After more than two weeks of hiking with Paulo, it is time to continue the hike alone. How is it to be hiking alone on the AZT?
Hiking alone on the AZT
After a relaxing zero in Oracle that goes by far too quickly, we head back to the Arizona Trail on Wednesday morning. It goes faster than we thought, we are offered a lift within five minutes. For the first two miles, I hike with Paulo, but at the Tiger Mine Road Trailhead, it’s time to say goodbye.
Missed the previous journal? Check it out here: Hiking in Saguaro National Park | Mile 117-202 | Arizona Trail #4
He wants to do a section of the trail at his own pace before going back home. This gives us both some peace of mind because he hikes much faster than me and often has to wait for me for a long time. Not fun for him, but not fun for me either, because I often get frustrated with my slowness.
Although I don’t mind hiking alone, saying goodbye is still quite hard for me. We’ve been together non-stop for the past 3.5 weeks and now I suddenly feel very alone. So yes, there are a few tears.
I give him ten minutes’ head start and then I go out myself. My cheerful Spotify playlist is distracting me from the sadness and the landscape is surprisingly beautiful. Hiking is also a lot easier for me than it was last week. Because of the zero, I’m less tired, I hardly trip and I don’t fall. In the previous weeks, I fell regularly and because of that I got the trail name “bandaids”.
In this section, I regularly encounter another hiker named Gaucho. He is a triple crowner (has hiked the three major trails in the US, PCT, AT & CDT) and is from Northern California. While it is certainly not crowded on the Arizona Trail, you are rarely completely alone.
Because I have such a good pace today, I hike a lot further than expected. Instead of ten miles, I manage to hike more than thirteen miles. Wow! And guess who also pitched his tent there? Paulo, haha! So that evening we eat together, just like old times.
The snakes are out!
The next morning I leave before sunrise. It’s going to be hot today, so I like to hike as many miles as possible in the cool morning. It is a beautiful and relaxed hike today. Not too difficult and countless beautiful cacti, a mix of chollas and saguaros.
Today I meet many other hikers, it’s nice to exchange stories. I also see a few big snakes for the first time. An, in my opinion harmless, snake is sunbathing on the trail and goes away when I come closer.
Later in the afternoon, I am hiking on a long dirt road when I hear a loud rattle. Scary! A few yards away is a large rattlesnake on the side of the road, ready to attack. He really doesn’t want me to come near and I certainly won’t. It’s scary, but it’s actually a good thing that he makes so much noise. Then at least I know where it is.
I hike more than 20 miles (32 kilometers) for the first time that day. I pitch my tent next to some rocks and it is one of the most beautiful places I have camped so far. This is my first time camping all alone, but at least four hikers know exactly where I am, so I’m not really scared. I probably won’t see Paulo again, he was forced to hike another six miles to the next water source.
After a good night’s sleep, I get up before sunrise. It’s hot today (30+ degrees) and with the little shade on the way, I don’t want to walk too much in the afternoon. I notice that being alone on the trail is not so bad. Some sort of thinking process now starts (as in what am I going to do with my life?) and that is actually one of the advantages of hiking a long-distance trail like this. You start to think more about why you do what you do and (hopefully) think about what you would like in the future.
It’s getting warmer (and quieter) on the trail
The trail is quite easy today, a bit up and down between the cacti. On my way to a water source, I suddenly see something strange on the road that suddenly starts to move. It’s a gila monster! I’d read about them, but they’re not very common, so wasn’t expecting to see this particular lizard. Which is awesome!
I hardly see any other hikers today, three sobo’ers (southbounders, they hike from north to south, I’m a nobo’er). Around noon, it gets really hot and I take long breaks as soon as I encounter shade. My last achievement is a climb of more than 300 meters, which I do at the end of the afternoon. There I meet Gaucho again. I hiked about sixteen miles when I pitch my tent on the top of a mountain. Although it was really warm, it was another great day on the trail.
I sleep without the fly and can therefore admire the starry sky every time I wake up. It’s a beautiful view and one of my favorite things about a long-distance hike in the desert.
The next day it will be very hot again, so I get up at 5 in the morning and pack my things. I start hiking before sunrise. Only seven miles to go today and it’s mostly downhill. Easy peasy. And it is a beautiful hike!
Off to Kearny
Once I arrive at the road, a car with an old Vietnam veteran drives past me. “Do you need a ride to town?” Yes! This is how I find myself in the village of Kearny before 9 o’clock in the morning. There I meet Paulo again, who is just picking up a van to drive back to San Diego. It’s nice to be able to say goodbye again.
Fortunately, I can check in to my hotel really early. I have some packages waiting for me there, including new hiking shoes. After a long shower, I go to eat at the pizzeria with another hiker. Although he is a really nice guy, that has interesting trail stories, I quickly find out that he believes in quite a few conspiracy theories. Which is not really my thing. The rest of the day I lock myself in my hotel room with Netflix. I need this.
The next day I’m calling my family, I’m doing laundry, I’m buying some food, and I’m making plans for the coming weeks. How much food should I bring? Where to stay? What’s the next town to take a break? When will I reach the end of the trail? Thinking about these things is always quite a hassle, but it’s good to have some time to do it now.
I meet quite a few other hikers and even spend hours drinking beers in the pizzeria with some new friends that also hiked the PCT. So much fun! You don’t see many people on the trail itself, but in places like this you find out that there are still a lot of hikers around you. Which is good to know.
I wasn’t originally planning on staying in Kearny for two nights (I just had a zero in Oracle), but I have to send a package to the next stop or I won’t have any food on the trail. Since I arrived in Kearny on a Saturday morning and the post office won’t be open until Monday, I have to wait a day. Which is not too bad. Kearny is tiny, but everyone is really nice here. It is still great to discover these kinds of villages during a long-distance trail.
After two nights in Kearny, I’m fully charged and I’m excited for the rest of this phenomenal adventure. And yes, it’s fine to do that by myself.
Next journal: Hiking in a storm and a difficult section | Mile 258-338 | Arizona Trail #6
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