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Arizona Trail Day 42 – Big Miles! | Average Hiker

Angry snow clouds over the trail
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April 22, 2022

On days I hike big miles, it is not usually because I choose to hike them. Instead, I am either motivated by food or simply feel good. Today’s long miles were a result of easy terrain, strong legs, and a little competitiveness thrown in for good measure.

Mist swirled outside my shelter door as I ate breakfast. It was cold, but I was bundled up in my Feathered Friends puffy with my quilt pulled up to my chest. The woods around me were silent, and I flashed back to Steven King’s Fog stories. My imagination took over, and I swear I could see dark shapes moving in the grey morning light outside my door.

Hiking, for me, lasts from dawn to dusk. My mind constantly moves, and letting it wander is not always good. As I watched the dark shapes around me, I realized it was time to focus my brain on hiking and not let it veer in other directions.

I rescued a small pitbull years ago, and she is incredibly reactive, almost feral sometimes. There are no longer any living creatures on my one acre of land, and none dare enter. The highlight of her day is the four-mile walk I take her on each morning. The rest of the time, she is inside except when I release her into the backyard, where she paces the perimeter of the yard and stares off through the fence.

Flat Plateau hike on the Arizona Trail near Gooseberry Trailhead

As we walk in the morning, her eyes and head constantly move, studying everything around her. Miles flow by and with every step I can see the tension leave her body as her mind calms. When we turn for home the tension begins to return, and as we approach the house I watch her head drop and her pace slow.

I watch Lu and understand. She may be a domestic dog, but there is some part of her, maybe a remnant of her ancestors that needs the stimulus of change and exploration to calm her mind. It is not only her physical energy that needs to be released but that primal mental energy.

The hiking was easy: a flat winding trail that traveled across the grassy plateau, weaving through pine, ponderosa, and scraggly oak. The only irritation was the constant rocks along the path. There were smooth sections, but I constantly had to watch my feet to ensure I didn’t fall. Flat trails often lull me into a false sense of security where I fall flat on my face after stubbing my toe on a tiny pebble.

I was carrying more water than usual because the “tanks” came up dry or looked like thick chocolate milk that killed my water filter. I was using coffee filters to try and filter out a lot of the cow poo and gunk in the water before filtering it, but even the filtered water was challenging for my poor Sawyer Squeeze to handle without constantly flushing it out. Because of this I carried more water and tried to get water at the campgrounds where it was available.

The skies were grey and angry as I hiked, cold winds keeping me moving fast. Later in the morning and afternoon, low-hanging, greyish-black clouds began spitting snow and ice. I considered stopping a couple of times to hide from the winds but sped up instead.

I encountered the Nailz hoard all day, sometimes waving as I passed them taking breaks or eating lunch. A couple of times Spielberg hiked with me for a bit before one of us stopped, and several times I saw them crouched down behind a fallen tree or bush doing the same as me – trying to hide from the incessant wind.

While hiking with Spielberg, he told me the Nailz Hoard was hiking 30 miles to Gooseberry Trailhead, and he did not know if they would see me again. It was late afternoon, and my inside voice whispered, “He does not think you can do the miles.” I smiled and announced I was stopping for a break behind a log and proceeded to wolf down a big snack as I crouched out of the icy wind.

After finishing my snack, I removed my shoes, cleaned my feet and socks, and then took off. My break was not long because it was cold, but that is ok. I had already done 20 miles for the day and felt good.

As with many groups of thru-hikers out here, the size of Nailz Hoard ebbed and flowed. Passing a small cluster of trees, I saw Juliet lying underneath them in her sleeping bag. She had probably had enough of the cold wind, and spitting ice. Unfortunately, Juliet was not part of the original PCT Tramily known as Nailz Hoard, and I wondered if they would wait if she fell behind.

Blustery cold day on the trail through the Ponderosas

Nailz hoard was still being supported, and I guessed they would all pack into the tiny Mustang meeting them at trailheads, and make a run for Flagstaff.

Moving fast to stay warm, I reached Gooseberry about an hour before dark. Juliet came up behind me and headed for the Kiosk looking for the hoard, but they were nowhere to be seen. A small grill and a stack of firewood were sitting in the parking area, and Juliet thought this meant they would return. I knew they probably needed more room to cram everyone in for the ride to town.

There were several gallons of unopened water by the large rocks near the parking area, and I stopped to fill up for the night. Looking down the road leaving the parking area, I saw Juliet and a couple walking toward me. They stopped and we chatted for a few minutes before they walked back down the road to where they were camping.

Juliet was trying to text her group but had no signal. Unfortunately, some of her gear and food were in the back of the Mustang. Fortunately, this did not include her tent and sleeping bag since it would be a cold night.

I don’t usually camp close to trailheads, but I felt bad leaving Juliet since it was getting late. I looked for a tent spot, finally finding a flat spot amongst the Ponderosas, and looked back to see Juliet sitting on a boulder by the parking area, waiting on her friends. She looked miserable and disappointed, and I felt sorry for her. I wanted to offer her food or conversation, but when I waved and smiled, she looked away and frowned. She was frustrated, and I didn’t blame her.

I watched from where I was making dinner just before dark as Juliet headed into the woods about 50 yards below me. She set up her tent, crawled in for the night, and I never saw her again. I later learned that the hoard returned the following day after staying in Flagstaff.

As I lay in my tent tapping out my notes for the day I noted I had ended the day at 30.1 miles, and I was surprised that my feed did not ache. I attribute the lack of pain on relatively flat, rocky ground to my HOKA Evo’s, which have been discontinued. They have been replaced by HOKA Speedgoat 5’s, which I like almost as much.

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