February 4th – February 10th, 2020
Vail, AZ – Chandler, AZ
It was a cold and windy morning and I didn’t feel much like leaving the comfort of my cozy bed. Eventually though I had no choice, so Frank and I went for a little walk to stretch our legs and take care of ‘business’. The trail rolled through gentle terrain filled with so many different type of cacti. In the distance the sun lit up eroding mountains and the wind was sharp on my exposed skin. The cold wind brought up difficult memories from the PCT, and we quickly headed back the the shelter of Truck.
Inside we enjoyed a slow morning as I typed away trying to catch up on my weeks blog. I have been doing a horrible job writing each day as I had done the first few weeks. Instead of beating myself up, or feeling like a failure I make sure to write at least a little each day, and be present while I am doing it. It will be hard work writing a entire book someday, but what will get me to the end will be sticking with it and putting in the hours whether in small daily chunks, or larger sessions here and there.
By late morning I was running out of power on all my devices and everyone else was ready to move locations. I ate a huge salad and then we hit the road headed for Saguaro National Park. For a long as I can remember I’ve wanted to see the Saguaro cacti in real life. My last trip to Arizona I didn’t come this far south and I wasn’t going to make the same mistake again. We get to the park and head into the visitor centre where I learn I have been saying it wrong my entire life. It’s pronounces Suh-WAH-roe instead of with a hard G and painfully Canadian A sound as I had always done. I also purchase a few postcards, and a Saguaro pin for my growing collection then we head into the park.
The road through the park is a mostly 1-way loop, windy and undulating. We head to the first picnic area where there is a paved path which we can walk the dogs on. The path is only 1 mile round trip but it takes awhile, myself moving at a snails pace admiring the towering cacti and the many other varieties. I take tons of photos and see one tiny lizard. A few of the Saguaros are flowering and their fruits look like tiny pineapples (they were not Saguaros). Our walk helps me to relax after a stressful situation parking. The picnic area only had parking spaced for 8 vehicles and was full when we arrived. After driving the rest of the way through the park I can hardly believe how few parking spaces there were. It’s as if they expect people to drive through viewing the glory of the Sonoran desert from their vehicles and then leave.
Our visit in the park wasn’t super long, but we had heard the area we planned to camp can get very busy and didn’t want to be arriving late. Heading up the bumpy dirt road above Tucson there were tons of vans, truck camper and tents everywhere they could find a spot. We drove nearly all the way up the hill before finding spot with an incredible view down over Tucson and to the mountains beyond. It was windy and chilly but I sat outside to cook and then watched the sunset. Locals drove by at mind boggling speeds and a coyote kept trying to approach camp. It as obvious other people had been feeding it, but each time we ran it off as one should any wild animal habituated to human food. After sunset I settle into bed with Frank and posted about my dedication to him as a aging mountain partner before falling asleep to an audiobook.
I hadn’t slept well last night, so when I woke to a cold and windy day I didn’t feel much like going outside. Frank had also been restless in the night compounding my own pain and strange dreams. The view from camp was beautiful, but I enjoyed it from inside while catching up on writing. I let Frank sleep in until he asked to get up and then we made the bathroom rounds. When we returned to the van he was in a playful mood and tackled me on the bed trying to gnaw on my arm. I laughed hysterically and it was just the medicine I needed. When he realized I still wasn’t going to take him for an adventure he climbed into the front seat where it was far warmer than outside or in bed.
Eventually we spent a bit of time together outside before heading into town. It was my first time navigating across a city with GPS and I have never felt so little stress about it. All this time I have been using paper maps, memorizing directions from the internet and struggling with glasses that still aren’t good enough to read the street names. To get around this I would memorize the streets that came before my turn so I could, hopefully, make the correct turn the first time. Mostly though I just avoided cities opting to drive straight through on the highways and do my chores in smaller towns. This usually isn’t the most cost effective method, but it is often way less stressful. With my phone guiding me I made my way across Tucson with relative ease to refuel at Costco where I purchased 90L of gas for about $70cdn which is nearly half the cost of gas at home. It seems crazy to me, especially considering how much more expensive gas is down here than my last visit. You would think we have no oil/gas in Canada at all. Since I was at Costco I went inside to get Frank more treats and load up on canned food for him since it’s so much cheaper than buying individual cans as I go. He’s become spoiled and if I don’t mix in a little with his kibble he will often stick his nose up at me and refuse to eat. For myself I got a huge bag of chips and little tomatoes which I ended up snacking on instead of making dinner.
While I waited for Kira and Logan to finish their chores I hit up a nearby cafe to charge and focus on some online work. The podcast interview I had done in Golden several weeks ago was released and I wanted to share it with the world. I was on Backpacker Radio, my favourite podcast and am very stoked about it. It’s a podcast for thru-hikers/backpackers, is often vulgar and usually hilarious. It was a big thing for me to be on the show considering it’s perhaps the biggest backpacking podcast there is, or at least biggest thru-hiking podcast. In the episode I talk about hiking with Frank, all the crazy shit that happened to me on the PCT, the Sunshine Coast Trail, and being a vegan on trail. I had such a fun time recording, and so far listeners of the show seem to enjoy the episode. After posting about the podcast I scheduled my blog to release on my desires schedule and then signed up for some sort of influencer platform I had been invited to. The idea is that companies hire them to find the right people to promote their products. I don’t really expect to get any offers but since they invited me, and it costs nothing I figure I might as well. If the right brand presents itself it would be a nice way to earn some money.
After we were done in town we headed south to a casino outside Tucson to spend the night. I was amazed pulling in as there must have been about 100 RV’s and camperized vans in the lot. We are on our way to a more remote destination but as temps are supposed to be cold tonight we decided to stay where it was the warmest possible before heading out early to a place I am excited to be introduced to.
Considering I was in a busy casino parking lot I actually slept okay, although not as much as I would have hoped. We headed out about 9am and started south to our final chilling spot as a caravan. Soon @homeasweroam would need to split ways to spend a week with family and I would continue on my own.
We make a quick stop on out way for yet again more food items (and to use the bathroom) and then head towards the mountains. Around here they seem to be called ‘sky islands’ and I guess it makes sense. Unlike in BC the mountains don’t range continuously linked together, they are separated by wide expanses of desert floor giving them the appearance of rising out of nothing. The drive in seems to take forever, despite not being very long at all and soon we have selected a site and positioned our vans.
The rest of the day I don’t actually do much. I eat and spend the day sitting in the sun soaking up its glorious warmth. That’s it. I don’t feel like doing anything else other than sitting in the sun and chatting with Kira. Frank, despite having a couple slow days, is also not into doing much other than sun bathing. He lays in the sun for a long time and then takes a break in the shade before returning to the sun. He goes back and forth not requesting any further attention be given to him. As the day starts to cool I propose fetch but after chasing the ball he takes it and lays in the sun rather than bring it back for more.
That’s it. That was our entire day and it was wonderful. Feeling warm and gazing at gentle mountains rising up from the desert. Their slopes showing the wear of time, covered in sparse shrubbery that allows one to see many details of erosion. The sun moves across the sky, the day begins to cool, and then sunset takes hold painting the sky. Bold colours of deep orange and yellow to the West, and gentle pastel pinks and purples to the East.
A large, bright moon illuminates our camp and we sit by the fire. After Kira goes to bed Logan and I get swept deep into conversations and are up later than any other night. We talk climate change, conspiracies, social conditioning, dirt-bagging, food issues, apocalypse preparedness and on and on.
After not sleeping great I also woke up with my body feeling pretty gross. I was full of mucus and struggling to breathe without gagging on myself. It sounds gross, but after many years of struggling with mysterious food issues I’ve grown fairly used to it. I wanted to have a big day on the mountain but it ended up taking me nearly two hours to get my body feeling decent enough to hike and even then I was still feeling sub-optimal.
Leaving camp I headed down the road enjoying the feeling of wearing shorts and a gentle downhill grade. I decided to call my mom and we chatted for awhile until I was stopped by some cows, and had to leave the road into a canyon to avoid them. I know a lot of people would just walk by the cows, but that’s not me. They are huge creatures who’s body language I do not understand and quite frankly they scare me. To make matters worse Frank knows I am uncomfortable around them so if they ever come towards me he reacts defensively, and it was something I just didn’t want to deal with.
Before long the little canyon lead us to the trailhead and what would end up being one of the most enjoyable hiking experiences I’ve had in a long time. The trail was easy to follow, mostly free of tripping hazards and gently downhill allowing us to cruise effortlessly. Spring is beginning to show itself and bright greenery stood in start contrast to the long dry grasses and barren oak trees. I enjoyed winding through the stubby oak forest for awhile before it slowly opened up and soon we were completely exposed with views all around. Back in the oaks where the creek ran nearby I saw a most magnificent bird as it flew away from me startled. I have no idea what it was and didn’t see it’s face but it was darkly coloured in it’s wings and body with a intense, deeply red trail. The bird was about the size of a large Robin but with a much longer tail. I wish I got to see more of it, but I will never forget the amazing colour of red of it’s tail.
The trail wrapped around the base of the mountains with views across the desert floor and beyond to more mountains and a large open pit mine. There were wonderful cacti, fresh green leaves of some sort of Dock (I think) and even some tiny purple flowers. I saw several deer, but mostly the terrain was heavily trampled from cows grazing on public lands which is a huge pet peeve of mine. At the end of the trail we reach a road that went into the mountain along the bottom of a canyon and I was tempted to follow it. Knowing I hadn’t packed enough food or water for that type of adventure I did the responsible thing and turned back. But not until I walked over to a lone Saguaro to admire it.
Back at camp I ate my first food of the day. Our hike despite being 14km had felt easy on a empty stomach, and while I had snacks I didn’t feel like eating them. After eating I spent the rest of the day lounging in the sun and chatting with my friends. Frank was satisfied from his hike and happy to lay in the sun until he got too warm and then move into the shade. He did this the rest of the day moving back and forth between the sun and shade enjoying as much warmth as was good for him and no more.
As the sun began to set we started a fire and spent the evening watching it’s flames and enjoying each others company. The moon, now nearly full, was extremely bright and the cows came by passing very close to my van. Luckily the dogs were inside and we didn’t have to deal with any issues from them guarding our camp.
I really enjoy being out on the trail early in the morning, and while I didn’t manage to get out as early as I someday hope to do easily I did get out earlier than yesterday. As soon as the sun came over the mountains and hit my van I was out hiking. Going earlier would have meant wearing extra layers that I would soon strip off and have to carry.
This time leaving camp I headed in the opposite direction walking the dirt road until I reached the Proctor Road Nature Trail which was paved and ran upstream along Madera creek. Frank and I cruised along the trail passing several birders some of whom asked if we had seen a very specific bird they were all hoping to observe. It’s called a Trogan, and apparently one lives year round in this canyon. The canyon was filled with an incredible variety of trees including Junipers, several varieties of Oaks and even a couple Arizona Sycamore trees which I’ve grown to adore. Below the trees were yucca, several varieties of cacti, dried grasses, fresh bright green grasses and low vegetation and countless other types of plants. The wet places among desert mountain hold such an incredible variety of plants I can hardly contain my glee walking through them.
Continuing up the canyon we reached the Madera Canyon Nature Trail which combined with the Proctor Road trail make up the Mount Wrightson Nature Trail. I know this only because I just check my AllTrails app, and I have apparently received 3 verified completions today. *clears throat and straightens bowtie in a dignified way*, I’m joking of course as I don’t hike for badges but it’s fun to accidentally receive a few when just going for a morning walk. Awhile into the second part of the trail it begins to climb into dryer terrain where Manzanita bushes are in bloom releasing a sweet fragrance and buzzing with swarms of bees inside. Now out of the canyon bottom there are view of the surrounding mountains and out to the desert floor with more mountains beyond.
The end of the trail joined up with the end of the road where we had a quick water break at some picnic tables and then reversed our path back to camp. Once again I didn’t eat anything before hiking or during, and it was a little more challenging than the day before. Perhaps it was because the trail had been a little steeper or less intensely in the sun, or maybe it was because there were tons of people. I don’t dislike people, but it really stresses me out being around them especially when they have poor trail etiquette.
We arrived back to camp before noon and I immediately plowed into my fruit stash eating two guavas and a mango before making myself a huge salad. I was not only incredibly hungry but also thirsty as the day became super hot during after leaving the canyon to walk the road back to camp. I mean it felt super hot to me who is so used to the cold. It was only in the low 20’s celsius and I spent the rest of the afternoon sitting around in the sun enjoying the last of my time with friends Kira and Logan. I made sure to rotate my body so I wouldn’t burn too bad in anyone spot and before I knew it they were taking off for time with family.
After more than two weeks together it was weird to suddenly be alone in camp with no-one to talk to. Just Frank and I, so I cooked myself a delicious dinner and we crawled into the van together. No campfire tonight as I rarely bother when I am alone, just a quiet night the two of us.
I woke up early excited for a day in the mountains. The sunrise was incredible. Wind throughout the night brought in clouds which the sun painted orange while the rest of the sky was lit up with pinks and purples. The nearly full moon was shining bright and the entire spectacle was one of the best I have experienced on this trip so far.
I made myself coffee, packed our bag for the day and then packed up camp to go wait at the trailhead for my friend Sarah, aka ‘Vice’ aka @thedarlingdirtbag. We met a couple years ago through Instagram because we were both thru-hiking the PCT and then met in real life at Crater Lake where we crossed paths on trail. She hiked northbound, and I southbound so our encounter was brief but we’ve remained friends since. She spent the past year building out a van which she now lives in and we happened to both be in Madera canyon so we planned to hike together.
Our goal for the day was Mt.Wrightson, a summit I knew nothing about but had chosen simply because it was there. We headed up the trail keeping a moderate pace; the nice grade made it easy to chat while hiking up hill. As we climbed the views grew more and more spectacular until we were more or less out of the trees at which point they were totally phenomenal. Meanwhile we chatted up a storm mostly about vans and thru-hiking. We were maybe 3/4 of the way up the mountain when we met a man on his way down. He had turned back because the trail became very steep and icy. He had tried a week prior from the other side and also had no luck. As we were attempting the ‘figure 8’ route we would need to pass through both approaches to the summit trail. We decided to continue upward and see for ourselves.
Awhile later we found ourselves at the spot the man had turned around. There had been no steps through the snow all season and while it wasn’t a lot of snow it was very hard and icy covering the trail. The trail itself was cut into the steep mountain slope and there was no going around. We turned back which we we expected we might feeling foolish neither of us had thought to bring our spikes with us. Later we would learn that conditions only got worse continuing up and became more exposed. We had made the right decision.
We walked down the mountain endlessly talking our conversation becoming more and more personal. When we got back to our vans we had a much needed snack and then rolled out to camp together. In camp we continued our conversation into the night over lots of wine. She introduced me to some of her favourite bluegrass music and we completely skipped dinner eating chips instead.
I woke up several times through the early morning to chug water. It had been a long time since I drank that much wine, but as time went on I felt surprisingly decent aside from being unable to sleep. Being up early was for the best since I had a long day ahead of me. After coffee and another quick visit with Sarah we were off in our separate directions. Myself headed to the western region of Saguaro National Park.
The drive was easy and stress free, and I wondered how I had managed to go so long without using any form of GPS or having data to look up directions. Before I could arrive at the park I was engulfed with Saguaros and very hungry so I pulled into a picnic area. After eating Frank and I took off for a walk from the parking lot. The day felt super hot so we took many breaks to rest in the shade of giant Saguaros. There were flowers beginning to bloom including a most adorable one called a ‘fairy duster’, I knew this because someone I chatted with on the trail informed me. There were several dogs on trail, all well behaved which was a nice experience. The trail climbed up to a small ‘mountain’ where there were 360’ views. It wasn’t a long walk, but enough to fill most of the free time I had available to me.
As we arrived back to the van storm clouds had begun rolling in and by the time we made it a little ways down the road to the parks visitor info rain had begun to fall. It smelled amazing and I went inside to use the bathroom. An announcement informed me the slideshow/film was about to begin so I watched that before returning to Frank. We took a cruise through the parks scenic loop and then continued on our way.
Leaving Tuscon we headed directly to Chandler (south Phoenix) to meet up with a new friend from instagram @appyfan. I really enjoy her feed because she share beautiful nature photos and stories about issues that matter to me such as veganism and mindful consumerism. We spent the night talking and she treated Frank to a smorgasbord of treats. I got to shower and she ordered Ethiopian food for dinner. I really enjoy making new friend along the way and I think I enjoyed being on the couch as much as Frank did.
Distance Travelled: 467km
Thank you for reading my stories!
If you are interested in more updates I am on Facebook as ‘Tideline to Alpine Photography and Adventure’ and on Instagram @tidelinetoalpine. I also have a podcast about backpacking with dogs called ‘WALK 9 Radio’ which you can find on iTunes, Spotify and many more.