Last night we tented up at an RV hookup near the marina. This space that would otherwise house a trailer or RV had a nice new picnic table, water spigot, and power unit. Typically, you hookup the RV to the unit, which then allows you to run power separate from the in-vehicle battery, but there were also a couple standard outlets that we were able to charge our phones and such.
The coyotes off in the distance was our first alarm, which we snoozed quickly. Then we had the trucks rolling by, which sounded as if we were actually camped on the side of a road; this too we snoozed. Finally, a German shepherd confused as to what this tent was doing, curiously barked until I could confirm it was in fact, not a coyote trying to eat our food.
Even though I attempted to snooze that third alarm, I was up. Andy still asleep, I quietly snuck out of the tent at 7am. The marina opened at 8, and that's when we would pick up our packages.
Over the last few days, I could tell Andy was distracted. First it was his gentle nudges about increasing mileage, and then after our forced Zero day due to the flash flood, I could tell the anticipation of his first child on the way was growing. In the last two days, he has pulled out his camera only a few times, and that was the real sign something was racing through his mind.
I've known and trekked with Andy long enough to know when something is bothering him, and he's too kind hearted to impose his troubles on others. So today, we had a heart to heart.
His wife is awesome. She's understanding and supportive, and would never make Andy feel as if he wasn't performing his duties as a husband and father to be; she fully supported -- and encouraged -- this trek. That said, Andy feels he should be with her, in her final month and a half of pregnancy, to support and care for her, as she deserves.
The deal was, when she was within the window of birth, Andy would be home: March 12th. I had a slightly more aggressive time frame so I could get back to work and the much needed income, and wanted to be back even earlier. We've been pushing 22-24 miles a day since I dropped my pack weight the first week (minus the forced zero and two nearos). We've been enjoying each moment on the trail, but the miles have become the defining factor; pushing, increasing, requiring.
We've hiked into the night nearly every day for the past couple weeks, and haven't had morning fires to enjoy. The reasons why we are out here, have fallen by the wayside in efforts to reach the mileage we need.
We get to camp in the dark, eat dinner, go to bed. Wake up, eat breakfast and pack up checking the time frequently, and plan each break to the minute to maximize mileage.
Anyone who has reached out to us to help prepare for a thru-hike knows we a firm believers that setting a specific time frame and goal, is setting yourself up for failure, or at least not enjoying it to the fullest. Once it becomes about the miles, and not the smiles, the whole purpose of the journey is lost.
On the phone with his mom, as we waited for the marina to open, he mentioned to her that regardless of where we would be, March 12th, he would be en route to Philly.
We walked down to the marina, confused as to where exactly our packages were in the large complex (on the actual dock, is the tiny, poorly stocked store with beef jerky and frozen egg burritos). Eventually, we tracked them down and started packing our resupply for the next 120 miles, six days of food. Which we agreed, needed to be at the most five days now.
I took a deep breath, and looked over at Andy, and our talk began.
We both agreed, the trail was becoming a slog. It's a difficult trail, absolutely, but mentally, we were growing weary and having difficulty pushing more. We couldn't enjoy the areas we were in, spend time with the people we met, or explore the places around the trail. We couldn't even enjoy camp, as we arrived in the dark, and left as quickly as we could -- which sometimes was pretty late as we needed our brains to switch on with at least a little coffee and enjoyment.
Rather than pushing hard for miles, only to be forced (by our own hand) off trail with only a 100 miles to go, we decided to have one last stretch of enjoyment, really taking advantage of being out on the trail, and remind ourselves of the reason we are out here to begin with.
Neither of us want this. It's painful, difficult, and saddening to make the decision, but we both feel it's the correct one.
Over the next five days, we will hike our final 50 miles for this season. Once we get just over 400 miles, and officially complete half the trail, we will return to our homes so Andy can be with his wife and enjoy the full experience of his first child.
We will wake up slow, actually chew our breakfast and sip our coffee. We will hike shorter miles, take longer breaks, and get into camp before sunset. We will enjoy the wilderness, and the feeling of joy it brings us; one of the main reasons why we are out here.
With this decision made, Andy instantly felt a weight lifted off his shoulders. I too felt this release of pressure, as my best buddy could actually relax and enjoy himself.
I knew I wouldn't be able to continue alone. Regardless of returning home for work, when The Dusty Camel rides, we ride together. It would not feel right for me to complete a journey we both set out on, alone.
Once we decided we would complete half the trail, and return at a later date to finish it, we had to celebrate true thru-hiker style. Post up on the road, try not to look homeless, and hitch-hike to the nearest food establishment to pig out.
Arizona is rough... it was hot and we had no shade, and sat outside for three hours trying to get a ride. Finally, a couple pulls over and picks us up! Woo! Celebratory food, here we come.
Rather than going to Roosevelt, as we did the night before, we went the opposite direction Tonto Basin, home of the M&M Reno Cafe.
The two that gave us a ride work at the Renaissance Fair that is posted up nearby, and were driving and hiking around on their day off. They were just enjoying the area and kindly picked us up.
After a nice ride chatting and getting to know them, we finally made it to our destination and said our goodbyes. Time to post up, eat some food, and drink many pots of coffee.
We quickly befriended the woman who worked there, and chatted with her as we are our chicken fried steaks and she kept pouring coffee and waters. Shelby was super sweet and kind, and was really keen on offering any assistance we needed, whether it be filling up our water bladder for the road, or simply ensuring our coffee stayed bottomless.
After a couple hours at the restaurant, we knew we had to make it back to the trail and hoped it wouldn't take another three hours to get back. We didn't really have a plan b, especially since we no longer had the harsh mileage count per day hanging over our heads.
We began to walk down the road, and shortly after, a big pickup truck stopped next to us. It was Shelby! She happened to get off work as we departed, and lives in the direction we were headed. She said she would give us a lift to her turn off, and once we reached that road, decided she would insist on giving us a ride back to the trail, about 10 minutes passed her house.
We got back to the trail, said goodbye, and hiked for about an hour until we found a beautiful spot (while it was still light out) and set up a great camp, with a big fire pit, and actually enjoyed our time in camp.
The people we met today, and the time spent in camp really revitalized our downed spirits. We aren't happy to be ending the trail early. But, without that decision, we would have missed out on the best parts of today.
So, we must remind ourselves that hiking with a deadline defeats the purpose of the hike to begin with. We have accepted this, and will enjoy the last few days out here, as we should, freely.