Today is a zero day. I will not hike one mile today except for food and supplies and my feet will be able to heal a bit. For a decent breakfast with WIFI, there is a cute cafe just around the corner. As soon as I enter the “Gathering Grounds”, I hear “Hi Carola!” Emilie is sitting there. Emilie, who had left Patagonia yesterday. She tells that she can barely walk. She has a huge blister on her big toe, which hurts terribly and has to be treated before she can hike again. And she talks about her last three days. Immediately, after we parted ways on the second day, she got lost so that she had to be driven back to the trail by the Border Patrol. Then the next day she ran out of water and she had to steal from a private water cache. Then she kicked a stone with her foot, so she could barely walk. She will be driven by somebody to the next bigger place today to treat her toe and then move on. When I see her getting up, I have my doubts about the plan.
I spend the evening in a cute trailer with a little garden and a front porch, which I had booked for two nights. The only hotel in Patagonia has been fully booked for months, but I’m not sad about that because the trailer is just perfect for me. There is a tall tree juts across the street where at least 40 vultures arrive for the night. The host gives me his phone number in the afternoon. For any illegal activities or other problems when I’m alone on the trail.
Arizona and its mountains
After a day without a trail miles, it’s 8 o’clock in the morning on the next hard stage is waiting. According to my navigation app there are 2.700 vertical feet to overcome over 16 miles. However, this calculation is based on the original route. Due to mining activities, the road is blocked and the trail was relocated. The bypass leads over small ridges, river beds with some bushwacking at the end and is roughly a mile longer than the original part. Before having break at a small stream we hike together with a family of four who are on a weekend trip. Since a nasty climb is still ahead, we say goodbye to them: “See you at the Bear Spring.”
What follows is a climb to the Santa Rita in burning heat. The trail follows a gravel road for a long time with some 15% slope. Such “roads” consist mainly of boulders.
Like a snail I fight my way forward feet by feet. It will be uphill for more than four hours. At some point, the Arizona Trail leaves the gravel road and it follows a small path to the mountain saddle. “Poor Bob,” I think, he will struggle with his 62 years. For me, the shaded mountain path is the deserved reward for the road torture. Shortly after 5 pm I finally see the redeeming metal sign for Bear Spring. From a pipe, the spring water trickles into a huge, moss-coated metal tank. There is a small stream right next to it and a spot for a small tent. Perfect!
One and a half hours later, when I gather pinecones for the campfire, the first member of the family finally arrives. Only because there was no alternative, they dragged themselves to this point.
“You are from Germany!”
At 6:22 am I wake up at sunrise, as I do every morning, but I don’t hike before 9 am. Unbelievable, how much time you can waste in the morning. Waking up in the cold (40 degrees) I don’t want to get out of the sleeping bag. Some necessary hygiene, making fire for coffee and porridge, having breakfast, packing everything, peeling off the sleeping clothes, combing and braiding hair, smearing with sunscreen, all devices on tracking mode, hiking. That takes time. And if I don’t want to leave a beautiful place, the process takes even more time.
After about 3 miles, the family of four appears again in front of us. We decide to walk the last 3 miles together and chatter about all sorts of outdoor stuff. On the way we meet a day hiker. Without saying a word, he says to me:
“You are from Germany!”
Yes. For sure. But is it so obvious even without saying a word?
“I follow your journey on Instagram!” Ah, I now see and I am a little embarrassed, too. Suddenly I’m the Instagram star in the group.
As the four Americans say goodbye, they give us a few more warning pieces of advice. The next section should be very dry and it will be unusually hot for the next few days. They give us their phone numbers in case there should be any problems at some point. They often read about dead hikers in the area. We gladly accept the contacts, but I try to convince them that I will be reporting from the Utah border.
After a small break and water filter action, we keep on hiking. Sometimes uphill, then down again, through many grassy areas, with an increasing number of cacti. The Arizona Trail leads to Kentucky Camp, a few buildings from the gold rush that can now be booked as primitive accommodation. Two hikers are sitting here talking German. I ask them if they are from Hamburg and if their water filter is broken. They look at me. Yeah, Facebook. In the group of this year’s Arizona Trail hikers another thruhiker had reported about the two. They will spend the night here and continue tomorrow.
Our goal for today is Bowman Spring, a questionable water source off the beaten track, but the only one, according to the app. Passing by some cows, cattle-troughs and the mountains behind us, we continue on through the grasslands over stony paths. After 16 miles my ankles start to hurt very badly. We find a small canyon with a slowly flowing stream and a beautiful camp spot in the grassland just a mile from the planned destination. A mile seems endless, when you are in pain.
8:30 pm and I cannot sleep. An owl sits in the trees somewhere over there and keeps me awake. Every ten seconds I hear “Hehehehehe” and I cannot stop listening to it. Also, my feet hurt even lying on the sleeping pad. Half an hour later, the bird is gone and I am sleeping happily with an ibuprofen to the sound of the small stream.