Hayduke trail day 37: sanblasted

April 23
Mileage: 20
538 miles hiked

It’s weirdly warm where we’re camped, so warm I can’t even have my sleeping bag on me. Probably one of the warmest nights I’ve had on a trail. My body waits for the cue of “it’s fucking freezing, must burrow into sleeping bag in order to stay alive” to know when it’s bedtime, so now I can’t fall asleep. Oh well. At least it’s comfortable to toss and turn on a neo-air.

I wake up in a horrible mood. This mood follows me all morning, my own personal little raincloud. We’re walking in the more open part of Buckskin gulch, before it becomes the famed slot canyon, and it’s actually really nice. Not too hot, good walkin’ sand (there are 100 types of Hayduke sand, only a few of them easy to walk on), pretty rock walls. From the sound of it it seems as though there’s a windstorm in the larger world today, but here in the canyon we’re protected. Just the occasional charming gust.

And then the canyon opens up and the sand deepens to fine-white punishment slogging sand and the wind intensifies and begins to harangue us, lashing out in violent bursts, throwing sand in our faces and boxing us about the ears. Sand scours our legs, sand pours down the backs of our necks. It feels as though it’s raining sand. Right about now my dark mood also kicks it up a notch, and I enter my own private little hell.

One thing notable about a long hike is that there is very little to distract one, during the long hours of walking, from the contents of one’s own brain. I’ve found this to be especially true of the Hayduke. In non-hiking life, if I have an uncomfortable thought I can find a way to smother/bury/avoid it. And on a trail like the PCT or CDT there are sometimes also ways. Not out here, though. Not on the Hayduke. It’s just me and my brain. And sometimes that feels like being trapped in the car for a very long time with the most annoying/depressing person you can imagine. And they will just not. Shut. The fuck up.

This awful internal narrative for me often goes something like Everyone hates me/I’m a horrible fuck-up of a person who’s unworthy of love/I’ll never give or receive love in a healthy way/everyone hates me etc. Then I make the leap to all of humanity with Everyone hates everyone/We’re all horrible fuckups unworthy of love/none of us will ever give or receive love in a healthy way and by this point I want to curl up in a slot canyon and die. I dig deep into my little bag of anxiety tools, one of them being something I heard someone say on a podcast once-

“You are neither as important or as terrible as you think you are.”

I give this gift to myself, and then I extend it to the entire human race. I am neither as important or as terrible as I think I am. We are neither as important or as terrible as we think we are. Sometimes this mantra gentles and soothes me, and sometimes it just passes the time. Either way, eventually, something miraculous happens.

My mood shifts.

“I am the sky, everything else is just the weather,” Pema Chadron says.

In this case my mood shifts in the afternoon. We take a long lunch break in the lee of the pit toilet at the Wire Pass trailhead, which is a great place to hide from the wind. I felt awful in the wind, I feel awful during lunch. Immediately afterwards I want only to nap, so much so I consider quitting the Hayduke right then and there, if only so I can take a nap. But instead I hike, because that is what thru-hikers do. We leave the trailhead and a mile later we’re at the Arizona border and the northern terminus of the Arizona trail, which the Hayduke will follow for a few days. The Arizona trail turns out to be an incredibly manicured pathway that switchbacks gently up onto the Kaibab plateau. There is constant signage, which at first is alarming, as it makes me feel as though I’ve finished the wilderness adventure portion of the Hayduke and I begin to mourn it, but then this gentle tread reminds me of long easy days on the PCT and I start to mourn that instead. The top of the plateau is cool sunny juniper/pinyon forest and the wind has died down some and suddenly I notice that my bad mood is gone and I’m happy again. Just happy to be here, with a feeling of peace. I know that the peace is hard-earned- it’s what I found on the other side of my bad mood today, the bad mood I was never able to check out from.

We cowboy camp beneath a juniper tree that blocks the last remnants of the wind. It’s properly cold enough to sleep.

Photos on instagram