Desert Hiking: What I didn’t learn in kindergarten

Check your hiking boots after being stored over the summer in Arizona heat!

Check your hiking boots after being stored over the summer in Arizona heat!

Roberta Arpan

Having completed three 10-day hiking treks in Europe and New Zealand, helicopter hiking in the Canadian Rockies and hiking with two wonderful clubs for the past 14 plus years, I considered myself to be experienced. I’d been hiking all summer with the online-knowledge of Zero Expedition, I found myself in the Enchanted Forests of Oregon where one walks on a pine needle carpet and ducks under a mushroom for shade – if needed, so I thought I was prepared for any hike coming my way.

Returning to the Valley of the Sun a few weeks ago, I was eager to get together with a few hiking buddies and go out for a walk. However, with all this hubris, I found myself in a world of hurt when I went on my first hike of the season in the hot Arizona sun.

Mistake No. 1: I really hadn’t paid much attention to the destination my friends had in mind. I was thinking we would take a two-hour stroll in South Mountain Park, leaving at 6:30 a.m. and getting home a few hours later. With this in mind, I went to my “hiking shelf” in the garage and pulled out my waist pack (with no water bladder) and a light pair of hiking boots. Filling the waist pack with two water bottles (I’m not totally stupid) and a few light snacks, I thought I was ready to hit the trail. Lesson: Know what the plans are and prepare mentally, as well as physically.

Mistake No. 2: I neglected to cut my toenails. Oh, yes, this can be a “biggie” when your toes are constantly being plummeted against sharp and unyielding rocks.

Lesson: Enjoy a pedicure.

Mistake No. 3: I had not checked the condition of my boots that had been subjected to the Arizona heat all summer. At milepost five I looked down at my feet only to realize that the sole of one boot was coming unhinged. Very fortunately, one of my fellow hikers had duck tape wrapped around his hiking pole and he graciously applied it around my boot. A mile later, I was aware of some more “flapping.” Yes, the sole of boot number two was in the same condition. Luckily the same hiker had a second hiking pole with duct tape also wrapped around it. I was so glad that my friend had two poles with duck tape and I had only two boots. Lesson: Check all equipment and carry duct tape.

The adventure goes on: I stopped to get a rock out of one boot (which was difficult to get off with all the tape wrapped around it). Six of the hikers went on while one friend stayed behind with me. After getting the rock out of my boot we proceeded on, talking about great things while our eyes were mostly cast downward looking at our feet. All of a sudden we heard people yelling; we looked up and around to see some hikers in the distance waving at us. Being deep in conversation, we thought, “What friendly hikers there are out here in the desert” and we were happy to wave back before proceeding on our way. A moment or two later my hiking companion realized we were on the wrong trail and we did start to back track. We didn’t get too far before we encountered one of the hikers in our original group running down the trail after us. Lesson: Never lose sight of your hiking party and carry a whistle just in case you do.