A couple of weeks ago I was out in Globe, AZ. Globe is a small town right on the border of the San Carlos Apache Reservation where Amor began building homes just last year. Globe is a small, depressed mining town. I am still learning a lot about the history of The Rez and Globe. It appears that The Rez was established for the San Carlos Apaches around 1871 with Globe as a part of it, but some of the area was the subject of some contention due to the existence of valuable metals. In 1875, silver was found in the Globe area. At that time, Globe was removed from the Rez and given it's current name. The silver reserves were quickly depleted within the next four years, but copper still remained. In the years since, Globe has remained primarily a copper mining town. As such, it lacks development and it kind of takes a good, hard look to start to see some of it's charm.
Conversely, my interest and appreciation for the Pinal Mountain area, rising beautifully above Globe, came immediately. The San Carlos area is high desert, sitting at about 3,500 feet in elevation. The Pinal Mountains, also an area hotly contended at one time due to the existence of silver, gold and copper, elevate about 4,000 feet above Globe. Traveling up into the Pinal Mountains from Globe offers the opportunity to travel through several ecosystems, from the desert floor, through beautiful pine forests to the mountain top, all within Tonto National Forest.
I have had the opportunity to explore the desert area on foot. Turning south out of our camp puts me on a paved, tree shaded road that quickly gives way to dirt. Shortly thereafter, it opens up into a typical dirt and stone southwest landscape and enters into Tonto National Forest. I have enjoyed many out and back runs from camp usually amounting to seven or eight miles round trip. My run essentially takes me through desert on a dry jeep road. I've chosen one ridge with a beautiful 360 degree view as my typical turnaround point. I love being on this ridge close to sunset. My experience has shown that no sunset beats a desert sunset. Add to that the fact that I've climbed about 1,000 feet in elevation over 3.5-4 miles and have a clear downhill run to the bottom, and I feel wonderful when I'm on that ridge.
I love that I have such easy access to this run and appreciate it, but what I've really wanted is to explore the Pinal Mountains to the southwest. They start just off of my route, with the peaks seeming just a mile or two a way (mountain peaks always look closer than they are). It seems like a geographic impossibility that the thick pine forests could exist on the sides and tops of these mountains. The pines also remind me of back home on the east coast. Finally, I found out that there are some well traveled bike trails in the mountains. I knew exactly what the trails would look and feel like up there based upon the riding I've done in heavily wooded areas back east. This is a different kind of trail than what you typically experience in the southwest, with thick, soft packed dirt singletrack. It is a type of trail I definitely miss. I've wanted to get up into the Pinals on my bike for months, but have been repeatedly thwarted.
The first time I brought my bike out to Globe, I went for a ride. Unfortunately, while still rolling out on dirt fire road, both my tire and tube got ripped open by something I did not see. Given the severity of the damage, I am sure that it was a mountain troll armed with a machete. Sadly, I never saw him coming. The damage to the tire ruled out a quick tube change and I had to limp the bike back to camp. I made it out with my bike a couple more times, but my job always got in the way of my fun and I was not able to commit the better part of a day to my ride. Then, I couldn't ride for about three or four months for reasons which will probably be addressed on this blog at some point.
In case I haven't communicated it clearly enough, I wanted to ride the Pinal Mountains badly and for a very long time. A couple of weeks ago, I finally got my chance. I was utterly and completely prepared. I visited the ranger station to get as good a grasp on the trails as I possibly could. I had my bike dialed in, with an almost new rear tire. I was loaded to the gills with water, had energy gels and food. I took off from camp around 7 a.m.. I had no immediate time commitments. I had done everything right and was prepared to enjoy a stress-free day in the mountains at which I had stared longingly so many times.
I started up my running route on my bike and was feeling good. I branched off on a trail that I had just discovered on a map to the southwest, which would ultimately lead me into the Pinals. There were moments that the trail became unclear and some was unrideable, providing momentary frustrations. I was still exploring and it was still cool in the desert, so I was having a great time. There is something about traveling through a new area of wilderness on your own. You consider yourself an intrepid explorer. You are a man. It's a lot like having a gnarly beard. But not as itchy.
Then the droppings started. I found very large animal droppings on the trail at fairly regular intervals. The initial thought was that they could be horse droppings, but I grew up in horse country and this did not look like the work of a horse. It seemed larger, a different consistency. They contained berries and other random things. These droppings were not the product of a domesticated animal. This animal was surely something large and something wild. As you read this, you will think I am out of my mind, but as a person alone with only some idea of where I was, the following conclusions seemed totally obvious.
1. I have spent time around horses, bears and other large animals. These droppings looked like nothing I have ever seen.
2. One animal I have not really seen in the wild is a big cat, such as a mountain lion. Since these were droppings I had never seen before, they clearly belonged to an animal I had never seen before. These droppings belonged to a mountain lion.
3. This animal had voided it's stomach quite often. When you void your stomach, you get hungry. This was a hungry mountain lion.
4. Based upon the freshness of some of the droppings, this animal was close by, at least sometimes. There was a hungry mountain lion nearby, sometimes.
5. I was carrying food with me and, being somewhat out of shape, I am probably very tender and delicious. I would make an ideal meal for a mountain lion.
6. A HUNGRY MOUNTAIN LION WAS NEARBY, HUNGRY AND CONSIDERABLY FASTER THAN ME. IT WAS GOING TO SNEAK UP ON ME VERY SOON, EAT SOME OF MY FACE, BUT LEAVE MY HEAD MORE OR LESS INTACT, THEN DEVOUR ME, STARTING WITH MY FEET SO THAT I WOULD FEEL EVERY PAINFUL BITE UNTIL ROUGHLY MY ABDOMEN AT WHICH TIME I MAY OR MAY NOT MERCIFULLY DIE OR GO INTO SHOCK. THERE WAS NO WAY I WOULD MAKE IT THROUGH THIS RIDE ALIVE. WHY DID I LOVE MOUNTAIN BIKING AND THE WILDERNESS!? THEY ARE TERRIBLE, DANGEROUS THINGS THAT WILL RELIEVE ME OF A LIFE I QUITE ENJOY AND STEAL ME FROM MY FRIENDS AND FAMILY. WHY DON'T I OWN AND CARRY A GUN!? A BIG ONE!? I DO NOT WANT TO DIE!!!!!!
Like I said, seems kinda crazy now, but these were perfectly reasonable conclusions in my mind at the time.
The wondrous new place I was "discovering" moments ago now became a dangerous, strange place. One that although beautiful, was not where I wanted to choose for my final, premature resting place. This sort of change in perception affects the way one sees everything. Soothing sounds of the forest became the sounds of a big cat moving stealthily toward me. My fun bike ride was now a terrifying fight for survival. I rode and hiked up the mountain, expecting that the droppings would disappear with each change in environment and vegetation. They never did. I often hiked rather than rode simply because it somehow seemed safer to walk than ride when being stalked by a ferocious predator. My fear completely overtook my ride. I reached Squaw Peak which was beautiful, at an elevation of nearly 7,400 feet. I hiked and road through breathtaking forest and deserted campsites. I gazed out on overlooks of desert and mountains. I saw cows at the peak of the mountain (odd and kinda funny). I rode a steep descent, harrowing at some moments. I experienced everything a ride can offer. The views, the challenge, wildlife, forest, desert, hiking, technical trails and smooth singletrack. I hardly enjoyed a moment of it, because I was too preoccupied with escaping a beast that I could not escape if it chose to make me it's prey.
Thankfully, I survived this near-death experience. An experience that didn't really happen. Because there was no mountain lion. If there was a hungry mountain lion on the same trail as me, I wouldn't be typing this. I would be a lifeless half-corpse on the side of a trail in Arizona, with my face chewed off. My "mountain lion" not only stole the joy I would typically feel while doing something I love, but replaced that joy with fear, trepidation, and self doubt. Given that I spent so much time walking and worrying, it didn't just steal the joy of doing something I love, it stopped me from doing it altogether.
I find that this happens a lot in life. Whether it's a new adventure or your everyday, irrational fears can come and steal your joy. Sometimes, like in my case, your imagination is much to blame. Imagination is a wonderful thing, but not when it behaves like this. Sometimes it's self doubt that sneaks in. Often times you've done everything you possibly can to succeed and enjoy yourself and you just can't. I wish I had a good answer to cope with these sorts of fears and the damage they cause. If I did, I would have enjoyed my ride a lot more. I guess it might not help that much, but it's important to remember these fears are not from God. He wants something more for us. He wants us to experience reconciliation and confidence in him. He wants us to enjoy every person and opportunity we have in our lives, with his creation.
What is your mountain lion? What's keeping you from enjoying life and loving yourself, nature and the people around you? You don't have to beat it or kill it. You don't have to outrace it. Climbing a tree won't get you away from it. If it is at all like a mountain lion, you'll know none of these efforts will help you escape. There is only one thing to do. Realize it doesn't exist. You were created to be in harmony with creation and you have been reconciled with God and creation. Whatever is stopping you from experiencing creation and relationships in all their glory simply do not exist. Accept this reconciliation and live in the freedom it provides. It's a lot better than spending your time scared over meaningless $#!^.
Views near the top of Squaw Peak.
|Lush greenery reminds me of the east coast. Never would have expected this given the surrounding desert.|
|There were eagles flying overhead during these photos, but I failed to capture them.|
|Started at about 3,500 feet a little after seven. Not a bad morning.|
|Return to the beautiful desert.|