My Arizona Trail Adventure – Part 3
Type 2 fun….. possibly type 2.5
…I was making progress, albeit slow when I suddenly find myself with a stretch ahead of me where the snow had fallen and completely obliterated the trail and was effectively an ice wall on the side of the mountain. The trusted footsteps that I was using to keep myself safe were nowhere to be seen until about 10 feet ahead of me. There was nothing but the sheer drop off and one lonely tree to the right of me. I willed myself with all my might not to look down as I knew this would finish me off. I had to get across this section somehow. I could see some rock faces jutting out and immediately underneath them some holes where the ice didn’t quite touch the rock, so there was a gap I could use like a handhold. I tentatively took hold of one and tested it, seemed secure. But now where to put my feet (oh how I wish I had my trusted microspikes!!) I tried digging my heels in sideways and bashed against the snow to make a divot. I was laid flat with my belly against the mountain traversing across. One hand holding onto the gap between rock and snow, heel pressed in as best it could and as I reached over for the next handhold, I slipped.
The world suddenly stood still and I was sliding in slow motion. I thought my heart was going to jump out of my mouth. Thankfully, my foot hit the one and only tree branch jutting out and I was saved from falling to my 6,000ft death! My heart was thumping so loudly. I didn’t have time to contemplate my situation I had to get to safety. I looked to see where I could put my foot and I reached for the next ‘ice hole’ with my hand and managed to pull myself up and across so I could place my foot to relative safely on some semblance of a trail. I stood there for a moment, leaning into the mountain trying to steady my breathing, shaking. I didn’t want to hang around. I just wanted to get safely off of this mountain and away from this snow. What an idiot. I still feel sick to my stomach just thinking about it. Why didn’t I turn around? The thought never even occurred to me, like I didn’t even have the option. I just needed to keep moving forward, to reach the end. Was this stubbornness, stupidity or something else? Its not like there was anybody to save me. I would have to save myself.
I thought about how originally, if yesterday had gone to plan, I would have been up here negotiating this segment in the dark. It didn’t even bear thinking about. All I can say is, Mum & Dad must have been up there looking out for me! I ploughed on, one step at a time, feeling sick to the stomach every time I saw snow, on tenterhooks the whole time, hoping against all hope I wouldn’t have to face another ice wall. There was definitely no option to go back now as I couldn’t face that section again. Even when I turned the corner and I was greeted with a dry section, I couldn’t keep calm, for even those trails looked treacherous now, so narrow and steep. Every time I think I am safe from the snow, I turn the corner and bam! More snow. I can’t look too far ahead as I don’t want to scare myself in case I see another ice wall. I just take it one slow step at a time. This mountain range seems never ending. Eventually, I feel like I am descending, only a 1,000 feet but it is something. I am amongst trees again with no cliff edges and then I have escaped, survived the wilderness and I am on a dirt road.
It has taken me 5 hours to cover 11 miles. I was clearly not going to make the 230pm deadline. Miraculously I have cell service. I sent a message with a new end time of 4pm. Still not quite calmed from my ordeal, I continue forward. The soreness has progressed to the front of my ankle now but I am still able to make progress. Running any flat and declines and hiking any uphill. I am not motoring but at least I am moving and getting closer to the end. I know I have a 3,000ft descent coming up and I am hoping I can make up some time. Unfortunately it was a dirt road that only ATV’s can ride, full of holes and baby heads. With my sore foot I am hardly going faster than I would if I was on the flat. The dirt road eventually ends and turns back onto a trail.
My immediate feeling of rejoice is kiboshed when I see briar bushes ahead and I am reminded of something I read a long while ago from the report of the current FKT holder that there was a section of briars where he was cut to shreds. Surely not, I thought, after the day I have had. Have I not learned enough lessons? But no, nature still had some lessons to teach me. So, bushwacking through the briars getting cut to ribbons, watching my pace slip away there was nothing I could do but keep moving the best I could. Eventually I broke free and found some single track to run on. I then came to a river, this one deep and I couldn’t tell by how much. But I needed to get across, what else could I do? So in I went and luckily this one was only up to my thighs and although it had a strong current I was able to reach the other side without falling in. I pressed on and it was now looking like a 530pm finish. I could see the freeway in the distance and thought I must be close.
At this meeting point, there was no vehicle access, so Emily would have to travel 0.5miles and meet me on the trail. I came to the end of my route excited to see a friendly face but Emily was nowhere to be found!!! I checked my Guthook app. I was in the right place. I then checked the driving instructions but it was from the point of view of the roads, so I couldn’t tell at which point she was due to intersect with me. Of course she would have been waiting for me at 4pm, the time I was last able to communicate with her. It was now an hour and a half later. I still had no cell service. Come on! After a day like this…really??!! It was getting late and cold and I was conscious I didn’t pack a headlamp because originally I thought I was going to be done at 2pm! I could see the freeway but I couldn’t get to it because the trail didn’t take me there and a barbed wire fence surrounded it. I ran back on the trail as I remembered having seen an intersection. I went back there and took that turning which took me down to a creek. I still couldn’t see Emily. I didn’t want to cross the creek as I couldn’t see that trail and I didn’t want to get lost and not be on the Arizona Trail, as that would be where people would look for me.
I had seen a scrapyard on the hill but again there was the infernal barbed wire fence and I couldn’t get to it. I spied a hole if I went down into the creek and then under the fence. I went for it. I climbed the little hill and made it to the scrapyard. There was a house inside but a wire fence surrounded it. I stood behind the fence, in front the house, with my 4 days worth of grime and sweat, feeling sorry for myself. I blew my whistle. The dogs started barking and I heard someone yell inside “shut up!”. I blew again as hard as I could, a few times more. I felt like an idiot but at this point I just wanted to be saved. What a pitiful sight I must have seemed!! Finally, a woman came out (god only knows what she must have been thinking!) and asked if I was ok. I said to her I was due to meet my friend here but she wasn’t there and I had no cell service and would she mind calling her (hoping against all hopes Emily had cell service!). She kindly dialed her number for me.
It rang for what seemed like an eternity and thankfully, Emily answered and she was only 0.5 miles away. As she rolled into the dirt road, I don’t think I have ever been so happy to see someone. Finn and her got out immediately. With Finn happily licking at my sweaty, salt encrusted legs I must have stood there for a good 5 minutes crying in her arms, happy to be at safe at last!!
We got in her car and started on the journey home. I had Finn on my lap and was relishing in the warmth and comfort he was offering. I just wanted to be in a safe place hidden away from all the dangers of the outside world. I wanted to climb under a blanket and stay there for a good long while until I couldn’t hear the loud thud of my heart beating through my chest anymore, until I could once again breathe easily, slow and with calm breaths.
33.75 miles | 11:44 hours | 6,896ft Gain | 7,126ft Loss
Fuel: GU Energy 5 x Roctane Powder, 3 x Gels, ½ chews, 2 x waffle plus 1 energy bar
Hydration: 2 ½ litres
154.93 miles | 46:45 hours | 27,343ft Gain | 27,594ft Loss
It took me a while before I was able to talk about this adventure with the animation portrayed here. Every time I would think about it, I would feel sick to the stomach and my heart rate would quicken, but with each telling of the story, I was able to process the events, take away the salient points for learning and remember fondly the highlights and laugh at my misfortune. Apparently I was enjoying Type 2 fun – Not Fun to Do. Fun to Remember or maybe bordering on Type 3 fun – Not Fun to Do. Not Fun to Remember?!!
I see now, with my trail running experience being mostly limited to Flagstaff and in safe scenarios, I was lulled into a false sense of security of what the wilderness was really like. I understand now, that Flagstaff can be better likened to the woods, my backyard and in reality wilderness = wild = dangerous, if unprepared. Running has its own dangers, but when coupled with backpacking, which I again had had no experience of, being out in the wild, a seemingly innocuous adventure can turn treacherous. I embarked on this trip woefully unprepared and naïve but I have come away stronger and wiser and the better for it. And alive, which of course is a bonus! As they say, the best way to learn is through experience and a sailor never learned to sail through calm seas.
I’m excited to put all of my learnings into practice to be better prepared for the big adventure in October now.
Footnote: Article relating to Type Fun can be found at http://pebbleshoo.com/3-types-fun/
Congrats on finishing, and thanks for sharing the details! Have you considered a Spot, or better yet Garmin Inreach device for tracking/communication? Great tools for when you’re out of cellular service.
I will definitelty make sure I have something come October when I do the entire trail. I would need a 2 way satellite device, one for me and one for my support (as they may not have cell service either). Have you used the Garm InReach?
I have the InReach Mini, and carry it with me, but have never actually used it. Its small/lightweight and allows you to text, provides tracking and has a pretty good mapping/navigation feature.
Thanks Derek, this is really useful.
Good god Helen. I actually did a real life gasp at the ice slip bit. You’re a silly sausage, plan, prepare and plan some more! And get a GPS or something!
Now I have so much more insight I can and certainly will prepare for the big one!
From your beautiful pictures and my own experience of hiking trails I thought the main issue was the mental resolve to keep going. I had no idea you were running in areas that could take you from us. I thought the roads were dangerous!!! I do not travel the paths you take- literally and metaphorically, instead carry a swag of fears now bound by age. Thank you for the glimpse into the challenges you encounter and your honest appraisal of your courage and stupidity. Love you heaps and sis for you #bestoutcome in all situations
Thanks Karen. I’m really interested to find out about the Cretan Way, as I’d love to run that next year 🙂 xx
Scary and exciting! Thanks for sharing your journey. The inReach is the way to go for communication and safety. They work most of the time. A PLB is more reliable and there’s no subscription fee but it’s only for sending an sos signal. There’s no text feature.
Great thanks for the recommendation Joel, I’ll look into that for sure.