Back to Oracle Arizona and the American Flag Trailhead. This week’s hike was a small 17 mile section in between and connecting Hike #16 and Hike #31. You can actually accomplish this hike from the Tiger Mine Trailhead and head south to the American Flag Trailhead or do it the reverse like we did. Mainly a hilly desert hike, the day was forecasted to be in the high 80’s and sunny. Not a great combination for Arizona and a trail with very little shade but….. it was on the schedule and it must be accomplished. We arrived at the trailhead a little earlier then normal and excited for another great day on the Arizona Trail. To our pleasant surprise, we found the very nice trail stewards of this section, Elisabeth and Ray, at the dirt parking lot. After chatting a little AZT trail talk, Tom and I started off on the day’s mission. This hike started out fairly well although even early in the morning, the heat of the day was already being felt. With my legs feeling stiff and still a little tied from last weeks hike, I told Tom, “boy, this is going to be a long hot day”. A winding hilly desert trail with a good amount of ups and downs our minds sunk into a hiking daze until ….. smack…oh smit…. we ran right into an extremely large diamondback rattle snake at about mile 2.5. Fortunately for us his head was pointed off trail and he quickly retreated under cover of a large shrub. Not even a rattle, which was a good sign. Rattle snakes are funny, they tend to always notice you after you have passed them or right parallel. Never any prior warning. They tend to stay silent and then like flipping a light switch, they are on.. telling you to leave. Pushing on we came up to an old windmill in a dried up wash called the Kannally Wash, which is on the outskirts of the Oracle State Park. Heading up and out of the wash, on a brand new switchback section of the trail, turned out to be the most aggressive elevation gain of the day. About a 5% grade for an up of 250 feet in just under a mile distance. Another couple miles and we were quickly approaching highway 77. The trail actually takes you under the highway but at a very low underpass which gave me little issue but Tom had to play his best Gandolf and walk hunched over to the other side. Up the dirt road 1.5 miles to the Tiger-mine Trailhead and quickly back to the underpass for our lunch break. The heat of the day was really popping now and it was nice to find a couple shading trees right off the highway. Refreshed now, we were back on trail and making good pace. A couple clouds covered the sun for a mile or two and we were feeling good. As always though, the last two miles did not disappoint and the sun chased off our cloud magic sending the shade temperature near 90 degrees. It always amazes me on how much the heat can affect me on a hike. It slows my pace, drains me and makes the hill climbs so much worse. This time, the heat nearly got me and with only 1.5 miles out from the car, I was truly overheating. Hold up Tom, I said…. “We need to find a tree”. I have been in this state of heat exhaustion a couple times prior and I knew exactly what to do… I needed to cool my head down and fast. I do have to hand it to my favorite piece of gear… my $3.00 Walgreens bandana, it’s a like saver. Tom and I always hike with at least 3.5 liters of water, even if we arrive back to the car with most of it still unopened. With this hike I returned with nothing but empty bottles. My dayhiking system consists of (1)-700ml Smart Water bottle in my side pocket, a 32 ounce thermos of lemonade in the other pocket and (2)-1L Smart Water bottles frozen overnight inside my pack. Having them inside my pack saves the ice from melting in the first couple hours of any hike and keeps my lunch cold. At the hike turn around, one iced bottle comes out and replaces the 700ml now empty bottle, while the other 1L bottle stays inside as an emergency reserve. This time I needed it….and thank God it was there. So with Ice cold water soaked into my trusty old bandana and draped over my head like a nomad with hobo hat on top, I felt like a new man, now able to push through the last mile with ease. Lesson for all… be prepared for all weather, carry a bandana and always bring 3.5 liters of water…. period.
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