AZT Day 12: The Weight of Water

Today’s miles: 22.1

Total miles: 151.5

I barely wake at all in the night, which is surprising given the constant elk bugling and my proximity to roads. As dawn breaks, I realize with some dismay that I’ve got condensation on my tent walls. Ah yes, the drawbacks of a single-wall shelter. I use a bandana to wipe things down before changing clothes and packing up. My quilt’s footbox is damp, which is annoying, but I’ll dry it in the sun later.

One distant elk is still getting in a few bugles as I head out for the day. Not even a mile from camp, I see two others through the trees, trotting lightly. I pause to make sure they’re well away, since the trail is going in that direction and I’m very keen to give elk their space.

The trail is mild this morning, sometimes rocky but generally flattish. My right hip is giving me some trouble, though, with a strange sharp ache that I can’t figure out how to stretch away. It’s really cramping my style on this easy trail — I wish I could walk faster! In a few more miles I get some distant views through the trees, to the Painted Desert way back there, I think.

Mid-morning views

After inadvertently startling a lone cow, I pass through a gate and stop for second breakfast, about six miles into my day. A bit later, the trail splits off to provide a short bike alternate for the next 1.5 miles or so in which the hiker route goes steeply down into a canyon and then right back up. It’s short, but it’s the only real climbing I’ve done in days!

The trail takes me past Russell Tank, a large cow pond. There’s plenty of muddy water here, but I’ve got enough in my pack to skip it, thankfully. I left camp this morning with about five liters (approximately 11 pounds). Water is so incredibly heavy, but you have to carry a lot of it in these areas, because the sources are so few and so spread out. Even with nearly six days of food on this stretch, water is by far the heaviest part of my pack.

Just past the tank I find a trailhead with a privy and garbage cans. I make use of both and have my lunch break here, too. While eating, I study my maps for potential water sources ahead. If everything is dry or super gross today, I can get to a reportedly decent source tomorrow morning, but it’s about a half mile off trail — not an appealing detour when I’m trying to make good time to Flagstaff.

Fortunately, this concern is laid to rest a few miles later. A large metal cow trough on the side of the trail has about an inch of rainwater in it. It still has a yellow tint after I filter it, but only tastes a little weird. I’ll use it for electrolyte drinks and to soak my dinner, instead of drinking it straight. This tops me back up to nearly five liters again, enough to get me to the next on-trail water tomorrow afternoon.

Today’s water source.

I make quick work of the next four miles to Moqui Stage Station trailhead, passing three more cows on the way. Just at the turnoff to the trailhead, there’s a juniper tree with five gallon jugs underneath. Four are labeled for individual hikers, though the dates on them are three weeks old. The fifth jug is labeled for public use, but I really don’t need it now. It’s shady under the juniper, and while I drink electrolytes and eat peanut m&m’s, I can see in the far distance the snow-covered San Francisco Peaks, near Flagstaff.

A lot of the afternoon looks like this.

In my last miles of the day, I find a tarantula busily crossing the trail — they always look like they’re on a mission. Around 4:30pm I begin looking for a spot to camp. One half of the sky has become very cloudy, and I try not to worry. I wander around for a long while, unable to find a place I like for my tent. Finally I have to self-impose a ten-minute limit, and just pick a flat area between some low junipers. I get a better pitch on my tent tonight, and am inside all ready for bed by 6pm, just as it’s getting dark. Enough time to listen to my audiobook for a bit once the sun is fully set.

Lots of sun-bleached bones on this trail
Busy friend near my campsite

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