These last 200 miles have been a real kick in the pants. Dirtmonger and I started our AZT hike on April 3rd, and the trail wasted no time showing how challenging Arizona can be. Water sources are few and far between, and the relentless desert sun beats down with intense heat. Steep, rocky tread brings you up and over steep mountains, while the desert flora tries to scratch and tear your skin from every angle. Everything out here sticks, stabs and pokes, making a casual bushwhack feel like a herd of cats are clawing at your legs. Pristine springs bubble out pure water in one section, while 20 miles later the only source of hydration is a fetid cow tank. On one section we tramped through Saguaro Park, surrounded by towering cacti and baking desert sands, only to climb 4000 feet and camp amongst conifers. I awoke in the middle of the night being pelted by hail, and after quickly setting up my tarp, watched in amazement as the surrounding area was dusted with a layer of snow.
The Arizona Trail is full of surprises. After a 25+ mile day last week, we camped along the trail as dusk set in, and not 10 minutes after stopping were surprised to hear someone yell out “BORDER PATROL!” as they tromped into our camp. After their labored breathing slowed enough for a conversation, we learned that these agents had been tracking us for miles, thinking we were immigrants. Our quick pace kept them chasing at our tails, and although it was a tense situation, I did my best to keep it comical by asking which restaurant they recommended in town! (They recommended the Mexican place!)
All my gear is holding up well. For this hike, I’m trying out the Gossamer Gear Kumo backpack, which is a change of pace from the Mountain Laurel Designs pack I usually hike with. I’m also trying out a new trail runner shoe from Altra called the Superior. The wide toebox is AMAZING, and they have prevented any blisters from forming. Unfortunately all this great gear doesn’t offset my complete lack of pre-hike training, and while my hiking partner has been running 12+ miles a day at 7000 ft elevation, my sea level strolls around the block have left me soft in the middle. Sheer determination and stubborness have allowed me to keep up, but I just gasp with oxygen deprivation on the steep uphill routes above 6000 feet.