I meet some interesting characters on this passage of the AZT, and traverse the rugged country of the Superstition Wilderness, Four Peaks and the Mazatzals. Thankfully, there’s wine at the end of it, as well as a warm meal and bed to sleep in. Bonus celebration: I reach the halfway point of this 800 mile journey!
Once again, my apologies for the delay in my AZT journals. I’m going on a year now from my start date at the southern terminus, and you’re probably wondering why the hell I can’t get my shit together long enough to finish these posts. I wish the explanation was straight forward, but unfortunately there’s no super easy way to confront it.
The brutally honest truth is this:
As you know from my last update, I southbound thru-hiked the CDT over the summer and fall; this obviously is going to cause a very extended delay in my write ups. However, the bigger issue here is deeply personal; my depression came back full force and has been stifling my creativity and will. It’s been a struggle, to say the least, to muster the energy to do anything productive. At the top of my priorities was finding a job, which I did as a seasonal worker through the holidays with UPS. Once that ended, I went on a roadtrip to the Southwest, visiting National Parks and Monuments in Utah, Arizona and California. I also visited some friends I have down that way, which was pleasant and helped me forget about the dark place I was writhing in.
In a way, I think this spur of the moment road trip was me trying to run away from my sadness. Thru-hiking is something I love immensely, and I don’t want to give it up anytime soon. It is, however, confusing to my friends and family, as it’s a type of counter culture they don’t fully understand or possibly don’t agree with. When I started my thru-hiking a few years back, I had the full support of most of my family and friends. This seemed to fade as my adventures continued. Maybe they thought the PCT was a one and done deal; that I was sewing some wild oats and getting some negative energy out of my system. Colleagues questioned my more personal relationships, and my integrity. The opinion towards my long distance hikes faded from ‘she’s an adventurous soul’ to ‘what the f*uck are you doing out there?” There seems to be this idea that I’m just partying the whole time and avoiding responsibility.
I assure you, that’s not the case.
A couple of good friends have distanced themselves from me recently, which is hurtful, but I understand it, anyway. I was up front and honest about my struggles with my mental health, and I didn’t get the support I was expecting. I was mostly met with blank reactions and weirdly unhelpful advice, like “just choose to be happy,” and “good vibes only please.” And then there’s the always condescending phrase “must be nice to just quit your job and go hike for six months; you have no reason to be sad.”
With the recent pandemic that has hit us on a global level, I find myself increasingly isolated. While I try to stay positive, I’m overcome the majority of the time with a sense of restlessness. I had recently become employed with the concessionaire at Crater Lake National Park, and was looking forward to working and living within the park boundaries. However, that has been put on hold due to COVID-19 and I’m left wondering if I’ll have a job or not in the next month. Also temporarily on hold are my plans to finally tackle the Pacific Northwest Trail. There’s still time to do it, as I wouldn’t start until sometime this summer, but planning for this trail has become an emotional feat since everything is so up in the air right now.
I’ve been self quarantined for over two weeks now, and while this would be an optimal time to be creative and write, unfortunately there are some road blocks preventing me from doing so. First off, I live in a remote area of Washington State, where the internet is painfully slow. With everyone being home due to a state wide ‘Shelter in Place’ order, and thus using up lots of bandwidth, I can barely upload photos to my blog. And second, my time is now mostly consumed by trying to find more work, and household chores I’ve been putting off for far too long (there just doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day).
So for now, I’m going to try not to be too hard on myself, and maintain hope for the future. Please consider reaching out to someone you haven’t talked to in awhile, and ask how they’re doing during these difficult times.
I’ve updated my campaign page with AFSP National, you can read up on that here.
Thanks to those who have donated in the last few months.
If you’d like to support my thru-hiking fund and blog, I’m selling cards with photographic prints on them: for $20 you get 4 blank cards with a print from the Pacific Crest Trail. You can buy those here.
Thank you for your continued support and reading about my journey through all of this; here’s the latest dispatch:
Day 17: Mud Spring Trough to Tent Site, 23 miles
I wake up in the dark, grab some water first thing and then make a frigid creek ford before I start climbing. I’m headed up into the Superstition Wilderness now, and the climb warms me up against this icy morning.
The terrain is rocky, and a new trail that hasn’t been updated on Guthook cuts away from an old dirt track. It winds below some hills before bringing me to an empty trailhead, where I have a quick snack and pray to the heavens that day hikers will arrive and want to shower me with trail magic. This, of course, doesn’t happen.
The trail is flooded out just past the trailhead, thanks to the recent warm temperatures melting out snow pack in the mountains. The creeks are raging here, and spilling over into the path. It’s washed out much of the trail, so I follow my maps and some makeshift cairns. I’m soaked from the knees down, but it’s already warming up quite a bit, so I don’t mind the sogginess too much. In addition to being a saturated, muddy mess, the trail is overgrown with scrub oak that pulls at my flesh when I bushwhack my way through. I’m going to come out of this with a few extra scars, I just know it.
Much of the morning and afternoon is spent climbing, traveling narrow trail that hugs steep mountainsides. It’s downright hot now, but a wind is picking up and keeping me somewhat comfortable. At a small creek, I stop for lunch and change my socks. It’s surprisingly buggy here, and a cheeky squirrel chirps at me for being too close to his tree. Naturally, he changes his tune when he sees I have an abundance of snacks and watches my every move closely. From here, there’s panoramic views of deep gulches and the lofty peaks of the Superstitions.
I descend a bit into a valley, wading through shin deep water in a flooded creek bed all the way up to Reavis Ranch. This area is a special little oasis to many who reside in Phoenix, due in large part to the apple trees that still grow here. They were planted by the hermit known as Elisha Reavis, who homesteaded the area and had a somewhat interesting relationship with the Apache tribe. The stone foundations of the homestead catch my eye, and I have a look around before moving on. Scraggly apple trees dot the field below where the cabin sat, and some of the biggest junipers I’ve ever seen rise up in the distance.
I start to encounter several day hikers as the afternoon turns to evening, and they’re all shiny with cleanliness, and they smell sweet like perfume. Most of them are friendly, but some look at me like I’m a lunatic. Maybe I am, hard to tell these days. My shirt is stained with sweat and dirt, and the back has ripped out with a long strip of fabric trailing behind me. There’s blood and mud caked to my legs, and my wool sun hat is bleached and misshapen. There’s not much I can do about it all, so there’s no sense in worrying about it.
The crowds thin out as I make a brutal climb away from the site of the ranch; there’s no switchbacks here, just straight up this damn mountain. As sharply as it climbed, the trail descends in the same manner. I take it slowly, not wanting to tumble to my death, or land in a pile of cactus at the bottom. This section is certainly proving to be a knee breaker.
At the top of a ridge, the sprawl of Phoenix can be seen to the west. The wind has picked up now, and I’m completely spent after battling this terrain all day. I look for shelter from the wind, but the low growing junipers just aren’t cutting it up here. I have no choice but to get off this ridge, and rack my knees a little bit more tonight.
Before dark, I find a nice tent site beside the trail and decide now is a great time to throw in the towel. I pitch the shelter, have my meal while watching the sunset, and fall right to sleep.
Day 18: Tent Site to the Four Peaks Wilderness Boundary, 22 miles
I’m ten miles out from the Roosevelt Lake Reservoir, where there’s a marina with a store and possibly a place to charge my electronics; it’s time to boogie! I break camp, watching that first break of fiery dawn light flash across the lake as I come around the mountain. It’s a long, slow descent from the hills, first on dirt road in cattle country. I pass on the polluted stock pond water, and push it to get to the marina before lunchtime. But first, the trail has to throw me a few challenges in the way of a canyon with a washed out trail, a plethora of blowdowns to scramble over, and a bull that I stealthily sneak past.
The road gives way to trail for some time, weaving through Saguaro and prickly pare cactus, and then becomes road again. There’s oddly a strange amount of car tourists traveling this dirt road, assuming they came up here to check out a view of the lake. A man and woman ask me for directions from their air conditioned car, but I tell them I have no idea where I am, and they laugh nervously. I really want to lean in and feel that cool A/C on my face, but they’re already weirded out by me, so I press on.
As the afternoon creeps into morning, the stifling desert heat intensifies the closer I get to the lake. The marina is off trail, but only by a quarter of a mile or so, and the side trail takes you past an interesting old cemetery where the locals moved the dead when they were flooding the river valley for the reservoir.
The old marina has been replaced by a brand new one, with a brightly lit shop and nearly empty shelves. The restaurant and bar aren’t even open yet, which is a bit of a disappointment. Yet, they have cold soda and ice cream, which is all I could really ask for. I collect my resupply box and take my ice cream up to the ranger station on the hill overlooking the lake, where I charge up my phone and sit in the shade for awhile. It’s a Sunday, so the building is closed. A groundskeeper potters about with the landscaping, and doesn’t flinch when I inhale a Popsicle and an entire bag of Malt-O-Meal cereal from my resupply box. Apparently, he’s seen it all.
Midday, I head back out, and instantly regret it. It’s incredibly hot now, like a furnace, and I know I’ve got some serious elevation gain ahead of me. The trail actually follows the highway, crossing a large bridge with the dam to the left of me. And then, sure enough, I begin a massive climb back into the mountains from a trailhead.
Good thinking Artemis, waiting until the HEAT OF THE DAY to do this climb.
Halfway up, I collapse into a small patch of shade to gulp some water. What the hell was I thinking? I want to at least get twenty miles in, so I keep on trucking despite the heat. However, a day hiker warns me that there’s an angry rattlesnake in the trail just ahead.
“It snapped at me and everything!”
“How far ahead was it?” I press him, but he only shrugs.
“I don’t know, just up there, somewhere. But I got some rad pics!”
Cool bro, thanks. I continue on, but with extreme hesitation. Every shadow and twig in the trail gives me a jump. And to make matters worse, snake visibility is reduced when I enter grasslands. Prime rattler country. Fuck.
Another steep climb, and I’ve entered the Four Peaks Wilderness. The air cools off drastically, with patches of snow making a comeback. My fears of snakes are now fully gone, but it’s getting dark now, and I’m anxious to make camp. I’ve packed out a can of beer, and I’m more than ready to enjoy it.
I find a sandy spot to pitch my tarp. Behind my camp is a row of manzanita, and it’s a hot spot for the resident critters. Glowing eyes and chattering abounds, but I’m less concerned by this than the rattlesnakes. The beer goes down smooth, and I curl up in my quilt.
Day 19: Four Peaks Wilderness Boundary to Highway 87, 30 miles
A frozen morning; I shake the frost from my gear and pack it up. What a stark contrast to what I was hiking in the prior evening. The trail is covered in thick sheets of ice, and I’m having trouble finding my footing. I pass a group of other hikers just breaking camp, and one of them seems determined to catch up to me.
In a rather precarious snow chute, I’m hanging on to some branches for dear life. I can’t find any traction, and if I let go, I’ll probably go sliding down the mountain. The hiker who was tailing me is suddenly right behind me, telling me to move out of his way. He’s pointing up the chute, telling me to go up the steep side so he can get by. He pushes past, bumping into me with his pack, and I waver. I keep holding onto my thin branch, trembling and seriously pissed off. Is this really happening?
I finally get out of the chute and I can hear this moron just ahead cussing because he’s slipped on the ice, and presumably fallen. I am red with anger, and I haul ass to catch up to him. Never in my life have I been so upset with a fellow hiker. By the time I catch him, he’s struggling on the uphill. I blow past him, too blind with fury to say anything. My adrenaline pushes me to the top of the climb, and I hope I never see this jackass again (spoiler: I never do).
After a few creek fords, I follow a dirt road for awhile, and I couldn’t be more relieved. After the stressful (and emotional) morning that I’ve had, all I want to do is free my thoughts for a bit. The road walk is scenic, and non challenging, which means I get to listen to an audiobook for the next several hours of hiking. At lunchtime, I sit in the sunshine along a creek and let my gear dry out. The warmth of the sun soothes my mind and body, and I’m overcome with relaxation.
All good things have to come to an end, and by late afternoon, the road leaves the trail for a more traditional path down into a gulch. It’s not so bad, though, despite the overgrown mesquite trees. It turns into a lovely evening, following a creek through rolling hills.
Eventually, I have to ford the creek in the evening. And although I had planned on camping nearby, javelina tracks in the sand along the banks makes me rethink my plans. I keep going, and the flat terrain suddenly turns rocky. With no good options for camping, I’m forced to hike well after the sun goes down. Off in the distance, the lights of ranch homes glitter in the darkness, as well as the headlights from travelers on the highway.
Just before reaching the highway, things finally flatten out. I decide to stay here, even though it’s essentially someone’s backyard. A few dogs bark at my presence, and I can smell the horses from the stable. I clear some rocks from a spot, one of which had a scorpion underneath. I kick the little bugger away and pitch my shelter. Once I turn off my headlamp, the dogs give up. The sound of the highway is oddly satisfying for white noise, so sleep comes easy.
Day 20: Highway 87 to Bear Spring, 23 miles
The morning brings damp feet thanks to the drainage tunnel that crosses under the highway. From here, it’s rolling desert hills that cut across grazing pasture.
By the afternoon, I’ve entered ponderosa forest, and stop for lunch in a large camp beside a spooky mine. It’s an extended break, mainly to get my things dry from the previous night’s condensation build up on my gear. This is a well used camp, with several makeshift fire pits and irresponsibly half buried poop near the flowing creek. I decide to bushwhack upstream a bit to get my water.
New signage leads me through a burn and a few washes, steadily gaining elevation into the Mazatzals. Midday, I reach the halfway point of the trail, and a little further on, the 400 mile mark. Switchbacks lead up to the Wilderness area, and fresh elk tracks follow the path into the start of more snow. I stop to pee, but quickly pull my shorts back up when I see another hiker plodding down the trail towards me.
“There’s snow ahead,” he warns, “I had to turn back. I’d recommend you do the same.”
“I’ll see what’s ahead.” I smile, trying to be polite as possible but still move onward, keeping the conversation short.
“The trail is on a steep slope, and it’s difficult to get your footing without sliding…”
I’m about to assure him I’ll be careful and turn back if need be, but he interrupts me abruptly.
“…Don’t you have snow baskets for your trekking poles?” he doesn’t give me a chance to answer. “The thing is with trekking poles in the snow, you need snow baskets. The reason is…”
Nope. And just as quickly as when he began to patronize me, I was out of there. I’m done dealing with these weird-ass dudes on this trail.
“What’s your name?!”
A demanding tone, calling after me. I briefly turned around to wave at him, and flash a smile, as if I didn’t hear him. I fully expect to be reported to the ‘Unaccommodating Women Task Force’ because of this interaction.
The trail conditions weren’t nearly as dramatic as he had made them out to be, anyway. I did post hole quite a bit over the next five miles or so, but the steep slope he spoke of was heavily forested and, if I did happen to slip, the thicket of scrub oaks would stop me.
I get to the Bear Creek cutoff just before dark, which is at the top of a ridge with lots of tree cover. Another hiker is there, a young fellow, who’s doing an extended section hike up to Pine. I settle in, and we sit and chat for a bit around a campfire he’s built. He, too had encountered the same gentlemen I had, and received the same advice.
It’s a cold night, which makes leaving the fireside difficult, but once I cuddle into my quilt, I stay warm and fall asleep.
Bear Spring to the East Verde River, 27 miles
The snow on the trail in the morning is crunchy and fairly solid after freezing over night, making walking across it a little easier than it was the prior evening. By the time I reach the trail below Matatzal Mountain, clouds have moved in, and the air is warm and heavy with moisture.
If I keep my mileage consistent, I’m only a day and a half out from the town of Pine, where I plan to zero and really pamper myself. On a ridge line, I have my first glimpse of the Mogollan Rim ahead, but I also have service. I take the opportunity to browse and eventually book an Airbnb in town. The rest of the afternoon is spent dreaming about my zero, which foods I’m going to indulge in, and other ways to treat myself.
Late in the afternoon, the cloud cover has darkened to a rather menacing shade of gray, and I wonder if I can make it across the East Verde River before the first lightning strike. From atop a hill, I can see the river snaking below through the canyon, and past a ranch. I pick up my pace.
The trail follows the ranch access road up until the river, where dogs bark, stressed cows bellow at the dogs, and a peacock unleashes surreal jungle-like calls. There’s a truck parked along the bank of the river, but no one seems to be around. An early warning in Guthook states that you’d have to swim across the river, as it’s too deep to actually ford, but this comment is over two weeks old.
I stare at the black water in front of me, then gaze back at the truck and the ranch. I still don’t see anyone, and not wanting to get all my gear wet right before I camp, I strip down naked. All my belongings get shoved into my trash liner bag inside my pack, and I begin to wade across, using my trekking pole to test the depths in front of me. When I reach the middle, the water has come up just past my belly button, but I don’t have to swim at any point to make it across.
On the opposite bank, I dry off using my bandana and layer back up. A rumble of thunder is heard nearby; perfect timing!
The trail has been washed away due to the high waters of the river, and I have a hard time finding it due to the fading daylight. I bushwhack through prickly trees, and over a delapidated fence until I find the trail, which is actually just another dirt road. It’s dark now, and the first flashes of lightning have lit up the sky. I scramble to find a suitable place to pitch my shelter as fat rain drops pelt against my face; the terrain is too rocky and uneven, even for the smallest of tarp shelters.
I quickly throw up the shelter in a less than desirable spot, and huddle underneath as the downpour begins. I’m not sure if I’ll stay dry during the night, but at least I’ll be in town tomorrow. I set my alarm for 5 in the morning, and a large spider seems adamant on joining me under the tarp.
East Verde River to Pine, 20 miles
The alarm on my phone blares promptly at 5 am, but I’m already up and breaking camp. I’ve barely slept, thanks to the storm, and my excitement for a town day. It’s still dark when I head out, and the lightning is still stretching across the sky in veins of white light. My headlamp is dim and in need of a charge, and it’s making route finding difficult. The trail is intersected with hundreds of paths cut by cattle, and the random cairns are hard to make out in the dark. I get off track several times, and wonder if I’m better off just hiding under a juniper until daylight.
My pace is painfully slow, and by the time the sun finally comes up, I’ve only walked about six miles.
The trail is greasy mess of saturated loam and pumice; one step forward means sliding half a step back. My muscles ache from contorting across the muck, and I deem my caked shoes ‘mud slippers.’ Frustrations are high, and I want to cry every couple of minutes. It was only twenty miles to town, and I had high hopes of getting there early in the afternoon.
Trail turns into a series of road walks, following under power lines. The roads aren’t in any better condition, and I continue to slide and make slow progress.
I finally regain the trail near a drainage, and things start looking up. The ground is dry and much easier to walk on, and it widens out, indicating that I’m getting closer to a trailhead. I ford a couple of creeks, which gives me the opportunity to wash away the caked on mud from my shoes. At a cattle gate, I can see and hear the highway ahead, and I’m filled with an immense amount of joy by this.
At the trailhead, I walk down the highway towards town, as it’s only a mile out. Hitching in Arizona has not been that easy, so I can’t be bothered to even attempt it for a measly mile.
There’s lots of traffic on the highway heading into Pine, and the town is bustling: Girl Scouts sell cookies outside the hardware store, and as tempting as this is, I have no cash on hand. I reach the grocery store, and send a text to my Airbnb host, hoping for an earlier check in. A woman outside the store rushes up to me, which was somewhat startling, and thrusts a twenty dollar bill into my hand.
“You’re doing the trail, right? Welcome to Pine!”
I can’t believe it. After one of the hardest few days I’ve ever had on trail, the kindness of a stranger has completely turned my mood around. I’m so shocked that I’m rambling at her, telling her about the mud, the slow going, the storms….
I stop myself and thank her, and she recommends a few places in town to get dinner, but I intend on cooking for myself tonight in the little apartment I’ve lined up for the next two days. In the supermarket, I load up for a hearty dinner: garlic bread, cheese ravioli, marinara sauce, Caesar salad, ice cream, chips and red wine. From there, I pack my goods to the outskirts of town to my rental, where the friendly owner is waiting for me. He’s weary at first of the dirty vagrant-looking girl who’s just wandered up without a car, but he’s put at ease once I explain what I’m up to.
Once in the apartment, I crank up the thermostat and take long, steaming-hot shower. God I’ve missed the smell of shampoo and soap! After I’ve scrubbed away the filth, I make dinner and lounge on the couch with my ice cream and some TV. Finally, I can let my body relax.
Ahh I’m so sorry you’ve been struggling. Depression is a horrible illness. I’m fortunate to have never been there for any length of time but that’s just luck.
I’ve loved reading this along with your other blog posts. My dream is to be able to hike some of the great USA trails – that’s not going to happen any time soon but in the meantime your writing gives me a bit of inspiration and escapism. Thank you for that gift, especially given how hard things are at the moment.
(PS I LOVE how you take no s**t from patronising men. You’re an inspiration in more ways than one).
Thank you for taking the time to write these. You are a very good writer, and I love your transparency – the good, the bad, and the ugly.
I understand the draw of these trails, and also the confusion of the people we care about. I’ve always believed we should find a way to do the things that bring us joy, and not worry about conforming to what others think we should be. Make yourself happy, and your joy will shine through. 🙂
Now the trick is, figuring out how to make a living doing what you love. You are a good writer – a lot of blogs and publications need good writers. 🙂