AZT Day 29: Oranges at Picket Post

Today’s miles: 18.9

Total miles: 472.6

Camping right on the edge of the trail, in an area with lots of cows (as indicated by all the cowpies around) leads to very restless sleep. Several times in the night I wake to animal sounds, sometimes real, sometimes dreamt (I think). I’m never really nervous, but it’s disruptive. At 5:30am I’m getting dressed and packing up inside my tent, but way down here in a canyon, the dawn light takes longer to arrive. I hang out until it’s light enough to see well, then roll up the tent and head off.

To my relief, the trail continues to be in relatively good condition with not too many pointy plants crowding me. The biggest issue is avoiding cowpies, of which there are many. Soon I find the cows themselves, maybe six or eight adults and a couple of youngsters. They regard me, reluctant to stop their morning grazing. “Hi,” I tell them, “I’m just a person, so no worries, but, well, you are in the trail…” They move off to the side nervously and I hike through so they can continue breakfasting.

Stone wall, remnants of an old corral here.

At a trailhead, I detour onto a rutted out dirt road that will give me easier access to today’s water source. It’s at an old corral with a small building and a water trough (lined with algae at the bottom). But there’s also a very large cement holding tank — taller than I am — connected by pipes to a windmill. When I step up onto a stump, I can see the tank is full of water, but the surface is covered in dead bugs and leaves and and other debris. But oh! As I peer in, I suddenly hear running water! When the wind turns the windmill, it pumps clear water into the tank through a small spigot. Joy! It takes me several trips to collect enough to filter 4.5 liters — my next definite water source is about 20 miles ahead. The water tastes slightly rusty from the spigot, but not too bad. I eat a snack and walk on. A series of ATVs passes me on the dirt road, kicking up all kinds of dust, drivers wearing big goggles. It’s like Mad Max Fury Road out here. I’m glad to get back on the actual trail.

Standing on a stump to reach the top of this concrete holding tank, waiting for the wind to turn the windmill so I can catch the fresh water!

Everything now is very exposed and already hot. At least the terrain is pretty smooth under my feet, and I can hike fast on this gradual downhill. I cross a small dirt road and find a little shade for a short water break, then push on, through the Hwy 60 underpass (glorious cool shade), then to the Picket Post bear box (empty except for a few ziplock bags, sigh), and finally the Picket Post trailhead parking lot.

Back in the saguaros today.
And the barrel cacti, too.

Unusually for AZT trailheads, there’s a privy here. I’m overjoyed to see it, not because of the toilet itself but because it provides the only source of shade around. It’s 12:20pm and shade is absolutely critical. I throw down my Tyvek next to the privy building and sip water until my body temperature is low enough that I have an appetite. I’ve just finished my ramen when a vehicle pulls up right in front of the privy. It’s Calves! He immediately offers me a beer, but I’m far too dehydrated. He offers me cold water. Yes please. Would I like some fruit? Oh my god yes. He produces an orange. It is the most delicious orange I’ve ever eaten. When I tell him so, he gives me a second one.

Calves charges my phone, takes my trash, and then actually cooks for me. He has a camp stove setup, out of the back of his vehicle, and makes me eggs over easy on buttered toast. Are you kidding me! I save one orange segment for dessert and wait out the midday heat with him, chatting and hydrating. I tell him about my night-hiking attempt. He shakes his head. “Baaaaad idea,” he says. “Everything comes alive out here in the dark. And it’s really easy to get lost.” Yeah, so I learned. A little before 2pm, I finally stand up and swing my pack onto my shoulders. Calves refills my water bottle before I hike out. I’m so grateful for this trail magic on a brutally hot day.

Hiking toward Picket Post mountain.
Anatomy of a snack break: small patch of shade, pack holding down my Tyvek from the wind, water bottles, food bag.

The trail takes me up around the shoulder of Picket Post mountain, beautiful and imposing. I hike at a good clip for the first hour, powered by citrus, then get overheated and stop for a shade break. I decide on a general area to camp, just a few miles shy of the next water source, which I can hit in the morning. The last mile or so looking for a campsite feels long, but then I find an incredible spot. After my tent is up I just stand around, eating my evening Snickers bar and enjoying the most spectacular sunset I’ve seen thus far.

Sun setting behind my tent.
View from my tent: the beginning of the sunset.
View from my tent: sunset 16 minutes later. Things change fast in the desert.

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