Today’s miles: 21.5
Total miles: 129.4
I stumble outside in the South Rim’s cold dark morning, to sit in our car and talk to my analyst at 5am in my current time zone. The stars look incredible after yesterday’s hail storm. Back in our little cabin, I eat cereal and pack up the last of my gear, putting on new trail runners for the first time since I started the PNT. Hoping these shoes will last through the end of this trail. Cyn drives us to the Visitor’s Center parking lot, where we hug goodbye. Their parting words to me: “Hike fast.” It will be several weeks until we’re together again.
I walk a paved bike path connector trail through the edge of the park, zipping along at three miles an hour. I can see the cars lining up to get into the park, the same line Cyn and I waited in just a few weeks ago, where we peered out of the car window at a few hikers walking where I am now. It feels both strange and familiar to be alone on trail again, and I feel a pang of sadness when I officially cross the park boundary. I observe with satisfaction the profane anti-Trump graffiti adorning the entrance to a short pedestrian tunnel, through which I cross underneath the highway, and then, finally, my feet are on dirt trail again. I follow this through the tall trees to the outskirts of Tusayan, and then on until I find a good sitting rock for second breakfast.
The trail becomes deeply rutted dirt road, with occasional large mud puddles that I have to navigate around. This lasts a long time, and is not the most enjoyable walking. I take a lunch break just before noon, under the pines. I’ve done 13 miles so far, hoping for at least a solid 20 by the end of the day. The muddy, rutted out road continues. Red mud cakes onto the bottom of my shoes, acting like velcro that picks up more mud and pine needles with every step. It’s impossible to remove until it dries. My shoes are very heavy now, and big clods of mud stick out all around the sides of my soles, like I’ve put on small snowshoes made of dirt and debris.
The sky is full of big clouds, but I’m learning to accept these as regular afternoon occurrences in northern Arizona, and not signs of impending rain. I still have some lingering rain anxiety from my many consecutive days of cold precipitation on the PNT. The trail takes a gradual uphill, and near the end of this gentle climb I stop for my afternoon snack break.
A brisk 3.5 miles later, I reach Grandview lookout tower and its accompanying trailhead. There are some RVs and camper vans nearby, and I’m delighted to find both a privy and a public water stash here. I carried out a ton of water from the South Rim, so I take only a little from this cache, and then eat dinner at the trailhead. Dusk is approaching, so I follow the AZT along a little interpretive trail here that has informative signs about the invasive dwarf mistletoe that damages the pine groves. Everywhere around here seems fairly close to dirt roads, and I hate camping near roads, but I also don’t want to hike much further. I finally find a flat spot under the pines, near the end of the interpretive trail, and pitch my new tent. I’d test-pitched it a few times in my backyard, but this is my first night sleeping in it. I fiddle with the guylines, trying to perfect the pitch, then spend a lot of time figuring out where all my things will go inside. Soon all of this will be second nature, but the first few nights in a new shelter are weird. My cell service is strong enough to actually talk with Cyn for a bit as the sun sets. The elk begin to bugle around 6pm, and I try to imagine it’s the sounds of an orchestra tuning up. I fall asleep to mild worries about water sources for tomorrow.