Sunday, March 8, 2015

AZT Day 6-Black Hills

Miles 231.9 to 216.6
Arizona Trail Passage 14
15 miles

When Eric, a Grand Enchantment Trail thru hiker, caught up an hour after sunrise, I thought he would race on past us. He had that look of an experienced, fast hiker, but we were delighted that he ended up slowing down to hike with us a while.
Hiking with Eric.
As we passing through a barbed wire gate together, he showed us a technique to get the gates open by using a shoulder for leverage. Jan and I had been struggle to open this style gate, and this was one we'd add to our Arizona Trail skillset. Then, we got to talking about other long trails and how to learn skills, and what trails to hike to prepare for more difficult trails. Eric said he was hiking the GET (which runs concurrent with the AZT through this section) to prepare for the Hayduke Trail. He'd previously done the Arizona Trail to prepare for the CDT. When we got to Beehive Well, he showed us another trick to get fresh water from the cattle tanks by lifting the float ball valve. Also turns out we knew a few hikers in common. Talking with Eric made us feel more connected to the trail community. Out here there are so few backpackers that it makes it quite special when you do meet anyone else. Happy Trails Eric! It was great meeting you!
Fairy dusters.
Not long after, another backpacker came over a crest. WOW two other backpackers in one day! Woodchuck was scrawny with a long grey beard, and immediately threw down his pack when he met is and declared that he wanted to take a break to talk. It had been so long since he'd seen anyone else. He is hiking north to Utah, and told us stories about being caught in a hailstorm-- that was the same weather system we'd experienced as rain on our drive to Superior. After exchanging water notes, we learned he was hiking without any maps, phone, or GPS. I gave him my old maps for the passages he was heading for. Hope they help him out! Jan printed out the maps we'd downloaded from the Arizona Trail Association with the water report, data book, and town info on the backside for each passage. She spent a lot of time fitting all the info on one sheet, and they have proved really helpful and we like having paper maps and water info so we don't have to always refer to our phones. Gaia GPS sucks battery, and so we try to conserve power.

Today water was easier because of Wendy's reports. She'd told us the cleanest water was at Cowhead Tank 0.2 miles down Bloodsucker Wash. Sure enough we climbed the ladder to fill our bottles from fresh clear flow. Mmmm!
Climbing the ladder to get water from the cattle tank.
Nice water flow at Cowhead Tank.
 Mountain View Tank was also full with tiny fish swimming in the water. Once again we were wary of ranchers finding us taking their because of the signs at the trailheads. We took care not to take more water than we needed, and didn't take any for washing even though we were longing to give our socks a rinse.

Jan was noticeably more tired today, but I feel like I have gotten my trail legs again and was itching to cover more miles. I had to remind myself that I knew what I was getting into in choosing to hike with Jan, and not to get frustrated. I have been loving our camaraderie, and have so much fun with her. Our laughter gets us up the hills, and it is safer to be hiking this trail together. I did 550 miles solo on the PCT last year so it's not like I am uncomfortable going solo, but it is a good choice for me to do this trail right now with a partner. But to hike together, she needs to set the pace. This is her first long hike, and she has never carried a pack this heavy. So I've been letting her hike first so she doesn't feel rushed and we stop when she is done. Not overdoing it will prevent injury. Whenever I get antsy to go faster, I remind myself of the big picture and how this is not a race, how to slow down and savor the hike. I also think about a comment Jan's friend, Hiking Jim, wrote on our Facebook, "Joan- I don't mind you hiking with Jan, but bring her back in one piece, OK?" I love this message because it is so true- yes we gotta make it back home safe.
Jan hiking up the Black Hills.
So when Jan gets tired, she says let's find a campsite soon, and I respect that and we stop. She aims for 15 miles a day.

One great thing that I really appreciate about hiking with Jan is that she doesn't seem to mind my hammock obsession. She tolerates the extra time it takes to find a hang site for me. Going into this trip, I was told by multiple hammock hangers that bringing a hammock on the AZT wasn't recommended and that the section between Kelvin and Oracle would be nearly impossible to hammock. That there were no trees. I hung on the PCT so had lots of experience in the desert so decided to take a chance and have been able to find a hang site every night. But it's not easy and sites are limited and especially tricky not getting poked by spines. I do not recommend bringing a hammock here, but I will keep on hanging cause I'm crazy about my hammock. 
Picking up tips from Eric reminded me about all the skill sets we are developing out here. I try to be aware about my level of backpacking experience, my skills, strengths and weaknesses. In preparing for trips, I spend time making assessments of the risks presented by a trail, try to discern what skills are needed for the trail and how to mitigate those risks. The Arizona trail requires more skills in navigation and water than I needed on the Pacific Crest Trail. I developed navigation skills and experience using Gaia GPS over many years of off-trail travel prior to getting out here. There are fewer hikers out here compared to the PCT and it feels more remote and unforgiving. Jan and I both carry an InReach and SPOT respectively, and have trained our friends and family over the years to be our safety network. So we are well-prepared in many ways, but there are skills we didn't anticipate- like wrangling gates and climbing ladders for stock tank water and trying to read between the lines about etiquette with ranchers. All this is preparation for the next mile, the next day, the next trail.

Read more on Jan's account of this passage on her blog and see our videos about getting water.


  1. Appreciate your candor in this post. I struggle sometimes between hiking farther and having company I enjoy. The older I get the more I choose company, especially if they tolerate my quirks. There are always solo opportunities but I have found good hiking partners are few.

    1. Jan and I have talked about this a bit, so I think we both understand, so I hope I don't hurt her feelings in being so honest. Glad to hear you relate-_I've struggled hiking with people of different paces over the years too. But thinking I'm finally able to make better choices now and really appreciating the joys of hiking with a partner.

    2. No hurt feelings, complete understanding! As you know I struggled with being the "weak link" something I didn't like either. One reason I'm always honest and open when establishing expectations.

  2. I haven't been around a computer much for the last few days so I am just now catching up to your antics on the trail. glad things have been going ok so far!

    1. Thanks Misti! Yes having a blast out here!

  3. I love how open and honest you are. I agree that trail is not the same to hike solo as the PCT.

  4. Hikin' Jim's comment kept us responsible and we used his quote quite often because we too wanted to come home safe.

    As a result of this experience I wrote a blog post on Partnership Commitments, Compatibilities & Compromises.

    1. Funny how important that quote from Hikin' Jim turned out.

      Really like how detailed your article is-- I never really appreciated just how difficult it is to find a compatible hiking partner. I struggled a lot with the compromises, and I don't think I did a good job of assessing my fitness level before the hike cause I didn't anticipate how antsy I got. Ah well we sure had fun anyway!

    2. I'm guessing there was a bit of that feeling of the time clock running out on your freedom transitioning to hours belonging to someone else. Your mind and body probably just wanted to run, to get rid of all that angst.