The lightning storm continued dryly through the night, during which, I climbed out of the triplex to watch. The sky overhead was a smack of Milky Way starlight while a silhouette of cumulus hung over the Huachucas. I freaking love desert night skies.
In the morning, after packing up, we casually ascended the rock-studded double track and found the nearby trailhead. The dirt parking lot proved just high enough to receive full LTE reception despite the distant location. Janna and I both called home to check-in with the fam. Finishing a long talk with my parents about the winter conditions on the peaks, I contacted REI and ordered some boxer briefs and insoles to be sent to Patagonia, AZ. I had been wearing Ex-Officio boxer briefs for years and brought along a heavily-used pair which now began to disintegrate on Day 3. Damn. The insoles were more annoying to me as I had been wearing Saucony Xodus Iso shoes for years, using them both for my ultrarunning in the desert and on a previous thru-hike of the John Muir Trail. Yet the arch on my right foot seized with pain in spikes after few minutes. Purchases made, we saw the trail stretch ahead over the Canelo Hills.
The Canelo Hills are a series of dry sprawling grassland hills peaked by mesquite and scrub oak. Typically dry, this passage of the AZT was honestly chock-full of water in all the washes following the snowmelt on high. Again, the biodiversity was awesome as stacked into these lower sandwiched ranges were plants such as sycamore, oak, pine, juniper, yucca, cacti, and grass. Fucking amazing.
The day heated up quickly into the low 80s. A thru-hiker caught up to us at our slower rate. Happy Joe turned out to be a triple crowner (completed in the 90s/early 00s) who had a few weeks off from work to come and do the southern 300 miles of the AZT. A great conversationalist, he asked if he could hike with us for a bit - I loved that approach and attitude towards others he had. After about a half hour, he peeled off to continue his faster pace.
Before we had left Parker Canyon Lake, we had filled up 4 L of water, unsure of the certainty of water in the hills. We were going fairly slow in an attempt to start the hike with 8-10 mile-ish days that would grow as our muscles conditioned and my knee continued strong. The 4L of water definitely were heavy, but the slower rate meant we wouldn’t hit sources as frequently and necessitated the haul. The light of day hit that sweet golden hour as the golden grass of the hills lit up in later afternoon/evening. After several passes, we started heading downward along an old dirt road following the perimeter of a barbed-wire fence.
Arriving at the first potential water spot of the evening, it was nothing a giant cattle tank empty with the irrigation control valve switch left on. The second tank had about 6 inches of stagnant and rusty water sitting in the bottom. Luckily, we found a third cattle tank a little further on that was unmarked on Guthook. The inside was filled with wet rust, but an irrigation control valve switch turned out clear and excellent water. We collected what we needed for the night and decided to camp near the dirt road as this was the only area that had a spare area of level ground.
Just as the previous night, a huge cumulus storm cluster built up with lightning flashes and drifted towards us. Shoving mouthfuls of cold-soaked beans/rice/tortillas into our mouths, we got into bed just as rain began to fall. The storm proved more electrical than wet as rain ceased pretty quickly. In the middle of the night, Janna started shaking me, asking me what that noise was. I quickly pulled out my earplugs and heard some sort of wildcat screaming and calling while walking back and forth down the dirt road in the dark next to us. Definitely made me hyperawake for a bit. Concluding it was probably a bobcat, I fell back asleep.