AZT Day 21: Farewell to the Flatlands

Today’s miles: 10.9

Total miles: 320.5

I wake up early because I don’t want to miss saying goodbye to Cool Beans, who is heading out this morning while I rest until check-out time. It’s kind of a bummer that our schedules will be off now, but my body needs a shorter day today. I wish her well and hope our paths will cross again, either on this trail or some future one.

I repackage my food for the trail, crushing Fritos in a ziplock bag to minimize their volume, topping off my m&m’s bag, etc. I’m trying something new for second breakfast on this section: granola with Carnation instant breakfast packets. I make a test bowl as I’m packing, and feel very satisfied. Granola has so many calories! I really need them at this point. (To this end, the remaining third of my pint of ice cream rounds out today’s pre-breakfast meal.) I lay my quilt out in front of the space heater to make sure it’s all dry and fully puffed, take another shower, talk to Cyn, charge my electronics. Finally there are no more chores to procrastinate with, and I walk into town.

At the diner I order a veggie omelet, hash browns, and a staggeringly large biscuit that I slather in butter and jam. Fed and hydrated, it’s more road walking for me, back to the trail junction. It’s already pretty warm out, but at least the first few miles just roll up and down. Then there’s a long steep descent that—of course—goes right back up again. Except the uphill is mostly over rocks, not trail. It takes forever. There are occasional cairns to aim for, but a lot of it is guesswork, trying to envision the line a trail would take if there weren’t all these rocks everywhere.

Mid-morning views after climbing a bit. Like a completely different world from the northern section!

At the top I’m sweating. I take a quick sit-down break and guzzle water in the shade, knowing I’ll have a couple of excellent water sources in the first half of tomorrow. Then it’s a gradual downhill hike. I’m in the Mazatzal Wilderness now, mentally preparing for the challenging mountainous terrain ahead. With the exception of the Grand Canyon itself, overall the trail so far has been relatively flat. That’s all ending now. Through here the trail is smooth and clear for a while, but then turns overgrown and quite rocky. Frequently, I have to pause to search for the next bend. I’m also a little worried about camping: it’s around 4:30pm now, and the terrain looks extremely rocky and full of small brush and sharp plants. No place to put a tent. But my map shows that in another mile, the topographic lines spread out, and I’m hoping in that flatter area I can find something.

Entering the Mazatzal Wilderness area, which promises many mountains to come.

I’m making bad choices right now, one eye sweeping the terrain for a campsite, one eye on the topo map on my phone, and thus not really paying attention to the trail I continue to walk. So of course my foot hits a rock. I stumble dramatically, cry out, and hit the ground, my phone and trekking poles flying into the dirt and rocks in front of me. The phone is miraculously unharmed, but my mood is damaged. Now I have a bruised knee and still no place to put my tent. I try not to panic and just keep walking.

Beautiful afternoon, but no place to camp.

Finally, I spy a tiny patch of bare ground under a juniper tree and feel relief wash over me. It’s a little bit sloped, and I have to duck a lot of branches while setting up, but I get a pretty good pitch in the end. I have a little cell service and can text Cyn from my tent, which cheers me up. It’s so warm tonight! I don’t even start the night with my hat on, and am amazed by the dramatic temperature shifts along this trail so far.

Poor lighting (near dusk) for this shot of my tent under the juniper. All that grass around? Hiding hundreds of small cacti and thousands of sharp rocks.

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