AZT: Pine to Flagstaff

Posted on: Sunday June 19, 2022 AZT Hiking

Pine is a mile off trail, and I walk in on the highway. I quickly spot a breakfast restaurant with a patio, and throw my bag down. In minutes, there’s a plate of bacon, eggs, toast and hashbrowns in front of me. My appetite has been quiet on this section, but it suddenly roars. I blink and the food is gone.

I can’t find a place to sleep or shower in Pine, but there’s a little laundromat. My shirt is crusty with dried sweat, and I’ve been wearing the same socks for almost a week. I wash everything that I can, and hope that my dip in the river the other day will be enough to get me to Flagstaff in four days. I swing by the supermarket for more food, where I find Sarah pushing her backpack around in a cart. She’s got an expensive little cabin in town, but not until tomorrow night. She’s going to hike back to the trailhead, sleep there, then hike back to town in the morning. I’d thought about doing a few miles past the trailhead, but quickly decide that a friend trumps miles.

I persuade her to stop for pizza on the way out of town. Overly full, the mile to the trailhead is suddenly difficult. I just want to sleep in the ditch on the side of the road. Somehow I make it without puking. We sit at the trailhead, waiting for it to get dark enough to set up our sleeping bags, since camping here isn’t entirely allowed. A family of elk wanders around the picnic tables, clearly used to being fed. They walk right up to us, nuzzling at our packs, until we chase them away.

Coyotes howl all night, keeping me awake. I resolve never to camp so close to town: this is the second time this has happened to me, and sleep is hard enough on this trail. I contour around the base of the Mogollon rim in a daze. I make it until noon, then try and nap in the shade of a massive ponderosa. I don’t sleep, but I feel a little better by the time I get up again. I hike until the day cools, then climb up towards the rim. The trail is steep, but a river chases itself down the hill, tumbling into waterfalls lined with green ferns. It’s a strange oasis in this transition between desert floor and high pine forest.

I crest the rim just as the sun sets. I hike away, and find a spot softened by fallen needles. The temperature plummets. I’ve hiked out of the worst of the heat. Finally, I sleep. It’s still cool in the morning as I follow a creekbed. This high up, the heat is blunted, and shade dapples the trail. There’s still not a lot of water, but the issue seems less pressing when it’s this cool.

The trail is suddenly cruisey: easy, flat, the painful rocks just a memory. I hike fast while the wind bends the pines above me. At lunch, there’s a bear box stuffed with cached water and soda. I sit in the shade and drink a sprite, then grab a coke for the morning. Fueled by sugar, the afternoon passes in a blur. By the time the sun sets, I’ve done 27 miles, which feels easier than many of the past 20 mile days.

I don’t sleep as well again, but the soda I’ve been carrying since yesterday wakes me up just fine. The terrain is more of the same: flat, easy, unremarkable. I pass 500 miles marked in sharpie on a fallen tree, only pausing to take a photo since I have to sit on the tree to climb over it anyway. I stop after a marathon. Is this how the rest of the trail will be? Marathons to the Utah border?

The pines start to bleed together. There’s not much to mark the passing of the miles, just endless rough bark, raised into contour lines around reddish trunks, and soft needles. I’ve dreamed of this for so long: gentle shade and easy miles. But now I’m bored. The only thing that distinguishes today from yesterday is trail magic. There’s a white RV with sharpied trail names decorating the sides. The owner is out hiking, but there’s a cooler with soda and cliff bars set out front with strict instructions to help yourself. I grab a coke for the morning, then finish off my marathon to camp seven miles outside of Flagstaff.

It’s an easy seven miles to town in the morning. I find a cheap motel, with an owner who lets me shower in a dirty room long before check in. I drink coffee until my head spins and try to catch up on calories. Flagstaff isn’t the last town stop- there’s a little grocery store on the edge of the Grand Canyon- but in many ways, it feels like the last place on trail. I still have almost 300 miles left, but if they’re like the last few days, it will be over in a flash.

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Eloise Robbins (Fun Size)

About the Author

Eloise Robbins (Fun Size) is a writer, triple crown thru hiker, and adventurer. She is a lover of the outdoors, hiking, canoeing, and most of all mountains.

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