Same Situation, New Camp
While heading for town on a supplies/laundry trip, I decided to do two things: try a partially-different trail route back to Perkinsville Road, and scout for a markedly different campsite in Prescott National Forest, north of Paulden, AZ. The return to Perkinsville was via a sort of loop that wandered across State Trust land, and that trail was easier overall than the forest road trail I’d taken in. The drawback was that I’d have to cross the ditch that I’d chickened out and turned back at on FS638, which required putting on my big boy pants and listening for ground contact while crossing it. I had my door open at a couple of points to check how close I was to grounding out the running board on that side. Made it!
I’d left tire pressures down, since although the newish route was less hazardous to tires, it was still rocky enough to need a softened ride. This allowed faster speeds overall, along with less trauma to the camper, but of course the airing up process at the end takes enough time (35 minutes) to cancel out any speed gain. It’s worth it, though, and after my early experiences with cheap cigarette lighter auto store air pumps, I was impressed with the Viair’s no-nonsense dependability and speed – about 7 minutes per tire to take it back up to 65 PSI. No fried lighter outlets or plugs, no blown fuses, no overheating of pump or wiring. It’s just a purpose-built tool that does its job, and then you pack it back away for next time. My view is that when it comes to service equipment, the less adventure, the better.
The Chino Valley errands went well, and by late afternoon, I was on AZ-89 heading north. After 12 miles or so, FS573 intersects the highway on the west side. I’ve stayed along it a couple of times before, as well as along the remains of Old 89 to the east. My goal this time was to make the climb up FS9011D, a kind of loop trail to the south that spurs off 573 early, and eventually rejoins it after running straight west for a few miles. I’d taken it once before just for fun in the unladen Ford, and the farther west you go, the more challenging it becomes for articulation.
It’s one of those trails that’s shown on the MVUM as fully approved for camping, but access to it is daunting for anything less nimble than a truck camper. You dive down into a wide gully, and then up onto what amounts to a flat plateau. I wouldn’t attempt any of it with a heavier hardside on a dually truck. Narrow spots and commendable erosion cause tilt in places which make a pop-up rig advisable. It may be possible to make the loose-rock climb in a loaded 2WD rig, but I only tried it in 4WD-Low to ease drivetrain stress.
It’s also one of those trails that has a great deal of undergrowth on each side, let alone along the center of this two-track, and precious few places are suitable for vehicle-based camping. I saw no improvised fire rings or other evidence of camping. I finally found a decent flat right beside the trail at about the halfway point, and decided to make camp there. The one other possibility along the way creeped me out because the weird dusty soil along this entire plateau appears to swell with rain and then dry expanded, making it compress an inch underfoot. Guaranteed quagmire when wet. Indeed, a sign near the start of FS573 itself warns that it should be considered impassible in wet weather. That seems accurate because of the deep ruts made in earlier years by people attempting to test that out.
That’s notable, because once again, 0.58″ of rain is due tomorrow and the next day from thunderstorms. Today is sunny with high winds and a fire warning due to that and the very low humidity. As before, my plan is to ride it out planted, and let the trails dry out for the 2-3 days of sunny weather to follow. A week from now, another change of venue will be needed to avoid uncomfortably warm seasonal weather. Until then, this trail appears sparsely-used even by joyriders, so solitude is the order of the day. I should caution that another camper doing his duty in the bush here a few years ago encountered a bear, but it turned around and left without incident. That makes hiking with protection of some kind advisable, and today’s pronounced wind gusts make bear spray nearly useless, if not hazardous to the user. Any walk I take later this afternoon will be short, not so much because of risk, but because strapping a 5-pound hand cannon on my belt makes my hip hurt after awhile, cutting the trip short! More practical wearing options exist, but need to be made to order, which can take weeks to receive.
Coming from a lifetime of being in the Chicago area and points east, that’s the thing about boondocking in remote areas that surprises me as seldom if ever mentioned on websites pushing the “back to nature” glam factor of the “mobile lifestyle”: If you go back to nature, you need to be able to deal with whatever comes along as part of it. If you stick to familiar campsites in semi-developed areas, usually camp as part of a group or just dabble at camping out on weekends, you may well never have a problem. Frequently get way out there, alone, in areas where larger predators are known to circulate along with their natural prey, and you may well, in time, have an encounter of some kind that you’d rather not have. Favorable as the overall odds against it are, odds don’t have much to do with it, since all it takes is a single event. At that moment, either you have some available means of addressing it, or you let it play out as it will, and hope for the best.
Here’s where I once again veer off one train of thought to another. Welcome to my world. Out biking on trails two weeks ago, my problem was just the opposite – a more heavily-used area and a rather large pit bull off-leash, suddenly five feet away and fully ready to address my “intrusion”. It was looking only for one wrong move on my part, whatever it might consider that to be. On my end, I risk collapsing should my heart rate race above a rather low limit, and that’s not the best response to have for such critters. Likewise, dog spray at anywhere between zero and five feet on a pit bull may as well be sugar water with vitamins.
Fortunately for me, I happened to have a suitable firearm readily accessible, and the simple confidence that an attack would likely end in my ultimate favor kept me calm enough to ask the young owner to please take control over her dog, which she promptly did by scampering over to grasp its collar, hauling it to her and her companions’ car, chastising it by saying, “No, bad dog!” “It’s just a puppy,” she apologetically informed me. I think her promptness came from basic decency, and that part of it also came from noticing that I was armed and did not appear to unduly fear the dog for that reason. I was not forced to rely solely upon her judgement, good or bad, or upon her questionable ability to pull the dog off me should things suddenly get out of hand. She would of course be concerned for my welfare as a passerby, but I could not help but notice that a dog’s owner will move a lot faster if they sense that the outcome of their pet’s misbehavior is much less predictable than they first assumed. The difference in speed seems to indicate which life or welfare they value the most.
She might well have lost her young pet, as I’ve observed first-hand that the only sure way to end the struggle with a pit bull is to end its brain function, since apart from the second or two it takes to overcome body shock, the attack instantly resumes full force. I cringe at the thought, but there’s no follow-up trip to the animal hospital likely with this breed, which is unfortunate. If you want a dog that’s both aggressive and impervious to pain, you get all that comes with it. When that desire for “protection” goes awry, either you assert control over your unstoppable biological weapon, or leave it up to the victim to deal with it.
Too often, the Disney Syndrome prevails, and the owner does not think of himself as the master over the dog. He is there to love it, feed it, and cater to its needs. In this power vacuum, the dog naturally assumes that role as leader of the pack – somebody has to be leader – and good intentions are displaced by animal perceptions, reasoning and instinct, in whatever form it is bred in. The outcome is usually not too good for somebody when a misunderstanding between species occurs. For that reason, being placed into a situation where I might have to actually shoot someone’s pet dog is very upsetting for me, because in a way it’s not fair to the dog, being the owner’s fault of irresponsible and/or negligent behavior. All things living in harmony is to be in Heaven, and this ain’t it, whether the owner likes to think so or not. Contrary to popular belief, dog attacks don’t “just happen”, and they aren’t often accidents. Choose a tail-wagging slobber bucket, and that’s what you get. Choose a one-man, highly-protective threat, and that’s what you get. If you can’t bring yourself to operate the safety of the latter around strangers, the animal can’t possibly do it for you – it is not human, and does not think in human terms. It operates on instinct, perception of threat, and emotion. Reason is a very distant fourth. Every great now and then, the “rules don’t apply to me” owner will be surprised to find that a given victim is resisting the attack with whatever means come to hand, and that there may not be any point afterward in scolding the dog for “bad behavior”, since the dog may not be able to hear it any more. Human victory aside, that’s still a loss which is usually (but not absolutely always) avoidable.
You see, clever lawyer shenanigans aside, Arizona state law allows you to use a firearm to defend yourself against an animal attack, and that right cannot be preempted by any locality, technically speaking. Out in the boonies or downtown, it doesn’t matter. Despite what politicos may tell you, a high percentage of people carry firearms here, usually concealed, and yet as a result do not actually go around shooting other people or people’s pets for fun or sport. Amazing fact. It’s a different mindset since, when push comes to shove, you are considered to be responsible for your own welfare and to make your own decisions concerning the use of force to deter or counteract an immediate physical threat from an animal. Oh sure, you can get in big trouble for shooting a bear or mountain lion because the presumption is that you are sneak hunting without proper permits, so you must be able to convince them that the shooting was purely in self-defense. But that’s another story. In my situation, a call to the Chino Valley law enforcement community would prove impractical, first from the difficulty of dialing 911 while fending off a large pit bull with my bare hands and an old iPhone 4s having a small crack in its case. It had fallen out of my pocket at a gas station, but that is perhaps an irrelevant detail right now. The second issue is from the minimum fifteen minute delay in getting them to my area, considering that there is no location or address whatsoever to guide them in. If they knew exactly where I was, which even I didn’t, it would take fifteen minutes at full throttle. That could prove a major inconvenience on my part. I’m just thankful that my incident resolved itself exactly as it did. Where I’m camped now, well, I’m open to alternative suggestions as well.
I guess my point is that if you stick close to civilization in heavily-used areas, where all the varmints have largely been driven away, you can probably do just fine without having to deal with the decisions, inconvenience and expenses involved with chemical sprays or weaponry, and the potential legal pitfalls therein. Get out where the buffalo roam and the weather is less subdued, and you are better off researching what types of creatures you may find in that area and deciding what measures, if any, you want to take to limit your risk of harm. It’s not up to the nearest police force and how good your cellular signal is. It’s up to you.
Personally, I’ve found it unnerving to tread or bike in areas known to contain confirmed animal hazards, when I’ve had to go out with absolutely no “encounter” options on me. In forested areas similar to here, it has kept me from venturing out, or at least from going as far as I’d like. It certainly scales back the enjoyment factor, since walking always gets my mind percolating upon something useless, and I lack that “sixth sense” that inexplicably warns of danger.
Packing heat (or chemicals – repellents are usually much more effective when weather conditions allow their use) does not eliminate the concern, since a firearm is completely dependent upon accurate shot placement right at a time when getting rattled trashes one’s ability to aim effectively. It’s no panacea, and like the advice about Mongo in Blazing Saddles, inadequate solutions or poor use “will just make him mad”. But there is that heart rate thing, and adrenaline is not my friend. Not feeling utterly helpless is. Similar to that pit bull encounter, knowing that you have something available in the way of options greatly slows the deer-in-the-headlights adrenaline surge. You can think dispassionately, at least up until the moment that the confrontation turns physical. You may prefer to walk bare and wave your arms to look bigger, but I can’t bring myself to rely on that as the sole available remedy. I just can’t.
In my view, even carrying questionable options along is better than carrying none at all, because they affect peace of mind and confidence, justified or not. If you think that a slingshot or an airline-sized bottle of vodka will do it, you’ll technically enjoy the walk a lot more. You’re free to wander and explore without jumping at every sound. I must admit that the defensive measures should be appropriate to the potential threat, however remote, otherwise the outcome may prove a disappointment. In the very rare occasion that it should come down to it, at least one isn’t forced to go out with a whimper instead of psssssst or a bang, so to speak. After all, the goal is not to seek out and battle for species supremacy, armed to the teeth. It’s to allow me to better enjoy a nature walk in the outback, in the true spirit of risk management.
Outdoorsy people raised in such areas tend to know when such defenses are needed, and when not to bother. Time and place. Me, I’m a lifelong suburbanite who is always on unfamiliar ground, the perpetual newbie for any area I visit. What’s out here? What am I likely to encounter, and what is it still possible for me to encounter at this location? I’d prefer to skip along assuming I’ll be lucky, but I unfortunately keep stumbling over local accounts, usually in print, that put a damper on my blissful ignorance – stuff you’ll never find out about where you live. I don’t look for them, but stumble over them. The stories stay local, since the uniqueness factor isn’t there and they aren’t worth hoisting up the media chain. Drives away the tourists to find out that they’re not always at the top of the food chain. It pays to research localities and, if possible, ask those most likely to know the facts, not the old stories. If never once used, (and hopefully they never will be), my measures will still be a fine investment – even a can of bear spray that must be replaced every few years. In that sense, you can buy peace of mind.
May you enjoy your walk in the middle of nowhere, in the manner which seems best to you, and may you never once have occasion to say, “Ohhhh, boy! What do I do now? I wish I had…!”