Waking up with light coming over us, Janna and I ate a cold but sunny breakfast behind the abandoned water tanker from last night. Chris had been up early and had caught up to us; he was now filling up water from the cattle trough. He peaced out quickly as he was eager to get to Oracle, AZ where his wife was waiting to meet him.
The morning’s hike was leisurely and beautiful, a nice graded downhill in contrast to the steep descent yesterday. Flowering shrubs along the trail gave off a great odor, perfuming the air. The AZT crossed into lower foothills and made its way by High Jinx Ranch - a National Historic Site that was once the home of Buffalo Bill Cody and his gold mine. Now, it’s a Bed and Breakfast and a well-known AZT thru-hiker service site with water and a place to camp. We passed through after looking at the buildings, crossed a paved highway leading out of Oracle, and made our way towards American Flag Trailhead. The TH here has an awesome Arizona Trail post we took obligatory pictures at. In a way, it sits just south of the northbound 200 mile mark on the AZT, a stepping stone in itself. With that, we passed the two hundred line and made our way into Oracle State Park.
I love Oracle State Park and it was here, two years prior, that I split my patellar tendon towards the end of the Oracle Rumble Ultramarathon on the AZT. It holds…certain poise and reverie in my mind. The register at the entrance to Oracle State Park contained the names of everyone ahead of us on the trail, via their trail names. After some deliberation, Janna and I had settled on the trail names of Radar (Janna) and Coati (Forrest) and recorded them here. I’ve got nothing against trail names; it was something we both did here, a piece of thru-hiking culture used in American long-distance trails and fun. However, I still feel to this day divided over whether I would use a Trail Name in the future. Often, hikers ask my name and I say “Forrest,” only to have them think that is my Trail Name, not my real name - something I try to explain later. Coati and Radar would bookend this moment and the end of the trail. Soon after, we caught up to Chris was very excited to see his wife. We laughed, took some pics, and bid him adieu as he was waiting at a road crossing for her.
Making our way through Oracle State Park, I was floored again to see the vast blooms of early spring flowers - mallows and poppies everywhere. I thought the flowers were stunning. Little did I know that what we saw now would be nothing compared to the veritable superbloom, spurred by the massive El Nino winter snowpack and rain/water availability), we would walk through in a few day’s time. The trail crisscrossed the park, creosote and sage verdant green into the distance. We approached the underpass to Highway 77, memories returning of me hunched over, knee cracking, only a few years before at the end of that race. Passing our way to the other side, everything now was hiking the AZT in reverse of the Oracle Rumble. We walked our way up the partially paved road that waited on the other side.
The desert looked green, truly green, from the views afforded us. Ocotillos were in full leaf. A camp of locals sat outside their SUVs nearby, scoping deer and remarking on the crazy abundance due to the plentiful winter. At Tiger Mine Trailhead, we stopped and were picked up by van by Marney. She and her husband, Jim, are the incredible trail angels who won the Chalet Village Motel in Oracle, AZ. They stock water, bring candy, and take amazing care of hikers. She gave us Laffy Taffy, stuffed our gear in the trunk, and drove us back to the motel. There, it seemed every room was booked by a thru-hiker, including Chris and his wife. We settled in with showers, the first in nearly two weeks, and then met up with Chris to get some pizza down the road. I ate SO MUCH PIZZA. It was insane. The four of us laughed, had some good conversations, and Chris’ wife drove us back to the motel where we passed out in the beds.