AZT Day 15: Urban Trails

Today’s miles: 17 (approx)

Total miles: 214.5

Tremendous wind gusts blow through periodically in the night. They wake me up. I can hear them coming from far away, and then many seconds later they arrive to rattle the aspen leaves high above me. I’m very glad I was so careful in selecting a campsite under young, healthy pines with no branches to fall on me. I’m also tucked away so well down here that the wind barely touches my tent.

It wasn’t quite as cold as I’d feared in the night, and this morning I let myself lie in my quilt until the late hour of 6:20am. An hour later, I finally stumble my way back to the trail for lots of downhill. The morning sunlight can’t reach me through the trees yet, and I’m grateful to my past self for picking up these warm fleece gloves at the South Rim. There are no other hikers or bikers out this morning, and this solitude makes the forest feels entirely different from yesterday.

Some time later, just as the morning air begins to warm up, a mountain biker approaches. She pulls over to the side to let me pass through, and I give her a sincere but surprised thanks. She takes this as a cue to describe the shift she’s seen in the Flagstaff hiking and biking community over the years, saying that people are so much less considerate these days. Even though I’m over yesterday’s grumpiness about trail etiquette, it’s still gratifying to have her affirm my experience. We chat for a few minutes before continuing on our separate ways.

Morning landscape once the sun finally arrives.

I hike until there is a turnoff toward Flagstaff. The AZT has two options near here, the original trail that runs wide to the east around the city, and a newer “urban trail” alternate that goes south right into town. I’m not taking a zero day here, so I’m keen to maximize my town time, and follow the urban alternate. There are many little trails that all interconnect, and I piece some of them together in a choose-your-own-adventure style, trying to avoid unnecessary climbing. Unsurprisingly, I find myself off trail and have to bushwhack through thick brush. For a moment, I feel remarkably lost deep in some remote forest — then, I see the trail literally right in front of me, and a person approaching who is just out for a morning stroll, not even dressed in hiking clothes. As I disentangle myself from the underbrush and hop back on trail, I give her a sheepish wave and explain, “Got a bit off trail.” She smiles and says it happens to the best of us, but I suspect she’s wondering how anyone could lose this wide, well-manicured trail.

I zip along, following the path uphill and downhill until I reach a trailhead with many parked vehicles. Just across the way, I find the water Cyn stashed for me, and then sit on my Tyvek for a quick lunch at the trailhead. I chat with a woman who lives in her van about how cold it was last night and the possibility of snow tomorrow.

It’s mid-day now, and I feel the urgency of afternoon heat coupled with my limited town hours. I try to hike fast through this section, where I know Cyn just did a solo loop a few days ago. Like Cyn, I find the trail to be confusing with many little unsigned turnoffs, and am relieved to finally emerge from the maze into Buffalo Park, with a long straight shot to the trailhead amid many day hikers and cyclists. Before the trailhead, I branch off again and cross over a major street via a pedestrian bridge. I’m now technically in town, but still have another couple miles on sidewalk to reach my hotel.

Urban trail ending at a trailhead shelter. I’ll take a left shortly before I reach it, though.
Views in Buffalo Park, just north of Flagstaff.

Once I’m finally in my room, it’s the holy trilogy of shower, laundry, and town food. I have zero desire to walk to a grocery store or a laundromat, so wash my clothes in the tub and hang them all around the room to dry. I order two takeout meals from the restaurant attached to the hotel: chicken pesto pasta for tonight, and a chef’s salad to save for tomorrow. The portions are appropriately hiker-sized. Clean and fed, I collapse into the hotel bed and resolve to stay here right up until check-out time tomorrow.

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