Arizona trail day 38: kentucky camp


28 miles

Yesterday Alan’s back was feeling a bit tweaked, and this morning it’s worse- pain bad enough that he’s worried about moving the wrong way and having an old back injury flare up. He wants to be super careful with his movements, which means that, at least for now, he can’t keep hiking. Luckily we’re not far from a trailhead, and he can hike back the way we came and hitch or get an uber into town, and take the rest of the day off. I feel terrible that he’s in pain and that he has to leave us, but it’s the unfortunate reality of bodies on trail- shit breaks. We’re just out here walking all day, fingers crossed that our bodies don’t give out before we reach our arbitrary destination, before we fulfill the purpose we’ve carefully constructed for ourselves. Still, I’m gonna miss walking with him a lot!

My morale is kinda in the shitter all morning. I didn’t sleep enough (again) and I’ve given up on feeling rested on this trail- I’m just gonna feel tired until the end. I try to appreciate the hills of yellow grass and the cloudy light- our first fully cloudy day! But my legs are out of gas and the small climbs feel endless. We have lunch in the cool gravel of a wash and I notice these dead insects everywhere- are they cicadas? They’re huge, and they each look like they died in the middle of completing a task- here’s one perched on top of a boulder, dead. Here are two of them, joined in mating. Dead. Did they get to fulfill their carefully constructed purpose, before their small bodies gave out?

We start walking again, uphill seemingly endlessly but with no summits in sight, and I think about how this part of the AZT, from I-10 to the Mexican border, is the most loaded section to hike for recreation. I mean all of the public lands in north america are loaded, fraught with histories of colonization, displacement, genocide, erasure. To tell myself that it’s ok to recreate in Wyoming, for example, but not Southern Arizona, might make me feel better as a white person in the outdoors but would be purely symbolic and would help no-one. And yet, it’s important to talk about what’s going on right now on these lands. Essentially, southern arizona is a militarized zone where migrants from Mexico and points south are forced into the desert, often to their deaths. This US policy is called Prevention Through Deterrence, and the idea was to make crossing the border so dangerous that people wouldn’t do it. But they still cross. Because they have to. Because what they’re fleeing in Central America or Mexico (situations informed by the US government’s actions in those regions) are so dire that it’s worth risking their lives to try and cross into the US. And so we drive them into the most brutal parts of the desert. Where thousands of people have gone missing since this policy was put into place. (For a really great take on the intersection of “wilderness” recreation in the US and migrant deaths, here’s a piece by my friend Max Granger)

Shade and I have talked about what we’ll do if we happen upon any migrants crossing between here and the end of the trail. Give them our water, food and blister supplies if they need it. Or whatever else we have that would be useful. We can always hike out to a trailhead, call a friend for assistance, hitch into town to get more supplies, while migrants can’t do these things without great risk. Giving someone water or supplies in this part of the desert can save a life. I encourage other AZT hikers to do this too!

In the afternoon we reach a metal cattle trough of clear, cold water and realize that we’ve hiked 18 miles. What?! Today has felt so slow. My legs like sandbags. I feel like I’ve been crawling down the trail. What even is hiking and why is it such a mystery? In 10 miles is a place called “Kentucky camp”, where there are picnic tables, bathrooms and a water spigot, apparently. We decide to shoot for that. We’ll have to hike a few hours in the dark but fuck it.

I always feel faster after the sun sets. I don’t know why. Our feet eat up the climbs, stumbling over rocks when our depth perception fails us. The last handful of miles are on a dusty dirt road. The moon hasn’t risen yet, and the beam of my headlamp plays tricks on my eyes, making the ground seem to rise up or fall. Kentucky camp ends up being an old house that’s been restored as a sort of museum, in a cold, damp place called Kentucky gulch. We fill up our water from the spigot and hike on down the gulch until there’s a break in the yellow grass- a sandy wash just wide enough for our tents. We’re shivering in this low place where the cold air seems to gather but soon I’m in my sleeping bag, heating up water for instant refried beans and then I’m asleep.

Day 39 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 $14,700. 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!