AZT: Days 5-7

Day 5 I woke up earlier than all the other hikers, packed up, and strolled back into downtown Patagonia to eat breakfast and slug down hot coffee, again at Gathering Grounds. Gaucho strolled in a few minutes later, and I invited him to eat with me. We had a great chat, and I found out that he is a Triple Crowner who works for UPS in CA. After the pleasant breakfast, I started walking through town,heading to where I thought the trail was, only to find out that my assumption was completely wrong. After strolling through the sparsely settled town, the AZT follows a dirt road for 6.6 miles of completely unremarkable landscape. The angry afternoon sun did not add to the ambiance at all. Eventually, the dirt road runs into the Temporal Gulch trailhead. The trailhead sign cast a decent shadow, so I set down my pack and took a seat behind it. After a few minutes of snacking, a pickup truck pulled up and a few people piled out and started looking around for something. Turns out two of the folks were thru-hiking, had their filters freeze, and somehow dropped their water treatment tablets at the trailhead. I helped the hikers find their tabs and spoke for a minute or two before they set off ahead of me.

After a bit of stretching, I also headed north, up what would be 5.7 walk up a horrible double-track jeep road. There was water trickling fairly consistently, which was nice, but the condition of the road was so miserable to walk on, and shade hard to find, that the climb was just no fun at all. I was feeling gassed and walked up a cut to find some shade and a nice place to snack. I ate a Cliff Bar w/ caffeine in it and some trail mix, and packed back up to find the trail turning into well-groomed single-track. I guess my body craves climbing on goat trails, because I shot up the mountainside like a bottle-rocket, passing hikers left and right. My body felt 100% pain-free, I was moving faaast, and nothing felt impossible. When hitting the top of the climb, I let out a primal scream into the trees, followed by a minute or so of hysterical laughter. I’m glad no one was nearby to hear my outburst. I stopped by the Bear Spring, which is fed by pipe and crystal clear, and moved a short distance to a nice campsite to eat dinner. Mush and Verne, the hikers who had frozen filters, joined me. We spoke a bit as they ate made camp. They were from Minnesota, live/work on an organic farm, and are canoe guides on the Boundary Waters. This was also their first time backpacking in the desert and shared my excitement.

After chowing down, I hit the trail as the sun began to come down, throwing light and shadow all around the walls of Casa Blanca Canyon. As the canyon opened up, the setting sun lit the mountains on the eastern horizon with magenta flames. The trail continued to be well maintained, and I was able to hike by moonlight for a few miles. When I eventually turned my headlamp on, a reflective sign lit up in the distance. On closer inspection, the sign was a historical marker, pointing out the beginning of waterworks that were constructed in the early 1900s as part of a hydraulic mining system. The trail bent west from here, but a cut in the canyon wall to the east looked like it might contain something interesting, so I crept over some dead tree limbs and found a tunnel entrance with about 2 feet of water running the length of it. This was part of the mining systems’ water supply tunnel. The water was super clear, so I filled up my water bags and continued on trail, hiking in the dark for a few more miles before I found an excellent established site to cowboy camp, ending my day at 19.9 miles.

Day Six. I woke up at about 4:30, fell back asleep until five, and the temp was probably just north of freezing. I had decided to cowboy camp for the first time on the AZT.No issue at all. Pretty comfortable! For some reason, I thought that where I had camped was off trail, so I backtracked .4 miles before realizing that the trail actually did go past where I camp the night before. So it was an extra .8mi I didn’t need to do. The trail, again, went through a lot of hilly areas and washes. Washes often seem like ideal places to camp, but if there is any weather up-canyon, even miles away, flash floods could put a grisly end to a hike. But I know better, anything can happen, and getting swept away in a muddy prickly, woody, rocky, horrible mess is not my ideal method of fatality.

Anyhow, I encountered a hiker I met the day before, Holly from Dearborn Michigan. She had set out to complete the whole trail in four weeks, which is a pretty stout order. I probably won’t see her again. She was really fast and often does ultra-marathons. She didn’t have sun gloves and was envious of mine. And! She’s going to be doing the Ice Age trail after the AZT, if she doesn’t go back to her job with a medical software company. I remember seeing the software being used at St. Pat’s hospital in Montana (where I did my clinicals) being used for triage. We hiked together for 10 minutes or so, and then I stopped to stretch out my legs and eat a snack in a large, open cattle-graze.

I had been seeing cows on and off all day and not thinking much of it. I bent down to rearrange some things in my bag, look up, and there’s an adolescent bull standing about six feet away, just looking right at me. And we’re not talking an old haggard bull of Ferdinand’s demeanor. Or like the little guy who just got his horn.s This like an 18-year-old, ‘roid-raged gym rat. So, I started calmly talking to it, not making eye contact, just sort of looking off to the side and slowing my movements. He ambles away. Maybe two or three minutes later, I’m packing up my snacks, look back up, and there’s ol’ muscle-beast, meandering back over towards me, and he just looked like he’s like had enough of me hanging out on his turf. I just sort of stood still and kept talking a little bit and he eventually went away. I breathed a sigh of relief. A 1200-pound animal doesn’t need to hurt you on purpose to ruin your hike.

I continued through the day, came up towards the top of a really nice rolling hill and I saw a couple just sort of taking a little siesta in the grass. The male is Paulo and he was originally from Massachusetts, not terribly far away from where I live now. His hiking partner was from Holland. She had done something like a 400-mile stretch of the PCT with Paulo a few years ago and we got along swimmingly. I didn’t hike with them, but we kept seeing each other at water supplies, which were a little further part than earlier. I’ve been conservative with how I’ve been drinking and monitoring my urine for signs of dehydration (Color/ clarity), making sure that I drink one good dose of electrolytes during the day,.generally in the afternoon when the sun is blazing.

There was a bit of a gusty wind that made my sun umbrella more of a hindrance than a help. Wrestling with a flappy umbrella does not a fast hiker make. I was playing the layers game quite a bit, adding and removing clothes throughout the day. I started the morning with my wool underlayer on, and. took it off within 10 minutes of hiking, so I won’t do that again. Be bold! Start cold! I’d been wearing pants in the AM, leaving my shorts/leggings on underneath. I’d been covering up as much as I can until it got too warm, then start shedding some layers, just in my shorts and leggings if not too much direct sunlight and there is a breeze. Otherwise, I took the leggings off and just slathered 100 SPF sun-screen all over, which is what I did today. The weather was nice for most of the day. When the sun’s not too bad, and there’s a little bit of a breeze I’ve been wearing a lightweight, button-down fishing shirt with my bandana tucked underneath my baseball cap.

At some point in the day, I found that breathing through my nose helped keep my lips from chapping. Moisture on your lips evaporates very quickly and then mouth breathing quickens the evaporative process. I find myself applying lip balm probably 20 times a day, at least. Anyhow! I did 20 miles+ today and 20+ miles yesterday. Which means I may be getting to my resupply earlier than I need to. Pretty smooth sailing for a while so we’ll have to see how that works out. Maybe I’ll have to ditch an entire day’s worth of supplies in a hiker box if I can’t conjure the appetite to eat up the difference. So we’ll see how that goes.

I also find myself reluctant to sit down. I’ve been eating stand up and right now I’m actually pacing back and forth. Believe it or not! At my campsite, which is directly next to a dirt road, which hopefully isn’t too busy tonight, seeing that it’s a Sunday. I heard a lot of shooting earlier but I did see a lot of pickups and Utes leaving, hopefully that’s it for the night. It should get around freezing again around five a.m. Fortunately, the winds aren’t going to go anywhere above eight miles per hour as per the NOAA local forecast. Tomorrow’s weather’ looking similar to today. I have another 10 miles until the next water source that is reliable. That’s all the energy I have left to write today.

Day 7 I woke up early again, breaking camp quickly to start a long day (23 miles). The sun came boiling over the horizon as I set off, fleeing its heat. Much of the day was very exposed, with the trail twisting through the hills like a sick game of Snakes & Ladders. The wind was constantly changing, and the struggle with my umbrella was REAL. After 10 miles in the sweltering heat, I came upon a large cow pond, which was my water source. I was completely covered up, and here come two local kids, out for the day to catch Sunnies (who actively, goes fishing for junk fish? Arizonians are weird!) The couple from the day before appeared, built their shelter, and sacked out after lunch, and I had a nice chat with an older hiker, trail name Donatello (he’s slow, but agile, like a ninja-turtle).

I eventually got up the energy to move on. At some point, I realized that I hiked myself into a funky spot, where campsites were few and far between. I ended up night-hiking for a while, descending into Cienega Creek, which is protected, and in a wash, so camping down there is no bueno. As I started to climb out of the creek bed, I saw my first Saguaro cactus! I decided that I had no more energy to move on, and set up a cowboy stealth camp on the rise after the creek. While setting up, a red headlamp, floating in the dark, hovered towards me. Thinking it was a park ranger, I started to put my gear back in my bag, before the disembodied headlamp assembled into what was clearly another thru-hiker. He told me he planned to camp in the same spot. We traded some stories and drifted off to bed, sheltered by a bejeweled sky, and woken from sweet slumber by passing freight trains in the night.

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