Since hurting my knee and the surgery not really going all that well, I've been searching for something else to keep me busy. Thankfully, work has been oppressively busy which has been a nice diversion on multiple fronts. But, when I'm not doing that, I've been trying really hard to get into solo hiking.
I love the outdoors and love working out, but for some reason I can't seem to get past the fact that hiking is basically....walking. Don't get me wrong, I love to do it with other people (it is one of my most favorite things) and it kicks my butt almost every time - literally. But, for some reason whenever I do it I feel like I should be doing more. I think that is probably why I try to jog as much as I can while I am out there. Little did I know, I was about to bite of WELL more than I could chew.
Looking out over the Lost Dutchman valley
So, first thing on Sunday morning, I got up at dawn and headed to the trailhead that also doubles as the start of the Lost Dutchman Marathon. (Which, I didn't know until I got there!) It is situated among all of the saguaro cactus and rising mountains so it is no wonder that the Lost Dutchman is regularly ranked as one of the most pretty. While I've never run the full, I have very fond memories of it from years past.
Cactus for DAYZZZ
The trail was rated "extreme" Or "moderate" or "idiots only" or something like that. Either way, this isn't a trail that you'd see that one old guy wearing jeans and a 20z bottle of Aquafina. You know the type, he is the one who is wearing a gold watch instead of a Garmin. It was mostly single track, mostly rugged, and super remote. In fact, as I set off, I headed in the opposite direction as everyone else. Hmmmm
Starting up - spring has sprung! Lots of desert green
The first few miles were up and over the front range of mountains and then down into a gorgeous valley. There were boulders as far as the eye could see. In fact, the park that I was hiking in has miles and miles of trails. Something that I would all too soon become familiar with.
Shade in the valley, sun up above
Single track in the foliage
The thing that I was looking forward to the most with hiking in the Superstitions was how remote they were promised to be. The last handful of weeks have been pretty tough on me and I was hoping to get a chance to clear my head. Let me tell you - they WERE remote! I saw 4 people for the first 6 miles - all of them with very large packs. I was feeling a little bit of pack-envy, but I kept reminding myself that it isn't the size of the pack that matters, it is how you use it (something I am well versed in doing).
The trail isn't well traveled at all. In fact, I was using Cairn (those stacked rocks) to navigate more often than I would like. The trail would seemingly dead end in a washed out riverbed and I would have to hike up and down it until I found the stacked rocks and eventually made it back onto the trail. It was honestly exciting at first, but after a while it was a bit nerve wracking.
Looking back at how far I had come!
Weavers needle. Looks more like Weaver's nob to me....
About 2/3 of the way through my 12 mile hike, I was starting to get tired. It was starting to get hot and I had things that I needed to do. I actually thought to myself "Boy, I really wish that this hike was 10 miles instead of 12. I'm ready to get home." LOLZ, oh Adam... you're so silly.
Part of the issue was that very little of the hike was runable. Each time there was a flat spot or a spot that was remotely clear, I'd come upon a really rocky technical part. The only exception to that was the last 2-3 miles of the 12 mile hike. By that point I was tired enough that I just decided to speed hike. Overall, I was averaging about 3 miles / hour, so I was pushing the pace pretty hard. (Or, at least hard enough.)
All smiles in the shade!
Not so much smiles 10 miles in
So, about 4 hours in, I was starting to come upon more and more people. Great! I thought aloud to myself. That means that I'm on the right track and nearly complete. I had even started to make a mental todo list of things to do when I got home. Before I knew it, I rounded the bend and found myself in a parking lot!! I stopped my garmin and looked around for my car. My car wasn't there. MY CAR WASN'T THERE. The reason? Because I was at the wrong trailhead.
In the picture below, I was at the red point the lovely park ranger is pointing at. I THOUGHT that I was at the furthest southern point marked by a red square at the bottom of the map. I made a terrible wrong turn. The distance between the two trailheads? 12 miles via trail, 40 miles via car. Shit.
After a slight moment to be frustrated at myself (mostly, just like kicking dirt once or twice), I started to weigh my options.
-- Option 1: Hike back to the point of my wrong turn (I missed a sign) and get back on trail. 12 more miles of hiking. 4.5hrs or so. Pros: Free. Cons: I might die.
-- Option 2: Call a taxi to take me the 40 miles by car from one trailhead to the other. Pros: Minimal risk of dying. Cons: Expensive.
Obviously I choose the free option.
I had filled up my 3L camelback all the way up before I left and it was probably 1/2 full or maybe a little under when I realized my mistake. (Ironically, I had thought to myself around mile 11 "wow Adam, you really need to not pack so much water next time. This is heavy!") So, I had enough water..sort of. The park ranger didn't have enough to spare anyway. Thankfully, he did have some sunscreen that I was able to put on. My hike was supposed to only be 3 hrs in my head, so I didn't think to put any on. (Lesson learned...)
With that, not wanting to dilly dally too much, I left a message w/ Laura that I was lost but okay and was off. It was only going to get hotter the longer I waited. The thought that my hike was now going to be 24 miles weighed HEAVY on my mind.
The sign I missed. BLAH - it isn't even all that easy to miss!!
The first few miles were flat and totally runable. So, in spite of wanting to conserve water and not tire out my legs, I ran. I should really be keeping a tally of dumb things that I did before/during this hike. Add one to the list - running. My thought process at the time was that if I could get a few fast miles under my belt, I could walk a bit slower and still finish before it got too late.
Smiling much much less
The trail that I had wanted to hike made a big loop around the Weavers Needle rock. In hindsight I should have known that I was off course when I started to go away from it. Another lesson learned.
After about 18 total miles I started to conserve water. I could feel that I was starting to run low both by the weight and by how warm it was starting to get. I'd take little sips every few minutes vs big gulps. This is when I started to get pretty worried. I hadn't seen any other hikers in 3-4 miles. I knew that I was on the right trail, but still worried that I had much further to go. By this point my legs were burning, my fingers were starting to swell, and I was just flat out tired. I'm not one for dramatics, but I was starting to have the sort of thoughts that you have when there is super bad turbulence on an airplane. No one likes to have those kinds of thoughts. "Oh god, I hope someone clears my internet history."
Weavers Needle (Nob) From the back side
NO MORE SMILES
(I actually don't remember this pic... oops)
It was almost frustrating how gorgeous it was based on how miserable I was!
Let me count how many clouds there were... one...opps, nope - zero
Let me count how many clouds there were... one...opps, nope - zero
The rest of the hike was simply an exercise in my own stubbornness. I wouldn't let myself slow down and would only stop to change podcasts or take pictures. I did end up running out of water with about 2 miles to go. But, by that point, I had started to pick up lots of touristy hikers which put me at ease. If worst came to worst, I could ask one of them for some water and a piggypack ride to my car.
Finally, 9 hours and 24 miles after I started, I was finished. When I got home I was down 4.5 pounds. I drank 150oz of water over the course of a few hours. Crazy!
It is interesting what a real struggle will teach you about yourself. I found that in spite of immense challenges, I'm able to rationally power though. That, and I need to do a freaking better job of planning my hikes! But, that said, I'll be back. It really was one of the most gorgeous hikes I have done in Arizona, possibly ever. Well, that and I never really learn my lesson.