April 17, 2019
Miles hiked: 24
AZT Mile: 214.8
Campsite Elevation: 3,848 ft
This morning when I woke it was still raining. What? I thought for sure this storm would have passed. Not only was it still raining but little balls of hail had collected outside my tent. One of my tent stakes had come loose as well, so the end by my head was touching my head in a slump. That was also the end I placed my shoes under, outside. So, not only did my shoes not dry overnight, they had legit pools of water in them. Nice.
I immediately had to go outside and find a place to poop. Why does this only ever happen when the weather sucks? Trying to make the best of the situation, I slipped on my wet shoes and grabbed my umbrella.
Thank god for my umbrella, it has saved me on many occasions! I’m glad I stopped when and where I did last night, because given how much it rained, I was in a fairly protected spot.
I sat in my tent debating what to do while sipping cold coffee and eating granola. I waited and waited to see if the rain was going to stop, noting it was super foggy all around, I was literally in a cloud. What to do?
I decided it was inevitable that I would need to hike and inevitable that I would be cold and wet, so I got ready for the day and started walking by 7:00am. With sopping wet socks and shoes, I layered on the rain gear, and braced myself for an uncomfortable morning.
Shortly, the persistent rain seemed to subside and gave way to merely mist and fog. I was able to then stash my umbrella and go back to using both trekking poles, super helpful on the slick, now muddy downhill. I need to get down off this mountain, I kept thinking. But the descent was long and gradual, nothing like I’d anticipated. I felt like it was taking forever to lose elevation.
Thinking about my options as I walked, I knew that the American Flag Trailhead was 7.2 miles from where I camped. I was pretty cold, wet and uncomfortable, and this was driving my thoughts. I figured if for some reason I was still miserable when I got to that trailhead, I could hitch into Oracle. That was my back up plan. My Plan B. You always gotta have a Plan B.
Part way down the mountain I could see that I had reached the lower border of this massive cloud and I was busting through the membrane into the world that is free of mist and fog and where you can see a few hundred feet. The views were stunning as I dropped lower and the sunlight was blazing through in places, highlighting the hillsides dotted with houses.
I could see I wasn’t all that far from civilization as the crow flies, and I reached a trail junction where I could walk to town in 2.6 miles. Temptation for a hot coffee and a laundromat to dry out my gear gnawed at me. But then I reasoned, I didn’t want to waste that time in town, plus 5 extra miles of walking, and I knew the sun was bound to come back out. I made the firm decision not to go into town. I got this, I will be fine, I convinced myself.
So down the mountain I went, finally making good time because I was not mentally hedging on thoughts of town. I began to notice my knee was feeling pretty damn good too. I would say 80% better, and felt ever so grateful that I chose to rest and treat myself with the healing needles a couple days ago.
As I walked along, I came across a baby bunny right on the trail. It was freshly dead. It’s fur was wet and it’s tiny little body still limp and soft. I felt so sad for it, it was so incredibly tiny and cute. I decided it needed a proper burial and funeral, so I stopped to do that. I buried the sweet creature under a lovely manzanita tree next to the trail and I prayed for it’s soul to be free, for it to be at peace, for a smoothe transition to the next life. I walked away feeling very somber, yet I knew I’d done a good deed. For some reason, this task was meant for me. The little bunny needed me. Why? I wondered as I continued to walk onward. Or maybe I needed it?
By 10:30 I was a mile and a half from the American Flag Trailhead and the sun was bursting out from behind the puffy cumulus clouds. I promptly found a place to sit, on top of an anthill mind you, and proceeded to yard sale all my gear to get it dry.
As if in response to my stopping, that lucky old sun went right behind a cloud. So there I was, sitting on an ant hill, with all my gear on display, and I was cold, thinking of the song….”that lucky old sun…has nothin’ to do….but roll…roll…around Heaven…all day.”
I decided to have faith that the ball of fire would be back before too long and passed some time by making a cold coffee and eating a snack. I killed more time by writing a post card and then organizing my stuff. It was like trying to befriend a timid child. If you don’t look her in the eye and act disinterested, she will slowly warm up to you and let you hold her. The sun was playing the same game. If I pretended to ignore him, would he come out to play? Well eventually he did, and after about 45 minutes everything was dry (except my feet) what a miracle!
I was glad to be pushing on and not succumbing to town and it’s attractions. I don’t know why it is such a vortex for me right now. Having the option to get to town fairly easily, was so allluring. Yet, I really wanted to just move forward on the trail. The past several days have been so mellow, with three days under 15 miles and an almost complete zero day in Tucson, I was feeling super behind on miles and ready to hike. It’s amazing too, how good weather can shift you into gear. Then,you stumble upon a trail sign, marking your progress and in a moment realize just how far you’ve already come. 200 miles down!!
The sun was now out and hike I did. The trail turned into an absolute dream all this afternoon and evening. The day kept getting more and more beautiful with all the rich popping colors of the desert after a cleansing rain. Depth and texture became enhanced by the billowing clouds and their moving shadows. The diversity of this section of trail is amazing. There were myriads of birds singing to me all afternoon and the lovely whooshing sound of the cool breeze on cactus needles. It’s different than the whoosh of wind on pine needles, it has it’s own tone and I am loving this new sound!
I cranked out the next 8.6 miles in less than 3 hours and made it to the Tiger Mine Trail head by 3:00pm. I had collected some water from another cache just a couple miles prior, and here there was yet another cache. Thank you AZT Trail Angels! Enter the land of water caches in the AZT. This one had at least 30 gallons in it, stashed inside a bear box by the trail, it was amazing and plentiful. I wasn’t sure how much to carry and needed to consult my Guthook app, so I dropped my pack and took a seat. It was time to eat too, and on the menu were tortillas with cheese, avocado and BBQ potato chips, oh my how this hit the spot!
By 3:30 I was rolling again. I had decided to carry 3.5 liters of water. This would be the biggest water carry I had done yet, which is not bad at all. I knew there was a good chance of other cache in the next 10 miles, but it was not definite water, just maybe water. I don’t like the idea of maybe water. So I carry.
My mind took me to a funky headspace after lunch. I started to think more about miles and how far off my initial intended timeframe I already was, how far “behind” my original plan. Why does it matter? Am I enjoying my hike? Was I dealing with an injury? Yes and Yes. However, this game plays in the minds of most thru-hikers.
I had asked my Mom to meet me at Picket Post Trailhead (near the towon of Superior) on Saturday around 5pm or so. That gave me yesterday afternoon, plus four full days to cover 116 miles, which is totally doable. I lost miles last night though because of the rain. Then today I was taking lots of breaks to bury rabbits, write post cards and dry out gear. I was feeling like I needed to make more miles in order to make it on time. I didn’t pack enough food to carry me through to Sunday, so I had to make it.
I was beginning to get annoyed with myself and decided to let the wilderness take me over, win me over, let the anxiety go and just trust. I was forciblly slowed down because I had added about 9 pounds of water to my pack, and this too, was something I just had to accept. I gradually released my own expectations and pressures I’d placed on myself, and as the afternoon unfolded it took on a beauty that reminded me the reason why I am out here in the first place. Magic. The Magic of the Wild. The Freedom. The slowing down of linear time. The letting go. The experience of nature on her terms,not mine. With this attitude adjustment, I floated down the trail for the next 8 miles in a trance like state, clearing my mind, breathing, simply be-ing infused by the beauty all around me.
During those last 8 miles I saw 3 snakes. Two of them were rattlesnakes. Wow did they startle me. Talk about an adrenaline rush. It’s good to know that I have a built in instinct to get away from them though. I seem to react by jumping swiftly to the side. Who knew I had such built in kinetic energy in these legs? I suppose I have Taekwondo to thank for that!
My original goal for today was 25 miles and I stopped at 24 satisfied. I have a great campsite in a wash where I am protected from the wind and the evening air is nice and still. There’s no dout going to be condensation tonight, but I happen to know it’s also going to be 80 F and sunny tomorrow, so no worries getting stuff dried out again. Dinner was rehydrated quinoa with Brussels sprouts and tempeh topped with coconut oil. For desert: Mississippi mud cake, total bomb from my Mom!!
My feet are raw in many places from hiking in wet socks and shoes all day. I am really hoping these are not the beginning of blisters. I hope they heal up overnight. Tomorrow I need to hike 30 miles, and again the next day. That will leave me with 26 on Saturday which I plan to make by 6pm, and meet my Mom at the Picket Post Trail head. This is going to be a push, but I know I can do it and I am up for the challenge.
I switch off my headlamp and lay flat on my back, satisfied with how the day turned out. Proud of myself for not succumbing to the comforts and allure of town. And in as much as I was able to let go this afternoon and not stress about miles and time, I couldn’t help but think that it’s a fine line between being hard on myself and being good to myself. So far on this hike, themes of self care, nourishment and self love versus brutal punishment or sacrificing comfort have come up often.
I realize that pushing miles tends to make me loose the moment, makes me lonely in the sense that I am not interacting with nature, just merely passing through her sacred space. That’s not what I come out here for. Yet, when I am not challenged…all I do is try to invent one. So hereinlies the real challenge, to find the balance as I hold the space.