AZT Day 24: becoming the trail

May 11, 2019

Miles hiked: 18.7

AZT Mile: 461.1

Magestic Mountain Inn, Payson, AZ

Waking up today was so much easier than yesterday. Why? Is it because it’s a town day? Is it because I slept better due to pure exhaustion? Who knows, maybe the feng shui of my tent site was more condusive to sleep. That’s a thing.

I started walking at 6:15 today continuing to cross this Mesa. Last night’s night hike is a blur. I had wondered what that Mesa looked like as I was crossing in the dark, and now in the morning light, I have a much better idea.

The trail now follows along what looks to be a dried up water course, perhaps from a flood? A flood over flat land? It’s a bit mysterious really. I find the rocks quite interesting here tho. They are clearly worn and shaped by water, lots of water. They are smooth and have little crevices and holes that only could form by lots of water over time. Yet, again, the land here is flat, and higher than other land formations nearby, so I wonder how this became what it is?

Last night I walked across Polles Mesa, at the base of which was Polk Spring (which I passed right by in the dark). I climbed up to, and camped on, White Rock Mesa, at the base of which is White Rock Spring, where I filled up on water last night. These land formations fascinate me and are new to my world.

Walking across Whiterock Mesa now, my mind has questions. What is the difference between a mesa and a plateau? How about a rim? The trail continued ever so tilted on an uphill grade, with intermittent shorter, steeper climbs. Sometimes extremely rocky, other times smooth easy tread. But more of the former, hence, reminding my feet that they hiked 30 miles yesterday.

I continue gently up across Saddle Ridge, above Rock Canyon over the course of the next five miles. Periodically, I study my maps and see how this landscape is so vastly different than what I have seen so far on the AZT. The vegetation is still similar tho, with scarlet blooming cactus, pointed agave, stands of ancient Juniper and soft flowing grasses dotted with small patches of purple wildflowers.

The final two miles up Saddle Ridge are all rock. Rock, rock, rock. I pick my way through, trying to press my feet into what dirt there is, but it’s futile. I am forced to walk on the sharp, awkward angled volcanic leftovers. Very tedious hiking! Even so, my mind is focused and I keep going at a steady uphill pace, feeling grateful that it’s morning, that the air is cool, I am surprised I feel relatively fresh.

Sidenote: I seriously don’t think I have seen, or walked on, as many rocks on any trail before, except the Sierra High Route, an entirely different beast of rocky terrain. I had been forewarned the AZT is rocky, but this section takes the cake! And, there are so many different types of rock, and they are always changing!

Much of the rock today looks volcanic, porous, rough and burnt. From this volcanic soil, it is amazing to witness how much greenery has emerged and it serves as a reminder to me of the power of rebirth after destruction. Much like walking through a burn area in a forest, except this place was not burned by flame, it was burned by magma. I try to imagine what that hot flowing lava overflowing was like…

I reach a trail junction at a cow fence/gate thing built up with piles of such rock. It’s awkward how to get through this fence, sheesh, if I can’t figure this one out, the cows never will!

I join a dirt road. The rocks now let up enough that I can touch my feet to dirt ahhhhh, this feels amazing. I speed up for the next mile as the rocks become fewer and further between. Upon reaching an intersection of dirt roads, I see what would be a dirt parking lot, and a big wooden sign. I stare at the sign for a full minute before I realize what it says:

Grand Canyon, 246 miles!

The reality sinks in like water percolating into thirsty soil. The remainder of this walk is going to go by really fast. Yet, in this last section since I returned to the trail,

I feel transformed.

This has notably been one of the more challenging passages in terms of terrain, and what I brought with me to the trail at the beginning of this week was already different than what I’d left with before. I had taken a break and returned ripe for the transformation.

Indeed it has been a sublime experience of solitude this week. I have not seen another human since the day I left Roosevelt Lake, five days ago. Since that day, I climbed up from the last of the Saguaros into the high ridges of the Mazatzals, my inner world changing along with the landscape, which felt indeed like a bumpy ride. The beauty, however, has morphed into something I hadn’t expected for “Arizona” and I wonder now how I have also morphed into something, or someone, I hadn’t expected on this trail too?

Seeing this landmark invigorated me, and that surge of adrenaline allowed me to keep a good pace for the next few miles. I was fortunate to have a really lovely, smooth dirt road for a mile, followed by a link up with another road called Powerline Road, which is a dirt track, rocky at times, and undulating. It was easy enough and I felt myself pushing now with the same effort and getting way more progress out of it!

In the later part of the afternoon, I decide to stop for a short lunch break. In the cover of stately pine trees, in dappled sunlight, I splay out my wet sleeping bag and wet tent in what sun I could access, hoping to dry up the lingering condensation. Except, no sooner had I sat down to eat, the thunder began to roll. Clouds had built up and what rays of sun my gear could capture was indeed fleeting.

Sitting there on the dirt, I ate my tortilla with cheese and mustard, smashed chips into my mouth and kept a watchful eye on the dark looming clouds. Then, I cast my gaze down at my feet and legs, noticing how much dirt was caked on my skin, how scratched up I was. Is this my body? I ask myself.

It is my body. And I really love wearing the dirt, it makes me smile. To me it’s like a badge of honor. To me it represents so much. The layers of dirt are time. Prescious time spent on the trail, representing the layers of where you’ve been, the content of what you are doing out here, the fact that taking a shower and being clean doesn’t matter out here because you have nobody to please but yourself.

I am wearing the trial, I think to myself, wearing the memories of the past five days out here: all the sweat, rock, dirt, sky, water, clouds, rain, wind, sun and stars, all the bird calls, all the coyotes, owls, lizzards and hawks, the whispers of the pine trees and the heartbeat of the land, I am wearing all of it, and I am all of it. I am the trail, we are one.

Don’t get me wrong now, I love a good shower, but there’s always a part of me that mourns when the hot soapy water washes the trail away, as if erasing all the memories I just created, as if erasing the me who walks the Earth day in and day out.

I must savor these memories, even after they have washed away, this dirt on my body is Mother Earth herself, and I love who I am when I’m covered in dirt, I never want to erase who I’ve become out here.

My mind has shape shifted with this terrain and acquiesced to its demands over the past five days, how could we not merge? You must merge with the trail, you must loose yourself to her, give up your identity to renew yourself in her embrace. It’s tough love at times, but as your feet push against ber body, and the contours of the land ever constantly shifts, You too, must shift.

You shift into who you become next. This is what thru hiking is all about.

I keep a watchful eye on the clouds and impending storm, and after a 40 min break my gear was as dry as it’s gonna get, so I get back on my feet and start moving gain. Within ten short minutes, it begins to rain. This was not going to be a drizzle, I think, this is going to be a downpour.

I promptly put on my rain gear and get out my umbrella, and it was a good thing I did because the rain came fast and steady. I would have been drenched! Thanks to my umbrella, for which I am named Mary Poppins, I walk joyfully in the storm, and with the exception of my feet and lower legs, I remain fairly dry.

The rain wets the Earth and I relish the scent of minerals rising up to greet my nose. The lichen on the rocks suddenly comes to life again like splattered paint art. Everything becomes so vibrant. I see ferns now, ferns!! The rain blesses the land and it’s a magical way to make the afternoon miles.

After a few miles of undulating road walking and picking my way downhill over more of “those” rocks, I thankfully entered back onto a trail and into a forest of Oak, Pine, Juniper and Maple. Yes, Maple!

Suddenly I am in a rain forest. There is green fresh plant matter abound, and it’s brushing over me and getting me wet and I don’t care. I walk swiftly on thru, ducking underneath leafy branches, using my umbrella as a shield, water is everywhere, this is glorious!!

Eventually, I’m bottomed out, there is nowhere to go but up again. I begin to climb and now the rain has finally slowed to a steady, easy mist. My body heats up as I climb, the terrain is quite steep now and I push myself to go faster as steam evaporates off my body, off the Earth, forming a lovely mist among the now dense canopy of lush flora. Everything exhales oxygen, and I think this landscape could not be any more different than what I passed through only hours ago. It’s simply riveting and I feel so alive.

My heartbeat quickens as I climb to a high point where I can actually see the land formations I have just walked across. I am getting close to civiliztion now. I can hear cars in the not too far distance. I check my Guthook app and see I am only three miles away from the Pine trailhead.

My heart fills with a new kind of joy, for knowing my Mom will be at the TH to greet me. A jolt of adrenaline pulses through me and I feel a sense of relief wrapped up in all that my heart contains. I am excited to see my Mom, to pick up where we left off a week ago at Roosevelt Lake. It seems like so much longer ago than that, that was a lifetime ago wasnt it? That landscape. That me.

The me who will greet her now is a different me. Will she notice? Will she feel my transformation? It has been the greatest blessing to share this experience with my Mom and she has been there for me above and beyond what I had anticipated.

Now, this weekend is Mother’s Day Weekend and we shall celebrate together! I spent this past week honoring my Earth Mother and now I get to honor and celebrate my my Birth Mother. The one who gave me this life from her own body, the one who cheers me on, ever enabling my trail adventures, because she gets it too. She knows that this is what makes my soul lilght on fire, what Mother would not want this for her her child?!

My steps quicken even more as I cross a ridge that looks down over town with the winding highway pulsing below. I start on the final three mile descent at a floating, flying pace. I am in the zone and I am laser focused on making it there quickly. I find myself jogging down the trail, passing day hikers with dogs on leashes. I can now hear, see and feel civilization, the peace and quiet of the trail has been’s time to shift once again.

I begin to say goodbye to the sacred silence of the trail, and while I know it’s only for a couple of days, it takes some effort to let it go and my throat tightens with a little grief. This change seems so abrupt now. Its just for a couple days, I remind myself, just a couple days.

The trail now meanders through a grove of lovely sweet smelling pine trees as I approach the highway. I cross the wet road that boasts roaring vehicles splattering water from under their tires, and all of this assaults my senses.

On the other side, I thankfully duck right back into the protection of the forest, and it reminds me of crossing dirt roads in places like Oregon. Places where you feel like some sort of mystical creature that someone may or may not have seen crossing that road. I am that mystical creature and I swiftly vanish into the forest on the other side.

3 thoughts on “AZT Day 24: becoming the trail

  1. Greetings. Fine images and a thoughtful/observant personal narrative perspective.Very Nice…Thank you for taking the time to create them. Stay safe and healthy and Free like you have done so aptly.

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