My leg wasn’t feeling any better but the next section of trail had me excited enough to ignore the pain. We walked through one more town near Show Low and hit a Wal-Mart before leaving. Our upcoming miles were a nice change to the dry terrain and dirt roads we had been walking for days. We would be approaching some higher elevation which meant cooler temps, bigger views, and likely more water. All three were true. Every night we looked for a high point to camp on since the cool air settles down in the valleys and canyons.
One night we collected a few liters of water from a cement well and hiked on to camp a 2 miles later. I cold-soaked my instant beans and took a few bites. “Wow man, these beans are salty as shit. What’s the deal?”. We both sipped our water and spat it out immediately. It was so salty it burned my lips. I ate the rest of my beans anyways but poured out the rest of the water. Besides this source, everything else was crystal clear and cool. We found mostly troughs fed by piped springs and a few clear ponds. There were tons of bees at every source but they didn’t mind us being there. The forest turned from ponderosa to a mix of aspens and pines, and felt very similar to the area surrounding Flagstaff, or maybe the Rockies of Colorado. The aspens were bright gold, some standing tall and some beginning to grow among burnt dead forests in more burn scars. For most of this section we hiked near, and sometimes directly next to, the boundary for the Apache Reservation.
The town of Greer was a ski community with a post office, a small general store and two restaurants. Our breakfast (despite the gnarly stomach issues it caused later) was our best meal on trail so far. The post office clerk was very friendly and encouraging which seems hard to find among USPS workers. The locals around town were very friendly and talkative, besides one old man who felt the need to discuss politics. We left town around noon and still made good miles for a half-day of hiking. Entering the Mount Baldy Wilderness was a real treat. It had been awhile since we’d seen a flowing river of crystal-clear water. The grassy openings between thick forests felt other-worldly. Approaching one clump of trees something hissed and growled at us loudy and we both stopped and nearly shit ourselves. A few dozen feet later we found a tree all scratched to hell. We were almost sure it was a mountain lion that made the noise.
It was getting a lot colder at night but finding high points to camp and bundling up a little extra made it tolerable. The next few days would take us through more canyon country requiring possible fording of a river and some route finding. The first canyon wasn’t too bad. Although it was slower moving the river wasn’t very high and there was a decent enough trail to find our way through. Our only challenge was getting wet first thing in the morning. The second canyon also had a great trail although the hill we bushwacked up to get out was covered in locusts. By now my legs were used to being cut and scraped up but these were very thick. Noodle found a better way through and I took a really shitty path up before I could see the ground again.
The next section was probably the roughest hiking I had done ever, and Noodle agreed. We dropped off of a high dirt road into another low canyon and lost the trail every 5 or 10 minutes. The cattle grazing the area had completely stomped it out and created 5 of their own paths to follow at every turn. It also looked like the side of a cliff that used to hold a trail had fallen out into a dried creek bed below, but we really couldn’t tell. We were out of focus and tired. A few of the water sources on the way were dry and we had passed up our last good one since we had become so confident in the days before. That night we planned on camping near a creek at what was described as “an old cowboy camp”. We got there in the dark to find about 6 horses tied up and large tents and lights everywhere. I checked the map and found a flat area up ahead that looked promising. It wasn’t, so we hiked to the next one. At this point we were both tired enough that it didn’t matter how far we’d hike but we finally found a large flat area next to a fence-line.
In the morning we woke up to apocalyptic views. We had heard about a fire burning in the Blue Range Primitive Area, which was supposed to be our last section of trail before reaching New Mexico. The creator of the route had sent me a detour that would cut us south of the fire and take us through a nice canyon. It was a bummer missing those miles but it’s not worth hiking through burnt terrain with bad air quality, even if it was open. On the way to our roadwalk into the last resupply point it felt like I had smoked a pack of cigarettes. It made for great views in the morning, as the sun rose the smoke moved through a valley of large rock formations of different shapes and sizes that looked like ships floating through fog. The last town was a very remote community with only a small post office. I think sending our packages there was the most exciting thing happening in town to be honest. The lady working at the post office was kind enough to let us sit around and charge our phones as we told her stories of how far we’d come and everything that had happened. Again, we had to dodge political talk and opinions about the pandemic with locals. It seems the folks who live in such a small corner of the world and don’t get out much, have the most to say about what’s happening in the world. To our luck, the clerk’s daughter was leaving and offered us a ride back to where we’d road walked into town.
The last full day on trail reminded us of our first day. Another wide rocky wash (although this time with water) that we wandered down to the fire detour. This part of Arizona was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. It truly felt like the middle of nowhere. It seemed that most trails in the area were used more by hunters and equestrians than hikers. We cut out of the canyon to another hillside to stay warm for the night and reflect on the hike. We would be ending in the middle of nowhere, New Mexico so we started tossing around ideas about how to get back to Sedona, although we still had another 30 or so miles and a hot spring to be excited about for tomorrow.
We hiked downhill and followed another canyon with pools of greenish but pleasant water scattered along the way. The walls grew bigger and the canyon became narrow, almost resembling a slot canyon. We took our packs off and hid them behind a bush to do some wading to the hot spring. Most of the water was waist to chest deep on me. We accidentally passed the hot spring and hiked a little too far up the narrow canyon, which ended up being worth it anyways. On the way back we saw the steaming hot pool on our right, and upon getting in it was almost unbearably hot. We took our time to adjust and had a nice soak for about an hour. After leaving the hot spring we found an old cabin that seemed to be frequently visited. It had a make shift bed frame, an old stove, some shelves full of clutter and even a trail journal. Oh, don’t forget, it had a magazine called “cowboy ethics”.
I was surprised at how well I was able to sleep considering we had just walked by a demolished turkey and a deer ripped in half before reaching camp. The next morning it was only a few miles to the state line where we celebrated, took a few pictures, and continued a morning of road walking to reach town. The small community of Alma had a nice general store to snack from, and no one seemed to mind us standing outside hitching south to Silver City. Ironically a red Geo Tracker pulled over and a PCT volunteer trail worker picked us up. He was a Dutch guy that had been wandering around the southwest living in his car doing some hiking. He wasn’t even aware that there was a trail or route nearby for thru hiking, he just picked us up by chance. The guy was nice enough to drive us 60 miles out of his way to Silver City, New Mexico. The rest of this story involves a Motel 6, Dennys, and a Greyhound bus ride, so you can finish the story however you like. Thanks for reading.