Day 23. Mogollon Rim.

Mile 476 to 495. 19 miles.
We wake up and hit the trail at about 7:10 and cruise on the flat ground pretty quickly. We make it to the East Verde River, the second time I’ve crossed it, only this time it’s a little tiny creek! Must be getting towards its source. We eat a snack there and fill up water.  
Then we start up the Mogollon Rim finally. It starts out not too steep on a ATV road following some telephone poles and then heads to the right up a series of switchbacks and then just right up the side at a steep angle. Michael is having a rough time up the hill. Feeling like his lungs are on fire. I’ve been there! We make it to the top and high five and take a breather.  

 

We cruised on the dead flat pine needle covered trail. It’s soooo good. It’s cool up here, shady, breezy and there is even a big patch of snow in the shade we walked by! There is also lots of ice cold streams. We take a break at one of them and eat lunch and filter water. More red pepper hummus, cheese sandwiches. This was such a good idea. It tastes so good. I highly recommend sandwiches!    

 


We head out and cruise on the flat ground until we head down to east clear creek which is a big creek about 15-20 feet wide and crystal clear with a gravel bottom. Most beautiful water I’ve seen yet. Very cold water too. There are elk droppings and footprints everywhere around here. I haven’t seen any elk on the trail yet but we saw big herds of them in the town of Pine eating people’s garden plants.   

 

 
We then make our way up the last hill of the day and it is really putting the hurt on Michael. He’s yelling, “Yo, fuck this trail bitch!” In his Jesse Pinkman voice. He’s not liking the climb. It’s only about a mile long but you can’t see where it ends and it was frustrating to him. At the top the trail flattened back out into a nice open ponderosa pine forest. We walked about 2 miles after the top of the hill and set up camp in a beautiful meadow.  

    
 I set up my stuff and started chowing down food when Michael says he’s feeling nauseous and ill and had no appetite. We try and think what could be wrong. He thinks it’s altitude sickness but I tell him were only about 7000 feet up. I don’t think that’s enough to really make you sick. We agreed its probably dehydration so he drinks some water and take an electrolyte tab. This doesn’t help. He feels worse as the sun starts going down. Finally he says, “This is gunna happen.” He walks a hundred feet or so and pukes his guts out. A few minutes later he walks back and says, “Dude, I just fucking vomed out my nose. It’s like pure liquid and bile.” This is troubling. A few minutes later he says he is feeling a good bit better, no more dizziness, but still not hungry and just wants to sleep. Hopefully tomorrow he’ll feel better. 

Day 22. Michael Hikes.

22004_10204021723529732_8853546806136241367_nMile 464 to 476. 12 miles. 

My uncle Michael got in a little early at around 10:30 pm last night and we chatted for a bit then we went to sleep.
We woke up and got our stuff all packed up and ready to go. Charged all our electronics and then Patrick the B&B owner made us breakfast. Pancakes, eggs, bacon, fruit and a smoothie! It sure hit the spot!
We started our 2 mile walk towards the AZT when I saw William, a guy I met in the post office yesterday and said hey to him. He looks like an old 49er in his 60s and he was obsessed with panning for gold with his cast iron skillet he said. Funny old fella! Then we tried hitching back to towards the trail and finally someone pulled over a few minutes later and the guy came out and said, “Hey Michael!” I was confused for a minute and then Michael told me he was Rick Newman the same person that was in the shuttle with him last night. Small world! He takes us to the trailhead and we thank him and wish him well!
At the trailhead we run into Ledge, a thru hiker I had heard about and knew I had somehow passed after his Altra shoe prints disappeared on a road walk the other day. We talked for about 10 minutes about Pine and where to visit. THAT Brewery of course! He’s taking a zero there. Maybe we will see him again, seems like s cool guy!
So we hit the trail at about 11 AM, a late start. We start a 1000 foot climb and it’s tough for Michael. Our packs are stuffed with food and water, always the hardest part of hiking out of town. He’s spitting and saying, “Oh shit. Please no more uphill.” We reach a flatter area of the trail and he’s fairing much better. We snap a few pictures of ourselves with the Mogollon Rim in the background. Michael is a professional photographer that works at the White House and takes pictures of the president and has a big ass expensive camera that he brought with him to take some killer photos. The camera and lenses weight probably about 10 lbs total so I carry a lens and some camera gear to help take some of the weight off.  

We take a break near Geronimo camp next to a sweet creek and eat lunch. I packed out some serious food this time. I have the cravings now and couldn’t help myself. I have a few huge cinnamon rolls about a pound each, cookies, bread, mayo, mustard and cheese to make sandwiches, and then some pork jerky. A pound of it. It’s the most delicious jerky I’ve ever had. It’s gunna be gone quick.   

 
We walk and take pictures the rest of the day. We make it 12.2 miles to sycamore creek and call it a day. We set up camp and chow down on our absurd amounts of food. A nice half day! Get up on the rim tomorrow and it should be pretty flat. Nice to have some company!

Day 21. Zero in Pine with a Surprise!

Miles 0. 
Woke up and lazed around until 11 am. Soooo nice. Watched TV about depressing plane crashes so changed it to more family feud. 
Walked over to the post office and got my packages and sorted through what I needed and what I could send back home. I also went to grocery store and bought some delicious goodies. Jealous of sluggers sandwiches a few weeks ago I bought bread, hummus and cheese with mayo and mustard. It’s gunna be grand. 
My uncle is meeting me here in Pine to so he can hike the next 10 days or so with me but his flight from Washington, DC then shuttle ride won’t get him here until after midnight. We’ve booked the Beeline Bed and Breakfast for the night. I walk over and check it out, it’s beautiful! Big king sized room, really fancy and for a good price because it’s the off season. Not sure what the on season here is but I’ll take it!  

    

And I’ve been sleeping in rocks

I leave my stuff in the room and head over to the library and upload some of my Canon Powershot photos to facebook. Takes a long time but I get it done! I walk back to the B&B and stuff my face with food and watch cops when I get a text from Guthrie, a good friend I made on the Pacific Crest Trail last year, he says he’s near Pine right now! I tell him to swing by and hit up THAT Brewery with me. Says he’ll be there in about a half hour! Awesome! 
Guthrie shows up in his jacked up Range Rover with a motorcycle on the back and a bed inside. He’s been exploring all the national parks and cool area in the southwest over the last few weeks and will make his way up towards Seattle over the next weeks/ months. So cool! Now that’s living my friends. As he’s clearing the front seat for me my mom calls and tells me a letter from West Virginia University arrived and it says I’ve finally been officially accepted to the graduate program I applied for! Finally!!!!! I’ll be starting May 1st! That’s so soon! I don’t have time to even think about that right now! 
   

 Guthrie and his happy face 

We head to the brewery and eat some appetizers and drink some good beer, chatting it up about what we’ve been up to since we last saw each other in Vancouver. It’s so good to see a friend again, it’s been pretty lonely out here the past 12 or so days! I do feel I’ve become even more confident though after hiking and camping all alone in the wilderness for days on end. I think it’s a good experience for anyone. That said I’m also excited my uncle will be out here for the next leg of the journey!
Guthrie heads out to find a forest road to camp on before its dark. It looks like I’ll probably see him again this trip as he is still adventuring the area the next few weeks. I head back to the room and write this blog. 🙂 spirits very high! 

Day 14. Zero in Superior. (Out of order. The original post for this day was messed up.)

Miles 0.
I decided that I am going to take a zero today. I am way ahead of schedule of meeting my uncle in Pine in a week. Basically 20s will get me there on time even with a zero and this is the last real town between here and Pine that I can easily get to.
I spent the morning laying bed watching family feud and other daytime television. In fact, that’s just about all I did all day. I loved it. Sometimes you just need to do nothing and enjoy it! I stuffed my face all day with delicious food. Mostly snacks but also an avocado and a Red’s wicked ale which was meh. 
John the owner of the hotel told me the library didn’t open until noon so I waited until then to walk the mile over there. When I got there it was closed! Lame hours of 12-6pm Monday to Thursday. Not useful. So I walked down main st with my phone out looking for wifi signals. Finally at the local bar there was a good signal! I walked in, got a PBR and was finally able to post my blog and Instagram. 
I did this a couple hours and then walked back to the hotel and so very enjoyed laying in a comfy bed watching bad movies like snakes on a plane and then the nightly comedy shows like South Park and family guy. 
Had an upset stomach so I took some Pepto bismol to try and calm it. Watched tv until I was too tired and went to sleep.

Day 20. To Pine!

3/26/15
Mile 434 to 464. 30 trail miles plus 1 more to Pine on highway 87. 

I dreamt about eating a cheeseburger and fries covered in malt vinegar. I’ve been craving malt vinegar so much lately. What a weird thing to crave right? It got quite breezy during the night but other than that it was a good nights sleep. I’m sleeping better almost every night out here which is nice! Not to mention I go to sleep at 7 pm and wake up at 6 am! 11 hours of sleep every night! It’s really the best. I love mornings, it’s cool out, you can walk fast without getting too hot and I just like the light. At home I never see the sun rise. I’d usually sleep in until 11 am at least every day and stay awake until 2 or 3 am. Out here I’m back in the natural human cycle be awake during daylight and sleep when it’s dark.  

 

Hit the trail at 6:30 and had a fairly large and frustrating downhill that was steep, rocky and overgrown with thorny plants again. Lucky this was only a couple miles. The trail then hit the East Verde River, the largest river I’ve seen yet in Arizona. It was possible to not get my feet wet with a lucky trekking pole vault into a rock and to the other side where there was a peppermint plant growing on the bank! Smelled so good. 
   Came across this horse near the river. He smelled really bad and started following me for a bit. 

   

Then the trail went steeply up towards a mesa that I’d be on much of the day. It looked like beautiful walking looking at the topographic map, smooth very slowly climbing almost all day. The trail disappeared into a scree field at one point and I just could not find any cairns so I pulled out my GPS app that had been spot on every time about where the trail was in relation to where I was… until now. According to the GPS this is the trail!  

 The trail? Probably not.

I finally figured it out after climbing up this mountain thingy and saw the trail off to the east. At the top of the climb the trail did indeed become a wonderfully flat open area for miles and miles! Also cows were everywhere and they make their own trails. A lot more cows hike the AZT than backpackers do so they’re the ones keeping the trail looking trail like, trampling down the plants that grow on the trail to make it visible. The downside to this is cows also like to go wherever the hell the want. So there are all kinds of trails all equally worn going in all directions. The AZT trail builders solved this problem by building cairns to mark the trail. There have been cairns in other sections here and there but they did a marvelous job in this section with cairn building. You can almost always see the next one in the distance so you can ignore the cow trails going all over. Just keep finding the cairns! A bad part about this section however is its just all rocks. The trail is flat elevation wise but it’s rocksss. Rocks the size of softballs, but sharp and jagged. Ankle twisters and balance killers.  

  Nice Mesa!  A cairn made with weird rocks.  

The rocks. Worse than Rocksylvania! Just not as long.

Later in the day the trail got steep for a mile or two and once again all rocks! You could still make good time but I could feel blisters starting to form on my heels from not being able to get a solid foothold on a rock, as it rolled underneath my foot would smack the ground or other rocks and this constant beating did finally give me my first blisters of the trail. They’re pretty small, but still unwelcome.  

 This steep scree field IS the trail. It’s like this for a good long climb.

Almost all of the final 12 miles in passage 26 were on roads. After the Mazatzal area I was perfectly fine with this. Wide open and flat, no thorns near me. I crushed these final miles to Pine, listening to Gustav Holst’s “Mars” which seemed so appropriate with the red rocky plains all around. 
   That’s some good camouflage!

They puff up to look bigger when you pick them up. They don’t even run! He just let me pick him right up off the rock!   Easter chocolate or dried mud?

 This is one of those moments that I truly love. Maybe just leaves to you, but I immediately recognized these leaves as a Mertensia species, often called bluebells. I have some I grew from seeds at my house in Ohio and when you care for a plant from seed to  flower you really know it! Sure enough a few hundred feet later I saw a blooming bluebell plant. The thing is they’re never really common, and these two species are in opposite habitats on different sides of the country! I love it!

 I made it to the highway at 4:30 and began the 1 mile walk to THAT Brewery whom I called earlier and booked the last cabin they had for the night! I tried hitching the mile walk but had no takers even though about 30 cars passed me. When I got to the brewery I payed for my room, just $35 a night on weeknights! It’s got just about everything I want like a TV with cable, shower, AC, queen bed, microwave, fridge and all the normal hotel stuff! Plus it’s 50 feet from a BREWERY. I took a shower and then went right for the food they brewery serves. Got a burger with fries which I covered with malt vinegar. My dream realized. Also got their signature beer and it was good! And just $3! This place rules! Zero tomorrow. 🙂
   

 If I didn’t have toenails this would have hurt.

Day 19. Escape From Mazatzal.

3/25/15
Mile 402 to 434. 32 miles. 
Hit the trail about 6:45 and as I assumed, the first 2 miles were the same getting lost every few minutes and being shredded by the vegetation at the same time. Went down by a creek that was actually pretty well marked with cairns. Oh how much joy you get when you think you’re lost then you see a big rock cairn! 
Once I made it to the beginning of the Mazatzal divide passage that I had been warned was poorly maintained and took forever to get through, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the trail was just open switchbacks gently ascending the mountain! I hit the top of the climb and the trail moved into a ponderosa pine and Douglas fir forest! And the trail was flat and open and soft with pine needles! I crushed miles here and the cool air and piney smell was positively enjoyable! Plus now my pack much lighter because of all the food I’ve eaten and the abundance of water means I’m only carrying a few liters at a time.  

    Beautiful trail!  Burned dead trees.

 Funky cacti

After about 4 or 5 miles of this nice hiking I finally entered the hell I’d heard about. Completely overgrown trail. A forest fire had come through years ago and all the big trees died and all that was left was thorny shrubs. Like not just one kind. All of the thorny shrubs. There were raspberry canes, multi flora rose, scrub oak with leaves pointy like a holly bush, some kind of supremely evil locust shrub with inch long very stout thorns, then this recurved thorn low shrub that would hook into your flesh and pluck a little piece out, and then the huge thorn fucker. Sorry I don’t know the name of some of these but the huge thorn fucker was the worst. Growing about 3 feet tall and with huge 2 to 2 1/2 inch sharp as hell thorns that just puncture you. They’re all hidden amongst the leaves of the bush so you don’t see them coming. At one point I felt a sensation of pain that was new to me. A big thorny fucker hit me so hard and square in the shinbone I think the thorn actually hit the bone itself. I thought I was stung by a bee or some other critter but it was just a big ass thorn that hit deep and broke off in my shin. It’s still here and I can’t get it out without digging for it and I don’t want to make it worse. 
Oh and there is no walking around them. You’re on a mountainside that is pure thorny shrubs. You have to push them out of the way with your body because they are leaning all over the trail, for miles. It wasn’t always constant, you’d get breaks for a mile or two here and there but the shrubs would come back and just kill your morale. They just rake your skin and when there is an already wounded area it hurts even more. Not usually drawing blood but it’s still quite painful. I’d liken it to being scratched by an angry cat. Now imagine a trail with angry cats lining it for miles at a time and they are just using your legs as scratching posts. That’s what it feels like, but not as cute as that. Well why not wear pants? Because it’s hot at shit and I tried that a few days ago. It just makes you sweat and then scratches hurt even more, and these thorns would most certainly go through my lightweight pants. Maybe if you had very heavy canvas like pants and a shirt you could get through the brush unharmed, but what thru hiker carries that? Jr Sr and his jeans probably would have faired okay.  

  😦 freshly cut human

I got so frustrated at one point that I transformed into Samurai Woody, screaming and wielding my trekking poles I did some trail maintenance on any shrubs that dared cross the trail. It was a good way to let off steam that had been building all morning. I beat the shit out of them. I can’t believe my trekking pole didn’t break. 
Now why is the trail so bad here you may wonder? Nobody does trail maintenance here I don’t think. It’s just not feasible. It’s in the middle of nowhere with no easy access points and the task of clearing the trail of miles of brush would be a Herculean effort. You would need hundreds of people with machetes spending countless hours, and then next year do it all again as they all grow right back. So I’m pretty sure the Arizona Trail association gave up on it. I can understand why, but that doesn’t help the hikers. 
It was this bullshit on and off the entire day. The only good thing is you could always follow the trail. Once you hit the Mazatzal Divide passage there was no more getting lost. There was just lots of getting shredded. Okay the views were actually pretty awesome as well.  

       

Near the end of the day I came over a ridge and could see the snow capped San Francisco Peaks in the distance! Wow! I didn’t think I’d see them so soon! If all goes well, I’ll be in Pine tomorrow night. Hopefully in a hotel taking a bath and eating a burger. 30 miles, I think can do it with that motivation. Just please no more thorns. 

  The San Francisco Peaks wayyyy in the distance.

 I liked the colors with the sun getting low and I’m so glad I too this shot. This is one of my top favorite landscapes I’ve ever taken. Just love the colors so much.

Update: I wrote this in the moment, when I was very frustrated and this day sounds pretty down and not fun. That’s exactly how I felt. Now that I’m in a hotel, just ate a burger, took a shower and am happy as a clam, I don’t think it was all that bad, but that’s not that feeling I had yesterday. I want people to know not every day is a good day thru hiking. Sometimes you just have a very bad day. This was one of them. 

Day 18. Bad Part of the Trail.

Mile 376 to 402. 26 miles.
Woke up and hit the road about 6:30. The trail stayed on the forest road for another 6 miles or so and I saw that I had 3 G on my phone! Rare for me. So I sat down and uploaded my blog posts.
Once the trail actually became a trail and not a road, it descended down into a valley with a flowing creek and easy hiking for the next few miles. I saw a big sonoran whipsnake but he was too fast for me to catch. I also saw tons of quail! Probably about 100 individuals. They’d fly up in a pair or in big flocks of 15 or so every now and then. Must be a good place for them.
   So lush!

Old car graveyard  Huge flowering evening primrose

Just before the highway I was listening to music when I heard a strange sound. I looked down and there is a big Black-tailed Rattlesnake rattling away! AWESOME! The first of that species I’ve seen! He’s right on the trail and holding his ground. I keep my music low just for this purpose, so I can hear when there is a rattlesnake! I take a ton of pictures and videos of him with my iPhone and my Canon Powershot. As I’m taking pictures he gives up on rattling even when I move, but he is keeping his posture. As I am about to go I gently pick him up with my trekking pole and put him off the side of the trail. He’s heavy! He just meanders away from me toward the nearest bush. Now that was amazing! I LOVE rattlesnakes. 

Look at those colors!

This is how far I was when he started rattling.

The afternoon has some nice views as I go up a canyon. A large fire had been through here in recent history and the trail is very overgrown. I take a dip in one of the large pools going up the canyon. It’s super cold! And I stay nice and cool for almost an hour while hiking the steep terrain. By the time I’m dry it’s starting to cool off anyway.
Right in the middle of the trail I come across another large sonoran whipsnake! This time I’m able to pin his head with a trekking pole and pick him up! He was rather polite about it actually and didn’t even musk me! I took some pictures of him and his beautiful belly that starts yellow then transitions into pinkish red. I set him down and off he goes!
   

Look at the belly colors!

The trail finally opens up into a nice flat “road” after a few miles of torturous bushwhacking but this is only for a mile or two. This flat section is also covered in fresh mountain lion tracks. Since the last rain 3 days ago. This makes me uncomfortable. I know they’re pretty much all over the trail but now I KNOW they’re here. Mountain lions freak me out more than any other animal in the United States. They just watch you, follow you, trying to decide if you could become a meal. Everyone has fears of some creature. Some people fear snakes, spiders or other creepy crawlers, well my fear is mountain lions. Give me a pit of snakes and scorpions any day over being creeped on by man sized cats. I’ve had some friends who were stalked by them at night in the PCT and it is just a terrifying ordeal. They never were attacked but to just be walking then you hear a crunch behind you and in the beam of you headlamp is the eyes of a big cat, for miles. Fuck that shit fuck that shit.  

11081322_10203999406931831_8340513146606885710_nGreat

Then the trail took another turn for the worse. Back into the overgrown, thorny, cactus ridden “trail.” I was getting lost every few minutes, having to check my GPS to find my way back to trail. Then the trail went down to a creek with a real nice looking camping area with ponderosa pine trees and flat ground but also mountain lion tracks galore. There is also 2 abandoned mines just across the creek that would make a great home for you know who. Yeah I’ll pass on this place. I want to get some more miles in anyway. Then trail disappears into the creek and then the way up and out of the creek are was only findable by my GPS. I go up this shitty hillside full of thorny stuff again and then the trail joins a wash and follows it up for a good while. Less stuff to prick you true but it’s got water in it and it’s just not fun to walk in. I make it to the top of a rise out of the wash and see the trail is about to go around a mountain and into some steep and shady areas. I don’t want to end up not finding a flat place to set up camp in the dark so I decided to call the day 2 miles short of what I wanted so I could set up in sunlight and a flat open area. The whole trail for the last 6 miles or so to where I am now have been lion tracks nonstop. Ughhh. You guys leave me alone, I’ll leave you alone.  

Oh yea crossed the halfway point today! Yayyyyyy

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