Arizona trail day 21: Payson


15 miles

At 3:30 a.m. there are loud voices, passing through camp. Gathering water, chatting, then gone. I’m confused, and then very awake. We’ll learn later that there’s an AZT bike race happening right now, and those were some of the racers. I can NOT imagine biking this trail, much less in the dark. Bike people are insane!

I try to sleep longer but give up at 5 a.m. and make breakfast. Apparently the loud scraping of my pot that I do with my spoon wakes up Matthew? Oops. Before long alpenglow is touching the tops of the scrubby mountains and we’re walking through the cold hollows still draped in shadow, feeling the blisters on our feet come alive.

Tinajas in the bubblegum colored rock. Plump agave, sharper than a razor. Climbing up onto the ridge and the sun suddenly, brighter than anything. Languid warmth creeping its way into my bones. Then I’m sweating. My face is roasting. The drawback of hiking a trail southbound- walking into the sun all day. Lava rocks on the trail. We exit the Mazatzal wilderness- now there’s a gate, yellow grass, signs of cows again. The trail is an eroded dirt road. Sweat drips into my eyes. By midday Matthew and I are standing on hwy 87, thumbs out, melting into the blacktop. It’s a 30 something mile drive to Payson, where we’ll resupply.

It’s a terrible spot to hitch. People are going sixty, at least. The thing about spots like this is that no-one will stop- until someone totally bonkers stops.

Every car looks brand new and spotlessly clean- who are these people and where are they going? Then after 45 minutes an old SUV pulls off ahead of us. Salvation!!

Marsha and her dad Bill are headed through Payson and they can drop us off at the budget inn no problem. Marsha rearranges the backseat for us and then takes off her backwards baseball cap and runs her tattooed hand through her greasy, slicked back hair. Her face is weathered from the sun and she wears a baggy t-shirt and baggy jeans. Her father Bill, whose aesthetic is the same, jerkily steers the SUV back into traffic- it catches and almost stalls as we climb a hill.

“Transmission’s failing so we’re nursing this thing north,” says Marsha, her voice hoarse. She tries to roll a joint but the paper catches in the wind from the open window and flutters like a butterfly in the air before being sucked out, into the world. “My dad’s blind and his shoulder’s broken, so buckle up and hold on, he shouldn’t be driving,” she says. Bill turns and guffaws at us, jerks the SUV towards the guardrail, quickly corrects it. Marsha says they’re coming from a slipknot concert.

“First concert I ever went to was aerosmith when I was nine years old,” says Marsha. “With my mom and dad. We had front row seats but both mom and dad got in fights- dad with eight dudes and mom with one huge bitch, and we had to leave during the first song.” She punches Bill in the arm and he guffaws again, jerks the wheel. Marsha produces the local police blotter and starts to read aloud. “Hey that’s Tracy! Roger’s niece. She couldn’t have strangled that guy, her hands are too small.” They laugh together, Bill puts his hands on his neck and pantomimes strangling. The SUV drifts. Matthew and I sneak glances at each other in the backseat. I LOVE the vibe of these two. Feel deeply unsafe being in a moving vehicle with them, but LOVE them.

One of the SUV’s windows is held together with duct tape. “At least the door handles work,” says Marsha, glancing at it. “That’s pretty rare, for a family car. Member Janey’s sedan, had the shoelaces you had to pull to get the doors open?” She says to Bill. He laughs, now they’re both laughing. The desert rolls by outside, the world is filled with light. I feel like these two are monks of a sort- they’ve reached enlightenment. They have no more fucks to give, and they know exactly how precious it is to be alive.

Our room at the budget inn is blessedly dark and blessedly cool, and I wilt onto one of the beds. We get a text from Laura- she got to the highway crossing neat roosevelt lake, and she’s hitching her way here- she’s in the bed of a pickup truck speeding down the highway, next to the head of a freshly hunted deer. Holy shit Laura is fast!! She went over a hundred miles in the same amount of time it took us to go 73.

The mexican food next door is cheap, excellent, and my iced tea comes in a huge styrofoam cup. God I love southern arizona! Across the street is Bosa donuts, “best donuts in Arizona”, and I remember I went there on the Mogollon Rim Trail and they were SO GOOD. Gluten makes me (temporarily) ill and usually I avoid it but sometimes you’ve got an itch that just needs to be scratched, you know? I buy a dozen. “I got us a dozen donuts!!” I text Laura. Six donuts later I am in bed, comatose. Laura has arrived, absolutely sun roasted, and she’s regaling us with tales from her bonkers speed hike through this section, which is apparently the roughest section of the whole AZT- one day she took a wrong junction and did eight extra miles, for “at least a forty mile day”. She hiked until eleven p.m. Her blisters were horrible. She ran out of water, and by the time she reached the highway she wanted to die.

At 8pm we walk to walmart, where I deliriously wander the aisles looking for stove fuel. At 9 pm I’m in bed, the hotel AC up high making very nice white noise.

Day 22 of this AZT blog is written and ready to go- I’ll post it (and its corresponding tiktok video, which you can see here) when this fundraiser reaches $12,300, and when I have service again. Thanks so much to everyone who’s contributed so far!! 

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!