Not only are we back on the trail, but we’ve actually made good progress; unintentionally to some extent.
With Glenn’s shin splints driven into hiding, we stocked up with food, filled our bellies with copious Greek carbs and walked across the Flagstaff railway tracks to re-join the Arizona Trail.
We agreed when we started the trail back in September to always check each other’s calculations and planning, as beyond a 911 sat phone call, in such remote areas, our lives depend upon getting our food and water supplies right. Somehow, though, 3 weeks driving around in a car had warped our brains: we’d both independently come to the conclusion that Mormon Lake was 16 miles’ walk away (2 days for someone with a recovering leg) …and one of us thought it might even be as little as 11 miles away.
So, we’d packed up and hit the trail, encountering 2 live and 1 dead tarantulas on our way to finding a sunset camping spot. After a ridiculously cold supper when my hands were shaking so much that I was probably spraying (yes, spraying) as much organic olive oil on my knee as on the whole wheat sandwich bread, we were just hunkering down in our sleeping bag in awe at the speed with which the condensation from our breath was freezing into pretty little crystals on top of the goose down and wondering how many toes we would have lost to frostbite by morning, when Glenn realised that we must have both, independently, mixed human-friendly Mormon Lake up with inhospitable Marshall Lake. Mormon Lake now turned out to be 4, not 2, days’ walk from Flagstaff and another 3 days’ walk from camp.
Luckily, something must have told us to overpack food and water, or maybe 3 weeks in a car had made us forget how heavy that stuff is to carry in your backpacks, but somehow we were carrying 3 and a bit days’ food and 3 days’ water, so we decided to make a go of it, if we ever managed to thaw our feet in the morning, dreading another 2 deep-freeze nights in the tent.
Luckily also, the next day and a half turned out to be fairly flat walking and a little warmer, so we were able to make good progress, spending the better part of a day following, leaving and then returning to an old, ripped up logging railway line built on loose rock, which must have bankrupted it’s owner, as it was only ever used for 7 years, closing in the late 1920s, as evidenced by the 90 year-old pine trees growing out from amongst the wooden sleepers. On the more remote stretches, most of the giant sleeper nails were still poking out of the wood.
Our third lucky break on this adventure was that we’d learned our lesson earlier on the trail: never walk past water without taking some, unless you are CERTAIN you have more than enough to get you to your destination whatever unsuspected circumstances might be hurled your way. So, while we felt like we might be wasting an hour which could have been used to hike closer to Mormon Lake, when we saw a muddy, algae-ridden duck pool lurking at the back of an otherwise dry Horse Lake, we exercised our biceps pumping and sterilising 3 litres of water. This turned out to be a life-saver, as we didn’t see any more water until 5 miles before the lodge.
The last day’s hike, just as we were at our most tired and hungry, seemed to be all uphill in more ways than one. The electrolyte-flavoured pond water was keeping us hydrated, but we’d eaten the last of our food 6 miles ago and the meals had been half their usual size for over a day. We were starving and day-dreaming of devouring piping hot burritos as soon as we dragged ourselves into Mormon Lake Village… so imagine our disappointment when the first sign we read on arrival explained that the restaurant was only open Wednesday to Sunday …and we had turned up on a Monday! When we checked in at the bar, we were at first overjoyed to hear there was a grocery store next door, then crying-into-our-beer frustrated when we were told that the grocery store next door had closed 8 minutes earlier. We devoured packets of peanuts and BBQ-flavoured corn kernels; the bar’s only declared delicacies, picked up the key and headed to our wasp-magnet cabin hungry and despondent. Half an hour later, though, a knock on the door saved us from futile dreams of thin crust pizza, as very kind Sheryl and Mark, who run the grocery store and live onsite, offered to open up for us. The ensuing part-microwaved, part-near-frozen hamburger tasted like glory, as did the chocolate brownies and Scotch which Erica, the bar tender, managed to conjure up for us later that evening in surely the only bar in the world which closes at 19.00h!
Mormon Lake Lodge has the air of an abandoned Western movie set, not least because of the replica wooden saloon building which has fallen into disrepair and only gets aired for the occasional, presumably low-budget wedding. The canoes stored at the side of the lodge testify to days when the lake impressively filled the view with water. While it’s possible that you could still find one spot in the lake deep enough to be able to sit in your canoe, as long as you were very still and didn’t try to row anywhere, Mormon Lake has definitely seen better, pre-global warming days.
Nonetheless, we were grateful for a comfortable bed, the food, the bar, the heating (on the 2nd night, following a scary repair with a blowtorch), the chance to watch bison and their calves being fed, the horseshoe-throwing entertainment and the good company, so we stayed an extra night while we checked and re-checked our plans for our next trail adventure.