Arguably one of the highlights of the Arizona Trail is the Grand Canyon, and with that ahead of me I really put on the afterburners and cranked out some big miles. Another reason I was hiking 40 miles a day was to catch my friend S.O.L., who was waiting for me at the South Rim of the canyon at my good buddy Li’s apartment. Li works for the Park Service, and puts out an EXCELLENT series of maps for the AZT, in addition to offering his home up to weary travelers who need a shower and laundry.
The Grand Canyon lived up to the hype….
The trail in this section was amazing. Not only because of the views, but also the careful construction of tread in a vertical world of rock.
This was truly a feast for the eyes, and the constant sense of wonder made me forget the steep elevation changes. Losing thousands of feet in elevation, only to regain them the next day, didn’t even register in my head. I was too busy taking in views like this;
Once out of the canyon, S.O.L and I hiked together, both of us excited to complete the AZT. Water sources were few and far apart, but the constant chatter we shared made up for it. In an odd twist of events, we had gotten slightly ahead of Dirtmonger, but he caught us while we took a break, and I was elated to have TWO friends to hike with. The last section of trail was smooth and easy, even more so now that I had some company. The trail popped out at the border of Utah, and as quickly as it had started, my hike across Arizona was over.
I’m typing this from Portland Oregon, and while my journey through Arizona is over, my summer still has many miles left. I’ll be headed out on the Pacific Crest Trail soon, and will hopefully keep my blog updated in a more timely fashion.
As I suspected, the trail north of Pine was vastly different than what I had been walking through. Once up on the Mogollon Rim, the terrein was flat and conifers outnumbered cacti. Smooth sailing! I encountered a rattlesnake, who was not pleased to be interrupted and warned me with a buzzing rattle.
Once I got closer to the town of Flagstaff, the trail crossed a highway and I stopped to take a break nearby. No sooner had I stopped when a car drove by and the driver stared at me, obviously looking for something. The car slammed on the brakes, pulled over, and a man sprang out yelling “hiker trash!” It was my friend Brooks, who I had met last year on the CDT! He had came out looking for me, and offered me fresh fruit and water, which I gratefully accepted.
Once in Flagstaff I called my friend Guino, who lived in town and had offered me a place to clean up. Much mayhem happened that evening, and my brain cannot recall all the details, but we ended up out drinking beer on a Friday night in downtown dressed up in animal costumes. Please enjoy this photo of me in a gorilla suit;
In Flagstaff, I also purchased another pair of Lone Peak shoes to get me the rest of the way, and was able to pick up a maildrop chock full of organic, vegan dehydrated food that my girlfriend had made and mailed to me. I generally try to eat healthy on trail, but my boring old concoction of beans and vegetables were no match for her lentils, butternut squash curry and peanut sauce. And don’t get me started on the raw tomato walnut crackers! I’d never eaten so well on a hike.
Having a foot injury really made me question the continuation of my journey. One one hand, I could quit this hike and return home to heal, hopefully before any long term damage took place. On the other, I knew that failing to complete the AZT would drive me insane and I would regret it. I Googled “stress fracture” and seemed to be showing all the signs and symptoms, but an injury like that is so vague, it takes X-ray images to positively diagnose. I decided to continue my forward progress and evaluate my foot pain as I went.
The Mazatzal Wilderness stood before me, and 115 miles would put me in Pine, AZ. Setting off with enough food to allow 20 mile days, I began hiking this notoriously overgrown section. Catclaw shrubs tore at my legs, and the scrub oak cloaked the trail into obscurity, but I was determined to push on. Pine AZ marked the end of the low desert, and would put me into higher elevations away from the excessive cactus country I had been walking through. By starting my day earlier and hiking into the evening, my mileage actually increased, and those 20 mile days I expected to hike turned into 30s. The Altra Lone Peak shoes kept my injured foot enveloped in a protective layer of cushioning, and was a vast improvement over the shoes I started in. My foot pain had subsided! Arriving in Pine a full day earlier than expected, I was grateful for the comforts of a cheap cabin.
This last stretch between Oracle and Superior really tested my standards for ingestible water. Those who have hiked on the Continental Divide Trail know that cattle tanks are often the only source of hydration, and that dirty cow-water is a filthy blessing of H20 in an otherwise arid world. I expected the Arizona Trail to have questionable water, but I drank from sources that I cannot begin to describe. Sources that make the CDT cow tanks look like pristine springs! Luckily, there were a few water caches put out for hikers. An artificial oasis of plastic jugs containing water cannot be relied upon, but stumbling into one sure lifts the spirits.
I also made a bit of a mistake with planning for this hike, and it nearly put me off trail for the season. Instead of sticking with the Altra Lone Peak shoes that treated me so well on the Continental Divide Trail, I decided to test out the new Superior model. These shoes fit VERY well, and they seemed to work for me until the incredibly rocky terrein of the Arizona Trail shredded them to pieces. I was still maintaining 25+ mile days, but my shoes lacked any cushioning, and I felt a twinge of pain developing in my foot. My resupply team had sent me a new pair of Lone Peaks in Oracle, but by then the damage had been done and I was nearly limping into the town of Superior AZ. Knowing that I needed a rest for my poor feet, I decided to take a zero day in town. My hiking partner, Dirtmonger, decided to press on without me, so I sat in a hotel room alone, questioning if further progress would do long term damage.
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.
I’m not very good at planning. You’d think I would be meticulous with logistics–being that I spend months on end hiking across the continent–but the truth is, I just kind of jump on into adventure. Sometimes my plans change overnight, and this year is no different.
The last few months, I’ve been toying with the idea of another Pacific Crest Trail thru hike, since I have such fond memories of both my other PCT treks. Everything leading up to my trip was going as planned until my good friend Dirtmonger casually informed me of the hike he was conjuring up. His plan was to hike a huge loop combining the Arizona, Hayduke, Colorado and Grand Enchantment Trails…and he invited me to tag along!
Instead of joining him for the entire way, I figured I’d backpack the AZT portion with him (800 miles) and then jump over to the PCT (2650 miles) and head north from Mexico. That means this year I won’t be settling for one thru hike, but two! Maybe this way I’ll end up starting the PCT minus the huge beer gut that usually accompanies me for the first leg of my journeys. An 800 mile warm up should have me in rippin’ good shape!
I’m stoked to be trying out a new model of footwear on this hike. Last year I wore the Lone Peak model of trail runners from Altra, and they performed extremely well. The wide toe box allowed my feet the space they need to prevent blisters, and the Zero Drop construction was perfectly suited to thousands of miles in the backcountry. Altra recently debuted a new model called the Superior, and I’m eager to put them through the wringer this summer! Lighter in weight than the Lone Peak and featuring a removable rock plate, the Superior should help me keep my feet in prime condition and the rest of my body comfortable. Well, as much as a shoe can, when you’re hiking 30+ miles a day for 4.5 months! http://www.altrazerodrop.com/fitness/en/Altra/Men/superior-men