AZT Day 8-13 (mile 96.6-177.2)
*I’d like to make a quick note that I’m actively writing these blogs on trail. That means I’m usually typing them out in my tent each night and posting when I have signal. I proofread the best I can, but am sure there are still plenty of errors! Hopefully you can make sense of my ramblings. Enjoy!*
Day 8: 0 miles (mile 96.6- Tucson, AZ)
Today was a really weird but necessary day for me. I packed up with the boys but decided it would be best if I caught a ride into town. This would mean that I’d skip the 16ish miles from Forest Road 231-Sahuarita Road. I wrestled with this decision because I worried people wouldn’t consider me a “real thru-hiker” if I skipped miles, but I tried to remind myself I’m not out here for anyone else. I’m hiking for myself, and if I think I need to go into town to give my knees a better shot at healing, then that’s that.
I said goodbye to Truffles, Hangman, Pimento, and Bryce and made my way down the dirt road to Highway 83. Our plan was for me to get a shuttle into town, reserve a hotel room, and the boys would get a shuttle to the hotel from the trailhead further north. I had spotty signal at camp and texted a shuttle driver and hoped I’d have better signal by the road. While I walked I tried to fight the negative thought spiral in my mind. I felt guilty for getting off trail, I worried about my knees and my feet, and I felt out of control of the whole situation. I was also nervous about trying to get into town by myself because I felt more vulnerable being alone. Getting to the road felt reassuring because it meant I was one step closer to my goal for the day: rest and recovery.
I wasn’t at the road for long before I heard someone walking down the dirt road. I looked up and saw Truffles making his way towards me. I was confused but excited to see him. I asked what he was doing and why he was on the road rather than hiking. He told me that he didn’t want me to have to be alone and that we were in this adventure together. He said he hadn’t made it far up the trail before he decided to turn around and find me so that we could be together. I am so thankful that I can always depend on him to show up when I need him the most.
Shortly after Truffles appeared, I heard back from the shuttle driver that they wouldn’t be able to pick us up. We set to looking through FarOut comments to see if there was another local shuttle driver we could reach out to, and we found Galen based out of Patagonia. We texted him and he said he’d be able to pick us up around 11:30 am. Truffles and I did our best to stay out of the sun and wind, the time passed much more quickly with company.
Once Galen arrive it wasn’t a far drive to the Travel Inn on the outskirts of Tucson and Vail. For $100 bucks we got a room for our crew with 2 beds and running water, what more could a hiker want. While I got settled, Truffles went to the gas station nearby to get a bag of ice so that I could ice my knees. He gave me strict bed rest orders and put me on an icing schedule. For the rest of the evening all I did was lay in bed, watch TV, and ice my knees. It was lovely.
When Hangman, Pimento, and Bryce arrived they told us about their day and ride to the hotel with the shuttle driver, Calves. Everyone was hungry so they went to the A&W fast food restaurant next door to bring lunch to the room. We all enjoyed the AC and took turns taking showers before vegging out for the evening.
We decided to splurge for dinner and ordered Dominos pizza. It felt so nice to lay in bed eating a pizza without a care in the world. I think everyone appreciated a little R&R and chance to feel like a normal human again instead of a dirty hiker.
My tramily is trying to decide what we should do tomorrow, whether we should get back on trail or spend one more day in town so that I can hopefully heal up. We have to check out by 11am so surely we’ll have made up our minds by then…
Day 9: 0 miles (Tucson, AZ)
In terms of a 0, today was perfect. Truffles, Hangman, Pimento, Bryce, and I all managed to sleep in until around 8:30 am and piddled around in the hotel room before beginning town chores. I unpacked and repacked my backpack, reorganized my food bag, made a list for resupply, and started laundry. We managed to clean out of our hotel room before checkout and made our way to Dollar General to resupply. Our plan was to carry 3 days of food and get a ride into Tucson to resupply so that we didn’t have to carry a ton of food over Mica Mountain. We got all the food that we needed (and probably more) and walked over to the gas station for drinks.
Right before I left for trail, my mom had posted about my upcoming hike on Facebook. Her first cousin, Keith, reached out and said he lived in Tucson and that he’d love to support my hike anyway he could. Keith is my great aunt’s son, and I had only ever met him a time or two during childhood. Poor Keith didn’t know what he was getting into when he passed his number along to my mom, because I texted him to ask if my tramily could spend our 0 at his house. He was so gracious and offered to pick us up from the gas station and took 4 smell hikers to his house.
Keith and his wife, Allison, were the most fabulous hosts! We all sat on their couch and talked for hours, they grilled us burgers for lunch, and even let us soak in the hot tub for the evening. Keith drove us to an outfitter so that I could purchase sock liners to help my blister and knee braces to provide some support to my poor knees. The thing that continues to blow me away on trail is how welcoming complete strangers are, and although Keith and I are related, we were basically strangers. It was so fun to get to know each other and learn more about my family tree.
Pimento and Hangman are sleeping on the couch and Truffles and I are in the guest room. I am feeling nervous about getting back on trail tomorrow just because I’m not sure what to expect from my body at this point. I know two days of rest will have done my body some good, I just hope it’s enough to keep me on trail. I wanted to quit plenty of times on the AT, but it wasn’t because of my physical abilities. That’s what has made my experience on the AZT so far so frustrating, I want to keep hiking and push big miles and do all the things but my body isn’t letting me. I’m eager to be back in the trail and try to get my groove back.
Day 10: 7.3 miles (mile 125.7-133)
I needed a day like today to remind me what I’m doing out here. It felt so good to wake up in a bed and take a shower with real shampoo and conditioner this morning! My cousin Keith was kind enough to cook breakfast for us, and we feasted on eggs, bacon, and croissants. We had already completed all our town chores the day before, so there wasn’t much to do before we got hiking. Keith took us to Colossal Cave Mountain Park where we said goodbye. We also had to say farewell to Hangman, Keith was taking him to the airport. As hard as we tried this past week, we couldn’t convince him to stay and finish the trail with us. We can’t blame him for choosing the stability of his career over being hiker trash.
Pimento, Truffles, and I decided to get back on at Colossal Cave because it meant an easier day for me to test out my weary knees. Suited up with a knee brace on each leg I joked that I was going to be faster than everyone. I got off trail at mile 96 and back on at mile 125, so I skipped almost 30 miles. I’m trying not to sweat it too much, though, because I know my body needed that time recover. We are on a fixed timeline so I know if I want to finish by our deadline I have to keep moving north.
At Colossal Cave we were greeted by other hikers and even reunited with Bryce. This was the most new faces I’ve seen yet on the trail, I felt a little out of place since it seemed like everyone already knew each other. Truffles and I split a prickly pair margarita, ice cream cone, and colossal pretzel before shouldering our packs and hiking.
This section of trail is logistically challenging because we are about to enter Saguaro National Park. The AZT is only 17.7 miles through the park, but hikers are only able to camp at two very small campgrounds. That means hikers can either push through the park in one day, or hope they get one of the coveted campground spots. We were lucky enough to snag the last campsite at Manning Camp on 3/27/23. This meant that we would camp outside of the park boundary tonight and make it to Manning Camp tomorrow night, then exit Saguaro the following day.
Once we got moving, the hiking today was fairly easy. It was everything I thought hiking in the deserts of southern Arizona would be. Clear blue skies, no clouds in sight, cactus everywhere, gravel crunching under my shoes. It was a stark contrast to the rolling hills we’d been hiking over in previous days
We made it to our destination by early afternoon. We knew we couldn’t go into the park boundary, so we set up our tents just outside the line and tried to find some shade. As other hikers rolled in we were thankful we had gotten here early and got our pick of the spots. This section of trail is infamous for the bottleneck that forms entering Saguaro because hikers don’t have many camping options in this section. There are probably 15-20 hikers camped outside of the park tonight, which is the most hikers I’ve seen in one area on this entire trail so far.
Rincon Creek was flowing beautiful just outside of camp so we decided to stick our feet in for a while. It felt really nice to relax and socialize with new hikers. I tried to submerge my knees since it’s hard to pack out ice. Stream water is just as cool and nice.
As the evening wore on Pimento broke out his new deck of cards. Truffles and Pimento tried to teach me to play Phase 10 in the fading sunlight. We made it all the way to phase three before calling it quits for the evening. I feel strong and capable after today. My knees are still sore but they don’t ache like they had been, and my blisters are healing. I feel good about our climb tomorrow, and hopefully the descent the following day goes smoothly.
Day 11: 13.2 miles (mile 133-146.2)
Today was a big day that couldn’t have gone any better! We woke up around 6am and discovered that most of the other hikers who camped out on the Saguaro border had already left for the day. Many of them couldn’t get Manning Camp permits and just planned to go up and over Mica Mountain and exit the park on the same day. I was thankful for our secured campsite as I took my time packing my things and didn’t feel like I had to rush out of camp.
It got chilly overnight, the condensation inside our tent even froze. Truffles, Pimento, Bryce, and I were all out on the trail by 7:30am. We paused to take photos of the Saguaro boundary signs and were on our merry way.
The first three miles of the day were beautiful! The trail was mostly flat and treaded over dirt and gravel. The mighty saguaro cactus towered all around us casting outlandish shadows along the trail. I couldn’t believe how many wildflowers were blooming. Pinks, yellow, oranges, and purples sprung up from the seemingly barren mountainside. Truffles and Bryce too their time capturing photos for their Seek app while Pimento and I trudged on.
We gathered water at a creek crossing and the trail slowly began to climb upwards. We wound over rocks and small pools of water and the grade of the trail increased. The initial part of the climb wasn’t too difficult, however laboring under the unrelenting sun had us all sweaty and panting.
As we ventured higher in elevation, the landscape began to change. The cactus fell away and were replayed by elegant pine trees. We neared Grass Shack campground, one of two campgrounds AZT hikers can stay at in Saguaro National Park. A stream flowed through the middle of camp and there were plenty of shaded spots to rest. We relaxed and ate lunch as we tried to prepare ourselves for the massive climb ahead.
There are only about 4 miles between Grass Shack and Manning Camp, but there’s an elevation change of about 3,000 feet. The next four miles went by in a blur of sweat and tired legs. We made great time but the last section of the day really took it out of me. I was again filled with gratitude that we were stopping at Manning Camp instead of continuing on to the park boundary.
Manning Camp is a classic high elevation campground with campsites nestled beneath tall conifer trees. Truffles and I set up our tent on a bed of pine needles and tried to soak in as much warmth from the sun as possible since we knew it was going to be a cold night at 8,000 feet. The four of us ate dinner together and quickly retired to our tents once the sun started to dip in the sky. My legs are tired after all the elevation gain, but I felt strong and capable today. I was reminded how weak I felt climbing Miller Peak on day one, it’s amazing what 100 miles will do for the body. My knees felt good today, likely because of the additional support of the knee braces. I am interested to see how my knees fair on the massive descent down Mica Mountain tomorrow, only time will tell.
Day 12: 17.5 miles (mile 146.2-163.7)
Our biggest day on trail yet! I don’t feel great, but I feel way better than I did just a few days ago. I can definitely tell that two days off did my body good. We had a chilly start to the day, but that’s to be expected when camping at high elevation. We prolonged our time in the tent as long as possible before finally braving the cold. Pimento, Truffles, Bryce, and I all went about our separate morning routines before departing Manning Camp around 8am.
We had about 500’ to climb before beginning the big descent. The top of the maintain looked like a fairy wonderland with snow covering the ground and a crystal clear stream dancing between the trees. We made quick work of the climb before Pimento and Bryce put on their micospikes and we began moving down the mountain.
The snow was several feet deep but thankfully had been well treaded over and was well packed down. The rising sun was starting to melt the areas touch by sunlight, but the shades sections still crunched beneath our feet. There were slick sections and each one of us nearly fell, but we somehow managed to stay on our feet. The trail would have been hard to follow had it not been for the path of footprints guiding our way.
We came to what looked like a cliff side overlooking the valley below. It seemed like the mountain just ended and we could see for miles. We found the direction the trail was taking and marveled at the fact that in a few short hours we would be back on the desert floor.
After leaving the lookout the snow abruptly disappeared. The gravel, dirt, and rocks quickly took its place. Switchback after switchback too is further away from the mountain top. My knee braces helped support my knees on the grueling descent, without them I’m sure I would have been in pain. I was aware of my knees, but they didn’t bother me the same way they had days before. I listened to an audiobook and tired to take in the sprawling views and we made our way downward.
After several miles we came across a beautiful creek, no doubt flowing with melting snow from Mica Mountain. It was only 11:30am but we decided to we couldn’t pass up such an idealistic spot for lunch. We feasted and took our time filtering water. The rest of the day would be dry according to FarOut, so I left carting 3 liters of water.
The rest of the day blurred together once we were off the mountain. We were once again in the rolling hills that were covered in tall grasses and scraggly trees. There was little to no shade and without a cloud in sight the sun beat down on us. We seemed to go up and down ridge lines without any real direction. The views were incredible all day, the sprawling hills giving way to looming mountains. My knees were aching but not at the same intensity as they had previously, and I was able to hike unbothered by my finicky joints.
Our entire group was exhausted by the time we rolled up to the drainage area we had decided to camp at. Only a handful of people were set up on the banks of the creek, but I was thankful for a flat piece of earth and easy water access. While Truffles set up the tent I went to collect water and stuck my feet in the creek for a while. Everyone was so beat after a long day we hurriedly ate dinner and retired to our tents before the sun was down. I am so grateful to feel healthy again, I hope I wake up still feeling good tomorrow.
Day 13: 13.5 miles (mile 163.7- 177.2)
Today was a great day in every possible way! We woke up early this morning in order to try and be hiking by 7am. The sun hadn’t risen when my alarm went off, so Truffles and I got ready in the tent by the glow of our headlamps. It had been cold last night, and again the condensation had frozen inside of the tent.
The sun was up in full force by the time we finally hit the trail. We had arranged to meet Tina, our Uber driver to Montezuma Pass on day one, at the Molino Basin trailhead at 9am, so we had about 4.5 miles to cover in 2 hours. The first mile was easy hiking through cattle country. Every morning our tramily sings “It’s a Great Day to Be Alive” by Travis Tritt, and this morning we got to serenade cows.
We stopped to lathered on sunscreen and chugged as much water as we could stomach before attempting to conquer the seemingly small hill in front of us. The elevation profile on FarOut didn’t do this hill justice. It absolutely kicked my butt! I was huffing and puffing and dripped sweat by the time I finally created the ridge and rejoined Pimento and Truffles. We all griped and groaned over the climb as we descended to the parking lot and our meeting location.
In the parking lot we rejoined Bryce, he was planning to go into town with us to resupply and then was going to get a hotel room for the night to rest his ankle. Our group didn’t have to wait for long before Tina arrived. We threw our packs into the back of her pickup truck and were off to Tucson.
Tina took us to a Safeway for a quick resupply. Our plan was to get enough food to get us into Oracle. After our grocery store haul we treated Tina to lunch at a Mexican restaurant down the street. I got my first fruity frozen marg of the trail. We had delicious food and wonderful company.
Next Tina dropped the 3 of us off at an outfitter store while she drove Bryce to the hotel. Truffles needed a new water filter and insoles so we were thankful to be able easily make the stop while in town. Once Tina picked us up it was back to trail. We had her drop us off a couple miles up the train at the Gordon Hirabayashi campground. From there we said our goodbyes and were hiking around by 2:30pm. It felt good to have had such a productive day in town and still cover a decent amount of miles.
The hike the rest of the day was absolutely breathtaking. We are in the same mountain range as Mt. Lemmon, but basically hiked down into the Sabino Canyon beneath it. Once we started descending into the canyon I was just in awe. I really don’t know how to put into words how beautiful it was, and the fact that we were walking through it just made it all the more special.
We took our time walking through the canyon and crossed the river several times. We made it to our destination for the night, Hutch’s Pool, just as the sun was retreating from the canyon walls. We hastily set up camp, ate dinner, and crawled into our tents as it grew dark. I am tired from all the day’s events and partially dreading the climb up Mt. Lemmon in the morning.
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