May 15, 2019
Miles hiked: 27.5
AZT Mile 517.5
Campsite Elevation: 7,441 ft
I wake before my alarm. It’s 5:25, I crawl out of the tent, up with the sun. Down at the bottom of East Clear Creek, it’s wet from condensation. There’s a chill that creeped into the pockets of air between rocks where water used to flow.
Now that I have my alcohol stove I am excited to mak a hot coffee! As I warm my hands and sip, a flock of geese flys overhead, greeting the sun with their signature honks, echoing through the corridor of the drainage.
Geese in Arizona?
I pack up a wet, sandy, now heavy tent, Ugh! Today’s elevation profile is pretty darn flat after I climb out from the creek bed. I hoist my pack, leave the creek bottom, facing a 600 ft climb right out of the gates, the only climb I will do today. My body feels stiff so I approach it with a steady pace, pushing blood into my legs to wake them up. The cool morning air is soon welcome as my body heats up. I feel peaceful walking through the stillness of an Oak forest as sunlight streams down, kissing the Earth.
Within a mile, I am up on the Rim. The Rim! Finally, I am walking the Mogollon Rim. I’ve been eagerly anticipating this section for some time. I have ideas that I can make miles easily today with the flat elevation profile and early start. I picture myself cruising along dirt roads through the ponderosas like I’m floating over the trail, and so decide I can make ~30 miles today, pushing on blissfully.
Off to a good start, the trail is a lovely single track with good tread, and by 10:45am I reach 10 miles, and the 500 mile mark for the AZT, woot woot! That deserves a celebration snack break! I am suddenly so hungry!
All I can think about lately is food. I’m still thinking about the food I ate over the weekend with my Mom in Payson, the food I am going to eat for lunch today, the food I am going to eat at Mormon Lake tomorrow and the food I am going to eat in Flagstaff. 500 miles, yeah, makes sense, hiker hunger has arrived in full force!
After the morning break, I set off with a goal of 8-10 more miles by 2pm and plan then to stop for lunch. As I walk I begin to really feel lots of body pain, in so many places, and the flat walking honestly makes it worse. My pack feels so uncomfortable like it doesn’t fit me and I play around with tightening or loosening different straps. Nothing helps. Flat Rim walking is not as easy as I’d expected.
I trudge along, making it over monotonous dirt roads that are sometimes extremely rocky and other times easy peasy lemon squeasy. By 2pm, I’m at 17.5 miles for the day, and I need to stop, rest, and of course, eat.
I gorge on lunch and do some much needed stretching, light my little stove and make another hot coffee. I reluctantly take some ibuprofen, still comitted to making the 30 miles, I know it will help take the edge off my pain. I really want it to be a 30 mile day, so I am closer to Flagstaff on Friday where my next re-supply box will be. Flagstaff, where thoughts of “all the things” beckon. My stomach grumbles as I contemplate what wonderful foods are in my near future.
I don’t see any people today, no evidence of other hikers nor anything else with a pulse on these desolate dirt roads. But, it is peaceful. I tune into the breeze up in the ponderosas, finding a rhythm in my monotonous footsteps.
Suddenly, as if snapped out of my meditative state I hear a sound like a generator. Honestly, the first thing I think is “maybe it’s trail magic!” but that is wishful thinking. I realize all too soon it’s just a tractor being operated by a human.
I can’t tell you why, but it makes me feel uneasy. I don’t want to walk right by this person operating this big machine along the dirt road in the middle of nowhere. I just feel like I do not want to be seen. I feel vulnerable now for some odd reason, and simply don’t want to be noticed.
So, I pull out my GPS and I go off the trail into the forest, trying my best to be stealth and not get noticed. I blaze a cross country path through the Pondersosas, bypassing the tractor dude without being seen.
I’m sure I am making up this perceived threat in my head, but my instincts force me to behave in this way and I feel a little silly. Nevertheless, my plan works. Human averted, I feel safe.
I link back up with the AZT, and quicken my pace for as long as I can maintain it. Despite the vitamin I, this pace makes my body hurt even more and I need to slow down again.
Shortly, there comes a giant Swallowtail butterfly, and it comes so close to my face I can literally hear it’s wings flap! It’s message to me is “you’re safe now”, then it fluttes away. “Thank you” I say, as I relax my gait, drop my guard, and my gaze now fixates to the thin whispy clouds. I later learn that the Swallowtail is the state butterfly of Arizona, the largest species of butterfly in North America, and it spiritually symbolizes guidance and hope.
The rest of the afternoon is punctuated with different rocky dirt roads linking one to another, a couple miles of rocky single track, some murky wildlife water tanks, a dozen Elk scattering as I approach them, a few deer and surprisingly, so many bird songs floating across this big, flat Rim.
I tune into the sounds of nature and to my great surprise, I hear the song of the WA bird! That’s what I call it, because I first heard it on the PCT in WA, but it’s taxonomic name is the is the Hermit Thrush. I stop, silencing my footfalls, and tune in. Yes, that’s it, that’s it!!
It’s melodic song ripples through the forest, dancing it’s way to my ears. Ahhhhh, I am so thrilled, it is my favorite bird song ever! Oh my goodness, I smile from ear to ear, my heartspace widens, I just love this bird’s song so much! It is medicine to my soul and it melts away my pain for the time being.
This lifts my spirits so much that I pick up the pace again, I am able to push more, now trying to reach little goals I’ve made for myself. This holds me for a while, but eventually the buzz from the WA bird wears off, and the flat terrain becomes really monotonous again. The rocks are quite tedious and I must stare down at my feet, picking my way through. There is no dirt, only rock.
My mind begins to play tricks on me. It’s much like walking across a flat expanse of desert, there are no landmarks I can use to guage my progress and time now seems to warp. How long have I been up here? How far have I come today? What time is it? Where am I really?
There is very little water up here except for sludgy cow tanks and I’m carrying many pounds of water. My last option for water before camp is called Horse Tank. The water is full of plant slime, it’s quite murky, just a giant mud puddle with cow tracks throughout. But I have no other options except to collect, filter, and drink this water.
Surprisingly though, the water filters clear and actually tastes okay. I collect enough to get me through the night, planning to fill up at the next spring sometime tomorrow morning.
By 7pm I’m rounding out the day and beginning to think about camp. I really want to get set before dark, or at least by dark. I scout around in the forest and find a stealth spot, tucked away from the trail, protected from the wind.
I am 17 miles from Mormon Lake now. The elevation profile is still looking pretty flat. The Earth here is so flat.
I decide I can make it to Mormon Lake by lunch tomorrow and the thought of eating a meal from their cafe is my main motivation, but I have no idea if it will even be open? It’s really all about getting some french fries, mmmmm, french fries..…my mouth waters at the thought. Dreaming about hot, salty fries, I heat water and prepare my dinner of curry couscous with dehydrated black beans. Eating it blissfully, I am happy all tucked inside my tent, snug in my sleeping bag, staring blankly at the walls of my tent. I am just so glad to be done walking. My body feels really sticky, it would be so nice to wash up. Where’s some fresh water when you need it? Haha, last night’s bath at Clear Creek seems so distant now, like a faded dream…