469.2 miles hiked
The canyon is warm and moony during the night, I sleep lightly, in the morning I have terrible diarrhea. A whole month of sugar, hardly any nutritious food- it’s time to finish this trail. A junk food based diet is fun and necessary while hiking but I’m starting to feel tired. I fantasize about salads, home cooked meals. Things I can eat that contain water and fiber.
I’m grumpy and groggy this morning, and the going is slow up the shadowed canyon. Water, rocks, water, rocks. Sloshing and making our way. The sun comes up, and suddenly it’s hot. We’re following this canyon to the Blue River, where we’ll climb out on a trail that the postmistress in Blue told us was kind of brutal. She’s lived her whole life here, I believe she knows what she’s talking about. I’m curious though. There is something to be said for seeing for oneself.
We wander up Hobo Canyon, scouting for a potential cross-country alternate to get up to this trail that climbs out of the river. Hobo Canyon is blocked with a jam of boulders, though, and the surrounding slopes are too steep and rocky to be any good (we try). We waste an hour poking around this way and by the time we’re back on route it’s even hotter, which makes me feel awful. Muffy trusts my navigational decisions on this route, because I have more experience. When I fuck up, and it affects both of us, it feels terrible. But what can you do, right?
The Blue River forms a deep clear pool beneath a sycamore tree and I strip off my clothes and jump in, bringing my shoes with me so I can take out the insoles and wash out the sand and rocks. The water is cold, but I force myself to dunk. I know it’ll do me good to cool down. Minnows swim around me in the clear water, and the shade dances. I grasp the worn roots of the sycamore tree and pull myself out of the pool, slipping on my new, clean shoes, sopping wet but free of deeply imbedded small gravel bits. Time for a 2,500 foot exposed climb in the heat.
We cannot find the trail. We’ve found the sign that once indicated the trailhead, a painted wooden thing surrounded in thick, overgrown mesquite, but there is no trail anywhere around it, no indication that there ever was a trail at all. I cut straight up the hillside, knowing it’s got to be on the slope somewhere. I force myself through the mesquite- thorns grab at my skin and clothes, they pull off my hat. My shoes and shocks fill with foxtails and other prickly seedheads. This suffering will be worth it, I know, once I find that sweet sweet tread, a path through this madness. The mesquite ends and there are only slabs of rock above me, too sheer to hold any sort of trail. Well. Maybe I missed it? I’d better go back down again. I again push my way through the mesquite, going a different way in order to search a wider area, and am stopped by a barbed wire fence. I’m hot, my face is pouring with sweat. I’m covered in scratches and seedheads. My pack is heavy with four liters of water. This is, I think, the most frustrated I’m felt on the whole MRT. I yell out my frustration and push my pack through the gap between the barbed wire, so that I can climb through after it. My pack goes tumbling down the slope, gathering foxtails as it bounces. Foxtails all over the hipbelt. Foxtails embedded in the part that sits against my back. Well. I follow my pack downhill and squat, picking off as many foxtails as I can, before slinging it back on my back. I find Muffy- she hasn’t had any luck finding the trail either. I climb up the slope a second time. The mesquite catches on the grey foam pad in my side pocket, tearing off chunks. These pads are never long for this world. I reach the high rocks again, I do not find the trail. I’m so frustrated I want to cry.
I hear a shout from below. Muffy has found the trail. I work my way down at an angle, until I reach it- an ancient, eroded, rocky jeep track, cutting along as though it’s been there this whole time. What the fuck? I sit down, and spend a long time picking seedheads out of my shoes and socks. It’s midday and we’ve gone what, just a couple of miles? We’re just now about to start our long climb in the heat. I know that, on every hike, there are days like this. It’s ironic that our last day would be one.
Our trail out of the blue river is, for lack of a better word, awful. It comes and goes, completely oblivious to the track on our map, which is based on a dotted line from USGS topo maps from the seventies. This happens a lot on the MRT, and has never been a problem, because the cross country one does to string together various bits of tread is often open, forgiving, more or less as easy going as the trail itself. This cross country, though, is not. It is steep, eroded, rocky, thorny, crowded with mesquite. And today it is hot. Very hot. We are working our way steeply up in this bullshit, trying to stay on some sort of route that makes sense. I know now why the postmistress in Blue made a face when we told her we were climbing out of the Blue River on this trail. My morale is in the toilet, today, and I can’t seem to drag it out. I turn of my brain and climb. I shut everything out and climb. The one bright spot in the day is that our friends, Emma and Billie, are meeting us at the Arizona/New Mexico state line, the terminus of the MRT. Otherwise we’d have to walk ten more miles on a dirt road into Alma, New Mexico. Originally we’d wanted our friends to meet us just for fun, but now I realize how awesome it is that they’ll be there for other reasons- at our pace today, it would be nighttime by the time we got into Alma. Everything would be closed, and we wouldn’t have anything left for dinner, and the only water we’d have is what we gathered from stock tanks near the terminus. Now, though, we have our friends to look forward to. I feel so, so grateful for their kindness, for all the kindnesses that have ever been extended to me on my hikes.
Time slows nearly to a standstill, we’re hiking so slowly. Hours pass. We take a lunch break but there’s no solid shade, just some faint dappled stuff in the prickly grass and resting here makes me feel almost hotter, so I keep walking. I’ve just got to get to the top.
I do reach the top. It’s cooler up here and there is deeper shade and I rest, tension draining out of me like air from a balloon. Muffy arrives and we continue on, too tired to even talk. The tread is consistent, incredibly, from here on out, and it even becomes good singletrack. We must be nearing a trailhead that people actually use. My feet feel hot and sore in my shoes, and I’m thirsty no matter how much water I drink but now we’re descending and the hottest part of the day has passed. We made it.
A few miles of rocky jeep track takes us to a ranch at the AZ/NM state line, where we know from our maps there is a good, graded dirt road, one that we imagined our friends would be able to drive in their passenger vehicle. Our friends are standing next to their subaru in the gloaming, holding a box of cinnamon sugar gluten free donuts. Billie’s dog lopes towards us, her tail spinning like a helicopter propeller. I eat a donut and hug my friends. I’m not frustrated anymore, and my exhaustion feels far away. I’m happy, so happy.
We drive through the dark to Safford, Arizona, and order food from the Carls Jr drive through before getting a motel room where I stand under the shower for a long time. Emma and Billie brought me technu for my poison ivy, and they brought us both sandals to change into, which is incredible. The bed feels huge and soft, and the voices of my friends the most soothing balm, especially after hiking through ultra conservative rural AZ for a month. In the morning we’ll be in Tucson, and we’ll be reunited with our dogs. We’re finished!