This turned out to be my last day on the trail for the season. It was a hard decision to make, but ultimately the trip was poorly timed and I went way over budget on the trip as a whole. It was a decision I came to after thinking about it quite a bit the previous few days on the trail, but on this day it seemed inescapable.
The day started early in the morning while it was still dark outside. There were some scattered showers when I went to bed, but I was woken up in the middle of the night when the wind started to pick up and I heard a nearby crack of thunder, no more than two miles away or so. Nervous, I eventually fell back asleep thankful that that was the only one.
I woke up when it was starting to get lighter out to complete cloud cover, so there was no sunrise that morning. Without anything else to do, I hydrated, got some breakfast, and packed up. Back on the trail, I actually backtracked about a tenth of a mile to the water cache I had seen the night before for one more liter since I was more dehydrated than I thought.
As I began heading in the right direction, my mind was overwhelmed with what to do with my funds running low and all the responsibilities and opportunities I had abandoned back home, a thought that had become more frequent as the trail went on. Quitting the trail simply wasn’t an option, so the thought itself had a hard time even working its way into my head as a legitimate option. But the more thought I gave to it the more relief I was beginning to feel, an emotion I actually hadn’t felt in weeks. The more I thought about it in that sense, the more I realized how poorly prepared I was mentally and financially. I had been wondering for much of the trail why I wasn’t feeling the same enthusiasm I’m usually feeling when I’m hiking, and now clarity about the situation was finally sinking in. It simply felt more like an obligation to do the trail rather than the adventure I was hoping for.
I began to think about all the reasons that were adding up back home that were blatantly trying to keep me there and how I essentially forced hiking the Arizona Trail because I had been talking about it for so long. As I began to accept the realization that I had tried to deem unacceptable for so long, my attitude began to change and I began having one of my better days, despite only hiking through rolling grassland hills on my way to certain rain showers in the Santa Catalina Mountains ahead.
The more I thought about it the more it made complete sense. I had to leave the trail and go home. It’s not that the trail beat me – I was just starting to average 17 miles per day. I simply didn’t give myself the proper chance to give it a genuine start. Technically, I shouldn’t have even gotten as far as I did since physical endurance had nothing to do with it.
As I began to feel more uplifted, I noticed more wildlife on the trail as well. I came down into a large wash shaded with numerous cottonwood and oak trees, and caught a glimpse of an owl flying into a tree where I lost sight of it. It was too quickly gone to identify, but a large, silent bird of prey flying from the ground and into the trees is almost certainly some kind of owl. Just a bit farther down the trail a gila monster scurried off into the brush on the side of the trail. If I had remembered from the guidebook that they spend most of their life underground and that sightings are relatively rare, I might have tried for a better shot of it. Not much farther from that though, I nearly stepped on a rattlesnake. I would have been ok without that last one.
From there the trail started a lengthy ascent up to a saddle above Molino Basin. Nearly as soon as I started climbing, the rain began coming down. For the desert, it was a pretty significant amount of rain I found myself caught in. Sadly, this was where many of the views began to get really good, but I had my camera packed away to keep it safe from the moisture. On the plus side, it felt wonderful to have freshwater showered all over my body and washing away the dirt!
The rain got heavier the higher I climbed until all I could do was reach the saddle and admire the view for myself. I crossed over to the Molino Basin side where it began to lighten up just enough for me to take out my cell phone and grab a quick shot with it. I made the short descent to the Molino Basin Campground where I waited for Giggles to pick me up, where we started making bittersweet plans to head home.