There’s definitely been a different mood about the trail that I’ve been feeling, and I don’t like it. I can’t tell if I’ve just grown tired of the monotony of the forest, or if I’ve just let myself become preoccupied with overly distracting thoughts, but I’m simply not feeling the enthusiasm of the more mountainous sections, and I want that back. I’ve got just over 200 miles left of the trail, and the last thing I want to do is just push through just to get it done. I suppose the fact that I’m aware of it means there’s something that I can do about it.
In my exhaustion last night, I had assumed that I was farther from I-40 than I actually was, despite hearing a good bit of noise from it. I packed my things up after enjoying sunrise and crossed under it to the base of a large cinder cone, the trail wandering around its southern to southwestern edge. The lava rock was carpeted in pine needles from all the conifer trees, which provided a nice amount of shade.
With so much food in my pack, I was trying to minimize the amount of water I took with me. I only had a liter of water with breakfast and that needed to last me about 7.5 miles where the trail would cross Highway 89. I could then head just a bit off trail to get some water at a nearby gas station. I was now about halfway and beginning to feel a bit thirsty when the trail opened up into a large meadow where a strip mine was on the other side of a smaller cinder cone. The trail veered northward where, back into a forest, a bridge crossed a small creek with some very clean looking water. Unfortunately, it was coming from the mine so it was not safe to drink. What a tease.
I began to see a few more day hikers out as I got closer to the highway, and then was finally able to refill my water at a gas station where I also picked up a couple of extra snacks I thought I might need.
I went to the other side of the highway where I stopped to have an early lunch. Hannah caught up with me again and we hiked for several miles before she turned back, where I took the opportunity to rest my feet again before climbing up to Schultz Pass.
It was a steady and gradual ascent through a dense forest. It was in here that I began to start seeing more aspen trees again, but they all looked like they were in pretty bad shape, none of the younger trees able to grow any taller than elk browsing height. This was causing each grove to suffer and it showed.
As I climbed higher and higher toward the pass, I was occasionally treated to a view of the snowy peaks high above before being brought back into the trees.
I reached Schultz Tank, near the pass, where I stopped to get more water, the next source 15 miles up the trail. Gizmo caught up with me here and we took the opportunity to catch up on our trail life thus far.
On our way out of Schultz Tank, I was thrown off by a sign on our route along the Arizona Trail that said it was closed for forest thinning. How can it be closed? How can I finish the trail if I don’t hike every mile of it? I felt lost and confused and felt like someone had just stolen something out from under me. If there were ever something to make me stop and think about my overall mood and purpose for being on the trail, this was it. Fortunately Gizmo was there to help me sort it out. It’s just something that happens. There was nothing she could do when she was on the PCT and half of Oregon was on fire. It was out of my control. We took the next best option which was Schultz Pass Road which luckily paralleled the trail before intersecting back up with it just a few miles down. We made great time on it and had a really great discussion where we decided to hike four more miles into sunset to Snow Bowl Road where we’d camp. Hannah even met us there for a bit of extra company and trail angel magic.