I awoke to the sounds of a million birds serenading me from above. Their songs echoing through the treetops a sweet balm to my spirit after the rough day before.
All the previous day I had been mentally cursing the giant “sleeping bag coat” that I’d been carrying. Not because it really represented a significant amount of weight, but it was bulky and represented both the uselessness of my actual sleeping bag and a giant pile of ridiculous. I even worried a bit that it would not be as cold at night as I had feared and I would be carrying it for naught. But waking that morning my inclusion of the puffy pile of plumage was vindicated. It had been every bit as cold as it had been at the trailhead and I needed the warmth. As odd as it sounds, being right about that decision bolstered my morale considerably.
In every way I felt better after a solid 11 hours of sleep. I was calm, much more confident and ready to make a plan. I emerged from my tent to begin the process of coffee/food/pack-up and nearly fell to the ground. My feet. Oh man my feet. The bottoms felt simultaneously bruised and stiff. Every step felt like the bottoms of my feet were made of a stiff and crinkly paper that wrinkled and crackled with every step.
I somehow managed to limp to my food bag and get started fueling myself. I sat watching the pastel pinks, purples and blues of the morning sky through the trees and listening to the birds. It was clear that a change in itinerary would need to take place. Not only were my feet a serious problem, but I had struggled to make even 12 miles the day before, nowhere near the 18 per day I would have needed to do my original plan. Consulting maps and doing some mental calculations it seemed that slicing the trip in half would be the best plan. This would put me at an accessible trail head for my pick up and I should have time to spare. This was the right decision. The sensible decision. Even still I couldn’t help feeling supremely bummed. I was already a failure at executing my plan, and I was only on day 2. The trail had been rough. Really rough. But could I really blame my excruciatingly slow pace on that? In this moment, I blamed myself.
After filtering some water I headed out for the day. Not long after launching I saw a middle aged couple hiking up a side trail to join the AZT. There are very few of these at the moment as fire, flooding and subsequent overgrowth have obliterated most of the connecting trails from the Mazatzal Divide. I inquired about where they had been and they confirmed that it was the trail down to Horse Camp Seep, the place I had hoped to find to camp the night before. I decided to go check it out anyway. Wow. Just wow. Magical water filled oasis in the desert. Little waterfalls, miniature puddles in the divots of granite, huge pools big enough to swim in. All cozied up next to a comfy tent platform under the protective canopy of tall pines.
While reveling in the beauty of this spot, wishing I could stay here to play in these pools for days, it was tempting to be angry with myself yet again. This really wasn’t much farther than the ridiculous rock strewn bench I had hacked out to sleep on the night before. I could have made it here. But oddly, I really wasn’t. The fact is, the night before I was getting downright delirious when I stopped. I was starting to make questionable decisions and was “bending the map” (a term for when you begin imagining yourself in completely incorrect places on the map despite pretty clear topographical evidence to contrary). Had I continued to this place would I have even noticed the turnoff to the camp? If so, would I have figured out that this side trail was, in fact where I needed to go? Dubious. In reality, stopping where I did, when I did had been the right call. If you are too exhausted to make good decisions, food and sleep are the best choices.
A few hours later, when stopping for a sizable snack I contemplated the joy of getting a few more ounces of food off my back and into my belly. I stared at my bulging food sack and wondered, for the four thousandth time if i had once again packed too much. My food bag was heavy. Really, incredibly heavy. I half wanted to chuck it over the mountainside and try to become a breatharian for the rest of the trip. But that would not actually work of course. I changed out the blister dressings on my feet before launching again. The band-aid brand of blister cushions are usually my favorite, but the sweat and wool sock combo keeps pulling them off. Nevertheless, I reapply and hope for the best.
When I finally make it to the base of Mazatzal Peak I feel pretty excited and accomplished. There is it! The rocky outcropping the signifies I am more than halfway through today’s walk, and the pinnacle that this passage was named for. As I come to the end of the traverse across the bottom of the peak and round the corner I see...oh crap...THAT is Mazatzal Peak. What I had just spent an hour traversing was...some unnamed rock. Oh. Boy. At least I’m laughing about these things by now.
Walking the ACTUAL base of Mazatzal Peak this time I encounter a grizzled older hiker. He is wearing hiking clothes that demonstrate a number of miles on the trail and has one of those silver hiking sun umbrella’s rigged to his backpack so he doesn’t have to carry it. In the intense sun of this particular afternoon, this looks like an incredible system. He introduces himself as “Slow-Bro” his trail name. A little while after passing Slow-Bro, I encounter a young couple. The guy is blasting music from somewhere. The urban sounds seem so incredibly odd out here. The woman hiking behind him looks to not be having a very good time. They decline to stop and chat. I’m interested in the style difference between the two encounters. Slow-bro taking his time, quietly meandering the trail and smiling joyfully at everything, taking the time to visit with fellow hikers. Then the two with their loud mobile dance party sulking down the trail, too busy to stop and chat. I imagine both groups will get to where they are going. I make my guesses as to who is having more fun.
I cruise into Bear Spring Camp in time to set my tent and catch the fading sun bouncing red off the cliffs across the way. This camp more than makes up for the silliness of the night before. Lovely tent platform nestled under trees with a gorgeous view. I can’t ask for much more.
Settling in I begin to get that mama twinge of missing my Little Bear. I try not to think about it too much, but I can’t help wanting to take him camping very, very soon.
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