this time. So, we chose a different trail and started up the hill.
Needless to say, as you are reading this blog, we survived. LOL Our legs were scratched from brushing against cacti we couldn’t see in the dark. Our flashlight and headlamp provided a little light, but only two of the five of us actually brought lights (not sure why we did for a “day hike”) and we discovered that the starlight provided better light as our eyes would get all whacked out when we used the bright lights, making it harder to see a small trail. We really only used the light to look at the map, which looking back was kind of dumb since we couldn’t see any landmarks, but once in a while we would come to a trail sign and we could reference the map to see where we were.
All in all, we made it back to the main trail we hiked to get into base camp and then followed it back to base that night. We ended up walking in the dark for four hours and we were back to camp well after dinner. We were all famished! And we were lucky.
Lesson learned: Be prepared for an overnight, even if it is just a day trip. Obviously, we were not prepared if something had really gone wrong. We weren’t prepared for a cold night in the desert and we weren’t prepared for injuries. Luckily, no one got hurt, and we didn’t end up having to huddle together for body heat. LOL But, it is better to be prepared than not to be. So, if you think you may be over packing, you probably are and that is OK.
I have never forgotten those lessons. So, even on those occasional day hikes I take now (and hope to do more of this summer) I may look a little funny with a bigger than normal pack, but I am ready for the end of the world! Wanna hit the trail with me?
Do you have any good hiking stories or lessons you want to share? Hit me up in the comments with your learned wisdom!
**Sorry I don’t have pictures to include with the post. That was back in the day when photos were taken with real film, had to be developed, and the printed. I haven’t had those pics digitized yet.**