I wake up covered in sand.
There’s sand in my sleeping bag, there is sand on my pee bandana. There’s sand in my ears, there’s sand between my toes. I slap my socks against a rock and they spray great bursts of grainy sand.
We’re still in this canyon! The confluence of the two creeks both is and is not long. It’s just 12 miles! It’s 12 of the slowest miles I think I’ve ever done. I feel like I am in a fever dream, one where we’ve been walking in this water for lifetimes, generations, eons. It is almost laughable to wake and still be….right by the water.
We make our way up the canyon, its great walls shading us as we go. Our notes tell us that we may be able to pick our way up and out of the canyon early, and we want to, if nothing else than for a change of pace. Carrot reads topo lines much better than I do, and when she looks at our maps she sees some suggestion in the gestures around Hobo Canyon. Maybe we’ll be able to climb up and out there?!
We try. We pull ourselves up and over great boulders, out of the shade and onto the ridges. The rock piles grow more and more vast and eventually we get rocked out entirely, unable to go up any more. We attempt to climb out again on some slopes down the canyon and soon it is so steep that I become afraid. We are hikers, not climbers! We gently lower ourselves back to the canyon again.
Damnit. We’re stuck.
Except we’re not! We walk through the water for just a short time more, and then we see the sign for the trailhead that is supposed to lead us up and out. The sign buoys my spirits, but there’s no real trail to go with it and I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
I fill up four liters of water before committing to a search, and silently I scream. MRT, you are such a motherfucker!!!!!!
Separately, we walk small circles and zig zags searching for the trail. Beads of sweat pour down my back, my mouth is completely dry. I begin to imagine scenarios where I just live in the canyon now, where I have no choice but to stay here forever and build an entire life. Eventually, I do find the trail and I start climbing.
Thank the fucking goddess.
Our final climb to the New Mexico border is rocky, steep, exposed, and relentless. The temperature in the closest town reads 90 degrees and I have no idea if that’s accurate here, but it sure feels like it. I try to both remember to regularly drink water and also not drink too much, too fast. Our only water sources from here on out are shitty stock ponds, and what I have in bottles may be hot, but at least it’s clear.
There’s hardly any shade and we eat our lunch cowering under a mesquite tree, trying to avoid the sun as it shifts toward us, ever creeping. Carrot heads out ahead of me and I text with Emma and Billie— our beautiful friends are picking us up, right at the Arizona/New Mexico border, just as soon as we can make it. I don’t know what I did to deserve such a thing but imagining them as we finish gives me a tiny bit of fire. I need to get my ass in gear or I am never going to see Emma and Billie.
I push. I push up the hill and I push my discomfort away. I look at the GPS and it says I’m off trail. I attempt to course correct and I find myself bushwhacking through dense hot forest, up steep ridges with no clear path in site. I feel like I can’t breathe. My tongue feels thick, I don’t know where the fuck to go or how the fuck to get there. I search my brain, sift through all of the skills I’ve built over the last 36 days.
I find nothing.
I sit under a tree and have myself a small panic. I sob, open mouth guttural cries of confusion and heat and frustration and something that feels so lonely it cuts me like a knife. I have no idea what’s happening, now or later. I don’t know what the future holds. I feel scared.
I retrace my steps, go back to the spot I was at— the perfect trail looking line the GPS called “off”. I realize that my first path was probably right, that it was my track that was off, not my steps. I am a deflated balloon, climbing post panic. I know this will all be done soon, but I have miles and miles to go and I can’t imagine finishing. The concept just won’t crystalize in my brain.
Our climb unceremoniously ends. The trail is clear now, and winds downward through shady forest. I am mad at myself for not finishing this positively, and I try to barb the shitty thoughts from my mind. I know I don’t have to finish an extremely hard thing with a smile on my face! It sucks that it sucks, but I don’t have to make it suck more by being mean to myself. I want to be my own friend. It doesn’t come naturally to me. I think about that while I walk.
I find Carrot one mile before the state’s border and I ask her if she’d like to finish together. We’re both physically and emotionally exhausted, and we’re pretty quiet while we walk. Every once in awhile we talk about our dogs or what we’ll do in Tucson. The sun starts to set, painting everything golden. I feel emotional.
We aren’t sure where Emma and Billie are, but we climb a dirt road and turn around a bend. They’re there with a box of gluten free donuts and Billie’s dog, Frankie. Frankie bounds toward us, winding her tail in circles like a propeller. I am truly speechless.
I fold my trekking poles to put in the Suburu. I take my hiking shoes off, and attempt to shove my swollen stump feet into the slip on vans that Emma and Billie have brought me. They don’t fit of course, but I don’t care. We get in the car, talk about going to Carl’s Junior. We ask about our friends in Tucson, we drive on sketchy dirt roads.
I am happy and sad all at the same time.
📍The Mogollon Rim trail is on Yavapai, Western Apache, Hopi and Hohokum land. I am a grateful guest