Monday, January 15, 2018 – The Battle of Bartlett Flatts

Today was different.  Along with Angela, who left at 7am for Phoenix for a dog agility competition, the rest of the beach seemingly vacated.  I’d like to think they all knew what was coming, but in reality, it was due to the end of the long weekend.  Angela took Rubix and Gus with her.  That left me and Jake alone for the day for some dude bonding which would include some fetch to start our lazy morning around 10am.  It was windier this day than the last six, so instead of relaxing outside in the sun, we headed back inside.  With our recently repaired and functioning water system I opted to wash off the 6 days stink with a hot shower, followed by coffee and bailey’s keeping me hydrated for the next 2 hours while I read a book.  The window next to the bed I sat on was buzzing with small bees.  I didn’t think much of it at first as the window had a screen on it keeping them at bay.  Until one buzzed by my head – inside.  My weapon of choice for this first intruder is a hardcover copy of Wayne Gretzky’s 99 – Stories of the Game.  Being that I was mid-read in this book and roughly half way through, each open side offered a nice balance of mass to which I snapped shut on my attacker, rendering him quite dead.

As this day goes on, I’m beginning to blame the rest of the campers whose mass exodus left me the lone warrior on the miles long beach to fight off all the enemies they’d attracted with BBQ and the sweet smell of beer.  Now the only fresh beer was here.  I’d have not cracked one if I knew this was the fate it would bring.  Whether or not it’s fact, I’ve heard it said that killing a bee draws the attention of his comrades in effort to eliminate the threat.  As far as I’m concerned, it is fact.  The attack started at 1pm.  That’s roughly the time I extinguished the first intruder of my aluminium bunker.  By 3pm I’d closed the pages on at least 30 more, gone through the entire trailer and plugged any pinholes of light with tissue paper around our awning windows that the enemy could tunnel into.  While I fortified our base, Jake stood guard with a watchful eye alerting me to any new intruders.  I’m pretty sure he took down a few himself, thankfully without being stung.  Whoever reads “99” after I’m through it will likely wonder what all the stained pages are from.  Maybe I’ll leave a few notes for them, or one victim pressed between the later pages to close out a mystery spotted with evidence in previous chapters.

With numbers so stacked against us, the wise choice would have been to retreat, but Angela having fled early in the morning left us stranded.  It’s just after 4pm now as I write this, holed up, distracted every few words by a buzz that may be real, or at this point, I’m finding is in my head half the time.  I’ve taped our door shut from the inside, closed all but one window and one ceiling fan (both of which I’ve ensured have no holes).  It’s hot in here without the airflow.  I struggle to get a full sentence typed out without interruption of a real or imagined threat that has me out of my seat and scanning my limited surroundings.  Jake is sleeping in his kennel, the open side covered by a towel to prevent enemy infiltration.  Each time I jump though, so does he.  Every time an enemy combatant draws near the book becomes my weapon again, and as I yield it my page is lost, again.  No sooner do I find it after and get a few paragraphs in does the next wave of attack come.  I’ve given up on reading “99” anymore today.  But it will stay within reach.  When not used as a squashing trap, the book was a plank with which to bat them out of the air, first stunning, then squishing.  A few times my dry hands lost grip and the book flew across the trailer.  I was fortunate not to break a window and open the floodgates.

With a beautiful lake just steps away, calm from the absence of boats that chopped up the water just yesterday, I’d love to go for a paddle with Jake.  But I also want to sleep tonight, free from intruders.  So here I sit defending and documenting the battle, in case I should not survive.  I think tomorrow we’ll find somewhere else to explore.

 

Paddling with Dogs

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Having rented paddleboards in the past, and last year buying one for ourselves, we often get the dogs out with us for a paddle if the water is calm enough.  They are fairly well behaved on the board for the most part, understanding from past experiences that setting things off balance can result in them going for a swim.  Our board is covered front to back with yoga mat material, giving them pretty good grip to hang on through a bit of chop.  Jake wanders a bit on the board, forcing constant adjustments on our behalf to keep dry.  Rubix has a habit of standing at the very nose, sometimes paddling herself, but often biting at the larger waves as they pass.  Occasionally reaching too far to bite a wave, she ends up swimming at least once each time out.

The kayak is a bit different.  One has a large enough seat opening in the hull to allow one dog to sit right in front of you, between your legs.  Ang and I both took Rubix for a few short paddles, and once sure she could handle it, Rubix and I loaded in and started the 3km long journey to the north end of the lake where it is fed by the North Verde River, a stretch of river that winds 8km or so from Horseshoe reservoir into Bartlett Lake (also a dammed reservoir).  Boating activity was at a minimum by this late in the afternoon, so the chop wasn’t too bad, however, we were fighting the current the whole way.  After about 1km she was getting brave, opting to stand, with her front legs out of the kayak and on top of it.  This was to allow her to reach the water with her mouth.  I imagine it was really getting to her, seeing all these waves splashing up the side and not being able to bite them!  The next kilometer was spent with me paddling hard to get through the flow.  Every slowdown or stop meant a loss of momentum and more effort to get it back.  By kilometer two Rubix was getting quite aggressive with the wave biting, barely letting a lone wave pass by without sinking her teeth into it.  Eventually, the waves bit back.  One particular wave rocked the boat enough just as she stretched out to get it.  A mad scramble of claws on plastic briefly ensued, without much luck gaining a grip.  And in she went.  Fortunately for me, the kayak is fairly stable, or I’d have been swimming with her.  She panicked and tried to get back in the boat with no luck of course.  I had to reach over, grab her harness and hoist her in.  Once in the boat again she immediately climbed up to lay on my lap, hugging me with claws gripping my skin like little needles full of gratitude.  I think it scared her a bit.  Her memory obviously short, 10 minutes later she was back to the same wave biting antics, perched precariously out of the kayak once again like nothing happened.  We made the mouth of the Verde, got out for a shoreline bathroom break and stretch and headed back.  It seemed the current had changed, and we were paddling against it on the way back too.  Go figure.

 

Phoenix and Bartlett Lake

We’ve had enough of cold mornings and not using our water system for fear of freezing our holding tanks over night.  This was supposed to be a warm retreat for the winter months after all.  With that in mind, we left Flagstaff, which was still dipping below zero for a few hours each night, for Phoenix.  The forecast was overnight lows of 7-8 Celsius there.  We followed highway 98 South from our campsite to Sedona.  That drive is a real unexpected treat.  After a quick descent of 1000 feet or so, we found ourselves following a snaky canyon floor, lush with green and the first flowing river we’d seen in weeks.  Oak Creek Canyon was beautiful.  Still covered in green growth, the brown canyon walls began to brighten until they became a rich red, littered now with cacti and sparse leafy growth of almost a neon green color.  The contrast is stunning.  Along the hour or so drive through this canyon we spotted numerous campsites and parks we took note of to visit upon our return.  I’m beginning to think 6 months is nowhere near enough time to see all we want to, as everyday our list of places grows.

We stopped briefly in Sedona for wireless service to figure out where we were going next.  A highway side RV campground provided a spot to stop and rest for the night, as well as a nice long hot shower in their facilities, unburdened by limited water supply.  Arriving in Phoenix late in the morning gave us time to do some shopping and errands, empty our tanks, fill up with fresh water, and consult some locals we met while doing so on where to go next.  Bartlett Lake was tagged as a maybe, but after a keen suggestion from another camper at the dump station we opted to give it a go.  It was evening by the time we were getting out of Phoenix, driving through a town called Carefree.  What a fitting name it was as a last greet before entering Tonto National Forest.  Just outside of Carefree we were forced to stop and take in a stunning sunset.  From high over Phoenix area we witnessed a lively orange and pink sky drape the mountains in the distance in layers like you’d see in a painting.

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It was dark when we arrived at Bartlett Flats dispersed campsite.  We stopped on high beach and slept, waking early as the sun rose to explore the nearly vacant beach and pick our spot to set up for the next week.  The miles-long beach had only 3 other campers scattered around it, leaving us with choices galore.  We opted for a sandy little peninsula at the water’s edge that offered a 200-degree view of water out our door with cactus-covered mountains all around.  The first day it rained, as forecasted.  That allowed for some maintenance work on the trailer to get done without feeling like we were missing out on the outdoors.  The second day is when we felt we’d made it to the warm vacation we were in pursuit of.  The near vacant peace of the lake and the endless beach was soon interrupted by a low growl in the air, quickly followed by a roaring flyby directly above us of a fighter jet.  This repeated every couple hours, Monday to Thursday.  The air force training base just outside of Phoenix seemed to take advantage of the lake and river valleys for swooping, high-speed training exercises.

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The next couple of days the beach slowly began to line with campers.  When I say campers, I mean rv’s.  It was the start of a long weekend.

We basked in 25 degree afternoons with Margaritas and Coronas, periodically getting out for a paddle in the kayak or on the board.  One thing we didn’t buy (and I never will) is firewood as I’ll happily collect it from the surrounding dead-fall and keep my $6 in pocket.  However, a cactus covered desert doesn’t provide much for burnable dead-fall.  The opposite side of lake didn’t seem too far away, so I took one of recently acquired, used kayaks out for it’s inaugural paddle to go explore.  I found on the other side, in one of the runoff valleys feeding the lake, a pile of dead-fall hardwood branches and logs that had washed down from higher elevation.  With dreams of an evening fire I loaded up the kayak with enough wood for a couple nights, cautiously climbed in and planted my feet firmly on my find and began to paddle back.  Sound travels quite well across water, so as much as I could hear the comments from nearby boaters as to what the hell I was doing, I’m sure they could hear my expletives as I almost lost my load a few times breaking through the wake of other boats.  Maybe if I put a Canada flag sticker on the kayak next time they’ll understand, or at least not question my actions so much and just acknowledging me as yet another crazy Canuck.  What wood I had gathered would later that evening fuel one of the stinkiest bonfires I’ve ever sat around.  I’m still not sure what it was we were burning, but despite the odor, we burned the rest the following night.  No way was that hard earned haul going to waste.

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