Janna and I woke up to the inside of the Triplex completely rigid with iced condensation. That’s the thing about single-walled shelters - they boast awesome weights but condensation is always an issue. Especially when cold freezes it into sheets. But this time, the sheet of ice was also on the outside from the rain turned frozen last night.
Slipping out into the daylight, we hiked for a while before finding a wildlife tank with fence we jumped. After getting water, we walked down the trail which stuck to the edge of the plateau paralleling Walnut Canyon below. And with the signature of a sign, we officially entered Walnut Canyon National Monument. The cliff dwellings are situated down in the canyon via access by the National Monument entrance. We had talked previously about going there, but (since we already have) our time table was tight today, we crossed the main road, and continued on the AZT towards Flagstaff.
Janna and I had calculated out exactly how many days we needed to complete for us to be picked up in time by Darren at the Utah border and still be able to get her back in time for returning to work at her school. Given the distance left, our daily pace, and the number of days left, we had decided back in Pine that we couldn’t afford any more Zero Days. We would need to hike everyday to get the whole trail done on time. Today, we were doing a Nero, heading to Flagstaff and getting there early (still doing miles), but taking the afternoon off to rest and relax. No Zero, just a Nero, and we would be back on trail tomorrow morning. To maximize our rest/recovery today, we wanted to get to Flagstaff as early as possible to provide more hours for our legs to recover by sitting and consuming as much food as possible.
The Arizona Trail continued through the pines but then turned northwest, exiting the park and slowly entering the high grasslands west of Flagstaff. Pine gave way to juniper, juniper gave way to grass and shrub. Eventually, the trail turned north and approached Route 66. Two culvert tunnels underneath both sections brought us to the other side where the Arizona Trail abruptly turned east and headed back towards Flagstaff. By now, the San Francisco Peaks were in full view - massive and growing bigger with every step. It was so nice as the blue skies of morning held. For the past several days it seems we had been rained on intermittently once morning had passed. The sun was out in full force and we welcomed the warmth.
Heading towards Flagstaff, we ran into a retiree thru-hiker named Junco. His love of birds was emanated in his trail name. A native of Flagstaff, he gushed about living there. He bid us on and hoped to see us again on the trail. We pushed ahead, paralleling Route 66 and its corresponding railroad where several train rushed ahead of us. The trees began to appear again as we gained the flanks of the peaks. The route took us on the urban trails route, crossing us first by the city landfill, and then up a canyon and across a flat with great views of peaks. We crossed under a culvert and popped out at Elden Pueblo Ruins near the parking lot. With that, we walked across Route 66 and beelined it for the Marathon gas station there. All I wanted was ice cream. I purchased two monster ice cream cones and sat outside on the chewing gum-filled concrete sidewalk, happily putting back the calories while calling for a Lyft.
The Lyft driver showed up and we apologize for our smell and appearance, requesting a trip to drop us off at REI. Once there, it was time for us to switch shoes as the rough granite had destroyed my Hokas. Plus, my feet had been swelling laterally leading to the blood blisters on the top of my big toes. I loved the cushion and wanted some cushion, but alas Altra Olympus were out of stock. I got some Lone Peaks instead, which did just fine the rest of the trail and Janna got a new pair too. As I was trying them on, I saw a man race over to the shoes. He was frantic, disheveled, wearing an ultrarunning vest and a bike helmet. I ran over to him and asked him if he was racing the AZT 750. Dude…this guy was in first place. He was literally running in here to get new shoes because he blew out holes where his toes are on his cycling shoes. I had never seen that on cycling shoes before. Plus, he knew he was going to have to cross the grand canyon and wanted something he could hike in. He grabbed some La Sportiva Bushidos and wished us luck. I grabbed a quick photo with him (see photo below) before he ran out the door to rejoin the race and attempt to keep his first place position.
Our new shoes secured (and our old pairs with holes and destroyed tread thrown away), we headed out to the parking lot to be picked up by Esther. Man was it good to see her. She picked us up and we all went over to Red Curry downtown for some large salads and excellent vegan veggie rolls and curry. Stuffed, she dropped us at Safeway so we could make our next resupply before our last one at the Grand Canyon. We grabbed more ice cream there (my muscles were aching for calories) and Mike picked us up to take us back to their place. Once there, we showered FOREVER in HOT water. It was simply amazing after the cold rain the past several days. Afterwards, we all sat in the living room talking about life and exchanging stories. As evening came on, the four of us headed downtown to Annex for burgers and drinks. Some of my former students and now college attendees (Catherine, Ana, and Malleni) came to meet us. It was great to catch up, have long conversations about life, and see everyone again while eating unholy amounts of food. Stuffed and content with chance to connect, we headed back to Esther and Mike’s place. Despite the late hour, Janna and I still had to wash and clean gear, do laundry, repackage food, and prep for the next section. Up until nearly midnight, we finally crawled into bed later than we had stayed up in weeks, exhausted but satisfied.