(A note about pictures: Until recently, I had an awkward and inconvenient way of carrying my camera with me, which limited when and what I could photograph. But after some handiwork in Tucson, I’m able to take pictures with much more freedom, although I can’t take any night shots since my camera does not have a manual shutter control for long-exposure. Maybe a new camera is in the future!)
Waking up in Debbie’s house on Wednesday around 5:30am, I ate a quick breakfast and made myself ready to leave. We drove in her car to a little shady park about two miles away, and after we said our goodbyes, she headed for her work as a nurse. I was still beaten from the day before, so I found a spot underneath a big old tree and laid out my tarp and pad, and napped to the sounds of bird songs in the branches above me.
I woke up again a short while later, and ate second breakfast: peanut butter and a protein bar. While I was relaxing through the morning, I met a woman named Laine who was walking her dog. She had seen my sign I hung from the tree, and was curious to know who I was. I told her my story and she then informed me of woman she met up north, named Paula Francis, who is walking an 8,000-mile loop around the country, to find out what makes people happy for a research project: The Happiness Walk. Judging from her route map and timeline, our paths will probably never cross, but you never know; the world unfolds in surprising ways.
While I was working on writing the Day 1 article, a few men pulled up in an old truck and began to work on it, something was wrong with the rear axle from what I could tell. The other men left the owner of the truck to go fetch some more tools from somewhere, and soon the owner came up to me and asked if I could watch his truck while he ran to the store for a part, which I agreed to do. Before embarking on this adventure, I would have been suspicious and a bit wary of accepting the responsibility, but I had just been housed and fed by a total stranger the night before, so it seemed improper for me to not accept his trust and safeguard his property. I mean, Hell, we’ll never make the world a better place until we start acting like we want it to be.
My watch ended without incident, and the owner thanked me when he returned. By now it was about noon, and I was hungry for cooked food, so I packed my things and headed for a little restaurant across the street, LB’s Cantina. After a burrito and lemonade, I moseyed across the road to the Florence Museum, where I met the curator Chris Reid. After a tour, which you can find the details of in my upcoming article “Florence: Famous for Death”, she helped me plan the next stage of my journey. Originally, after walking 42 miles to Oracle Junction I planned on going through the pass east of Mount Lemon, but it turns out that Redington and Cascabel are simple places on the map rather than actual towns, so after San Manuel it would be another 40-mile endurance run. I was already dreading the next few days, so the prospect of having to repeat the same hardship, with even less places for water, this early in my adventure, seemed an unwise risk. I was Tucson-bound.
I departed from the museum, and walked up the road to a Family Dollar, where I stocked up on food and added an extra gallon of water to my pack. The only water source after Florence, that wasn’t a ranch miles away from the highway, is the Desert Gardens RV Park, and after that it’s 26 miles to the Chaparral Cadillac Steakhouse. After I resupplied, I killed time until the sunshine cooled down a bit around 6pm, and then began walking.
It was nice to walk in fair weather, but I was still pretty worn down from the march yesterday, so I spent nearly five hours getting to the RV park, which was only six miles down the road. I came up to the park entrance to find the gates closed and locked, with a sign saying they’ve been closed since April, and won’t reopen until October. I cursed myself for not researching the park further, and after pacing around wondering what to do, I decided to make camp out of sight behind a large “Welcome” sign near the entrance. It was hidden from the road and the gate, so I planned to wake up early and get out of dodge before the sun rose.
I laid out camp and made myself some ramen noodles and canned chicken, then tried my best to fall asleep, which was constantly thwarted by the sound of trucks zooming by on the highway, and the howl of a wind that came in around midnight. My alarm beeped at 4:45am, and I rose wearily to begin taking down my camp. I had put everything away and was just about to put my backpack on when I heard the sound of rubber wheels pulling up to the gate, so I dropped down and spied from my cover. An old security guard in a golf cart opened the gate and parked in front of the entrance, then began watering some plants. Looking around me, I realized I was surrounded by plants that presumably also needed to be watered soon, and the last thing I wanted to do was catch a security guard by surprise. There was no good way out of this, so I gathered my last items and put on my pack, making much noise while doing so, and then stumbled out of the brush in view of the guard, who had already started reaching for his pistol when I appeared. He demanded to know who I was, and I simply said I was on the road looking for shelter and thought I could camp out at the RV Park, but since it was closed, I took a rest behind the sign there. I said all this while still half-dazed from lack of sleep and stumbling over nearly every word, but the guard realized I was telling the truth and eased up. He said the park doesn’t have any accommodations for camping anyway, and I should check out the other RV park next door, that also has rooms for rent.
Turns out, if I had zoomed in a little further on the internet map, the Rancho Sonora Inn would have appeared next to Desert Gardens. I thanked the guard and shuffled off, and within a hundred yards Rancho Sonora appeared. I went to the front office, but a sign on the door said they didn’t open until 7am; it was only 5:20. Exhausted, exasperated, and too tired to care, I found a nice comfy chair in the entrance courtyard, sat down, and passed out.
I awoke to a woman’s voice saying, “Oh! Hello.”
I raised my head from its slung-over position and looked up at her. She was an older lady, with skin tanned by the Sonoran sun, who had apparently seen so many strange things in the desert that she was unfazed by my entrance. I greeted her groggily. “Hello! Are you the owner? I’m looking for a place to stay.” We introduced ourselves I told her my story; her name was Linda.
“I wanna offer you a room, but we don’t have any water. The well pump’s broken right now, I’ve been having to turn people away for the last couple of days.”
For one of the few times in my life, I didn’t have any humor left in my body, so I just looked down and sighed. “Do you… do you just have, some sort of shady place I can lay down under for about… eight or nine hours?”
“Yeah, there’s a place with grass under some trees right around the office that I can-, no that won’t do. Tell you what, you can stay in the clubhouse. There’s no guests here so nobody’s gonna be using it.”
“Aw thanks ma’am, but I would have to pay you for that kindness.”
“No you don’t. Get your stuff I’ll take you there on the cart.”
I couldn’t refuse such decisive hospitality, so I obeyed and met her on a cart parked between two rental cabins. She drove me a short ways to the clubhouse, which happened to be adjacent to the well and the men working on fixing it. Inside was a comfy couch, which, after thanking Linda graciously, I fell upon like a sack of potatoes. I then woke up, a third time, around 1pm and was informed by one of the caretakers that the well had been fixed. Finally some good news! I drank my fill from the sink faucet and set to work on my laptop, publishing material and editing my photos until five o’clock, then set out on the road again. Linda was just getting into the bath when I left, so I wasn’t able to say goodbye, but I found out later that she donated to my GoFundMe campaign. So if you’re reading this: thanks again Linda!
On the 79 again, I walked on through the evening. The sunset was especially beautiful that day, lighting up the whole sky like a sheet of liquid gold. I stood at attention as the sun passed out of view, plunging the desert into the night. I remember last autumn, I was hiking with some friends in the White Mountains near New Mexico. While we were all sitting on a hillside, watching the sun set behind the mountains, all of us became very silent as it departed. Not one of us made a sound, and we just stared at it through the hazy horizon, basking in the fading light. I think in that moment we all realized the true significance and power of our star, and our relation to it. Ever since then, whenever I’m around to see the sun set, I stand to witness its passing.
Some time beyond midnight, I trudged off the road and found an open place to lay down near the barbed-wire fence that ran parallel to the highway. A 30-minute break turned into an hour-long nap, interrupted only up by chill winds blowing through my clothes. I got up and searched for a place to sleep, finding a nice palo brea tree with weeping branches that formed a large dome on the ground. I pushed past the thorns and laid out my camp, using my tarp shelter as a windbreaker and sleeping bag.
As I was trying to fall asleep, I jolted wide awake to the sound of a coyote howling into the sky, not 50 yards from where I was. His call echoed into the night, and was joined by his kin who called back to him from far distances. I had dealt with coyotes before, so I wasn’t too worried by his presence, but just to be safe I loaded my pistol and fell asleep holding my knife. One coyote isn’t much of a threat, but a whole pack of them could end my adventure early.
Some time later, I woke up in a half-dreaming state to the sound of sniffing near my face, then feeling something nudging my foot through the tarp. Grunting loudly, I kicked out towards the coyote a few times, and I heard it scramble away and run off under the fence. Satisfied, I went back to my dream.
The morning came, and I spent my time resting until noon, then I headed out once more. I needed to reach the steakhouse before it closes at 8pm, and with 17 miles left to go, I figured I could make it by then. Up until this point, I hadn’t used my shemagh because I thought it was for keeping dust and wind off my face. But the wind picked up, and I wrapped it around my head in a bandanna style. Soon after I realized why they were so important. All the moisture that was escaping out of my body from breathing was captured by the cloth, and I got to breathe some of it back. After an hour, my water consumption dropped by a third! Feeling renewed, I marched onward.
Around 3pm, I came upon a roadside monument. It was a memorial to Tom Mix, a silent film-era movie star who portrayed virtuous cowboys in 291 films throughout his life. He died on this highway in 1940 at the age of 60, from crashing his car into a wash near where the memorial stands. People hardly know who he was nowadays, as I didn’t, but he was a giant in his time. Stay tuned for a write-up of him and his life, after I get to Willcox.
I left the memorial soon after taking some pictures, as there was no water, and tried my best to keep a steady pace going. I hadn’t had a day of rest since starting my journey, and the miles were taking a toll from me that I was struggling to keep paying. About 5pm, while walking along a slightly curved section of the highway, a sheriff’s deputy in a truck pulled off the road onto the shoulder in front of me. The officer got out and greeted me, saying he’s heard about me from some of the locals, and drove out to talk to me, and to give me some cold water for the road. I told him my story, and I mentioned how after I get to New York City I’d like to start planning to trace the Lewis and Clark expedition next year. He perked up and said he’s actually reading their journals at the moment, which I thought was a marvelous coincidence. He asked if anyone else had helped me since I began, and just as I was telling about the previous officer and aunt Debbie, a man and some kids pulled up in a truck behind us and offered me even more water. Apparently I had become a bit of a celebrity on highway 79, and anyone who drove down the road was telling their friends about me. Strange world!
I couldn’t stay long, so I thanked both the man and the officer for the water and kept moving. Unfortunately, I neglected to get their names, but if either of you re reading this, thanks again!
A little less than an hour later, a woman in a sedan pulled up ahead of me and asked if I needed a ride, since she was picking up her daughter at the steakhouse. I declined the ride, but accepted some more water, and waved her off. Nearing 7pm, I was losing confidence that I would make it to the steakhouse in time, and I was out of food. A man burns about 100 calories per mile walked, so walking all day produces a nearly insatiable hunger that has to be constantly fed. I was tired, hungry, and my feet were nearing the limits of their endurance. All I could think about was getting a New York steak, mashed potatoes, broccoli covered in cheese sauce, and most of all, a Shirley Temple. For whatever reason, I had fixated on that particular drink. Refreshing ginger ale, a splash of grenadine, and four cherries to fish out of the bottom. It became a mantra in my head. New York steak, mashed potatoes, broccoli in cheese sauce, Shirley Temple. New York steak, mashed potatoes, broccoli in cheese sauce, Shirley Temple. The road began going through some shallow hills, and I spied what I thought was a sign of a steakhouse in the distance: a large roof. I quickened my pace and my Shirley Temple mantra. I was practically speed-walking. It was 7:40pm and I was determined to make it on time. I would pay them $100 in cash just to hold the kitchen open long enough to cook my meal.
7:54pm, I rounded a corner and saw the roof above some trees. This was it! Twenty more paces and I would be there. Screw the walking, I decided to jog. I passed around the trees to see the entrance of… a barn. I threw my staff to the ground and collapsed on the side of the road, swearing with every curse I knew in English, German and Russian. I lay there for a time, utterly defeated by the last four days. Slowly, I got up and limped down the road. It was dark. I was starving, parched and exhausted. There would be no steak, no mashed potatoes, no cheesy broccoli, and God damn it all, no Shirley Temple. I looked around for a place to shuffle off and die.
As I was wandering aimlessly up the road, a Honda Element pulled up in front of me. I limped to the window and met an older man named Scott, who offered a ride. He worked for a large charity organization and had done plenty of hitchhiking in his youth, so he helped out people on the road whenever he could. I said I was trying to make it to the steakhouse, which he said was only a half-mile up the road. I took that one on the chin and asked if he could take me to the nearest motel, which after looking it up on his phone, found Catalina Inn about 14 miles away. I got in and we had a nice chat, and he dropped me off in front of the inn’s entrance right off the highway once we got there.
I rented a room, and stumbled through the door and onto the bed. I got my laptop out and found the nearest place for food: McDonald’s, only a quarter-mile north. It wasn’t a steak dinner, but it would do.