AZT 3: Exhausted in Beauty

I was still in a daze when we left Patagonia. It had only been 53 miles to get there, but I arrived exhausted with my thoughts in a whirl. I should know by now that every hike is different, but with 6000+ miles under my feet, and that I live here in southern Arizona, I really thought I knew what this hike was going to be like. And I don’t know, perhaps it is exactly what I thought it was going to be like, but still somehow I feel out of phase with it, out of sync with my body, my rhythm, my thoughts.

As we left Patagonia and began the road walk out of town I tried to remind myself how much I wanted this, whatever “this” turned out to be. But my thoughts collided and I sank into the pound, pound, pound of the dirt road beneath my feet. As we entered Temporal Gulch I could hear the frogs croaking like they’d lived there for centuries. Their rhythm was perfect. It was a rhythm I knew and wanted for myself. In their rhythm I became the echo from the canyon walls, my thoughts separated and then merged into a distant memory. Now I remember why I’m here.

The next few days passed easily with abundant water and many interactions with other thru-hikers. My thoughts were still somewhat in a daze as we traversed the eastern ridges of the Santa Rita Mountains; so close to home, it felt a bit like hiking through my backyard. Approaching I-10 the desert was in full bloom. My thoughts danced and my feet raced to the rhythm playing in my headphones, though occasionally still finding myself out of sync with my surroundings.

There is something magical that happens for me on a thru-hike, but it takes a few weeks. This being such a short trail I find myself getting anxious for that magic to happen sooner. I found a little peace at Cienega Creek after bathing in the creek and relaxing to the sound of an owl and the passing trains. A man passed through our camp that has hiked most of the AZT. He told us about a water device he sells that alkalinizes the water. He said it got rid of his cancer and he no longer has sore muscles even after hiking 42 miles in a day. I was intrigued, not so much by the device he sells, but by the idea of balance in our bodies, pH balance, chemical balance, emotional balance …and why I was feeling not so in balance.

We arrived at Posta Quemada Ranch the next day in a rush to get our resupply for the next section of trail. We hitched to Walgreens and back, packed up our food, and dashed off into the desert hoping to find water for camping at Rincon Creek. The trail was fairly flat, but compacted like concrete. I could hear my feet whimpering under the load of a fresh resupply against the hard ground. I stopped to enjoy the desert, taking more photos than I had all the previous days combined. A rattlesnake greeted me at a turn in the path and woke my thoughts from the moment. I was the last to arrive at Rincon Creek and felt rushed to sit down and enjoy the evening. Flustered, I hurried to put down my stuff and soak my feet. The sun set with brilliant pinks, oranges, and soft purples. I marveled at the Saguaros standing so regal in the skyline. They are my guardians here in the Sonoran Desert. They remind me of the forests I left behind when I moved from the Pacific Northwest.

I forgot to camel-up before leaving Rincon Creek and found the climb up into Saguaro National Park much more exposed and hot than I had planned for, running out of water much sooner than I had anticipated. I had a half a liter of water left for the next two miles into what seemed like a trail straight up into the heat of the sun. We found water in Chimea Canyon, soaked in the pools, and grabbed another 2 liters of water for the next 2 miles to Grass Shack.

The trail got cooler and easier after Grass Shack until the 4000 foot descent down to Reddington Pass. We met more thru-hikers and the passage trail steward for the area on our way down. The miles on this trail have not come easily. It is rugged and rocky and demands a great deal more attention than other trails I have done.

The next day we made it to the Catalina Highway, climbed up from Molina Campground, down, up, and down to Hutch’s Pool, a little more up and then we set up camp near the West Fork. Summerhaven, where we’re told they have Pizza, still felt far away. The next day we made it to Romero Pass and the next ~6 miles took all the oomph I had left. We descended down to a picnic area after Marshall Saddle and slowly walked up the road to Summerhaven. It was like a scene in a movie of the “pearly gates” to heaven. Big, colorful, umbrellas shaded tables and the sign said Pizza and Cookies with Ice Cream. We entered and gave them all our money and gorged until we didn’t ever want to see food again. We packed out a second pizza for the last thirteen miles to Oracle. Oracle, it had nearly become fiction in my mind by this point in the hike. We camped on a rocky patch of open ground a few miles down Oracle Ridge. I woke in the night to devour two more slices of Pizza. Neon pointed out the eclipse of the moon. We woke to a beautiful sunrise and stumbled the last few miles into Oracle.

We ate, showered, washed our clothes, and have not moved from the hotel bed at the Chalet. I fear I will not reach that magic place on this trail and wonder why I so often stand in the way of myself, thinking if I could just let go…

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