AZT Journal Days 15-19
Day 15(22.8 Miles + 5 mile road walk to pick up point)
I got up at 4:30 and heated up my oatmeal in the microwave Ray had for us in the bunker by headlamp. Payphone, Lifeboy and I took to calling where we were staying the bunker because it has no windows. We definitely felt a little like we were waiting out the apocalypse in there yesterday. It was fun. I hiked out of Pine at 5 and was at the trailhead by 5:30, but turned south rather than north. It was my coldest morning yet, 25 degrees and I was hiking I my puffy. Maybe 10 minutes after I was on trail I came to a Creek, totally swelled from the two days of storming, and got to ford knee deep, ice cold water at 6 am. Great way to start the hike. As I made my way up out of pine I got into some pretty snowy sections. It was still so cold it was frozen and I could walk on it. But as I started the long descent to the valley that I was picked up in two days ago, I ran into a problem I knew was coming sooner or later: mud. I had heard about the mud up here, and it lived up to the hype. Thick, sticky, gobby mud that clumps up on your shoes and poles, and gets kicked all over your legs. Honestly some of the most frustrating hiking I’ve ever done. I might have 200 more miles of it too on the mogollon rim. during the hike today I kept thinking about if I want to yo-yo or not. I seem to go back and forth on it every hour. I really need to try to forget about it and just carry about my thru hike. But there are practical issues. The CNOC prototype poles I’ve been using are totally done. The tip snapped off one of them today. If I end in Utah I’ll put up with shit poles for the rest of the hike, but if I yo-yo I’m going to need my black diamonds sent out here. Same goes with shoes. I’ll run these shoes to the ground if I end in Utah, but I’ll need to switch out in flagstaff if I plan on continuing. I hate having to make such decisions. It made for a stressful hike. I did put on a podcast I’ve been meaning to listen to today and that made it a bit better. It was lovely today, despite the mud. I had fantastic views to the snow covered mazatzals that I had been in only a few days ago. When I got down to the valley I reached the east verde river. I had figured it would be high but was blown away when I saw it. Swift moving, deep water. It reminded me of the Kennebec in Maine. I probably shouldn’t have tried to cross alone. But I really didn’t want to camp there and deal with all the nightmare logistics that would entail. I needed to get back to the pickup point and get back to pine. So I went for it. It was chest deep and ice cold, very dangerous, but I held my footing and made it across. Honestly more dangerous than any ford I did on the pct last year. And I’m in Arizona. It’s nuts. The 5 mile dirt road walk that I had done two days prior was nice and sunny and dried me off from my swim. When I got to the pickup point ray wasn’t there yet, but a local rancher was and was headed to payson. I hopped in the bed of his truck and figured I could flag ray down as we passed him on his way in. Sure enough we saw him and I switched vehicles, then rode back to pine with ray. Another hiker called ray on our way back and we picked him up in pine. His name is Gustav and he’s getting off trail. It’s much quieter here in the bunker tonight. I miss Payphone and Lifeboy. I’m scared that I’ve ruined thru hiking for myself on this hike. It’s such a weird, irrational fear. Why would I have? And if I did, is it that big a deal if I don’t do this anymore? It just feels weird and scary. I guess I’ll find out over the next few weeks, and later this summer when I hit the AT. I’m going on that hike. I think I need to now more than ever. I can only hope it helps set my compass in the right direction again. Because it’s wonky right now. I don’t really feel excited to hike tomorrow, or for the last 300+ miles of this trail really. That’s a weird feeling. I’ve never wanted to not be on a hike while I’m on it. Especially weird considering I’m only two weeks in. Maybe I burned out physically and emotionally. I guess it would make sense. Hard to say though, and the not knowing is what kills me right now. Anyways. Went down to the market and ran into Flipside there. I had met him earlier today, he was hiking north into pine. He’s staying in the bunker too. Not the same vibe as last two nights with Payphone and Lifeboy. I guess that’s almost a good thing, it’ll be easier to leave into the cold dark morning tomorrow.
Day 16(21.1 Miles)
It’s pretty crazy just how fast this hike has changed for me. I guess that’s something I love about thru hiking though. You can plan out so much. In so much detail. Which I certainly did for this one. But it can change so drastically so fast. I did the road walk from Ray’s to the trailhead in the dark again, deja vu from yesterday, except today I turned north instead of south. Right away this morning I ran into a really annoying issue. Since my shoes were so wet from snow and mud, the sole in my left shoe kept sliding up so my toes came over it and it bunches up in the back. I tried everything. Even duct taping it to the shoe. No luck. All in all I probably took my left shoe on and off a dozen times in the first three hours of hiking today. Eventually I said screw it snd just hiked with it. I started to be able to ignore it thankfully. Still, the process of trying to fix it every 15 minutes slowed me down a lot. I was already going slower because of the conditions. I tried to focus on just being where I am. I’m not going for an fkt anymore, hell maybe not even a yo-yo anymore. I need to be better at just going at whatever pace I can. I took a nice lunch break. I sat in the sun and took off my shoes and socks and warmed my cold, wet feet. It was nice. I haven’t had lunches like that on this hike. After lunch I hiked on, and around 2 pm checked guthooks to find the worst possible discovery: I had been on the wrong trail for about a mile. Already slow on the day, my instant reaction was to get so frustrated. But I hiked the mile back, and finally started the final ascent up to the Mongollon Rim when I got back to the AZT. Now the snow had been bad all day, ankle deep postholing at times, but as I made the steep climb up to 7200 feet it only got worse. I was going slower and slower and working harder and harder. Finally, when I made it to the rim, my worst suspicions were confirmed: 1-2 foot snow drifts as far as the eye could see. I began to posthole knee deep and within minutes I knew I wasn’t making it far today. I also knew that all of a sudden I wasn’t making it to flagstaff. 90 more miles of this just wasn’t going to happen. But the trail provides, man, it always does. Not half a mile into my rim postholing I came to a little trailhead with an actual cabin! Not heated or anything but perfect shelter for the night. Much to my luck as well, the trail crosses highway 87 in 15 miles. I think if I start early and walk on the hard snow for an hour or two I can make enough progress to be able to posthole the rest of the way once the snow gets soft. So I’ll go for the highway tomorrow and try to get back to pine. If I have cell service up there I’ll call ray. I’m reluctant to, he’s already helped me so much, but I gotta get off the rim tomorrow no question. If I don’t have service there’s a ranger station less than a mile down the road I may try to walk to. But if the road is clear and cars are driving it (not a guarantee with this much snow) then I’ll just try to hitch back to pine. Sitting in the cabin now, it’s only 4 Pm. I’m reminded of some of my early days on the AT, when the snow would wipe me out by early afternoon and I would spend the rest of the day in my sleeping bag, munching on snacks and trying to fight boredom. I’m frustrated that I’m going to have to go back to pine, and probably wait at least 2 or 3 days before I get back up here. But it’s out of my control. The smart and logical thing to do is bail and wait so that’s what I’ll do. I’ve been such an ambitious hiker the last year. I’ve tried so hard to push through every obstacle. I think the last few days has been the trail gods telling me to chill. When I get to the highway tomorrow, I’ll have less than 300 miles left. I came out here with a 50 day time window. I won’t make the yo-yo at this point, but I’ve got plenty of time just to finish this thing up. It’s time to exercise some patience, something I didn’t think would be a part of this hike. Hoping I’m able to, and hoping I can get back to pine tomorrow.
Day 17(36.3 Miles)
I pretty much need to stop trying to make decisions until I actually am at the point of making them. I woke up in my snug cabin at 4:30, fully ready to make it the 15 miles to the highway and get back to pine. Much to my dismay, the snow wasn’t hard enough to walk on, and I was postholing right away. I started off so slow. Deep snow and tough navigation in the dark had me down to 1.5 mph for the first mile or two. I began wondering if I could even make it to the highway at all. But I trudged on. My feet were soaked from the get go, and so cold especially early. As the sun came up and I continued on the rim, navigating became less of an issue and the snow pack actually started to lessen a bit. I started getting faster and faster, and by 9 or so I was at my usual pace. I made it to the road at 11. 15 Miles by 11 isn’t as fast as I can go, but it’s still not a bad pace. I figured to hell with trying to get back to town, I’d try to push forward to flagstaff afterall. I figured if the snow ended up slowing me too much I could always bail to Mormon Lake to buy enough food to get me the rest of the day. As soon as I crossed the highway I was reminded of some excellent news. I had Payphone’s postholes to walk in now! This is where he had started back up after the storm. I didn’t even need them though, as the snow was all but gone. I took lunch around noon and enjoyed a nice sunny rock to dry my stuff out (temporarily) again. The afternoon hike was mostly along old Jeep roads. But they aren’t roads right now, they are literally creeks. Actual current of ankle to knee deep water flooded trail the whole hike this afternoon. I had to just get over it. My feet got soaked, my legs got covered in mud, but I hiked on. As the day wore on I started to have visions of maybe even getting to flagstaff tomorrow. I’d have to hike late tonight and really early tomorrow but maybe I could do it. But as the sun set, I reminded myself to relax. I should be able to make it there on Monday hopefully early, which is good enough. My body needs to rest and besides, it gets cold quick when the sun goes down. I set up camp, tried to wash my legs with snow, and got snug in my long John’s and puffy. It’ll be a cold night tonight. And probably tomorrow night too. But it was a good day to hike. Mud, snow, water and all.
Day 18(35.0 miles)
Weird day. I feel like so much happened and I doubt I’ll remember it all well in this entry. I guess that’s probably true of every day though. I woke up at my usual 4:30. I had thoughts of getting up at 3:30 to try to push for flagstaff today, but I decided against it and I might as well just get there tomorrow. It was a good call because even with an extra hour I was not making it today. I woke up around 7300 feet and it was fucking cold. My shoes froze solid over night and I had to put them in my quilt with me while I ate my oatmeal. Funny, I’m using tricks I learned in North Carolina in January in Arizona in March. Super weird. I started off with ice blocks oh my feet and trail quickly climbed up a tiny bit more to around 7500. It stayed there more or less for 15 miles. Snowpack was significant at 7500 and even with Payphone’s postholes I was not going fast at all. Then, after about 8 miles, I crossed a road that goes to Mormon Lake and discovered something very frustrating: Payphone bailed. His postholes disappeared and from then on out it was me breaking Trail. By noon I had only done 16 miles and was super tired and frustrated. I plopped down on a log and had lunch, reminding myself to relax. My mind goes crazy when it’s slow going, thinking I’ll never finish. Then when it’s fast again all of a sudden I feel like I can hike 45 every day no problem. I need to be better about not overreacting to just little parts of days. Sure enough, after another hour of postholing, literally walking with my phone out to stay on trail, it dropped down to 7200 and the snow became patchy. Then it came below 7000 and it was all but gone. I was able to cruise the afternoon, feeling good that I hadn’t given up and had postholed through. I was slowed in the final hour as I frantically tried to get cell service as I neared the Flagstaff area to contact my trail angel. I did, and also found out that Payphone and Stitch both had bailed together and gone to flagstaff. Turns out they thought the snow was too much. I simultaneously felt a little proud that I had hiked through what they deemed too hard, and left out that they were having fun in Flagstaff, and would be taking a shuttle past the next section to the Grand Canyon. Both reactions are foolish. Although, I’m a little let down they’re skipping flagstaff to GC altogether. I was hoping to be in their postholes for a bit, or at least hike it together. Oh well. I am officially the furthest north thru hiker on the AZT. Bring it on I guess? But first, shower and laundry in flagstaff tomorrow. I am beyond filthy.
Day 19 (28.8 Miles)
I woke up to frozen shoes again this morning. I was really quick and lazy with my whole pack up, putting a lot of stuff away messy and dirty. But I just wanted to get to flagstaff. I sped through the morning 16 miles to get there, knowing how badly I needed the luxuries of town. I was dirty, my toes needed a wash bad. My stuff was all muddy. My tent was packed up soaked. I needed a town reset. Melody, my trail angel, picked me up right on the pedestrian route at 10:15. I could already tell she was so nice from our emails and texts, but right off the bat she blew me away. Such a sweet lady. I immediately felt welcome and safe in her presence. Something all the better, as I realized I had not seen a human being since pine. I think that’s my longest streak ever on a thru hike. We stopped at rei, and I bought a pair of Leki poles as I prepared to send the prototypes I was testing for CNOC Home. They were cool, but totally done after 500+ miles. Then, we went to a Mexican restaurant and she bought me breakfast! Can’t believe how nice she is. I had huevos rancheros and a glass of chocolate milk and it was absolutely delightful. We headed back to her house where I met Tim, her husband. I cannot stress this enough: these people are ideal trail angels. they have a whole upstairs setup for thru hikers complete with multiple rooms and beds, full bathroom, even a hiker box. There’s even a candy bowl with snickers bars. They just know exactly what a thru hiker needs. I got fully cleaned and organized. Took a nice 20 minute shower and scrubbed all the mud and dead skin off. Cleaned all my dirty stuff. Hung my wet stuff to dry. Fully resupplied as I had sent them boxes, and this one had a special gift, new shoes! Nothing like a brand new pair of altras. Melody and Tim took such good care of me, she made me a delicious grilled cheese sandwich and we sat a talked about the AZT. So nice to just have a conversation with someone. It’s so rare for me on this hike. I easily could have been vortexed in, and they wanted me to stay, but I really wanted to get a good start towards Grand Canyon village. So around 2:30 we drove out, stopped at the post office, and melody took me back to where she picked me up. We said goodbye, and I promised her I’d see her again. Even if I don’t yo-yo I’ll come through before I leave Arizona to get my other box and say goodbye and thanks again. I hiked the pedestrian route out of town on a nice urban trail, then a mountain bike trail that took me back to the AZT. With new shoes and poles I was feeling good and cruised a solid 12 afternoon miles. 28 ain’t bad for a day I spent so much time in town. Today was good. I needed it so bad and I needed someone like melody and tim to take care of me so bad. I’m feeling re energized as I head north. I know the bad feelings and the shit will come again, and probably soon. But it makes days like today all the better. Ok now I’m going to eat the turkey wraps she made me for dinner. Seriously, what an amazing lady.