AZT Day 15: I’m gonna drink you River

April 20, 2019

Miles hiked: 27

AZT Mile 300.5 Picket Post Trailhead, Superior

I always said you can make a thru hike difficult, or not.

Today I needed to make 27 miles by 5pm because my Mom and Todd would graciously be picking me up and taking me home for a zero on Easter Sunday tomorrow. I slept with my buff covering my eyes from the luminous full moon so that I could actually sleep. My alarm sounded at 4:14 am and when I pulled the cover away from my eyes, it was nearly bright as day from the soft white glow. I reluctantly crawled out of bed, went out to go pee and gazed at the star constellations, noting how they had shifted in the sky over the previous hours.

By 5:25 am, I was walking. It was the earliest I had started so far on my thru-hike. Despite how badly I craved staying in bed, part of me felt good about the day ahead, excited for the challenge. I am going to do this, I thought to myself, as I dug my feet into the deep sand beds of the wash. I can do this.

The best part about getting such an early start is the cool morning air, those precious steps taken prior to the sun rising and making everything so damn hot again. I wanted to get to the last water resource in this segment of trail as early as I could, and tank up. This would be the last place where the AZT touches the Gila River before splitting off and heading away from water for 21 miles. To get there, I had 6 easy peasy miles – a great way to start the day.

Along the way I witnessed one of the most stunning sunrises I have ever seen. Part of what made it so special was the cloud formations spreading out in clustered patterns, making sky art. The silhouettes of the saguaros stood out against the sky in contrast with the horizon as it got lighter and lighter. I eagerly anticipated the sun cresting above the horizon at any moment, but it took a long time, drawing out the beauty of the unfolding day.

I walked onward, Westward, and kept turning my head behind me so I wouldn’t miss the first burt of sunlight. As much as the sun had worn me down these past two days, I am still so grateful for it’s existence. I love to witness the rising and setting of that ball of fire that our life depends on, it seems miraculous that it is guaranteed to happen every single day. This daily ritual, honoring the sun at each end of the day, is always cause to reflect, to be grateful for my life, it is a fresh start and a daily closure. Living in the wilderness one becomes so tuned in to the cycles of the sun and moon, they become like old friends. I feel like I know them better than ever before.

I arrived at the River by close to 8:00 am and found my way down a rocky dirt road to get to the water’s edge. There, I found myself entering a little slice of heaven. Pendulous trees swayed and leaned over the rushing water, catching a breeze. As brown as the water was, her movement was beautiful and the morning light reflected off her rolling surface. “I’m gonna drink you river” I said aloud.

From here it will be a 21 mile water carry to the parking lot. I have to climb over 4,000 ft and get all the way to the trailhead with whatever water I get now. I plopped myself down in the glorious shade and filtered four liters of the silty river’s blood. I ate some snacks, gobbed on some sun screen, and reluctantly said goodbye to comfort for the remainder of the day.

A slice of heaven

It was a shoes and socks off kind of a stop
Surprisingly refreshing
Electrolytes, 3L of river water and coffee!

The climb itself, as a climb can go, was absolutely beautiful in terms of the scenery. I kept on at a steady pace, soaking in the views every now and again, but not ever stopping for too long. I already saw two snakes this morning, so I was acutely aware that I needed to keep my eyes on the trail. This seems to be perfect snake territory and perfect snake weather, and might I remind myself that I am hiking in a state that is home to 13 species of Rattlesnakes. Eeek.

I was determined to get the climb out of the way, at least the biggest part of it, before the temperatures began to soar. My legs pushed against the Earth’s resistance, and I began to realize they have gotten stronger. My mind was strong too, and with that, the body follows. The feel and sound of earthy gravel crunching, was somehow soothing in the rhythm of my footfalls. Mother Earth, pushing me up, up, up the big hill. I was feeling good about this day. I started to believe I could make the 27 miles in time.

Oh my mind did a happy dance at the thought of being swooped up and taken to the comfort of my Mom’s home. Not only that, but I had been day dreaming about ice cream all week. Ice cream, ice cream, was my mantra on the climb. Oh it’s going to be so amazing!

By 10:00 am the temperatures were getting hotter and hotter and I was beginning to guzzle my water. I’d packed away two liters insisde my pack in an attempt to keep it cooler, hoping it might be somewhat refreshing once I dug it out, but I knew this could be an exercise in futility. The trail meandered in and out of washes that cut through the ridges of this mountainous landscape, snaking around rock formations and weaving across hillsides of giant Saguaros and Ocotillos.

Sections of the trail were overgrown with grasses that dangled over my toes as I stepped through their stalks. I wasn’t too keen on this, as you can’t see what you are stepping into, so I returned my gaze to the ground right beneath me and stayed focused. Just then, I turned a corner to see yet another rattlesnake, curled up and minding it’s own business, but still, it was suddenly just there. My eyes then started massively scanning the trail inch by inch for snakes. I was walking fast and this all kept my brain quite busy. It startd to feel like input overload at a point, I was taking in so much visual information and processing it to decipher whether anything I was seeing was a threat to my life. Kind of intense.

Soon thereafter, whilst momentarily lifting my eyes to make a gear adjustment, I felt something that felt like rubber under my left foot. I don’t even know how I did it, but I reacted so damn fast, as I felt the creature wriggle out from under my foot. I lifted my body off the ground like I was dancing on hot coals, sprinting up the trail to get out of dodge. My heart was absolutely racing, what just happened? I thought, once I was at a safe distance. I was trembling with adrenaline, as it seemed that a deep primal fear had been triggered.

In a flash, I replayed everything in my mind. In the midst of it all, I had looked down at my foot and saw a snake slithering away into the brush. It was small and a light green color. I don’t know if it was a rattlesnake, but I do remember the man at the maintenance yard telling me the light green ones, the Mojave Rattler’s, are the most dangerous, with 20x more powerful venom than the others. Holy shit, I thought, was that a baby mojave rattler? What if it had bitten me? I’d be about to die.

I stood there frozen for, I don’t know how long, processing everything. I felt like I needed to cry. But I didn’t cry. I didn’t look back, I turned on my heel and just kept on walking away from the crime scene. My heart was still pounding out of my chest, my hands trembled and my breathing was labored and shallow. Ok, let’s get this under control, I thought. You are okay. I forced myself to take some long, deep breaths, and calm down. That was a close call, but I am okay.

My mind then took me to a place, a memory, where I sat in a circle with a group of women, and I heard my friend’s voice saying “each and every one of us is so powerful, you have to believe and know that”. I took that memory, heard her voice, felt those words and used it to reassure myself. I am not going to be a victim of a snake bite. I am not going down, I am making it to that trail head tonight. And, I am going to eat ice cream!

Pressing on, I made it to the top of the climb after several false summits. In a saddle that culminated the climbing, I stopped in the shadow of a rocky outcropping and took off my pack. There was a breeze that came about and it was so welcome it nearly brought me to tears. I was so damn hot, and needed to eat something, needed to sit down and cool off. I scanned the area to look for snakes, and plopped down for a good 10 minutes. That shade was nothing short of miraculous.

Look ahead — shade!!

Get this thing off my back for a minute!

I was hesitant to stop any longer than that because I needed to make my miles, so I pushed on once again. I was finally treated to some lovely downhill trail, but still had to scan the ground for snakes due to the nearly constant overgrown grasses. I entered a familiar zone of concentration and pushed on until I got so hot and so hungry that I finally needed a real break. When I say real, I mean shoes off, shirt off, shade, eating and kicking back for more than 10 minutes. It took me a while, but I finally found a small bit of shade under a mesquite tree in a wash and called it good. While I was there a mountain biker rode through, he was the second one I’d see today, as there was apparently some kind of bike race on the AZT this weekend.

Heck yeah!!

My “cool” water

After exactly 30 minutes I was up and walking again, feeling much much better. At times I tried jogging to make up some time, but twice while moving faster I came across snakes. What the hell is with the snakes today? At this point I’d nearly lost track, how many was that now, five? Maybe the mountain bikes are rousing them out of hiding, and then I walk up and they are just right there by the trail? I don’t know, but I don’t like it at all. It is taking all the fun out of my day because I can’t look up and I am paranoid.

Keeping my eyes on the trail paid off though because I ended up seeing another Gila Monster! This one was casually walking down the trail like it was going nowhere fast. I stopped and hesitated a moment before getting out my phone and making a video from a safe distance. These things are so ancient looking, I mean a giant lizzard bigger than some dogs, is just waddling down the trail in broad daylight. Gila Monsters are typically nocturnal so this encounter was a real treat!

About two feet in length from head to tail!

This lifted my spirits and so did meeting another thru-hiker! I was rounding a bend and heading into a shaded little fold in the mountain and there she was, another female solo hiker, rad! Her name is Eagle Eye and we stood there chatting for nearly 15 minutes. I was relieved to have a person to talk to and to hear about her rather than just being in my own head. She is from Tenessee and has hiked the AT and the Florida Trail, and was planning on hking the PCT this year but had some injuries that needed to heal, so she is out here on the AZT instead. She was taking it slower than me and I was in serious mission mode, so after chatting, we said our goodbye’s and wished each other well.

After all the excitemet, I began to really pound out miles, trying to make up some time. I began to jog again along a cruisy section of the trail, until once again rounding a bend and suddenly spotting another rattlesnake, all coiled up adjacent to the trail, in the shade of a tree. Fuck! I am so over this! I couldn’t fathom how I was going to hike any further on this trail when there are so many rattlesnakes. But, what could I do? I had to push on.

Instead of jogging, I decided that slowing down was a safer approach. It was less frantic, and gave me more time to see a snake and move out of the way. That slowing down was good for me, it got me thinking about the hike as a whole, and the speed of which I was intent on completing it. My original goal was to complete the 800 miles in less than a month. It was always an ambitious goal, but I like challenges like that, I am an Aries afterall. I am happiest when I am working towards a goal.

But what suddenly became clear to me was the hypermasculinity of that approach. I thought about a recent conversation with a close friend who told me how she was enjoying learning in a more feminime way. Through experience, osmosis, and interaction, or relation, rather than by the traditional masculine way of learning which is by being told and being directed.

The feminine way, by contrast, becomes a different experience of knowing. It is more intuitive, more absorbtive, slower, more process oriented rather than results driven. The masculine by contrast, is more outward, more forceful, and forward focused. I began to think of my hiking in these terms, and realized that perhaps I’d been maxing out the masculine. Maybe it’s time to tune more in to the feminine ways and absorb the knowledge this ancient landscape has to teach me by slowing down…

As I pondered this viewpoint, I drew my attention to this massive land formation that had been dominating the landscape for the past hours. Because I had been pushing my pace and scanning the trail for snakes so vigilently, I had failed to take notice of this powerful piece of Earth that was sitting right in front of me, drawing me in with her vortex. She was Picket Post Mountain, a mountain who’s shape and presence I would come to appreciate more and more as I grew closer in proximity to the trailhead near the town of Superior.

Picket Post Mountain

I had finally slowed down enough to appreciate this, and as I took in the views, I had a moment of realization, that I was about to get off the trail. Obviously only for a short while, but that tonight I was going to sleep in a bed, inside a building, in a controlled environment. I was feeling ready for the break as I had done back to back days of high-ish miles: 24, 29, 30 and 27, and this was on the rebound from a knee injury. I felt like my body needed tending to, needed rest. I was also looking forward to being with family tomorrow in that relaxing, do nothing sort of way, so I had all the best reasons to be getting off trail for a couple days. But just as these realizations all hit me, I began to feel a little remorseful.

Going to miss this…

And this…

My goals for the day had been a distraction, the snakes pissed me off and made me afraid, meeting Eagle Eye was inspiring, and now this Mountain, she fed me in a way that only a Mountain can. I am going to miss the trail…I thought as I shifted my energy in those last couple miles to really absorbing the beauty and the lessons I’d gained in just this last four days.

I crossed paths with more day hikers, more mountain bikers, and yes, two more snakes, bringing the grand total of the day to eight. Eight snakes. what is this all about?!

Shifting my focus yet again, to finishing out my day, my tough week, I began pushing those last two miles, jogging as much as I could again. I made it to the parking lot at 6:10 pm. One hour, ten minutes after my original goal. Oh well, Ha! Then I remembered, the ice cream, I am going to get ice cream! Oh – and take a shower, oh – and eat real food, oh my goodness, “all the things”!

I didn’t see their car right away, and was a little relieved because I didnt want to make them wait. I decided to take a lap around the parking lot and see what all was going on. There was quite a lot of activity with all the bikers. I saw a van with several friendly looking folks and took a stroll over to say hello and kill some time. No sooner had I walked up, and I kid you not, they asked me if I would like an ice cream. Oh my gosh, yes, I want an ice cream!!

I gladly accepted the melting, cold, creamy, sugary goodness and I was suddenly in heaven all over again. All my troubles from the day and the week began to melt like the frozen treat in my mouth. I chatted with the friendly bikers as I dropped my pack, plopped down in the dirt and took off my shoes. Just as I had gotten comfortable there in the dirt, my Mom and Todd pulled up in their red cadillac with Arizona plates, and found me, a little bit of hiker trash, and swooped me up to go home for the weekend.