A six mile day is an easy day. A six mile day on half of a liter of water is a bit more challenging.
I got camp packed up as more storm clouds began to consume the clear morning sky. I wasn’t too keen on backtracking up the trail for water, even if it was a short distance, so I opted to head up to Brush Spring instead, which, according to the map, should have been just slightly up the trail. With my standard breakfast of (organic) pop tarts and a cereal bar, plus the half liter I had leftover from the previous night, I was back on the trail and feeling ready for a short relaxing day to the LF Ranch. The relaxing would have to wait though.
I got to where the spring should have been, but it was dry. I kept going forward thinking maybe it was just up in another small canyon, but I was only climbing higher. The smart thing to do would have been to go back the half mile, especially with such an easy day, and get more water. Naturally, I kept going forward. After all, there were threatening clouds above that had yet to drop any rain or produce any thunder.
I took it slow going upward, but also wanted to take advantage of the energy from breakfast, so I managed to make decent time up to the saddle, where by now, the clouds had mostly cleared away. Just across the valley was the Mogollon Rim, teasing me once more with its increasingly clearer details. In between us was the Verde River, where the rocky and rugged Mazatzals faded into soft rolling hills before reaching the river. Tucked away in those hills about another five miles down the trail was the LF Ranch, my destination for the day that I could hopefully reach on half a liter of water. It looked like it’d be all downhill, so at least I had that going for me.
Heading down, the sky went inconsistently from sunny to cloudy and back and forth. Eventually, the sun began to win out, but that didn’t come till later. The fading Mazatzals created a rolling foreground against a series of forested mesas and plateaus, all increasing in height leading up to the Rim. Buried from too many signs of civilization, it felt remote and peaceful.
I was getting hungry though. By now I’ll have typically had about two granola bars, but all I had were salted nuts, pretty much the last thing I’d want to eat while also hungry, reminding me that I was also thirsty. As if to make it worse, I had now reached a part of the descent where there were sycamore trees below a sharp and steep ledge in the canyon below. It was a sign of certain water, but dangerously out of reach. At least it was all downhill.
Finally I was at the bottom, which meant not all of it was downhill. The uphill wasn’t long or steep, but dehydrated and hungry, it was challenging. This was when the sun was shining brighter now and most of the clouds had cleared. Tucked away in small hills, there was little breeze, so it was getting warm. Still, I knew I was close so I pushed forward.
Then I got an extra burst of energy. I noticed I was only a half mile from the ranch, something my body must’ve known, which helped me coast over the last hill and ride smoothly to the entrance. On my way down I heard the chirping of bald eagles along the river. Then came the noises of farm animals. Then came a call from Kevin, the bird from Up. Wait, they’re real?!
I walked into the ranch, got settled in and relaxed. Then I noticed that peacocks sound exactly like Kevin from Up. I also began to eat what little food I had mailed myself for the hike to Pine. It was looking like I’d have to make it the full 23 miles in one day because of food. On top of that, rain was predicted for much of the day with the possibility of thunderstorms. And it was mostly uphill. Gonna have to see about that one.
As I was resting outside the bunk house, which I did for most of the day, I saw another hiker coming down the driveway. In fact, it was Bruce. He had made it in time for dinner and was looking forward to the rest, so he made the last minute decision to pop in. Fortunately for him, I had made my reservation so they were already expecting someone, otherwise it might have caused problems since it is a working ranch. As we chatted for a bit, Bruce brought out the guestbook which I began flipping through and was surprised to see that Second Lunch had actually passed me long ago and was about a week ahead of me. Well played, my friend. He must’ve gotten by me when I was on my zero day in Phoenix. I can only hope he’s drinking more water.
Dinner was brought out and it was fantastic and just what I needed. Fresh salad, enchiladas, beans, and even cheesecake for dessert. It was eating bliss.
After that, it was a bit more resting, then packing up for what will hopefully be a 23 mile day to Pine.