Arizona Hike: Post-Hike Review Part 1

So – How Was the Hike?

After reading my blog entries, my sisters asked me if I enjoyed this hike. I wondered if I had unknowingly portrayed a negative experience. Objectively, I could see how the many painful details in my entries would have summed up to a terrible experience. But this perception would be due to my inadequate descriptions, not the experience itself. Describing a thru-hike as fun, enjoyable, terrible, or hard is an oversimplification. I think the better questions to ask about a thru-hike are along the lines of: Was your hike successful? Was the experience worth *fill in the blank*? How did it challenge and thrill you?

My Arizona Trail thru-hike was made up of many micro experiences – some exciting, some terrible, some painful, some joyful. Those micro experiences added up to a challenging and rewarding thru-hike that pushed me to grow as a hiker and a human. Would I do this same thru-hike again? No, there are too many other trails to try. But I’m 100% glad I hiked the AZT and would make the same decision a thousand times.

I Met My Goals but There’s Room for Improvement

I had two goals for the Arizona Trail: 1) hike with intention; 2) finish the hike.

Hike with intention

On the Appalachian Trail I was extremely goal-oriented, focused on miles per day and getting to Katahdin. I knew I was somewhere on a map, but specifics didn’t matter. By keeping my head down, I missed an opportunity to engage body, mind and soul throughout the AT experience. From the beginning I knew I wanted to approach the Arizona Trail differently. I signed up to blog for the Trek knowing this would force me to pay attention to details, to understand where I was going and what I was looking at. The Arizona landscape seemed alien and untouchable at first. I used the Seek by iNaturalist app to put names to the plants and wildlife. By naming them the plants became familiar and I recognized the changes in the biodiversity throughout the hike. I used the PeakVisor app to identify the mountain ranges and understand where the trail was taking me. These tools helped me stay engaged until the last week when my injured knee and the promise of a finish made it difficult to stay present.

However, I wish I had prepared more to understand the cultural and historical aspects of the trail. Per the Arizona Trail Association “every foot of the Arizona National Scenic Trail is on the ancestral lands of Indigenous people.” I took note of the indigenous names of the major terrain features, but I still have only a superficial understanding of the indigenous people’s story and Euro-American history. Another missed opportunity. I can do better.  In the future, I’ll incorporate this learning into pre-hike preparation.

Finish the hike

It will always be my goal to finish a hike. I did finish the AZT, but it remains to be seen how much damage I caused my knee and whether it will impact future hikes. It’s difficult on the trail to know if the pain you feel will go away after your body adapts or if the pain is an indicator of a larger injury. I was able to push through on my knee, but I never fully trusted it the last week, which made me slower than I would have liked.  In retrospect I should have had my knee checked out before the hike. It has caused me problems in the past, but I blithely assumed 800 miles wasn’t long enough to stress it.

So – the hike was everything I thought it would be and more!

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