April 16, 2022
My eyes slowly opened with the first distant lighting of the sky. I usually settled to roost when the last light rays disappeared and naturally woke up about seven hours later. I’m sure the crowing would start soon.
Rolling over on my side to grab my pack, I immediately knew I felt better after a good night’s sleep. Bran cereal, dried strawberries, and NIDO were for breakfast, and I ate quickly and began packing up. It was chilly up on the ridge, and I moved quickly.
I paused as I passed Cricket’s tent but could hear her softly snoring, so I moved on without waking her. She probably needed more sleep than me since she was still fighting off her cold.
About five miles into the morning, I reached Bear Spring. That had been my goal the prior day, but a sluggish hiking day and a very large group of hikers I knew were also heading there made me decide to pull up early the night before. I enjoyed meeting other solo hikers and even camping with them if we happened to land at the same spot. Still, I usually avoided the large groups or “Tramilies” that had become common over the last few years.
Bear Spring was about a half mile off the trail, and I normally did not go that far for water, but the water was more scarce now, so I headed down to the small Spring. The small pool was at the trail’s end, full of green algae, but the water was cool and clear once I filtered out the green stuff. I chugged a liter, grabbed two more, and headed back to the AZT.
Reaching the trail junction, I met another hiker (Karen), just starting down to get water. We chatted for a minute and then continued hiking our separate ways. I knew Cricket was probably close behind me and also needed water, so I sat down to take a break and have a snack.
Puff showed up about a half hour later, and we chatted for a bit. He was also going to get water, and Puff, Karen, and I chatted while I waited. An hour into the break, I knew Cricket had probably passed while I was getting water, so I said my goodbyes and continued on down the trail, catching up with her around lunchtime.
After lunch, most of the afternoon was moderate hiking, and we made decent time, although we did stop for a few lazy breaks.
We grabbed more water at Horse Camp Seep, which also had good camping for anyone reading, and then continued climbing up to some amazing views on the ridge above. Cricket was done for the day, but it was pretty windy up top, so we continued on to a saddle where there was one tent spot in the Manzanita. Cricket grabbed that spot, and I continued on down the mountain, targeting “The Park,” about two miles away, which was supposed to have good camping.
I reached The Park about an hour before dark and found Karen had set up camp. There was plenty of camping, so I grabbed a spot about 50 yards away, back in the pines, on top of cushy, soft pine needles.
Puff was right behind me and grabbed a spot closer to Karen. I had not eaten earlier, so I set up my tarp tent and started cooking. A few minutes later, Karen and Puff brought food and stoves and cooked outside my shelter. We sat around laughing and talking until well after dark.
Karen left around 4:30 the next morning, which was the last time I saw her, but I would see Puff again until Pine, AZ. That is often how long-distance hikes work out. You may see some people over and over on these trails and others only once, but you always form a traveler’s bond no matter the time. If I ever saw Karen again on another trail, we would greet each other with big grins.