The Arizona Trail: Final Thoughts

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

So there you have it – my recount of how I came, saw and managed to survive the Arizona Trail. It was an experience made incredible both by its nature and how wildly different it was from anything I’ve done before, and I still feel like I’m stuck in a limbo where I’m neither able to process the past few months nor move forwards. So instead of reading a nice coherent summary of my thoughts, you get to read some irritating rambling. HURRAH! BANZAI! BANZAI!

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The AZT:

From Mexico to Pine, the trail was incredible. I didn’t love it all, but when I hated it, I hated it with a passion, and there’s something to be said for being able to arouse such intensity of emotion (am I really complimenting it here?). Most of my favourite passages were there: the Rincons, the Santa Catalinas, Gila River Canyons. There were also beautiful shorter sections like the Red Hills and Black Hills and Mt. Lemmon Cookie Cabin and various areas that I don’t know/remember the names of. I had a love/hate relationship with thru-hiking in which I was constantly frustrated about having to rush through pretty areas and spend time in ugly areas, but I also thought about how I would never have hiked one particular section or another and seen its loveliness if not for the AZT.

From Pine to Utah, the trail was the opposite. Except for the Grand Canyon and the last day before Utah, I found nothing in the scenery that either amazed me or pissed me off (which pissed me off). The trail was mostly flat and often on road, offering neither changes in perspective nor the feeling of solitude given by single-track. I would skip the section between Pine and the Grand Canyon were I hiking the AZT again.

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Advice to future AZT hikers:

1. Wear hiking boots!

2. Arizona is grotesquely windy. Either use a stove unaffected by the wind or get a good windscreen. My windscreen was a baking pan that I sort of bent to attempt to keep out the wind. I was told that I would be lucky if it fell out of my pack. Sadly, it never did.

3. You don’t necessarily have to drink out of grotty water sources if you’re willing to carry a lot of water and/or cache water, but if you’re planning to drink out of tanks – if that’s even a possibility – I advise getting a filter. I can’t really imagine someone going up to dead owl water… slowly scooping up a few litres… tossing in some iodine tablets… and taking a big swig, ‘AHHHHHHH’. Or crouching down by a grotty tank surrounded by cow droppings… dipping in their Platy… adding a few drops of Aquamira… ‘MMMMMMMM, GOOD WATER’. I have no doubt that there are people who do this, nor that I would gag to see them in action.

4. If you’re from a cold/er climate, consider using an umbrella. It really helped me deal with the heat.

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One last thing: I received the trail name ‘Pockets’ from Pops, logic being that I was storing many/strange things in my pockets, plus the chocolate pocket incident which I have decided to simply call ‘Dark Sunday’. It’s kind of generic, but I like it because it reminds me of a cute kitten, or a cute teddy bear, or a demented clown. ‘Guess what I’ve got in my pockets, kids? Liveee rattlesnakesssssssss! Hyuk yuk!’ Parents, sometimes the cheapest choice is not the best.

Till next time!

The Arizona Trail Day 77: Civilization Is in the Other Direction

Sunday, June 02, 2013

The cicadas were noisy in the morning. I collected a few exoskeletons for my niece and started off. The temperature increased rapidly. I had plenty of water but was rationing it because I didn’t know how long I would have to wait for Pops C at Stateline Campground. At the Buckskin Mountain trailhead, there were cans of soda!!! And one of juice!!! And 4L of water!!!

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None of it was labelled. I stood looking at it for awhile. It seemed like trail magic, but after taking that bottle of water back by Twin Tanks, I began obsessing that it might not have been trail magic and felt bad about it and have only taken from the huge caches since. So I left, with regret. I began to feel emotional around that point, since the cache if trail magic had seemed like a reward, emphasizing that today would be the end of my hike. The AZT may not be the longest trail out there, but it’s been my world for two and a half months. My world was now about to end, and I about to return to some other reality that seemed distant and hard to understand.

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As I was coming out of a dip, peering out from under my umbrella, I met another hiker: a young, skinny female with a large pack. She informed me that she was heading SOBO on the AZT to the Grand Canyon and then north to Washington on the PCT. She was alone, and this was her first hike. It was eerily like an encounter with myself (as I leave the AZT, another me begins…?). She also told me that she had met Pops C earlier, so he must have passed me at some point, probably while I was in Jacob Lake. I wished her well and we parted ways.

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The scenery of those last few hours was dramatic. The trail dropped down, down, down, with the red cliffs of Utah in the distance. Bold colours, striking rock formations. For the first time since the Grand Canyon, I was struck by how beautiful my surroundings were.

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I wonder whether I would have felt differently about everything if this last section of the hike had been ponderosa pine forest, but as it happened I felt terribly sad when I reached Stateline CG and the end of the Arizona Trail. The campground was surrounded by incredibly gorgeous scenery, and empty. Pops wasn’t here, nor was anyone.

Oops. I guess the solution for not wanting to hitchhike alone isn’t trying to arrange to hitchhike with someone else, but rather to stop being so cheap and pay for a shuttle. I checked my phone. No reception. No choice. Stateline CG was beautiful and I had enough water to spend a night there, but when confronted with adversity I tend to either deal with it with panicky haste or procrastinate as long as humanly possible, and procrastinating for one night just isn’t long enough to be fun.

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Taking one picture of an ‘entering Utah’ sign, I walked the 2 km to Wire Pass trailhead, where I knew there would be people. I stuck out my thumb for the first car driving by. The driver stopped and asked me where I was going. I said, dramatically,

‘To civilization.’

She said,

‘Civilization is in the other direction.’

Damn, talk about your major backfires. But she then explained that she was only going a short distance down the road to pick up her husband before heading back to civilization, which was Kanab, and she could drive me there as long as I didn’t mind the detour. She turned out to be a truly lovely human being who, in Kanab, introduced me to another truly lovely human being who took me under her wing and offered to drive me to a city from whence I could catch a shuttle to Las Vegas and its airport. I feel so lucky to have met these wonderful people, as well as all the other people who helped me along the way.

The Arizona Trail Day 76: Emergence

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Jacob Lake Inn has a reputation for making great cookies, so I bought some before I left today. They were underbaked. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOoooooooo! I was so disappointed (I still ate them all). I’m giving the ‘best cookies along the AZT’ title to Summerhaven, since Summerhaven and Pine both had great-tasting cookies, but Summerhaven’s were giant and thus automatically win. Now that this important information has been imparted…

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The trail started with forest walking. I was carrying enough water to get to Stateline Campground and for one night of camping to wait for Pops C, since most of the scant water sources for this final 45 km are listed in the water report as dry and a few as gross. Near one of the gross sources, Government Reservoir (speaking of deceptive names for cattle tanks…) the trail broke into a huge and pretty open area covered with shrubbery.

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The AZT skirted the area for a long time. I noticed that the insects were loud, and also heard an odd crackling sound like popping popcorn, but didn’t think much of it until I leaned my hiking poles on a shrub to remove my pack and noticed five or six insect exoskeletons clinging to the branches. I examined the nearby trees. More exoskeletons. I realized excitedly that I was in the midst of a cicada emergence. How awesome is that? I’m happy that I got to see something so cool on my second-to-last day on the trail.

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Cicada exoskeletons
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I found a campsite and have the cicadas for company tonight.

The Arizona Trail Day 75: Turkeysquirrel

Friday, May 31, 2013

Because of my long day yesterday, today I had a short jaunt to Jacob Lake, which can be accessed either via forest roads or a highway walk. I decided on the highway walk since its junction is 3-4 km further along the AZT and I wanted to complete those kilometres with a light pack. On my way to the junction, I saw a Kaibab squirrel! They live only on the Kaibab Plateau and they’re very cute, with white tails and tufts on their ears. When they make the squirrel noise, it sounds like a turkey. Awww turkeysquirrel.

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Jacob Lake has a gas station, visitor centre and inn. People were milling around the inn, but Camper Village was almost deserted. Staying there was almost like camping alone in the woods, except with the opportunity for a $2.25 shower. The inn’s small store had numerous goods in the trail mix category, including chunks of peanut brittle. Things I would change if hiking the AZT again: suffer from a trail mix shortage just before reaching Jacob Lake. The inn has Wi-Fi, but unfortunately it’s for guests only.

The Arizona Trail Day 74: Screaming Children

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The AZT was entirely in forest today. At Telephone Hill, a short, steep climb ended in a major burn area with shrubbery and dandelions scattered around trees like black sticks. The wind sounded like children screaming. Freak me out, will you? I sat down, ate loads of chocolate and then automatoned for 2-3 hours until the forest filled out.

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Long day. Again I was wary about making camp and ended up walking until the wind died down.

The Arizona Trail Day 73: The Falling Piano

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

I woke up today, ate granola, looked at my GPS to record my location for journaling purposes, looked at the databook. Looked back at the GPS. Looked back at the databook. Oops.

I wasn’t out of Grand Canyon National Park. Due to the rain and well-built trail I hadn’t been checking my maps or GPS yesterday, and when the AZT reached the gate entrance I simply assumed that camping was fine. In actuality, the trail runs parallel to the boundary for another 4 km, and I had completed ~3.5 km. No wonder those deer were acting so strange – they knew their rights and were probably in the process of procuring a lawyer. I escaped the area in record time.

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The trail wound through pretty meadows surrounded by dense forest. I was happy to find Crystal Spring flowing, since the last person to contribute to the water report for Crystal Spring and many of the other final sources was Rainer, and he passed through a trillion years ago (early May) so I wasn’t sure about any of them. As I was having a snack at the spring, an older man arrived so quietly that I didn’t hear him until he was right behind me. I jumped, then said hi. He said hi and kept walking as if he didn’t want to talk, but stopped ~20 m away and sat down. I figured that he was going to filter water, but he just sat there for awhile and then left. Huh.

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Fantastic views of the canyon. A sign informed me that if I descended the slope to my right, I would enter the Saddle Mountain Wilderness Area. I wanna go, I wanna… but the AZT turned left, joining a road running through a vast open field. The wind had been picking up for awhile, and in the open area it was blowing right into my face and ridiculously strong. I retreated to the edge of the forest for a break, hoping that it would die down quickly. Nope. Returning to the trail, I slogged across the meadow to where the trail re-entered the forest. The trees were swaying furiously. I had been walking for only 20-30 minutes when I heard a crack and a cluster of branches fell right in front of me, the wilderness equivalent of the falling piano almost crushing the oblivious urbanite. Yikes. A burn area is not a good place to be walking in bad wind. I considered returning to the meadow but didn’t, partially because the meadow was unpleasant, partially because I had to walk through the forest at some point and the wind might continue for a week for all I knew.

On through the forest. At 5:30 PM I started thinking about camping, but nowhere looked safe. I considered setting up my tent beside a log so that I wouldn’t be crushed by any falling trees unless they fell at a ridiculously lucky angle, but I couldn’t find any spots I liked, so I kept walking. Eventually the wind died down, camp was made and Esbit lit without too much trouble.

The Arizona Trail Day 72: Backpacker Ken Doll

Tuesday, May 28, 2013 – 19.6 km

Pops C suggested that we walk the last few days of the AZT together and hitchhike out to Lake Powell, where one of his in-laws could drive us to Flagstaff. The AZT ends at the Stateline Campground in the middle of nowhere and I had no plan about how to get out of said middle of nowhere, so I was initially in favour. Upon consideration though, I wanted to finish the trail alone like I had hiked the rest of it, and didn’t want an exit plan to impact my hike itself. We made a tentative agreement to meet at the Stateline CG, then I left the North Rim.

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The trail was mostly on road through forest today. A few days ago I met a group of people who told me that an AZT section hiker was heading SOBO to the canyon from… either the border or Jacob Lake, I can’t remember. They described him as ‘high-tech’. Since normally you would describe someone via their height, hair colour, etc., I found that odd, but I ran into the hiker just after noon today, and yeah, he did look high-tech! And shiny, like he had just gotten on the trail. It was like meeting a backpacker Ken doll. He said hello but didn’t seem to want to talk, which was understandable due to his proximity to the rim and the fact that it was starting to rain.

The rain continued all afternoon. Mostly it was just drizzle, but there was hard rain for about an hour and five minutes of hail. The pellets were too small to hurt, and I turned my umbrella upside down to capture some for a picture that didn’t turn out. Around 6:30 PM the rain ended and I made camp. Three deer were hanging around, engaging in behaviour that they seemed to find very entertaining and I found very creepy. They would sneak up on me from one direction, then make a huffing sound when I spotted them and bound away to pop up somewhere else. Are they garbage deer (deer that chew on your stuff)…?

The Arizona Trail Day 71: I Could Leave Today or I Could Never Leave

Monday, May 27, 2013

When I went to the lodge this morning for breakfast, a family invited me to eat with them. Some of their relatives were attempting a rim-to-rim across the canyon, hiking the entire distance in one push. Previously I had thought that was something people did if they couldn’t get a permit to camp, but now I see that it can also be an accomplishment, and it’s cool that they made it into a big event with so many family members and friends. Plus the guy who was spearheading it sounded comically intense. A mockumentary could be in their future.

I wasn’t thrilled about moving on from the Grand Canyon. Firstly, it’s beautiful and I would love to just wander around inside until being forcibly removed by park rangers. Secondly, if you’ve been following this journal, you’ll know that I haven’t been a fan of most of northern AZ and I wasn’t expecting that to change. Therefore I strolled around for awhile after breakfast. Near Bright Angel Point, I encountered an older man who asked whether I found my hiking poles helpful because he kept falling and hurting his ankle. A KINDRED SPIRIT! I was touched. I told him that yes, they’re helpful for maintaining balance, and he should also consider hiking boots. He said that he owns hiking boots, just wasn’t wearing them because he wasn’t going hiking today. Huh? You mean that people wear garments other than their hiking clothes?

Taking the Transept Trail back to the campground, where I was planning to rejoin the trail that leads to North Kaibab trailhead, I found… Pops! He had just arrived. Crazy timing again. He had done a rim-to-rim starting yesterday and was zonked.

We talked for awhile about our trips across the canyon and water sources for the upcoming passages. Eventually I decided that it was too late to walk the 20 km out of Grand Canyon National Park before dark. So tragic…

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The Arizona Trail Day 70: Leaving the Canyon

Sunday, May 26, 2013 – 10.8 km

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I started walking at 6:00 AM today. The trail was moderate leaving Cottonwood, and considering that I would have to gain 1268 metres of elevation within eleven kilometres, I kept wondering when the grade would steepen. The grind turned out to be at the very end, and for the first time on the AZT I felt that I had gained fitness. I definitely completed the climb with more ease than I would have before, which was a nice feeling. Passersby kept asking me whether I was doing all right, and I thought it was because my pack looked so large in proportion to my body, but a day hiker I met later at North Rim Campground said that people also kept asking him whether he was all right. Was I rude to not have asked the same of other people…?

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The trailhead was pleasantly cool and a cluster of people were resting by the fountain. I met a PCT section hiker with the trail name ‘The Old Guy’. He asked me questions about my hike into the canyon, but kept using Navajo Spring as a reference point and the only Navajo Spring I know is by Mormon Lake, so I don’t know whether he got the information he wanted. After a short rest I hurried to the campground, worried that it would be full because of the long weekend. I was the only walk-in! I recommend staying here since it’s located right at the edge of the rim and has an amazing view. I asked the ranger whether there was an ATM nearby because I needed money for the showers. He said there might be one in the store, but that I looked nice and fresh and like I didn’t need a shower. Someone give this man’s wife a medal, stat. Pops told me to make a dinner reservation at the lodge, but I was only… 60% sure that he would make it up the rim today, so I didn’t. He never showed up and I ended up having potato chips for supper. Tomorrow I’ll treat myself to a huge breakfast.

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The Arizona Trail Day 69: Inside the Canyon

Saturday, May 25, 2013 – 12.4 km

Pops C laughed when I told him yesterday that I been assigned the stock site at Cottonwood Campground. Well, I’ll have you know that I arrived to find no droppings anywhere, just a group of good-looking men working to improve the site. I kid you not. I bet that Pops now wishes he had the stock site (well, maybe not…). Bright Angel CG has the advantage of being beside the Colorado River, but Cottonwood CG is smaller, prettier and the ground was soft enough for stakes. The walk there involved a trek up narrow Bright Angel Canyon, which was stunning with the sun first creeping in.

I left Bright Angel CG around 6:00 AM but trail runners were already coming from the opposite direction. Several warned me that a ruptured pipe had washed out a section of the path ahead, and I got stuck there when trying to cross the rocks between the path and the drop-off. The last few metres looked iffy for completing with my pack, but I didn’t want to go back to the start and take off my boots either. While I was considering what to do, a man who had passed me a few minutes earlier returned and offered to take my pack so I could cross more easily. I guess he was waiting for me to turn the corner, and returned when I didn’t.

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Eventually the scenery opened up.

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The temperature was hot in the sun and I put up my umbrella, which was a novelty for other hikers and trail runners. Someone even took a picture of how it was attached to my pack (it’s held in place by two elastic loops built into one strap). One guy offered to give me a candy bar for it, and another offered me $5. I said that I would give it to him for $500. He wasn’t so keen on that price.

I reached Cottonwood CG, dumped my pack and headed back to Ribbon Falls, which was amazing! It’s not a huge waterfall, but the water streams down onto a tall rock coated with moss and runs from there into a pretty pool.

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You can climb up onto a ledge behind the falls, or duck into a hollow at the base of the rock and look out a hole higher up. A group of zany older folk were going inside one at a time and making weird faces. One woman was lapping at the water like a dog. It was hilarious, but the others advised her not to drink the water since it ought to be treated, and I concur. Kids were splashing around atop the falls, and who knows where they’ve been. The owners of the children were having a bizarre conversation about when they were all going to change their socks, because it had to be done in unison. Also present was a foursome of twenty-somethings who treated the water with iodine tablets. After they had all drank some, they found little worms inside. The joys of chemical water treatment…

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The Arizona Trail Day 68: Incredibly Naughty

Friday, May 24, 2013 – 11.3 km

I was only minutes from leaving the campground this morning when Pops C arrived. He told me that he was planning to hike rim-to-rim without getting a permit, starting tomorrow and arriving the day afterwards, and offered to buy me dinner on the North Rim. Sounds good to me! (Cake that has fallen in the dirt also sounds good to me.) I ended up leaving later than I would have liked because of the time spent talking, but figured that I was now an Experienced Desert Hiker who would have no problems tolerating the midday heat of the Grand Canyon. If another Canadian ever comes up to you and starts spouting that kind of nonsense, give them a whack in the face. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

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The canyon was amazing of course, and the views were even better from within. I saw dozens of day hikers between the trailhead and Cedar Ridge, where I encountered a bold ground squirrel that tried to tear open the mesh pocket of my pack to access the granola bar inside. I tried to shoo it away, then prodded it with the handle of my hiking pole. The ground squirrel was unfazed. I was astounded!!! Never have I encountered a naughtier ground squirrel. It wouldn’t give up until I lifted my pack off the ground, then it went and sprawled out in a little patch of shade. HEY GROUND SQUIRREL, maybe you wouldn’t have to starfish in the shade if you hadn’t fattened yourself up with all that human food, I thought as I sat down in the shade, eating Nutella straight from the jar.

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So cute but so naughty.
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I walked from Cedar Ridge to Skeleton Point with two day hikers who were very sociable, plus remembering their names was easy since both started with the same letter (a memorable name: always good logic for liking someone). They said that they admired me for hiking the AZT; I admired them for running marathons when I would wander off in search of milkshakes after two blocks. After we separated, them heading back to the trailhead and me continuing down the South Kaibab, the trail became almost deserted and wickedly hot. I started sweating. I grimly put up my umbrella, cursing my earlier hubris, and didn’t lower it until I reached the Black Bridge and felt reassured by my close proximity to water.

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The Black Bridge

The trail followed the Colorado River for a short distance before turning to run alongside Bright Angel Creek. Most of the campsites in Bright Angel Campground were already occupied. I chose a free spot at random, discovered that the ground was like cement and placed rocks on my guylines rather than using tent stakes. After dumping my food and toiletries into an ammo box provided to protect one’s supplies from naughty ground squirrels, I went for a long-awaited cooling off. Two other women had stripped down to swim in the creek, but too many people were around for me to feel comfortable with that, so I just stuck my feet in. The water wasn’t cold enough to cool me, plus the piddling creek failed to hold my interest with the mighty Colorado River so close.

Following a faint trail beside the creek, I found a small beach beside the Colorado with a patch of clear water hemmed in by rapids. For the rest of the afternoon I sat there, reading about John Wesley Powell’s exploration of the Grand Canyon. The wind picked up in the meantime, and when I got back to my campsite, a large rock was sitting inside my tent. A woman in one of the neighbouring sites informed me that she had placed it there because the wind had dislodged my tent and blown it halfway across the site. Oops…

The Arizona Trail Day 67: Getting Stuff Accomplished

Thursday, May 23, 2013

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Another morning at the backcountry office. The ranger gravely informed me that Cottonwood Campground wasn’t available for my requested day and might not be doable at all because the North Rim permit office has first dibs on its walk-in sites. I told him that I wanted Cottonwood because I was hiking the AZT and had to cross the canyon. Instantly his demeanor changed and he offered me the stock site. I wasn’t entirely enthused about that, but he assured me that it’s little used and doesn’t contain lots of droppings. Okay, a stock site is better than only getting to spend one night in the canyon. We chatted for a few minutes about the trail and my gear; he said that hexamine (my stove fuel) is a creepy word. Hey, the hotels in Grand Canyon Village are run by a company called Xanterra, and Xanterra sounds like the name of an environmentally friendly alien overlord. In fact, there’s a Xanterra office building beside the library, and two of the parking spots are labelled ‘Controller’ and ‘Assistant Controller’. Mighty suspicious, if you ask me.

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Suspicious.

Since I’m heading into the canyon tomorrow I had to actually get things accomplished today, like fetching my resupply package and completing that process akin to teeth-pulling that we call ‘sending international mail’. I also slackpacked the section of trail from the Mather Campground junction to South Kaibab trailhead, visited the nearby geology museum and attended a presentation along the Walk of Time. I’ll be sad to leave this tourist paradise.

The Arizona Trail Day 66: Walk-In Permits

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Having no idea when I would arrive at the Grand Canyon, I didn’t apply for a backcountry permit in advance and therefore have to obtain a walk-in permit. The process is as follows: You wait for the backcountry office to open in the morning, accompanied by a group of other twitchy backpackers, and are assigned a number based on your order of arrival. In that order you’re called to the counter to request campsites. If your campsite isn’t available, you’re assigned a number for the next day, so if you come as number 4 on Monday and don’t get the site you want, you’ll receive number 1-3 for Tuesday. Simple and fair, unlike the stupid Coyote Buttes lottery system (someone losttt). I was a distant number 8 today and couldn’t reserve a site, but tomorrow I’ll be number 2.

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Amazing breakfast
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I’m fine with the delay since Grand Canyon Village is awesome! It’s filled with happy travellers and everything is free, from presentations to shuttle buses to museums. Recycling bins are everywhere, the toilets inform me not to drink from them since they make use of reclaimed water (damn, I was really looking forwards to that toilet water) and the scourge of bottled water is banned. Hallelujah.

The Arizona Trail Day 65: $6

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Not much to say about today’s walk, which was short and mostly on a gravel road. Heading into Mather Campground at the junction, I was amazed to discover that the shared hiker/biker sites are $6/night. Wow! Sure, it’s a shared campsite, but it’s a shared campsite next to the Grand Canyon.

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A herd of R.V.s in their natural habitat
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The Grand Canyon

I have fun company at the hiker/biker site, including two Australian and German men who have eaten canned food for their entire trip thus far – I admire the hiker who lugs cold cans around the Grand Canyon – two funny Swiss guys, a Dutch cyclist recently hospitalized for dehydration and a Thai cyclist who thinks that I’m crazy for wanting to hike into the Grand Canyon. I think that he’s crazy for not wanting to, of course.

In the evening I went with the Australian and German men to a corny but free programme. The Aussie told me that Australia is probably hotter than Arizona, and I asked him whether Australians would think that I was cool if I walked around with a sunbrella. He said that many Aussies carry sunbrellas… he was teasing 😥

The Arizona Trail Day 64: E Pluribus Unum

Monday, May 20, 2013

Helicopters were flying overhead all day, presumably carrying tourists wanting to view the Grand Canyon from above. They always seemed to appear when I was peeing, and I was paranoid that the occupants could see me. Then the pilots would have a discussion at the end of the day, like ‘Did you see that hiker down there?’ ‘Yeah, she was always peeing. Gross.’

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The trail cut through the forest to Coconino Wash, which was lovely with silvery bushes and healthy, robust ponderosa pines lined with white cliffs. I was feeling unwell with a sore throat and nausea and needed to rest every few kilometres. The distance to Tusayan was twenty flat kilometres, an easy day in the context of a thru-hike, but it felt interminable and I was happy when the town appeared around a bend.

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My phone picked up a cell signal but no data network, so I went to the visitor centre to ask about motels. The employee was friendly and enthusiastic and wanted to tell me everything about Tusayan and Grand Canyon Village and the canyon. When I revealed that I was hiking the AZT, he asked whether I was planning to cross the canyon in one day. That depends, will there be a straitjacket waiting on the other side for my convenience? I left the centre with half a dozen brochures and the vague feeling that I had killed a tree. I was considering staying a day in Tusayan since I’m sick, but the motels are too expensive for me to afford two nights, so I’m going to walk the eleven kilometres to Mather Campground tomorrow.

I dropped an American penny and noticed upon picking it up that it says ‘E pluribus unum’, which means ‘One among many’. So cute! The Canadian penny was recently scrapped because it cost more than its value to produce. Plus it didn’t say anything cute.

The Arizona Trail Day 63: Pointless Signage

Sunday, May 19, 2013

I had 1.5 litres of water left this morning. I was hoping it would last until Grandview Watchtower, where potable water is available, but had trepidation about the trail between us because of the Managed Fire sign. Well, time to take a look.

The AZT followed an old road closed to vehicles for habitat restoration. Russell Tank was small but had an outhouse and fancy parking area. I found that puzzling until I checked my GPS and saw a tiny fish; I guess it’s a fishing spot. And not far past the tank… I saw the backside of a second Managed fire sign. Should I always disobey signage?

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I was excited throughout the rest of the day since I’m almost at the Grand Canyon. The trail followed the Coconino Rim, and despite the view being mostly concealed by trees, I caught glimpses of the North Rim with views backwards to the Coconino Rim and the ground dropping away into the canyon. So close! At Grandview Watchtower I collected water. The trail then entered what looked like a recent burn area with a charred old wooden AZT sign and a new one partially melted into a bundle of white thread. A sign instructed visitors to make sure their campfires are out. Ouch.

I was feeling unwell by the end of the day – extremely tired even though I had only walked 27 km on flat terrain, and nauseous, and my throat was sore. I found a random place to camp.

The Arizona Trail Day 62: Managed Fire

Saturday, May 18, 2013

My tent was sweltering from the sun when I woke up this morning. Oddly enough, because of shade or wind or early departures I hadn’t experienced that effect in AZ before. Last night I had strange dreams – in one of them, a man asked me whether I would fight in the American Civil War. I said ‘I’m Canadian, so I don’t know much about the Civil War’. Huh.

While I was packing up, my boot dislodged the stone with the beetles underneath, and one of them moved. It was smeared with what looked like its guts and had 2-3 functional legs. It looked like something out of a horror movie, and man, I felt terrible for reducing it to that state. I’ll never drop a rock onto a mostly harmless beetle ever again. And thus marks the end of my one-day reign of terror and long descriptions of beetle-related events in this journal.

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The AZT continued along dirt roads. This portion of the trail could be much more scenic if the route wound through the hills rather than following the roads, which always kept to flat areas. When I noticed a slight change in the scenery I got excited, figuring that it heralded the boundary of the Kaibab National Forest. Sure enough, soon I reached a sign and the trail moved to single-track rolling gently through the forest. Being on proper trail again and having more of a sensation of separation from civilization felt great, and flowers were an added bonus.

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At the road before the Russell Wash segment, I encountered a sign saying ‘Managed fire’.

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Uh oh. I guess my experience at Mormon Lake should have taught me to be more diligent about phoning whoever to confirm that upcoming passages are open. This was a tougher spot than the last occasion, its location being much more isolated – a walk to the nearest town along forest roads would take days. I checked my phone. No reception. I studied the sign. It was useless. While I was pondering, an ATV came down the road. I flagged the man down and asked whether he knew anything about the sign. He said no, sorry. I asked him what he thought the sign meant. He said he didn’t know. Well, at least this road gets some use, and tomorrow is still the weekend, so I should be able to hitchhike out if I try the trail and have to turn back.

I made camp early on the other side of the road. I considered taking corny photos of my stove next to the managed fire sign, but wasn’t in the mood.

The Arizona Trail Day 61: Stink Beetle Killer

Friday, May 17, 2013

AZ! Y U SO WINDY?

A strong wind has been blowing almost every day for the past few weeks, and today it was especially nasty. During a brief period of calm I started off along the trail, then the torrent began in force and never went away.

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I walked five kilometres to Cedar Trailhead. Finding no water there, I headed to the nearby tank in a cattle yard to the left of the road. The tank had a pipe to dispense clean water, but the water report said it wasn’t working, so I was hoping the water in the tank would be bearable. Nope. It looked like one of the sickest things known to man, and man knows about easy listening muzak. With plaintive hope I tried the dispenser. It worked! and the water was nice and clear. I didn’t know whether it was potable – perhaps I could have drunk it without treatment, but I don’t take risks with water. I filtered it, but the wind had fun blowing grime into my water containers while I was filtering, so I’m going to have to filter it again before drinking. Normally I don’t mind some dirt, but… cattle yard… who knows what’s in that dust. I’ll also Steripen it. STERILIZE EVERYTHING!

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After the filtering, I met a cute cowboy looking through binoculars at East Cedar Tank. The tank has a marker to show the water level (it was 1/2 full). He knew some basic info about the AZT but asked where exactly it went. He did not seem impressed by my strategy of not knowing where exactly it went.

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The AZT passed mostly through pastureland today and, like yesterday, reminded me of the Patagonia area. There were even prickly pears and brambles. A sign on a gate stated that people hunting on Babbitt Ranch property need a permit. People hunt here? Hunt what? ‘Honey, I know that you don’t like butchering the cows yourself, but it saves us so much money at the grocery store’. I encountered another cowboy driving along in his truck. He asked whether I needed any water, and I said no. My brain has a picky definition of need.

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Finding a sheltered spot, I decided to make camp. The time was only 4:00 PM, but I had walked thirty kilometres with the phenomenon of flat ground and annoying wind spurring me on. The campsite wasn’t bad, but still it was windy and I kept forgetting what the pre-shelter wind was like; then I would step away to look for another spot and be struck by a huge gust of wind. That was kind of fun, so I started doing it on purpose (hey, it was 4:00 PM).

As I was re-treating my water, I saw a stink beetle on my Steripen case. Eww. I flicked the beetle away, then placed a rock on it. I lifted the rock to see whether the beetle was dead. It was not. I placed one foot on the rock and ground it in a little, then lifted the rock again. The beetle started crawling. I replaced the rock and ran away.

Near my pack, I found another beetle. Naturally, I put a rock on it. I’ve officially become a stink beetle killer… or at least someone who drops rocks on them. I didn’t see either beetle emerge, but later two stink beetles were crawling around nearby (I put a rock on them). Coincidence? I think not…

The Arizona Trail Day 60: Can a Cannibal Be Likeable?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

And lo, the flow of bikers ended, leaving me alone again. The AZT descended through the forest from the Little Spring trail junction, joining a dirt road with good views of Humphreys Peak.

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An open area reminded me of the Canelo Hills, except more spread out with long stretches of flat land between the rises.

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I made camp in the most sheltered spot I could find. While I was unpacking, I saw a stink beetle approaching my gear.

Stink beetles gross me out. They didn’t at first, but a week or two ago I saw one doing what looked like feeding on the guts of a fellow stink beetle, and I question whether you can really like a creature after you’ve seen it engage in cannibalism. I kicked this one away with my boot and thought it was gone, but when I looked down a short while later, a stink beetle was lying prone on its back where I had been stepping. I guess I stepped on it? I couldn’t tell whether it was dead – it was lying there in perfect form like a plastic bug you would buy for Halloween. That made it creepier, so I placed a rock on it. Out of sight, out of mind…

The Arizona Trail Day 59: Base Camp

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The AZT near Flagstaff has been smooth and kind for biking, and today I encountered constant cyclist traffic. In peaceful silence I would be enjoying the scenery, then the bushes behind me would rustle… I would turn around… and a bike would be looming there like in Calvin and Hobbes, and I would dive off the trail in fear (or say hi and step aside). Most of the cyclists were friendly. One man was rude and behaved like he had a problem with hikers being on the trail. Another was particularly nice, despite the fact that he was one of the ‘you’re really hiking the Arizona Trail?’ people, and chatted with me about upcoming water sources and camping spots. He mentioned a snowmelt stream up by the Snowbowl junction but warned that the water quality was probably bad. It’s probably great water! But I’ll check for a ‘Beware: dead owl in snowmelt stream’ note beside it (according to Hardcore, there was a note at Beehive Well warning about a dead owl floating in the water).

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Despite being almost entirely in forest today, the trail was still interesting with hills and varying vegetation. There were aspens, but most were leafless, so I couldn’t hear them rustling.

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The path climbed towards Humphreys Peak, the summit of which is the highest point in AZ. There’s a trail to the top, but the peak was still snowy especially in the forest, so an ascent wasn’t in my plans.

Near Snowbowl the scenery opened up to offer good views, particularly around Alfa Fia Tank. I wasn’t tempted to camp there though because of the early hour and wind; I also wanted noncommittally to camp at Little Spring, which is labelled on the ATA maps as… Clinton Hart Merriam Base Camp! Clinton Hart Merriam developed the concept of life zones and was one of the founders of the National Geographic Society. I walked on, passing signs at the Aspen Loop junctions that listed distances to Mexico (610 miles) and Utah (190 miles). I’ve lost track of distances in this journal, but as you can see, I’m about 3/4 done.

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The trail to Little Spring was clogged with deadfall. I don’t know whether the deadfall was a result of someone deliberately trying to block the trail or just the unintentional outcome of ‘forest stewardship’, but there was no sign telling me I couldn’t go, so I went. Sadly, no relics were lying around (what was I expecting?). I found water though, and that’s good enough for me.