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Falling Apart and Falling Behind

Day 6:

18 miles to Grass Shack Campground through Saguaro National Park.

  • Late start (near 7:00!)

  • Left knee cap has now joined the right one and is hurting. I’ll chalk it up to a niggle. It happens on and off, but more pronounced this morning.

  • Spent a lot of time taping and wrapping my Achilles section of right foot in the bathroom with real light (not my headlamp in the tent) before hiking.

  • Re-laced my shoes and took out a few lace sections on the right shoe to let my heel slide in and out more fluidly.

  • Repacked pack differently. Put water in platypus along my back and tent poles on top to lighten the weight distribution on my hips. It is helping! So far this morning right shoulder chafe is almost not noticeable, left hip is at a 4 out of 10 and right Achilles at a 6 out of ten.

  • Cloud coverage and breezy morning, but pleasant!

  • 3.5 miles into the day. 8:35 am. Moving SO slowly. Left knee cap pain so bad I had to stop. Can barely bend knee.

  • Wind picked up. Clouds got darker. No sunglasses this morning.

  • Ended the day with 4.5 miles of climbing. I got a second wind at the end! Rolled into camp on the early side (before 5:00 pm!) I planned to eat and sleep so I can wake up super early to tackle the next day with strength. I need to be done before 6:00 pm as I have a work call! Plus, I have some errands I need to run in Tucson!

  • As I made dinner near the group food storage box, I met Terminator and Dallas (two other hikers camped out there). Terminator came out of his tent to greet me and figure out who the new hiker in the group was. Dallas asked me questions from inside her tent and said “you sound really young!” I assured them I wasn’t as young as they thought I was. Each day I meet new people who all assume I’m between 25-28 years old. It is intriguing to me because post-divorce me feels like I picked myself back up where I left off pre-marriage, so in a lot of ways I feel 27 years old too. But in many other ways I feel my age, and the aches and pains were a good reminder!

  • Terminator and Dallas are both in their 60s and both triple crowners. It was fun to chat with them during the break in the rain while I cooked and ate dinner, and nice to be around so many hikers in their 60s who are incredibly accomplished hikers and still at it!

  • I slept to the soothing sounds of the rain and the babbling brook right by my tent. It was a cold night with all the moisture in the air, but I slept.

Day 7: 19.9 miles, Grass Shack to Tucson

Grass Shack — Mt. Mica (6,500’ elev. gain) — Tucson. 155.3 miles hiked since Mexico.

I got a very early start to do the 6 mile climb up Mt. Mica. It rained on and off throughout the night. I tried to quietly pack up my wet tent and not wake up the others around me (there were about 6 tents at the campsite. I wished I had my headlamp with the red light as I knew my white light was likely waking others up. I was the first to leave camp and took a little break before the snowy section to readjust my gear and eat.

As I climbed, the sun came out and the path got snowier. The sky was clear, there wasn’t any wind (phew!) and the way the morning sun hit the snow made the snow so sparkly up there since the snow storm the night before. It looked like fake snow you’d see in a shopping mall in December. SO. SPARKLY!

The light seemed to stay pink for longer than the usual morning golden hour which made the pine trees and snow even prettier. The woods were silent but FILLED with animal tracks and birds singing. I saw an absurd amount of mountain lion tracks. I learned Arizona has a super high mountain lion concentration compared to other states with mountain lions.

Sometimes the trail was covered in snow and I had to way-find, but I was pretty lucky to still be able to find the trail 85% of the time.

I had a wonderful climb and only really experienced cold hands and nose at the top of the mountain. The descent on the north side was steep and snowy, and my knees, hip, and Achilles pain began to slow me down. As I descended below the snow line and into the rolling desert hills, my energy waned and my ailments worsened. I was moving so slowly and my feet were so sore. I knew it would be nearly impossible for me to hike 26 miles and still make it to REI before they closed, get on my work call at 6:00 on time, AND shower/soak feet/bath, eat dinner, and do laundry and dishes and my resupply.

I decided to text Stripes in Tucson to see if they could pick me up 6 miles early at a dirt road crossing. Stripes told me “yes! No problem!” So I pushed on an additional 4 miles to meet them.

When Stripes arrived they told me I was in for the ride of a lifetime. The spot o chose to get off trail was 1.5 hours from Stripes’ house versus only 20 minutes if I had made it 6 more miles on trail. Ooops! But there was seriously no way I could have made it AND done all my town errands.

We shared many laughs as we went on a muddin’ adventure in Stripes’ two-door Honda Accord! Stripes thru-hiked the AT the same year I did, and the CT (a different year) so we shared many memories of those trails and they clearly understood the thru-hiker’s needs. I had asked for a bag of chips and a Gatorade and drank TWO Gatorades, devoured the salty chips, and enjoyed a tangerine and cookies!

We went straight to REI where I knew I needed to get a shoe a half size bigger to ease my Achilles pain. I brought my pack in hoping they might be able to swap out my pack for one with a functioning right shoulder strap. My collarbone was so bruised and chafed it was becoming a real problem. The dudes in the pack section attempted to help me Jerry rig some type of cord to loop around and pull across my chest like my chest strap to help the right shoulder strap lay flat until I could get a new pack. I needed to call Osprey and unfortunately I had just missed them by about an hour and it was Friday. My next opportunity would be Monday while hiking to hopefully have enough cell service and phone battery to arrange getting a new pack somehow while hiking.

I then purchased a new sun hoodie which would be much more comfortable in shielding my skin from the sun as well as a new pair of shoes. My Achilles was already so inflamed, it was tough to tell if the size 8 Brooks Cascadia were going to solve my Achilles problem, but at least they had a bit higher heel to toe drop, which would make my Achilles less elongated than in my Hoka Torrents. (I would have gotten a pair of the Hokas in a size 8, but, alas, that REI did not carry the Hoka Torrent shoes). I had worn the Brooks Cascadia for about 700 miles on the Appalachian Trail, so I knew they would get the job done, even though they were 4.5 oz heavier.

I was a day behind schedule now due to the shorter days the last two days and the compounding effect of those few miles was adding up. I bought an extra dinner at REI as I knew I would need to adjust my pace and fit in an extra day between here and the next town.

I took my work call in the car on the way home from REI. When I got to Stripe’s house, we ordered some delicious Thai curry and I took an epsom salt bath and then a shower. I forgot how much hair comes out when I don’t shower as regularly when I’m hiking. It was a bit jarring at first, but I remembered dealing with the same thing on the AT. I was grateful to hit have black toenails from days of hiking in the mud like I did on the AT. The dirt factor was reasonably manageable.

Stripes and I enjoyed some lovely conversation and curry and she even did my laundry for me! I felt so nurtured by Stripes, which felt really comforting.

After dinner, I graded some papers and organized my resupply situation. I didn’t have time to finish grading all my papers, so I packaged them up with my iPad to mail to Kearny (the next town!)

I stayed up too late messing with my resupply stuff and re-organizing my hike schedule. I did not get enough sleep, but awoke to the first bird chirp around 5:30 am. I slept VERY warmly (yay!) and enjoyed a super comfy sleep!

Day 8:

16.5 miles. Tucson to Hutch’s Pool (base of Mt. Lemmon)

Got a much later start this morning after trying three different stores to get first aid resupply. We went to CVS and then target and then finally Walmart which was open Sunday morning. I got a variety of new Band-Aids and two different kinds of tape and some chips (need salt and sometimes the electrolyte powder makes me nauseous in the heat, so eating something savory helps!).

Then Stripes and I went to a vegan friendly bakery where I got a vegan breakfast sandwich and some vegan cookies to pack out!

Stripes and I embarked on the one and a half hour dirt road roller coaster in her two-door Honda Civic and miraculously made it back to where they had picked me up on trail the day before. Stripes hiked out with me for about an hour and I really enjoyed having someone to talk with while hiking. The trail was flat and cruisy, so the miles seemed to tick on by.

After Stripes turned around, the real climbing and descending began. My knees and Achilles begin to talk to me again. My new shoes are okay, but they are definitely heavier than what I am used to. I am grateful for the rock plate as I think I’m going to be feeling fewer rocks under my feet in these shoes. I am also glad to have the sun hoodie, although it is a bit warmer than what I am used to.

At mile seven, I stopped to soak my feet in a creek after passing Molino campground and chatting a little bit with Terminator, Dallas, and Young Blood (super young kid in a bright orange sun hoodie): “the grass shack crew.” They thought I was Mary Poppins, but I have not seen her yet today (she was also at the Grass Shack). They are all planning on heading a little further up on Mount Lemmon than I am for the night, but I am planning to have a bigger day tomorrow, so will probably see them again tomorrow on the mountain.

There were so many mountain bikers out this morning and seeing them scream downhill while I’m plodding along uphill is sometimes a little bit jarring. I even saw one wipe out right in front of me!

I stopped at each creek crossing and took off my shoes and socks and soaked my feet and ate chips. I yo-yo-ed with Terminator and Dallas for a bit.

We entered the beautiful Sabino Canyon and as I crossed a roaring creek I took a wrong trail. I had a sense I might be headed in the wrong direction after about a half mile of steep climbing and I was right! Damn! It was late in the day and I had taken all those foot-soaking breaks, so I definitely wasn’t going to make it to the Cathedral Rocks junction camping area (where most hikers camp before they attack the Mt. Lemmon climb).

After I corrected the bonus mile, I passed two tents in a flat area. It looked like Terminator and Dallas had called it a day early and set up camp there. I pressed on to Hutch’s Pools and overshot. I began doing some steep switchbacks turning away from the stream and realized I needed to turn back to camp at Hutch’s Pools. The next option for camping was about 3 more STEEP miles uphill and it was already getting dark and I was tired.

I finally found the side trail to Hutch’s Pools. I scrambled down the overgrown, steep, and thorny side trail and landed in heaven. Hutch’s Pools might be the most beautiful place on this planet. I was overcome with beauty and could NOT believe no one else was camping here! Sure, it means way more climbing in the morning, BUT, staying here was worth every extra bonus mile from the day and the three extra miles I would have to climb the next day. I was instantly so happy there!

There were little sandy flat spots along a river with various pools and caves where people had built fires and cooked. It was like a magical camping wonderland and I was full of gratitude to be there. I cooked in my own little kitchen-cave, slept on soft sand (no pokey rocks!) and enjoyed the sound of the water all night.

Tomorrow will be a huge day; bigger than Miller Peak (day 1) and Mt. Mica (day 7). I planned to wake up at about 4:00 am to be hiking before 5:00 am. It gets light enough to hike without a headlamp at 6:00 am (sunrise around 6:30 am), so this would hopefully get me to the top before noon when there might be weather.

The clouds were making themselves known today and Terminator seemed pretty certain we would have some storms in the afternoon on the ridge of Mt. Lemmon. I ate my extra dinner (mushroom risotto for a change!) and put on all my layers and passed out.


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