Chapter Six: To Canticle Rim
The first full four days of my hiking were a misery of adjusting, to the trail, to discomfort, and to loneliness. But there was also a harder, steadier reality that I will keep in this account to a minimum from the desire to maintain a pleasant reading and writing environment for everyone. There is no story of a thru-hike that anyone will willingly read, or probably write, that is properly proportionate to the monotony of it all. Oh Bill Bryson will comment on it, as self-effacingly humorous as he can be before moving on, and probably that Wild lady had something to say about it all. Tolstoy bravely pushes pretty deep into it in his My Journeys Among the Urals, but it's a gloss for verisimilitude. And so it will be for me too. Nevertheless I must get it out in the open:
Nearly every day of my trip, on average, included half a dozen hours where some three or four parts of me hurt or ached or stung or throbbed enough so that I couldn't really think properly. All I could was uncontrollably sing to myself snatches of some old song stuck in my head, like “The Brady Bunch Theme”, over and over and over, no matter how I tried to stop.
Imagine recounting that state for half my book! But that's what it would take for this to be accurate.
No one really wants unselective accuracy. But here is my offering to its god. I may never cover the issue again, but you should know that's what I was up to as I hiked my way to The Canticle Rim.
But since I'm complaining I'd like to mention another thing.
All of nature is really pretty, especially if one approaches it respectfully, and with an open heart. Nevertheless all of my previous backpacking trips tended to pick out special places; redwood groves, famous canyons a mile deep, alpine meadows, and sand dunes. Thru-hikes regularly get to places like that, and the pain and struggle softens one up for them so that they feel extra special and earned when one gets there. But by the nature of their distance, long trails can also take a person through some monotonously samey looking scrub woods, for instance, and maybe do it in the rain, for three or four days at a time. Or taking a long trail can send one across a rocky plain of high desert, with a plant here or there to look at, a cloudless sky, and a turkey vulture in a lazy, wobbly circle overhead every few hours if a person was lucky. And that latter example is exactly where I was at the start of my trip. I was headed to The Canticle Rim across a wide plain of scrubland, protected from the privations of man not by the virtues of its magnificence, but rather by the scantiness of its offerings. From The Canticle Rim the trail was supposed to wind down to West Pine Creek, a deep canyon where things were going to get super pretty, or so my guidebook said. But I had about 60 miles to cover. And while I might climb out of my tent to an astonishing sky hurling meteorites at me, or I might stop walking to adjust a waistbelt, repair my foot, drink some weird tasting, warm, treated water, and suddenly feel a rush of love for the sheer, blank, pure, vast majesty of the bare and empty land, it was extremely easy to lose the thread of it on a minute to minute basis. Minute to minute to minute to minute to minute to minute.
Blue sky. Rocky dirt. Sage. A rutted path. A jackrabbit. A distant hill. Another step. A bit of prickly pear cactus.
Oh look! A turkey vulture!
And here's the story.
Of a lovely lady.
Knew that it was much more than a hunch.
Group must somehow make a family.
Maybe I should sit down and have some salami. I better check my blister. God it feels good to sit down! I call lunch. Maybe I should write in my journal. No, I'll wait until tonight. Maybe something will still happen.
What counts as something happening? Where's my gorp? Where's my copy of My Journeys Among the Urals? No. That's too boring to read for lunch. I'll read more of Pride and Prejudice.
That afternoon I made a good distance for the first time of the trip in my eagerness to get to the Canticle Rim. I was hoping to camp somewhere at its edge and so hike down into the West Pine Creek canyon tomorrow. Many times I imagined I was getting there, but it was just a subtle rise in the land that gave the appearance of a change and a drop. When I finally did make it to the edge it was unexpected. I couldn't have been more than a couple hundred yards away when I realized what I was seeing. There were even trees! I was nearly there.
And right in the middle of my trail, on the way ahead, like a sign, was another jackrabbit.
I eased my pace towards it, always interested in getting closer to a wild animal so long as it wasn't too...big. I kept expecting it to dart off, but it didn't. It simply regarded me seriously.
This rabbit was not wearing a waistcoat and he did not have a pocket watch, but nonetheless he clearly said “I am the same rabbit you saw on the first day of your trip.”
And with that the account of my 2,744 mile trip along the Agua Fria Trail took a curious turn.