I check the clock, fearful of waking my hosts. It’s 3:11am. I think I’m going to have a hard time getting back to sleep, but by the time I’m done thinking it it’s 6:25 and my alarm is going off. I hit the snooze button and once again time twists changes slows, for me, for this moment; the ten minutes to 6:35 try to give me a few last moments of peace, of comfort.
Once I start walking, that’s likely to change.
Mark comes down the stairs shortly, and we talk more quietly than we need to for a while. He seems to sense my uncertainty and purposely keeps things light, and I’m thankful – I’m worried worried worried I’m about to attempt more than I’m ready for.
We make our way out towards the parking lot just as Pineapple and her dad pull in, and for a moment, I forget myself in high-pitched shrieking and hugs and greetings.
Then, it’s saying goodbye to Mark and hopping in the car and getting stuck in rush hour traffic – oh yeah, it’s a weekday, people are going to work. I’m trying to savor this feeling, this going fast, zooming across the landscape at high speed and also talk animatedly with Pineapple, shaking off my nerves in the way talk still comes easy between us. We find ourselves bumping down a dirt road soon enough, and we make it to the First Water Trailhead around 9am.
It always feels so strange, standing at a trailhead at the beginning of a hike, but this time, it also feels… Off. Forced. Too soon. Maybe it’s the already-significant heat of the day; maybe it’s the way that I’m not used to my pack weight yet. Or maybe it’s that I already miss home, a home that I got to oh-so-briefly experience before I traded it in for a nomad’s life once again.
It’s a strange thing, second-guessing. Stranger still, feeling like I can’t lose face, like I have to go through with this.
Two Tonto National Forest volunteers are standing at the trailhead watching us, make comments that we look prepared – one even knows the GET when we say we’re headed to Albuquerque. They ask us to stay safe, as it’s supposed to be the hottest day of the year today. Cooooool1.
All the while, Pineapple’s dad is snapping photos of us with the trailhead signs and I’m beginning to get a feeling that feels something like being overwhelmed, overstimulated. All I want is a moment
by myself to myself with Pineapple at this trailhead, and it’s busy busy busy, people coming and going and no end in sight. Finally, I have the sense to ask Pineapple’s dad to get a picture of me by myself at the trailhead, and then we’re saying our goodbyes and giving last hugs before we move down the trail for a selfie.
Then it’s off, off for realsies, down the trail.
It feels so normal as we begin, like we’re just out for a morning stroll and not for several weeks of who knows what we’re getting ourselves into. But for now, the trail is nice, I keep seeing tiny lizards scurrying out of our path, and while the general tendency is up, I’m not feeling a way about it.
Our first low, low pass feels great; on the second, we stop for a short break. I manage to get some food down, some water – I brought a little over two and a half liters for the first ten miles, and it could be I do a perfect carry. I’m talking with Pineapple and starting to feel alright about this whole thing.
But the sun continues to rise.
I’ve put on my buff to cover my hair; put up my umbrella to shield myself from the sun, and while I say we should shelter at a campsite around 5.4 miles in, as we climb and climb and climb, I’m wondering if we’ll ever get there.
The last set of switchbacks before the campsite, I’m breathing heaving in and out, my lungs legs back hips are on fire, and I can feel the gaps between individual tastebuds on my drying tongue. I don’t think I’m going to make it over this pass, let alone over 765 more miles. And I’m trying not to cry since it’s a waste of water but it’s all I want to do and I’m cursing and sputtering and somehow my legs carry me past the crest of the pass. Pineapple directs me to some shade and I all but collapse in it, wondering what exactly I’ve done.
So we sit, and we wait out the heat.
Pineapple consoles me while we wait – she’s been hiking a lot more than I have in the interim, and she regales me with some of her adventures while I lay prone, and try to drink-not-drink my water. Better in me than carrying it on me, as they say, but I’m still worried about the four miles we have left to water. Well, the three miles we have left to water. Apparently, silly heat-addled Zuul passed by the campsite at the bottom of the switchbacks.
Quite the start we’re off to.
The air noticeably warms at 3p and noticeably cools around 4p, so we decide to strike out from our spot, where the shade has shifted and shrunken noticeably in the hours we’ve sat there. I’m feeling better – or alright, at least – though my mood sours again as we go less than a quarter of a mile to find a natural rock garden and oh-so-much beautiful shade. I guess that’s what we get for starting in a heat wave.
So it’s down and then up again to Charlesbois Spring, whiling away the three miles by pretending we’re not still melting out of our skins.
We worry as we take the spur trail that Charlie Boy, as it’s pronounced, is actually dry – the info from the water report is nearly a month old – but the further back we take the trail, the more water we see. The more algae-covered water, alive with bugs and the sound of peeping amphibians. There is life in the desert, if you know where to look.
Just the sight of this water tickles something in the back of my throat, makes me feel like dumping the meager contents of my stomach, but I’m nearly out of water. So I swirl my bottle’s end gently around in the water, pushing the algae away from where I eventually collect without stirring up whatever’s at the bottom. I come up with relatively clear water, and I’m thankful that I have a Sawyer Mini to filter through. I don’t know how much more this day has left to give me, let alone how much more I can take.
It’s still hot, so hot – how is it this hot after 5pm? – and the nausea I’ve been nursing since staring at Charlie Boy is lingering for funsies. Or maybe that’s what heat feels like when it builds up in your veins.
We cross a wash and stumble onto some campsites that must be bordering La Barge Spring. We’ve made it to 10.3, it’s 6:30p, and I’m not going anywhere. I drop my pack, drop my ass to the ground, and cry – I feel awful, I’ve felt awful all day, maybe this is too much. I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. Pineapple watches quietly, tosses words of commiseration my way, but there’s nothing for it but to let the tears flow. Again. Hoo boy. Here I am wasting water and I really am out of water this time, thinking a liter from Charlie Boy would get me a full 1.3 miles. What am I even doing out here?
There’s a gent in a campsite closer to the water who’s acting strangely, not making much sense; a little prodding and we learn he’s likely more heat-addled than I am – the water he’d planned on today, the water he was told was flowing, wasn’t. He takes us to the embankment on which our water sits, before retiring to his sleeping bag, muttering to himself. Well. Things could be worse, I guess.
I worry for a moment that they’ll get worse when I see who’s already at the water: a skunk, side-eyeing Pineapple something fierce. We talk at it all gentle like, trying to shoo it away – wouldn’t that just be dandy, getting sprayed by a skunk on our first day out? But it eventually sidles away, coming over to inspect our progress and hurry us along a few times as we teeter on the rotting boards over the trough, trying to get at the good stuff coming out of a metal pipe in the ground. We leave the skunk to its own devices as the sun slips over the horizon.
With my nausea, I don’t think I’ll be able to eat much, but I house two servings of instant potatoes like it’s nothing. Rough days leave you hungry, I guess.
One last chore before sleep: I have to pee, and while I notice the jumping cholla a couple yards off, I’m more focused on side-stepping my concerningly orange-ish urine than I am on the broken-off cholla joint on the ground by my foot. I don’t even have the energy to howl in pain as it not-so-gently inserts itself through my shoe into my delicate flesh. I grab a stick, get most of the cactus away from my foot, I. am. so. done.
I limp back to Pineapple to find two things: the first, that there are three spines in my foot, and three in my shoe, and they’re surprisingly deep in both places; the second, that the thing I’ve forgotten is my nice tweezers, so I have to make do with the no-grip ones from Pineapple’s Swiss Army knife. Cholla don’t play, so it’s a hard-fought battle to twist and turn them out as they try their damndest to stay right where they are. Eventually, I’m victorious, but at what cost?
WELP. HOPE THOSE WOUNDS DON’T GET INFECTED.
It’s all I can do not to throw my shoes off into the
cholla bushes in exhaustion, but I manage to spot-clean the holes in my foot I can barely see with an alcohol wipe and flop back into my sleeping bag. I’ve left the rain fly off, so I stare up at stars indifferent to my plight. Another hiker flashes his headlamp over us in the dark, and, after Pineapple freaks out at the commotion, says hello. I think his conversation with the other hiker is going to keep me awake, but finally, blessedly, there is sleep.
Start: 0.0 • End: 10.3 • Day: 10.3
Notable Accomplishments: Didn’t die • Frontloaded heat exhaustion, dehydration, and heavy packload • Survived the first day of the heatwave this really cannot be overstated
(I promise things get less sobby/self-pity-y; thanks for sticking with me!)