Literally.

Mt. Elden marks north.

Friday I submitted my second and last paper for my first semester of grad school in Sustainable Communities at NAU. So while all the undergrads left for Phoenix and Tucson, I grabbed a friend, threw the fatbike in the truck, and headed for the hills.

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Despite needing leaf springs like the V8 needs fuel, my urge to get the heck out was too great. The original idea was to go down to Upper Lake Mary and rock crawl along the shore with the fatbike for an hour while my friend read a book and hung out. I didn’t see any access roads to the far side of the lake so we headed out onto the nearest forest road instead.

129A was the name, and rocks were the game. I felt I bit off more than Boo Radley could chew, and this was one of the milder sections. On the map, the road seemed to connect not too far away so I decided to press on.

I apologize for portrait mode. I was not filming. We also lost video of the uphill section immediately after this video.

After a while I heard a clunk and got out to check everything over. No visible damage- must have been a loose rock or something. I walked around the truck. The gas cap was gone. That explains the gas smell which is usually due to the bad seal on the cap! Must have left it on the bed rail at the gas station. I emptied a plastic grocery bag full of wrenches, grabbed an Arno strap from the bike tool bag, and re-covered it.

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But that wasn’t the end of it. As good as it felt to get out, the MVUM we grabbed from Walnut Canyon Nat. Mon. was unhelpful in the extreme. Without GPS or useful phone service/battery (my battery was good, and his service was good, but not both on the same phone) we were going by the MVUM and USFS road signs.

By about an hour and a half in, we ended up on some smooth dirt next to a lake. We didn’t know what lake it was. We weren’t quite sure what road we were on. Signs kept switching from 129A to 9489A or some such thing. Trying to locate ourselves, we parked the truck. A familiar “Please Close The Gate” sign mocked us.

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My friend used precious battery to set up a hotspot and I looked on Backcountry Navigator to get our location. Horse Lake or some such thing. Half way to the observatory, which was the original intended destination. On the wrong path. Daylight was slipping under the ponderosa pines. Six miles per hour was inadequate. I was glad I packed a box with a surplus field jacket, food, and an emergency blanket. Glad I filled up the tank and a 1.5 gallon gas can.

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I walked back to the steep rocky intersecting trail a few car lengths back. The brown fiberglass sign was lying under a scraggly juniper, shredded apart and numberless. Under twilight we decided it was better to go back the way we came than brave another hour and a half of unknown trails. Backcountry Navigator told us that taking the unmarked trail was the most direct way back.

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I turned around and went for it- carefully, slowly. A tree folded the mirror in. The truck bounced violently. A tree branch whipped into the cab. Halfway up the old 352 V8 stalled. I heel-toed, restarted the beast and gingerly brutally pushed to the top. With two wheel drive, an open differential, and no low range, sometimes there is no taking it slow.

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After a tight chicane through trees and about ten revolutions of the steering wheel I turned on the headlights. Chicken tracks were indistinguishable from the main trail. With each split we debated for approximately 1.5 seconds- spotting endless head-sized rocks waiting to stop my 27" tall tires, I had to keep momentum.

Having access to no outside navigation we followed my Kumho tracks when possible and eyed sparse 129A signs. Three red lights on the top of Mormon Mountain reassured us of the rough heading. The way back was quicker, and the uphills were now downhills. No worries about stalling on the way down. The twilight faded to darkness and with our cloudy sky there was little starlight. We eventually noticed a line of trees against the dark blue sky. A small white rectangle reflected back to us. The main road! An actual gravel road!

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We were saved. Down the hill to Lake Mary Road. 50 mph. Swerve around two raccoons. NiMarco’s veggie Hawaiian pizza. Sleep.