Three Days in the Pines

By Kimberly McElroy

At the end of April, while experiencing the adrenaline high of a recent successful 5K, I decided to combine a race within a vacation. I was almost a year into a new job and felt it was time to apply for some days off. My eyes finally turned to a 10K near the city of Prescott, AZ, specifically in the Groom Creek area off of Senator Highway. Even though I went to university in Flagstaff and had every opportunity to do so, I never took the time to visit the Prescott area. The race involved a variety of distances including a 2 mile run, 5K, 10K and half marathon. This was a chance to meet runners of different skills and have a fun time up in the tree line. As I read the race description, words like “challenging”, “elevation” and “hilly” kept appearing repeatedly. Words that I either chose to ignore or I was filled with enough hubris that I didn’t care.  With sound body and mind, I clicked on the submit button. Approximately five minutes later I remembered that I haven’t been used to that sort of elevation in years.

I made all my lodging and travel arrangements while I patiently waited for the Arizona summer to pass. My calendars were scribbled with dates and contact numbers for what I had planned: arrive on Friday for the Airbnb check in; race on Saturday; kayak on Sunday; end on Monday morning with a hike, somewhere. One week before launch I discovered that Prescott would also be holding their annual Oktoberfest that Saturday evening. Sports science always says my post exercise meals should involve a good balance of protein and carbohydrates.

That Friday I packed all my usual travel essentials. Laptop, three layers for every type of weather condition, and enough food to last a month hiding from the authorities. I packed only for the priorities. However, I didn’t even get to I-10 before something went wrong. After filling my Civic up with gas, I found it wouldn’t start. Two hours passed and with a shrug from a mechanic I went off again down the interstate. I reached the outskirts of Anthem, AZ around 6:30 pm with a heart beating out of my chest as I realized that a dying car was going to navigate Northern Arizona in the dark. As I was following the lights in front of me and listening to my phone’s directions I thought this area will look very pretty when I’m driving back in the daytime.

The Saturday hike from the race’s overflow lot to registration did little to assuage the anxiety I felt for lack of altitude adjustment. The less than acceptable positive gradient at the start of the race cemented that feeling. At that point all my body could do was go at a steady pace as I chugged past the residences and hit the base of the last hill. Each switchback gave view to one curve after another until I stopped and let fate decide the halfway point.  The turnaround ended at a trail fork and we never reached the hill’s apex. I assume the world changing view from the top was saved for the half-marathon. I kept as level headed as possible on the downhill and with deep ragged breaths crossed the line as the 4th woman overall and 2nd place in my age group. The Oktoberfest beer tasted good as the locals belted out The National Anthem during the fireworks.

On the suggestion from a bike mechanic I picked Watson Lake as my Sunday kayaking spot. A manmade lake, Watson has a northern and southern portion with wildly different qualities. The northern section has rock formations rising from the water level, giving enough open space to prevent new kayaker collision syndrome but still providing some fun turns and views.


The lake also has a loop trail where certain sneaky kayakers can paddle alongside and scare hikers. The southern portion is much more open but has the unlucky existence of waterfowl that made fewer interesting views and more Bird Poop Lagoon adventure. The rental company provided the kayak and gear while giving me basic instructions on how to stay upright in the water.  Luckily kayaks are so user friendly that it would take effort on my part to overturn them.  From then on, I decided to focus on my paddling technique while letting the Oktoberfest experience slowly waft out with the waves.

Monday was my departure day, but I still wanted to get in a morning hike. A quick map recon showed a nearby trail called Centennial Trail which was listed as four miles round trip. I try to never hike alone, however, I figured that with the trail being so well known and close to civilization my chances of succumbing to an accident were greatly reduced. Although, humans can drown in an inch of water given the right circumstances so what do I know? The hike’s starting point soon veered off into a rocky trail that looked like experienced trail runners’ dream and I watched the valley flood with light. I always felt that Northern Arizona looked like a Rustic Pine Cabin crossed with the Martian landscape and the views exemplified that. Walking along the trail I never felt lost because I was constantly alongside warning tape for new construction. After crossing a dry creek several times and gaining some elevation I eventually ended in someone’s backyard. The city of Prescott indicated the endpoint had petroglyphs on the rocky outcropping. I found exactly one.

After picking up a rock to bring back home, I packed everything up, ripped that ignition till the end turned over and began to enjoy Prescott Valley on the downward slope.

Check out Watson Lake and the Centennial Trail on the Bivy App.


Watson Lake


Centennial Trail


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