Today is the end of another stretch.
When doing a thru-hike, it's important to break up the seemingly endless miles into sections so that you can manage your food and any gear issues that arise. These 'stretches' are how you are mentally able to tackle a beast such as a multi month (or month) trek.
Anyhow, one of the best parts of the end of a stint on the trail is lack of food (for weight purposes only, of course) and the ability to destroy some carbs at any type of eatery we can find.
Operation Cheeseburger commenced.
We decided, even though we set up camp in the dark last night, that we would break camp early -- I.e. In the dark -- and push the 22 miles to Mt. Lemon where our resupply box (food for he next stretch) awaited us.
We knew the day held 6600 feet of incline, and 3200 feet of decline throughout the day, so we wanted to push as fast as we could as we received word everything closed at 5.
The first four hours of hiking was relatively smooth. Most of the descent happened during this time, and cloud coverage kept us cool.
We wound our way down a beautiful canyon with a rushing river below, but I had cheeseburgers on the mind. We had our one break, and trekked on as the ascent began.
If you recall from the other day, I outlined the grading of ascents and how to gauge a climb. Well, we had a mile of 1,100 feet of incline! After 14 miles on the day. That is what the Appalachian Trail is like - straight up, scrambling on rocks.
The worst of it was, the trail made no sense. It was simply a point to climb straight up to, then straight down into a bowl, then straight up again. No rhyme or reason other than to torture our grumbling bellies.
Off in the distance, we could see a dark looming cloud littering the ground below with rain, as if the cloud went straight from the sky to the ground.
So we pushed on.
Andy was able to take a couple small breaks as he waited at the top of climbs for me, but I refused to stop in hopes of making our 5 o'clock deadline, and beat the rain. I went seven hours without stopping.
As soon as we reached the peak, the trail was covered in snow. No trail signs or visible cairns (rock piles used to mark trails when signs are unavailable), so we had to rely on our trail senses to find the trail, as no one had been up there (or at least left footprints) for some time.
With our maps by our side, we pushed through the snow, at first trying to keep our feet as dry as possible.
We came to a trail intersection, and followed our maps to the right. Very shortly after doing this, we realized the trail did not exist.
We confirmed that we were on the mapped trail, to the foot, but we were standing on the edge of a snowy mountain, crossing downed trees and sliding off slick to rock faces. Finally we got to a point where the trail was supposed to descend as steeply as we climbed, but there was simply no path to safely go down. We literally could have slipped right off the mountain.
The mind began to wander; how would we proceed? It's getting late, and we're cold and unable to find trail. Are we going to make it? At this point, Operation Cheeseburger had failed, but our minds were concerned with making it through the night, not to a restaurant. The storm was rapidly approaching, and we had no idea where to go.
We decided to trek back to the nearest waypoint, which was that trail crossing. The trail was named the Mt. Lemmon trail, and we hoped that meant it would lead us to the town, and not the peak. We had no options, so went down the unknown trail.
Then the rain began. The sky darkened and thunder cracked in the distance. Then in the not so far distance. Then bolts of lightning were visible and the booms the skies made were directly above.
With dozens of stream crossings, our feet were sipping wet. We eventually stopped rock hopping through the stream and just walked through as it made no difference.
We finally caught a small break, and we're lucky enough that the Mt. Lemmon trail connected back to the AZT a few miles ahead. We were on trail, but still 4.6 miles away, at 4:30 (sunset is just after 6pm).
Soon, we found footprints of a day walker (what we affectionately call a non-thru-hiker). Their prints went in both direction, meaning there is a popular trail junction ahead where people often hike in and out of.
We finally made it to the junction, soaking, cold, frustrated, and disappointed cheeseburgers were not even a remote possibility. We were happy to find, however, the last mile or so into Mt. Lemonn was a road, and made for easier hiking, even though it was pitch black at this point.
We mozied into the sleepy ski town, with a few lights of large a-frame chalet style houses. Any sign of civilization was long gone for the day. Dark, locked, and inaccessible to us weary, frozen hikers.
Alas! We once again caught a small break. The public restroom at the Visitor Center was open. Warm, dry, and a flat surface.
It's amazing how thru-hiking changes your perspective. You truly begin to appreciate the minuscule details and find reprieve in he simplest of things.
So yes, we slept in the breezeway of the bathrooms. Laid out our clothes and boots to dry, and slept fairly soundly, even though the fear of someone opening the door to find two grown men (smelly, bearded, with large packs) laying on the floor.
I laid out my pelican case with my drone, and my Canon camera with my AZT patch nearby in hopes that should someone get startled, they would quickly see we aren't bums or crazy people (well, we are crazy, but you know what I mean).
Tomorrow we will take a half day to eat, get our resupply, and take a small break from the hard, unforgiving few days we've had.