If you like to hike, you’ve probably heard a story or two of an under-estimated trek. The one where you thought the loop would be four miles, but it turned out to be eight. Or the route that someone said was a short, easy jaunt, but ended up being a 10-mile slog. My friends and I ran into such a situation not long ago, when we headed off on a girls’ get-away to Flagstaff, Arizona. We decided to stop along the way for a scenic hike. Since it was a warm spring day, we chose a river route in the Verde Valley. I had never hiked the Bell Trail at Wet Beaver Creek, but I had heard good things about the area. One of my friends had hiked it years before, and remembered that it led to a swimming hole. We started off, with a vague sense that the swimming hole was about two miles in.
Talking as we walked, we weren’t keeping a close eye on the distance. From time to time, we would ask hikers we met the distance to the swimming hole, and we got the typical arm wave, and the fuzzy answer, “Oh, a mile, mile and a half.” Well, that didn’t sound so bad, and we kept walking. A mile later, the sun was getting hotter, and the trail seemed to be climbing away from the creek, through rough red-rock terrain. Again, the question – how far is the swimming hole? “Oh, a mile, mile and a half.” By this time, my friends and I were practically hooting, but we decided we had come too far now to stop short of the swimming hole. Once we arrived, it was obvious that the hike was worth it, whatever the distance. Great walls of red rock bordered a pool of deep, clear water. The day we visited, more than a dozen young people were already partying there – fueled by beer that we surmised they had lugged in over the three-and-a-half-mile route. While they were having a good time jumping from the high rocks, we waded in at the far edge. The cold water was just the remedy we needed after our longer-than-expected hike in, and in preparation for the long hike back. I’m not sure why hikers tend to downplay the distance when questioned by others on the trail, but I’ve noticed that it happens often, regardless of the location or distance. I’m guessing it’s partly misplaced encouragement – “You’re almost there! – and partly obliviousness to how far they’ve come.