AZT Day 24: Hot Days are Here

Today’s miles: 22.8

Total miles: 379.4

[Reader, my apologies for the long delay between posts.]

The wind finally stops sometime during the night, and in the morning there is condensation on my tent, and I see no signs that a bear has been by. It takes a long time for the dawn light to actually reach my campsite. Just as I’m getting ready to head out, I’m delayed by the urgent need to dig a cathole, but am still on trail around 6:40am. I feel fantastic this morning. Stopping early yesterday was the right decision.

Climbing in the morning.

I follow the remainder of the uphill, and then descend a bit, noting the small campsites I could have stayed at last night if I’d kept going. At one of them, I stop for a quick second breakfast, and set a mileage goal for my lunch break. By the time I start climbing again, the trail conditions have radically improved and I’m coasting along. I follow a long downhill and turn off the trail to get water at Thicket Springs. Just before reaching the bubbling spring, I see a rubber Halloween mask propped on a tall branch, and recognize it as something Lost & Found was carrying when I briefly met him during his 40-mile day. Honestly, it was creepy hanging from his pack and it’s creepy here as well! I filter two liters from the spring and keep moving.

Mid-day beauty in the heat.

The usual mid-day heat is upon me now, with the trail through here very exposed. I find a nice shady campsite to stop at for lunch, then tackle a steep uphill section, feeling surprisingly good. (Thank you, calories.) A long descent follows, on mostly decent trail tread, but it crosses through several washes and dry creek beds full of rocks to navigate around. A tarantula in the trail puts its front legs up in the air and waves them at me: so cute, trying to be scary. I give it plenty of space as I pass by.

The trail enters a set of trees and moves alongside a shallow, narrow stream of trickling water. It takes me a while to find a good spot to collect from, since the water available at many of the access points is weirdly foamy and clotted with algae. I locate a tiny run-off point that looks clear, and have to let it dribble into a ziplock bag that I then pour into my container for filtering: time-consuming, but effective. Another hiker strides up as I’m working on this task. His name is Peach Fuzz, and he wants to know if I heard about the trail magic some miles ahead, at the highway underpass. He plans to reach it tonight, but I’ll try my luck in the morning and hope some magic is still there: I don’t want to camp near a highway, and there’s not enough daylight left to hike much past the underpass tonight.

Afternoon.

There’s really no place to camp around here, but the trail notes point out a single spot in about three miles, so that’s what I’m aiming for. These miles are extremely rocky, which is also extremely annoying at this point in the day. Finally, I see the campsite, just before a gated fence, and groan. It would be a decent place to camp, but it is absolutely covered in fresh cowpies. Argh. I glance across the surrounding terrain. There’s just nowhere else to put a tent here. So I walk on, clinging to the belief that I will find something before reaching the highway.

Close enough to the highway to cross under powerlines. Maybe it doesn’t look like a scarcity of campsites, but hidden in all that dry grass are a million rocks and spiky plants.

A little less than two miles from the underpass, I finally settle on a flat patch of dirt and gravel next to the trail. It’s totally exposed and definitely not optimal, but at least it’s not full of ants, cactuses, or cowpies, and it’s not too close to the highway. I pitch my tent and watch with some awe as the moon rises over the mountains. Owls begin their nightly conversations as I drift off to sleep.

Campsite at sunset. I could hear the faint sound of trucks on the highway from here.


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