Pinky and The Brain Take On The Arizona Trail

When we finished the Appalachian Trail I didn’t think I had another thru hike in me. Pinky would have turned around and hiked Southbound immediately if it hadn’t been getting cold. I was ready to go home, to live inside again and to be reunited with our family, friends and cats.

The cats themselves, Bernice and Gina

The AT has always been the only long trail I had any serious interest in hiking. I felt satisfied with having completed it and didn’t feel the need to thru hike like I used to… until some time in February. Probably prompted by the internet beginning to light up with the beginning of thru hiker season, I started to feel the draw of another thru hike. As we thought about what we want the next few years of our lives to look like, we decided this fall was probably our best chance to fit in another few months of living out of our backpacks. So, AZT SOBO 2023 it is!

Preparing for the AZT

Turns out, we haven’t done as much prep as we’d hoped for. A lot of things about our life and the lives of our family have been up in the air this summer so it’s been hard for me to feel like this trip is really going to happen.  I spent most of the summer not thinking too much about the hike because I didn’t want to be too disappointed if we didn’t get to go. We bought insurance on our plane tickets just in case. Now we are less than 4 weeks out from our start date, so we are trying to take things seriously and get our shit together.

We haven’t managed to find the time for actual physical preparation like we’d originally hoped we’d have this summer. Both of us are working, usually opposite schedules, and I’ve been spending most of my free time helping to care for my grandmother. It hasn’t left a lot of time for even day hikes. But we started the AT without any physical prep and we made it through without injury, so I’m hopeful we can do that again this time. We have a pretty conservative mileage plan and will work our way up as we get stronger.

To get a sense of the trail, Pinky has been watching YouTube videos and I’ve been lurking in the AZT Facebook group. I also followed a few spring hikers on Instagram. We bought the AZT Association guidebook as soon as we decided we wanted to do this thru hike and have been perusing it as well. I’ve also already scrolled through the entire FarOut map several times and I’ll probably start stalking water comments on the first weeks section soon so I can begin thinking about our daily plans.

What are we changing from the AT?

On some level, a long hike is a long hike is a long hike. You need generally the same gear and you generally plan in the same way. From what I can tell, the biggest differences will be the (lack of) water and sun exposure. I feel somewhat prepared for the water situation since we hiked through the mid-Atlantic in a drought last year, but we are still taking some extra precautions-

Filtering- We will bring back up Aqua Mira drops in case we are too sketched out by a water source and will use our bandannas to pre-filter any extra thick water. We already have the coupler for our Sawyer filters and were already in the habit of backflushing our filters almost every time we filtered water.

Capacity- Pinky already likes to carry 2 1.5L smart water bottles. I’m following suit, and we each have a 3L CNOC, so we both have a 6L water carry capacity. We hope this will be enough, but if it isn’t we can easily add bottles or get another bladder.

Weight adjustment- To give ourselves the ability to carry several extra liters of water (we almost never carried our full capacity on the AT) we are giving up the Taj Mahal (our massive 3 person North Face tent) in favor of a lighter Durston X-Mid 2 (we did not spring for the dyneema one, just a regular poly, and we got it used on Facebook so I feel pretty great about it.) This tent weighs less than half of our other tent, so we can switch those pounds for water weight.

It looked good while it lasted… it caved in on us the next morning, womp womp

Regarding the tent, we still have a MAJOR learning curve…. It’s our first trekking pole tent and we haven’t used it as much as we’d hoped this summer. So it might fall down on us a few more times before we get the hang of it. Plus, adjusting to the smaller size is a challenge in and of itself, given the palace we were used to. Ideally, we’ll only use it occasionally, cowboy camping under the big Arizona sky is one of the things we are looking forward to the most!

We’ve also decided to try relying more on resupply boxes than on town resupplies. It was something I always wished we had done more of on the AT, but I didn’t feel like I knew how to prep resupply boxes when we were getting ready for the AT, nor did I feel like we had the time to do it. I feel really good about our ability to adequately plan our food this time around and I hope I’ve made good choices about where to send our boxes. We are almost done prepping the seven boxes that we’ll have Pinky’s parents mail to us along the way.


Pinky preps

On the subject of food, I’m taking the leap and going stoveless this time. I’ve always been a bit attached to my stove but I’m going to try to be a big girl about it. One of my goals for us is to cut down on our morning routine. The days will be shorter and we’ll still need to hit a decent amount of miles each day. We aren’t big night hikers so I want to try to maximize our morning hours with an earlier start out of camp. The catch is that we also aren’t big morning people… we’d often spend an extra hour or so snuggled up in the tent. I’d savor my hot coffee and force down oatmeal… I’m still going to have coffee, it’s just going to be mixed in with protein powder and I’ll drink as we pack up and start hiking, ideally cutting out some temptation to linger and speeding along our process. Plus, now I have a breakfast alternative to oatmeal, which I grew to hate.

Instead of a stove and pot I’m bringing a small shaker bottle and a Talenti jar my mother kindly saved for me. I’ve gotten some fun dehydrated and cold-soakable meals together and am feeling pretty good about my prospects. If I wind up hating it and missing my nightly mac and cheese too much, I’ll just have the stove sent to me in one of our boxes.

To deal with the sun exposure, we got some bigger hats and made sure Pinky has a good long sleeved shirt with SPF. I plan to wear the exact same outfit I wore on the AT since I was already in a long sleeved SPF shirt. (I guess it’s not *literally* the same outfit since I threw away the shirt I finished in almost as soon as I could, but I did buy the exact same shirt again.) We’ve also toyed with the idea of getting umbrellas, but decided to wait and see how it goes for the first week or two. Maybe we’ll see some in a hiker box.

For footwear, I’m switching from Altras to Brooks. I got a pair of Brooks to wear at work earlier this year and really liked them, so I’m trying out a pair of Cascadias. I’m not hopeful that my plantar fasciitis won’t flare up again, it still does regularly, but maybe it won’t be as awful? Pinky is still holding strong in the Altra Lone Peaks, they remain his every day shoes in the real world, too.

There’s been a few other tweaks to gear, mostly by me because futzing around with my gear is one of my favorite hobbies, but these are the main ones. I guess the other kinda big change is that Pinky will be rocking a whole new backpack. The frame in his broke somewhere in the Whites. Gregory couldn’t repair it so had to send him a whole new backpack, in a newer model, which he doesn’t like as much as the old one. We’ll see how it goes.

What are we hoping to get out of the AZT?

Mostly, we miss thru hiking. We miss the freedom, the simplicity, and the togetherness. Since we’ve been back home this summer we’ve gone days without seeing each other, it’s been shocking after we got so used to spending almost literally every moment of every day together. I feel so lucky that we enjoy that kind of togetherness with each other. I look forward to another 2 months of it.

Neither of us has ever been to Arizona or spent any time in “the desert.” We look forward to a different kind of natural experience. We are curious about what kind of flora and fauna we’ll see and come to love. Will there be anything to rival the smell of the forests in Maine or the adorable antics of the red squirrels? How will the Arizaona fall compare to the incredible one we experienced in New Hampshire and Maine?

We are especially excited about the Grand Canyon. We are crossing our fingers that we’ll be able to spend 2 nights in the canyon. Having an extra day to explore in the bottom of the canyon would be a dream come true. Even if we can’t, hiking through the canyon is a bucket list item for both of us and we are so so looking forward to whatever experience we get.

Finally, I’m curious to see what new limits we find on this thru hike. I know we can hike 800 miles, we’ve hiked 2,200! But can we do it in 8 weeks? What new challenges will we face and how will we fare? On the AT we firmly embraced “last one to Katahdin wins” and I am so grateful for that. It was the perfect attitude for that hike. On this one, I want to see if we can blend our classic Pinky and the Brain moseying with a bit more of a sense of urgency. We’ll see what happens!

Stay tuned for updates while we are out there. I once again intend to write posts as often as I can about our adventure!

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Comments 1

  • Jingle Bells : Oct 12th

    Just found this. Looking forward to following along.


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