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800-Mile AZT Adventure Begins

T minus two days. Friday, 3/8

Is today my last day as a teacher? Omg I think it is! I am still a student support specialist

for the remainder of the school year, but I wrapped up my last 10th grade economics class today and it feels surreal. I feel slightly lighter and freer, but sad too. I loved teaching. I have ALWAYS loved teaching. And I’ve never imagined myself doing anything else. The idea that today could be my last day as a classroom teacher hit me this evening. I didn’t see it coming and I’m not sure I’m prepared for the feelings that come with it. I could always return, but the lightness feels restorative and right at the moment. Teaching at a school has been utter chaos lately. (Like more than the normal  teaching chaos). So I haven’t had much spare brain space to even begin to fathom my pending adventure. I’m just acting as a firefighter each day all day and now I find myself sitting on a greyhound bus about to miss my transfer in Dallas at 1:00 am. Yikes.

The days leading up to this hike have been all-consuming. The stress in many areas of my life feels like any one category should be enough. From period cramps to heartbreak, life has been exhausting and confusing.

I hustled like crazy to book my condo on airbnb and find people to clean my condo while I’m away. I had to pack up all my personal belongings to make my space clean and ready for guests, not to mention just keep up with my normal cleaning routines. It has been a time suck, but a grounding one as I was in my body, organizing, and deep-cleaning. I don’t know anyone else besides my parents and me who spend the days and hours before a big trip doing low priority all-out projects. Spending half a day installing a washer-dryer stacking kit so my dryer doesn’t topple over probably could have waited 1 month seeing as how I have lived almost two years with an unstable laundry unit. And the meal prepping…. I hate wasting food, so I tried to use every last fresh ingredient to cook, freeze, and prep travel meals and snacks. It was time consuming and probably not the best use of my time… but hey! Soy Serrano!

While I’ve been mentally preparing for executing this hike for at least 1 year, if not longer, my “planning” was not as in depth as it could have or should have been (not even close!). I don’t know enough about what I’m getting myself into, but I know I have the problem solving skills to jump through almost all the hoops thrown my way… all except for the major travel hurdle of day -2…

My 24-hour greyhound idea was my solution to saving hundreds of dollars and would set me up nicely to be able to start this hike with my two good friends Nick and Mile Marker. However, the bus was 36 mins late leaving Austin and I only had a 30 min transfer window in Dallas to get on a different bus. I spent the first 3/4 of the bus ride stressing out and watching my transfer gap close on the live update page go from a 4 min hustle to a 1 min Hail Mary, to then arriving 6, 7, 9 mins after my Dallas-Tucson bus was scheduled to leave.

Time to make a backup plan. The vortex of last minute travel planning sucked me dry. I watched a $566 one way flight skyrocket to $1,944 when I went back to maybe book it 20 mins later….whaaat?! Options began disappearing left and right. I even explored renting a car because driving would get me there 8 hours earlier, but I’m WAY too sleepy to tackle a 14-hour road trip through the middle of the night solo after the week I’ve had. I even thought about maybe getting a rental car to Big Spring and making the 4 hour drive in a rental car while the greyhound would take 5 hours 30 mins to get there, but it would involve multiple Ubers, a swift rental car experience in the middle of the night with no reservation (sounds impossible…), not to mention I don’t have 4 lucid hours in me to operate a moving vehicle safely from 1am to 5 am… nope.

I finally went to look at redeeming airline miles and found some first class seats for 23k miles that would get me in to Tucson at 8:30 pm (quite late — I would still need Stripes to drive me to Sierra Vista, about an hour plus away and I wouldn’t have arrived until 10:30 pm). I put the tickets on hold. These seats felt like the only option, but I still hadn’t missed my transfer so didn’t want to purchase anything until I knew for sure I would miss that Greyhound.

Getting to Tucson Sat 3/9 is a mandatory part of my plan. I don’t  have wiggle room as I’m attempting an extremely aggressive hike plan of about 27 miles per day in order to not miss too much work. The leave of absence is quite a financial hit, but I work all summer now with my consulting business, so I need to jump off the hamster wheel during my slow season and reconnect with my inner spirit to keep finding meaning in this beautiful life. Being a 38 year old single workaholic cannot be my sole existence. Life must be lived, and I have to be dramatic about unplugging since my daily survival is a chronic stressor trying to be my own husband AND wife.

The cost of being single + the COL in ATX is a killer combo. Being single is significantly more expensive than being coupled, not to mention more lonely and uninspiring at times. I’m not seeking sympathy as I truly love the life I’ve created for myself on my own and am extremely selective about who I partner with to share in this journey this time around. I am not willing to settle. I also have LOVED my work as a teacher and wouldn’t have traded it for the world. However, the underpaid field of education paired with living in a town where the median salary is $30k higher than my teaching salary with 15 years experience, a master’s degree and a principal’s certificate has taken its toll. I hustle with my business, real estate, and living frugally, but I work until midnight most nights. Starting my hike one day later seriously jeopardizes my chances of completing  the trail. Plus, I would miss out on starting with N&M.

I arrived at the sketchy Dallas bus station and was the only female that didn’t have someone immediately picking them up. I experienced some late night harassment while carrying a bunch of heavy things in a hiker trash outfit and fumbling around on my phone trying to book a hotel and an Uber simultaneously. I messed up both. I put the wrong holiday inn into the Uber app and ended up having to cancel the ride because the change destination feature wasn’t working and had to wait in the cold and get yelled at some more while I waited for Uber 2. Meanwhile, on the phone, the agent booked me at the wrong hotel and we had to switch it and go through the booking process again. I was exhausted and delirious and the tension in my body didn’t help. It took everything in me to hold it together and not melt down, cry, and quit the whole thing. It was a super stressful night and I finally got to my hotel around 2:15 am.

Once I landed in my room, I still needed to book my flights for the next day. I messed around with Southwest Airlines and considered going to Dallas Love (even though I was staying right next to DFW) just to possibly get on standby for one of their flights. Eventually, I checked AA again and magically the 10am flight that was once about $2,000 and 100k miles was now only 43k miles! Way overpriced, but SO worth it! I booked it and crashed. It was 3:30 am.

Day -1

4 hours later my alarm went off. I repacked and got on the DFW shuttle. I was so grateful to wake up feeling a little refreshed and best of all, not stressed. ALL of yesterday was stressful and my body was full of tension. This morning was different and I felt at ease with a plan to execute.

The airport was easy and empty. The flight was easy and I got some work done. I arrived in sunny and mountainous Tucson and Stripes was there to pick me up! We drove to their house and I laid down to close my eyes. I rested a tiny bit and graded a few papers. Then we scooped up Nick and Mile Marker and Stripes drove us to Sierra Vista (the AZT gateway community for the southern terminus). Stripes hiked the AT in 2018 as well and was an ABSOLUTE trail angel. We didn’t remember meeting on the AT, although we know many of the same people. My buddy Walmart Special (which I summited Mt. Katahdin with connected us).

When we arrived at the Hampton Inn around 4:30 pm, Mile Marker (Madeline) asked me “hey!  Where is your sleeping pad?” Ummmmm…. I quickly fell silent and remembered very clearly putting it in the overhead bin of the airplane while my H-E-B bags went under my seat and my backpack was checked. I completely forgot to grab it from the overhead bin when getting off the plane and definitely left in on the plane.

I considered having Jeffrey (my resupply captain) send me my back up Z rest and going to Walmart to get something to hold me over until that arrived. I took an Uber to Walmart and found a perfect replacement sleeping pad that will hopefully last the whole hike! Hallelujah!

I then sat at the Dunkin’ Donuts in Walmart to grade some more papers and book my return flight. I met Madeline and Nick for Ramen (yum!) and then came back to the hotel to shower and look at all my gear and repack for day 1!

I graded a few more papers and called it a night. Tomorrow is daylight savings for everyone EXCEPT for us bc Arizona does not observe daylight savings. This puts me in California’s pacific time zone starting tomorrow which means even less sleep…

The travel days are over and tomorrow begins the hiking days! I have exactly 32 hiking days to cover 800 miles. But all I can think about is covering 23 tomorrow and nothing else. Mission AZT, here she comes!


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