May 10, 2019
Miles hiked: 28.8
AZT Mile: 442.4
Campsite Elevation: 4,603 ft
Linear time: 5:03am
It’s already light enough out to be walking and all I want is more sleep. My night was a fitfull, disrupted sleep, haunted by the incessant wind.
7:59am: I am already eating second breakfast. I am feeling so sleepy and tired. The trail is rocky and I slowly make my way, trying to concentrate on each footfall so I don’t twist an ankle. Zombie walking with obstacles is what this is…. I laugh at how poorly I function with lack of good sleep.
Stumbling along, my thoughts drift to civilization where I can get “all the things”: coffee, maybe a chocolate croissant…. meeting up with my Mom…. Going out to dinner at a restaurant, eating bread with copious amounts of salty creamy butter. I really feel like I’m struggling this morning. How lovely it would be to sleep in a dark room and lay in bed sipping on earl grey tea while reading a book made of paper.
Maybe it’s time for me to turn my focus to other areas of my life? This thought bubbles up and I shut it down. Your’e just PMS’ing…let it go…
I don’t though, I dig in deeper….I think about my health, relationships, work, finances, career. Everything that has taken a back seat to thru-hiking for the past three years. I’ve covered more than 7,500 miles on all kinds of terrain. I started out on this hike with so much great anticipation of what I believed I could do, what I wanted to create, what I really thought I was ready for….
Yet, I feel like I am just struggling and so much struggling was not part of my plan. I cant seem to pinpoint it. I resist.
Since when is anything in life what you expect?
I went into this hike with the intention of a personal best. Pushing myself physically to the borderlines of my physical discomfort was only to be part of it, a given aspect of thru-hiking.
Moreso, I’d hoped for time to meditate, to sit in stillness with the focused intention of honoring the land, connecting in new ways with the ancestors of these places, learning the stories the land has to tell and going deep in my connections with Mother Earth, and myself. Personal best to me has a lot to do with soul expansion.
The harsh reality: I feel more beat up in my body than I ever expected, I feel like every day I’m pushing against time, against heat, rocks, snakes. Every day seems to have it’s own battle of a physical nature which eats at me mentally, leading to feelings of defeat.
Well, it’s not what I expected, yet to be sure, it is smacking me in the face especially today and I know there’s no better place than the trail to face up to one’s self and figure stuff out.
8:32am: Rocks rocks rocks…. more rocks…squeak squeak squeak goes my pack.
Why all of a sudden, after 400 miles, does my pack squeak, squeak, squeak with every single step? It’s really annoying and distracting. I struggle to figure out what it is, and finally resolve it’s my hip belt. I stop, throw down my pack and look around me. What can I use? Aha! Dried grass!
I shove a bunch of dried grass into the seam of my hip belt where it meets the body of my pack, like I’m stuffing a scarecrow for halloween. There, now stop squeaking please! I am irritable, and my own irritability irritates me.
9:45am: Hopi Spring
It’s more like a seep here than a spring.
Mud, mud mud. There are lots of hoof tracks in this deep, thick mud, with tiny little rivulets of water but nothing scoopable at the trail crossing. I press through the mud, slogging uphill to find something trickling, and and I want the ice cold water desperately so I can make ice coffee and wake up. My mind is still so unclear today, I still feel so damn sluggish.
I locate a little trickle that is enough to scoop, collect what turns out to be wonderful, fresh, ice cold water. I make the ice coffee and start to take small sips that percolate caffeine into my cells. Deep sigh… ahhhhhh….
Now Im famished. I dig into last night’s unfinished couscous, break into the snap pea crisps, then it’s a gorge of peanut m&ms until I am sataited.
Sitting now, stillness now, fed now, caffeinated now, my thoughts regain some semblance of focus. My mind sharpens and I now have the ability to look over my maps so I can align myself with the next goal for the day.
I’m going to try making the next 11 miles without taking a break and then I will have the reward of stopping for lunch.
Lets do this…face up and sing.
Fueled by food and coffee, my morale improves considerably. The grass stuffing in my pack worked quite well too, and now I can actually hear the sounds I came out here for rather than the incessant squeaking of my pack. Things are looking up.
In fact, I soon start to feel elated, my mental state shifts to joy, I tune into the sound of a breeze whisking around pine needles and it penetrates my nervous system, creating a fierce calm.
Decidedly the sound of wind in the pines is the best sound nature makes.
1:51pm: I made it the 11 miles to more, better, seeps that are actually like small, clear pools. This is where I will stop for lunch. Hooray…time to take a break!
2:54pm: Im now making a long descent of thousands of feet down to greet the East Verde River. I look out to see the lush valley below, and feel like Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music, like I could float down into the verdant vibrant valley. I’ve now got 13.3 miles to my destination, I feel like I got this!
I reach the River at dusk, and after a barefoot crossing, I stop to sit on the rocks for a few moments, taking it all in. Its beautiful, soothing, the fading light casting a magical glimmer on the surface of the water. I breath deeply as the sun dips closer to the horizon and dark begins to settle in for the night.
The rushing water feelt remarkaly good on my feet, this is very healing to my weary body. In this Valley, there are mysterious bird calls that really sound like cats. Then, there are dogs barking, apparently coming from someone’s property. There are people who live down here and I am aware of feeling kind of like an inerloper. I toyed with the idea of camping down here, but I am not alone, I prefer to camp alone.
7:14pm: The sounds shift to night sounds, crickets, cicadas, a breeze, and the river continues to gush over rocks.
I cant linger here too long, I say to myself, I must keep on keeping on. I put my shoes back on, shoulder my pack again, and press on up the hill, leaving the East Verde behind.
It’s 3.5 miles to get to the next water source where the notes on my Guthook App indicate there is a campsite. That distance sort of seems like a lot at the moment, but I know it will set me up best for tomorrow, for getting into town, for getting to all the things.
Headlamp secured to my forehead, I convince myself I’m just starting out on a lovely little evening hike, and I realax into this new rhythm as darkness settles in deeeper and stars begin to faintly emerge behind a sapphire sky.
Night hiking: it was a steep slope getting up to this Mesa, the steepeset slope I have climed on this entire trail in fact, necessitating putting all my weight on the balls of my feeet and just tucking my head down with my chin to my chest and pushing aginst the Earth.
This just might be my trail zen, surprise!! I go into a zone of concentration, Ive got a tunnel of vision with my headlamp streaming in a pointed beam, and I push with my feet, and I keep moving up. Ascension.
Finally, I pop up over one last ridge and face a vast, dark, open space. Where am I? I walk across the open expanse of flatness with only the occasional gnarled Juniper tree, grass covers the trail which is now faint, obscure, and I now hunt in the dark for cairns. I realize I am up on the Mesa.
Sounds of crickets, sky glowing cobalt blue, lightening flickering to the east.
Passing by any and every lone Juniper tree, I shine my headlamp under it’s boughs to see if there is any room to lay flat. I just really want to stop and sleep now.
But it’s isn’t going to happen here. I press on still searching for cairns, then finally cross through a fence and two gates. The trail now shifts from volcanic rock to something like limestone and becomes much easier to follow in what is now pitch dark. I check Guthook to see I am only 1 mile away now from the spring. I want to be there now, I want to feel relieved, I want to just stop for the night. One more mile, I got this.
8:58pm: I arrive at the Spring. With my headlamp shining brightly, beams bouncing around, I scout around to find the little water tank perched on a limestone precipice just downhill from the trail junction. Not much flat ground for tenting here. Hmmmmm…..
I search, almost frantically, for a place to pitch my tent. This continues for a good 10 minutes until I succumb to the reality that there is no tent site here. Disappointment washes throughout me. I have to keep hiking, this day is not done. I collect three liters of water and shove the extra weight hastily into my pack. Onward, I have to face up and sing.
Another crazy steep hill stares back at me now and all of a sudden I find my zen zone again. My chin is tucked, I’m up on the balls of my feet, pushing into the earth, headlamp creates a tunnel of light and everything else disappears.
I push up the steep slope for maybe 10 minutes, then it levels off much sooner than expected. A wave of relief washes over me as I become aware I have popped up onto yet another Mesa. This one now made of limestone and volcanic rock, and there are many many trees, a soothing scene of Juniper and Pine.
9:47pm: I am finally eating dinner! Red quinoa with brown rice, lentils and kale, sitting out under the stars, listening to the faint breeze in the pines, it feels so good to be done!!
I think today, despite higher mileage, it was much more a mental challenge above and beyond physical. I have come to learn that usually the longest, toughest days are more mental than physical, and thats honestly when we grow and learn the most. Because it’s your mind and your heart that has to decide to keep on going, to not give up, to convince your body to follow. And as you choose to face up to whatever is eating at you, I suppose that really is how you become your own personal best.