Payson to Mile 398.5 (12 miles)

Today was my favorite day on the trail! It started at 06:04 when I woke up and took one last shower for a few days only to come out and see that Wayback brought us back coffees from the lobby! I ended up going back down for seconds and an OJ before packing up my bag and filling my water bottles for the day.

Jerry the shuttle driver wasn’t picking us up until 08:00 so we had over an hour to relax on the sofa with the coffee while watching some tv. It was so hard to get going after being so relaxed! The guys wanted breakfast so Jerry drove us through McDonalds so they could get their sandwiches and I got an iced tea. After a 30 minute drive back to the trailhead we took the side trail a half mile back to the AZT and started our day at 08:45.

Perfect morning weather!

I was in front of the pack walking slowly looking for any snakes as it was prime snake weather but as soon as we passed under Highway 87, I couldn’t keep my eyes in the trail. The scenery was so pretty! The mountains were all around us and we were hiking on a small dirt path with minimal rocks (finally) over rolling hills. At one point I spotted something on the side of the trail and on closer look I saw it was a snake skeleton! So I was more diligent at keeping an eye out, just in case.

Amazing it was still in good condition.. for bones!

After 2.5 hours we came to a small stream and Afterburner found a perfect shady spot alongside it to take our lunch break and to filter some water. The day seemed so relaxing even while hiking because we were only going 12 miles today. This was because there was no place to camp after that for roughly 8-10 miles and a very long climb into over 6,000’ elevation. So we took our sweet time eating lunch and relaxing for almost an hour.

Enjoying a nice lunch break

After our break we continued the climb up through a nice canyon that crossed several times over a small creek that was flowing in some parts and not in others. Even with the climbs legs felt strong and my feet felt like I was walking on fluffy clouds with my new socks and insoles! Hopefully my foot heals quickly with these. I hiked on for 5 miles up and out of the canyon and into the Mazatzal Mountains. Gorgeous!

Welcome to beautiful land!
A nicely even path today

Along the way I ran into a group of three, one of which said she thru-hiked the AZT in 2018 and this was her favorite section so she came back to do the section again and I agreed and the marvelous views. Soon we hit the top of the climb and had an easy three mile descent towards our campsite. We weren’t sure how big the area was going to be and we knew there was that group of three, Joe Dirt/Tweety/Sonic were behind us, and we literally ran into two females Fire Worm and Hi-ho sitting on the trail too.

We were the first to arrive at the campsite at 3:30 nestled in a small canyon alongside a river that only had small pools left and surrounded by huge pine trees. As everyone arrived we picked out our small patches of tent property and started the task of setting everything up. 8 of us met around a fire pit to have our dinners and we ended up sitting there for two hours talking about everything you could imagine.

Even with 13 campers there was still plenty of room!

At one point Sonic asked if we all wanted to do some stretches so we all formed in a circle and began following her stretching. It felt amazing! The woman. Who had previously thru-hiked came over and asked if she could take our photo and post it on the AZT Class 2021 site and we said yes. I could only imagine walking into that canyon and seeing us all stretching! Afterwards Afterburner said ok let’s all go see what’s in that cave across the riverbed. I walked over but wasn’t going to go inside as I had my sandals on but I ended up going in about 15 feet because it was freakishly interesting.

AZT’s first on-trail stretching group!
Creepy Cave! I didn’t go any further.

By 7:00 we all said our good nights and climbed into our tents and another two hikers Recon and Todd arrived just then. This was amazing because we have never had so many hikers camping at the same site as today! Recon came around to everyone and handed out nice AZT keychains he made. All in all, today was awesome meeting so many great people and I hope to run into them all again tomorrow along the trail. We start at 04:30 as we have an enormous climb to get to the next available campsite.

Mile 398.5 to Mile 420 (22 miles)

So last night maybe around 11pm I was just about to doze off when I heard the most horrific scream. It scared the heck out of me! I’m not sure what kind of animal it was but it sounded like it was being brutally murdered. Of course my first thought was ‘oh no there’s something in the cave and of course my tent is the closest to it so I’m going to get attacked first’. I didn’t hear anything for a while after that but I never did sleep good after that. Around 03:00 I heard rain on the tent for a little while but then it stopped. When the alarm went off I was able to pack quickly as it was the warmest morning we’ve had yet so it felt great. We left the campsite and the rest of the sleeping hikers at 05:15 and I led the group with my headlamp.

A beautiful morning through storm clouds

The trail started out going (surprise) uphill for two miles. Along the way I could feel a light drizzle and heard some thunder off in the distance but only saw lighting once. We descended into a canyon where there were small pools of water but we didn’t take any. On the way down I could feel my toes hit the front of my shoes with each step. I had the exact same model and size as my previous shoes but for some reason these are smaller and I feel it. We arrived at Thicket Spring at 07:00 and filtered 2 liters of water and I heated up a cup of espresso and had some breakfast bars as my stomach was growling over the last 3.6 miles.

One step at a time

After 45 minutes we took off for a 5 mile slow but easy climb higher into the Matzatzal Mountains. I guess my coffee and food kicked in because I was way ahead of the guys but felt like I was going slow. I had a podcast in one ear and kept stopping to look at my surroundings because I was so impressed by the beauty. If anyone ever had an opportunity to hike in the Mazzies-DO IT! You will love it! Once I made it to the peak I went a little further to a saddle/campsite and sat down for a snack at 10:00. By this time the clouds had parted and the sun was heating up the mountain so we took off again for another 3 mile climb up to 7,000’ elevation.

Taking a break during the climb

I remained in front of everyone until the descent on the other side and that’s when my body said no more! So I slowed down and let Wayback take lead for the next mile and a half when we took a side trail 1/4 mile down to a water spring. The spring was small but 4’ deep and smelled of sulfur even though it was clear. Afterburner and I just looked at each other like who’s going to try it first? He did. Once filtered, it still smelled like sulfur. It tasted fine but you had to burp then it smelled of sulfur.

Bear Springs (aka Sulfur pit!)

We had lunch while there and I noticed my food supply was getting low but I still had enough for 2 more days. At 1:30 we were back on the trail and I was once again in front and climbing a small 1,000’ climb. Once I got to a fork in a saddle area I waited for Wayback and I’m not sure what happened but we started heading down the trail and a few minutes later he looks back at me and says we weren’t on the right trail. Great. So back up the hill we go and soon onto the right trail. This part of the trail descended along a mountain range with great views in the distance but all I could do was think about my toes hitting my shoes and no matter how I tried to change that nothing worked.

At 4:00 we took a quick break and assessed how much farther we could go. We decided another 4 miles to a pine tree-filled campsite was the winner. We hiked on for another 1.7 miles when we came to a sign that said, “Chilson Spring” and an arrow that pointed up to our right.

Chilson Spring

Sure enough ~50’ up a rocky terrain sat a metal tub in the shade. So we took our bottles and filters and left our bags on the trail and climbed up the rocks to the tub. It was clear with green algae inside but cold and clean! I filtered 2 liters and grabbed one more for the morning so I didn’t have to worry about it. It’s been a while since I’ve carried 3.5 liters total and my bag groaned when I picked it up. Or maybe it was me that groaned! Either way the bag slowed me down compared to the rest of the day and the tail turned into loose sharp rocks again.

I hiked the last 2.6 miles over the terrain and at long last I saw the sign for Horse Camp Seep (elevation 6,033’) and followed it down a short path and into pine tree wonderland. The guys were already there setting up their tents and another girl (Kumbucha) who also was setting up camp. Recon and Todd showed up a little later. I found my little spot and set my tent up and once finished grabbed my cook set and sat down to make black bean soup and ate a quest bar while I waited. Although there were mosquitos, we took our time eating and talking. Before we knew it the sun was almost down and it was time for bed.

Mile 429 to Mile 440 (20 miles)

I slept good last night and the alarm went off too soon it felt. We quickly and quietly packed up camp and headed up trail a mile and a half when the sun was starting to peek over the horizon. We found a rocky area to sit and have coffee and breakfast. I still had 1 liter of water so I filtered the rest of that and didn’t have to worry about water for a few hours. We continued up the hill through branches resisting us as we try to plow through them and over rocky terrain threatening to break our ankles. We finally reached the top and amazingly I could see the San Francisco Peaks (Mt. Humphreys is the highest peak innAz) off in the distance and it looked so small! When we started to descend we found the infamous tent at mile 422 that was left abandoned two years ago and no one has cleaned it up. I made the comment that whoever it was did a great job at staking it down because it hasn’t blown away even on a peak.

Looking North towards Utah
An abandoned camp

We continued our hike going down and up and down and up.. all day was like this. It felt very confusing to my legs! Many of the water sources that were listed as having water last week were completely dried up so we continued on. At one point we were about to descend a very rocky trail and I tend to go slow on this and Wayback said, “ok I’ll meet you at Brush Springs”. So I followed the two miles down and losing sight of him and Afterburner as they just seemed to not have any issues with the rocks.

When I reached the bottom I tried to locate them in several spots along the trail and for some reason just could not find them. I had been overheating in the hot sun (today was the hottest weather we’ve had yet) and my feet felt like they were on fire. So I continued to walk up the other side of the canyon thinking maybe they continued on. All I wanted was to sit in shade, chug cold water and rest my feet! Almost halfway up the hill I heard Afterburner yelling my name so I turned around and yelled back, “where are you?” I finally spotted him down in one of the areas I already checked. What the heck? I was so frustrated and didn’t want to hike back down the hill only to hike back up again so I popped open my umbrella and sat on the side of the trail. I sat there for several minutes weighing my options and feeling warmer and warmer the longer I sat. I looked at my water levels (1.5 liters) and the distance to the next water source (over 6 miles) and decided to be smart and hike back down to the guys rather than overheat and be thirsty.

Apparently when I went into that area to look for them initially, they had walked down the side path to grab water at the same time I was looking there. Normally we leave our packs and just take our water reservoirs and bring the water back but for some reason they both took theirs! So I finally had my water, lunch and rest for my feet for half an hour. Then we packed up and headed back up! It wasn’t as bad now that my body felt cooler.

At the top of the hill was the moment we had all been dreading- almost 3 miles of steep descent towards the Verde River. We took a quick water break then Wayback again looked at me and said, “I’ll see you at the river” and quickly took off down the path! The path was not bad but my toes hit the front of my shoes with every step and I now had one blister on the outside of my heel on both feet. It took me 2.5 hours to get down to the river and I wanted to cry my feet hurt so bad and all I could think was, I hope they are still there and we don’t have a repeat of lunch!

The summit before the 3 mile descent

When I reached the river I could see them in bare feet, sandals and shorts walking down to the river and on my left was a random brown horse on its back rolling in dirt. For a moment I stood there thinking I lost my mind! Then I realized there were several horses around as some were by the water and even Hammer and Beast were there. We haven’t seen them since we left Oracle! So I grabbed my water filters and put my sandals on and walked down to the water. I saw the girls must have went in the water and the guys were now in the water and also washing some of their clothes. I stepped into the icy water and felt immediate relief on my hot feet. I walked over to where a stream was flowing down into the river and filled my water reservoir then following suit, I dunked myself into the water. Well more of a sitting position because it was so shallow but it felt great to wash the salt and dirt off my clothing and body. When I was done I was able to put my town shorts and another shirt on while my hiking clothes were drying. As I sat there filtering my water I watched the horses roam around and go in the water upstream a ways.

Verde River- horses and river laundry

All too soon we realized it was already 5:30 and we still had a hill and 2.5 miles to get to camp. I packed up my clothes and hung my still wet clothes off my bag and with my sandals on, I crossed the river with my things, put my shoes on and took off towards camp. At 6:30 we made it to the campsite, just a small area under a wide farm tree surrounded by pasture and of course cow poop. I popped my tent up, laid my clothes out to dry in a nearby tree and made some dinner. You guessed it, Mac n cheese and dehydrated refried beans with some tortillas on the side and a big Lenny and Larry’s peanut butter chocolate chip cookie (a whopping 440 calories) cookie for dessert. The sun was set for a while as we sat there in the dark eating dinner so we cleaned up and went to our tents. I did some foot care and laying down to write this I head crickets! I haven’t heard them in so long and it makes me happy to have some kind of relaxing noise.

Mile 440 to Pine (20 miles)

In the middle of the night I heard coyotes getting excited over something. They sounded quite close but I was so tired I immediately fell back to sleep. By 04:30 we woke up and since no one else camped with us we packed without having to be quiet. Afterburner and Wayback were ready before me so I told them I was right behind and would catch up. They took off into the darkness guided by their headlamps and I was surrounded in the quiet morning. Once I was ready I threw my back over my shoulders, clipped in and took off following their direction. As I was walking I sent my gps location and checked my phone app as I do every morning. This morning I noticed I was not on the trail. This meant the guys were also not on the trail and Hammer and Beast who passed us last night were also not on the trail (H&B did not have the app or a gps). I turned around trying to find the trail. It was a very confusing area because we were in a pasture in the hills so there were animal paths everywhere. After a few minutes I decided I’d go try and catch up to the guys but luckily when I started in their direction I could see their headlamps coming towards me. They figured it out and came back and we all set out on the right path that was on the other side of a barbed wire fence.

After 1.5 miles we came to the only reliable water source for 13 miles and as we filtered 3.5 liters we had breakfast and coffee. I decided to go fancy and mixed a Starbucks via with a Taster’s Choice and wham! Energy! It kicked in as I climbed up the first hill surrounded by rocks that looked like skulls and prehistoric skeletons. A short time later the trail leveled out and I was once again walking through cow pasture but in a very rocky area. The sun was just coming up, the weather felt great and even though my feet had blisters and it was difficult to walk I was in a great mood! We stopped at the bottom before a slow climb and once we started up again, we were hiking in a ridiculous amount of rocks for miles and miles all uphill. If I tried to look away for a second I tripped or stumbled so I let my eyes on the rocks and ground in front of me for several hours.

Happy Easter morning!
This was a peaceful section of trail
Miles and miles of loose rocks

Finally the rocky trail ended and came out into a dirt road as the sun was getting hot. Today I had decided to unzip my hiking pants and make them into shorts to keep cooler than I was yesterday and so far it seemed to work. The uphill but smooth dirt road ended all too soon as the trail cut East and followed power lines for 6 miles. Up in this area I had cell phone reception and was able to listen to some music for a change. At noon we pulled over under a large shade tree and had lunch. After I ate I realized I only had two handfuls of trail mix, some sour patch kids and pitted dates. We were still about 5 miles from town but I would be okay until then.

Following these power lines for several miles

After lunch the trail steeply descended into a valley and alternated from rocky to so steep I slid down and every step down I took I could feel my toes hitting the front of my shoes and I would wince. Nothing I did could relieve the pain so I tried my best to ignore it. Once on the valley floor I thought I would run into the other guys but they must have continued up the other side so I followed. The sun must have been cooking the hillside all day because the heat was emanating off the rocks and I could feel it in my feet and on my body. I went up the hill slowly, stopping frequently in the shade to cool down or to grab a drink of water.

When I reached the top after a mile I thought I could relax for the final 1.5 miles to Highway 87 (our pickup location to get into Pine) until I started to descend once again on the hill of rocks. The rocks just wouldn’t end! All I wanted was to take my shoes off and put them in an ice bucket! At one point I saw a small pool of water to the side of the trail and I couldn’t resist- I stepped in socks and shoes still on and sighed in relief. The water felt ice cold on my feet and SO soothing! I stood there for a minute before stepping out and back onto the dirt (finally) trail, feet sloshing with each step. I didn’t care though as I felt immensely better.

Cooling my HOT feet in a puddle of water

I was a half mile out from the Highway and walking along a dirt road when I looked at my phone and realized I was not on the trail. Rather, I was on the road parallel to the trail. I tilted my head up towards the sky and just exhaled, closing my eyes. I did not want to walk back down the road to go back up the other side so I decided to go straight for it! It was much faster! As soon as I got back on trail, Wayback called my phone asking where I was and that Afterburner scored us a ride into the town of Strawberry where our motel was (a few minutes ride outside of Pine). As soon as I walked out to the the highway our ride arrived and pulled over. What perfect timing!

Bill, the driver and father of another thru hiker drove us to our motel and when we arrived we couldn’t seem to find the motel office. Afterburner called the main number and was instructed to go next door to the Saloon to check in. What is it with these small towns! So interesting! So we all walked into the saloon sweaty, smelly and carrying our bags and everyone turned and looked at us. We decided to have a beer while we were checking in then went back to the motel and got settled and showered. Across the road was an Italian restaurant so I had some zucchini, a salad, a side of soup and spaghetti and ate way more than my stomach wanted but I managed to get it all down! We decided to take a zero here to rest and allow my feet to recover until we head out to Mormon Lake.

Strawberry Chalet & Stay
Our Duck Dynasty- themed motel room
They even left the toilet seat up 🤦🏻‍♀️

Pine Zero Day

I got to sleep in until 06:30! I slept great and when I woke my stomach was already growling. We took our time getting ready and gathered our dirty laundry then started the 3 mile walk to Pine for the laundromat. About a mile into the walk and holding thumbs out for a ride a big white pickup truck pulls over and we get in. It was a nice woman driving and she nicely dropped us off at the laundromat. once our clothes were in we walked across the road to the Early Bird Cafe where to our surprise was a cafe full of hikers we knew. The staff were friendly and I ordered coffee, OJ, French toast and hash browns. While we were all chatting the food came quickly and disappeared into my stomach just as fast!

Once we finished breakfast I put my things into the dryer and walked to the Post Office for my resupply box and took it back to sit and wait for the dryer to finish. I realized I needed some tortillas and bars so I walked across the road again to the market and back again. By then my clothes were dry but the guys were waiting on theirs to air dry so I sat outside and watched as other hikers arrived too. It turned out to be a hiker mingling and I sat there talking to Ghost Hiker for a while and drinking my V8 and PowerAid. She told me she has hiked all the long trails (that’s a Triple Crown: Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Continental Divide Trail) and some of the smaller ones but the Arizona Trail has been the hardest due to the days-long stretches of rocky terrain. I wasn’t really surprised.

Picking up my resupply box in Pine! (Mile 460)
This became a hiker hangout for a few hours.
Wayback’s favorite drink- Root Beer!

Soon the guys said they were ready so I gathered my things (or so I thought) and we walked almost a mile to THAT Brewery. I wasn’t really hungry even though it was now after noon but I ordered a beer and a salad. Another hiker, Stamps, joined us and we sat there until after 2:00. We didn’t really want to walk back to the motel but we gathered our things and set out anyways. Not even a half mile into the walk a red truck pulled over that I’ve seen yesterday because I remembered the “MERC M” AZ plate. Gary (aka Mercury) was starting the trail next week and kindly gave us a ride back to the motel.

A great Brewery in Pine, AZ!

Once back I began to clean my gear, organize my food bag and pack some things up. It was then I realized I failed to grab my hiking pants that were hanging in the laundromat. Great. I didn’t want to walk the 6 extra miles, but luckily Afterburner had Ghost Hikers phone number and called her up. She said she was in the area and would grab them for me. I got ahold of Tim, the motel owner and he gave me a ride into Pine to pick my pants up from Ghost Hiker. Thank goodness for nice people!

A small resupply to get me through Mormon Lake

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