Day 15: Summerhaven to Lower Oracle Ridge

Tucson at Twilight

I love having the freedom and the flexibility to camp early, waiting for the sun to set in anticipation of earth’s shadow rising together with a full moon.

Though it wasn’t as cold as I expected it this morning, it was still pretty chilly. The breeze was even chillier. Being down in a canyon, it’d be a while before the sun would warm us up. As a result, I wasted no time in packing up, eager to get to Summerhaven where the sun would be shining and fresh water would be waiting. I headed over to the backpacks, both of which were fine after the previous night’s attempted raid, and began getting my things together. It didn’t take long at all since I didn’t have any food. As I was getting ready to head out, Piney got up and said he wouldn’t be far behind.

Our conversation from the previous night was still fresh in my mind. He described how he got off on a great foot on the Pacific Crest Trail last year and never really had a problem. He said it was the opposite this year with the Arizona Trail. He underestimated the physical challenges: the heat; the dryness; the constant elevation change that rivals the Appalachian Trail. He admitted he just wasn’t feeling it yet and really wanted to turn it all around. His plan was to hike to Oracle that day and then reevaluate his situation from there. Put simply, he just wasn’t having fun and we both agreed that’s not how anyone should be spending time on the trail.

I arrived in Summerhaven, and being a midday destination for only 99% of the visitors, was about two hours early for anything to open aside from the post office. I headed to a public water fountain and rehydrated myself. Piney showed up shortly thereafter. Then we waited. My plan was to eat a big cookie at an eatery when it opened for breakfast, then get moving, but I was bored by 8:30am. I went over to the post office to pick up my mail drop to see if I had packed one or two breakfasts in there. If it was two, the odds of me waiting around till 10am would diminish.

Piney and I had a great interaction with the lady that manages the post office. In fact, she was really the only Summerhaven resident in any of the establishments that seemed to care that there were thru-hikers passing through town. She excitedly talked with us about our journeys and about our plans. Quite the opposite from all the other businesses in town.

High Desert Hills

I headed back across the street to check on my solar charger (doing well), then on a nearby clock for the time (not so well). After a little more sitting around, 9am rolled around and I realized I couldn’t stick around for another hour. Having found two breakfasts in my mail drop, I scarfed one down and began to pack up. Piney seemed to like the idea too since his destination was all the way to Oracle. I still had another night to kill so mine was just a scenic spot shortly before town. Outside, I was getting everything ready and Piney went ahead. After about 5-10 minutes, I had everything packed up and was on my way out of town.

After walking along about 0.5 miles of road, the trail resumes heading down the Oracle Ridge Road, veering off from that about 0.25 miles down. As I headed off the road and onto the trail, I noticed Piney standing on the trail. Then I noticed someone next to him. It must’ve been Wren who Piney had been hiking with in the previous days. I’m always excited to meet new hikers so I eagerly walked up and said "Hi." Then I saw the situation. Wren was breaking down because she was leaving the trail. From the information I heard of her, she was trying to complete the trail at a very aggressive pace and wound up taking a number of wrong turns. The previous day, she had taken one too many and was too frustrated to continue. Piney shared some of her frustrations, and in truth, they had some legitimate concerns. There are a number of places that are vague at best as to which direction to go, and without an app to give your GPS location on the route, most are left guessing. So they were right. You shouldn’t need an app to complete a trail. But then there’s a lot to be said for how many people have finished the trail without the app. They were both launching complaint after complaint, which left me a little uncomfortable since I was having a very different experience. I found my break, wished Wren well, and continued on, assuming Piney would catch up just down the trail. Several miles later though, I regretted not saying goodbye to him too. He never did catch up. He must’ve gotten a ride with Wren out of Summerhaven. I always regret not saying a proper goodbye the last time I see someone.

The Oracle Ridge began as an easy walk down. I was looking forward to maintaining a good pace on such an easy trail. Then it began to drop steeply. Then it began to rise steeply. So much for the easy walk down. The strenuous climb lasted much longer than expected, and at the top, I decided to stop and have lunch. I found a nice spot with a great view that was even out of the gusty wind that had been pounding against me all morning.

Silhouetted Trees on the Oracle Ridge

Heading down, the trail bounced back and forth from trail to road, each descending fairly steeply. I soon felt as though I should check my GPS and noticed I was way off trail by about a half-mile. I headed back up then noticed a sign I had completely walked past. It also fit the description of exactly what Wren was talking about that was the last straw for her. I consider myself an observant person, so I went back up the trail beyond it to see how I could miss it. It turns out, a great view began opening up just past it, so each of us must have been looking at the opening view rather than the fence in the other direction. To hopefully help future hikers, I left a large sign on the road made of rocks, pointing hikers in the right direction.

Back on track, I continued down the ridge making good time. The trail got a bit easier which let me move easily ahead. The landscape had even reverted once again back to grasslands as the late afternoon light began to cast longer shadows over the hills. It was time to start looking for camp. I checked my distance from Oracle and was a fairly easy morning hike away from the Tiger Mine Trailhead, where I’d be getting picked up for my zero day. At a fork in the trail, I found a nice spot to set down and catch the full moon rising over the desert after a signature desert sunset.

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