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.

Spring in our sights!

With only 27 days remaining until the first Monday in April, the pace of preparation is picking up. Easter occurs on the 16th of April this year. Past history says there is 75% chance seed will be in the ground by then.

So many tasks, so little time.

In an effort to improve our readiness, Bert intentionally put less focus on modifications and retrofit projects, concentrating instead on basic maintenance. I will admit my imagination often led us down dead ends which contributed little benefit. In my idealistic optimism, I can always find a life lesson in my most recent failure. Bert’s take away is “Quit wasting time experimenting!!”

As of this date, Pinicon is ahead of schedule for equipment maintenance. Most of the tractors, tillage machines, trucks, pickups and trailers are inspected and field ready. Ongoing projects include chemical application equipment, support vehicles and the truck we stole on auction that, to our surprise, needed a new engine.

Bert felt really bad when they got the truck home and discovered the cam was bad. The truck only had 260,000 miles. Normal engine life is three times that. Bert is quick to recognize his role in mistakes, take responsibility and make adjustments. This is one of the attributes that earned him first opportunity to be majority owner of Pinicon. However, regarding the $24,000 engine, his due diligence pre auction was more thorough than any inspection I ever had time for. It seems likely to me that the universe is evening up odds with Pinicon. All lucky streaks eventually run their course.

Danni and Lindsay have been busy in the front office with phone calls, data entry, HR duties and of course “Mother Hen” responsibilities that Linda delegated when she retired. Yes, there is a “Mother Hen” S.O.P.

Alex has gotten past the frantic end of the year bookkeeping period and settled into a more relaxed workload consisting of account reconciliations, expense analysis, FSA duties, legal counsel and special projects.

Ben splits duties as head agronomist and G.I.S. analyst while overseeing equipment repairs in the shop. He is also heading up assembly of a second chemical tender. We will use both sprayers this year for herbicide application. A change in philosophy with the new owners is a greater emphasis on timeliness versus utilization. Previous management was obsessed with utilizing every machine 110%.

Each sprayer will cover over one thousand acres daily so they will both need a dedicated tender. Having logged thousands of hours in the sprayer and mixed hundreds of chemical batches, Ben has a good idea how our ultimate spray tender should be equipped. I look forward to seeing his creation.

With so many machines moving through the shop, Calvin spends half his time on the phone ordering parts. Manure management plans, shop organization and weekly grain marketing discussions with Bert occupy the balance of his days.

I will be making my first hiking trip to Arizona in 2017 next week. That will be my final pre planting junket.

Be sure to check in next month as I expect to have actual field activities to report on. Till then, try to contain your excitement.