Some clouds rolled in last night and created a spectacular sunrise
It was only the second day of clouds on the entire hike. Every other day the sun has blazed down on me in its unfiltered glory. Or not so much down, as the season is getting later and the sun lower, but *at*me, roasting my body from head to toe like meat on a vertical spit in a gyro shop.
I didn’t bother with breakfast but gulped down some coffee and creakily unlimbered myself and got underway.
There were nine more mostly downhill miles to go before I reached the highway and the end of my hike. The trail was easing up — there were MTB tracks, a sure sign of trail domestication. I was in the clear, no longer worried about making enough miles or getting to the next water source. I felt relaxed, able to enjoy and appreciate the Mazatzals for what they are — a truly wild and desolate place, mountains that command respect. Freed from worry about water, miles, climbs, bad trail, lost trail, no trail, I felt a sense of calm belonging that had escaped me for so much of this hike. While not forgetting how hard the trail was, I could feel grateful that I hiked it. That I could hike it.
A rock rolled under my foot as had happened every mountainous mile of the AZT. Lost in thought and still stiff-muscled I was slow to react and down I went. I had hiked up and down the state, nearly 800 miles without a fall, but could not quite make it all the way.
I was scraped and bloodied but otherwise unhurt. As was the trail. It cared nothing for my ruminations or gratitude. Detached and self-contained, just *there*, I could hike or not hike, it was all the same.
There were no signs or monuments at my end point, just the highway and the pedestrian culvert underneath it. I had not passed through the culvert when northbound, so I walked through to complete the last stitch of trail and then scrambled up to the highway above.
I had scheduled a Lyft to get me to Phoenix, some 50 miles away. The app accepted my request, and sent me reminders to be there on time. I assumed this meant that they had scheduled a driver. Three minutes before 12, when I was supposed to be picked up, the app sent out a request for any drivers in the area who might want the job. As far as it was concerned, I was in an urban zone where there was no need to plan more than a few minutes ahead. Fifteen minutes later, it was still sending out its request, with no takers. I tried Uber, which refused my request with a “no drivers available” message. At least that was not misleading.
But it wasn’t getting me home either. It was apparent that I would have to hitch. I was debating whether to try hitching from my current spot — a stretch of 4-lane highway with cars traveling 70 mph, a very hard hitch — or to walk the two miles up to the rest stop, where people were already stopped and could get a better look at me and judge (perhaps) that I was not dangerous.
A jeep pulled up, a woman rolled down the window and asked “Are you an AZT thru-hiker?” Why yes, I am (or was). “Do you need anything — water, food, a ride?”
I hopped in and she introduced herself as Firecracker. She’d thru-hiked the AT and CDT and was on her way back from a section hike of the AZT, which she has nearly completed. As we talked we realized that we had met and chatted briefly back on the Coconino Plateau. She was on her way to meet friends in Phoenix not far from my hostel, and would be happy to drop me off. And buy me a cold soda (which I was craving) at the nearest convenience store in honor of my completing the AZT.
It was a great ending to my trip. Not so much the ride, but the reminder of how much kindness and good there is in the world. You don’t always have to hike 800 miles to find it, but it does help you appreciate it a bit more.