Backwards (Tusayan to Russell Tank)

  • Backwards (Tusayan to Russell Tank)
  • Backwards (Tusayan to Russell Tank)
  • Backwards (Tusayan to Russell Tank)
  • Backwards (Tusayan to Russell Tank)

Sometimes I guess you just have to go backwards to go forwards…

We set out from Tusayan with 12 litres of (heavy!) water and 10 days’ of dehydrated food. The first day took us through beautiful pine forests, past a pair of elk hunt scouts with an elk bugle and a hunter camp and landed us in a beautiful camping spot by a very dry Watson Tank. We were still embarrassed to accept gifts from strangers and somewhat over-optimistic at that point, and turned down the kind offer of water from the hunter, as our water reservoirs were still pretty full.

Morning brought us a visit from super-hiker Steve from NW Arizona, who is able to cover a whopping 36 miles/ day (about 1.5 marathons per day) with a pack about the weight of ours. We are very impressed. In awe, in fact! We also learned from Steve that dehydrated food and cooking equipment may not be the lightest option and that sandwich bread, fruit, nuts and other squirrel no-cooking-necessary food would do the trick. Steve is definitely our new hiker hero.

Once the cloud of dust from Steve’s super-speedy bolt of lightening departure settled, we headed towards Grand View Tower, which overlooks the thickly forested Grand Canyon Coconino Rim, with our water reserves diminishing and dry water sources abounding. Our path crossed with some exceptionally nice mountain bikers, who said we could take some of their water when we reached their camp (as well as pointing out that a large tarantula was about to saunter across Glenn’s boot). Now smarter and more desperate, we took them up on their super-kind offer.

That night, we camped about 5 miles from Russell Tank, our next possible water source. Glenn and I were suffering from exhaustion, Glenn had, by now, developed a severe and growing rash from an allergic reaction to something; possibly hiking :-), and one of my shoulders, although now blister-free, had developed a pretty, red ping pong ball-shaped on-the-bone swelling in protest at the weight of my backpack.

The next morning, Russell Tank did turn out to have some murky water lurking amongst the grass, but our colourful ailments and the very real danger of not finding any more water for another 50.7 miles, not to mention the 3000 ft (1000 m) climb until the next semi-reliable source made us think twice. We didn’t even have enough water containers to be able to carry the water to make it, if the less reliable sources along the way turned out to be dry. Of course, at Steve’s speed, 50.7 miles would have just been the blink of an eye, but for us it would be 4 days’ walk.

So, we made the difficult decision that we needed to find some friendly folk to give us a ride to civilisation. We briefly debated trying to get a ride to Flagstaff, so we’d at least feel further forward, but missing 80 miles of the hike would have been tantamount to quitting, so we decided to try for Tusayan. The only problem now was that we were in the middle of nowhere, there was no one around, and so a ride was about as likely to come true as winning the Texas Lottery. However, after hanging around the remote dirt road for a while, debating whether we should start walking and in which direction, we struck lucky and a couple of pinyon collecting, turkey scouting hunters came by. They initially looked somewhat hesitant to give a ride to two rough-looking, dust-covered hikers hanging out in the least likely of places, but eventually decided it was OK and, very kindly, drove us the 20 or so miles back to Tusayan with Glenn and I looking out of the window despondently as two days of hiking milage was undone before our very eyes. Backwards… we were definitely going backwards.

A visit to the Grand Canyon clinic fixed Glenn up with the right meds, but as I was leaving the doctor’s office, I caught the ping pong swelling on my shoulder on a wooden box hanging on its door and left in a lot worse shape than I had arrived. There must be cheaper ways to beat yourself up, surely!

We did get to order and receive a much lighter-weight double sleeping bag to lighten our packs and better-fitting replacement backpacks, buy an extra water reservoir, eat some more of the excellent Mexican tacos and burritos in Tusayan’s Plaza Bonita restaurant and to top up on espressos. With that, we exhausted all the excitement Tusayan has to offer and looked around for someone to take us back to the trailhead.

TK Transport sent us Ev on Monday morning. 2 metres (6 ft) tall, he stepped out of his car on Monday morning dressed from head to toe in designer blue jean wear, a very natty tan leather hat with a tassle and matching leather cowboy boots, his oversized belt buckle gleaming in the sunlight, looking like he’d just stepped out of an A-class Western movie set. By the time I’m in my 60s, I hope to have the same sense of style.

A misunderstanding with Ev’s boss over our destination meant that Ev had come in a 2-wheel drive, unsuspecting about the 3 hours on dirt roads needed to take us back to the trail…, but he didn’t bat an eyelid and drove us right out there as if it were the kind of thing he did every day, telling us interesting stories about his pilot days and an assortment of local facts along the way. My guess is that Ev was the only man in town who would have been prepared to take us out to our middle-of-nowhere drop-off spot and we felt very lucky to find him. Thank you, Ev!

We took a (hopefully) final step backwards, when we walked a mile in the wrong direction in the burning sun shortly after Ev dropped us off, and then back towards the trailhead, much to the confusion of some ranchers who never saw hikers but saw us go by twice in the space of 40 minutes.

It feels good to be finally back on the trail (and pointing in the right direction)!

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