We set our bedrolls out to cowboy camp a few hundred feet above our tenaja, but mosquitos plague Carrot, zinging at her ears and biting at her face while I gently snooze beside her. Carrot wakes me to set up our shelter in the dark, and I am useless and dopey in my half asleep slumber. Eventually, we settle back in.
I toss and turn through my final hour of sleep, and I wake up grumpy. Everything is fine, there’s nothing wrong at all really, and still I am a dark hole of grumpiness.
I caffeinate. I eat my oatmeal, adding in freeze dried blueberries to cheer myself and it works, a little. I tell jokes with Carrot, who is not grumpy per se, but definitely more tired than usual too. We look at our water notes and see today will be long carries or stock ponds exclusively and I try not to let it get to me. Water is water is water right?! We’re in the dang desert.
Finally, we are packed and ready to go. Our bags remain heavy, but less heavy then yesterday and we decide to meet at another tenaja just seven miles away for lunch.
Today, our terrain is rocky and our trail indistinct. There are so many ways to be a rock, it turns out! Some rocks are more pleasant then others (I’m a fan of big uniform smoothy bois. They’re easy for stepping!) but today’s rocks are solidly middle of the road. They’re jabby, but they don’t wrench my ankles. They’re everywhere, but don’t quite make the terrain overly punishing by forcing you into cat’s claw or prickly pear. Today’s rocks are medium fine and that’s good enough for me.
Still, I am slow. I go 1.5 miles in 1.5 hours, in fact and when I find Carrot under a tree we agree that we’re going to need to pick up the pace to like, get anywhere. But how does one hike faster then they can hike? Therein lies the question, dear reader.
Luckily, we’re all descents today and the trail becomes more obvious, perfectly clear and 12 inches wide. Cairns dot the way. It gets warmer as we go lower and I am sweating. I feel hot spots on my feet, but we’re so close to lunch I decide to wait. Just around the bend I find Carrot tucked away above two beautiful tinajas (minimal mosquito larvae!) filling up her bottles.
We set a timer for 45 minutes and take off our shoes to air our feet and tape hot spots. We purify our water, a slightly yellow earth broth with just a few bugs. We drink electrolyte powder and eat caffeinated jelly beans and eventually the alarm goes off and we pack up.
We are about to start a climb, one with an awkward connector to our next stretch of trail, according to the creators of the MRT. we speculate what awkward could mean. You climb while farting in front of your crush? You climb while getting caught pants down and wiping your ass by a day hiker? You climb with, like, really bad breath just before a first kiss?
It’s hard to say.
The tread is mercifully flat, elevation wise, but lumpy under the feet– like the cows made a conceptual art project with their hooves and red mud, just after an intense flash of rain. We walk toward the gate that is the threshold to our climb, we’re chatting merrily about foods we have eaten and foods we will eat in the future, and my left ankle rolls out beneath me, sliding sideways into a loud pop.
I yelp and fall to the trail. Carrot is with me on the ground, asks me what I need and I’m crying but I say I need nothing, that we should keep walking. I move forward, unsure of the l extent of the damage, and when the tread turns to rocks again, I tear up. My ankle hurts. I could keep going, but it’s not a good idea.
“It’s nice out, we should go swimming anyway” Carrot says.
We backtrack to a drainage that has become a blessed roaring river and strip off our clothes. I ice my ankle in the river. We wash our chafe and we google our options on sun dappled shore.
Turns out, we’re 2.5 miles from the Village of Oak Creek, and they have a Chinese restaurant. We are suddenly so hungry that we’re faint, just the mere mention of Chinese food makes me forget I ever ate lunch at all. Gently, we walk to a road with a visitor’s center and hitch a ride into town in a truck bed full of cases of apples and coolers of fish.
The food is transcendent. It is the best Chinese food I’ve ever had. I eat my whole plate of tofu in black bean sauce with extra broccoli in record time and then I order another, like the greedy greedy hiker that I am. We tape my ankle with KT tape back at the visitor’s center, pitch our tent just down the bend, and settle in.
I’ll try again tomorrow I think as I drift off.
I’m hoping for the best.
📍The Mogollon Rim trail is on Yavapai, Western Apache, Hopi and Hohokum land. I am a grateful guest.