The pattern repeats. All ascents one day. All descents this day. I woke up very grateful for the awesome campsite we had last night. We were dry, sheltered from the wind and rain. Today looked clear weather-wise, but the morning was ridiculously cold. We got up, scraped a layer of frosted ice off our tent, and got moving for warmth. We crossed over Shake Spring and got that frigid water on the toes to help us move along. The trail swept in and out of valleys and we passed many backpackers in various campsites the closer we got to Four Peaks Road. With that, we stumbled past a beautiful site onto the road. That road. I hadn’t been up here in several years - the last time with Reed when we summited. We were up on Four Peaks!
Feeling pumped, the AZT followed the road. On either side, we could glimpse far off views of either Roosevelt Lake to the east or the Fountain Hills and the Phoenix metropolitan area to our west. It seemed so crazy to see our city and yet be so very far from it. Eventually, the road split with a spur leading all the way back down to Roosevelt. We took the high fork, left Maricopa Country, and officially entered Gila County. Now, the morning was looking beautiful. With that, we exited the Four Peaks Wilderness and took a picture to commemorate having walked up here.
Many AZTers would complain about road walks. They hated walking on forest roads, saw it as drudgery, or perhaps hard on their feet. Maybe it’s the significant gravel grinding we do, or the fact that Arizona is covered in literally thousands of miles of dirt roads, but Janna and I LOVED it. We relished the change in walking terrain, having gone from rocky singletrack to smooth dirt. The road kept high, undulating over small rises. Low clouds passed quickly overhead. After a couple of hours, we turned to see a ball of cloud building into the upper atmosphere over the Four Peaks. Rain - the ever present afternoon threat at elevation. The forest road sauntered through large exposed sections with rocky outcrops reminiscent of Joshua Tree, fell across shallow round valleys with good camping, and then snaked through a large forest of ponderosa pine. A few ATVs and trucks passed us - people out enjoying the weather and views.
Clouds come rolling overhead, fast, thick, and low. Blue sky and cloud. The sense of rain.
We walked through a ponderosa pine forest for a while before the road made a broad turn and descended. With that, the ridge became a flank and the flank let us see out into the Tonto National Forest again. The hulking mass of Mt. Ord stood before us. We walked down the road, enjoying the shade now as the day heated up. I was sweating profusely, and then suddenly, was in pain.
Now here is my disclaimer. If you’re going to read this, you get to read the whole truth about backpacking. That includes the unfortunate things that happen to your body when you’re moving it great distances. Things rub. Blisters happen. And in this case, I got a massively terrible case of butt chafe. Literally, like Satan was rubbing his hot fingers across the tender insides of my cheeks. I had been ignoring it all morning, but now the pain came screaming up my ass. I stopped.
“Janna, I can’t walk. Oh my god. My butthole is itchy and BURNING.”
Janna, my lovely wife, calmly put up with everything that followed. I dropped my pants in the middle of the road and she looked.
“Don’t panic Forrest, but there is blood.”
IMMEDIATE PANIC ENSUED. My mind raced to the most logical (at the time) of possibilities. Anal fissures. Why anal fissures? For no other reason than that episode of The Office where Dwight reads off people’s healthcare issues, only to say anal fissures is fake before Kevin says he has them - Dwight’s embarrassment ensues.
I am Kevin. I have anal fissures.
The whole time I’m freaking out, Janna is like: YOU DO NOT HAVE ANAL FISSURES.
I pull out my cell phone and find 1 bar of reception. I immediately Google Image “anal fissures.” Only one photo loads…of a diagram…that plays havoc in my mind. Meanwhile, Janna is like: YOU DO NOT HAVE ANAL FISSURES. I shuffle down the road a bit more. More images load. Dude…insane.
And clearly, based on these photos, I do not have anal fissures.
Instead, I have a terrible case of salt causing friction causing raw skin and severe butt chafe. I thoroughly wash and rinse the area, let it dry, and apply some balm to keep the friction down. We descend further down and exit the ponderosa woods back into the desert. The high thornscrub-shrub interface forms around us. At a switchback in the road, we stop for a break, and for me to expose my butt for some air and drying. Janna called Kristin to check-in on our resupply for tomorrow in Sunflower. Kristin is tremendous teacher at Janna’s school who has agreed to come out and meet us along Highway 87 to bring us a resupply of food. As Janna’s talking on the tenuous reception, I ask her to ask Kristin, with complete humility with no questions asked, to bring (1) a bottle of Desitin/diaper rash cream, (2) a tube of Preparation H, and (3) baby wipes. I am FOREVER indebted to Kristin for literally bringing the creams of the gods. Honestly, and I mean honestly, the pain was so bad, that I thought it likely that I might need to quit the trail. The diaper rash cream and hemorrhoid cream I would receive tomorrow would be my elixirs until the end of the trail.
Mid-day (and slowly now that my butt chafe has led to delicate walking and a careful pace), the AZT split from the forest road and led down into the desert. Switchbacks in the sun and lizards everywhere. The Arizona Trail eventually met a tributary of Sycamore Creek. Water flowed clear and cold through a rocky riparian zone. We stopped several times to rest, soak our feet in the cold water, and KEEP MY BUTT DRY AND CLEAN. Our pace was leisurely as we were close to our stop and we had a preplanned meetup tomorrow. High grasses spread over the land as the sun slanted in the sky.
Janna and I were walking along, talking about that thru-hiker named Legend we had met before back in the Santa Catalinas. He had announced via Instagram and FKT.com that he was attempting to do an unsupported FKT on the Arizona Trail. This was a big deal. When we passed him going southbound on Mt. Lemmon, he was merely using a few hundred miles to warm up his legs and body before turning around at the border and heading northbound to set the FKT. I had been following his attempt via Instagram to see where he was. Based on his current pace, we laughed about running into him. With that, we heard an “Excuse me,” only to turn around and there he was! He stopped to talk to us for a minute, I caught a photo of him, and he (with slurred words of exhaustion) told us how beautiful the desert was. With that, he hiked ahead us with his tiny pack and was gone. In a few days, he would indeed set the Fastest Known Time on the Arizona Trail. Unsupported, he hiked all 800 miles from the US/Mexico border to the Utah border in 15 days, 13 hours and 10 minutes at a pace of over 50 miles a day on average.
We arrived at Sycamore Creek in the early evening. It had a deep, beautiful, and large flow. More stream than creek, we hiked to a campsite up a hill nearby. There, we hunkered down for the night, looking forward to diaper rash cream, good food, and seeing friends tomorrow morning.