CASA GRANDE -- I went on a hike last Tuesday. That was a week before Election Day, which — if this column lands in its usual spot — is today.
I sought refuge from the politics. The campaigning. The low blows. The guilt from watching my wife wash all those dishes.
My refuge was Casa Grande Mountain Park. There I would find solitude and peace. I was lucky. A few days sooner and I’d have been sharing the trail with 125 students, parents and teachers from a local charter school. Not much solitude in that.
I turned off Sunland Gin Road onto Arica Road around mid-afternoon. I passed a half-dozen semis from the truck stop. They were lined up on Arica to make a left onto Sunland Gin. They waited at a stop sign for a break in a steady stream of traffic.
Good luck with that, I thought. Things will get better, though. The Eloy City Council plans to make improvements. New intersections. Stoplights. And a few other design details to be worked out.
I read about it in the Dispatch. Local coverage. I can’t plug it enough.
Anyway, I headed west on Arica. Past all the trucks. Past some duplexes and houses. Past open desert. I pulled into the Arica-trailhead parking lot, landscaped with rocks not quite the size of boulders.
I put on a windbreaker. It was, after all, in the 60s. For an Arizona native, that’s like a polar vortex. Still, great weather for a hike. I could always take the jacket off if I got warm.
Norm had on a T-shirt. He stepped out of his pickup. He was just out for some fresh air. I followed him south, on the East Butte Trail. He soon peeled off to poke around the desert.
I soldiered on.
On hikes past, I wrote about the desert flowers. The gaudy purple blooms of the hedgehog cactus. Little flowers that dot the trail sides. The Mexican gold poppies scattered about in no particular order.
Not this time. Not following a summer without rain. This was a stark desert. Cactus and desert trees were in survival mode. The birds and the bees would have to wait.
The unadorned landscape seemed more remote. More secluded. A world away from politics and a virus that was everywhere — but here.
So, no bursts of color. Just saguaros and cholla cactus clinging to the rocky slopes. Lots of cholla. They don’t need flowers for a show, anyway. Backlit by the sun, they glow with neon brilliance.
I glanced back and saw a mountain biker. He seemed to be going slow. I was going slower. I stepped aside and he passed me, going uphill. Grinding it out.
Last March, I took part in a spinning class at the city rec center. We set our stationary bikes to high resistance and pretended to climb Casa Grande Mountain. Now I know. The real thing’s a lot harder.
At some point, the East Butte Trail became the West Butte Trail. It descended into the Chain Cholla Forest Trail. Here cholla cactus rose up to 7 feet. Their branches were needle-laden hanging stalactites. The trail weaved between them.
I thought: This would make a great haunted house ride. Or rather walk. Give the kids flashlights and dare them to enter. They’d be scared. But they’d go in, tiptoeing through the moonlit shadows of a cholla forest. Hidden speakers could play spooky sounds.
Band-Aids would be extra.
Sure, not practical. But when I’m hiking, my mind wanders. The view always brings it back. Now I could see farms to the south. And beyond them, the homes of Arizona City.
Soon, the trail turned and led up me up a ridge. This was, after all, the Ridge Trail.
Up I went. I’m not in awful shape, but the ascent — at times — left me winded. OK, I thought, no ultra-marathons across the Grand Canyon for me. Not this year.
I stopped to remove a pebble from my shoe. I took off my windbreaker. I wondered why I didn’t bring water.
I know why. I didn’t think I needed it, so I left it in the car. Smart, huh?
Then the sun settled below the top of the ridge. I was in shadow. The trail edged along a steep slope. My mind wandered again.
I saw myself weak with thirst, stumbling about in the dark. Tripping on a rock and rolling down the slope, through a mountainside of teddy-bear cholla and ending up in the Chain Cholla Forest.
I’d have to call 911.
“What’s your emergency?”
“I’m lost in the Chain Cholla Forest. Bring Band-Aids.”
That didn’t happen. I dropped down to another trail. The sun appeared. I spotted a lone car in the Arica trailhead parking lot. It was mine. I reached it and headed back to the world of ugly politics and coronavirus.
And, on the plus side, clean dishes.