Last night, we dug a shallow hole in the ditch of a jeep road and built a fire in it. Reduced to coals by the time of our retirement, it was pretty easy to fill the glowing bed with dirt and call it a night. Still, laying in the circus tent with two of the other men (Vince had chosen to sleep under his tarp, arguably enjoying the occasional breeze and fresh scents of the night desert compared to the experience in our Fart Pyramid) I was worried we would wake up in the middle of the night surrounded by a burning desert. You know, just the normal thoughts.
Like, okay, we knew the forecast said that this winter storm would just be sitting here between Tucson and Phoenix for the next four or five days. But going to bed with clear skies and a full belly, warmed by a fire, turns even the best planner slapdash. So naturally, the rain's return sometime before first light reminded us all that no one would be burning up on this trip from either sun or flame. Also, we should just get used to packing up our things wet.
It's funny how lousy weather can make getting up take forever. When the sun greets you (well me that is- when the sun greets me) I can't get out of my sleeping bag fast enough. But here between the grey sky and wet dirt, Im taking my time. Maybe you would too.
Time goes by like we're waiting for something to happen. The clouds take the hint, apparently, and the sun actually manages to break through. Any slow progression in packing, stuffing, and rolling is immediately undone. Relishing the sudden warmth and sunlight, sleeping bags are draped over branches along with anything else that can be hung (mostly everything) and is wet (absolutely everything). I even put a camera lens in the sun- it's insides fogged over in condensation, making me wonder if it's completely ruined. A shift in the wind turns the sky blue faster than it moves a weather vane.
"OKAY, YEAH, LET'S GET OUT OF HERE."
Long-held symbol of playfulness and care-free attitudes, they're known to place the body at a point of universal balance. This precarious pivot; a fulcrum between momentum and ass-busting; where gravity, control, and even destiny pause, is believed by the more spiritual to be where one can summon positive energies. It's said holding a wheelie long enough can change your life. You, as your whirling wheel, heading upwards in Fortuna's very own whirling wheel.
Also, wheelies are fun.
We're heading into the Tortilla Mountains. It's tempting to make a joke about the irony of a flat food being the name of a mountain range, but nah. Nah. This section of the AZT lies between the Catalinas and the Gila River. You ride jeep road through land where cows graze heading towards Tiger Mine just long enough to miss the actual trail, but only just, then a trail marker will throw you back into the glorious single track. Our last water source was at camp, but even under patchy cloudwork the desert sun is making sure we go through what we bottled fast.
This drop-in was so fun we forgot to get water.
By noon we find ourselves once again riding towards dark clouds. Today's clouds hover over the particularly Mordor-looking Antelope Peak. It's so interesting how the terrain changes with our elevation, which itself is changing every few minutes. Only a few hundred feet will bring us out of jumping cholla and teddy bear cholla, but in a dip back down or descent towards a wash cat's claw snags at our gloves and sleeves. Again, this is not a trail to veer off but damn if it isn't photogenic. The aggressive plants make for a great background, and scene after scene draws cameras out, occasionally to the dismay of getting miles done before Mordor's clouds become a problem.
You are now seeing the point where the earlier mention of Mordor's clouds and their potential of becoming a problem start becoming, well, a problem. It's a problem that has afflicted every person with a camera while doing strenuous activity while lacking the amenities of civilization such a water and shelter. Coming down the backside of the Tortillas, it's clear by the time of day that we need to get more miles done. A lot more miles. This may come at the expense of setting up photo and video shots. However, the alternative is (not to be too dramatic) dying in the middle of the desert.
At this point we don't really have a lot of water, FYI. But, there is a cache ahead on the trail. How many miles isn't really specified, but it's there- somewhere. So going faster and stopping less becomes pretty high on the priority list.
This descent helps us go fast
This cow doesn't help us go fast
Don't go fast by the cow
She don't deserve that kind of nonsense
We've been waiting for it to happen. Pedaling hard, breathing heavy, eyes always darting between the trail and the sky, knowing eventually a drop of water would land on one of our faces. And I feel it. Then I feel another one. The trail markers take us off the cow's road, though her kindness for letting us use the road didn't go unappreciated, and we're a ditch away from being back on single track.
At this point, an actual, real, okay-no-seriously-this-time break from photos happens. Why? Well, it's raining moderately for one. Also we have another eight miles to get through before the marked water point on the maps. This is done with heavy remorse, as this next part is segment 15A of the Arizona Trail, known as the Boulders Segment. Aptly named for the granite boulders that float like islands in the flat sea of scrub that surrounds them. Some cluster, others stand precariously on edge, but we're fortunate to have the wind pushing behind us. The tailwind is the only compensation for the severe pain of not photographing this section. Well, I guess the water cache is too. Located right next to the trail, along with shelter and a guest log, we're all more than happy to rehydrate.
This trip is actually supported by the incredible kindness of strangers and volunteers alike for filling these water caches. If you think going out into the desert with mountain bikes to camp and stuff sounds fun and you are gonna come do it, you will rely heavily on these water caches.
Water Cache Etiquette
1. Take only what you need. Even if you don't come across anyone all day, there are other people out here relying on these caches as well.
2. Take unmarked water first. If someone put water there for someone else, chances are they wrote that on the jug.
3. If there is no unmarked water, look for the oldest-dated water and make a judgement call. We saw water marked for someone from August (that's the month, not the person's name), for example. It's safe to say water marked for August is free to use.
4. Lock the cache back up. This one should be obvious.
The day has grown late. It's agreed we'll ride to the next northbound water spot on Vince's garmin and make camp around about there. This involves riding across wash after wash. The trail again climbing with a black, rubber pipeline following by its side. The pipeline makes us feel confident to just keep going. We pass two women backpacking south, and say hello but don't get all up in their business. They could very well be trying to make it south to the water cache we last used. Thank goodness we're so good at etiquette and made sure to leave plenty of water for others, right? In passing, the backpackers start their climb out of a canyon we've just descended into. If the pipeline wasn't an indicator, this canyon must have a good deal of water and flaunts it with lush scrub, occasional trees, even grass hear and there. Lots of cattle, stoked on that grass as one may imagine, get spooked out of and back into dense mesquite as we churn through the sandy bottom, hunting for a road that connects to a nearby ranch. This road also has that water source that was mentioned earlier.
We find the road and simultaneously the last light gives up trying to push through the overcast. Headlamps are adorned, and we climb the road out of the canyon in search of a well. This search doesn't really work out, but the newfound phone signal brings a weather alert saying it's gonna dump rain in like ten minutes. We keep looking, limited by the brightness of our headlamps. It's been dark for two hours now. We still have to find a spot to set up camp, mind you, and with the first fat raindrops our group splits into two halves. One chunk will go find the water, the other will set up camp before everything gets soaked. Myself and Kody head back down the road to the canyon, to the trail, to set up camp. Naturally, it immediately starts pouring the second we get off our bikes. My rainfly, unused so far but easy to grab, comes out and we tie it to a mess of mesquite braches. Crouching underneath, the guilt of knowing Vince and Joey are out there stomping around looking for water seeps in. But this first wave of water eventually subsides, and we begin assembling the circus tent off trail in a small spot bare of trees and shrub. The sand is so loose that Im stomping the tent stakes down inches below the surface, trying to get them to hold. The others return, packs loaded with water, and we settle into the night's activities of cooking in between bursts of rain. It's one of those nights where you're exhausted, but it's to the point that you're annoyed with how exhausted you are, and you begin to question how valuable every stop and every delay was that brought you to where you are- wet, trying to eat your rehydrated calories as fast as possible in hopes you can get a few extra minutes of sleep before the process begins anew the next morning. I remind myself that I chose to be out here doing this. I wonder if the other guys think the same, but we keep it to more functional talking than emotional talking. In a way we're holding back, but the day still manages to wear long on all our faces.
The red bag has whiskey in it.
The red bag is a very important bag.
like the moon
you are changable,