AZT Day 21: ups in the downs, sun in the rain

May 8, 2019

Miles hiked: 21.3

AZT Mile: 392.5

Campsite Elevation: 4,259 ft

Today is one of those days when I want to start out by saying: Finally

I look back on days like this and feel like there is so much that happened, so much to tell, so many mental images, so many moments sealed into my memory. These days, they challenge us, they are full of wonder, doubt, intrigue, magick and mystery. These days on the trail, are what make it so worth it just to be out here.

Finally, I am horizontal.

Finally, I am in my tent. Inside, the perceived protected fortress of paper thin fibers tensioned out to repel rain. The night air is damp and settling in already. Even though the rain has stopped for now, it’s going to be a wet night. I’m set up snugly under the protection of a Juniper tree and close enough to a creek that I can enjoy the sound of flowing water. It seems novel after dry camping most of the time these days, and I welcome the water.

Let’s rewind back to yesterday for just a second. Last night while preparing my dinner, I splayed out all my food inside my tent to do a quick inventory. Only then did I realize that I am going to be super low on food by Friday night. I don’t even have a dinner for Friday night. So, I thought to myself, I have to get an earlier start tomorrow. I just have to make more miles.

Reality sets in, I have 89 miles to get to Pine by Friday night if I want dinner. That’s 29.6 miles each day. Suddenly, I realized I’d have to abandon my relaxed non-linear approach to thru hiking and start paying attention to miles and time once again…..

I was up for the task, and then this morning I started the day out feeling super groggy because I hadn’t slept well. I skipped breakfast, and sucked down a quick coffee. My plan was to use hunger as my motivation to keep a good morning pace, setting a modest goal to stop at the water source up ahead for breakfast.

I was all packed up and ready to go quickly, and then it began to rain. Enough rain for me to postpone getting out and taking down the tent. I sat there inside my tent, waiting for the rain to let up, feeling the miles stacking up against time.

The heaviest rain lasted maybe 15 minutes and then when it broke, I made a dash for it. Outside my tent I could see there were clouds everywhere so I figured it was bound to be a wet day no matter what.

Just start walking...

I meandered along the dirt road at a steady but lackadaisical pace for a few miles. Along the way, admiring the beauty of a wet, fresh morning. It’s amazing what wetness does to nature’s color palette. Glowing lichen on wet rocks. Flowers buzz electric. Grass and leaves vibrate iridescence.

By the time I reached the first water source, it was about 9:00 and I was SO hungry! My mind was also demanding more coffee. There, I plopped down and yard saled my pack contents as usual. The sun was shining now, so I took advantage of it and layed my tent and puffy jacket out to dry while I ate and enjoyed a 2nd cup o’ joe.

From here it was looking like it would be nothing but a warm, sunny day and I set off back down the road with the anticipation of blue skies and better, faster miles ahead.

When this 12 mile road walk finally segwayed into a single track trail again, it led me out onto a beautiful ridge, the views opening up into the valley below. The hillsides were covered in a lush green with layers upon layers of silhouetted hills feeding my vision as far as I could see. This feeling of expansion, ahhhhh!

The sun made it’s way out consistently enough now, that I eventually layered down and put sunblock on my face. I was actually beginning to sweat and any cool breeze that came by was absolutely welcome now.

Things change so quickly out here in this desert. There’s sun in this rain…The vegetation all along the trail was now a mixture of pastel and earthy colored grasses, little wild flowers and juicy cacti lining the path. There were also Manzanita and Alligaitor Juniper, one of my new favorite trees.

Time to descend like a thousand feet. I set my mind into downhill mode. This means a cruisy pace and a focus on foot falls as I negotiate alternating my steps on rocks with looking up at the beautiful views.

Dropping, and dropping, there were still several short steep uphills along the way, requiring one to suddenly switch over to a whole new set of muscles, and the brain to switch back to climbing mode again. But they don’t last, these ups.

There sure are a lot of up’s in this down….Soon as you realize you’re going up, you switch back to going down, like gears in a car. Up, down, down, up, down, down, up again….

As I continued descending along the ridge, the clouds to the North had gathered quite intensively and suddenly began to sprinkle rain on the land ahead. I looked back to the South and all I could see was pure cornflower blue skies. Half the sky was a dark grey palette smeared with clouds and half the sky was line of sight clear blue. I had never seen such a polarity splitting the sky, and there I was, standing at the borderline between worlds.

Looking North
Looking South

Continuing to the North, into the gray-blue smash of cloud and rain, down, down, down to Sycamore Creek I went. I’d determined this would make a perfect place to stop for lunch, giving myself 8.6 miles to tackle now.

The sun from the South continued to shed light on my pathway, followed by rain once I’d popped out onto the ridge. It cleared up once again as I reached the low flat lands of the river valley. This weather today is Ever Changing.

At times I found myself walking in magical edens, surrounded by wild lilac and her fragrant heady scent. I saw viny clematis and manzanita’s that were in full on little pink bell bloom.

These desert blooms do not disappoint!

I also saw my first snake since the 8 snake day back at the Gila River. I knew it was bound to happen sooner or later. This one was strewn straight across the trail at roughly 5 feet in length. I am also 5 feet in length. And apparently this reptile did not care in the least about me being there hovering, 5 feet and all.

I determined it was not a rattlesnake, no diamond shaped head, no rattle on it’s tail, scales were glossy not matte. I waited patiently, then tried to coax it along by tossing tiny little pebbles at it, but it was so stone faced, it did not even flinch. Is it even alive?

I couldnt bring myself to step right over it, so I finally squatted down from a safe distance, and talked to it, gently asking it to move along. Down lower, I looked closely at it’s face and saw it’s tongue popping out, it’s head resting on a little pebble. Its alive! It’s actually kinda cute, I thought, my heart warming to the creature.

I think the snake must have felt my request, because then it started moving, slithering it’s long muscular body in ripple like forward motion, moving off the trail and into the shade of the Manzanita. I thanked the snake and walked onward thinking this was a blessing, a beautiful thing to witness, and a “safe” snake encounter to help heal my emotional snake trauma from before.

A “safe” snake

After my snake encounter I suddenly became laser focused on the trail and all of my surroundings. I tuned in with intensity, as birds calls went into surround sound, echoing in my head. This highly focused state continued for quite some time, and it got me covering some good, swift miles.

I began to hear the rumblings of thunder in the distance and as I walked along I could see storm clouds building now to the East. They were looming so incredibly dark and ominous. I have never seen such dark blue-gray clouds, like a really bad bruise. It was then, I realized that I was riding the edge of the storm. Somehow though, it was not sitting on top of my path, but it was very very close. I figured out I was walking the margin of this storm, staying right on that edge.

By 2:00 I arrived at Sycamore Creek. The thunder had been steadily rolling and it matched the growing growling of my stomach. Finally, Time to eat!!

I found a secure place to sit under the cover of a towering Sycamore along the bank of the creek, got my lunch prepared, gear covered and my umbrella popped open. It was like front row seats at the movies with popcorn.

I got so lucky, as right then the storm moved directly overhead. The gap between lightening flashes and thunder claps was zero. The air temperature dropped and a breeze swept in. Trees rustled, branches swaying, leaves quivering nervously, and as the energy built up, it soon began to downpour.

Lightening flickered, thunder snapped, big drops of rain pelted the sandy and rocky bed of the creek making different sounds depending on the texture of the surface it struck. I sat there eating my lunch and feeling the storm for what turned out to be quite a magical, musical hour of entertainment really.

It was both intense and yet peaceful. This was a memorable lunch indeed!

It rained so much, that I waited for it to subside enough so that I could start hiking again. I finally made a break for it, and ironically, as soon as I left the cover of the trees, it picked up again. Onward I go.

From there it was only two miles to Highway 87. I couldn’t help but having thoughts of getting a hitch somewhere from the Hwy, to get more food in some town, somehow. With the rain today, not being able to make the miles I needed, I had a growing concern about being able to get to Pine in time to eat dinner on Friday.

We all have more miles than time…

Shortly, I arrived at the deserted and lonesome Hwy. I switched my phone out of airplane mode and was overjoyed to discover I got a signal! My Mom had messaged me that she had booked a hotel for Sat & Sun night in Payson! Hooray! We will be spending Mother’s Day weekend together! This boosted my morale indeed!

The trail crosses under Hwy 87 through a tunnel, and when I popped out on the other end, there was a beautiful tree with something sitting at it’s base.

As I walked up closer, my heart starting to beat faster with anticipation of what I hoped it would be…..Trail Magic!

I opened the box and found a grocery bag with “Mary Poppins” written on it. Something for me? Oh my goodness, I am saved!

I couldn’t have been more grateful and excited to find the delicious treats. Not only were they treats, they were saving me from running out of food. What a huge relief, given the lower mileage I was accomplishing so far today.

This thoughtful Trail Angel had packed me some Snap Pea Crisps, two (yes two!) perfect avocados, coconut water, a couscous dinner and some tortillas.

Whatever else does a hiker need!?

Super grateful, I tucked the food into my pack, and trudged onward.

This changes everything….

This all couldn’t have come at a better time, as I walked now into increasingly slick thick mud, slowing me to a snail’s pace. But I have time now!

The rest of the afternoon continued to be a massive mud slog. But still, the scenery was quite beautiful and I found joy in the mud. I was not feeling like it was a slow down or a burden, but more like a blessing of change in terrain. It was even fun at times to just enjoy the full experience of all that mud is!

I laughed at the absurdity of it, especially all the times I nearly fell flat on my face! This is Arizona mud, too. It’s different. It’s super sticky, thick, clay mud that collected on your shoes, and its heavy! The only way to get rid of it is to scrape your foot on a rock in such a perfect angle that the whole slabby chunk falls off. Then, you repeat this process about every five minutes, so much fun!

The trail sloshed and squished under my feet, and I skidded sideways at times like a drunken sailor. I became suddenly grateful for the talus sections I occasionally came upon because they gave me a break from all the mud! It is all a matter of perspective, I tell you!

I think my legs got a decent workout this afternoon in all that mud too, as the mud continued for quite some time and it became somewhat fatiguing. The rain came and went, mostly it was raining, but then, there would be a break in the clouds and the sun would pop out. This made for the perfect conditions for rainbows!

I got treated to first a single rainbow and then a double rainbow. It was stunning and magical and made the mud slog of a climb seem even more palatable. Yeah, if you gotta slog through the mud, you may as well do it with rainbows!

First trail magic and then rainbows, the trail provides!

I slogged along just giggling aloud while my feet became more and more caked in mud. My shoes must have weighed an extra two pounds each in mud. It’s so ironic, this crazy intense mud and rainbows simultaneously. What a juxtaposition!

The outline of my “mud shoe”

Around 7pm when I had less than a mile to my intended campsite, I came upon an AZT sign, 407 miles to Utah!Wow, I’m almost half way!

I took a celebratory selfie at the sign, and just then, when I turned and looked back, I saw yet another complete arc of another double rainbow!

I was giddy as can be at this point, giggling and jumping up and down in pure joy, how on Earth did I get two double rainbows in one hour?

Almost half-way!!

This gave me that last bit of umph I needed to get in the last push up one more steep climb to my campsite.

As I pushed up, I thought about the delicous dinner I would be having tonight (home made vegan chili) to which I would now be adding avocado and a tortilla to round it out. Oh-I can’t wait!

Once the adrenaline from the rainbows wore off, it was starting to get dark, the temperature was dropping, I was sweaty and getting chilled all at once, and yet I was still climbing. Wondering how much further this tent site was, I began to feel a bit done.

The last mile of any day is always the longest.

Finally, I made it! I made it in just enough time to spot a place to pitch my tent before it was completely dark. I quickly got my tent set up, gathered and filtered my water, prepared my dinner, got into dry clothes and enjoyed my vegan chili with avocado to the fullest! Today was a wet day, with a wet, muddy finish but I feel like so much happened, and…. I got trail magic ….and rainbows!What a day! Finally. Im finally done.