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Day 42: Snow Bowl Road to Somewhere Amongst Cinder Cones

Bismark Lake Below San Francisco Peaks

Every now and then, I feel as though a thru-hiker deserves to feel a little sluggish and grumpy, the former causing the latter. Such was the case this morning after Gizmo and I had a fantastic breakfast by trail angel Hannah. I suppose though that this was just the culmination of the last few days of not really being all there.

As we headed back to the trail, three other thru-hikers intersected with us and after a bit of chatting, we all headed out. Immediately however, I could feel my hotspot from yesterday screaming at me. I was sorting through some potential solutions when Gizmo asked how I was doing. I told her not well and we stopped so she could give me a heavy duty bandaid. It helped a bit, but not enough. She was far ahead when I stopped again just a bit farther up the trail and finally realized that my left foot just needs more cushion since it’s slightly smaller than my right foot, something I should have tried from the beginning. I fortunately still had my thick wool socks and took one out and put it on with the other newer sock that I had gotten at REI in Flagstaff. That made the world of difference I was looking for.

And yet, I was still going frustratingly slow, leading me to feel rather unenthusiastic about the morning. My pace was boring and uninspired, and I had no idea why. Coming into an adventure like this I knew not every day would be happy-go-lucky, but I figured if it wasn’t, I’d at least know why. Did the closure yesterday have me rethinking the whole reason I was out here? Was the monotony of the forests starting to get to me? Did it even really matter that I was feeling grumpy? After 600 miles of hiking, I allowed myself the freedom to explore some minor existential questions.

I arrived at Bismark Lake eager for some more water, even though I hadn’t really gone that far, but I suppose my mood was affecting more than just my pace. I began filtering some water, and, forgetting that my telephoto lens was in my front chest pocket, watched it fall into the pond in another slow motion moment. It wasn’t a brief dip that I saved it from. This was a complete submergence and I was paralyzed for a fraction of a second as I watched it bob back up to the surface. I snatched it out of the water as soon as I was unfrozen and immediately brought it to drier ground in the hopes that letting it air out would make a difference. I looked into the lens expecting to see water gushing around inside, but I was shocked to see it appear dry. I removed the simple plastic rear cap expecting water to come pouring out, but again, dry. I left it out, not quite ready to test it yet, figuring as much drying out as possible would be best.

Arizona Trail Above Grasslands

After getting what I needed and resting for a bit at Bismark Lake, I got ready for the part of the trail where water starts getting a little scary. It was eight miles to a dry tank, but there was a water cache nearby where there were supposedly some gallon jugs with water still available, but I had no way of knowing for sure. This was just according to the app, the last note a few days ahead of me. I hydrated well, then took two liters down the trail. If the cache didn’t have enough, it was another 13 miles past that to the next potential water, another cache.

The trail went through a couple of meadows before beginning a series of wide switchbacks through an old dense forest, ideal for mountain bikers. This lasted for a number of miles as I pushed forward as quick as I could, hoping to make decent miles and make up for the slow start. As the miles added up my attitude began to lighten up again. Why? Who cares. It just did, and that was all I wanted.

The trail made its elongated switchbacks from one healthy aspen grove to a decaying grove and through old ponderosa pine forests in between. Soon the aspens were gone and the pines began to grow a bit sparse. In their place, grasslands were attempting to dominate the landscape. I was starting to get thirsty here, but I couldn’t drink anything until I got to the cache because only then would I know just how much I could drink.

One turn after another I kept hoping to see the bear box, but I was forced to continue to push farther ahead. Finally I passed a dry tank, a great sign since that was what the cache was next to. I went ahead just a bit farther and there was the bear box, and inside, either enough water to keep me going, or a big disappointment. I opened it up, looked inside and saw over three gallons waiting to be used. Sweet relief! As a bonus, there was also an orange up for grabs, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I hydrated up, and took what I needed to get to the next cache 13 miles away, where there would hopefully be more water waiting.

Arizona Trail in Aspen Trees

While there, a mountain biker stopped by to get some water as well. His name was Sam and he was from Tucson and was doing the entire trail in a week, since that was all the time he could get off work. I left him as he was still loading up, but it only took a few minutes for him to catch up and ride ahead.

I was on a rather aggressive pace now that I was hydrated again to try to get in as many miles as I could to take advantage of my late energy. I looked back every now and then over the large open meadows at the snow covered San Francisco Peaks rising above the trees in the late afternoon light. Ah, the simple nourishing beauty of mountains. The views soon disappeared behind more trees and the trail joined up with a dirt road. Thanks to a few extra sips from a gallon left here by another thru-hiker named Unbreakable, I pushed forward just a bit farther as the tall ponderosa pines began to shrink considerably. Finally, as the sun was setting behind a nearby cinder cone, my feet had had enough, so I veered off the road and setup camp. The relief of ending the day was a nice way to cap off a growing feeling of enjoying the changing scenery and leaving behind the grumpiness.

As the full moon began rising from behind the trees, I decided it was finally time to test the lens. I changed the settings for the scene, hoping for the best, then peered through the viewfinder. I pressed the focus button, and it focused right away with Image Stabilization firing up as if nothing had happened. I took a quick shot, reviewed it, and everything looked fine. I was blown away and felt that there was no better metaphor to cap off the day. I might get a little damaged and beaten, but with a little time, I can still function just as I’d want.

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