The Journey Before the Journey

We haven’t even started hiking yet but we’ve already been on quite the journey. Truffles and I left our home in east Tennessee on Wednesday, March 8th and headed to his family’s house in northeast Mississippi. We hung out with my in-laws for a couple days before our hiking companion, Pimento, joined us from Indiana. We made final arrangements before loading down our 2008 Honda Accord and heading west on Monday, March 12th.

Here’s the method to our madness. Our tramily decided to drive across the country rather than to fly so that we can have a car waiting for us at the end of our 800 mile thru hike of the Arizona Trail. We chose to park a car close to the northern terminus and will essentially be hiking back to our car. With the help of freecampsites.net and several trail angels, we organized a hellacious travel plan:

Step 1: Drive ~1,500 miles from Burnsville, MS to Page, AZ

Step 2: fly from Page, AZ to Phoenix, AZ

Step 3: take a bus from Phoenix, AZ to Tucson, AZ

Step 4: take a shuttle from Tucson, AZ to the southern terminus of the AZT

Here are some of the highlights from our adventure before the adventure.

Day 1: Burnsville, MS – Henryetta, OK

I felt like I had a lot of nervous energy up until we finally got on the road. So much planning and stress went into trying to figure out how to get us to trail, so finally beginning that process was exciting and nerve wracking. It felt like there were a lot of places where things could go wrong, but thankfully today was just a lot of driving on the interstate. We left Mississippi pretty quickly and passed through Memphis, TN before crossing into Arkansas. Three states down in just a couple of hours! We stopped for lunch outside of Little Rock, AK and kept driving. We entered Oklahoma and visited the nicest rest stop I’ve seen.

Camp for the night at Nichols Lake in OK

We drove until about an hour before sunset to this adorable city park with free camping in Henryetta, OK called Nichols Lake. We brought separate tents for our road trip than our thru hike (we didn’t want to fly with our trekking poles and we use trekking pole tents), so we set up our humongous tent, made dinner, and enjoyed the view of the lake before bedding down for a chilly night.

Camp for the night at Nichols Lake in OK

Day 2: Henryetta, OK – Estancia, NM

We woke up cold and decided to forgo breakfast at camp and instead treated ourselves to donuts at a local shop in Henryetta, OK before hitting the road.

Breakfast on the road

We listened to lots of podcasts and music and we left Oklahoma and made our way into Texas. I wanted to experience a Texas original for lunch, so we found a Whataburger in Amarillo, TX. Truffles and Pimento decided they wanted to find “authentic” cowboy hats to use on the trail, so we sought out a western store. They eventually found the perfect hat and we made one last stop at Cadillac Ranch before leaving Amarillo in our rear view mirror.

Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, TX

We drove past lots of open farmland, windmills, and cattle in Texas. We finally reached the “Land of Enchantment” and started to see landscape I had always equated “the west” with. Our camp for the night was a free campsite in the Cibola National Forest. We arrived just in time to make dinner and play Bananagrams before hitting the hay.

Day 4: Estancia, NM – Big Water, UT

Our last driving day! We broke camp early and headed through Albuquerque, NM on the interstate. We traveled for several hours before stopping on historic Route 66 for coffee in Grants, NM.

A quick stop on historic route 66

We weren’t far out of Grants before the check engine light came off. After a moment of panic, we decided to turn around and go to a parts store to have someone take a look. Thankfully the light was only for something minor and we were able to get back on the road. We eventually left New Mexico and entered Arizona. After several hours we left I-40 and began driving through Navajo Nation. We were all pleasantly surprised to find a delicious restaurant in Kayenta, AZ called Amigo Cafe. We are until we nearly popped and headed out for the last leg of our road trip.

Yummy lunch at Amigo Cafe

We drove past mesas and desert landscapes until we finally reached the town of Page, AZ. We stopped for a quickly photo shoot to spot the Glen Canyon Dam and we’re even lucky enough to see a rainbow before heading to our final destination.

Rainbow over Glen Canyon in AZ

Several months ago I connected with Trail Angel Ashley in Big Water, UT about storing our car while we were on trail. Ashley was gracious enough to host us for the night and made us feel like a welcome addition to her family. We camped in her yard and were thankful for the trail community and kindness of strangers.

Day 5: Big Water, UT – Phoenix, AZ – Tucson, AZ

Our big travel day! We started the day with homemade pancakes at Ashley’s before she dropped us off for a quick hike to kill time before our flight.

Pancakes from our sweet trail angel in Big Water, UT

Our flight wasn’t until the afternoon, so a hike to the Page’s iconic Horseshoe Bend was a welcome addition to our itinerary. We joined the tourists to gawk at mother nature’s beauty for a while before meeting back up with Ashley for lunch. Afterwards we said farewell and she dropped us off at the Page Municipal Airport.

Horseshoe Bend in Page, AZ

Thank goodness our oversized packs were able to be “gate checked” with Contour Airlines. Their staff were very helpful and interested in our hike. Our flight went off without a hitch and before we knew it we were in the Phoenix airport. After taking the airport tram away from the main terminal, we only had about an hour before we had to board our Greyhound bus to Tucson. Truffles found us a street taco stand within walking distance and we had a picnic at the bus terminal. Our bus arrived on time and we boarded without any issues.

Another fabulous trail angel, Heather, picked us up from the bus stop and whisked us away to her house for the night. She provided a comfy bed and plenty of laughs. I’m blow away by the hospitality of this trail community before we’ve even begun hiking! I’m so thankful all our travel today went according to plan, and I’m hoping our final leg of the journey goes smoothly in the morning.

Day 6: Tucson, AZ – Montezuma Pass (AZT southern terminus)

We woke up this morning in a bed with a roof over our heads. What a luxury! Heather offered us hot showers which was much needed after not having bathed since leaving Mississippi. Earlier this week we had a grocery delivery service drop off our food for the first few days on trail at Heather’s house. We spent the morning arranging our food and repacking our packs one last time.

Our Uber arrived at 7am to take us to Montezuma Pass. Our driver’s name was Tina and she was fabulous! Lucky for us she drove a truck so all our packs fit in the truck bed and she wasn’t intimidated by the gravel road up to the trailhead. Tina had never heard of the AZT so we spent our ~2 hour ride telling her about the trail. I think we may have convinced her to become a trail angel!

Tina dropped us off around 9am and all the nervous jitters faded away. We were finally here! All the stress of travel was behind us, we were once again in control of our journey. We backtracked the 1.8 miles south to to southern terminus and US/Mexico border. We took lots of pictures at the monument to capture the beginning of our trek.

Truffles, Magic, and Pimento at the southern terminus of the AZT

Now all we have to do is walk back to our car… Follow along as we venture north on the AZT!

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