Total Miles: 315.0
Diverse. That’s the word that kept rattling through the recesses of my brain while following the now red ribbon of trail beneath my feet. Gently rising and falling far more frequently than at any preceding mile of the trail thus far, we traversed around drainages and ascended over small shoulders of ridges before descending to a neighboring wash.
Along the way, the scenery changed from moment to moment like a chameleon. White limestone one minute, red sandstone the next. Shade courtesy of ponderosa pines around one bend, the unfriendly sharps of Sonoran scrub oak and catclaw basking in the sun around the next. Massive alligator juniper with their trademark reptilian checkerbark in one depression beneath a saddle rife with agave.
The shadows of morning grew shorter as the sun swung overhead, always sooner than I expect it, owing to the fact that Arizona largely does not recognize daylight saving time. Our next town stop of Pine was getting closer with every minute, and I began thinking not only of what I wanted to stuff my face with but of showering and taking stock of miscellaneous aches and pains and how best to speed their recovery while in town.
It’s one of the most common questions people ask about hikes like these: what if (fill in the blank with your favorite medical problem) happens? It even came up during the Q&A portion of a recent talk earlier this summer. The answer I try to give is multi-layered, beginning with prevention and ending with the idea that successful long distance hikers don’t pack their fears, nor do they merely pack things to deal with every conceivable scenario. Instead, they pack skills, as many as is humanly possible—the lightest and most powerful of commodities.
The shorter answer to the question: we improvise. Need to close a fine wound and you’re fresh out of tape and bandages? Reach for the superglue. Gauze just flew away on the breeze as you’re trying to clean up a gash? Heat a needle, poke holes in the cap of your water bottle to make a quick and dirty irrigator, rinse and pack it with what you have: strips of clean clothing or even sphagnum moss (naturally antiseptic) if it happens to be around. Poison oak rash? Find some Jewelweed—it often grows right next to the poisonous stuff and contains a natural antidote in its translucent stem. Broke a bone or sprained a knee/ankle? Those trekking poles and sleeping pad you’re schlepping around can make one hell of a splint.
The point is that the overwhelming majority of things you’re likely to encounter on the trail aren’t scary to deal with at all so long as you think outside the box. Of course, all of that sounds well and good, but like a chef to whom a knife is foreign or a musician who can’t play the notes on the page, it’s pretty tough to improvise anything if you don’t know the basics. Enter: Wilderness First Aid certification, or better yet, Wilderness First Responder. Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure my certification has lapsed...what was it I was saying about the importance of skills?
Fortunately for Ace and I, the maladies we’ve been nursing recently have been pretty much the garden variety. An MCL that hasn’t fully gotten the memo about walking everyday. A toenail of Ace’s waiting to pop open like a jack-in-the-box. A blister now happily draining thanks to thread running through it. All easily managed with the contents of a comparatively tiny first aid kit weighing only an ounce or two. All even happier at the prospect of a bit of rest.
Returning to Pine is also a return to the familiar, the same place we’d ended our hike on a section of the Mogollon Rim Trail two years ago. The rusted sign greeting us at the trailhead hadn’t aged a bit since we’d last stood in front of it.
Turning our steps away from the trail and down the pavement towards the main highway, we played a brief game of Frogger to reach the other side before climbing a small rise that revealed our destination. Waiting just steps ahead was THAT Brewery, flush with—what else?—Arizona Trail Ale ready to greet us.