April 19, 2019 Full Moon
Miles hiked 30
AZT mile: 273.4
Campsite elevation: 1,706 ft
I woke before the sunrise and was walking at dusk, by 6am. I witnessed the setting of the moon which was officially at her fullest today, just as she dipped below the horizon, 12 hours after peeking above it on the opposite side last night. I now felt the first rays of sunlight casting warmth across the desert floor. I love walking through this transition of receding Yin and blossoming Yang unfolding into a new day. Feeling I had been blessed by the cool glow of the moon all through the night, I’d rested well. I began my walk, excited for what lay ahead.
My goal for the day was 30 miles. I planned to end my day camping by the Gila River and the thought of that alone was enough motivation. The Gila. I can’t wait too meet her.
Fortunately, it was a cruisy morning in the sense that the first several miles were fairly flat, benign, dirt road walking. My feet were healing but still quite painful, and I found if I did a little jog, it somehow eased the pain. This isn’t so bad, I thought, as it also got me into a good solid pace for the morning.
My first stop for the day would be in 9 miles, a water tank which would be found in a wash. Notes from other hikers made the water source sound quite iffy, as in, I’m not totally sure there will be water there, but I went on good faith that the trail would provide and the water hadn’t dried up.
I padded along the dirt road cresting and dipping along rolling hills. I came upon a giant rattlesnake splayed out in the middle of the road like they do, which sharpened my attention to where I was stepping. I walked onward with my head tucked down, my gaze cast at the ground. Eventually, I looked up across the rolling hills to see thousands of blooming bannana Yucca’s. They were stunningly beautiful in their sheer volume and in the way they blanketed the desert.
This desert is so alive!
I snaked around a single track that had been winding in and out of hilly washes, dipping down and climbing back up. This went on for a couple miles and I grew concerned that I might miss the water source all together since all the washes were starting to look the same. It was like groundhog day, and with each wash I crossed, I saw no tank, and my water began to dissipate. Wasn’t I here already?
Dipping down into yet another wash, I checked my GPS again, is this the wash? I was beginning to feel feverish. The sun was already quite high in the sky and blazing down on me. I need shade, I need water, I thought as I turned off the trail and began sinking my feet into deep sand in the wash that was supposed to have water. Now, where is this tank?
Turns out the water source was amazing. It was just a little trickle that gathered in a bathtub, surrounded by hornets, but it was actually cold and refreshing! My feet were feeling quite hot and raw by now, so I sat and took a break in the little bit of shade cast over the wash by the slight wall of earth on the other side. In places like this, by mid day, there would soon be no shade. I was grateful for what I got.
Before long, I reluctantly left the wash, along with the shade, but with a full load of fresh, cold water. What a treat!
The trail eventually climbed up onto a ridge where the views opened up in front of me and as far as I could see. There were rolling yellowed hills forever and not a drop of shade forever too.
As I speedily traversed the exposed ridgetop it was there that I spotted a person sitting in a camp chair at the top of the hill. Random. Is this some kind of trail magic? I wondered from afar. It seemed a very odd place for a person to be sitting, on a very exposed hilltop with no shade, in the blazing sun.
As I closed the gap between me and this person, I realized it was just a man in a chair, who seemed to be enjoying the view. Where did he come from? Where was his car? He was sitting practically right on the trail, and he wore a crucifix around his neck and had a handful of rosary beads. He stared catatonically out over the yellowing hills. I purposefully avoided engaging in any conversation, as his presence creeped me out. I kept up my pace and zoomed right by him. He continued to stare off into the distance, who knows if he even noticed me passing by?
I passed through the Ripsey wash area and shortly began a long, exposed climb up what is called “the Big Hill”. Now officially traversing the Tortilla Mountains, this big hill would bring me to the high point of trail segment 15, which would conclude with a long descent to the powerful Gila River. Making it to the Gila seemed like a milestone on the hike, I’m not sure quite why. Perhaps because it is such a large body of water snaking powerfullly throughh such an arid land, that it seemed to carry a lot of hope in it’s currents.
I tucked my head to my chin and began placing one foot in front of the other, tackling the long, exposed climb. Part way along, in my rhythmic and metitative state, I was met with surprise when I encountered two other hikers. Their names were “Escape” and “Shine- On” and they were hiking the GET. We enjoyed some lively thru-hiker chatter, the camraderie of which fueled me for the rest of the climb. It’s always fun meeting some of the tribe and I lost myself in thoughts replaying our conversation as I made my way up the switchbacks.
I’m not gonna lie, the climb up the “big hill” was difficult because it was hot as hell. It was so exposed, there had virtually been no shade since leaving the water tank hours ago. The Earth seemed to be baking from the heat, as hot streams of hot air floated up off the ground toward my face and I sucked it in, huffing my way up, up, up.
I was oviously quite glad when I reached the top of the ridge and could take in the beautiful views of the valley below. Now invigorated and relieved that it was downhill from here, I could see in the distance, patches of verdant green, the result of water. It looked like a patchy mosiac across the land and I knew all I had to do was walk several more miles to get to that wonderous flowing river.
Despite the heat, the trail was beautiful along the switchbacks of the long rocky descent into the river valley. Classic desert flora lined the trail and I chose to focus on the beauty to distract me from the heat. The grasses being tossled by the wind mesmerized me and I relished the flambouyant blooms, long tendrils of ocotillo and stout barrel cacti along the way.
Baking, baking, baking in this relentles heat, I realized how stubborn I was being, trying to make these kinds of miles. Like cold in your bones you can feel this heat in your blood. I pushed on.
When I finally reached the valley floor, the trail fed me right into the Florence-Kelvin trailhead. There were little lean-to shelters built out of wood and lattice, but ironically, even those did not provide any shade. I knew there would be a water cache here and as I opened the metal supply box, I was elated to find a plastic grocery bag with “Mary Poppins” written on it. What!? Oh my goodness, it is really true, someone left me some trail magic!
The was such a morale booster, you have no idea. I scrounged through the bag and immediately downed a bottle of water and followed that with eating almost an entire bag of Snap Pea Crisps. Thank you so much for this!! I laid right on top of the metal food box where a mesquite tree gave me some shade, what a treat on top of a treat.
From here it was only 2.3 miles to the Gila, and ironically, that was not where I would get my next water. The next reliable water source was going to come from a water spigot at the Pinal County Maintenance yard, a little ways off the trail. I made that my next goal, where I could drink to my hearts content and eat my lunch in what I hoped would be a shady spot by the river. Oh I had visions alright. It was going to be amazing!
By the time I’d made the next two miles, my thirst was in full force. Maybe it was knowing there was a road that led to somewhere, but I started to crave a cold bubbly sugary soda like I never have before. I can’t even think of when I last drank a soda, but I sure wanted it now. My mind began to calculate and imagine the possibilities, a scenario whereby I would hitch a ride with a local and get to some convenience store miles away, and how it would be completely worth whatever time and mileage progress it cost me.
Firstly, however, I needed to make it to the Maintenance yard, and get to that blessed water spigot. It wasn’t exactly obvious how to get to it, and I meandered off trail up a paved road, not sure what I was looking for. Feeling dizzy and disoriented, I’m certain the swirling heat did not help my cognitive abilities.
I jumped for joy when I finally found a sign on the fence of the maintenance yard pointing to water. I made my way over to it and and promplty dunked my entire head under the spigot of cold rushing water. Oh my goodness it was amazing! There was a friendly man on the other side of the fence whom I chatted with as water dripped down my face and back. I asked hopefully about any possible markets nearby, but my heart sank when he informed me there really was nothing for miles.
I took a seat in a plastic chair, and cooled down in the shade whilst collecting more water for my bottles, calculating what I would need to get through the remainder of the day and night. I loaded up all the way, and suddenly grew quite hungry once my body began to cool down. I really wanted to greet this riiver and sit at her edge and eat my lunch in some shade. I had a whole idea and vision of how peaceful it was going to be, so I shouldered my pack, thanked the man for the water and took off again.
I walked back into the searing heat on the paved raod towards the river still thinking about soda. Shortly a man in a jeep pulled up next to me and clearly wanted to engage. At first I just wanted to be left alone since I was on a mission, but by the looks of him I could tell he was out to connect with a fellow hiker.
“Are you hiking the AZT?” he asked curiously.
“Yes, I am”
“Do you need anything?”
“Oh no thank you, I just filled up my water and I am heading down to the river now” I was anxious to get there and eat, my hiker hunger growing.
“Would you like a soda?” the man kindly offered, “they’re not cold, but you are welcome to them” he said while reaching out a hand with a bottle of Dr. Pepper!
“Really?!” I almost gasped.
He handed me the soda and then a baggie of trail mix, which I gladly accepted. Trail magic two times in a matter of hours, I am so thrilled!
I thanked him and happily walked down the road to the River. When I got to the actual crossing, it was a bit underwhelming. There was a paved culvert and a slow, low trickle, and a dead fish. This is not the the Gila, I said out loud as I plopped down my pack. I exploded my pack it of it’s contents, cracked open the warm fizzy Dr. Pepper and drank it so fast that the fizzes came out my nose.
By the time I had satiated my huger and thirst, it was 4:30pm. Pretty late to be still tackling 8 more miles, but I knew if I kept a steady pace I could make it. It was still hot as hell out as I began to climb yet again, this time back up above the River. My water was already tepid and leaning towards being warm again. Sweating, climing, trying to make the hot liquid more palatable, I felt so thirsty. Liquid, if only the liquids I had today were cold!
Shortly the trail meandered and narrowed into a lovely singletrack which was lined with the most beautiful desert flora. If you tried to plant a garden like this you couldn’t have done a better job. I was quite surprised how much the trail continued to climb up above the River, and thus continued to sweat as I pushed the Earth under my feet. My thirst only intensified as I heaved deep breaths, the dirt continued to bake like an oven, radiating heat in wafts, like when you open the oven door to check on your cookies. Damn it’s hot, but damn this is beautiful too.
I hiked on as the sun began to make it’s way down, and once the trail leveled out a bit, I enjoyed taking in the views of the green river valley below. I was feeling quite tired by now, but my surroundings kept my morale up, the beauty fed my soul enough.
At dusk, I saw two javelinas scurrying up a slope, and only moments later I came around a bend in the trail, cresting a little hill, and there I was, right up close to a pissed off rattlesnake. I had to stop in my tracks and back away. I stood there watching to see what it was going to do. It was right next to the trail in striking distance, and everywhere I looked there were cholla cactus, blocking my escape route.
I tried stepping around and got pricked by the cholla, the barbed needles gripping at my flesh. Hey, I can live with that, better than a rattlesnake bite. I thought. I broke away far enough to get around but the snake continued to shake his rattle very intensively, and I could tell my presence and my movement were only agitating him. Sorry Mr. Rattlesnake, but I need to get to camp.
By 7:25 pm it was growing dark. The night sky was beginning to pop with stars and the silhouettes of the imposing saguaro stood in stark contrast to an indigo sky. It was just now beginning to feel like a more comfortable temperature, yet the trail continued to climb again. Why am I still climbing? It made me continue to sweat despite the cooler night temperature. I was getting really tired and cranky then, in fact, I was close to tears. Why am I doing this? I began thinking that I just wanted to give up on my goal for the day and just stop right there, anywhere, I yearned to be done.
I started making promises to myself, like I am taking two zero’s after this and, no more 30 mile days anymore. I turned up the light on my headlamp and checked my GPS, I had 2.5 more miles to go. I hiked on, trying to focus on the gorgeous sky, knowing what beauty I was surrounded by and what freedom truly does feel like out there on the trail.
This is why I am out here. I must embrace this moment. As I embrace, I begin to see a glow on the eastern horizon and I know soon the Full Moon will be rising. I begin to feel really excited to see her again and for the magical light and coolness of her presence she will cast upon the trail as I complete the final miles of my day.
Owls begin hooting to greet the arrival of the night. I try howling at the Full Moon to greet her and let the land know I am grateful to be there, but my voice just croaked, I was too tired to howl and my throat too dry.
Finally, I reached a wash that would lead me to the River. I continued down the wash in darkness through messy willow thickets, finally settling on a campsite, pitching my tent in the deep sand. I was so fatigued and so hungry, but I couldn’t resist a visit to the water.
Down by her roaring rapids, on the rocky banks I strip down completely naked. I enter the water up to my knees and immediately become covered in goosebumps as my skin tightens. The moonlight is glowing across the valley and glittering on the moving water, dancing, flitting like faeries.
I bathe my body in the silty Gila, feeling like I am being watched by something rather than someone, but I truly can’t even care. This was so totally worth it, I think as I dry off and get dressed. I walked back to my tent and I ate, did some stretching under the moonlight and crawled into bed. I scribbled some notes in my phone about the day, and tucked it away. I am so tired. I am delirious. But I made it, and there is something truly and deeply saisfying about everything that I went through today to make it to this moment.