After the previous evening’s gunshots and eyes-open-night, I slept incredibly well. My mind seemed smooth easy. With waking, my head was back in the game. I breathed in knowing that I wanted to approach the rest of the trail enjoying everyday instead of worrying about whether we were going to be able to complete the whole thing or not given my knee. Also, I felt really aware of desiring a true balance between my desire to adventure in the wild/loving biodiversity and professionally making a difference. Physically, my ankle felt perfectly good following the previous day’s pains.
I exited the tent, still amazed to be camping in the thick of saguaros. Morning when backpacking always brings a strong desire to immediately poop, especially given the exertion all day long. I’ve since perfected the art of the backcountry bidet, keeping the derriere soapy clean for long distance happiness. As I sat squatting amongst some creosote and palo verde, the morning sun cresting over a the distant mountains we had just crossed days before, I rated the quality of scenery of this poop as a solid 5/5. Then, I heard a noise behind me. Turning, my head slowly and silently, I looked to my left. Not four feet away was a coatimundi, its rear racing me, face to the ground sniffing. My prolonged stillness had allowed it to walk up, me unnoticed. It turned and stared as the naked man squatting over a hole. I stared back. Awesome. A coati down in the low Sonoran saguaros. It took off and I cleaned up.
Packing up, I took my steps short to keep pressure off the ankle lest pain return. We rolled by the ranches, reminiscing about the section backpack trip we did on this section over Spring Break in 2017. By late morning, we arrived at the side-trail leading to Colossal Cave Park. Our last food drop was waiting for us there at the gift shop so we descended the cacti-filled hillside into a wash with mesquite branches packed overhead. Climbing straight up the side of the adjoining uplift, we popped out right before the entrance to the cave system patio. Colossal Cave is a dry cave with tours of its inner geological formations. We’ve taken the tours previously, so skipped paying for the view this time. What we really wanted was pizza, sandwiches, and soda from their small restaurant cafe.
Camped out in the shaded cafe tables was Chris, a thru-hiker we had yet to meet. He was charging electronics and enjoying the views. We introduced ourselves before heading to the gift store to secure our food drops. The front clerk looked nervously at me. They began apologetically speaking, gesturing largely, explaining that there is a large matriarchal group of coatis that live in the cave and the hill above the restaurant/cafe - apparently 20+ in number. Apparently, they had learned how to raid the cafe. She mentioned that the coatis had managed to break open the lock on a storage unit housing AZT thru-hiker boxes, meaning they had torn some apart. My eyes widened.
“Well, only one or two really got destroyed,” she said.
She held up Janna’s - perfectly good.
“I hope this one isn’t yours…” she said as she held up a carnage-destroyed box apologetically re-taped by the gift shop.
It was mine.
In the span of a few hours, I had gone from pooping with a coati to being the victim of one. I looked at the nearly empty contents of my box and thought: THOSE FUCKERS!
I still love coatis though.
Colossal Cave gift shop proved super helpful though. Feeling really bad for me, they went out of their way to purchase oatmeal, peanut butter, GORP, and tortillas - the strong basic durable food items for backpackers. They also presented the Hiker Box - a box of discarded and unwanted food items left by hikers for other backpackers to pillage. Now, the real work started. I needed to gather enough (EDIBLE and APPETIZING) calories to replace all my meals for the next several days from those provided by the shop and those left behind by others. Chris wandered over and offered to give up his Reece’s Pieces. I looked at him and thought: DEAR GOD MAN, WHY WOULD YOU EVER GIVE UP SUCH INCREDIBLE TASTINESS?? Packaged up with foodstuffs, we ordered another round of food for a late lunch, enjoying easy water, electronics charging, and shade during the heat of the day.
Janna and I both called and checked with family before we headed out around 3 pm, full restocked. Connecting back up with the AZT, we passed by several campsites for the park, again recalling sitting here two years earlier and talking to AZT thru-hikers then, imagining what it would be like to do this now. Passing through a cleave in the uplifted mountains, we entered Rincon Valley with the entire massive range of the Rincons lying directly before us. The bottoms of these sky islands were ripe with green desert leaves from the winter rain, while the tops still held snow and thick ponderosa pine forests at 8000-9000 feet. Lazily making our way, the afternoon turned to evening and the sunset lit the flanks in of the peaks in a reddish glow, stark against the desert vegetation around us. It was stunning.
Approaching Rincon Creek, it was running more fully than I had every seen it from any past trip. Stocked up on water there, we ascended a hill and walked back into the cactus forest to find a suitable spot to camp for the night. After setting up camp, I ran down the trail to meetup with Chris and a second hiker camping several hundred yards beyond. The second hiker was heading southbound, reporting ample snow and cool conditions on top at Manning Cabin, our destination for tomorrow. Heading back to our tent, I made my way back down to Rincon Creek one last time to catch an epic photo of the sunset illuminating the water. Insanely good evening.