We wake early. Before I open my eyes I feel the soreness of my body ringing up and out of me like a chorus. Shins, knees, elbows, shoulders, hands. All my wounds call out together in a harmony and I am awed and humbled by the sound.
Once packed up, we pass through corridors of grabbing, stabbing and stinging plants that gouge into the pulp of my knees and elbows. I wince as my raw parts are continuously jabbed, steel myself as we cross into a rocky river bed. The bed is dry and contains small, medium, and large boulders– each a different experience to step upon. Our data says we’ll be walking on this for three miles and a quick assessment suggests that three miles will be one mile an hour terrain at the fastest.
One mile an hour is fine with me. The riverbed is flat, and the sun baths us in its gentle way. We have a breeze and just below red rock there are surprise pools of clear, cold water. The pools—some large enough to swim in— aren’t on our data as water sources at all, and so we know that they are but an ephemeral surprise, a gift from our extra rainy year. We sit by a river bed and eat snacks, smiling easily, and then we begin our ascent.
We climb quick and hard, straight up. We lose the trail for a moment, but Carrot finds it again by scrambling a hundred feet above us, hand and footing her way up broken slabs of red rock. I follow. My phone screen goes dim and will not return, briefly depriving me of my GPS track. Just as I yell “CARROT!” into the great trail beyond, it comes back to life, its light embarrassing me as Carrot runs back, concerned. I fall far behind, thinking about this trail and my skills in tandem. I do not have the skills to do this trail, but I’m doing it anyway. I’m hoping that I can learn quickly because in the heat I am feeling so slow and humbled that it borders on ashamed. The terrain is steep and prickly and I walk carefully, trying to avoid the jabbiest of the plants, the ones eager to stab tack like points into my various open wounds. I am morose and I let it wash over me.
We do five miles in five hours, a steady 1mph pace. It is noon and we haven’t travelled far, but we’re hungry and there are cabin ruins and a water source just up ahead and so we agree to stop and reassess.
I tell Carrot how bad I feel. Getting off trail, having so many cuts and bruises from the first five miles of our traverse, having to boulder up to safety when I have no idea how to boulder. Walking through spike corridors, losing my track, going so slowly up steep passes that I may as well be crawling. I eat chips and chocolate and I tell her I am trying to let nature be the boss. I know there’s not much I can do to fix how difficult this is beyond continuing to move forward and improve my skills. I can’t fight my body, and I’m not here to fight the land.
It’s just humbling is all, being so clumsy with nothing to hide behind.
We continue to climb, and hours pass. “This terrain is really beating me up today” Carrot says, sitting on a rock next to our water source, eating jerky and shivering into her puffy. She says this so easily, like it’s regular to struggle. All day I’ve questioned myself and my abilities and with one comment I realize the truth: I am inexperienced, for sure, but this is also just a hard trail. All kinds of people would find this to be a hard trail! It’s a relief to know.
We walk up a dirt road, and I zone out to On The Come Up by Angie Thomas. The second half of the day provides terrain that is significantly more gentle and easy to navigate and I let myself relax into it.
Up high, we come to another cabin ruin. Here we find our last water source of the day, a rusty metal tank with dead mosquitos skimming the surface. Winds pick up all around us and we shiver as we filter, knowing we have a 2000 foot descent, that we’re going to get down and camp where it’s warm.
We hike quick. I ache my way toward the campsight, knowing that if we get to the 29.9 mile mark today, we’ll be camping just outside of the camping restriction zone. If we hustle tomorrow, we can make it all the way to town, and I can clean the scrapes that decorate my body, soothe the red ringed wounds with something beyond hand sanitizer and antibiotic ointment.
1.5 miles away from our proposed campsite, I find Carrot. She asks if we can hike the last little bit together, and as we do we say a little prayer to the Nature Gods.
“Please Gods” we say. “Show us a campsite, as flat as a frisbee, just before the restriction starts, and tucked away in some trees”.
We push forward, searching, and just around the bend, directly below some red rock ruins, it appears.
We eat our food staring silently into the abyss, set up our shelter, blow up our neoairs, crawl into our sleeping bags, and close our eyes. Three minutes pass, and I am totally, utterly, and completely asleep.
📍The Mogollon Rim trail is on Yavapai, Western Apache, Hopi and Hohokum land. I am a grateful guest.