As I stand on the edge of the road that leads out of Kanab, the part where the speed limit jumps from 40 to 65 and cars whir past, I practice being grateful. Clear sky, plenty of food and water, gear that can get me from place to place and a body that can do the same.
Eventually a woman going the opposite direction drives past, pulls a U-turn, and offers to take me the 20 miles out to Buckskin so I can get back on trail. Turns out shes a Hayduke trail angel of sorts–there aren’t many and that’s just fine–and shes ferried hikers around before so she knows what’s going on. We have easy conversation, which is always pleasant during a hitch, and strange mist-clouds rise up from the valleys and mesas, trying to expel yesterday’s rain.
Once I get out, it’s back to normal Hayduke stuff–walking in a boulder strewn wash and scanning the ground in front of me so there’s no misstep. Eventually Buckskin Gulch opens up and I’m treated to wonderful redrock formations and green grassy banks. Two ancient BLM workers pull up in their truck as I pass by a trailhead and we begin talking. I tell them where’s I’ve gone, how I’ve done it. The man nods and tells me I dont need to pay the fee to enter the canyon (Buckskin Gulch is wildly popular and charges a price for admission), that I’ve come far enough to warrant a free pass. His wife rummages in the back seat and produces two small oranges–the best kind–and a bottle of water to set me on my way. Soon, dayhikers are everywhere and I try to have some conversations, but it’s difficult to strike anything up so I just push on through the slot canyon and eventually the trailhead with its parking lot and pit toilets. Nearby, a teenage girl seems so over everything and I can relate. Crowds, ugh.
The Arizona Trail northern terminus. It has a monument and everything, just like the PCT. Also…trail.
Switchbacks and open valleys with little red mountain ranges. Birds cruising and making noise; juniper forests. I feel powerfully rejuvenated. Excited. I’m eager to hike this trail and see where it leads me, how far I can get. There’s an anticipation in me, one I never felt on the Hayduke Trail. It says things like how far can you go? and what if you only stop for the sunset? Strange. I wonder what would have been different had I chosen to hike the Arizona Trail from the start; what would have stayed the same? I think: irrelevant now. I stop and chat with a woman who’s just about to finish her AZT hike, and I feel a little pull of jealousy. Her name’s Moonshine and she has a beautiful tattoo on her forearm.
I decide to hike later that normal–after 7–and make camp right under the stars next to a snarled grip of a tree. The desert has taken it’s water and it sits there all bleached helpless. At sunset the redrock glows and Navajo Mountain looks hazy and surreal in the distance. The moon is full and bright and friendly.