I wake on and off all night, shivering and sticky from condensation. Carrot is snoring and then I’m snoring and the two of us take turns snoring me awake. Our noses are stuffed with desert dust.
I’m up for good before the sun. I open up the vestibule and cook my oatmeal and coffee in the dark. My heart feels heavy today, but I’m trying to make the best of it. This is just a heart heavy day, that’s all. It’s not abnormal for me and it will pass.
Carrot wakes up and makes her breakfast too. We game plan for the day. I want to go 20 miles to make our next day into town lighter. Carrot agrees, with the caveat that our plan has to remain flexible. You know, in case something crazy happens.
We’ve learned that the MRT is different every single day. Yesterday was easy tread, dirt roads weaving in and out of cool shaded forest. Today has some of that, for sure, but then there is this canyon ten miles in, one with steep and vague trail both in and out. We decide to meet and hike together for that part, let ourselves go at our own pace until then.
I’m trying something different. It’s too much stress on our relationship to hike all day on one another’s heels. Carrot is a) a perfectionist and b) has way more experience than I. This puts us in an awkward student/teacher position that frustrates us both. I feel micromanaged. She feels like she has to be responsible for me. It’s not the type of thing either of us wants in our romantic lives.
So I hike forth before Carrot, decide to push myself and go ten miles before my break. The morning is glowing, with golden sun rolling out over pine forest floor. I see a pair of elk gently frolicking through the juniper and it feels like it means something indistinct and also nice, just to get to watch them gallop.
I pause to change out of my leggings, my puffy, my long sleeve and my knit hat. As soon as my bottom half is naked, I reach for my shorts and yelp in pain. I stepped on a prickly pear! There are needles thick and white and needles fine and hairlike are sticking out of the bottom of my foot! Is this nature’s acupuncture?! Will it relieve the tiny ache left in my ankle?!
I briefly debate the order of events. Should I put my shorts on first and then remove the needles? I decide no, no I should not. Decency be damned, I porky pig my foot free of debris and then I dress.
Once I’ve changed out of my warm layers and gotten nature’s needles out of my foot, I descend. I climb down very steep, indistinct, and rocky trail. It takes me 45 minutes to descend a half mile and as soon as I hit the bottom, it occurs to me that perhaps Carrot will go down the indistinct path a different way. Maybe it will be hard to find me at the bottom of this canyon?
I pace this way and that, trying to figure out where I will be the most visible. It turns out I’m most visible in the blazing sun and so I toggle back and forth between sitting there, out in the open and hiding in the shade to cool down.
I intermittently yell “CARRRRROTTTTTT!” up the canyon rocks, just in case she is looking. Eventually, I hear a “caw cawwww!” in the distance, and we go back and forth like this for awhile, me saying her name and her bird calling back. Eventually, she yells “ARE YOU OKAY?!” and I realize she thinks I could be hurt. I didn’t mean to scare her, I just meant to find her. “I’M OKAY!” I yell back. When we finally meet, we are both smiling.
We try to skinny dip but it’s so cold it instantly ices me to the bone, and so I give up. Instead I scoot to the rocky bank backwards and dunk my head in, emerging with icy wet hair. I comb the tangles into new braids on the shore, and when I put my hat back on, I feel as if I’ve been reborn.
We eat lunch and we strategize. The water is very high, and we’re going to have to cross it multiple times. If the water gets too deep, we decide we will carry our packs on our heads. We won’t try to go fast, we’ll try to go safe.
We make our way through crystal clear blue green pools of water in the canyon floor and watch crustaceans scatter as we go. We climb up over large boulders when the water gets too deep, pull ourselves around blowdowns and spiky thorny predator trees. It is slow and it is beautiful and I am focused on the euphoria of being here in this canyon, here with Carrot. There are just so many nice things in this world to see. My whole body is made of gratitude.
We look for our way up. All around we see smooth rock, and after hours of boulder skimming and water walking, we see chunky stairs of grey mossy rock slab. Climbing out of the canyon is like climbing a wild and free set of stairs, some of them tiny and some of them giant. Minuscule cairns dot the way up and when we hit the top I am both exhausted and excited. Fucking NATURE, man!!!!!!!!! Heck yeah!!!!!!!
I hiked ten miles between 7 and 11:30AM. Since then, we have gone 2.5 miles more and when I look at my phone it is almost 5:00. “All miles are not created equal!” Carrot proclaims and I nod. That is the truth if I’ve ever heard it.
We go just a few miles more. I listen to Enya, we hike to water. I sing along, we hike to camp. I am happy the whole way, pleased as can be with our foreshortened day, with the easy walking and the hard walking and the rocks and the canyon walls and the water and my whole life, really.
📍The Mogollon Rim trail is on Yavapai, Western Apache, Hopi and Hohokum land. I am a grateful guest.