AZT Day 17: Thawing Out

Today’s miles: approximately 5

Total miles: 236.3

I wake several times to the sound of snow falling on my tent and of wind gusting fiercely through the trees. Other times, I wake to the sound of booming thunder and flashes of lightning. I’m grateful to find myself toasty warm, glad I brought this warmer quilt and my down booties. But as the night goes on, I can sense even in the dark that my tent walls are sagging under the weight of the snow. The space inside grows smaller and smaller, and a few times I have to talk myself out of some mild claustrophobic panic. I can feel how close the walls are to my head, and instinctively want to sit up, but if I do I’ll lose all the warm air that my quilt is currently trapping. Each time I just convince myself to go back to sleep, and once the dawn light finally creeps into camp, I smack my tent walls from the inside, throwing snow off the outside and creating a little more interior space.

Cool Beans walks over from her campsite nearby and scoops more snow off my shelter while we talk through the tent walls. She’s been looking at her maps and suggests we walk the road to Mormon Lake. The road walk will still be long, but not as long as following the trail (which is currently buried in snow up above us anyway). I’m also keen to take the quickest route to Mormon Lake, hoping to get a cabin there for what promises to be another extremely cold night.

We both pack up as quickly as we can — my tent is covered in ice and I have to just stuff it into the back of my pack. It’s still snowing out, with a lot of very cold, very harsh wind. I pull on my big fleece gloves, pull my buff over my face, tighten down my jacket hood, and head out. It’s pretty miserable on the road. Freezing wind whips around us, sending icy precipitation into our eyes. Cool Beans only has very thin gloves and tries to keep her hands tucked into pockets or under her armpits. We follow the road along the edge of Lake Mary, and I put out my thumb for the few cars that pass by, with no luck. We’re both in low spirits, but glad to be together, nonetheless.

Morning road walk. Only a couple of photos from today, because the wind and cold were so intense.

A few miles later, a truck stops on the opposite side of the road and the driver asks if we’re AZT hikers. “Well,” he says, gesturing to his passenger, “we’re going into Flagstaff for breakfast, and then heading back to Mormon Lake.” Great, we reply, if you see us still walking on your way back, we’ll take that ride. He’s confused: “No, we’re going to Flagstaff for breakfast.” Now we’re confused: “Okay…? Maybe we’ll see you on your way back.” We trade this confusion back and forth a few more times before we finally realize he’s inviting us to go to breakfast with them, and then to take us back to Mormon Lake. Cool Beans and I only need a quick glance between us to agree to this plan. We’re frozen and exhausted, and gratefully toss our packs in the truck bed, sharing the extended cab with two sweet dogs.

Turns out we’ve caught a ride with two established trail angels on the AZT, Sequoia and Binks, who are both hikers themselves. Binks tells us she’s an AZT board member, even. “You know how I could tell you were thru-hikers?” Sequoia asks. “Is it because I’m wearing this rain jacket that looks basically like a garbage bag?” “No, but that too. It’s because it looks like a muppet threw up on your shoes.” I gaze down at my brightly colored gaiters. Yeah, fair enough.

In no time we are in Flagstaff, ironically at the same restaurant that I ordered food from in my hotel room here. Always a bit demoralizing to experience how little time it takes to drive the distance that you spent an entire day hiking. I eat a giant veggie omelet, a big biscuit with sausage gravy, toast and jam, plus hot cocoa, and feel my body thaw out a bit.

Mormon Lake (named after Mormon settlers) is the largest natural lake in Arizona, but it’s been dry for about 15 years. Nearby there’s a very tiny “lodge” consisting of a small general store, several cabins, an RV park and campground, and two restaurants. We are dismayed to learn that both restaurants are currently closed, as this is the off-season. But we’re able to book one-room cabins for the night. While waiting to check in, I browse the general store for some snacks to top up my current food supply, plus a five-day resupply to ship ahead to Roosevelt Lake. Next door is the tiniest post office I have ever seen. A short narrow hallway serves as the “lobby,” with a window behind which the clerk sits in a very small office. She generously lends me tape and a marker (most post offices won’t do this anymore), and then my sole chore for the day is done.

Once we can get into our cabins, I take a very hot shower and finally begin to feel warm from the inside. I drape my tent and Tyvek sheet over the outside railing to dry out, even though it’s unlikely in the cold. Another hiker, Levon, is also here for the night. He had a trail name when he hiked the AT, but he’s hoping for a new one for this trail. I spend the late afternoon and evening bundled up in bed, reading and resting. I book an Airbnb in the next town and invite Cool Beans to crash with me there. The town lodging was all booked up for the day I hoped to arrive, so I had to book for one day earlier. This means we will need to hike about 75 miles in the next three days. Just after dark the maintenance person knocks on all of our doors, telling us the temperature will dip below 20* overnight and asking us to run the taps in the bathroom so the pipes don’t freeze. I fall asleep hoping for warmer weather tomorrow.

Snow covering Lake Mary on our road walk.

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