One of my biggest disappointments this winter has been the infrequency of hiking trips. In the spirit of purposeful redirection of my priorities as I transition from “workaholic , perfectionist, slave driver” to ” recovering, workaholic, perfectionist, slave driver” I decided that one hiking trip per month from December to March would be appropriate.
By the time March arrived, I had only one trip under my belt and the window was closing.
If I was going to score a uniquely meaningful adventure to remember the winter of ’16-’17, this last trip needed to be epic.
It began on a Thursday morning around 11:00 AM. Lance, a good friend who has sufficient fitness, curiosity, and moxie to join me for a short hiking expedition, arrived In McIntire from his home in Kalona Iowa a three hour drive to the south east. Our flight to Phoenix was leaving Minneapolis at 2:50 PM so we had plenty of time to stop in Rochester for my gear and have lunch on the way.
At 7:30 PM Arizona time, we were studying the menu at Charro Steakhouse in downtown Tucson and planning our desert itinerary.
Despite our enduring friendship, Lance and I are very different. He the prudent, tradition honoring, conservative voting, risk avoiding, nice guy. And then there was me.
Like I said, we are very different.
To avoid over exposing Lance to too much of a good thing and knowing his appetite for mileage was not as gluttonous as mine, it seemed safe to assume two days of hiking would be a sufficient introduction. He would hike with me Friday and Saturday, then take Sunday off so I could could hike at my own pace.
Both days went well and on the drive back to Phoenix Saturday afternoon, I could tell he genuinely enjoyed the experience.
I left Lance off at his cousins place in Queen Creek. I drove to my parents winter home, just 15 minutes away, which would be the launching pad for my Sunday hike. Mom and Dad treated me to supper at a local bar and grill before we called it a night.
My alarm went off at 5:40 the next morning and I was out the door with a loaded Camelback before six. Being a creature of habit, the nest two things on my list were a McDonalds oatmeal and a “Grande, dark roast, no room.” For some reason Siri was not very cooperative and the GDRNR took a little longer to find than anticipated. I arrived at the Peralta Trailhead about 7;15, just missing sunrise.
I took a quick look at the trail map mounted near the parking lot and chose a 13 mile loop which I guessed would be relatively un-populated.
About thirty minutes into my hike, I met one hiker already returning to the parking lot. Obviously she did not have trouble finding her oatmeal and coffee.
I was slightly perturbed that I was not wearing my trusty Timex Iron Man watch. I was sure I left it in the car the night before but I was not able to find it this morning. This $25 watch has been my hiking companion for over ten years and we have been through a lot. I like to say I am not superstitious, but I have to admit the value of the watch is mostly psychological.
As the sun started to rise, it occurred to me the desert looked different. Along the trail there were bunches of sedge-like grass, dark green and lush. Glancing around, I realized the abundance of wild flowers, purple, yellow, and white, more numerous and vibrant than I had ever seen.
Poppy’s, Desert Dandelions, Verbena, and Brittlebrush occupied gaps between the yucca and saguaro with mathematical symmetry. Several varieties of shrubs, similar in appearance to thistle and milkweed, filled the remaining spaces.
While I was accustomed to the dull, waxey green reflection of saguaro offering a mild contrast to the brown desert canvas, this was an unexpected profusion of colors.
It was about 45 minutes before I met another hiker and learned this phenomenon was causing much excitement among the hiking community.
Due to the unusually heavy and persistent rainfall the desert received this winter, it was experiencing a rare “Superbloom.” Recent tendencies for journalists and politicians to exaggerate aside, “Superbloom” was not hyperbole.
For the next 3 hours, every group of hikers I met were quick to mention the “Bloom.” Many said they had heard about it and altered their plans to come to the desert. I was wrong about choosing a path less traveled, but it was inspiring to encounter others who shared my appreciation for the beauty and miracle of nature. The joy in the faces of passing hikers was unmistakable.
I ceased counting applicable axioms when I ran out of digits. The virtue of persistence, inevitability of change, necessity for diversity, natures infinite adaptability, her unstoppable will to survive, adversity makes you resilient, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the future belongs to the efficient………
You get the point.
As I drove back to Mom and Dads place to clean up before meeting Lance with friends for a late afternoon celebration before catching a mid night red eye, I concluded I had just hiked the shortest 13 miles I ever covered.
And thanks to an unseasonably wet winter in Arizona, the 2017 hiking season would be one to remember.