Today’s miles: 10.5
Total miles: 501.8
Just as I’m drifting off to sleep, the sound of some aircraft grows closer. Then very close. Very, very close. I peer out of my tent at the roar of it just in time to see something fly extremely low right overhead. Yikes. At 2:15am, I wake to the sound of a hiker’s footsteps and music. I see the bob of a headlamp moving down the trail. I feel certain this must be Happy Go Lucky, the guy attempting a fully unsupported fastest known time on the AZT (that is, he started at the northern terminus carrying everything he needs for the entire trip, except water — including all of his food, etc. — and won’t make any town or resupply stops, take any trail magic, etc). At 3am, the wind kicks up and my tent flaps a bit. There’s light rain off and on until my alarm beeps at 5am. Not my most restful night.
I’m off at first light, warily eyeing the low dark clouds overhead. I really want to get these 10.5 miles done quickly, to beat the heat and make the absolute most of my town time. I definitely did not eat enough yesterday, and all I can think about is pizza, ice cream, and a huge variety of cold drinks. The big clouds gradually break up as I hike, but thankfully still keep the sun’s intensity at bay. There’s a nice frequent breeze, too, and so I zip right through the first half of my miles, on rolling terrain that’s relatively clear except for hundreds of cowpies.
Anxious to avoid bonking, I stop for a small snack every hour or so. More pressingly, I’m rationing water this morning, carrying just barely enough to get me to the spigot at the road. The mere awareness that one’s water is limited triggers an intense thirst, but I’m stern with myself, saving most of it for the last five miles when I’ll have a bit of climbing and the late morning heat will come in.
To my surprise, the climb is over in a flash. I pass the small silver marker denoting the place where the AZT was finally fully completed as a continuous trail. Then it’s all downhill, the wind still whipping through the canyons, until I reach the railroad tracks, the dirt road, and finally the paved road off-trail to the county maintenance facility with some plastic chairs under a tree and a spigot producing potable water. Grateful, I guzzle a liter immediately.
I need to hitch into town from here, a hitch I’ve been told is wildly easy, but I’m confused about the roads and don’t know which side to hitch from. A man from the maintenance office comes outside and I ask him. “Do you know the number for the guardian angel?” he asks, meaning trail angels. “Because they’ll come pick you up and then you don’t have to hitch.” “I don’t have cell service here,” I explain, “but I think it’s the folks at the pizza place.” He says he’ll call them for me, and soon reports that they’ll be here in twenty minutes. Wow.
As I wait in the shade, Happy Go Lucky walks up. He stopped for a nap just a few miles after passing my tent last night, so I leapfrogged him without even knowing it. He seems in good spirits, all things considered, and expects to finish in six days or so. He plans to do the final hundred miles without stopping. We chat until my ride arrives, and then I jump in the jeep to be delivered to pizza. Two other hikers are there when I arrive, but they soon leave again for the trail. I order a very large pizza and a supersize Sprite, and am about halfway through this incredible meal when Lost & Found, Moonglum, and Fancy Feast show up all at once. This is by far the most hikers I’ve been around since leaving the Grand Canyon. It’s both nice and overwhelming.
Just as we’ve finished stuffing ourselves, Calves appears and shuttles us to the laundromat a mile away. We split a few washers. I wear my fleece shirt and wind pants in order to wash every other item of clothing. I’d almost forgotten how desert hiking makes your clothes stiff and scratchy from all the salt you sweat out. My shirt and pants feel like cardboard; my socks almost stand up by themselves. It’s a joy to pull soft clean clothes from the dryer.
I walk to the motel to shower. When I look in the mirror, I’m very surprised to find that I don’t actually look that beat up after the last ten days — just really, really skinny. I walk to the grocery store and buy ice cream, family-size potato chips, bagged salad mix, a bag of tangerines, Gatorade, apple juice, and a bottled smoothie. I’ll deal with resupply tomorrow. I eat my leftover pizza while talking to Cyn, then half a carton of ice cream while looking at the internet. I stay up far too late, relieved that I have all day tomorrow to rest. I haven’t had a zero day since leaving the South Rim.
In the morning I talk to my analyst and begin a day of constant eating. I buy my resupply for the next section and also one to mail ahead. My shoes are shredded from the rocks and thorny overgrowth, and Cyn awesomely shipped new ones to me here. They’re a different model and I hope they don’t ruin my feet. I sort all my food, mail a resupply box, wash my spoon and sungloves in the sink. I also backflush my filter for the first time since the Grand Canyon (some 400 miles ago) and it is, wow, extremely disgusting. I’m so grateful for this filter technology, knowing that gross sludge running down the drain did not go into my body. I eat, and eat, and then walk to the pizza place for an early dinner and a root beer float, after which, miraculously, I have reached maximum stomach capacity at last. I lie in bed all evening, talking to Cyn and texting friends, and feel increasingly excited to start hiking again tomorrow. A day of rest was just what I needed.