AZT Day 25: Magic and Moonlight

Today’s miles: 23.0

Total miles: 402.4

In this utterly exposed campsite, the moon is wildly bright, and shines through my tent walls all night. I wake in the wee hours to find a lot of condensation on the tent walls, and sleepily wipe everything down with my bandana. There’s more condensation in the morning. To be expected when you have no tree cover.

I’m out of camp just before dawn breaks, hiking in the thin grey light toward the highway. At the mouth of the underpass, I see a large blue plastic tub and my heart races with anticipation. Will there still be some trail magic in there for me? There is. And it’s incredible. Gatorades and bottles of water and little packages of nuts and granola bars and crackers. And Twinkies! I’ve opened a Gatorade and poured half of it down my throat before even really knowing what I’m doing, suddenly thirsty down to my bones. It’s hard to express how restorative this orange liquid feels, like every cell in my body is coming alive. I’m surprised by the physical sensation that’s propelling me to drink so greedily, and feel almost out of control, at the mercy of some deep, feral part of me that has taken over. I will myself to slow down and savor the last few gulps, relieved that no one is around to see what I now feel has been an embarrassing display. Calmer now, I eat a little package of Cheezits and a Twinkie, sending silent gratitude to whoever stocks this tub.

Extremely well-placed trail magic.

Through the underpass and then slowly climbing away from the highway, leaving the traffic noises behind, I follow the trail through tall golden dry grasses in the morning sun. The terrain is rolling and open, with almost no shade. I see movement just in front of me, between the clumps of spiky plants. A javelina! I’d been hoping to see one! I’m so surprised and excited that I point at it and cry out, “Little pig! I see you!” It’s already seen me, of course, and is trotting quickly away from the trail. This exciting (for me) encounter carries me through a gradual uphill, watching the landscape get a little sandier to my right until I am hiking just above Boulder Creek. I climb down to the shallow flowing water and eat a snack while filtering a few liters. Above me on the trail, I see another hiker — it’s Lost & Found. But how? Shouldn’t he be way ahead of me by now? He joins me by the water and explains that he hitched into Payson for more food and some rest.

Climbing away from the highway in morning sun.

I leave him at the creek and shoulder my pack for a very long climb. The first few miles aren’t so bad, but soon the trail turns very steep, and the sun very hot. I push through lots of overgrown brush with sharp thorns, then grit my way through a burn area, sweating and wilting. At last, I reach the end of the climb and hike down a dirt road until I find the first shade in hours. Under this tree, I drink electrolytes and try to lower my body temperature. Lost & Found eventually hikes past, and I see another hiker in the distance behind him. That hiker has a great view of me when I step back onto the road, slip in the dusty gravel, and fall to the ground. I give him a feeble, embarrassed “I’m fine” wave and try to hike speedily.

After another mile uphill on the dirt road, I descend on loose gravel, managing to stay upright this time. I reach an area called Pine Flats, with a wildlife drinker as a water source. I see Lost & Found sitting in the shade and join him for lunch, my quilt and tent spread out in the sun to dry last night’s condensation. The hiker behind me, Moonglum, arrives and the three of us have a very pleasant conversation. It’s so enjoyable here in the shade with good company that I don’t want to start hiking again, but now it’s after 1pm and I still have about 11 miles to my planned camp spot. Argh.

Still on the dirt road, and more dirt road to come.

I head out for a very long stretch on this rutted dirt road. An equestrian passes me headed northbound, maybe the first horse and rider I’ve seen since the Grand Canyon. My audiobook ends just as I finish the uphill portion, and I start another one, this time Helen MacDonald’s Vesper Flights. The PNT taught me that audiobooks can really get you through the slog of a road walk.

When I break for a quick dinner at the confluence of a few dirt roads, a set of three ATVs roars past, blaring what sounds like mariachi music, though it’s hard to be sure over the engine noise. One of the drivers stops to ask me about parking, and I gesture at my backpack, explaining that I have no idea what to do with a vehicle here. Lost & Found passes by just as I’m finishing my meal, and I catch up to him a bit later. It’s a relief to chat during the remainder of this dirt road section, and exciting to meet a fellow hiker who wants to talk about radical politics. These miles seem to fly by.

I think this is Four Peaks.
Distant view of Roosevelt Lake in the late afternoon — tomorrow’s destination.

We reach a trailhead that finally departs from the road. Lost & Found decides to find some camping here, but I’m determined to go on another two miles. The sun is setting rapidly, so I hike at a good clip downhill on rocky trail crowded with plant life. About a mile in, I stop at Bear Springs for water, then turn on my headlamp. I thought this would be a good time to try a short stretch of night hiking, since the moon was so incredibly bright last night, but unfortunately it’s dimmer than I anticipated and often blocked by the trees. I feel a bit jumpy in the dark, and dislike having my vision reduced only to the narrow tunnel of light right in front of me. I’m not having very much fun. I pass Shake Spring, a landmark I can barely make out visually though I can hear the water trickling, and have to search around for to find the flat space big enough for a few tents. Just as I’m settling into my quilt, I hear footsteps approaching and see the glow of a headlamp. It’s Moonglum, who politely asks if he can share my campsite. We chat briefly through our tent walls and then I fall asleep anticipating a real, hot dinner tomorrow night.


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