I STARTED MEETING MORE PEOPLE AGAIN
In the Four Peaks Wilderness section, I met 5 guys from Arkansas (who I dubbed "The Blues Brothers" because they were all wearing blue) who were sectioning from Sunflower south to Superior. (they were having trouble with the elevation, but otherwise were doing well). Then I met 2 hikers in their 80s out for a day hike. They had spent the previous weekend in Flagstaff teaching Boy Scouts how to light fires and LNT principles. They had been trail stewards for a long time and were great to talk to.
I TOOK SOME SIDE TRAILS
At the suggestion of the two older hikers, I took a side trail to the top of one of Lone Pine Saddle (one of the four peaks) in exchange for the 8 mile walk along the dirt road.
In the Red Hills, I did the City Creek Loop instead of an out and back hike.
In doing so, I got some fantastic views and nice trail hiking while skipping some sections where I would essentially have been road walking. And speaking of roads....
Arizona has an extensive network of well maintained dirt roads that criss-cross the wilderness areas in the state. There are tons of trailheads for hiking, mountain biking, and riding ATVs. Since I haven't really pushed the jeep since I got it (well, except for that time I pulled a Chevy Silverado out of the Salt River last summer) I looked forward to seeing what the renegade was made of. I felt pretty badass driving out in the middle of nowhere down steep, winding roads. Well, I DID feel pretty badass until I saw a 2-wheel drive Nissan going by in the other direction. No matter. It was probably a local who knew the roads really well and clearly didn't care about their car.
One thing is for sure: driving around the dirt roads was more fun than walking dirt roads
THE TRAILHEADS WERE FUN
Unlike the small towns, Sundays on the trailheads were the best days! Most often, when I left to hike in the early morning, my car was the only one in the trailhead parking area. But when I got back in the afternoon, there were 10, 12, sometimes 20 cars. Often we all were coming back to the cars at the same time- hikers, bikers, climbers with crash-pads strapped to their backs, sometimes equestrians too. We'd all talk and compare adventures as we peeled off our socks and shoes and wiped the dust from our faces. Once somebody pulled a cooler out of the back of an SUV, and everybody grabbed a drink- an impromptu tailgate party!! And since adventure lovers tend to be a busy bunch, impromptu parties last 20 minutes at most, before people are hopping into their cars to get to the next trailhead, the next challenge, or back home to get ready for work the next day. But those short-lived connections make trail life more fun.
I hadn't realized how much I valued the connections on the trail as an essential part of thru-hiking. It's much easier to deal with minor annoyances (such as closed stores or nocturnal visiting animals) when you have somebody else to experience it with. It's more likely to end in eye rolls and a shared joke. When you are going it alone, though, those minor annoyance escalate in your mild to major catastrophes.
Being back in the driver's seat allowed me to forge some of those trail connections and put me in control.
However, it was pretty clear that this endeavor was no longer a purist thru-hike. I now officially was calling my quest a "Hybrid-hike". Not what I originally had in mind. But I was having fun.