After such an uneventful day yesterday (which is still an awesome day on the AZT), today brought a little action back onto the trail, also partly because I still can’t seem to bring enough food on the trail.
There was a much chillier wind this morning that persisted throughout the day, much of which was spent in what is the longest stretch of ponderosa pine in the world. And just as I was expecting, it was another day of easy miles thanks to minimal elevation change.
For the past few days, multiple Kaibab squirrels have been taunting me with quick glimpses before escaping into the tops of trees before I could get a shot. They’re such interesting squirrels too; long rabbit-like tufted ears, a big bushy tail like a fox, colored gray with white underneath, and much larger than common tree squirrels. I had been hoping for at least a decent photo of one but kept coming up empty handed (empty memory carded?).
Finally near the top of a small hill, halfway between meadow and sparse forest, a Kaibab squirrel popped out on a branch next to me and seemed to be just as fascinated with me as I was of him. I was quite surprised by his odd behavior but wasted no time in taking advantage of his generosity.
Mile after mile I continued until I stopped for more water, where some puffy clouds began to decorate the empty blue sea of the sky. Then to my surprise, it actually seemed to get colder, even after I began hiking again. The jacket and gloves were back on.
I continued to make great time through the forests, but then I noticed some rather heavy looking clouds. I hadn’t been able to check the weather this far out, so I was expecting anything weather-related.
After passing by a small herd of elk, I came to the top of a small ridge and saw a small white speck drift past my face. A snowflake? It seemed cold enough, but then there was thunder rumbling in the distance. Maybe not. The thunder rumbled some more, but fortunately far away from where I was. It was persistent though and seemed to be getting closer, or maybe also because I was walking toward the storm.
Then came the first crash of thunder. It still wasn’t too close, but was certainly becoming more defined. Still more kept striking somewhere far away, but not quite so far as an hour ago. Then another white speck, floating casually to the ground before disappearing. Definitely a snowflake. Then more came with some sleet, the latter being a bit more eager to touch ground. Then came the downpour. A heavy mixture of sleet and snow began clouding the nearby trees in white. Thunder still rumbled here and there, until a loud crack hit just as I began to skirt a large meadow. Then the trail went across it, a pleasant stroll otherwise for sure. I took no chances though. I made a clumsy jog to the other side, my large packing flopping up and down, until I was safely in the trees again. I never did hear any more after that. Soon the weather began to dissipate, though many clouds remained in the area.
It was now mid-afternoon and I was getting hungry. I had already eaten the next day’s breakfast with lunch, so I at least needed to be a few miles hiking distance from Mormon Lake. Except I was now eating through my dinner for that night. It was now Mormon Lake or bust. I only hoped that a restaurant in Mormon Lake stayed open later than a restaurant in Summerhaven.
After crossing a highway, I began cranking out miles. It was a long stretch through a forest that seemed to go on forever in every direction. There were no distinct markings or features, so had I been hiking at night, I might have driven myself crazy thinking I was either going in circles or not making any progress. I was happy to be there during the day though so I could appreciate it properly. Still, it reminded me of the Lost Woods in the Legend of Zelda.
After making what must have been record time for me, I strolled into Mormon Lake before sunset, eager for some real food. The first thing I saw was a pizzeria. Closed. Not a good sign. Next was a saloon, open till 8pm! I had made it with two hours to spare. I looked around for One Gallon but he either kept going to Flagstaff or he was already tucked away in a cabin.
I finished my meal, got a campsite, and looked forward to sleeping on level ground. With only 30 miles to Flagstaff, I was also looking forward to taking my time there, as well over two days of laid back hiking.