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AZT 10 Year Trailaversary

Celebrating my 10 year Arizona Trailaversary!

Ten years ago today, I completed the last section of the 800-mile Arizona Trail, connecting my steps from Mexico to Utah. I hiked the trail to raise awareness for Fibromyalgia, a chronic pain condition I have had since 1997, and finished the trail on May 12th, Fibromyalgia Awareness Day. I can remember the mixture of feelings of sadness and excitement after leaving my last snack break with friends at the Kannally Ranch windmill to hike the final miles. I mostly recall the sadness, the disappointment that my big adventure was over.

AZT Completion hike 2009

Starting the last section at Tiger Mine Trailhead, 2009

Finishing the AZT 2009

Finished the Arizona Trail! Photo by Terri Gay, 2009

Because at the time, I thought that’s all I was going to get. One big adventure before settling down, having kids, and continuing the life script.

What I didn’t realize at the time, was it was the beginning of a giant life shift. Hiking and backpacking, making my own way through the desert, had opened up a whole new world to me and I wanted more.

I had done this big, rugged, scary, intimidating, unfinished long-distance trail, most of it solo. 15 months of hiking, 9 months prior to that of planning. Almost 2 years to the day that I took a hike from the American Flag Trailhead on May 7, 2007 that gave me the idea to try to hike the whole AZT.

So many spreadsheets, phone calls, journal entries, writing to organizations to support my hike, media outreach for my fibromyalgia awareness campaign and fundraiser. There were so few resources for the trail back in those days. When I first sent an email to the Arizona Trail Association for information, I got a paper packet mailed to me. 60 miles of trail remained to be built when I hiked the trail and by the time I finished it had just been designated a National Scenic Trail. Both the AZT and I have come a long way.

One thing that has not changed is my passion for sharing information and inspiring people to get on the trail themselves. That’s why this AZT Day Hikes book project for Wilderness Press is so important to me. It is my way of being a tour guide to all my favorite pieces, stories, and views on the AZT. Ten years later and I’m grateful for all the opportunities that this trail has given me – both personally and professionally.

The last piece that I hiked to complete the trail in 2009 was the Oracle passage #13, ending at American Flag Trailhead. I hiked this piece again yesterday for research for the Day Hikes book and it was a great day of reflection. I celebrated with a piece of tart cherry almond pie from the Oracle Patio Cafe.

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Kannally Ranch Windmill, AZT

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Celebratory tart cherry almond pie from Oracle Patio Cafe

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Ancient metate (grinding hole), reminder that this is the ancestral land of the Apache

Here’s a quote from my journal from that day: “It felt amazing to have finished this epic journey. I am so lucky to have been able to have this experience. I have seen breathtaking deep canyons, high peaks, amazing sunsets, and more wildflowers than I’d ever imagined. I learned a lot about myself, including the fact that I am way stronger than I thought and capable of things I’d never imagined possible. I definitely got the grand adventure that I was hoping for. ”

After all, if I could walk across the entire state of Arizona, what else could I accomplish that I previously thought unimaginable? I even got to hike the AZT again as a thru-hike, taking two and a half months on my AZT Trek in spring 2014 to raise awareness and funds for the Arizona Trail Association.

Without the Arizona Trail hike, I probably would not have been a hiking guide, a river guide, Trail Steward and Gateway Community Liaison for the Arizona Trail Association, or the owner of my own business, Trails Inspire. I now make a living promoting the outdoors through writing, photography, public speaking and trail design.

As for my fibromyalgia, I had ten years without a flare from 2006-2016. Since 2016 it has flared up from time to time and I have learned to manage it by staying active, getting outdoors in whatever way I can, and listening to when I need to take a rest.

I am grateful for my husband Brian, my Dad for being such a big part of my experience, for family, friends, and followers of my accounts and this blog. For the privilege of being able to take the time and energy to walk for 80 days to complete this journey. For companies like Summit Hut, Gossamer Gear, Huppybar and others who have believed in me and my passions. The adventures keep on coming and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

If you’d like to hear me talk about the experiences I’ve had on the Arizona Trail, I’m doing a presentation in Scottsdale for the Arizona Mountaineering Club on Wednesday, May 22nd from 7-9 pm. Details and free registration at this link.

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Happy New Year! May your 2015 be filled with fantastic adventures!

Happy New Year!!

Happy New Year!!

For New Year’s Eve I decided to celebrate in the tiny town of Oracle. It’s on the northern side of the Catalina Mountains, and I go there often both for work and play because it’s one of the 33 Gateway Communities on the Arizona Trail. It’s a small but vibrant community with an artsy feel that has many historic guest ranches. As I drove closer to Oracle, gaining elevation on Highway 77, the rain turned into fat, wet snowflakes. I checked into my beautiful room at El Rancho Robles Guest Ranch and relaxed for a couple of hours before going out for the night.

Snow starting to come down at El Rancho Robles

Snow starting to come down at El Rancho Robles

My relaxing room at El Rancho Robles Guest Ranch

My relaxing room at El Rancho Robles Guest Ranch

When I emerged from the room, there was considerably more snow and I was glad that there was a shuttle service running so that I didn’t have to brave the roads filled with scared drivers and partiers. People in Southern Arizona are really bad at driving in any kind of precipitation, but throw a little snow in there and people just can’t deal.

My first stop was the Triangle L Ranch, where there was a fun band and delicious potluck. Normally, I would have spent at least a little time wandering the grounds, but I was wearing inappropriate footwear for so much snow. The ranch holds one of my favorite events, the GLOW Festival, in the fall. Their website describes it well- “Triangle L Ranch offers comfortable accommodations, privacy, easygoing hospitality, and the charm of a rustic, historic ranch setting enhanced by a commitment to the arts.” A wonderful place. I didn’t bring my camera, but here’s a pic of one of their outdoor areas:

Triangle L Ranch

Triangle L Ranch

After a while, I went with some folks to check out the new Ore House Hilltop Tavern. Formerly Don Juan’s Bar, it has new owners and has been completely remodeled. There is a gorgeous outdoor patio and I’ll have to come back sometime when there’s not four inches of snow on the bar.

I went back to the Triangle L to ring in the New Year with some dancing. It was a really fun night, made magical by the ever-falling snow. It finally stopped around 2 am and cleared up. I was glad I took the shuttle, a bunch of folks couldn’t get out of the icy driveway and had to unexpectedly stay the night.

The next morning, I couldn’t wait to go see the Arizona Trail with snow on it. For those who know me, I am not usually a fan of snow. I grew up in the frigid Chicago suburbs and developed a disgust for the white stuff. But snow at low elevations in the desert, frosting the mountaintops as well as the cacti- that is something to see!

Saw this near another room and it made me smile

Saw this near another room and it made me smile

El Rancho Robles

El Rancho Robles

I had to scrape my windshield and windows before leaving, something I haven’t had to do in years. There were abandoned cars all over the place as I drove to the trailhead. Like I said, people can’t deal. American Flag TH was exactly the winter wonderland I’d hoped for. This was my new Sony A6000 camera’s first hike, and what a scene!

Snowy American Flag Trailhead

Snowy American Flag Trailhead

I hiked a little ways to the north, enjoying the views of the snow-capped Galiuros and giggling about snowy cholla and prickly pear. I love this part of the Arizona Trail with its boulders and expansive views. The American Flag TH is where I originally got the idea back in May 2007 to hike the Arizona Trail and will always have a special place in my heart. Who knew that a simple hike seven years ago would put my life on such an unexpected path?

American Flag Ranch

American Flag Ranch

American Flag Ranch

American Flag Ranch

Snow on Prickly Pear

Snow on Prickly Pear

Then I returned to the trailhead and hiked south on the AZT. At first, I thought I’d just hike a little way in and turn around, but once I got going I realized that I could easily hike up to the High Jinks Ranch. After a short distance, there were no more tracks and it was so beautiful to see the glittering expanse of untouched white. I’ve hiked this part of the Arizona Trail so many times, but never in the snow. It doesn’t last too long at this elevation when the sun comes out.

Snowy Arizona Trail

Snowy Arizona Trail

I approached the High Jinks Ranch and the owner, Dan, invited me in for a cup of tea. Sounded great, as it was pretty chilly outside- the clouds had come in low again. The views from the ranch are expansive and spectacular. Dan rents out a casita on the grounds, which is where I celebrated my 40th birthday last year. The High Jinks is very hiker, biker, and horseback rider-friendly and totally worth a visit if you’re on the Arizona Trail.

Approaching High Jinks Ranch

Approaching High Jinks Ranch

View from High Jinks Ranch

View from High Jinks Ranch

I eventually had to head back down the hill and back to Tucson- my dog Bailey is quite old and I don’t like to leave her at home alone for long when my husband is not around. Before leaving town, I stopped at the Oracle Patio Cafe for a slice of their heavenly pie with homemade whipped cream to go. You could say that the pie was the icing on the cake of a fantastic New Year’s celebration- what a great way to start the year!

Micro Chicken hanging out with the snowman

Micro Chicken hanging out with the snowman

At Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson, we recently released some skunks. I found this picture of one of them right before the release. Now they live at the Arlington Wildlife Area southwest of Phoenix.

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Donate to Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson

Hooded Skunk at Wildlife Rehab NW Tucson

Hooded Skunk at Wildlife Rehab NW Tucson

Free at last!

Free at last!

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I was so excited to have hiked into the American Flag Trailhead at the end of our hike down Oracle Ridge! You see, this is the very spot in 2007 where I got the idea to hike the whole Arizona Trail. I went on a hike and at the trailhead was a sign with a trail connecting all these fantastic places I’d dreamed of hiking- Saguaro NP, the Superstitions, San Francisco Peaks and Grand Canyon. It was the hike that got me involved volunteering to help build the trail and since then I’d dreamed of the day I’d get to hike from Mexico to Utah.

The Oracle Gateway Community event at El Rancho Robles Guest Ranch was a blast! Diane and Mark Davis provided the tunes, the Oracle Patio Cafe provided delicious food and people chatted the night away around a fire. The ranch was kind enough to put me and my husband Brian up in one of their gorgeous rooms for the night.

Gathering around the fire at El Rancho Robles

Gathering around the fire at El Rancho Robles

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Diane Davis

The next day, to be honest, I really wanted to pull the covers over my head and take another day off. But I have a strict schedule to follow because of all my events and public hikes, so I begrudgingly got on the trail. I said goodbye to Brian and headed north across the desert toward the Gila River for the next four days. Once moving, all was well and I was back to my happy hiking self.

Taking off from American Flag Trailhead

Taking off from American Flag Trailhead

These three passages are known as the hottest, driest, lowest part of the entire AZT. And I was hiking it in the middle of a heat wave. The last time I hiked this was during my 2008 section hike and it was snowing in March as Brian dropped me off. No snow this time, just heat and wind and lots of it. Time for the umbrella.

I hiked through Oracle State Park and under Highway 77 to the Tiger Mine Trailhead and stared at the expanse of desert stretching out before me with lone Antelope Peak in the distance. My pack heavy with seven liters of water and food for four days of my ever-increasing appetite, I hiked for a while and met another thru hiker, Sunnydaze, taking a break under a bush.

Kannally Ranch Windmill (dry), Oracle State Park

Kannally Ranch Windmill (dry), Oracle State Park

Highway 77

Highway 77

Tiger Mine Trailhead

Tiger Mine Trailhead

This passage used to have a nine-mile pipeline roadwalk that was one of the worst parts of the trail when I hiked it in ’08. Thankfully, the Arizona Trail Association won a grant in 2010 from Redwood Creek Winery to build new singletrack to replace the old route. I was in charge of the crew that built the first piece of the reroute and it was fun to revisit this piece I’d built with the help of many volunteers. This is exactly the type of project that the ATA needs funds for, taking the current route off of undesirable roads and building trail worthy of our National Scenic Trail status. Please visit the fundraising page http://igg.me/at/azttrek for the Arizona Trail Trek if you haven’t already, as of today we’re up to $3,300 0ut of $20,000 raised with a little over 40 days left in the campaign!

I hiked on the new ridgeline trail for a while and found myself a nice spot for camp about 16 miles from Oracle with a great sunset view of the Catalinas.

Sunset on the Rincons and Catalinas from my camp

Sunset on the Rincons and Catalinas from my camp

The next morning, I got on the trail early as I could to beat the heat. More ridgeline walking, inching toward Antelope Peak. It was going to be a hot one, and I was under the umbrella by 8am. A friend of mine had been kind enough to drive out two water caches in the middle of each of the two passages. I reached the first cache in Bloodsucker Wash and took a long break under the shade of a mesquite tree.

My water cache, buried in the sand to keep it cool!

My water cache, jugs buried in the sand to keep it cool!

I decided against a siesta and hiked toward my next objective, Beehive Well. The umbrella shaded everything except my legs, where it felt like someone was following me around with a heat lamp. I was happy not to have to drink the scummy water from the cattle tank, but used it to wet myself down to cool off. I talked with a section-hiker from Alaska who was probably doing a lot worse with the heat than I was. Beehive Well also marks the point where the Grand Enchantment Trail, a 750-mile route from Phoenix to Albuquerque, joins the AZT for about 70 miles.

Beehive Well

Beehive Well

Bird skull at Beehive Well

Bird skull at Beehive Well

Antelope Peak was finally getting closer as I hiked into the evening. Saw my first rattlesnake of the trip, a good-sized one hiding in the shade of a barrel cactus next to the trail. I considered pushing on to Freeman Road and night hiking a bit, but decided against it when I found a camp with a good view of the peak and the Catalinas in the distance.

1st snake of the Trek

1st snake of the Trek

The next morning, I packed up in the dark and was on the trail by 5:45 am. I enjoyed the chilly morning air in the washes, savoring the sensation and storing it in my head for later, when it would become blazing hot. Hiked several miles to the end of the passage at Freeman Road and took a long break at the public cache. This cache is of utmost importance to Arizona Trail users and I thank all who maintain it.

Sunrise light on Antelope Peak

Sunrise light on Antelope Peak

Freeman Road Cache

Freeman Road Cache

Passage 15 follows a road for a while, then turns into singletrack through yuccas, prickly pear and the occasional juniper. Junipers are my favorite tree and I took every opportunity for shade breaks underneath. The wind never stopped blowing.

Love this little bridge at the beginning of the passage

Love this little bridge at the beginning of the passage

Looking back at Antelope and the Catalinas

Looking back at Antelope and the Catalinas

Micro Chicken and I enjoy a shade break under a juniper

Micro Chicken and I enjoy a shade break under a juniper

I could see the Superstitions in the distance and even the Four Peaks at times. Even caught a long-distance view of Baboquivari Peak. As I walked past yet another nondescript knee-high bush, I heard the spine-tingling rattle again. Two in two days! It’s definitely warming up out here.

After hiking for a couple of hours, I reached a very attractive area called The Boulders and took some time to scramble around and explore the formations.

Boulders

Boulders

Boulders!

Boulders!

Though it was hot, I hiked all day long under my umbrella. The AZT follows a combination of two-track roads and trail and was thankfully more or less flat. I was able to hike 20 miles before finding a great camp overlooking Ripsey Wash and the Big Hill with panoramic views in all directions for an epic sunset. My body felt tired but good- the only thing really bothering me was one toe on my right foot.

Cookies

Cookies

Sunset on the Big Hill

Sunset on the Big Hill

Sunset and Agave

Sunset and Agave

The next morning I enjoyed the sunrise before getting moving. I descended into Ripsey Wash where another delicious cache of water was waiting for me. The climb up the Big Hill is not bad at all, gentle switchbacks up the wildflower-lined slopes. Not that I wasn’t sweating- the heat and wind combination of the last four days created a crust of salt and dust on everything.

Tan hands

Tan hands

Ripsey Wash

Ripsey Wash

The Big Hill

The Big Hill

Hot and sweaty!

Hot and sweaty!

I took a break at the “chair” at the top of the climb and watched a couple push their bikes up the switchbacks. The trail follows a ridgeline for miles and miles, swooping up and down with incredible views. One of the views was of the town of Kearny, my next event stop on the Arizona Trail Trek. I could see the whole town, but all I could think about was Old Time Pizza. Since week 2 of the Trek I have been insatiably hungry because my body uses up so many calories on the trail. I could almost smell the pizza from up on the ridgeline and couldn’t wait for an iced tea.

Mountain Bikers going up the Big Hill

Mountain Bikers going up the Big Hill

Ripsey Ridgeline

Ripsey Ridgeline

Ripsey Ridgeline

Ripsey Ridgeline

The Gateway Community of Kearny

The Gateway Community of Kearny

I got a great view of the Gila River and one of my favorite peaks, Battle Axe Butte, which I summited for my birthday last year. The trail descended quickly on the north side of the mountain to the Florence-Kelvin Highway Trailhead. I had another two hot miles of trail to the bridge over the Gila River where the passage ends. I made a call to Old Time Pizza, who’s owners Gary and Loraine offered to come get me and take me to Kearny. Loraine said she’d come get me and I asked her if she could bring me an iced tea.

Gila River and Battle Axe Butte

Gila River and Battle Axe Butte

Alaskan bikepackers doing a long section from Tucson to the Grand Canyon

Alaskan bikepackers doing a long section from Tucson to the Grand Canyon

Gila River

Gila River

Bridge over the Gila River

Bridge over the Gila River

Soon after, she whisked me off to her pizza place and fed me until I couldn’t eat anymore. I think they were a little surprised by how much I was able to put away. I gave Loraine and Gary the update on the AZT Trek so far and they offered to get me a room at the General Kearny Inn. I had been planning on camping nearby but was so thankful for the hot shower and a chance to get out of the heat and sun.

The next day was my event in Kearny and they went all out to welcome me! Mayor Sam Hosler was in attendance and we enjoyed music by Neil Wood while munching on slices from Old Time Pizza. These Gateway Community events have been so much fun, talking trail with lots of new people as well as those who have been into the AZT for a long time.

Music by Neil Wood

Music by Neil Wood

Owners of Old Time Pizza Gary and Loraine

Owners of Old Time Pizza Gary and Loraine with their new banner for all Arizona Trail users to sign

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