Dream Teamin on the AZT, Part 1

For those familiar with my 2022 blog of the PCT, this one is going to be a bit different. Why? Well, because I’m a bit different now, and this felt fitting.

This is the legend of Lightning Rod and Billy Torin, two not-so-strangers who decided to walk across the desert because they aren’t quite ready to be adults yet.

They plan to stick it out for the whole trail, but like life itself, things are unpredictable.

After my failed PCT thru-hike last year, and the unfortunate news of my feet being actually worse than I thought, I wasn’t sure how things would actually pan out, and hell, I’m still not! I told Billy I have more faith in him than myself. He said he had more faith in me. Billy survived stage three cancer back in 2019, and although his long trail resume is impressive, he hasn’t done a long trail since beating cancer.

We met again in Taco Bell in Tucson. It’s funny how the universe has a way of working, we had met a year prior on Muir Pass for about five minutes, going in opposite directions. I thought he was interesting mostly because of the strange thing hanging out of his pack.

It’s decided, we will hike this trail together. At least get over Miller Peak, which we had heard was treacherous through the fear mongering internet grapevine.

I met Crush, a fellow class of 22’er, he finished his trek, though. A huge accomplishment in my eyes. We bonded quickly over life’s happenings, he offered a ride to Montezuma Pass, Billy could come too.

The day was finally here. The day that I wasn’t even sure if I’d make it to, and now I’m making an 800 mile commitment. Can I do this? I don’t fucking know, but I’m sure tryin’ anyway.

Crush dropped us at Montezuma Pass and hiked to the terminus with us. He is wonderful and I wished he could come with us and tackle this great unknown.

We climbed Miller, the snow was lackluster and we both discussed being thankful that the comments we had read online weren’t actually the case. The downhill hurt my knee, I felt alive. Ice glistened off of the branches of trees, the needles completely engulfed in a sparkly but dangerous sheet of ice, which we later learned about when the air temperature warmed and they fell around us, sounding big enough to cause injury.

We hiked into the dark, our California time was no good here in Arizona and we didn’t realize the sun set earlier here until it was too late. We have since made it a bit of a habit to roll in at dark. Dusk is power hour, where we spend our last miles looking into the vastness of this greatly diverse place, all colors on display, golden hour upon us. Just two friends, hiking into the sunset, winding down with the earth.

Around every corner, we are surprised by the diversity of this place. Barren desert, dry washes, lush green creeks, high towering peaks, low grasslands, cow pastures, steep forest roads, dammed lakes, red rock paths, rocks and so many more rocks – both in the path itself and be landscape around us.

Our first town stop came and went. We semi-joke that we’re the weirdos. We don’t do much bragging out our past trails, we mostly listen. Laughing as often as possible, not taking things too serious, we believe that attitude is everything – things are sometimes just shit, but you can make it easy or hard on yourself. We rode bikes around Patagonia, we strapped Billy’s pizza to the back of mine, I clocked myself at 13mph.

We leave town. My feet hurt and my pack is heavy, Billy helps me get out of my own head and I feel like we’re a good team.

Ramping up the mileage came too easy, and we quickly found ourselves being ahead of schedule, which wouldn’t have been an issue if not for the National Park camping permits. We change plans! At a dirty cow tank, we decide to push further before dipping back into Tucson for a zero day.

With our new plan in hand, we press on. The nights warm slightly, it’s nice to not wake up to a winter wonderland of frost. We cover a good amount of miles per day for the amount of fucking off we do. Things are kept light as silly – we sneak away to abandoned mining tunnels to smoke some weed and drink some terrible water.

I make a habit of listening to my Upper Park training playlist while hiking. It brings back a lot of emotions from home, I feel like I might be the best version of myself right now. I walk through an Ocotillo forest and cry, mostly because I’ve already made it further than I thought possible. My chest opens up, and I feel like I am exactly where I’m supposed to be right now.

I share personal details about my life to Billy. He shares some back. We never make each other feel bad, we feel heard and validated. I’m thankful for our friendship.

We sleep close at camp, the Arizona sky cracking open above us, reminding us that we are small and the universe is infinitely vast. The same universe that had brought us to this exact moment in time.

Water is collected anywhere where it can be collected. The quality is questionable, but then again, my standards are low at times.

Billy meets a wild burro, I’ve never seen anything like it. FarOut lies to us and makes us walk 6 miles instead of 2. Billy finds a small scorpion charm in the desert, I make it into a necklace and joke that I’m gonna wear it forever – in reality I’m actually going to try to. I become lethargic and exhausted and laugh about everything. We meet new friends, some are douchebags, but some are super genuine and inspiring people.

Our goal is met, and we reach Colossal Cave with some time to spare. Our friend has offered us a space on the ride she secured, and we ride into town in the literal bed of a SUV.

Time moves different out here. What has really been week feels much shorter but also much longer. It feels like the fastest month’s worth of experience in the span of a week.

Taking time off is always a confusing thrust back into the real world, but rest is necessary and we’re in this for the long run.

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