Day 48, Mile ??

Yesterday morning, we got a hitch from a guy named Nick who was a beer distributor. He said he picked us up because he once hitchhiked from Missouri to North Carolina to see the Rolling Stones. Jason always says that hitchhikers always stop for other hitchhikers.

We went straight to the Whistle Stop Café for breakfast. I had wayyyy too much coffee. But I love having way too much coffee. I look forward to my weekly cup of hot coffee.

Everyone in the café seemed to know each other. We eavesdropped on a conversation about someone’s dog that had passed away, spending the first few minutes listening in horror thinking that they were talking about a child. It also sounds like an alarming number of people in Kearny have problems with snakes getting into their houses (eek.)

Jason and I mutually agreed to ignore each other and devote our attention to our phones.  We hang out all the time, but getting cell service on the trail is rare.

Then we resupplied and went to the laundromat. Our server told us it was pretty much the last building in town, and it was. An extremely old man saw us walking there and pulled over to drive us the rest of the way. What a guy! Kearny prides itself on being the friendliest town on the trail and so far it was living up to its name. The grocery store even had a special section for Arizona Trail hikers!

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One stop shopping! Feeling lots of AZT love in Kearny.

With a little under an hour to spare before closing, I hoofed it back to the Post Office. It was closed for lunch the first time I tried. I was expecting new sneakers and a replacement part for my trekking pole. I’d be a new woman after this Post Office errand. That is, if everything actually worked out.

I arrived a half hour before closing, marched up to the counter and told the woman working there that I was expecting two general delivery packages. She retrieved a very normal looking, shoebox-sized package from REI, and then hoisted an extra long and skinny box from Black Diamond onto the counter. I knew the box would be long and skinny, but not this long and skinny. Maybe they ran out of appropriately sized boxes and had to improvise. As I picked it up, it felt a lot heavier than it should have. Maybe they gleaned from the mailing address that I was a thru-hiker and tossed in a t-shirt and trucker hat for a little good PR. (note: I know this is an embarrassingly self-aggrandizing idea, but that’s how you start to think of yourself when you thru-hike. It’s not a cute look, but it happens.) I took my boxes into the lobby and ripped into them with my knife. Not a replacement trekking pole shaft, nor a hat, nor a t-shirt. SKIS. Gorgeous backcountry skis.  I spent the next half hour on the phone with Black Diamond and pleading the postmaster to let me return the skis to sender. She let me! Another piece of evidence for Kearny being the most friendly town on the trail.

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Um, what? Is Mercury retrograde??

After that fiasco, Jason and I headed next door to Old Time Pizza & Deli. Heaven. We split a pizza and a pitcher of beer. Our eyes were way bigger than our stomachs. This is a cruel truth of thru-hiking. You’re always starving, but your stomach is used to a handful of trail-mix and a protein bar here and there. We leafed through the trail log and spotted a few people we knew and a few others we knew of. Kearny happens to be a good resupply point for both the Arizona Trail and the Grand Enchantment Trail.

As if Kearny, couldn’t be any friendlier, the owners of the pizza shop, Gary and Loraine, drove us back to the trail. Then, when I realized that I left my battery pack in their truck, they drove back to the trailhead again to drop it off! Truly above and beyond friendliness. I’m so grateful for trail towns like Kearny.

Day 43, Mile 525

Last night, we camped in a canyon wash area by the Gila. I was fed up with my tent and just wanted to plop down in the sand.

“I’ve cowboy camped in a place like this before,” Jason said, looking around, “And in the early morning, it got really windy and rained a little.” I changed my mind about cowboy camping and decided to set up my tent.

Jason was right. At 4:45 AM, I woke up with my tent collapsed and flapping around me. The wind was howling. You could hear huge gusts sweeping down the canyon. When I went outside to re-stake my tent, Jason was out there too, doing the same thing. I thought of saying something funny like, “fancy seeing you here!” or “of all the gin joints…” but we were in no mood for ha-has.

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NOPE.

I hoped the flimsy stakes, now reinforced with rock piles, would hold until a more reasonable hour. They didn’t. I struggled to fall back asleep, and when I finally did, the stakes popped out again. I tried to ignore it and just sleep in the heap of silnylon and mesh but I couldn’t. I meditated, then dumped all of my stuff on the dirt outside and took down the tent. The wind was still ripping through the canyon. Jason cursed it the entire time he was packing up camp.

Today was a bit of a dreary day. We had clouds for the first time since outside of Flagstaff. I had become so used to a clear sky and blazing sun that everything felt a little off.

I listened to I’ll Be Gone in the Dark (a DAYTIME ONLY listen if there ever was one) and some podcasts. It was one of those days where my own thoughts were boring me. I missed the internet today. I needed a mindless distraction.

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The Arizona Trail completion marker. The DS stands for Dale Shewalter, the father of the Arizona Trail. 

Jason and I hiked together a little. He’s not feeling well and it is making me very anxious. What if he got sick from water? What if I get sick, too? I’m trying not to pester him too much or be too invasive with my questions. I just hope he feels better! (And I really hope that I don’t get sick)

Just before we got to camp tonight we came across some more trail magic from Tim. He left us a gallon of clean water. So grateful, especially with Jason feeling under the weather.

Tomorrow we head into Kearny! I’m looking forward to a massive breakfast.

Day 42, mile 509.6

Yesterday, we took a side trip to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum. Jason suggested it, and I thought it was a great idea. I’m not sure how much he was motivated by actually learning about plants on the trail or the possibility of there being a snack bar. To me, it was win-win. I was craving a sense of mastery my environment and an ice cold soda pretty equally. Besides, the arboretum was only a mile and a half off trail, and maybe- just maybe- they’d have some AAA batteries.

After a brief roadwalk, we were in line at the ticket window with normal people. I hoped one could smell us. I kept my arms clamped down and tried to maintain a bit of distance from the clean people. My legs were crisscrossed with bloody scratches, some from stretches of overgrown trail, others from getting lost and bushwhacking back to trail. The sleeve of my shirt was stained brown with blood from my agave run-in. I tried to smile a lot and project an aura of well-being. This is the look of a woman who has just enjoyed some time in nature! (as opposed to, say, the look of a woman freshly escaped from a doomsday cult)

Luckily, the woman who seemed to be the boss of the arboretum clocked us as Arizona Trail hikers right away and rolled out the red carpet. She let us store our packs in her office and plugged in all of out electronics. What an angel! We got a few snacks in the gift shop…and AAA BATTERIES! I laughed at Jason for getting a tuna salad sandwich. We eat tuna every damn day.

We hit the Sonoran Desert section first. Time to put some names to all the plants we keep seeing! Jason took pictures of all of the plants and their name placards to make an on-trail reference guide. We quizzed each other, “Quick! What kind of cholla is this?”

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Definitely Octillo

After we finished the Sonoran Desert loop, we wandered through the rest of the arboretum. It was really beautiful. It made me happy that this place existed and that there were tons of people there enjoying nature in a way that was accessible and comfortable to them. A large part of the arboretum was even wheelchair accessible. In a lot of ways, it reminded me of Prospect Park. Both are places where people can reconnect with nature without having to go far from their home or perform some feat of athleticism.

After an hour or so, it was time to make our way back to the trail and hike another four miles to camp. Picketpost Mountain loomed over us the whole time. It’s beautiful, but foreboding, one of those mountains that you can’t tell if it’s a big mountain far away or a small mountain close-up. I think it’s the latter.

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Picketpost

I’ve had to adjust my expectations of the AZT in a lot of ways. The Arizona Trail is definitely not the flat expanse I pictured, nor are there very many  “dedicated campsites” like the ones that I had grown used to on the Appalachian Trail. We have to double check the topographical map each evening before we pick a camping spot. What may look like a very flat section of trail on the elevation profile can be a three-foot wide path on a canyon wall. It didn’t look like there would be great camping for a few miles, so we did our best. This particular place was one of few flat-ish spots, but it was very exposed. The surrounding mountains funneled the wind into brutal gusts.

It was possibly the longest it’s ever taken me to set up my usually easy tent. The wind kept catching my groundcloth and tent which, at this point, were just ultralight sails. I chased them down twice, crying and laughing at the same time.

Jason held things in place while I tried to get my flimsy temporary stakes into the ground. It was impossible. The ground had been compacted over time by hundreds of pounds of grazing cattle. It was like trying to set up in a parking lot. I bludgeoned the stakes with rocks only to have them bend and twist and pop out with the slightest gust of wind. I was hungry, I was cold, and I was seriously considering spending the night rolled up in my groundcloth, sad tortilla style.

“I FUCKING HATE THIS!” I screamed into the wind for the second time that week. By this time it was dark. As if that wasn’t enough, the AAA batteries I spent a whopping eight dollars on in the gift shop were duds. They were most likely relics of a time when people needed batteries for digital cameras. I should have known.

Perhaps it’s just my positive outlook, but I’m used to leading a semi-charmed life. Things seem to fall into place for me. It felt like the world had been conspiring against me for at least a week. As I ate cold ramen by the light of my phone flashlight, I started to spiral again. What was I even doing out here? I was lonely. I missed my mom. I dreamed of sitting on a couch and watching Bravo for hours on end. Cozy pajamas, indoor plumbing, and sweet, sweet Thea. I cried about everything there was to cry about. Jason came into my tent. I told him I was lonely, and he suggested hiking together. What a concept!

So today we hiked together and it was great. I missed him so much even though I was with him every day. I hadn’t even realized! We talked about over the top dioramas we made in elementary school. Then, like the angel he is, Tim appeared with AAA batteries, snacks, and clean, cold water.

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Tim!

Later in the day, we hit the 500 mile mark. The numbers don’t lie, we’re most of the way there!

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Here come dat boi!

Day 40, mile 480

I started off today feeling awful. Jason suggested we skip the midday meeting point because he was having to wait for me for hooouuuurrssss (the sarcastic exaggeration is my own). That made me feel like a slow piece of shit. I got angry. I wanted to get off trail. I wasn’t even sure why I was out here. Why bother if the whole time I was going to feel bad about slowing someone down?
 
Jason will swear that speed doesn’t matter. He’s not exactly a “smiles over miles” kind of guy, but he will badmouth FKT attempts, people who brag about their base weight, etc. In the two years that I’ve known him, I’ve never asked what his base weight was. It seems too personal, and furthermore, I don’t want to be one of those people. Hiking isn’t a competitive sport, and those things shouldn’t matter. However, at this point I know Jason well enough to know that, in his heart of hearts, he’d love nothing more than an FKT with his name on it. And, even though we were leaning towards the leisurely end of the AZT timetable- eight weeks- he secretly wished to knock it out in six
 
But, a little about myself: I am not fast. I never have been. To put it nicely, I am a “distance athlete.” I am slow, but I can stick it out. When it comes to hiking, I’m a plodder. I walk a while, spend too long picking out a podcast to listen to, get lost in thought and slow to a crawl, take a break, and then struggle to pull my hand out of the food bag and get hiking again. On the AZT, I have been the most congenial version of myself I have ever known. I will stop and chat with anyone. Meanwhile, Jason can pull off a 30 mile day over the rugged terrain of Southern Maine and breeze into town for a night of karaoke. Sometimes I am awed by his athleticism. Other times, it makes me feel like I have to apologize for being less than fast.
 
I thought about getting to Kearny and then getting a bus or something to Phoenix and flying home. I thought about my new shoes, sitting in a box at the Kearny post office waiting for me. What a waste. I thought about how awful I’d feel about not finishing the trail. I would always talk about finishing up the last 300 miles but never would.
 
Anyway, after several tense seconds, I told him, “Fine, I’ll see you if I see you. IF I make it. IF nothing terrible happens to me.” For heck’s sake an agave impaled me yesterday! He gave me a look that said “don’t be like that.” But I was like that, and I hated it.
 
As always, there’s nothing to do but hike on. Even if I wanted to get off trail, I’d have to get back to civilization first. 
 
I cried while I packed up camp. Then I hiked angrily. I was so mad that I couldn’t unfurrow my brow and I got even more mad because I knew it was making my baby wrinkles worse. I didn’t bother pushing thorny plants aside. I felt like I deserved to have the thorns dragging across my bare legs. At one point, I rolled my ankle on a loose rock. “I! FUCKING! HATE! THIS!” I punctuated each word by whacking my remaining trekking pole on the ground. My only comfort was that no one would hear me anyway.
 
I trudged and trudged. Eventually, I felt better.

Day 39, Mile 463

When I got to our meeting spot last night, it was already dark and the only flat spot was a few feet from a dirt road. A group of hunters with a deluxe, set-up took the only other flat spot. 
 
There was no sign of Jason. Maybe he was in front of me or maybe had moved on to a better, more private campsite. I hiked up a half mile, but didn’t see Jason, let alone a flat spot to camp. Jason is the consummate Boy Scout when it comes to this type of thing– a meeting place is a meeting place, no matter what. It was unlikely that he had hiked on, but where was he? I thought he was in front of me. From the ridge, I scanned the valley below for Jason’s headlamp bobbing along in the distance. Nothing. I started to spiral into panic. I didn’t want to wait near the hunting camp. I saw it in its most basic parts: a group of strange men with guns and alcohol. I didn’t want them to know I was alone or scared or vulnerable in any way. I felt stupid because at this point, I was using my phone as a flashlight. What if the hunters saw that I alone, scared, AND unprepared? My brain went to work assembling a montage of the worst bits of every Dateline episode I’d ever seen. 
 
I thought I saw a light by the trail intersection next to the hunting camp and decided to walk down in case it was Jason. There’s no way he would go past the meeting spot. Unless, of course, he was lost and unaware that he’d passed it. Earlier that day I’d found myself led astray by a cow trail not once but twice. And I’m not even the one who gets lost all the time!
 
I decided to plant. I nestled myself by some rocks off the side of the trail a little north of the hunting camp. It was far enough away to look purposeful and be left alone, I hoped. “Way to plant, Ann,” I said to myself. No sooner had I opened my pack to get started on dinner than I saw Jason’s headlamp in the distance. Relief washed over me, but a small and familiar voice inside of me wondered if I could do something like this on my own.
 
 
The wind howled all night and harassed us as we packed up. I wanted to get an early start, but I was feeling crummy again. Quelle surprise. I was sick of living outside, sick of getting into camp after dark. It felt like I slept nine hours every night and it still wasn’t enough. I thought about negative things and fantasized about getting off trail. Jason reminded me that he needs these experiences, even the bad ones, for life after the trail. Not always a highlight reel to relive, but at least a memory of surviving outside of your comfort zone. 
 
The rest of the day was a slog. I gave myself permission to get lost in podcasts and audiobooks as I plodded along. I was still off-balance without my left trekking pole and definitely feeling the weight of the resupply
 
High on a ridge, I lost my footing and fell on an Agave plant. If you’re not familiar, it’s where tequila comes from. According to Bear Grylls, (via Jason) you can peel off the spine of the leaf, leaving it attached to a strand of the inner fiber, and use it to do some backcountry mending. So, I fell on nature’s sewing needle, and into my arm it went. It hurt, but I pulled myself off of it as fast as possible. Just keep hiking, I thought, catch up with Jason and assess the situation. I was afraid to look at my arm.
 
Before I had taken five steps, blood was already pouring out from my shirt sleeve and dripping into the dirt. “Oh no, this is where I die,” I thought. “I’m stranded on this ridge, miles from anywhere, miles from my hiking partner, and I’m going to bleed to death from a freak accident”. I had heard my share of hiking freak accident stories at Hikers Welcome. This is when I’d become a campfire story. 
 
I tossed my pack to the ground and started rummaging for a bandana to use as a tourniquet. I got to a pack of baby wipes first and gingerly pulled up my now blood-soaked sleeve. My stomach turned and my head felt floaty. I looked away as I mopped up my arm. When I looked back, expecting to see a jagged tear in my arm, there was just a pinprick, no longer bleeding. I was totally fine. I gooped on some Neosporin and hiked on.

Day 38, Roosevelt, AZ

Right now, I’m sitting at the bar at Roosevelt Marina having a BLL (Bud Light Lime) in the  sun. It’s 10 AM. The past few days have been kind of rough, especially yesterday.

Yesterday, we walked into Roosevelt, dropping down 5,000 feet and then going up some and back down again. I was looking forward to the resupply box and new shoes awaiting me at Roosevelt Lake. I also just love town food and drink. Chips in a weird flavor! Cold, fizzy beer! Hot drip coffee! Who knows what pleasures awaited me at the marina store. Plus, town stops always felt revitalizing, a miniature achievement on a long trek.

About a mile or two outside of Roosevelt, I slipped on some loose rocks and broke my left trekking pole. At first it bent at a 90 degree angle, but when I applied pressure to it, it snapped in two. This was a bummer for sure, but in the scheme of things, it’s pretty easy to replace a trekking pole section. I was grateful that I hadn’t whacked my head on the ground or broken my arm. Plus, I had new shoes and a box full of food waiting for me, I just had to get there sooner rather than later because I wasn’t totally clear on the store hours.

The small marina store was closed when I got there. Luckily, Jason has been known to zoom into towns at super human speeds (and sometimes take a roadwalk shortcut.) He arrived before things shut down and grabbed our resupply boxes. I asked if a third box arrived and he said no. I checked the tracking for my new shoes and realized they had been returned to sender. For what felt like the 400th time this trip, I wondered if Mercury was retrograde.

Across the deck, two other hikers were tearing into their resupply boxes like it was Christmas morning. I tried to keep it together. I still needed AAA batteries for my headlamp and the sun was already starting to go down. Jason and I made a plan to stay overnight and come back to the store first thing in the morning for hot coffee and batteries. A guy on a golf cart told us there were “plenty of flat spaces” to camp as he waved his arm vaguely across the parking lot. By the time we got to that general area, it was dark. We couldn’t see ten feet in front of us, let alone get our bearings. Was the lake 10 feet away or 100? And do lakes have tides? How much should the worry of being swept out to the lake in the night factor into our camping plans?

We ended up in a flat-ish spot closer to the parking lot than the beach. I didn’t push rocks out of the way or make dinner, I just plopped down in the sand and went to sleep. I remember feeling so rotten that I just wanted to be unconscious before I said something mean to Jason.

I slept pretty well considering I was on an uneven pile of rocks by a boat ramp. Hiking makes you tired, I guess. In the light of day I saw a million perfect camp spots closer to the lake. Oh well. I didn’t feel much better. I wanted to wallow in my sleeping bag, but I also didn’t want to hold Jason up. I was the whole reason we were staying here, anyway.

We got to the marina store around 8:15. It’s a deceptively long walk across a few parking lots and down a long, long, pier. (future AZT hikers can look forward to a new and improved store currently being built right by the road! Woo!) AAA batteries were my main priority, then maybe some breakfast. When I found the battery section, there was an empty space next to the AA batteries. I asked the (really nice) woman working at the store if there were any AAA batteries. She said no, but there was a store eight miles away.   Oh well, no headlamp for me. Jason got us some coffee and we sat in the sun doing little phone chores. I ordered a new trekking pole part and reordered my shoes. Hopefully I’ll have that stuff in Kearny.

I told Jason that I wasn’t having fun and kind of hating the hike at the moment. I envied his ability to tick off the miles like it was no big deal. It just felt like things weren’t going my way. I know new shoes, and batteries seem trivial, but I had been looking forward to these things for days. Nothing to do about it but hike on!

Day 36, Mile 428.5

Today I felt tired all day. Yesterday we got a ride back to the trail from a guy named Steve. Steve came up to me in Walgreens and asked if I was hiking the Arizona Trail. I was pushing my pack around the store in a cart, so I guess it was pretty obvious. He asked if there was anything I needed. I’m not usually one to take people up on their offers of kindness. If my arm fell off and someone offered me a bandaid, nine times out of ten I’d say, “No thanks, I’m good.” But this time I knew there was a long, difficult hitch ahead of us. So I asked for a ride. Steve was happy to take us and trade stories about the trail. Steve hiked sobo three years ago and got a real kick out of talking about it.

We got back to the trail, once again taking the “shortcut” picking through catsclaw and crawling under barbed wire. We busted out ten miles. It was hard! The first day out of town with a full food bag is always hard. I didn’t get to camp until late, having hiked at least four miles in the dark. I cowboy camped next to Jason’s tarp. I couldn’t be bothered to set up a tent.

The next morning I didn’t want to get up. It felt harder than usual to organize and pack up camp. Maybe I was rusty from taking a zero? Even when I was hiking, it felt hard to get going.

We spent a lot of the day walking on Forest Service roads. It was a popular spot for people riding around on side by sides. They seem pretty fun… you get to experience the natural beauty without having to walk. I made a mental note for the next time I wanted to see the top of a mountain.