I have been in Arizona for the winter, prior to my move back to Hawaii. I have done many day hikes here, but did not feel complete without at least doing a two-day overnighter and walking even the tiniest portion of the Arizona Trail. The people who tackle the AZT as a through-hike are beasts. The conditions are not for the weak-hearted and I have no pull to attempt it, but admire those who do. Hearty sons a guns.
Enter Sabino Canyon, where if you hike far enough you reach the Arizona Trail (West/East Fork #24) and a few miles more takes you out to Hutchs Pool. That was my plan, and after talking to wardens, hikers, and Summit Hut employees…thank goodness changes my original route which would have been…uh, undoable. As you will see from the photos, even the “intermediate/difficult” route was above my paygrade, but it needed to happen.
This was my favorite long hike to date. I love the desert almost as much as the ocean and once I rounded the corner and the steep canyon walls cut me off from society for the next 30 hours…I was in heaven. A hot, greuling heaven but nonetheless. I had picked a cooler day to hike out (up) so that worked out well.
About being a camel: First rule of desert hiking-don’t hike alone. HAHAHAHAHA. I can’t imagine any other way. Next. Second rule of course is water. There are few water stops, and my next stop way my intended campsite so I didn’t take any chances and pulled out with 5 liters of water. That was HEAVY. Plus, I was hiking UP. I had plenty of water though to cook dinner and make coffee, and didn’t need to filter creek scum. Yay!
About the trail: Trail?? There was some trail. Some. A majority of the terrain was rocks. Rocks going up, rocks going down…sometimes I looked ahead and for the life of me couldn’t see a trail, but had to climb rocky slopes till I met the trail again. This on a canyon slope…and I’m scared of heights (or falling from them). I am not sure why but I wasn’t afraid this time. Maybe it was the disconnection from any sort of signal (I didn’t care my sat beacon, oops) or the knowledge there was no way I could hike back out before nightfall….but I proceeded by selecting every step and …well, not falling. I want to say it was exhilarating but it was more peaceful and filling.
I got off track a little bit at the end but wound up in even a better place for it. I had never used cairns as a sole means to navigate before, and I think folks had added extra ones to be funny? Creative? Who knows, but the guide mentions three and I passed a lot more than three. All’s well that ends well. There were no other humans on that part of the trail and I was blissfully alone. I also ran into a through-hiker that took a wrong fork and would have wound up in Tucson if we hadn’t bumped into each other. Some of the trail markings are awful and could be easily fixed : /
Video of me trying to find my way with LOTS of babbling. My Cairn Issue
I had a million other things to add but am still wiped out two days later…so this is it for now. BTW, the photos of the rocks and boulders…are the trail! O.O
I lasted two days. I probably need a new hobby. I am not going to be overly reflective or make excuses (although I will list the progression of my choice later) but it came down to the most simple of truths. I DID NOT LIKE IT! Nothing cooler or deeper than that. But at the same time some good did come out of it, and as I am hopped up on antihistamines for the next few days I will make my peace with Oregon Section C, the ****er. This will be long winded, so you can skip to the summary at the end if you wish. : D
Narrative of my Decline into “Get me the F out of Here!”
I will admit sheepishly that having a buddy that is willing to cart my sad ass off of a mountain at a nearest cross-point is a luxury, and one I have used before. It also helped me realize that if I am going to be balls-deep in the woods/mountains I would like to know an “out” that is within a days hike.
I knew I was going to have to go above and beyond my regular pace to get through this section, and the first day I set a goal of X miles (a personal best), with a bonus being XX miles (unrealistic for me) and camping at a spring. I knew that if I could make that mileage, I would continue on the next day and try to match it. I promised my Dad (and me) if I started hitting the more dangerous conditions that I was not prepared for, by the end of day two I would turn around.
The conditions to which I refer were some sketchy cliffs, an ice wall, and steep snow crossings. *know thy limits* I was counting on the hot weather to resolve those by the time I got there.
I was dropped off at the trailhead a little after sunrise. It was pretty heading north from Fish Lake, but I hadn’t slept the night before and was on auto-pilot. A little ways in the woods, the sun started shining through the trees and a sweet little doe was in the path in front of me. She wasn’t scared and just sat there and looked at me. I laughed out loud (remember no sleep, lol) and said to her ” Ok, I get it”, and let my mood lighten way the heck up and felt the original motivation pour back in. She was unimpressed with my outburst, and walked away letting me cross.
My feet quickened and I was soon hiking at a pace that surprised me, and as a positive feedback loop, kept urging me on. I HAD THIS!! Then….then the bugs started. It was a few at first, as expected from the reports. Then it quickly became many. Then it turned into so many mosquitoes that I couldn’t stop to catch my breath or take a drink without being swarmed. There were mozzies in my eyelashes, ears, trying for my mouth and nose, and landing everywhere. I had a bug-net in my bag (thank goodness right at the top) but to stop to get it meant getting swarmed so I planned as I was walking: unbuckle pack, swing it around, hold breath, unzip pack, close eyes, and find net. As expected as soon as I stopped I was covered, but was able to get net out of bag and throw it over my head as planned. Mozzies were FOILED!!
The next several miles were a blur, at least I wasn’t smacking myself repeatedly in the face, but the rest of my body was open game. Now, I TREATED my clothes with permethrin, and sprayed the rest of me with picaradin. I assume it would have been a LOT worse if I hadn’t, but it didn’t seem to matter much to them. These blood-suckers meant business. I tried to make it humorous by calling them “my entourage” and scolding them if I stopped for a breath and they took longer than three seconds to swarm. I tried to take some pictures but doing so meant having my hands and fingers bitten.
By the way, I had never seen a mosquito swarm before. It is hundreds. It is a cloud. It is a choking, panic-inducing, loud, stingy nightmare.
What about the good news?!?!
Oh yes, so the cool part is, because I couldn’t stop and rest I blew through my goal X, AND goal XX by 2pm!! I made it to the spring, where another group was resting and pitched my tent so damned fast and crawled in. I killed the mozzies that followed me inside and then took a nap on the bare tent floor with my pack as a pillow. I hadn’t started thinking about quitting yet, believe it or not. I was jacked up and happy I had done record+ miles and was feeling invincible. All I needed was to refill water in the morning and I should be good to go.
Then the Bad…
More hikers showed up, so I wasn’t going to be alone thank goodness. They were stopping a little early too, as you do sometimes when regulating water stops. After my nap, I went down to fill up at the spring and the swarms down there were a horror-movie. I bent down to put my bottle in the water and was covered instantly, I couldn’t see through my face net, and I felt the bites and bugs going up my shorts (yup). It was terrifying, and tripped over myself even trying to get back to the safety of my tent. I was able to gather maybe two ounces of water. Not going to work.
I went back up and sat by a smoke fire the other group made, and told them about the water. Water is your lifeline out here so there was no skipping it. This is when I started doing the math. One hiker went to go fill up and came back, verified my report, and appeared traumatized for a few hours as he was trying to beat and smack the bugs out of his clothes.
We all complained for a bit about hiking the Oregon section in July (most thru-hikers hit it August when the bugs are less murdery).
Up until I did the math, I was going to keep on. I am not sure why through my meticulous sometimes ridiculous planning I didn’t factor in the water. I ASSUMED that it was Oregon, high snow year, water would be everywhere. WRONG! My previous hiking partner was really good at mapping out water, but nope, not me. My ASSUMPTION sealed the deal that night that I ****ed up big time.
**This part is technical and boring but explains a bit**
The two miles before Christie’s Spring (mi 1782) the blow-downs started, This means that every few feet there is a tree across the trail that you have to go over/around/under and it significantly impacts your pace. From Christie’s Spring, the next water is 15 miles. And the next after that is at Mazama Village, another 20 miles. That would leave me stuck for water since both of those with the blow-downs and upcoming snow and treachery would make those two-day trips instead of one. If I were so motivated I could have rationed my water and not cooked any food, but obviously since I am writing this, I was not so motivated. I in no way, had the desire to combat the mosquitoes, on top of eating dry ramen and oatmeal, on top of dealing with blow-downs and snow slopes, there was just nothing left that I found joy or pleasure in…and as much as I would love to have conquered my “Everest” (Section C), I just didn’t want to anymore.
Summary: The last sentence is the real reason, no excuse. I could have done it. I was over it. I went into this hike not invested, came out feeling like I made the right choice.
I coordinated my rescue (haha) with my Beastie, and hiked back out (it was rough, I think all the bites were making me sick? but at this point doesn’t matter), and when I got back slept for the next 18 hrs.
I’m breaking up with the PCT for now. (sure Terra, we believe you)
I love hiking. I love camping. I love hiking by myself but do not like camping by myself. So to combine those, I think I will explore shorter hikes, or long-distance hikes with a partner AND/OR having my husband meet me every other day or so. I’m still figuring that out, but for now this hike was not meant to be hiked.
Is it crazy though that I still crave to hike the desert section? lolololol shutupterra
P.s. I purposefully left out what it was like trying to use the bathroom.
Life happens and unfortunately my hiking partner is not going to be able to make this go of it. I am continuing on, it will just be a different hike with some adjustments logistically and mentally. Like…being alone with one’s self and sleeping in the scary woods at night, eeep! I had originally planned the hike solo, so back to plan A it is. (but booo still)
So why the tantalizing title Terra? Are you finally going to share the pancake/bear story from last year with the world? (Nope, too soon). Then what…
This is hard to admit but I am having a tough time remembering why I even wanted to do this. Life has been in a state of flux for an unseemly long time; not bad really…but a lot of change that doesn’t seem to slow down or take a breath and let me catch up. Enter: a long walk alone in the woods.
It isn’t a lot of fun, it hurts, it can be scary at times, it can be lonely at times. I feel like right now I am going because I said I was going to (which for me is reason enough being a teeeeny bit type A). Now, no way am I backing out of it but I hope that somewhere in those first miles I rediscover the motivation and joy that I originally experience last year, or what feels like a lifetime ago.
Now, back to obsessing over gear, food, pack-weight, blister prevention, YouTube learning, carb-loading (uh, I’ve been doing it for a month now, probably have plenty in reserve). Overly Long Gear Video 🙂
I am tackling a SUPER SHITTY part of the trail to start, and it will have me off grid for at least 5 days before I hit my next stop. That will be my longest stretch and if that doesn’t break me then I should be good to go for a couple hundred more. I want to bypass it SO BAD, but I won’t. So cheers to Oregon Section C, I’m going to get on you!!
I may not have the battery power over 5 days to post here, but I will when I hit civilization again. And no worries, my loved ones have my inReach locator beacon phone tracking doohickey.
We had an effective and fun mini-shake down hike for 4 days and as always, I learned a few more things and am super-duper-very-incredibly-adverbly-ready to get going on the long stretch.
1) My change from trail-runners and thin socks to Merrel Moabs and smartwool socks was a winner. I still got blisters…that is going to happen, but they actually didn’t hurt very much (think…hmmm, unintended gel insoles, bahahahahah) and I treated them correctly (add duct tape and mole-skin, minus Gorilla Tape and horrible flesh wounds), changed into camp shoes when needed, and stopped and air-dried socks throughout the day. I CAN’T STOP WINNING! Yikes, that one popped out of nowhere.
2) I will figure out how to link my desperately amateur YouTube videos, but my Ziplock and foam-cozy cooking method works well, I can’t complain. Not saying eating mush out of a bag looks appealing but I’ve never been one to brag about my culinary skills. Beta Pot Cozy
3) I cut some weight and annoyance by removing my hydration tube, solar panel, extra water bladder, food, and some other small changes. I’m certain that this will be a perpetual cycle of add/subtract that makes REI quiver with excitement.
4) I SOLD MY SOUL and switched to the MSR Wind-burner. I went to REI to return an “oops” purchase, and the intended item (MSR Pocket-Rocket) was not in stock, neither were many of the small stoves like the one I was used to. After some nerd-talk about boiling rate/ fuel loss etc..I was sold. I only boil water for coffee/re-hydration and the Wind-burner has such an extensive fuel savings over time (insert fancy math formula here) <<<by the way, if you are my husband reading this…I will actually put in the formula if you send it, hahah.>>>> I carried a half can of fuel, one of the tiny ones and barely put a notch in it over four days so I am convinced. Although I do have a soft spot for my $9.00 Etekcity stove. (notice I didn’t mention the price of the Wind-burner, I’m still sitting on a cushion after that one) Trail Food
And finally a shout-out to my bestie, Kristy. She has taken on the task of trail-angeling our happy-asses to trailheads and back, co-parenting my cat, and being on call for any sort of rescue, medical attention, or donuts and beer delivery (no, we didn’t but it sounds amazing). So THANK YOU, and THANK YOU for pulling over so quickly when both of your hikers indicated they were going to be ill at the same time. Well done and I love you.
After another myriad of life changes (my theme lately) and the fact that I took some time off of employment (lolwut) AND my previously mentioned partner is now freed up a bit as well, we are saying *cuss* it, and embarking on the Oregon portion, all 400+ miles. (Or until body parts start falling off…it happens). Start date is first(ish) week of July and I will post from the trail as access allows. I will blog my perspective only, and hopefully be able to link her blog once up and running.
Oh and I upgraded to a fancy domain and easierto work with theme. Because WordPress is hard!
SO HELL YES!!! That’s what keeps rolling around in my head. Going over all of the new information, route, resupply, gear changes from last year, and this 13 year old “wannabe thug” voice keep yelling out “HELL YES!!!” SO HELL YES to you- inner demon, we are really going to do this thing.
My last year shakedown clocked under 100 miles and they were broken up by injury and honestly, playing around with my friends…but I got the info I needed and am ready to hit the wilderness without the comfort and access I had last year. I am even more excited that I won’t have to camp alone, in the dark, at night, terrified and playing Candy Crush just to get to sleep. And no matter what naysayers try and push online in the deeply disconnected and confrontational forum discussion (blek) I am carrying my bear spray again.
SO HELL YES!!!!! Let’s do this. We are in super-high gear pulling this together, but oh yeah…shit’s about to get real.
It was an easy decision that was probably made before I was ever done with my shake-down hike. After all, isn’t that the purpose of a shake-down? To do it again.
Then and Now:
Things look and feel different this time. While I am still not set on completing a full thru-hike in one season (I don’t operate at that speed), I do see completing sections of it as they become possible. I am not gobbling up as much information as I can absorb this year on the group pages, but mostly sit back and enjoy watching the enthusiasm of newcomers and add my limited advice where I can. I am confident in my gear and changes I need to make. I look forward this trip to having some companionship along the way, at least for a part of it. We’ll figure that out as we go along. She is a lifelong friend and a hiking native, plus she knows how to dehydrate food. I don’t need 6 months to prepare this time, although; I have been busy GROWING MY TOENAILS BACK!! (almost there, haha).
I have to take my nutrition intake WAY more seriously this time. Although my sugar-bugs are under control, it does not mean that I can go nuts with candy bars and PopTarts (Oh good lord I love them) without paying the price. No Terra, your math was acutely wrong on how much sugar you could handle. *noted*. SO a lot of my effort will be spend focusing on complex carbs, fat, and protein. I look forward to the challenge and not feeling the unnatural energy crashes.
My gear changes, I think I mentioned before. I need a warmer sleeping bag, possible a quilt system. Still deciding. And I am going to go with a lightweight “boot” and break them in so hard they won’t know what hit them. Not much else to change except replace some consumables or items that look squished. I may get a puffy. May. Everyone else has one, and well…they are called puffies, how can I not need one? Oh yes, I will probably go ahead an buy a wind screen for my stove. I tried to make two different ones last year and they were pretty silly.
Resupplies will be interesting, because I have someone to help with drop-offs at certain points and can adjust according to what I really need. At least for most of the schlep. I know a bit more about my pace and needs so it will be a fun project to redesign the supplies. (read: I get a beer on zero days, even on the trail, woooo hooo!) Beers and bears and Besties. Oh my!
Communication was ok, because there is coverage for most of the route. But I would like to learn how to use my inReach a little bit better because I completely half-assed it and pinged my location only when I was at my Dad’s house. Not sure that was useful.
My route will be similar just because this year again I only have a few weeks. Good thing is I will be able to put more miles behind me and want to go as far north as I can before having to plant my flag for the next time. Oregon Section B (all) and Section C (as much as I can). Although I will do anything to avoid snow. I do want quite badly to do the Campo+ section, but am not interested in running with the large groups. Maybe that will be 2018, and I can do a SOBO from somewhere to Campo. Hmmm. Ponderous.
Real life continues to be an ever-changing creature. I suppose it is supposed to be. Quite a supposition. Regardless of what I’m doing, where I am, and all of the peripheral noise; I find comfort knowing the trails are always there and waiting. They do not carry the burdens of the world around them and welcome us home whenever we need to go.
I know, I know…I got way behind in my post-toe-drama. And honestly I loved being off-grid.
The toe-visit: My beastie retrieved me after two days of trying to heal on my own, dragged me kicking and screaming out of the woods (cough *cabin*) to Valley Urgent Care, where I tried to convince a PA that I was perfectly sane, duct tape was acceptable medical care, and could he please just save my toes. He had a PA student with him who failed to see any humor in my hilarity. So when he decide to cauterize through my-infected detached toenails hanging on by skin only- I was confused, but figured he was the pro, not me. I asked if he was going to knock me out and he actually laughed. THAT WAS NOT A JOKE THAT TIME! Geesh. Anyhow, no sedative, NO anesthetic, topical or local. Nope, None.
*warning, I’m going to cuss*
He burned through my first toenail into my oozing swollen toe, and I almost threw up it hurt so bad. I pulled my foot back, and the PA assistant, a pasty blonde girl/kid that wouldn’t crack a smile, looked over and said in the most condescending voice: “You shouldn’t move your foot back, it can get burned worse”.
Now…have you seen the Exorcist? You know when her head turns all the way around and a demon voice comes out…ok, so normally super-nice, funny, perky me did just that that. “Did you SERIOUSLY just FUCKING say that to ME?! You don’t talk to people like that!!”
She did not make eye contact with me for the rest of the visit. I did apologize on the way out for swearing, but did remind her empathy can go a long way.
Now that I am already in semi-shock, he did another toenail, the bad one, and tried to make me feel better by giving me the cauterizing weapon, I mean tool. Just for the record, my Dad (72) wanted it to work on nano-particles or something so I gave it to him.
I was given antibiotics and told to not let anything touch my toes until they were healed.
Me ” But, I want to finish hiking”
Him ” As long as nothing touches your toes”
Me ” So wrap them in duct-tape?”
Him looking at me blankly ” No, that would be touching them”.
Me ” What about hiking sandals”
Him *glowers a little*
Me ” Listen, I am fine with the pain, just tell me what to do to not lose my toes”
Him ” Stop doing surgery on the trail with duct tape”
Me “I’m going to go buy sandals then”
Good day to you. And I went and bought some Tevas!!
After two/ten days on antibiotics, I packed everything back up and went back up into the woods. I knew I couldn’t hike much, but I could still commune with nature and make fires. I dragged my beastie up with me, and we actually ran into some hikers we had previously met who were skirting some health conditions and weather/trail concerns. I spent a few nights by myself and near the end of my trip with my toes as healed as they were going to get before I left, I went back onto the PCT and completed another small section I had intended to cover.
During conversations with other hikers, it came up (when I had to take my meds with green fuzzy water) that I have a (non dramatic) heart condition that makes my heart beat fast if I don’t stay drugged up every 8 hours. So my trail name became ” Hummingbird”. It was funny because the next day when I went into convalescent care in the cabin, my friend pointed out the hummingbird stained glass over the sink. Haha, nice. Now of course I was anti-trail-name, but when you are with a group of people all making fun of your own experience and they give you a trail name, it is bonding and sweet. I will totally dump it next year for a non congenital-defected trail-name, LOLOLOL.
In summary for this year’s attempt, my first and definitely not my last:
I had the time of my life. I cannot WAIT to go again and complete all of section B at least, and maybe with a Fellowship, er…I mean some hiker buddies (at least to meet up and camp and be scared of bears together). I did exactly what I set out to do, and learned what I needed to learn. I have a lot of adjustments to make in gear and preparation for next time. Let the countdown begin, again.
Saying goodbye to the mountains I walked through.
My Beastie who became a trail angel to many!
Beastie and I decided after a few drinks to roast baby Goudas. They melt.
Dammit. Can’t get enough of this. I’m in love with this trail.
I needed a good reason to say anything amoeba related and this is my one shot. When I woke up and went to make camp-stove coffee my water bladders had turned brown and green overnight! What the everloving eff happened? This was water I got from a spigot at Howard Prairie and had been drinking. Doom. Doomeeee doom doom. Fortunately, I didn’t even get a slight gurgle in the ol’ lower 40, but of course explaining it later to my Dad, he assured me I could still be potentially crawling with internal parasites, bacteria, and quite possibly alien babies that don’t spawn for months. Thanks paternal unit.
I knew it was time for the great toe-reveal, and my bestie was on her way up with bandages, soaks, etc. I really, really, really, wanted them to be okay and was willing to take a couple days off trail to see if they would settle down. My camp mate Sally and I decided to do the whole section through next year together! So, although I knew this could be a turning point I was already excited for my next attempt.
Sally loaned me her camp shoes after seeing my feet, and I relented and got a cabin for that night and the next. I did everything I thought I could to avoid having to leave the woods.
I won’t post the pictures because they are gross. But over the next two days my toes festered and when the red/purple/ooze/heat/swelling set in I had to go ahead and go find a doctor.
Just for fun I was also tell you my Gorilla Tape fail, which is equally disturbing. (This started a few days back if you recall) I had a nice, normal blister on my foot. I did as instructed by blister experts: cleaned, applied Neosporin, covered with bandage…THEN, in my brilliance I used Gorilla Tape instead of regular duct tape to hold it together. While it protected my blister just fine, it literally pulled the skin off of my ankle where it was attached. My ankle was open meat. Yum.
Doctor visit, diagnosis, etc will be next time. But I will say, the first thing I told him was: I don’t care about the pain, I just need to get where I can get back on the trail. Rawr.
Oh, and despite my protests, I acquired a trail name. Next post also 😉
Hand washing the smelliest clothes ever.
The shit the grew overnight in my water bladders. Trees excluded.
Plotting our next moves at morning camp. Kristy (trail Mom), Jessie, Sally.
Since I made my double miles goal and knew I was looking at a potential off-trail situation (yes, I knew it was coming), I figured on keeping with the same miles and winding up at a PCT camp. A PCT camp is a campsite away from a main camp area where they put the smelly hikers. Let’s just say my attempt at bathing the previous night did not have any effect on the clothing odor. Pick any barnyard animal.
I created a Mountain House egg scramble breakfast, and can only describe it as “bouncy”. I am taking notes of course as I go what I will adjust for my next long hike. Mountain House is not a favorite. I see why people dehydrated their own meals. Duly noted.
The walk was gorgeous as usual, but warmer than the previous day’s and felt fantastic. The water I was carrying from the spigots at the campground tasted horrible and I considered treating it, but it was from a spigot so how gross could it be? Why ask that Terra, why even ask.
It was a perfect pleasant walk despite the “things that will not be named” plotting against me in my shoes. I rested as needed, and even forced myself to slow down and soak up the remaining hours. I passed a few folks thru-hiking/section hiking and we did the quick once-over of gear, travel points, conditions etc. It was like being part of a mini secret -society.
I made a few more interesting direction decisions and eventually found a slightly obscured trail offshoot to the hiker camp. Lo and behold there were two happy faces to greet me! We all compared stories, and Sally aka “Scaredy Bear” regaled me with her first night out bear encounter! Her situation was much more up close and personal with so said fuzzbutt, and she still was reliving her experience.
After a nice hot shower, campfire visiting, and a refusal to look directly at my toes we all settled into our little campsite for a decent night sleep.
Only interrupted by Jessie (6’5″ man) screaming like teenage girl when he thought a spider was on his face.
My “good luck Uni” given to me by my oldest sister 35 years ago.
Leisurely morning of drying and repacking. I am a sucker for ritual.
Artsy fartsy shot. Necessary.
On the side of the road, trying to adjust shoes…for reasons that will not be named.