Arizona trail day 13: there is water after all


30 miles

I wake at four a.m. for literally no reason and lay in the dark, not uncomfortable, imagining pleasant scenarios until it’s time to get up. At 6:45 we’re closing the door of Drew and Millissa’s house softly behind us, the sun slowly rising over the glittering, frosty world.

“We’ve got to get to the mogollon rim,” I say, as we walk to the coffee shop, which is on the way to the AZT, which passes within two miles of Drew’s house. “That’s where we’ll drop down off the colorado plateau. Into the desert. It’ll be warmer there.” The colorado plateau has Real Winter, that’s what we can feel in the air this morning- we don’t want that. Not with our dinky three-season gear. We need to hustle south. Whenever I’m in this situation- three season gear and I can smell the fourth season coming- the song Closing Time, which played endlessly on the radio when I was in highschool, worms its way into my head.

Closing time, you don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here.

I play the song on my phone and we sing it as we follow the paved AZT, coffees in hand, out of town and back into the ponderosa forest, where the morning light is making rainbow fractals on the frozen grass. And then- a runner! One of those fucking runners is coming straight for us! Tall, slight, and with a pushbroom mustache, he glides weightlessly along the packed mud of the trail.

“It’s the olympic silver medalist!” I hiss, after he’s passed. “The one from the bathroom!”

The trail is so dreamy this morning. Bright cold light in the pine boughs, blue sky, steaming meadows. Physically I feel great. And it’s really fun having Laura with us! Someone new to chat with! Laura’s been doing much higher mileage days than us, so it’s unsure how long we’ll get to hang with her for, but I plan to enjoy it while it lasts.

We climb up into a flat landscape of yellow grass, juniper trees spaced far apart, chunky volcanic rocks and soft dirt tread that feels excellent beneath our feet. I know this vibe from the Mogollon Rim Trail, a 500 mile Brett Tucker route in this area that I hiked a few years ago. I walked through days and days of this landscape on that trail, following old wagon routes that supplied the forts in northern Arizona in the 1800s with the supplies they needed to wage genocide on the Apaches. The history of american public lands is full of darkness and horrors, every single bit of it. There wasn’t any trace of the wagon trails on the ground when I was hiking the MRT- mostly I was walking cross country following basket cairns, big stacks of rocks wrapped in chicken wire, but the going was pretty chill. Now I have good clear AZT tread, and the going is even more chill.

Our first water source, 12 miles into the day, is a stock pond so muddy that my steripen won’t work for it. Matthew doesn’t want to use his sawyer squeeze either, because it will clog. We look at the route info. As far as I can tell, there’s… no more water today. Except for another stock pond at what would be mile 26 for us, which could be better. Or worse.

“Well,” I say, packing up my bag. “I guess we’ll find out.” It’s a cool morning and I still have a liter of water left. Several miles later we reach a dirt road and find Laura there, resting in the shade of a juniper. She tells us that a man camped nearby has a ton of water and is down to share with us. He does, seemingly stoked, and we are grateful, ecstatic. I remember what I would tell myself on the Hayduke- there’s never really not water.

In the afternoon we hit seventeen miles, then twenty. I feel really good today. So does Matthew. Should we try for our first thirty today? Sure! Laura, who walks VERY fast, pulls ahead, and when we reach the 26 mile stock pond at 5:30 she’s there, sitting in the grass, eating sour patch kids. The water is… too opaque for my steripen. I pack our two liters anyway, because I can boil it for my dinner and morning tea. Laura lets me squeeze half a liter with her filter, and I still have half a liter from the nice camper. That should be enough to get me to Mormon Lake late morning tomorrow.

The last few miles are in the dark, following the circles of our headlamps. Now that I’ve almost been out two weeks my intense footpain seems to be over, thank goodness. My body aches some but mostly I feel good. I’m getting stronger! Matthew’s knee is bugging him. I hope we’re not pushing too hard to fast. Only one way to find out!

We reach camp at 7:30, a flat bed of pine needles beneath the ponderosas. 30 miles, we did it! The stars are out, glittering and cold, and coyotes howl up a racket somewhere close by. I sit in my sleeping bag and drain a small blister on my toe- maybe infected? While the noodles for my dinner boil. I’m so looking forward to laying down and letting this dark, soft night carry me away.

I’m using this AZT blog to raise funds for Trans Queer Pueblo, a rad org that provides support to trans and queer people seeking asylum and/or in immigration detention along the US/Mexico border. Here is the fundraiser- it was at about $9k when I first posted it, let’s see if we can reach their $15k goal! For every $150 raised, I’ll post another blog post. And thank you!