Total Miles: 702.5
The overgrown grass of an epic monsoon season now seems to coat every hillside. At daybreak, the sun turns it all a golden, buttery hue that is difficult to forget. A brief window of time where it feels like you are seeing things as they truly are, saturated in colors that will soon be washed away by a sun ascending to its throne high in the sky.
Still other things show their beauty just the same, regardless of lighting...
Like a channel carved from a sea of grass, we followed the trail on its course toward the heart of the Santa Rita Mountains. Once home to grand visions of riches fanned by a fever for gold that never came, the Santa Ritas are now home to a National Forest, a Wilderness Area, and a history of mining—of wealth spent rather than gained. Aside from the occasional report of a distant hunter’s rifle, the only sound was the crunch of stone beneath our steps and a slight breeze playing music through the dried grasses.
Coming the other direction up the trail toward us, John and his trusty four-legged sidekick, Cooper, greeted us and got right down to business: the business of telling us about the trail magic he had prepared just 2 miles ahead. Living in the nearby town of Green Valley, John and Cooper make a daily ritual of driving up into these very hills and starting their day with a hike—a hike that always begins with restocking a cooler full of goodies for AZT hikers. After giving us the latest status of water sources between here and our final town stop, we set off in the direction of the cooler and the treasure it held. What we found two miles later did not disappoint.
Two chairs, a cooler, and a trash bag. Sometimes it is the simplest things that are the most satisfying. Inside, a smorgasbord: soda, juice, beer, bananas, apples, clementines, cookies, candy, fresh doughnuts, energy bars, floss, antacids, and Q-tips—a hygiene luxury that might as well be the trail equivalent of going to the spa.
We sat and snacked, enjoying the simple diversity of tasty treats stashed in a single cooler. It may not have been 8:00 in the morning, but my eye kept returning to one thing in particular: beer.
See, I have a confession to make: frowned upon as it is in polite society, day drinking—if it can even be called that when it happens before the day has truly begun—carries none of the same baggage here. Like a kid happily eating candy for dinner and thinking nothing of it, I shrugged my shoulders and reached into the cooler for one of the cold Bud Lights, looking around as if some actual adult ought to give me permission to do what I was about to do.
Truth be told, this isn’t the first time this has happened. Whether it was Coors Light along the L.A. aqueduct on the Pacific Crest Trail, or whiskey and Pepsi on the Continental Divide Trail, there’s something about an adult beverage early in the morning that’s hard to pass up on the trail. Whether a tiny rebellion against arbitrary societal norms, the novelty of it, or—more likely—because anything either refreshing or containing calories feels like a siren song too difficult to resist, I sat in that chair satisfied as though beer for breakfast was as normal as bacon and eggs.
Fueled for the day ahead, we ventured further into the Santa Ritas, gradually leaving behind the rolling hillsides of golden grass in favor of the oak-shaded slopes of Mount Wrightson. On its far side, one long descent divides us from one last resupply stop and a final push to the border.