AZT Day 6: East Rim

Today’s miles: 7.7

Total miles: 69.8

The night is freezing. Literally. We wake up to frost on the ground and ice on the outside of the tent. We have to force ourselves out of our quilts to put on our cold clothes and go out into the world. Toby stands in the tiniest sliver of sun that is hitting our clearing to warm up but it doesn’t do much. Finally Toby rolls up the tent and his hands are hurting from the cold. [My painfully frozen hands make me miserable, and I declare that when we get to the shops at the South Rim, I’m going to buy a pair of warm gloves. –Toby] We decide to skip breakfast and get hiking to warm up our bodies.

Toby trying and failing to get warm.

A few tenths after we start, we come across an RV parked off a dirt road. The people are so nice and offer us bottled water. We say no thank you since we just filled up at the tank and I have to bite my cheeks to keep from asking if they have anything more exciting. [Same. –Toby] Then another few tenths later we are at the East Rim of the Grand Canyon! We don’t have a lot of miles to do today since we can’t camp inside the park limits without a permit, which is just about 6.5 more miles. So we decide to take a longish break here. We find a privy and both exclaim at the luxury that is a toilet and toilet paper, even if it’s just a pit toilet. We have some cell service and check in with some folks. Toby tries to spread out the tent to dry but it is so windy that we have to pile a ton of stuff on it to keep it from blowing away, so it’s a futile project.

First glimpse of the Grand Canyon
First of these AZT trail markers showing mileage estimates. A long way for Toby to go, still.

As we’re lazing around the RV folks come up and chat with us again. I notice the woman has a U of I visor and I ask about it — one of them had gone to grad school at UIUC and they regularly return to the area. Toby tells them we live there and they ask what his major is. He winces and laughs and tells them he’s faculty — Toby always looks extra young in his backpacking gear.

The wind is getting to us so we decide to just hike on, even though it means we’ll be camping super early. We cross paths with the RVers one more time and they tell us it is Heritage Week so entrance to the park is free and it is very crowded. We are happy to know we’ll be trying to hike through the canyon just after this ends.

Drying out in the wind, with a view.

Toby has read about a rocky outcropping along this stretch that’s supposed to have a fantastic view. We try to decipher the directions on his GPS app, left as a comment by another hiker, but we never figure it out. We stop for a snack anyway because I have a headache and suddenly realize I had skipped caffeine that morning in our rush to get warm. We move on after that, making miles even though my ankle has started hurting. We reminisce about grad school and the beloved queer fam we had in California. I also am getting fixated on two things: 1) whether or not I will actually be able to do the Rim-to-Rim since I’ve been struggling on this trail and we’ve had nothing nearly as hard as that will be, and 2) the kinds of food we might find at the general store when we arrive at the North Rim tomorrow. I have decided there might be sandwiches. And a sandwich sounds like the best meal I could possibly imagine. I talk about it so much that Toby bans me from talking about food anymore. Totally fair.

A pretty stretch from the afternoon.

We know there is a water tank near the end of our day and we plan to fill up there, but when we get to it we have literally no idea how to reach the water. This one is like a big metal cylinder that’s at least 10 feet tall, and it looks like there’s a tarp over the top. There must be a way to climb up but we both circle the thing twice and can’t see what that would be.

We’re not too desperate but Toby guides us to a trailhead nearby where we hope someone has cached public water in the bear box. Luckily they have! We take a liter each and leave a bunch for other thru-hikers that come along. There is also a bucket in there, presumably a resupply, with a sign on it that says “For Hayduke Hikers: Do not take or we will die.” The Hayduke is a no-joke trail that Toby and I have absolutely fantasized about doing. One day, maybe. [Yep, probably. –Toby]

We are just outside the park boundary now so we set up the tent in a little stand of trees on the edge of a huge field. We are close enough to the trailhead that we can use the privy and that feels like a total luxury. It’s only maybe 2 p.m. so we lay around reading and chatting, this time having a “state of the relationship” conversation, a tongue-in-cheek name we’ve given to a check in about how things are going between us.

Toby resting at our tent site
Beautiful afternoon.

Just after dark we see some hikers pass on the trail, using their headlamps to navigate. These are the first hikers we’ve seen since the first day. In a few weeks these trails will be busier with AZT thru-hikers but we are a little ahead of the typical start date. We are in the tent by 6 p.m. and I lie in my quilt dreaming about sandwiches and trying to imagine what it will feel like to hike up 4,000 feet of elevation in just 7 miles a few days from now. I will get it done. I always get it done. I tell myself this over and over and finally drift off to sleep.

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