Pine to Mile 499 (22 miles)
This morning started early again at 04:30 and we were road walking from the motel in Strawberry to Pine by 05:15. We made stops at the gas station, the local market and then to the Early Bird Cafe where we had a breakfast before hitting the trail. By 08:00 we made the 4 mile road walk to get to the trail head. The Pine Trailhead was really nice and well maintained compared to many of the others. The trail itself was easy to walk on and we were surrounded by pine trees and fresh air. The trail slowly climbed and if I didn’t have so much food and 2.5 liters of water in my bag it would have been a very easy section of trail. Prior reports said this section was all mud but we hit it at a great time and the mud had hardened so it was easier to walk on.
Unfortunately this was not an exciting part of the AZT for me as compared to other days. There was not a whole lot of change in scenery. By noon we found a decently large river flowing near Geronimo Trailhead and I decided it was time to put my sandals on and cool my feet off in the river after getting water to filter. The water was so cold but so relieving! We had lunch and then took off again on the trail.
We arrived at the Washington Park Trailhead (mile 479) and Afterburner decided to take up the offer to stay at Recon’s family cabin for tacos, showers and laundry. Wayback and I continued down the trail to find a campsite. We ended up backtracking almost a quarter mile back near the trailhead to set up near the East Verde River. Wayback asked if I had signal and to text Afterburner where we would be to make it easier to find us in the morning. Not 2 minutes after I text him, I see Recon walking towards us with a Gatorade, a beer and chips and asking why we didn’t want to come stay with his family. He ended up talking us into going to the cabin with him and so we packed our gear into his SUV and we all head the mile down the dirt road.
When we arrived we saw Hammer and The Beast were there also so there were 5 of us plus Recon, his wife, 3 kids and 2 friends joining him on his thru-hike. Recons wife made everything for tacos and even made vegan options for a few people! The family was SO nice and they were all so happy and chill. We all ate until we were full and talked hiking stories until late into the evening. The cabin was amazing and Recon lit a fire in their fireplace which sat under Elk and bison mounted on the wall. Outside was the East Verde River behind the back patio. Wayback and Afterburner cowboy camped on the patio while I decoded to sleep on in my quilt on the floor beside the fireplace and Hammer and the Beast took the couch. Tomorrow we are all waking early again for breakfast and Recon said he would drive us to the trailhead so we can conquer one last big climb between here and the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Mile 497 to Mile 499 (20 miles)
I woke up this morning to Recon and his wife Jill quietly making breakfast at 04:30. I changed and silently started to pack up my bag then went into the kitchen and they handed me a cup for coffee. Wayback and Afterburner came inside and got ready themselves and by that time the breakfast was ready. I had oatmeal with fresh fruit and walnuts and two cups of coffee. It was delicious! Hammer and the Beast were still sleeping on the couch so we all sat around the kitchen table quietly chatting until it was time to leave near 06:00. We loaded up into Recon’s white SUV and drove down to the same trailhead he picked us up from. Once there, Wayback realized he didn’t have his phone on him and must have left it at the house so he went back to the house to find it while Afterburner and I stayed at the trailhead.
As soon as he came back (he found it!) we started up the trail at 06:35. We crossed a bridge over the East Verde River and the trail slowly climbed as the temperature slowly dropped. After the first mile the trail came out to shortly follow a dirt road that acted like a wind tunnel blowing me down as I was trying to go up. The trail split up and we took the trail to the right that turned into giant switchbacks, avoiding the 1/3 mile straight climb over scree and up to the General Springs Trailhead (elevation 7,150). At the top we took a short break to catch our breaths and so I could put as many layers on as I could as it was freezing! Back on the trail we came up to the General Springs Cabin, formerly a ranger station that was now abandoned and only used by thruhikers during foul weather (there was rat feces on the floor inside and no door or windows).
As we went down the trail there were large patches of snow-turned ice and frozen water puddles. The trail went down into a canyon to follow a river for several miles and requires us to cross over multiple times. It wasn’t until almost 09:00 when the sun began to heat up the ground and thawing me out. We stopped along the river to filter some water and continued on. At one point the river was too high for us to cross so we were forced to go down river several hundred yards to find a spot we could safely get across. As soon as we crossed the trail went into switchbacks and up onto a high plateau where we were surrounded by more pine trees than one could imagine. The foot path was so soft under our feet, made of sand and covered in pine needles. It was a relief to all the miles of rocks we had to endure!
Once I made it to an AZT gate right behind Wayback, we decided to have a seat and wait for Afterburner. Normally we only wait for a few minutes if he has to catch up but we started to become concerned after ten minutes. Finally we saw him making his way down towards us and it turns out he had bad allergies and not feeling so well mixed with some medication he took he was experiencing very low energy for the day. He said he would catch up to us at the next water source so Wayback and I took off again down the pine needle path. It wasn’t long before the trail turned into an old forest road that was no longer in use and we followed that for almost two miles before we descended down towards East Clear Creek. This would be our last “reliable” water for over 14 miles so we were hoping it would be better than some cow pond water. As soon as it came into view I smiled and skipped down to it off the path. The water was SO clear and the path it made winding through the canyon looked picturesque. I shrugged out of my pack and replaced my socks and shoes with sandals and grabbed my water filter. I crouched down to the waters edge and scooped some water into my bag, completely shocked at how cold it was. Even the river water going into Summerhaven wasn’t this cold! Here I thought I was going to cool my feet off by wading around in the river but I could barely stick my toes in without gasping. Okay so I guess it’s better to sit and look at the water while I eat lunch that to be IN it.
While we were sitting there eating and filtering, several thru-hikers arrived too including Recon and his two friends and Bucha. When it was time to move on we had a dilemma. The river was too wide for us to make it across and far too cold to walk through it! Recon found a small log and threw it down into another one. When I tried to step on the first one, my left foot somehow slipped and the front half of my foot got wet. It didn’t take long to dry out however and I continued on up the trail.
Every two hours Wayback and I took a break to wait for afterburner to catch up to us only to lay on the ground and almost fall asleep. I felt bad for him not feeling well but it was also nice not being the last one all the time. By 3:30 we made it to a campground that was closed but I was able to throw my garbage away in a dumpster (Yay!).
Mile 496.7 brought us out to Highway 87 where we found Recon and his friends again by a pickup truck, tailgating! They offered us food and drinks but I only had a drink. We all talked for maybe 30 minutes before we needed to move on so we could get more miles in before the subs went down. We said our goodbyes and crossed the highway and into the forest. I was getting so excited thinking we would hit the 500 mile mark but at mile 499.4 I found the guys and Boucha to my right getting ready to set up camp. I could have continued on for several miles but I am also okay with just claiming my 20 for the day and hitting an achievement in the morning!
Mile 499 to Mile 525 (26 miles)
It felt like I slept more hours last night than I have since leaving Superior. I slept in until 5:15 and even though I thought it was going to be cold last night it was actually really nice and the sun started to came up and warm up the campsite even more. We had coffee and my breakfast fig bar then hit the trail by 6:15. Boucha was still sleeping in her tent when we left. Oh well. Some people like to wake up later.
We hiked 8 miles with minimal breaks until we hit our first water source “Foot in the Tree Tank” (who comes up with these!?! I saw no feet anywhere!) which wasn’t really even a tank at all but rather a very muddy market cow pond. Gross. But we needed water before our next source 11 miles up the trail. So we took the section of panty hose I carry and covered our water scooper (a water bottle cut in half) and proceeded to scoop water, take the pantyhose off, pour the water into the reservoir, put the panty hose back in and repeat. We did this until we each had 2 liters of water, then we filtered that water into our bottles. I had to back flush my filter every half liter because it is so backed up or dirty that now it only drips if I don’t squeeze the reservoir with a death grip. It shouldn’t do that. It took me half and hour to filter those 2 liters. While we were sitting there, Recon and his friend joined us in the fun cow pond. Once filtered the water was still discolored but did not taste bad at all. I’ve tasted water from plastic jugs that tasted much worse than this.
Once we had our water we started back on the trail. By this point we had hiked 8 miles by 10am and I just so happened to have a spurt of energy so I led the group and took off. The path today had been very easy compared to the rest of the AZ trail. It led me through cow pastures, through pine forests and even some rocky areas that didn’t last long. All this with only slight elevation, climbing all day but barely noticeable. So as I took off, I had cell phone service and put some music in my left ear and ended up going 4 miles in just over an hour. It was now 11:15 and we were at 12 miles and Afterburner and I decided it was time for lunch! We ended up walking almost another mile though because where the 12 mile marker was was in a wet windy field so we cut across the field and followed it up a hill and into the pine trees to get away from the wind. Wayback caught up about 5-10 minutes later.
After our short 30 minute lunch we saw a lizard laying on the path all flattened out and it took us a few minutes to realize it did this intentionally! Pretty neat to see. After lunch is when I normally slow down but we were doing so well with our mileage we took a break almost every hour or two for just enough time to take our bags off, rest our feet and drink some water or have a snack. I found a blister formed in the webbing between my big toe and the next one. It was uncomfortable but not painful like blisters normally are. I kept an eye on it all day though. We played leap frog with Recon and his friend all day but didn’t see any other people.
Once we began our climb up towards 7,000’ I began to see signs of elk. Primarily all the poop and hoof marks along the path- kind of a giveaway! At one point I looked up and saw almost a dozen cow elk nearby. They heard us and darted to my left an out of sight. That was so neat! A little further up the trail curved in that direction and once again I found myself stopping and just watching them off in the distance. The three of us watched in amazement at these creatures until we were spotted and they took off once again. After that I only saw one more but only briefly. By 3:00 we had reached mile 518 or Bargaman Park Tank and refilled our water bottles with running water from a creek that runs into a large pond. My filter was barely working so Afterburner offered to let me use his. What a delight getting the water filtered so much faster! Of course I back flushed his and cleaned it up best I could after using it.
From this point we planned on only hiking 5 more miles to Maxie Tank at mile 523. As we climbed up to our max elevation for the day at 7,700’ the air felt colder, there was snow still on the ground in patches and the rest of the ground was either muddy or tacky to walk on. At least we weren’t up this high during the snow storm like others were. After our peak we went slightly down toward a more cow pasture and cow tanks surrounded by mud. One of the tanks “Shuff Tank” looked large and clean from a distance but once closer all we could do was hear hundred of frogs! So we left that one go.
By mile 523 at Maxie Tank it was 5:00 but we decided to continue on 1.8 more miles to a forest road that reportedly had flat camping areas nearby. I was exhausted by now but gave it one final push and after 6:00 we found some flat areas at the edge of the woods by a large field. I got my tent set up and cleaned up (I love baby wipes!) and changed into my night gear before meeting the guys nearby for dinner. I had chili ramen noodles, some vegan Doritos and Afterburner gave me a plain bagel I smeared some almond butter on. We watched the sun go down behind the pine trees as the light reflected off the clouds from Orange to red to pink to purple.
As soon as the sun was down the cold kicked in and I hustled to clean up my cookware and trash. I still had to get my bed made! I put my foam pad underneath my inflatable mattress then snapped my quilt on over that. I use a sleeping bag liner that I’ve been putting over both the quilt and inflatable pad. This helps keep the warmth in and the frost off my quilt in the mornings. Genius! I only started doing this because the sleeping bag liner does not work well with my quilt. I finished getting everything organized in my tent and brushed my teeth and settled in for the night! I imagine it will be cold by the morning but we have a short 10 miles into Mormon Lake for a few hours then back out on the trail towards Flagstaff!
Mile 525 to Mormon Lake to Mile 546
I did not sleep well last night. I tossed and turned and by 03:30 the temperature had significantly dropped. By 05:30 I was shivering in my tent. We packed up camp quietly and started hiking at 06:15. The trail seemed to tease us because as the sun was slowly rising the trail would barely take us into the sun and then some place colder than before. This was the coldest morning we’ve had yet. I kept my puffy and beanie with heavy gloves on until almost 09:00.
Because it was so cold the top layer of ground was frozen but with every step I took I could feel the mud and muck move underneath almost like I was walking on a bog. Every now and then the wasn’t frozen and I would slide in mud. This continued for 3.5 miles until the point Wayback stopped in a partly sunny area so we could have breakfast and coffee. Finally! I was so exhausted and my stomach was growling all morning this was just what I needed. As I sat there Jen called me and that brightened my mood as well. After we were finished we packed up and our next stop was a side trail to take us to Mormon Lake, another 5 miles up the trail. The coffee kicked in and I took off in the lead, music playing in my left ear. The morning was looking up even as the frozen trail turned to icky mud.
We took the side trail down towards Mormon Lake and along the way I saw Aspen Recovery areas fenced off like it was Jurassic Park but to keep the wildlife including humans out. The one mile trail brought us out to the main road and we walked only a short distance to the General store where I was able to buy a banana, tissues, cranberry juice, some snacks and a mew water bottle flip cap as mine broke yesterday. I took my things out to sit on a bench out front and organize my bag. Afterburner and Wayback both had boxes sent to the post office so they too organized their treasures. We thought we were going to get a bite to eat at the restaurant but they weren’t open until 3:00 so I went back to the store to buy a PBJ and chips. We sat on the front for almost an hour, happy to finally be warm! Boucha walked into the town to grab her box from the post office and to my surprise, came and sat with us. She is normally a very quiet person but I guess she has grown comfortable around the three of us.
A few minutes later we packed up and began the trek back to the AZT when we noticed a bathroom/shower sign nearby. Well heck, I’d love to go to the bathroom indoors! So I happily went over and as soon as I walked in I felt a whoosh of warm air- the bathroom was heated! It had three pay showers and two toilets and was actually nicer than most locker rooms I’ve been in. I could have fallen asleep in there with the warmth!
Once back on the AZT we refilled our water bottles at the Navajo Spring and by then the sun was out and warm. I ended up zipping my pant legs off down to shorts and my t-shirt then tried to catch up to the others. For the rest of the day I tried to keep with them but I still felt completely drained from yesterday and my feet were tender as the trail turned back into rocks for most of the afternoon. The trail followed the pine trees over rocky hills and valleys of mud. By 2:30 we had one last short break. We wanted to make it another 6 miles to Railroad Tank at mile 545.9, so we could fill up tonight and apparently it was the last reliable water source for over 20 miles into Flagstaff.
At 3:30 my headphones died, I was at zero for energy, the trail was steadily climbing and I wasn’t sure how I could make it 4 more miles. I had a combination of the hiker hobble and motor functions that weren’t working right so I was a hot mess stumbling my way down the path tripping on rocks, pine cones and my own feet. Finally the trail seemed to flatten out and we walked beside an old railroad track. I was 3 miles out from
Our campsite and I did not see the guys in front of me anywhere. I noticed I had cell service so I decided to call my sister! It was nice talking to her and the family, plus it took my mind into a better place than focused on the negativity I was dealing with. Not long after we hung up Jen called and we spoke for a few minutes.
When I was done I only had a half mile left! Finally I saw Afterburner standing there waiting for me and I followed him to the campsite where Recon was already settled in! Apparently his hiking buddy had developed blisters on his feet and he quit after two days! We all filled up our bottles at the water tank that was more of a big pond then went back to set up our tents. Recon had a small flask of Woodford Reserve and passed it around to us, instantly taking some pains away from my body. Once my tent was set up we all met in the middle for dinner. I tried a red bean chili and decided it was really nasty. I won’t eat the second bag of it. Then I followed that up with a cliff bar for desert as we all sat around talking as the sun went down. I borrowed Afterburners water filter and filtered the 2 liters then got ready for bed. By the time I climbed into my quilt the temperature had dropped and I decided tonight is a down booties on the feet kinda night. Brrrr!
Mile 546 to Flagstaff (24 miles)
I woke at midnight freezing, realizing my body was flat on the ground and my sleeping pad had deflated. I figured it was due to the change in temperature so I blew it back up and went back to sleep. And hour and a half later I woke to the same situation. I repeated this 5 times until the alarm went off at 04:30. It was freezing cold and I was torn because I was so cold I wanted to get moving but it was so cold I didn’t want to move. I left my base layer on and pulled my hiking pants over them. I decided to make some hot coffee to warm my body from the inside while I pack up, which didn’t take long because I wanted to get moving! I was surprised to find frost covering my tent when I began taking it down. I’m not sure what the temperature was but it was cold! Thank goodness I always sleep with my filter and water bottles inside my tent. I was the first to be ready for a change but didn’t have to wait long. Recon was awake but still in his tent when we left guided by the lights from our headlamps.
Today I kept my hiking poles in my bag so I could walk with my gloves hands in my pockets to keep them warm. The path was relatively flat at first until the sky began to brighten then it had a gentle two mile climb to a forest road. An hour into the hike I began to warm up so I pulled off to the side and after the guys passed by I took my base layer pants off and put my hiking pants back on. I didn’t think it took me that long to do but once I started on the trail again I couldn’t catch up to them until I found them sitting in a field in the sun along the flat forest road. I set my pack down and threw out my z-flex pad to sit on. Wayback said he already started to heat water for our coffee so hurray I didn’t have to pull all my stuff out in the cold!
It was 6:45 and sun felt amazing while sitting there sitting on the ground sipping coffee even if it was next to cow poop (it never goes away!). After I finished I began putting a few things back in my bag and then brushed my teeth. Normally I do this first thing in the morning but today I was too cold. I noticed while I rinsed, my water bottle had ice chunks in it, which weren’t there when I packed them up from camp. They must have began to freeze while walking. As Wayback finished packing his things back into his pack, he started laughing, looking into his silicone coffee cup and said his coffee began to freeze in the short time he packed up! I would love to know what that temperature was this morning.
From our breakfast spot we hiked along 5 miles of dirt road which was awesome because we all walked really fast to pound out some miles in a short time before the trail cut off to the West and onto an actual trail (rocky of course). One by one the guys pulled over to do some business until I was leading the pack. I noticed I hike better in the front and somehow hike faster hit this did not last long however as I ran into a guy along the trail playing music on a speaker and drinking a beer and it was only 09:30! I stopped to say hi and it turns out he was Recon’s friend Craig who was bringing Recon some water for the trail. He offered some to me and I accepted so I would have 2 liters for the rest of the day instead of 1.5 (coffee took half of mine!). He was a nice guy and when we took off I was no longer in the lead but I didn’t mind because I was listening to music and feeling in a great mood while watching Mt. Humphrey’s in Flagstaff grow bigger and bigger.
A little after 10:00 Wayback stopped in the trail in front of me and declared 9.99 miles. I said let’s go beyond the gate and to the pine tree shade and that should be 10 miles. By 10:15 (06:15 was our starting time). Sure enough it hit 10! We sat for a few minutes under the tree munching on snacks as Afterburner showed up. He sat for a minutes then said he was too cold and continued on. I wanted a longer break but we had a lot of miles to cover still so I packed up and tried to catch them again. I never should have stopped because once I started hiking again my feet felt like someone was hitting the bottoms of them with a mallet each step I took. This continued for the rest of the day.
The trail passes by Lowell Observatory and descended into Marshall Lake which wasn’t really a lake but there were people there with RV’s. On one of the AZT trail signs was a hand written sign saying trail Magic ahead. Not much further under a large tree was a 5 gallon jug of water with a filter and two white styrofoam coolers: one with fruits and one with drinks. I chose an orange and a beer and sat down to enjoy those. While sitting there an white older SUV pulled up and a woman brought over 6 more gallons of water saying she saw the comments in the app asking if someone could provide water as the lakes and tanks were all dried up. What amazing people on this trail!
When we hiked out of the lake area Afterburner jokingly (?) said he’d meet us at the hotel and I assumed he was serious because he took off up the trail and I didn’t see him for another 12 miles. Wayback and I leapfrogged our way winding through the pine forests and I hiked 6 miles until I couldn’t stand it anymore and needed to sit down. It was 12:15 and I pulled out my lunch under a shade tree and took my shoes and socks off. Wayback decided to sit with me. Once I finished I stood up as almost fell back down. I began slowly hobbling my way down the hill behind Wayback, feeling pins and needles on every step. I was frustrated at the pain and couldn’t get my mind off of it. I sent Wayback a text saying I was going really slow and no need to wait for me at the trail junction into Flagstaff, I’d meet them there. Surprisingly, as soon as I was down off the mountain and into the canyon I could see him a quarter mile up the trail taking his time.
At the trail junction I decided I wouldn’t stop and sit down until I made it into Flagstaff because I didn’t think I’d be able to walk again. So I ended up walking these last 6.1 miles without more than stopping and taking my bag off to take a drink of water then continuing on. It felt brutal. I had no cell service so I was left with my own thoughts and decided this was my test. If I can push through this pain over 6 more miles then I can do more than I thought I could. Every so often I had to stop and kind of shake my legs out before continuing on. I wasn’t far behind Wayback so that was motivating too. By 3:10 I finally made it to the I-40 underpass in Flagstaff where Wayback and Afterburner were waiting. I was so relieved and I took the time to sit down! Only then they said it was two more miles to the hotel. Arrrghhh!
Walking on the pavement wasn’t too bad and we slowly made our way down the sidewalks and roads until we got to REI where we all needed a few items and it was on the way to the hotel. I needed a new water filter and warmer base layer bottoms. When I was checking out the woman at the register wouldn’t stop talking to me about my hiking bag, the hiking poles and everything else while I stood there shuffling from foot to foot to ease the pain. Finally she let me go and we walked another ole to the hotel. I was the first time to shower and it felt SO amazing! After 5 days with now shower I couldn’t feel cleaner after that. Wayback and I walked to get Thai food a half mile away and then I threw laundry in at the hotel.
After some chores were done, it was after 8:00 and I still had to see about my sleeping pad. I inflated it then submerged it into the bathtub full of water. It took a few minutes but then I spotted tiny bubbles near the air release nozzle. Darn it! Why couldn’t it be in an easier place to fix? It took longer than I would have liked but Wayback helped me to fix it. I will see tonight if it holds up or not as I’m the unlucky one at this hotel with only two beds and sleeping on the floor with my quilt.