Arizona Trail – Flagstaff Bound
Day 7 – 20 miles
I was up by sunset and headed back toward the Grand Canyon village and the Yavapai Lodge. I partook in the breakfast buffet while charging my brick. I noticed a young man sitting in the reception area also charging his electronics and immediately knew him for a thru-hiker by his equipment and clothing. I looked down at my own Jolly Gear sunshirt, colorful fanny pack and Patagonia baggies and wondered if I had become a cliche of a thru-hiker. I set out on the 4-mile paved path from the park toward Tusayan and entered the Kaibab National Forest My stomach was aching – I suspect from gorging at the breakfast buffet – and I was glad for the flat terrain. Although I did glimpse two SOBO hikers in the distance the trail was quiet after the bustling crowds of the Grand Canyon. I stopped at the Grandview Lookout Tower Trailhead for an early night grateful for the water cache left by a trail angel.
Day 8 – 23 miles
My stomach was feeling a bit better this day. Continued in the Kaibab National Forest with ponderosas and junipers although the trail was rocky in places. I kept my headphones in most of the day and zoned out. My legs were beginning to feel the toll of nonstop walking and I thought longingly of the zero day I would take when I reached south of Flagstaff.
Day 9 – 25 miles
Began the day again in forest but ten miles in the trail opened into open, exposed desert grasslands. I could see a large wind farm but the blades on the wind turbines were still. The heat was brutal after the shady forest even though the temperature was only in the mid- 70s. In the distance I could see the volcanic mountain range, the San Francisco Peaks. Tomorrow I would pass close to Humphreys Peak which at 12,637 feet is the highest point in Arizona. I met a NOBO hiker, Storm Mocker, who was giving out 2$ bills to all AZT hikers (to buy themselves a cold one). He told me a dozen SOBO hikers were in front of me. I was surprised by this because I hadn’t seen any hikers the day before although their footprints littered the trail. Shortly after, I came up on one of those hikers – curled up in the sparse shade of a juniper tree – who was battling his own stomach issues. The last miles of the day were on a rocky dirt road through private Babbitt Ranch. I camped at the boundary to Coconino National Forest. As I lay in my tent in the fading daylight I suddenly realized how quiet it was. There was no cacophony of insect noise at sunset.
Day 10 – 24 miles
I was awake before dawn. I noticed this morning that it was quiet at sunrise – no birds chirped an alarm. The first seven miles was more walking on steep dirt roads and it quickly grew hot. I was relieved when the trail transitioned back into forest. I filled my water bottles from a bear box cache and shortly after this I began to pass day hikers on the trail. Today was “AZT in a Day” sponsored by the Arizona Trail Association and several groups of hikers registered to hike this portion of the trail. I rarely feel lonely as a SOLO hiker but I do enjoy the occasional touchpoints with other humans. I would soon be overwhelmed by humans. As I crossed a dirt road and began the gradual switchbacks around the northwest flank of Humphreys Peak I ran into trail runners who were competing in an ultra race on the AZT. I felt chagrined for my huffing and puffing as these elite runners lapped me. When I reached the top of the climb the temperature dropped dramatically and it began to rain and hail. I had thought to take the five mile side trip to hike to the top of Humphreys Peak but decided against it in the weather. I crossed an open field where I had a fantastic view of the Snowbowl that had accumulated a light coating of snow. I hiked down to a water tank to filter water and enjoy the views. I camped as the last light faded from the day and collapsed into my sleeping bag.
Day 11- 26 miles
I was hiking by sunrise and enjoyed a lovely morning. The trail – covered in a thick coating of pine needles- descended 1,500 feet in five miles. I walked by a campsite with two tents and I could see the occupants were gradually stirring. I passed the turnoff for the Flagstaff Urban route and followed a contour around Elden Mountain. The urban route runs close to the center of Flagstaff city and is perfect for hikers who desire to resupply in Flagstaff. I was not resupplying in Flagstaff so I hiked the eastern route which stayed in forest until it crossed Highway 87. The weather turned cold and then rainy with sporadic hail. I stopped under the highway 87 culvert to put on all my rain and cold weather gear. From there the trail paralleled Interstate 40 and railroad tracks; this was not my favorite part of the trail. I wearily set up camp as the rain died off and slept fitfully within hearing range of the cars and trains that ran all night.
Day 12 – 13 miles
I was moving again before sunrise. I was exhausted but anxious to make it to the link up point with my husband where I would finally take a zero day. The day started chilly but warmed up in the sun and the skies were clear blue. The trail descended gradually into Sandy’s Canyon and passed the southern turnoff for the Flagstaff Urban route. By noon I had reached the trailhead link up and was elated to see my husband, Magic Mike,waiting for me with a cold diet coke and lemonade. I had been hiking for 12 days and was ready for a shower and a pizza.
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