Bulldog Saddle, overlooking the Salt River Valley. [photo by Ted’s daughter Clara]
Hiking is a spiritual experience for me. I pray a lot on hikes, and get some of my best ideas while walking in the wilderness. Since retirement I’ve been able to enjoy solo hikes in the middle of the week, weather permitting, on popular trails.
On Saturdays I go with a group, often as the hike leader. The outdoors is such a great place for fellowship and camaraderie, offering nature’s magnificent scenery and a temporary relief from civilization that you can find only in the wilderness.
When my career brought me to Arizona in 1991 it was a dream come true! For the first time, I could explore the wilderness on day trips in places that I could only visit on vacation before moving here. On my first Saturday I hiked in the Estrella Mountain Regional Park, west of Phoenix — missed the Rainbow Valley Trail (the trail with no beginning) and had to climb a cactus-covered hill to look around and figure out where in the world I was. Hiker’s paradise!
By the mid 1990s people started suggesting that I should lead hikes. Me? A hike leader? I admired the navigation skills and organization of some of the leaders I was hiking with, while wondering about others. Finally I decided to take the plunge and try leading a hike myself. Just this one time, mind you. A kind, experienced leader offered to go along with me, in case ...
I’d never been to O’Grady Canyon on the east side of the Superstition Mountains. It was an off-trail bushwhack, superbly written up in Jack Carlson and Elizabeth Stewart’s new book, Hiker’s Guide to the Superstition Wilderness. So I sent in my announcement. People actually signed up to go with me. For better or worse, they set out from First Water Trailhead that autumn day with a greenhorn leader who had never ventured off the Dutchman’s Trail.
What a blast! We climbed dry waterfalls, discovered a vibrant Sonoran desert ecosystem on the eastern slopes of the Superstitions, and found the northwest passage back to civilization.
The advantage of leading is that you can choose where you want to hike and have people go along with you to share the companionship. Endurance, navigation skills, and wilderness survival knowledge are important, but your attitude is the main ingredient. You must love your fellow hikers. Be attentive to them, teach them, and remain positive even when things don’t go according to plan.
When I was little my aunt would walk me around the neighborhood in my home town of Joplin, Missouri. The idea of walking without her must have occurred to me at an early age, to my mother’s distress when I was out longer than expected. But I always found my way back. On vacations I would surprise her by successfully navigating on our way to places where we had never been.
In high school and college I went on long walks by myself. Hiking opportunities were rare. Years later I met my true love, Jacquelyn Vestal, and started taking her on walks with me. We were married in 1974. As soon as our daughters Beatrix and Clara were big enough they began walking with us. Both of them have become adventurous hikers.
Experience the best of wild Arizona. Go hiking.