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Two months ago on April 1st, I had a partial tear in my calf muscle while backpacking in the Grand Canyon and had to be helicoptered out. I’ve gotten some messages from readers asking how my leg is doing, so here’s the lengthy update.

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Back on the Arizona Trail near the Utah border

The first two weeks were the worst: I was told by my doctor to stay off of the leg and elevate and ice it. I hardly knew what to do with myself. The leg was sore and weak and it hurt to put weight on it, so I limped around. This caused all sorts of compensatory problems in other parts of my body, not fun. I tried not to go crazy while resting my leg and staring at the mountains I was supposed to stay off of.

It’s been 10 years since my last major Fibromyalgia flare, but I was really worried that the inactivity plus the injury would throw me into one. The number one way that I have staved off the effects of my Fibro is through movement and my body was not at all happy with the change. I have a spot in my back I call my “Fibro spot” and it flares up when things are bad with the rest of my body. It flared up. Thankfully massage and stretching helped things and I never went into a full-body flare. (It feels like a really bad case of the flu- achy, no energy, and extreme sensitivity to pain.)

I managed to get out a little bit, took my nephew to Canyon Lake to go boating and to Oracle for the weekend.Mr. Boat Driver Man Chase

Canyon Lake with Weaver's Needle just right of center

Canyon Lake with Weaver’s Needle just right of center

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Stayed at this cute little cabin at Arizona Zipline Adventures

I spent some time helping out some hikers, it was a little sad to not be able to hike and instead have to sit in a chair on the trail with my leg up. I also tracked down unicyclist Jack Mahler to do an interview- he finished the entire Arizona Trail in 23 days!

Jack Mahler unicycling the AZT

I limped around Silver City, NM for the Continental Divide Trail Kickoff- what a fun event! I got to sit on a panel for a discussion about thru-hiking and the town was filled with people excited to start their journey on the CDT. Many of them said they’d be heading for the AZT for their next trail.

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CDT Thru-hikers Panel – photo by Dave “Elusive” Roberts

The day after the Silver City event, two weeks after the injury, I woke up and wasn’t limping anymore. That really helped, to be able to return to my regular stride. Definitely won’t be taking that for granted anytime soon. I was cleared for level hiking and was so happy to be able to get out in the desert. I stopped with a friend at the Wilcox Playa Wildlife Area on the way back from Silver City. I hadn’t been since I walked across the playa, a dry lakebed that made for crazy mirages, for an archaeological survey in the late 90s. It was a little disappointing to learn that walking across the playa itself is closed due to unexploded ordnance from bomb testing.

The latest in desert headwear – Photo by Jonathon Stalls

Even though my hikes were short, they were still filled with such beauty and wildlife encounters. It’s so good just to be out there! I saw a Red-Tailed Hawk take down a packrat and got this great photo.

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Red-Tailed Hawk and its prey


Then I was out on a walk in a wash near my house when I saw a Tarantula Hawk dragging a Tarantula across the desert.

Tarantula Hawk and its unfortunate victim

 

While on a short hike on the AZT near Oracle, I saw a roadrunner dart out of the brush, only to have a Cooper’s Hawk swoop in and attack it! Luckily the roadie escaped minus a couple of tail feathers.
 We took Roscoe for a short camping trip into the Tortolitas, where I found petroglyphs!

Petroglyphs and Moonrise

My friends Bonnie Slaten and Lynn Maring finished section-riding the AZT on horseback and I was so glad to be well enough to hike up the Bug Springs Trail a ways to meet up with their final miles and take photos of this historic event. Bonnie at 75 is the oldest woman to ride the AZT and Lynn is the only person to have ridden it twice! These ladies are the definition of true grit. I’ve so enjoyed being a part of their journey, we’ve spent countless hours talking trail and logistics.

Happy to be back on trail!

Lynn and Bonnie on their final miles

The desert has been full of gorgeous wildflowers and cactus blooms.

  
  

I have been gradually ramping up the difficulty and length of my hikes while doing a lot of stretching and switching up my exercise with horseback riding and dance (but not at the same time).

Carrie Miracle-Jordan riding the Santa Rita Foothills

There’s been a lot of traveling for work with a little hiking thrown in for good measure. I was fortunate to be there for the Warrior Hike completion at the Utah border. Two months ago, I hiked with veterans David and Jordan on their first days from the Mexico border. It was so wonderful to see how they had been changed by their experiences and share the joy of finishing such a momentous journey. My leg was even healed enough for me to hike up the 22 switchbacks from the Utah border to meet them.


 I made my return to the Grand Canyon- it was good to see her again, even though our last date had been cut unexpectedly short. There I met up with folks who had won a sweepstakes with Island Press to backpack with author Jason Mark, editor of Sierra Magazine, on the Arizona Trail on the Coconino Rim.  We spent the day exploring the Canyon’s rim and caught a wonderful sunset on the South Kaibab Trail. Then it was over to Grandview, chasing the almost-full moon.

South Kaibab Sunset

 

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Starry night at Grandview

During the Island Press trip, we met with Grand Canyon Trust and the Sierra Club to discuss current threats to the Grand Canyon including the Escalade tram project at the Little Colorado River Confluence and uranium mining. I was honored to meet Renae Yellowhorse, who is running for Navajo Chapter Vice-President and is at the forefront of Save the Confluence, and hear her speak about what these sacred places mean to her and her family. Read here about the upcoming vote on the Escalade and how you can write letters and make phone calls to oppose the development.

Little Colorado Confluence

Little Colorado Confluence

Renae Yellowhorse and me

At the Canyon, we met with the Deputy Superintendent, Brian Drapeaux. At the end of the meeting, I was talking with Emily Davis, the park’s spokeswoman about doing a talk about the Arizona Trail on the rim. “Absolutely, she said, “and how about doing one at Phantom?” I could hardly believe my ears. It was all I could do to keep it together and say yes. Me doing the Phantom Ranch Ranger Program? It’s like being asked to play Madison Square Garden or Carnegie Hall, as far as I’m concerned!

Hello Grand Canyon- it’s great to be back! Photo by Rebecca Bright

Speaking of the Grand Canyon, I got approved for an amazing backcountry permit for October, but that’s a whole blog entry in itself!

So that’s the lengthy answer to “How’s the leg?”

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Recently I got to be a small part of a friend’s inspiring journey and I wanted to share an article I wrote:

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UltraPedestrian complete the first known yo-yo of the Arizona National Scenic Trail! Photo by Armando Gonzales

Coronado National Memorial, Arizona: On December 20th, Kathy and Ras Vaughan of Whidbey Island, Washington became the first people to yo-yo the 800-mile Arizona National Scenic Trail. For 93 days, this adventurous couple—known by their collective trail name as UltraPedestrian—traversed  the state of Arizona twice. Starting at the US/Mexico border on September 18th and hiking to the Utah border, then immediately turning around and heading back to Mexico, the couple covered a total of 1,668 miles. They endured everything from 100-degree temperatures to several snowstorms during an unseasonably wet year.

“We wanted to experience the trail as completely as possible, seeing it in both directions and taking on a challenge that no one else has ever experienced before,” said Ras. The Vaughans thru-hiked the Arizona Trail in spring of 2014, with Kathy establishing the fastest known time for a female in 35 days. Not only is a yo-yo twice as long as a regular thru-hike of the trail, but extreme weather is more likely. They completed the trail self-supported and hiked in and out of the gateway communities, adding 68 miles to their journey to resupply rather than accepting rides.

“Meeting people along the trail and in the gateway communities helped us understand the connection between the people and the places of Arizona,” said Kathy. “The challenge of the trail helped us improvise solutions to the problems that came up, whether it was dealing with gear issues or weather conditions.”

They had a SPOT tracker so that folks could follow along and shared frequent updates from the trail on Instagram and Facebook. I offered to pick them up at the Mexican border at the end of their journey and they let me tag along for the last two miles.

Kathy and Ras nearing the Mexican border

Kathy and Ras nearing the Mexican border

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Last steps toward Border Monument 102 which marks the southern terminus of the Arizona Trail

Completed- the first known Yo-yo of the Arizona National Scenic Trail!

Completed- the first known Yo-yo of the Arizona National Scenic Trail!

Congrats to this incredible couple! They will be coming back to Arizona in February for a speaking tour and are writing a book, I look forward to both.

About UltraPedestrian

UltraPedestrian is Kathy and Ras Vaughan, who strive to take on unique challenges and inspire others to “find their own version of epic.” Kathy holds the women’s fastest known time for the Arizona Trail and Ras is credited with innovating Only Known Times, including a sextuple Grand Canyon crossing and a unsupported (no resupply) Washington Traverse on the Pacific Crest Trail. Their website is Ultrapedestrian and they are on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube at @ultrapedestrian.

About the Arizona National Scenic Trail

The Arizona Trail is a continuous path – divided into 43 passages – across the state of Arizona and is open to all forms of non-motorized recreation, including hiking, running, backpacking, horseback riding and mountain biking (outside designated wilderness areas).

The trail traverses four forests (Coronado, Tonto, Coconino and Kaibab); three National Parks (Coronado National Memorial, Saguaro National Park and Grand Canyon National Park); one State Park (Oracle); eight counties; BLM land; and other municipalities.

There are 33 gateway communities located near the trail, which provide necessary services for trail users and benefit from the positive economic impact generated by the outdoor community. The Arizona Trail features more biodiversity than almost any other trail in the nation, and includes all but two of Arizona’s biotic communities.

The Arizona Trail is only the third National Scenic Trail to reach completion (Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail are the other two). The majority of funds supporting the Arizona Trail come from members, donors, business partners, corporations, foundations and grants. For more information, please visit www.aztrail.org.

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Sirena contemplating the desert splendor- photo by Wendy Lotze

I think the best way to start out the year is with a big hike. My husband, on the other hand, likes to start the year out with football. For years, we’ve spent New Year’s Eve together and then gone our separate ways on the first. More often than not, I just go for a dayhike, but this year I wanted to start things out with something a little more ambitious. 35 miles of Arizona Trail on Passage 16 and 17, much of which has been built since I finished hiking the trail in 2009. At the Arizona Trail completion ceremony, I’d salivated at the thought of all those miles of fresh AZT and now it was time to see the (almost) finished product. One caveat- Passage 16 will not officially be open until February 2012, but I’d gotten permission from the powers that be to hike through at the completion ceremony. Until it is officially open, ASARCO has large drilling equipment on the last two miles into Kelvin. The drilling road will be reclaimed down to singletrack before it opens.

Picketpost Mountain

My hiking partner Wendy and I met our shuttle at the tiny town of Kelvin along the Gila River off Highway 177. Rick and Jerry provided ample amusing banter on our way up to Picketpost Trailhead. We stopped in at the Copper Mountain Motel so that I could meet Troy, the manager who had helped set up our shuttle. Troy is the new manager and very enthusiastic about the hikers that come into town using the Arizona Trail and Grand Enchantment Trail. The AZT and GET run concurrently here so you get a long-distance hiking twofer. We finally made it over to Picketpost and got hiking at noon. The first thing we realized was that it was hot! Quite the weather for the first of the year- I immediately got out my umbrella. There were a lot of folks out for a hike under the giant monolith of Picketpost Mountain. We hiked for all of an hour before getting hungry and sitting down to eat lunch. The views north toward   the Flatiron, Ridgeline and Weavers Needle in the Superstitions were fantastic. Here’s a video:

Photo by Wendy Lotze- click to enlarge

The rest of the day had us swooping south on singletrack- this trail is very obviously built with mountain bikers in mind. We saw hikers, bikers and equestrians- all the users of the AZT represented. We only went six miles before reaching a saddle with a great view and decided to call it a day. We spent a while wandering around camp and watching the sunset on Picketpost and Ajax Peak. It was unseasonably warm but windy as we had one of my favorite trail meals- cheese fondue. Wendy turned in early and I stayed up for a while, watching the moonlight on the desert and getting some quality dance time in.

Swoop!

Ajax Peak to the right and a healthy stand of saguaros

It had been a day of reflection and reminiscing about the last time I was here in April of 2008. It seemed like another lifetime ago. It was only my fourth backpacking trip ever and one of my first pieces of the Arizona Trail. Back then I thought of the AZT as something to complete, to check off a list and probably move on. Now I see that it is the gift that keeps on giving- since finishing my hike I have revisited numerous pieces of the trail and probably will for the rest of my life. I never would have imagined that my love for the trail would turn into my job at the Arizona Trail Association working with the Gateway Communities.

The next morning we knew we had a lot of miles to do with not a lot of daylight to work with. The trail steward had told us that the whole passage was 35-36 miles, so in theory it meant two fifteen-mile days. More on that later. Our first matter of business was water. A friend had put a cache for us by the Gila River, about 15 miles away, but we were hoping to find water at Trough Springs, near the crossing of FR 4. Thankfully the trough was full and the spring was dripping.

Good morning Picketpost!

Sirena hits the AZT- photo by Wendy Lotze

Micro Chicken aka "Mike" visits Trough Springs on his first backpacking trip

The rest of the passage was all singletrack that had not been built when I hiked this part of the Arizona Trail in 2008. Wendy and I marveled all trip at how wide the tread and how gentle the grade of the trail was. After the spring, we entered this area under Ajax Peak that we called “The Valley of the Mutant Shrubs”. There were giant Crucifixion Thorn bushes, Sugar Sumac, and massive mesquites with the saguaros at 3500 feet. I was excited to see that there was the occasional juniper- there is no better smell.

Giant Ephedra, HUGE graythorn and massive sotols - all of this awaits you in the Valley of the Mutant Shrubs! -photo by Wendy Lotze

The trail gently switchbacked out of the valley up to a saddle where we got views of the snow-capped Pinals to the northeast, the Galiuros to the southeast, and the Spine and White Canyon Wilderness. Even the white tops of the Pinalenos were visible. There was an incredible amount of mountain lion, bobcat, and bighorn sheep scat on the trail all through these two passages.

Wendy at the saddle

After the saddle, we said a final farewell to Picketpost and switchbacked down past an attractive striped wall and up to another saddle with a gate that marked the end of Passage 17.

Striped Wall

Looking back across the valley at the striped wall and the trail coming down from it

I could see the newly-built trail snaking its way through the canyon heading south and could barely wait to see the newly-named Gila River Canyons passage. Here’s a video:

The new trail did not disappoint. I lost count of how many times I said “This trail is so nice! So fancy!” It was a wide bench through steep slopes with attractive rock formations and views of rugged Martinez Canyon.

Quite the rock formation

Wow.

Looking into Martinez Canyon

And then it got even better- we reached a saddle where we could see all the way south to the snow-covered Catalinas with the trail winding through the jagged peaks below. The best part of the Arizona Trail is seeing something like the Catalinas way in the distance and knowing you could walk there if you just had enough provisions and time. Or if you really wanted to, you could just keep hiking north to Utah or south to Mexico. It makes being on the AZT that much more special than an ordinary trail, that feeling of being part of a larger thread that connects you to the rest of the state.  I wished that we could drop our packs and sleep right there, it would be a spectacular camp. The trail stayed high, climbing westward beneath a  cliffband before turning south.

Excited about the fresh AZT- Photo by Wendy Lotze

Spectacular views south

Evening light

The trail swooped back and forth to descend the canyon at a most civilized grade and “Dale’s Butte” came into view. This is an unnamed butte that the ATA is trying to get renamed for Dale Shewalter, the founder of the Arizona Trail. The AZT spends quite a bit of time with this attractive formation and we could see the shadow the butte cast upon the mountains as the sun was setting. We were running out of light and in true AZT fashion, it looked like we had some bonus miles to contend with. (The 2 passages ended up being 39 miles, not 35) We happily night-hiked toward the Gila River, making camp where Rincon-Battleaxe Road crosses the AZT. Wendy was in charge of dinner and made a delicious Pizza Ramen.

Shadow of Dale's Butte

Dale's Butte

Table Top

I didn’t get a great shot of it in the light, so here’s one from bikepacker and fellow AZT enthusiast Scott Morris:

Photo by Scott Morris

The next morning, we ate breakfast warm in our sleeping bags and got an early start. We were still about two miles short of our water cache and the trail immediately came to the Gila River. Surprisingly, there was still “fall color” on the cottonwoods and walnut trees, even in January. The well-groomed path followed the river and surrounding flatlands and was a nice mellow walk. The wet December had sprouted green grasses and wildflower seedlings everywhere. We reached our cache, driven in on a very rough 4wd road by people working to finish the trail last month (thanks, guys!).

Minor AZT roadwalk to the Gila

Along the Gila

The Rincon

We could see The Rincon and the White Canyon Wilderness (where the previous route of the AZT went) to the north. I have to admit that I had been a bit skeptical about how I’d like the new passage because I enjoyed the 2008 route through the White Canyon so much.

There were mining drill holes and some old mining equipment near our cache and after a break to rehydrate we continued contouring along the Gila. I’d been told by the people that did the trail construction that they were looking for people using the trail to help take all the flagging out. Wendy and I amassed a collection of pin flags and many colors of flagging tape in varying levels of disintegration from the numerous trail alignments that had been marked over the years. There’s still plenty left, so if you’re using the trail, please take some flags out with you. The Spine came into view along the banks of the Gila River:

As we hiked toward Walnut Canyon, I wished we were going to be seeing the Artesian Well on this trip. It is one of the great losses of the new route. There was a bit of two-track along the Gila and then it was back onto fancy benched singletrack again. We finally reached The Spine and contoured along both arms through boulder fields high above the river.

The path of the old route was up Walnut Canyon

Trail along the base of The Spine

After The Spine, the trail winds away from the Gila to give views of a nice horseshoe bend on the river. This would be a spectacular place at the height of the fall colors. Finally, we reached the trestle bridge and took one last break along the river before the trail climbed up to the viewing platform where the completion ceremony took place.

Horseshoe Bend of the Gila

Trestle Bridge

Completion Marker- the DS stands for Dale Shewalter, the founder of the Arizona Trail

There was a beautiful sunset as we made the climb, and then we called our spouses to tell them not to worry about us because we still had a couple of miles to go in the dark (again) to get to our vehicle in Kelvin. Even though our feet were sore, our spirits were high as we walked the ASARCO road that will become the trail when it is reclaimed later this month. From Picketpost to Kelvin ended up being 39 miles, not 35. Embrace the Arizona Trail bonus miles. It felt good to do some high-mileage days and cover a bunch of spectacular Sonoran desert.

Sunset and we still have a couple miles to go

Wendy and I made a stop in Kearny at Old Time Pizza because I had to speak to Gary, the owner, about scheduling an Arizona Trail presentation there and he hooked us up with all sorts of tasty food. What a way to spend the first three days of the year! Wendy and I had a blast- it is a rare thing to find someone with a similar backpacking style and pace (and who shares my love for gourmet homemade trail snacks). She also has built trail and could appreciate why I was geeking out the whole time about the impressive construction techniques used on these passages. This trip has inspired me to hike the rest of the pieces of the Arizona Trail that have been built since 2009. Click below to see the full set of pictures from our trip.

Arizona Trail- Picketpost to Kelvin

In Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser news, I am starting to plan the second annual Birds, Blues, and Bellydance fundraiser, coming sometime this spring. Last year’s event was a lot of fun and raised $1000 for Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson. I’ll be sure to post as soon as I have the date confirmed. Here’s an Eared Grebe in its winter plumage. Below are the much fancier colors it dons for the summer season.

Eared Grebe (winter)

Eared Grebe (summer)

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